Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 4)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome Internet travelers, to my examination of the highs, the lows, the greats, the not so greats, and everything in between of DC Comics in the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got a widely diverse pair of books with a quartet of quirky stories to quicken your pulses!  Check them out 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 #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32
  • World’s Finest #200

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


The Phantom Stranger #12


Phantom_Stranger_Vol_2_12

“Marry Me – Marry Death!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“A Time to Die”
Writer: Jack Oleck
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga
Editor: Joe Orlando

We’ve got another beautiful, dramatic, and striking cover courtesy of Neal Adams this month.  It’s a nice, spooky image, and it’s well suited to the headline tale within.  Indeed, this month our Phantom Stranger story is rather different than what we’ve encountered of late.  Instead of focusing on the mystical heroics of the Stranger himself, this comic flips the script, and we see the story from quite a different perspective.

In many ways, this is a classic horror story, and it begins shortly after the wedding of Jason Phillips to his new bride, Wanda.  He brings the blushing beauty to his mansion, where he suddenly spots a mysterious figure, the Phantom Stranger, but the next moment there is no-one there.  Strange indeed!  Recovering, he introduces his new wife and their guests to his old wife, or rather, her coffin!

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 02

Well, this seems perfectly normal and healthy…

He explains to the shocked well-wishers that he met and romanced the older and very wealthy Irina when he was a ski instructor.  He discovered that she took nitro pills for a weak heart, and despite the fact that she felt she was too old and weak for him, he insisted on marrying her.  A few years later, she passed away, but not before making him swear to keep her with him, always.

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 03

There’s a very strange bit where she collected ancient Egyptian artifacts and learned about their embalming practices, insisting that they be used on her, but that doesn’t really feature in the story (something of an unfired Chekhov’s Gun…or at least an un-awakened Kanigher’s Mummy.)  Irina also left a clause in her will that all of her money would go to charity unless Jason kept her body with him always, which is pretty darn weird.  Throughout the tale, Jason paints himself as the perfect grieving husband, but there is something strange about the whole story.  This ominous note is strengthened when Jason once again sees the Stranger and begins to scream at him, only to have the figure vanish once more.

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 04

That night, the re-married millionaire awakens in the night to hear a creaking sound and investigates to see the cloaked shape of the Stranger standing by the the coffin as it is slowly opening.  A voice tells him that he knows why they are here, but yet again, things are not as they seem, and when Wanda comes to investigate her husband’s shouts, the coffin is still locked.

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 08

Suddenly, Jason sees Irina outside in a flash of lightning, along with the Supernatural Sleuth, who repeats his message.  The maddened millionaire strikes him, sending the cloaked form flying off of the balcony, but once again, Wanda sees nothing.  The next day as they are boating on a lake, the Stranger emerges from the waters.  Still, Wanda sees nothing.  She pleads with her husband to get rid of the coffin, but he refuses, citing his vow, yet even during their intimate moment of conversation, he sees Irina.

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 09

Finally, pushed to the breaking point, he confronts the Phantom Stranger over his first wife’s coffin and attacks him with an axe, but the mysterious one forces him to think back over what really happened to his wife.  We learn that Phillips tried to kill her, putting her in situations where her heart would give out, and when it finally did, he destroyed her pills and callously sat by and watched her die.

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 14

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 15

Jason thinks that the Stranger is just a blackmailer and attacks, but as his wild swings carry him outside, he runs towards a pair of advancing lights, only to be struck by a car and killed.  Fittingly, the car had come to get his wife’s coffin, though strangely, the name on the work order is Irina, not Wanda.

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 19

This is a great little horror yarn, and though that isn’t really my favorite genre, Kanigher turned out a very entertaining tale here, continuing his inconsistency.  It’s either feast of famine with this guy!  He handled the building tension and mounting clues quite well.  There are just a few incongruous elements, like the Egyptian bit and the detail at the end with the conflated names.  I’m not really sure what the purpose of that was.  Still, the total effect is quite strong.  Needless to say, Aparo does a masterful job with this book.  His work is wonderfully moody and atmospheric.  Every panel is draped in shadow or lit with the bright light of romance, and all of the characters are beautifully rendered.  As much as I love his Aquaman work, let’s face it, he was even more perfect for the Phantom Stranger than for the Sea King.  All together, I’ll give this chilling chronicle 4.5 Minutemen.

minute4.5


“A Time to Die”


the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 21

We have a solo Dr. Thirteen backup this month, and it’s a rather nice change of pace.  I like the interplay between the good Doctor and the Phantom Stranger, but a little goes a long way.  It is good to give each of them room to grow.  This particular outing is a respectable Dr. Thirteen mystery set in England, on the misty moors.  The Doc and his wife arrive just in time to see a man drop dead at the stroke of midnight.  ‘Ol Terry is his usual charming self, talking down to his wife and immediately making friends with the natives.  When the townspeople start talking about “the ghost of the Black Friar,” the Dr. responds by saying “You men are acting like frightened fools.”  Astonishingly, this does not endear him to them, and they tell this rude American to butt out in no uncertain terms as they carry the body to the town doctor.

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 24

Incidentally, that is who summoned Dr. Thirteen in the first place.  When they visit this fellow, Dr. Hall, he tells them that he’s a man of science, yet he has spent much time investigating the ruins of the old abbey and believes that there is something evil there.  He tells them the tale of one of the abbey’s former inhabitants who turned to the black arts until he was convicted of witchcraft and burned in the 16th century.  Before he died, he swore a curse on the town.  Dr. Hall reveals that, since he is an old man, he’ll shortly be replaced by a new young doctor, but before he retired, he wanted to see that the town was protected.

That night, Dr. Thirteen investigates, only to see the figure of the Black Friar but be unable to catch him when he vanished.  Summoning the townspeople, they scoff, telling him that another man just died on the other side of town and the Friar couldn’t be in two places at once…if he weren’t a ghost!  With Dr. Hall’s help, the Ghost Breaker manages to convince the townspeople to help his investigation, but the next night, when they approach the abbey, a disembodied voice declares that, unless they run the strangers out of town, the ghost will take a terrible vengeance no them.  The townsfolk tell Thirteen to hit the road, Jack, and don’t come back no more!

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 27

Yet, Dr. Thirteen is nothing if not persistent, so he sneaks back into town after sending his wife to safety, and searches a house and the abbey ruins.  Soon, he confronts the townspeople just at midnight and entreats them to follow him.  Heading to the graveyard where he first encountered the Friar, they once more hear the voice, but the Ghost Breaker leaps forward and searches a tombstone for a hidden switch, revealing a secret passage and a robbed figure!  The figure is unmasked to reveal….Doctor Hall!?

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 28

That’s right, apparently Hall was just a tad bitter about being forced into retirement, so he used his scientific knowledge to construct a sonic weapon (fancy!), which he hooked up to the bell tower.  Every night at midnight it would send out a sonic pulse, and if anyone was close enough and susceptible enough, it would kill them.  Thirteen was suspicious of the old fellow, and when he searched his house, he found enough evidence to let him trap the doctor the the help of a micro transmitter that he used to track the fake fiend to his hiding place.  That wraps things up rather neatly, if making it a tad Scooby Doo.

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 29

This is a decent little backup strip for Dr. Thirteen, if not one of his best.  Hall’s scheme is a bit too outlandish and the resolution is rushed, packed into one page, but that’s to be expected when you’ve only got seven to work with in the first place.  Both of the creators are new to me, but they turned in a perfectly serviceable story.  We’ll see if they show up in future DC Comics.  Either way, this yarn earns 3 Minutemen, a solid if unremarkable story.

minute3

This issue also had a really excellent missive in the letter column, a thoughtful and insightful take on what makes Dr. Thirteen tick which is worth a read.

the phantom stranger (1969) 12 - 20

 


Superboy #173


Superboy_Vol_1_173

“The Super-Clark of Smallville!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Trust Me or Kill Me!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska

Well, would you look at that!  It’s the totally original ‘hero acting out of character’ cover type!  The cover is probably enough to make you want to know what’s going on, and it’s decently illustrated, but it’s not all that interesting, really.  One does wonder what exactly Clark is doing in that dorky outfit, though.  Unsurprisingly with Leo Dorfman calling the tune, our headline tale is rather Silver Age-ish and goofy, as you’d expect from this cover.

The gimmicky tale begins in Professor Lang’s lab, where the good doctor has what he claims is a jar of ambrosia, the food of the gods, from ancient Greece.  He also happens to claim that ambrosia was what gave the gods their powers, which makes me wonder if this guy got his degree out of a Cracker Jack’s box, as any school kid with an interest in mythology would know better.  They got their powers by being, you know, gods.  In some versions of the myths, ambrosia did have a role in their immortality, but that’s really not the same thing at all.  Yes, it’s a comic book, but it’s a comic book in a setting where the Greek gods actually do exist, so details like this matter a bit.

superboy 173 0003

Well, one way or the other, Dr. Cracker Jack decides to test some of the powered residue within the jar, but when he tries to, it explodes!  I hope they haven’t given this guy tenure!  The explosion wrecks the lab, but, of course, Clark is uninjured.  He rushes to help Professor Lang, but Lana spots him hefting a bookshelf off the quack.  At first she thinks this confirms her suspicions about him being Superboy, but seeing that he is holding the test tube and has traces of ambrosia on his face, she assumes that he ate the ambrosia, and thus gained the powers of the gods!  With no real choice, supposedly, the Boy of Steel fakes the discovery of new powers, like Hermes’ flight, as if he were a novice.

superboy 173 0004-0005

In a purely rational and not at all wacky and bizarre response to this discovery, Lana’s first instinct is that Clark must show off to all of the bullies at school by going out for the track team.  She even makes a costume for him, for some reason.  This bit really makes no sense at all, in context.  I guess because he’s ‘super’ he needs a costume?  But he isn’t becoming a hero, just going out for sports.  Oookay, Lana.  Whatever you say.

superboy 173 0006

You’ll be the coolest kid in school…and you’ll wear a dorky costume while you do it!  It’s foolproof!

Well, “Super-Clark” (sigh) goes to the track field and shows off his strength and agility.  There is actually a great opportunity for some characterization here, for Clark to revel in the ability to use his powers in public and to enjoy Lana’s attentions.  Yet, Dorfman almost completely ignores that angle to focus on gimmicky situations for Clark’s ‘new’ powers.  My favorite is definitely when Clark rescues a bathysphere that got in trouble….in Smallville…Kansas.  Sure!  Doesn’t your small farming town have bathyspheres on every street corner?

superboy 173 0007

superboy 173 0008Needless to say, Pa Kent is rather shocked when an excited crowd shows up yelling about how his son has superpowers, but the new Smallville Spectacle explains things, pointing out that he’s happy he can help his father with his store.  Apparently at this point, Pa Kent isn’t a farmer, instead owning a general store, which seems far less fitting, iconic, or archetypal for the character.  After another series of super feats, Clark starts to get tired of the constant requests for aid and begins to realize the benefits of a secret identity.

Later on, a young, super-bald Lex Luthor comes back to town to get his revenge on the people who spurned him.  He is thrilled when he sees the townspeople tearing down their Superboy statue, but he becomes less excited when he sees them replace it with a statue of (sigh) Super Clark.  Man, Smallville residents are more fickle than Atlanteans!  Lex is more constant, at least in his hatred, and using a new invention, a “power nullifer” which does just what the name implies, he shoots Superboy out of the sky once the young hero is back in costume.

superboy 173 0015

The Boy of Steel crashes in a swamp and finds his powers gone.  He rushes to the nearby ruined lab of Professor Lang, hoping to find some ambrosia on the off chance it will really give him powers.  He finds the a note that was in the jar with the ambrosia and, conveniently, can read ancient Greek, which, you know, anybody can just pick up.  He eats the note, hoping it absorbed some of the food of the gods and finds himself actually possessing the powers of the gods.

superboy 173 0020

Using the Zeus’s shape-shifting power and thunderbolts, the ‘Phantom Vision” of Hades, and flight of Hermes, he manages to defeat Luthor’s various gadgets and drive off his former-friend-turned-foe.  The story ends with the godly powers fading and Superboy’s own powers returning.  When he tells Lana that his career as ‘Super Clark’ is over, she doesn’t exactly take the news gracefully.

superboy 173 0021

superboy 173 0022Well, this story wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exactly fantastic either.  Dorfman wastes the chance to do some actual character work with Clark, botches his mythology, and throws in plenty of goofiness as well.  The yarn is entertaining enough, and the section where Superboy gains the godly powers is an interesting change of pace.  Yet, that is really over in two pages, so we don’t really get a lot of opportunity to see the difference between those and his usual abilities.  This story has some potential to be neat, but it ends up being fairly forgettable.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, with the inexplicable ‘Super Clark’ costume costing it some points.

minute2.5


“Trust Me or Kill Me!”


superboy 173 0023

Our Legion backup this month is once again the highlight of the book.  It’s a fairly conventional identity mystery, the likes of which the Legion writers seem to love, but there are some neat details to it.  The tale begins with the stalwart Cosmic Boy left alone in the Legion headquarters, as the rest of the team has gone off to get vaccinated against a new virus sweeping the planet, a vaccine he himself had received years ago.  That’s a reasonably decent excuse to get the rest of the team out of the way for this story, and in light of the recent vaccination madness here in the U.S., I can’t help but smile.

Well, Cosmic Boy’s sojourn is interrupted when, all of a sudden, his double in a mirror smashes through the glass and attacks him!  Each claims to be the original, and they find themselves evenly matched in combat, knowing each other’s moves.  We also learn that Cosmic Boy knows a martial art named Ku-Jui, which he learned on his homeworld, a fun little detail and bit of world-building.  They decide to call in help in order to figure out which of them is real, and they settle on Superboy, who they summon from the past.  The Boy of Steel speeds through the Time Barrier (such a wonderfully comic book-ish concept), and joins the duplicated duo in the future.

superboy 173 0024

Tuska really knocks the face-work on this story out of the park.

Once he arrives, he is confronted by a massive image of the Legion’s most deadly foe, Mordru!  The evil wizard informs the young Action Ace that this is all part of one of his schemes.  Mordru has created a duplicate of Cosmic Boy, and if the hero cannot discover him, the double will secretly destroy the Legionnaires one by one.  I know very little about this character, but I have to say, I like this little glimpse of him. George  Tuska does a great job of making Mordru’s image seem intimidating and ominous, while also giving him some good old fashioned villainous glee.  His plan is really quite devious.  It has the longshot possibility of destroying the Legion, but even if it fails, it promises to subject the team to terrible emotional strain as they face the possibility of destroying one of their friends in order to save themselves

superboy 173 0027

Superboy tries to solve the mystery by quizzing the two Cosmic Boys, but each of them is able to answer his questions about their history.  Realizing that the Legionnaires are on their way back , the Boy of Steel tries one last, desperate gambit.  He flies off and returns with two massive iron boulders, hurtling them at both claimants to the Cosmic Boy title, saying that the real master of magnetism will be able to stop his rock.

superboy 173 0030

Yet, when one of them fails to halt the hurtling stone, Superboy rushes to his rescue.  The stunned youth wonders why, since he failed, but Clark explains that the rocks were actually plastic, and he counted on the fake Legionnaire using magic to simulate Cosmic Boys powers, rather than duplicating the powers themselves.  Thus, they mystery is solved, and the story ends with Mordru swearing that the traditional vow of ‘this isn’t over’ and Superboy headed back to his own time.

superboy 173 0031

This little tale has a clever resolution in Superboy’s plan.  It’s a good way to solve the mystery, and it does make a certain amount of sense.  There isn’t a whole lot to it beyond that, but we get some nice background on Cosmic Boy, and he gets a standard ‘you have to kill us both, Spock’ moment, though it is immediately countered by Superboy.  Mordru’s very brief appearance is fun, and I look forward to seeing a full story with him as the villain.  George Tuska’s art is bright and cheerful, and he really succeeds in making the protagonists look youthful, something not all comic artists can really pull off.  His clean, expressive art is a nice fit for these characters.  I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him stay on this feature.  I’ll give this little backup 3.5 Minutemen, as it makes for a fun read and has no real flaws other than its brevity.

minute3.5


And once again, we find ourselves at the end of a post.  These stories present a widely varied whole, and they certainly illustrate how diverse an era we’re working with.  In just this pair of books, we go from the creepy horror story of a haunted killer to the goofy antics of a gimmick driven Superboy farce.  As silly as the latter story was, it’s an interesting and positive thing that both types of comic are being published by DC, a variety of tone and theme not seen after this era until very recently.

The Phantom Stranger tale is particularly notable for the overt use of horror elements and for the cold-blooded murder that actually happens on panel.  It represents a darker type of story, one that had mostly passed out of mainstream comics with the dawning of the Silver Age and the rise of the Comics Code.  The return of such storytelling marks the continuing shift across the genre to more mature and varied comics.  Well, I hope that y’all enjoyed this read, and that y’all will join me again soon for the next stop on our journey, Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 5)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg

Hello folks, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I’m back on my routine, at least for a little while, so I’ll hopefully finish this month up soon.  I’m very excited about today’s post, as we’ve got New Gods #1, the start of what is undoubtedly the most significant of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books.  There’s also a delightful little surprise in this month’s Superboy, which added to my enjoyment of these comics.  In general, we’ve got a good set of books to discuss, so let’s get to it!

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 #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

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


Justice League of America #88


JLA_v.1_88“The Last Survivors of Earth!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

This is an interesting cover for an unusual issue.  Notably, this comic has the distinction of being the only pre-crisis JLA book to feature Mera on the cover, and she does look good there with the rest of the League.  It’s a shame she didn’t get into action with them more often.  The cover itself is indicative of the era, showing the JLA having failed in some fashion, a common trope, but interestingly, there is some truth to this particular tableau.  The issue inside is a fun one, if a bit odd, as the heroes really don’t have much impact on the outcome.

The tale begins with a strange golden spaceship, which has a pretty cool design, speeding towards Earth as a robotic voice addresses its passengers.  The voice reminds its charges that they are the people of Mu, which, like Atlantis, is a legendary lost continent, and a very promising addition to the mythos of the DCU.  The mechanical voice continues, recounting how the citizens of Mu had used their superior technology to flee what they thought was a dying world, but their return, thousands of years later, has revealed a flourishing orb.

JusticeLeague88-02

The people of Mu, being kept alive by their machines, are now degenerated and decadent from their enforced isolation and inaction, and they can only respond with hatred to the modern inhabitants of Earth who they assume must be inferior to themselves.  Dillin achieves a pretty creepy, horrific effect with his portrayal of the Muians, vast rows of stiff, motionless figures, all screaming mindlessly for blood.  It’s like a much darker version of Wall-E, and as we’ll see, it serves a similar theme.

JusticeLeague88-03

Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of the threat approaching from space, a trio of Justice Leaguers pursue a “busman’s holiday,” working at an archeological dig in the South Seas Islands.  Carter and Shiera Hall have been joined by Hal Jordan of all people, and they are working to uncover clues to lost civilizations.  I love these types of glimpses into the ‘off-duty’ lives of the Leaguers, especially when they are hanging out together.  This is a really fun setup, and I would have enjoyed spending more time with these characters here, but Shiera quickly turns up a tablet inscribed with strange symbols that seem to point to the mysterious continent of Mu.  Just then, lightning strikes her out of a clear sky!  Green Lantern is able to blunt its force, but she’s still stunned, so the heroes suit up, with Hawkman taking his wife to a hospital while Hal contacts the League.

JusticeLeague88-04

In a touch that I quite enjoyed, Aquaman was on his way to join the trio to lend his services in interpreting whatever they found.  If you’re working on lost continents and civilizations, what better expert to call in than the king of just such a place?  It’s a really cool detail, and it proves wise, as he fills Hal in on what the Atlanteans know about Mu: it was an advanced civilization in the pacific that disappeared mysteriously.  The Sea King also brings news that strange disasters are occurring in the Gulf of Persia, the Mekong Delta, and the Coast of California, all of which point to Mu (though how they do so is quite unexplained).  The Emerald Crusader divides the League’s forces to deal with the different disasters and heads out himself, only to be struck by lightning as well, just managing to save himself at the last moment!

JusticeLeague88-05

In California, Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary arrive in the Batjet, but there is some tension in the air, as Batman remembers a kiss aboard the Satellite.  When they land, Black Canary pulls the Dark Knight aside, much to Arrow’s chagrin.  After telling Ollie that she’ll talk with whoever she care to, she tells Batman that she wants his advice on how to deal with the hot-headed archer, and she came to him because she thinks of him as a brother!  Ouch!  Bats is stuck in the one trap not even he can escape, the friend zone!  Nonetheless, he takes it like a man, and when the Emerald Archer starts flipping out and demands to take off, the Masked Manhunter even lets them use his plane.  (Real mature, Ollie.  It’s not like lives are at stake or anything.)  It’s a surprising but enjoyable little scene, with a bit of humor and just a touch of pathos, as Batman realizes that the attraction he feels is one-sided.

JusticeLeague88-10

Back on the other side of the world, Superman and the Atom approach the Persian Gulf, where refugees are fleeing a violent set of earthquakes.  The readers get a glimpse of the culprit, a golden medallion, an artifact of Mu, worn about the neck of a respected Iranian man, which serves as a transmitter for the destructive energies of the Mu spacecraft.  The heroes labor in ignorance, however, with Superman doing his best to help the evacuation and save lives while the Atom heads to a lab to try and sort out what is going on.  He stops a few looters and then gets to work, eventually determining the center of the disturbances, but not their cause.

JusticeLeague88-13
As the heroes head towards the epicenter of the quakes, the medallion’s owner smashes it, unwittingly ending the disaster.  Notably, the man, a devout Muslim, is portrayed as wise and selfless in a very positive and sympathetic treatment of Islam for a comic from 1971.  We even get an editor’s note providing a touch of background for the religion, which is surprising.

JusticeLeague88-15

At the same time, in Vietnam, the Flash has his hands full with an out of control monsoon.  Floods are destroying the country, and the Fastest Man Alive is run ragged trying to save lives.  While he labors, a young woman accustomed to tragedy prays to her household gods, another artifact of Mu.

JusticeLeague88-19

In another surprising touch, we’re told her husband was killed by the Viet Cong and her son by American napalm, an unexpected glimpse of the ongoing tragedy unfolding in Vietnam, and one that is handled with an unusually light touch.  Just as Green Arrow and Black Canary arrive and mark the center of the disturbance with a flare, the young woman smashes her idol in rage at its failure to protect her family, ending the storms.

JusticeLeague88-21

JusticeLeague88-23Finally, in California, Batman is left alone to confront the arriving Muian ship, and his valiant but foolhardy barehanded attack against the technological marvel, ends in defeat.  It’s a shame he didn’t have an advanced jet with all kinds of weapons on hand.  Once again, Green Arrow’s temper gets everyone in trouble.  The League just might be better off without him.

The people of Mu have their robotic caretaker snare a youth off of the street to interrogate, trying to discover how their attacks have been defeated.  The young man tells gives them a fiery response about how they are really jealous of the freedom and life that regular humans have, and then escapes the ship.  When it takes off, something suddenly goes wrong and it crashes into the sea, incidentally killing hundreds or thousands of Muians.

JusticeLeague88-25

When his friends ask him what happened, the young man informs them that he threw a wrench into the craft’s engines, thus saving the day….and also committing a touch of genocide!  The story ends with the Leaguers comparing notes and realizing that none of them ended the threats.  Finally, Aquaman recommends that they write this case up as “unexplained.”

JusticeLeague88-26

Yay!  They’re all dead!

This is a fun issue, though the final resolution is really rather too sudden and random, and I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to make of all of this.  The final narration stresses the theme of the Muians’ plight, the dangers of overreliance on machines, but the message is a tad muddled in delivery.  There’s something here about the triumph of human nature over machines, but it doesn’t quite get developed.  This idea is apparently in the zeitgeist, as we’ve just seen an Aquaman issue on the dangers of over-mechanization.

JusticeLeague88-29

JusticeLeague88-10 - CopyDespite the slightly awkward ending, there are a lot of neat elements in this tale, interesting and thoughtful little touches, like having Aquaman be called in as an expert in lost civilizations, some decently graceful attempts at exposing readers to other cultures, and even a little romantic intrigue.  The lost continent of Mu itself is a really fascinating concept, and it’s a shame it didn’t get a bit more development here, though that’s often the case for comics of this era.  I’m curious if anyone else ever made anything of the seeds planted in this story.  The threat the heroes face is one well suited to the League, and it’s an interesting change of pace that the team doesn’t actually save the day.  Most everyone gets something to do, though Aquaman gets the short end of the stick, as usual.  Dillin’s art is uneven in this one, alternately very strong and rather awkward, but for the most part he turns out a very pretty book.  There are a few just strange looking panels, though, like Batman’s awkward run.  In any event, this is an enjoyable read without the weirdness of the some of our previous issues.  I’ll give this one a solid 3.5 Mintuemen.

minute3.5


New Gods #1


New_Gods_v.1_1Orion Fights for Earth!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

Now here we go!  Kirby’s New Gods book is, unsurprisingly, the core of his New Gods saga, and it is here where we really begin to learn what’s behind everything we’ve seen teased in the other books.  The cover copy declares that this is “an epic for our times,” and that is a fitting description for the adventure that lies inside.  After all, an epic is usually defined as a long narrative poem of high tone and style dealing with the deeds of a powerful hero, often across a backdrop of the fantastic, and, other than the lack of verse, Kirby’s book does match up to that definition fairly well.  It is certainly a story that is larger than life, mythic in scope and proportions, and that is obvious even here at the very beginning.  In his other Fourth World books, the King has been introducing interesting and exciting new concepts, innovating in smaller ways, but with this book, Kirby begins to do that which he had done in Marvel in the 60s, create something completely new.

The world he conjures is unlike anything seen before, at least in DC Comics.  There are similarities to his Asgardian adventures and the cosmic aspects of his Fantastic Four, but there is a scope here, an imaginative intensity, that is unprecedented.  These are truly new myths being created before our eyes, with just that type of archetypal power, and the end result, however flawed in the particulars as it can be on occasion, is still something incredible.  I love these stories, and it is really a breathtaking experience to go back and read them in the context of what was going on at the time.  Reading them cold in the 21st Century only allows you to experience them obliquely.  You don’t realize how incredibly groundbreaking they were, because what they accomplished has in the decades since become commonplace as swarms of imitators have flooded comics with similar work.  Yet, seeing Kirby’s Forth World burst onto the scene in this book in 1971 really puts into perspective just how revolutionary Kirby was, as he always was.

This first issue is no exception, and from the beginning, you can tell you’re in for something special.  I have to say, though, that the cover is not particularly impressive.  The figure of Orion is a striking one, but the weird coloring has never appealed to me.  I’ve always preferred the recolored versions I’ve seen.  Nonetheless, what’s within does not disappoint.  The tale starts with the fall of the old gods.  In an incredible Kirby splash page, he tells with remarkable narrative efficiency of the Twilight of the Gods, of Ragnarok.  These old gods, who look rather suspiciously like Kirby’s Asgardians, battle one another in an apocalyptic scene, and with a single page, the King wipes away what he had once created in order to begin afresh.  It’s beautifully fitting on many levels.

ng01-03

The conflict ends in the destruction of the world of the gods, which is torn in two, and the two new orbs are left floating in space.  We aren’t told yet, but these will become New Genesis and Apokolips, the eternally opposed homeworlds of the New Gods.  Kirby’s narration throughout this section is, quite honestly, probably some of the best prose he’s ever written.  He really manages to capture the epic tenor he sets out for, and though sections of the book can get a bit clunky, the opening pages set an impressive tone.

ng01-06

Across the vastness of space comes the dramatic figure of Orion, possessor of the “Astro Force,” whatever that means, a warrior who we meet as he returns home to New Genesis, and we’re treated to some incredibly striking visuals of its beautiful floating city and Cyclopean architecture.  He’s greeted by the lighthearted Lightray, a lightning quick young man who flies circles around the dour Orion and implores him to stay in the paradisaical city and “learn to laugh again.”

ng01-07

Their conversation reveals our first hints at Orion’s dual nature, and we get a sense that he is a troubled soul and more than meets the eye.  The warrior has been summoned home to meet with his father, and the New Gods’ leader, Highfather.  The very patriarchal looking Highfather leads his son to “the chamber of the Source,” where they see a white stone wall, their “link with the Source.”  The idea of “the Source” provides a suitably vague and cosmic…well, source, for the powers of good, while still allowing for a surprising compatibility with the concept of the one God and thus folding in rather nicely with DC’s lightly drawn cosmology, even jiving peacefully with my own religious sensibilities.

ng01-08

ng01-10

As the pair stands before the wall, they are joined by Metron, an eternal scholar, a being of intellect, whose outlook has something in common with the cold logic of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  It seems there is no love lost between Orion and this newcomer, and their verbal sparring is only interrupted when Highfather communes with this mysterious Source, and a in very biblical image, a fiery finger writes upon the wall and “having writ, Moves on.”  The message it leaves behind is “Orion to Apokolips–then to earth–then to WAR.”  It’s a portentous declaration, but Highfather reminds Orion that, though the Source advises, they still have the freedom to choose, and it is this freedom that separates those of New Genesis from Apokolips.  The young man’s choice leads him across the vast distances between worlds, to war!  As he takes his leave, Metron offers a cryptic statement that reveals he knows that Orion’s true origins lie on Apokolips, and Highfather angrily swears him to secrecy.  I quite like the celestial scholar’s line, “How wonderfully wise is the Source!  Who is more ready to fight the father– than the son!”  It illustrates the archetypal dimensions of the story Kirby is spinning.

ng01-13

ng01-14

To Apokolips Orion flies, and our first glimpse of the grim, gray world is quite stunning, with its ashen surface and massive fire pits.  It looks every inch the archetypal Hell, and as he travels above it, Orion’s thoughts inform us that it is the opposite of New Genesis, a world dedicated to conquest and domination, to the extermination of freedom.  His reconnaissance is interrupted by a trio of Apokaliptian shock troopers, the parademons, which starts a running battle as Orion faces various waves of enemies, including heavy cavalry mounted on giant, vicious dogs!

ng01-15

Most of the troops are visually interesting and imaginatively designed, and the action looks good in Kirby’s wonderfully dynamic style.  In the various skirmishes, we begin to get a sense of Orion’s lust for battle and the dangers of his temper.  Finally, the warrior makes his way to the palace, only to discover that Darkseid has already gone to Earth, but his visit does not go unremarked, as the titanic tyrant’s son, Kalibak the Cruel, is there to greet him.  Their battle is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Metron, who has come to hurry Orion on his way.

ng01-19

ng01-29The scholar warns the warrior of Darkseid’s plans, telling him that the Apokaliptian monarch even now works on a device that will allow him to search all of the minds on Earth for the mysterious and sinister ‘Anti-Life Equation.’  Before vanishing as mysteriously as he appeared, he also reveals that Darkseid began his search there on Apokolips with a quartet of kidnapped humans.  The warrior frees the captives, and holding Kalibak off, opens a boom tube to Earth to help them escape.

ng01-24

Then to Earth they travel, leaving a raving Kalibak behind them, swearing revenge.  Once there, Orion explains to the four he rescued that there is a conflict brewing of universal significance, something far beyond their understanding, and the book ends with him shouting a challenge to Darkseid, a challenge which Darkseid, from his hidden fastness, answers.

ng01-31

ng01-20Then to War!  Wow!  Summarizing this book was a real challenge.  Since so much of this is new and since there are so many big ideas flying around, it is tough to be brief when talking about this story.  In fact, I left some interesting moments untouched, like the glimpse of New Genesis’s culture revealed in Highfather’s reverence for the innocence of youth, which itself is an effective shorthand for his world’s love of freedom and for the stakes for which this galactic game shall be played.  In general, this is a great story, though it will eventually be overshadowed by what comes after.  Kirby’s art is a little rough in some spots, and of course Colletta’s inking doesn’t do him many favors.  None the less, the visual imagination at play is wonderful, with both New Genesis and Apokolips fitting perfectly into their archetypal roles.  Kirby’s imagination is clearly unleashed in this book, and the fruits of his labors are wondrous.  There are Promethean structures everywhere, and many panels stress the scale of the world we’ve entered, as Orion is shrunk to insignificance before a starfield or an ominous edifice.

ng01-21

ng01-16I’ve mentioned how archetypal this story is, and that is an important part of its success, as the King is essentially creating a new myth, working in the broad, bright colors of legend, evoking the eternal struggle of the Norse Gods, the Olympian war against the Titans, or similar cosmic conflicts.  This is a larger scale, a much larger scale, than anything we’ve seen in DC Comics, and clearly already more fully realized than any similar worldbuilding we’ve seen in the last year.  The only parallels can be found in Kirby’s own work in Marvel, but with the Fourth World the King seeks to surpass even those heights .  Think about how astonishing this book must have been when it hit the stands amongst the mundane everyday stories filling DC’s books.  Even this month’s Justice League tale, which has some measure of imaginative reach, feels positively cramped and halfhearted by comparison.  Despite that, he’s doing some pretty solid character work even from this first chapter, especially considering the era.  There are mysteries surrounding Orion, and a lot of personality at play in everyone we meet.  The impression of depth is downright palpable, and you just know that this conflict sprawls far beyond the pages of this book.  What’s more, we can see the lasting impact of this story in the fact that so many of its elements, even just from this first entry, have gone on to become central elements of the DC Universe.  It’s a great beginning, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!  I’ll give this first chapter 4.5 Minutemen, as it loses just a little for the clunkier moments.

minute4.5


Superboy #172


Superboy_Vol_1_172“The World of the Super-Ape!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Brotherly Hate!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska
Letterer: Joe Letterese

Oh boy, we’ve got gorillas on the cover!  According to legend, DC’s indefatigable editor, Julie Schwartz, believed (and not without some reasonable circumstantial evidence) that a gorilla on the cover of a comic would boost sales.  Supposedly, the effects were so marked in the Silver Age that all of his editors wanted gorillas for their covers, and he had to institute a policy of no more than one gorilla cover a month!  Whatever the case may be, there sure are tons of gorilla covers from this era of comics!  This particular offering is a fairly striking one, and there’s a nice mystery, which gets a fairly good buildup in the story itself.  As for that very cover story, it has a really ludicrous premise, but the whole thing is handled surprisingly well.  While the concept is very Silver Age, the writing feels a tad more mature.

superboy 172 0003
superboy 172 0004

The tale opens with a recapitulation of Superman’s origin, but this time, there are two rockets headed for Earth.  One crashes in Smallville, and the other, strangely enough, in the heart of Africa, where its inhabitant is adopted by the apes.  Then the scene shifts forward 15 years, where an ivory poacher vanishes after an encounter with a strange shadowy figure.  The preserve officers call in Superboy when they are stumped by the lack of tracks.  A second group of poachers, out to capture gorillas for a zoo, also go missing, once again accosted by a shadowy figure.

superboy 172 0005superboy 172 0006
There’s a nice effect to these mysterious attacks, and Robbins continues to delay the final reveal of the antagonist, granting the first half of this comic a cool, old-school monster movie feel.  Tension mounts from scene to scene as the mystery deepens.  The payoff isn’t quite as good as I had hoped, however.  Eventually, Superboy decides that there must be connection between the apes the poachers were hunting and the mysterious disappearances, so he dresses as a gorilla in order to have the primates lead him back to their tribe….which is pretty silly, but okay.  The apes oblige, and in their cave, the Boy of Steel sees strange statues, idols, and even a magnificent throne, all carved in the likeness of a massive gorilla, and carved by intelligent beings.  Brown does a good job rendering these scenes and granting them a mysterious atmosphere.
superboy 172 0008superboy 172 0010
Inside the cave, Superboy discovers the captured poachers making a break for it, one of them having secreted a gun when they were taken, and he reveals himself in order to help their escape.  The gorillas pose no threat to him until, all of a sudden, a SUPER ape appears, one speaking Kryptonese!  That’s right, he is confronted by a flying, invulnerable gorilla, complete with cape and tights, no less!  They fight but find themselves too evenly matched, even clashing with heat vision in a nice panel.
superboy 172 0015superboy 172 0016
The Boy of Steel decides to try to solve riddle of this obvious fugitive from his homeworld, so he heads back in time and observes a second renegade scientist, the anthropologist an-kal, sending a cybernetically enhanced ape to safety and cursing the Science Council for not approving of his work.  Oookay.  This guy is even crazier than ol’ Jor-El!  What is it with Kryptonian scientists?
superboy 172 0017

“They can be a great people […] They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son…err…simian.”

Back in the modern day, Superboy rounds up the escaping poachers and brings them right back to the super-ape, Yango, telling his simian simulacrum that they don’t need to fight.  The youth realizes that the gorilla has dedicated himself to protecting the animal world as he has the human world, and so he is delivering the criminals to his justice and trusting, for some reason, that the gorillas won’t just murder them.  They part as friends, Superboy to continue his work in man’s world, Yango, in that of the animals.
superboy 172 0021
What a goofy concept, and what a goofy visual!  Yango, a gorilla in a full costume, looks pretty silly.  Despite that, this is a fun issue, and the super-fight is pretty entertaining.  It’s also interesting to see Robbins take on the issue of poaching, however obliquely, way back in 1971.  We see in this another attempt on DC’s part for social relevance, and, interestingly, the message doesn’t overwhelm the adventure, unlike some Green Lantern yarns I could name.  In fact, it rather fades into the background amidst the energetic rush of the story.  The first half of the comic is really the best, as the mystery of what is taking the poachers unfolds, but the reveal of Yango himself is, I have to admit, not what I expected.  I’m curious if this oddball character ever appeared again, but I don’t think he did.  If any of you readers know differently, please let me know!  Despite the silliness of the super-simian, I have to say, I enjoyed this read.  The whole tale has something of an Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan feel to it, and that’s a good thing.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as the yarn is entertaining despite its goofiness.
minute3

“Brotherly Hate!”


superboy 172 0022

We’ve got a real treat in the back of this book this month!  After too long in limbo, the Legion of Superheroes returns to the pages of DC Comics!  This starts what will become a regular backup feature for quite some time.  Eventually, the Legion will actually muscle Superboy out of his own book!  This is good news to me, as I’ve really enjoyed the daring deeds of these futuristic do-gooders.  Our story this month is a solid one, with a touch of family drama flavoring the adventure.  It begins with a Legion rocket arriving at the “Interplanetary Bank,” where they discover that the “guardian beasts” have been disabled.  I’m already 100% onboard, as a setting in which there is something called an “Interplanetary Bank” and which is guarded by giant monsters seems pretty promising to me!  The Legion team, Lightning Lad, Timberwolf, and Light Lass discover that the perpetrator was none other than Lightning Lord, the brother of Lad and Lass!

superboy 172 0023

We get a brief reprise of how the trio got their powers, and then, to my delight, we get a nice origin for the Legion itself!  Young Lightning Lad, Garth Ranzz, travels to Earth looking for his brother, and on the ship, he meets the future Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, as well as the “richest man in the universe,” R.J. Brande.  When a gang of assassins try to kill Brande, the trio intervene, each using their powers to pitch in.  Brande is thankful, but he is also inspired, so he offers to set the three youths up as superheroes, citing Superboy and Supergirl as examples of teenage heroes.  They all agree, and the Legion is formed.  I’d read summaries of this event, but it is really fun to actually see it played out.

superboy 172 0027

With their flashback over, the team tracks Lightning Lord’s ship, confronting him on a barren and rocky world.  When they confront him, Lightning Lad tries to talk his brother down, but when he refuses, both of the Legionnaire siblings hesitate, causing Timberwolf to spring into action.  The high-voltage villain tries to zap him, but Lightning Lass throws herself in front of the beam to save the boy she loves.  This enrages Timberwolf, but Lightning Lad insists that he face his brother alone.

superboy 172 0029

They are evenly matched, and they throw electrical bolts back in forth to little effect.  Yet, Lightning Lad backs his brother against a metallic cliffside and ricochets a blast into his back, knocking him out, but turning his hair white in the process.  Their sinister sibling captured, the heroes find themselves hoping that he will reform, but something tells me that’s a tad unlikely.

superboy 172 0030

This is an all-too-brief adventure, but it is a fun one.  Bridwell manages to add just enough pathos to the confrontation to make it interesting, and the action is entertaining.  I have to say, though, I think my favorite part is a look at the Legion’s founding.  I suppose I share something of Bridwell’s love of continuity.  That sense of history, of more stories than exist on the page, is key for the “impression of depth” that is such an important part of a well-realized setting.  I’ll give this fun little Legion legend 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5


What a set of stories!  We finally get the debut of New Gods, and we get the return of the Legion to boot!  I’ll call that a win.  This finishes off our penultimate batch of books, bringing us to the end of the month, a hearty dose (an overdose?) of Superman!  Please join me again soon for my commentary on those comics as I trudge further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
Hello dear readers, and welcome to another installment of Into the Bronze Age.  I imagine that many of you out there are thunderstruck by the results of the American presidential election, no matter who you favored.  This entire election has been bizarre beyond words.  Many of you likely feel like the world is spinning madly out of control.  Perhaps some of you are feeling pleased and hopeful.  Whatever the case, I imagine we could all use a break from politics and from a national discourse that has grown ever more poisonous and vicious.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about politics.  I’m neither going to lament nor cheer.  No, instead, I’m going to publish this post about, of all things, 1970s comic books.  What a thing to do at a moment in history that, whatever comes, is sure to be remembered for years.  Yet, it’s at times like this I think that these silly little superhero books can do us the most good.  They are bright, hopeful, and they espouse, at their best, the only true heroism, the self-sacrificial love that marks the highest apex of human virtue, mirroring as it does divine virtue.  They remind us that we are at our best, not when we are doing for ourselves, but when we are doing for others.  They are a good escapist refuge from an ugly and uncharitable world, but they are also a reminder that humanity is capable of good things, beauty, joy, and laugher.

So, without further ado, welcome to September 1970.  Let’s see what awaits us within, shall we?

This month in history:

  • Palestinian terrorists hijack ten different planes during what is known as the “Black September” civil war in Jordan
  • Psychedelic drug evangelist and all-around wack job Timothy Leary escaped from prison
  • IBM announces System 370 computer
  • USSR launches Luna 16; returns samples from lunar Sea of Fertility
  • President Nixon requests 1,000 new FBI agents for college campuses
  • Unrest and conflict continues in Ireland

We have a tie between two extremely awesome songs at the top of the charts this month, with both Edwin Star’s “War” and Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”  These are two very different songs, but they provide a nice cross section of the time.  “War” is certainly a very striking piece, given the conflicts filling our list above.

It is certainly an interesting month in history, with all kinds of crazy things going on.  I learned a lot reading about this month, and I was fascinated by both the Black September conflict and the bat-guano insane life of Timothy Leary.  The guy was like a real-life supervillain.  It’s very interesting for those of us on the path to the Bronze Age that we see evidence in this flurry of skyjackings of the trend we heard about all the way back in Batman #219.  Clearly calling this period “The Golden Age of Skyjacking” is rather appropriate.  The Space Race continues as well, giving us something a bit more positive happening in the skies, but there are still signs of unrest everywhere.  Well, enough of all this real-world drama, let’s talk about some superheroes!

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

  • Action Comics #392
  • Batman #225
  • Brave and the Bold #91
  • Detective Comics #403
  • G.I. Combat #143
  • Green Lantern #79
  • Justice League #83
  • Showcase #93
  • The Flash #200
  • World’s Finest #196

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

Action Comics #392

action_comics_392“The Shame of the Super Son”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Once again, this issue follows what is becoming a familiar pattern.  The Headlining Superman tale is just goofy Silver Age fare, but the Legion backup is just plain good.  The Superman tale continues the Saga of the Super Sons and repeats many of the silly domestic farce elements that annoyed me with the last one.  Once again, everyone seems to just spend all day and night in their costumes, even when doing the most prosaic and pedestrian activities, giving us some really unintentionally funny panels.  I’m actually reminded a bit of the Tick…

In our last issue, we ended on the cliffhanger of Superman apparently taking away his goofus of a son’s powers with gold kryptonite.  He makes this pretty huge choice with ridiculous suddenness, deciding that his hard-luck screw-up of a teenage son, or, you know, a teenager, was too dangerous and incompetent to have super powers.  Apparently Clark doesn’t remember what it was like to be 13 or so.  After all, I know I know I certainly didn’t have everything together at that age…of course, I still don’t, but that’s neither here nor there!  This issue picks back up with the elder Supes as he returns home, sullen and silent.  His son runs off as soon as they are home, justifiably angry at his father for, you know, stripping his powers away permanently without so much as a heads-up.  I have to say, this surprised me a bit.  I was sure that the previous issue’s cliffhanger would be a cheat of some sort and that this one would reveal the kid’s powers weren’t permanently lost just because he’s a klutz, seeing as how that would be insane and incredibly cruel.  I was certain that this issue would reveal it was all just a lesson for the boy, but no, Kanigher amps up the crazy by barreling ahead quite earnestly.

action 392 02 - shame of the super-son 02.jpg

And Kanigher cranks up Superman’s jerk dial a dozen more notches, as the Man of Tomorrow wordlessly brushes past his wife, who can tell something is wrong, and locks himself in his study, while the wife, increasingly panicked by his complete freaking silence, repeatedly demands to know what happened to her son.  Wow, you’re just bad all around at this family stuff, aren’t you Supes?  So, what does Mrs. Man of Steel do?  She runs across the street to the neighboring mansion of Batman and asks him for help.  In so doing, she interrupts the Caped Crusader lounging in his den, watching TV in full costume.  That’s got to be one of the most ridiculous images in the book, but it has plenty of competition.

action 392 05 - shame of the super-son 05.jpg

Check out Batman’s swinging 60s den!

The Dark Knight (not so dark here) gets the story out of his friend, who has NOW decided to be remorseful for ruining his son’s life (a little late there!).  Next we get a montage of scenes where the former Boy of Steel gets humiliated in various ways, all while continuing to wear his costume as he engages in even more normal activities.  He nearly drowns while swimming (in a cape!), has to pick up his date on a Bat-bike (the pedal-powered kind), and gets one-uped by Bat-boy.  There’s a lot of silly in these pages.

action 392 06 - shame of the super-son 06.jpg

Things take a turn when Superman is ambushed by a bunch of criminals from the Generic Gang who happen to have gotten their hands on the most plentiful element in the Silver Age DC Universe, kryptonite!  The Super Son, having lost his powers, is somehow unaffected, and he manages to free his not-so-super father.  I’d have sympathized if he had left him to the crooks.

action 392 09 - shame of the super-son 08.jpg

This prompts a change of heart in the Man of Tomorrow, who brings his son to the Bottle City of Kandor for his 14th birthday.  While there, they don a set of bracelets that, supposedly signify their bond.  When they come back to the Fortress, they discover one of the dangerous zoo animals escaped , and Superman doesn’t seem to have the power to stop it.  His son belts the beast and discovers that his powers have returned.  Apparently, the bracelets actually gave the elder’s powers to the younger.  The issue ends with father and son reconciled and the Man of Steel, now powerless, retiring and letting his son take over the family world-saving business.  It really seems like he got there the hard way.

action 392 13 - shame of the super-son 11.jpg

Well, this was a bonkers issue, picking up from the last bonkers issue.  Superman really comes off pretty terribly, both with his ridiculously abrupt and insanely severe punishment of his son and with his callous treatment of his justifiably frantic wife.  The ending would be heartwarming, if it wasn’t made necessary by the Man of Steel’s being inhumanely cruel in the first place.  In the end, this is more or less what you might expect of such a story.  It’s ludicrously Silver Age-y , and I had to check again to make sure it wasn’t really written by Bob Haney.  The domestic farce in this one was even worse than the previous one, and there’s little goofier than the entire set of super families hanging out and swimming in their own pool, all in full costume.  That kind of zaniness costs this issue a half Minuteman over the previous one.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

minute2

“The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”

action 392 17 - legionnaires who never were 01.jpg

As usual, the Legion backup is great fun.  This one is an offbeat issue, though it certainly employs the standard Legion formula of the apparent enemy within.  I think the Legion must spend more of their time fighting each other and chasing “traitors” than doing anything else.  Imagine how much more they could have gotten done if they weren’t always worried about secret double agents in their midsts!

The issue begins with two of the lady Legionnaires, Saturn Girl and Princess Projectra, heading out on a mission to capture a “space renegade” (good band name), Pozr-Du.  You’ve got to love these Legion names.  On the way, Saturn Girl reveals a new costume, which I suspect points to a larger trend of linking fashion and female characters.  This is something I’ve noticed in some Supergirl comics I’ve read around this period (some of the only ones I’ve encountered).  I wonder if DC was attempting to bring in and engage more female readers with such an emphasis on costume design and the like.  I know the Supergirl book actually had costume design contests and the like.  It makes a certain amount of sense, and I think it’s a rather nice effort on DC’s part, if perhaps a bit heavy handed.

Well, when the girls find their quarry, they are ambushed by the renegade and blasted out of the sky, unconscious!  When they awaken, strangely enough there is no sign of Pozr-Du.  He didn’t bother to capture them or even finish them off, though they landed right in his lap.  Mystified and discouraged, there is nothing the pair can do but return to Legion HQ, which looks a bit different than I remember.  However, once there, things taken an even stranger turn, as their ship is snagged in an “energy-grappler” and Cosmic Boy, manning the defenses, claims never to have heard of them!

action 392 18 - legionnaires who never were 02.jpg

The lovely Legionnaires are captured by their former teammates, and despite their protestations, Cosmic Boy and the others tell them that the Legion has never had members named Princess Projectra or Saturn Girl.  To prove their legitimacy, the heroines demand to be taken to the trophy room where they can produce evidence of their accomplishments, but when they arrive, they find their mementos are missing!  This provides us with a fun little glimpse of the Legion trophy room, complete with some really cool looking creatures and objects.

action 392 21 - legionnaires who never were 05.jpg

Just then, two new members arrive to check out the intruders, Prince Projectur and Saturn Lad!  They demonstrate their powers, and the flabbergasted femmes begin to feel rather hopeless.  Interestingly, both of these guys are wearing almost the exact same costumes as their female counterparts, and it just looks plain ridiculous.  Just a slight redesign on them to give them something a bit more dignified and masculine would have done wonders.  At the very least, give them pants, for heaven’s sake!  This is like the unironic 70s predecessor of the Hawkeye initiative, and it does unintentionally illustrate how silly the average female comic character’s costume is.

action 392 22 - legionnaires who never were 06.jpg

Anyway, fashion disasters aside, our two heroines find themselves prisoners, floating suspended in the middle of a chamber in a detention sphere.  The pair discuss their situation, and I really enjoyed the matter-of-fact way these two unflappable ladies calmly assess the possible explanations of their predicament.  They are experienced enough at this kind of thing to immediately recognize that there are a number of possible explanations.  They could be on an alternate Earth, the weapon they were struck with could have put them into a dream state, or many other even stranger possibilities.  I liked this.  It makes sense that experienced heroes would have a frame of reference for even something as crazy as finding out that none of your friends remember you.

action 392 24 - legionnaires who never were 07.jpg

Unable to determine exactly what is going on from their cell, the ladies plan an escape, and they do so in clever and dynamic fashion.  The cell stretches with their movement, and since their captors failed to take their flight rings, thinking them fake, they fly in opposite directions, straining the bubble’s elasticity until it breaks.  Free once more, Princess Projectra has a plan.  She tells Saturn Girl to stay hidden while she looks for answers.

action 392 25 - legionnaires who never were 08.jpg

In search of just that, she visits the quarters of a particular Legionnaire, her boyfriend, Karate Kid.  The Princess demands answers, and tries to remind Val of their relationship, including a really sweet little flashback to the first time they said “I love you.”  To attempt to spark his memory, the lovely illusionist kisses her erstwhile beau.  He still insists he doesn’t know her, but suddenly he collapses!  In another really clever move, the Princess applied a drug to her lips that would knock him out when she kissed him.  With the Kid unconscious, she applies a small device to his neck, hoping that it will answer her questions.

action 392 27 - legionnaires who never were 09.jpg

Returning to Saturn Girl, Projectra is challenged by her male counterpart.  However, she has begun to suspect the truth, so she creates an illusory monster that threatens her, and the startled “Prince” leaps to her aid, letting her real name slip out in the process.  She unmasks him as Brianiac 5, and the jig is up!

action 392 28 - legionnaires who never were 10.jpg

Slimer, no!

It seems that the new megacomputer Brainy built spit out a prediction that a Legionnaire was in danger of cracking under pressure and endangering her teammates, and it named Projectra.  The device was still experimental, so they weren’t sure that they could trust it.  They devised a training exercise to test their teammate’s reactions and combat fitness, throwing her into a completely bizarre situation.  Saturn Girl was the proctor and used her powers to cancel her partner’s out.  Chameleon Boy was Pozr and Sun Boy played the role of Saturn Lad.  Fortunately the clever Princess used one of Brainy’s inventions to discover that Karate Kid was lying and began to unravel the setup after that.

action 392 29 - legionnaires who never were 11.jpg

Everyone congratulates her on her performance, and she is reunited with Val, who apologizes for putting her through that ordeal.  That’s nice and all, but I have a feeling he’s going to face an ordeal of his own in payback!  We also see the office of Legion Leader taken over by Mon-El, which is a fun little addendum to the story, adding a little peak into the organizational functioning of the team.  Things like that are neat in small doses, adding a certain amount of fleshing out to the concept.

action 392 29 - legionnaires who never were 11.jpg

The reason for the test is a bit stretched, as it really seems like there is probably a simpler way to figure out if Projectra is about to crumble than to subject her to an elaborate and extreme test that could have caused even a sane person to lose it.  Still, by the standards of the high melodrama that usually accompanies internal Legion stories, it rather fits.  The most important thing is that it is a fun tale, entertaining and rather surprising.  The different explanations the ladies propose are so reasonable and utterly common in comics that I never considered that it was all a hoax.  What’s more, the portrayal of the two protagonists was quite good, both of them coming off as competent, brave, and resourceful.

action 392 30 - legionnaires who never were 12.jpg

It’s interesting that they went through their entire adventure without any violent action, yet the story was plenty entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed getting to know Princess Projectra in this yarn, as I hadn’t really encountered here much before.  As is often the case with these Legion backups, this short adventure packs a great deal in just a few pages, and does it with aplomb.  It doesn’t feel rushed, and there’s plenty of excitement while also providing us with a bit of character development.  That’s impressive.  Its also worth mentioning that I really enjoyed the art in this issue.  Win Mortimer turns out some great looking, classic DC house-style work, and he does some several really cool page and panel-breaking layouts.  So, slightly disturbing costuming aside, I’ll give this one an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

 

That’s all for today, and I hope this post and these stories bring some lightness and some fun into your day.  On a day like today, that’s a good thing.  Join me (hopefully) soon for the next two tales in our journey Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Well, last month was a bit of a letdown, but this month promises to be a bit more interesting, with more Aquaman and more of the fun Manhunter debut!  Join me as we forge a little further Into the Bronze Age!

This month in history:

  • 2nd San Diego Comic Con was held (of note probably only in this context)
  • Rubber bullets used for the first time during the Troubles in Ireland
  • France performs nuclear tests
  • 1st computer chess tournament held
  • Peruvian Airlines jet carrying 45 US exchange students explodes
  • Jim Morrison is tried in Miami on “lewd & lascivious behavior”
  • Venera 7 probe launched for Venus
  • Unrest continues at home and abroad, with bombs and riots in the US and Ireland

Well, both the Troubles in Ireland and the Space Race continue, and although it was a quieter month in the US, things were obviously still not peaceful.  I imagine it will be some time before we stop seeing these events in our monthly roundup.

This month’s chart topper was “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by the Carpenters, a sweet, sappy song that is something of a contrast to the rage in the air all over the world.  Even in a burning world, love endures, I suppose.

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

  • Action Comics #391
  • Aquaman #52
  • Batman #224
  • Detective Comics #402
  • The Flash #199
  • Justice League #82
  • Phantom Stranger #8
  • Showcase #92
  • Superman #229
  • Teen Titans #28
  • World’s Finest #195

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

Action Comics #391

action_comics_391“The Punishment of Superman’s Son”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Ordeal of Element Lad!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Okay, I was astonished to find that the headline tale was NOT written by Bob Haney.  It features the Super Sons, after all, and it is full of all kinds of Haney quality Zaniness!  Of course,  that means this is an odd one, Haney or no Haney.  It is pretty hilarious in spots and just ohh so very goofy throughout.  The Super Sons stories are always pretty out there, and this one is no exception.  Interestingly enough, Wikipedia is all kinds of wrong about these oddball characters, maintaining that the first appearance of the Super Sons was in a Haney-penned story from 1973.  Apparently this 1970 feature wasn’t the first appearance either, though, as that was in 1965.  There you go kids; that’s why your teachers tell you not to trust Wikipedia!  Anyway, let’s jump right into the madness, shall we?

action391-03.jpg

Essentially, this is Goofus and Gallant, the super hero edition, with the oddly doppleganger-ish children of the World’s Finest duo standing in for the titular pair.  We join Superman and his son, the incredibly creatively named Superman Jr. (Really?  Not, you know, Superboy?) as they discontentedly watch Batman and HIS equally creatively named son, Batman Jr.  The young Dark Knight is getting the Metropolis Medal of Valor in recompense for his deeds of daring do in the great city.  The Man of Steel and his son look on unhappily, with Super-Dad really bucking for ‘Father of the Year’ as he berates his son for not being as good as Batman’s boy.  Later, they head home to the “secluded, adjoining homes of Superman and Batman in the country between Metropolis and Gotham.”  And, just for the record, it was at that moment that I began to suspect that this issue was written by a 10 year old.  Seriously, there are a lot of concepts here that seem like something my little nephew would come up with, the fevered dreams of playground storytelling.  I realize that these comics were pitched to younger readers, but there’s a bit of a difference between what a kid would think is cool and what a kid would come up with if left to his own devices.

action391-04.jpg

Anyway, at the door the super pair are met by “Mom,” who is conveniently wearing a wig and has her face in shadow.  This is actually a funny and clever little element of these Super Sons stories.  They always had the mothers’ faces in shadow and they tried to keep their identities fuzzy.  It’s hilarious that they’d go to that much trouble for these stories they’ve already labeled as ‘imaginary,’ and which don’t have many other concessions to logic or consistency.

Well, here we see a few more moments of the type of domestic farce that I love so very much, with the Super-Family sitting down to eat in full costume.  Fortunately, it’s not the focus of the issue.  It’s just a bizarre little side feature, as if Ross Andru just forgot that these characters have civilian identities after the first page.  Either way, Superman continues to play ‘disappointed Dad’ and is fairly ugly to his son as he takes off to retrieve a special singing alien plant.

action391-05.jpg

We get an admittedly cool sequence as The Man of Tomorrow recovers the plant from a creature of flame, intending to bring the vociferous vegetable home to display on Earth.  The idea of a singing plant is not a new one, and it’s a cool enough sci-fi concept.  Yet, this story goofies it up by having the sounds the bush creates be genre and instrument specific.  This alien life-form plays “rock, marimba, strings, piano, cello, [and] steel band.”  Sure.  Just think about that one for a moment.

action391-06.jpg

The Boy of Steel demonstrates his Goofus bona fides by burning the vocal vegetable to a crisp by flying too fast when he’s sent to deliver it.  This earns the poor schmuck a real tongue lashing from his father, combined with a healthy dose of parental guilt.  You really do feel for this poor kid (apparently only 14), as his various screw-ups throughout the issue are all accidents, and he’s really trying to do his best.  He reminds me a bit of Jerry Gergich from Parks and Rec.  To top things off, Batman and son just casually drop by to brag about how awesome they are.  I swear, the whole thing reads like parody.  If this were written today I’d think it was really clever satire!

action391-08.jpg

Super goofs are the worst!  Also, smug Batman better watch out or he might find himself thrown into the sun…

The Super Sons hang out, with the Boy Detective trying to cheer up his super pal, including offering to let him ride his “Bat Bike.”  Ha!  Well, all of his efforts are to no avail, and then the two of them each attempt to stop a group of robbers with a nifty subterranean tank that looks more than a little like the Transport Modules from the old Ninja Turtles ‘toon (maybe the crooks work for Krang!).  The Boy of Steel blows it again, being fooled by fake Kryptonite, while Batman Jr. cleverly outwits the thieves…at least, if you don’t think about it too hard.  He finds the tunneling tank in a lake, hiding out from the authorities, so he plugs up its air snorkel, which is currently UNDERWATER, with a handkerchief.  This, somehow, causes the gang to surface, despite the fact that the snorkel was already blocked by being, you know, UNDERWATER!  It’s just a ridiculous little oversight that adds to the silliness of this issue.  Did you guys even bother to READ this thing before you sent it to press?

action391-13.jpg

Afterwards, we get another dose of domestic farce as all of the heroes sit down to a family dinner, still in costume, to celebrate Superman Jr.’s birthday.  Yay.  For his gift, the elder Superman decides to take his son to the Fortress of Solitude for the first time in an attempt to heal the rift between them…the rift that he has totally caused for being a jerk to his well-meaning son.

action391-15.jpg

Unfortunately, Goofus, I mean Superman Jr., screws everything up when he’s left alone in the Fortress.  He accidentally trashes the place, which seems to be the final straw.  The issue ends with the Dad of Steel locking his son in a booth and dropping in a piece of gold kryptonite to permanently take away his powers.  There’s actually something of value there, as the Super Father faces the fact that his son is more or less a danger to everyone on Earth because he’s such a huge clutz, but he’s also only 14…and who wasn’t a screwup at that age?  In other words, it immediately sinks into bathos or “narm.”  I’m sure we’ll see some type of turnaround next issue, but that’s where this merry-go-round of craziness ends.

action391-19.jpg

So, what do we make of this non-Haney batch of zaniness?  Well, I’m not really sure.  It’s just so goofy and silly that I certainly can’t enjoy it the way I do your average adventure story, but it is also undeniably vivacious and full of energy in a way that last Superman story simply was lacking.  It is clear that Kanigher isn’t thinking too deeply…or at all…about this tale, but it is fun and you really can’t help but feel sorry for the Super-Loser.  It does seem like the basic concept suffers from a lack of creativity, with the Super Sons just being carbon copies of their fathers, but there are neat moments interwoven with the ludicrous ones, though the latter outnumber the former.  This is a very Silver-Agey tale, though somehow less obnoxious than some of the others we’ve waded through.  I suppose it is just so wacky that it comes back around again and is fun.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s final effect is silly, but entertainingly so.

minute2.5

“The Ordeal of Element Lad!”

action391-21.jpg

In the backup position this month we have the continuation of the excellent Legion story from the previous issue, and just as in that comic, this story absolutely steals the show.  It suffers from its brevity to a degree, yet it still manages to deliver a great espionage adventure.  Bridwell really came through with this two-parter, giving us a fascinating setup, solid if limited character work, exciting twists and turns, and a level of sophistication that really stands in marked contrast to the childish fare that seems to populate the pages of the Superman books.

You can see Bridwell struggling with his limited space to a degree, but the way he’s structured the two separate episodes helps to mitigate these restrictions.  For example, our perspective shifts a bit with this issue, and characters who didn’t get too much focus in the previous story get to carry most of the action in this one.  Unfortunately, Timber Wolf and Karate Kid still get rather short shrift, falling between the cracks a bit, but I suppose that type of thing is bound to happen in a team book with a big cast, especially when page real-estate is at such a premium.  The real stars of the issue are Element Lad and Saturn Girl, and we join the latter at the beginning of the story right where we left her, deep in the belly of the beast, having infiltrated the science labs of the tyrannical President Peralla.  The previous issue’s mild cliffhanger ending is continued as the scientist’s assistant declares that she knows the young Legionnaire.  Fortunately, she doesn’t know her as a Legionnaire!  It seems that this girl, Marli Zhorg (gotta’ love these Legion names) was a schoolmate of Saturn Girl’s but hasn’t kept up with her fellow Saturnian’s exploits since the old days.  Thus, she thinks that Imra is just another scientist looking for a job, happily assuming that her college buddy has no more qualms about working for a dictator than she does.

action391-22.jpg

Yet, though her cover is intact, the psychic heroine faces another obstacle.  She can’t telepathically smuggle the secrets of the ‘Humanoid’ super soldiers out to her teammates in the presence of another mind-reader.  Thinking quickly, she sends a seemingly innocent message ‘in the clear’ to Brainiac 5 that nevertheless appraises him of the situation.  It’s a nice display of her resourcefulness.  Meanwhile, the rest of the team is meeting with Masrin, the rebel leader, under the guise of being fellow operatives from the Dark Circle.  As they try to figure out how to fight the seemingly unstoppable Humanoids, Brainy discovers a trace of their substance on Karate Kid’s hand and rushes to conduct an analysis.

Just then, the loyalist forces attack, and a desperate battle ensues, a battle that will be hopeless unless the young Coluan can solve the mystery.  In a fun and fitting little sequence, Brainy solves the puzzle in the time it takes Element Lad to complain about his tardiness.  It’s a nice little character moment, demonstrating Brainiac 5’s competence, coolness, and also indicating the touch of arrogance that comes from knowing you’re the smartest being in the room.

action391-26.jpg

With the secret in his possession, Element Lad begins a herculean labor, single-handedly dispatching the Humanoids by converting their bodies into various elements, all while making the rebels believe it is their new weapons carrying the day in order to maintain their cover.  The sequence is nicely illustrated by Mortimer, and the Legionnaire displays a creative use of his powers as he destroys the creatures.

action391-27.jpg

The effort leaves him so drained that Timberwolf has to carry him when the rebels advance, but even so, he keeps up his attack.  Soon they are storming the capitol itself, and Saturn Girl sends them inside information, handily dispatching her former friend when she realizes what the young heroine is up to.  Brainy uses his force field belt to penetrate the city’s defenses and smash their controls, allowing the rebels to sweep in and providing him with a nice action sequence in the bargain.

action391-29.jpg

Masrin is more concerned with securing the treasury than with the capture of Peralla, and he pulls a Scrooge McDuck (minus the charm and whimsy) as he examines the wealth of the planet.  Here we see the culmination of the solid character work that Bridwell manages to weave into this fast moving story, as the rebel leader’s vices are displayed in several subtle ways amidst the action.  We see it when he shouts cornball lines during the battle that make the heroes roll their eyes, as well as in his casual disregard for his men in the previous story.  His vices prove his undoing, in classic fashion, as his greed provides the opening the Legionnaire’s need to take care of him.  The team convinces Masrin to hold back most of the treasure and only offer a small portion to his troops.  When he does so, Element Lad uses the last of his energy to transmute the gold and jewels into simple lead and stone.  The rebels turn on their disgraced leader, and a better man takes his place.

action391-31.jpg

The team, their mission successfully completed, is extracted, and the tale ends with Element Lad waking up in the infirmary after his heroic efforts, being congratulated by the others.  His valiant, unyielding perseverance throughout the issue was really quite impressive, and it’s pleasant to see the fellow get his due, especially because he’s a character that I don’t know well.  I like seeing new (to me) characters come out strong, and I always enjoy seeing underdogs (and Element Lad rather seems like one to me) make good.  He really does carry the issue, though, and his endurance in the face of his increasing exhaustion is a great heroic note for the character, even if it’s all we have time to learn about him.

action391-32.jpg

So, there you have it, an excellent Legion adventure, full of fun, intrigue, and energy,  with personality and character packed into every rare spare moment.  I didn’t even mention the romance subplot where the rebel officer’s girlfriend was revealed to be in love with someone else.  That type of extraneous element could easily just feel tacked on and unnecessary, but it is indicative of Bridwell’s apparent desire to see that nothing is left hanging.  Instead of being a distraction, it is handled with a light enough touch to add just a little extra flavor to the tale, occupying no more than a single panel and fitting in organically.  Once again, we see the power of visual storytelling, as a single word balloon and a meaningful glance tell us everything we need to know about the way things stand.

action391-24.jpg

The story isn’t perfect.  It’s just too short to be entirely successful.  The setup for the yarn remains impressive, though it doesn’t get as much exploration as we might like.  The final resolution, disposing of both Perala and Masrin, as well as the general threats to the world, as quickly as it does is a tad unsatisfying.  Nonetheless, the dramatic irony of Masrin’s greed-triggered fall helps to ameliorate this feeling.  On the whole, if the only complaint you can level against a story is that you wish there were more of it, you’re doing pretty well.  I’ll give it a solid 4 Minutemen, like it’s previous iteration.  I am really enjoying these Legion tales, and I’m looking forward to the next one!  They really help make these Action Comics days more enjoyable.

minute4

Aquaman #52

aquaman_vol_1_52“The Traders’ Trap”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Never Underestimate a Deadman”
Writer: Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Editor: Dick Giordano

Well, back to Aquaman’s aquatic adventures, and happy I am for the return!  I really love this run, as I’ve remarked before, and though this isn’t the best one of the bunch, it’s still pretty darn good.  This issue is graced with another beautiful Nick Cardy cover, one that embraces the visual daring and creativity of the art within.  Once again, the SAG team deliver an innovative story that is breaking away from the standard formulas, along with really lovely and unusual art.  Imaginations continue to run wild, and the flurry of creative concepts keeps flying as the team further fleshes out this strange world.  What’s more, this story provides a really surprising and rather challenging moral dilemma for its protagonist.  In short, this book continues to encapsulate the best things about the Bronze Age.

Aquaman52_03.jpg

Another beautiful, trippy Aparo splash page

Before we rejoin our hero and his silent girl friday, the SAG team tosses out another concept to populate this bizarre world, a new and interestingly designed race of aliens, quite ugly but also fairly unique.  They have an advanced ship that looks a bit like a fugitive from Star Trek, and they are apparently on the hunt for slaves!  They approach the blue colony sphere…thing…from the last issue and spot the Sea King and his companion fighting off a horde of the natives.  The giant-headed aliens are impressed with the scrappy pair’s prowess, so they decide to capture them.

Aquaman52_04.jpg

Trapped in a force field, the Marine Marvel and the girl are brought aboard the alien ship and imprisoned in glass tubes with the rest of the day’s ‘catch.’  Aquaman deduces that the strange beings are telepathic and have highly developed brains, what with their huge melon-heads and all.  It seems telepathy is a common feature in the life forms of this bizarre land, a nice little bit of internal consistency that doesn’t get remarked upon but which makes the setting feel more fleshed-out and believable.

Aquaman52_09.jpg

Then we get a moment that I really enjoyed, one of those ‘Aquaman-is-awesome’ scenes that this series does so well.  While the glass prisons are enough to hold most life forms, the Sea King is not so easily cowed.  Held in his cell by powerful mental force, Arthur proves once again how much raw willpower he can muster as, inch by agonizing inch, he forces his arm to move until he shatters the cylinder and escapes.  Then he proceeds to wipe the floor with the big-brained bozos, casually remarking that though they may be smart, they aren’t too much in a fight.  It’s a really great sequence, and demonstrates how well the SAG team handle the character.

Aquaman52_10.jpg

I LOVE this panel with Aquaman cleaning three of the aliens’ clocks at once!

The Marine Marvel smashes a door control to cut off reinforcements and makes his way to the bridge, still desperate to follow the telepathic ‘pull’ that had drawn him to that blue colony in the first place in the hopes that it would lead him to Mera.  Some experimentation allows him to discern the workings of the controls, and the inclusion of that scene helps to illustrate the attention being given to the telling of these tales.  It makes sense that an alien ship could not be instantly piloted by a stranger, so seeing Aquaman actually pressing the wrong buttons as he’s trying to figure it out is a nice nod to logical consistency and their efforts to create a believable universe.  As Aristotle said, impossibilities (like men breathing under water and traveling to other worlds) can be accepted, as long as the are believably possible impossibilities.

Aquaman52_11.jpg

Well, once he arrives back at the colony, we encounter the most interesting moment in the story.  Our hero realizes that the girl is still trapped, and he faces the choice of what to do with her.  He knows he is going to be charging into battle against overwhelming odds as he pursues his quest, and he also knows that the colonists are likely to kill the girl on sight because she was the one who fired on them.  Yet, if he leaves her behind, she is liable to become a slave…or worse!  It’s a compelling and puzzling moral dilemma with no easy answer, and Aquaman himself doesn’t instantly know what to do.  He wants to do what is best for the girl, yet what that might be isn’t easy to discern.  His decision is made quickly, but at least we are shown that he sweats over it.  He chooses to leave the girl behind as he continues to search for a way home.

Aquaman52_12.jpg

Now, I’m far from convinced that this was the right choice, and it is actually rather troubling to me that Aquaman abandons her.  While I rather think that Skeates intends it to be thus, it seems that, at the least, Arthur should have woken her up and asked her what SHE wanted.  Of course, given her beliefs, she might not have ‘spoken’ with him, even if he had done so.  It is truly a difficult situation, as he could not take her home, her life wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel in the new colony, and our hero knows nothing else about this weird world.  As he remarks, at least she is safe, for the moment.  Nonetheless, it is vexing, and the fact that this simple four-color adventure book had me puzzling over a moral conundrum is a testament to its quality and to its uniqueness in the current crop of comics.

Aquaman52_13.jpgWell, to turn back to our tale, the Sea King attempts to fight his way into the colony, but he is felled by a…*gasp* head blow!  Yep, poor Arthur gets a second spot on the Head-Blow Headcount wall.  I’m afraid it won’t be his last, either.  I will say this for the noggin knock, though, at least these alien inhabitants of this land might actually have the strength to knock our hero out with one shot, unlike the average humans who tend to do so.  Either way, his captors decide to carry him to the “Extermination Chamber”!  Dun dun, DUNNN!

What a great place for a scene shift.  We check in briefly with Mera and Vulko, who are monitoring Black Manta as he circles Atlantis.  Suddenly, the Manta-ship disgorges two divers, but what are they up to?  Well, we won’t find out this issue, as our scene shifts again, picking back up with our hero on his way to his dreadfully named destination.  He makes swift work of his three guards in a nice, dynamic sequence, and he realizes that he’s reached the source of the strange ‘pull’…but there is nothing there!

Aquaman52_16.jpg

Just then, Mera snaps and cries out that she needs her husband (calling him “Aquaman” instead of Arthur, which always bothers me as it seems quite unnatural), and in response, the startled Sea King suddenly finds himself growing…and growing…finally appearing in front of a very surprised Sea Queen!  What is going on?  Well, we’ll actually get our answers in the Deadman backup!

Aquaman52_17.jpg

It’s a surprising and intriguing ending, though I really dislike Mera’s panicked outcry.  The modern portrayal of Mera has its problems (for one, she’s now trained as a warrior and assassin and quite blood-thirsty…just like every other character Geoff Johns reimagines), but at least she’s a fiery, independent woman.  I like my Mera with more spirit, more moxy.  She should be no-one’s damsel in distress, especially with all the power she is packing.  Still, like I said with the last issue, I do enjoy the idea that both husband and wife are desperate to be reunited.  It’s sweet.  This outburst pushes things too far, though.

Aquaman52_18.jpg

The more interesting element is, of course, the controversial (to me, at least), choice that our hero makes this issue.  It is handled briefly, and the action moves right along, yet it is a really compelling moment that tells us about the character.  What do y’all think of his choice, readers?  What should Aquaman have done with the girl?  Feel free to weigh in through the comments.

Once again, the story suffers a bit from brevity, but it still manages to present us with a complete adventure, while also keeping us on the hook by raising as many questions as it answers.  Throughout Aquaman comes off as pretty awesome, powerful, capable, indomitable (other than that one head-blow…), and driven, yet still concerned about the girl who has fallen in with him, despite his own considerable problems.  I think the issue itself may not be quite as strong as the last one in all respects, but the episode with the choice provides enough interest and depth to push it up to the next level in my estimations.  Thus, I award it a very respectable 4.5 Minutemen.

minute4.5

“Never Underestimate a Deadman”

Aquaman52_19.jpg

This Deadman backup provides a fun and interesting, if a bit uneven, conclusion to our main adventure, and it is followed by an Aquaman epilogue that I will cover in this section.  Neal Adams is in fine form, so the art is beautiful, but unfortunately, he is also handling the writing chores, and his prose tends to be a tad purple.  He also makes some rather odd choices with his captions, as when the boxes constantly urge the hero to hurry.  Still, it’s a fun yarn.

It opens with Deadman and the strange, dimension hopping Tatsinda arriving back on Earth after a stomach churning journey.  The Deceased Detective commits something of a faux pas by telling his now cat-shaped companion that he liked her better in the other world.  They encounter the Ocean Master moping about his betrayal of the man who he has come to realize is actually his brother, Aquaman.  In a really nice bit of characterization, there is an element of pride even in Orm’s remorse, a certain epic grandeur that reminds one of Milton’s Satan in a funny costume.  It is not just that he betrayed his brother, it is also that he failed to save him, and the failure itself, a failure to enact his will, is, perhaps, what galls him most.  It’s actually a wonderful character beat, and I think it captures something about Orm that is true about most great villains.  The central sin, the original sin, and the one that leads to worldly greatness both good and bad, is pride.  It must be the defining characteristic of any would-be world-conquering villain.  Magneto or Lex Luthor would be nothing, despite their individual causes, if they were not backed up by towering pride and will to back it.

Aquaman52_21.jpg

I’ll add, at the risk of sidetracking this commentary even further, that Ocean Master’s costume, though here it looks about as good as it ever does, is just a lost cause.  The light purple, almost pink cloak and pants, the whole color scheme…it just doesn’t have the dignity the character needs.  The later redesign that adopted a more serious color scheme looks world’s better.  The modern version is, like almost every single New 52 costume, overdesigned, but it has some good elements.  I like the scales that echo and reflect Aquaman’s armor, but the whole thing just doesn’t quite come together.  I think one more pass would get it right.  Unlike many folks, I actually quite like the helmet.  I think it is distinctive and interesting.  The new version refines it nicely, but I think it has always been a good trademark for the character, making the design pop.

Well, anyway, Deadman grows tired of listening to Orm’s monologuing as the fate of the world hangs in the balance, so telling Tatsinda to hang tight, he grabs the reins of the villain’s body, and uses him to infiltrate the aliens’ ship.  I bet you had forgotten all about these guys, huh?  Well, helpfully, we get a quick recap, and the invaders obliging explain their plan to “Orm,” since he is, after all, their ally.  They are going to flood the world with radiation from all of their emitters, and this will reduce the inhabitants’ intelligence, making them nice, tractable slaves.

Aquaman52_24.jpg

The ghostly hero decides to smash their devices, and by jumping from opponent to opponent, he makes some progress, but the aliens shut their brains down to thwart him (That has to be a VERY specific skill.  How often would it come in handy?  I mean, other than going to see a DC movie?).  Unable to use the aliens, Deadman begins to flit across the globe, controlling various animals to smash the devices, but he realizes that to get the central device he needs help, namely, Aquaman!  We discover what has happened to the Aquatic Ace.  Apparently the invaders don’t believe in taking life (an interesting touch), so to fulfill their bargain with Orm, they just shrunk the hero down, and he is now trapped in a microscopic realm on Mera’s ring.  Intense concentration can reverse the effects (sure, why not), so Deadman snags Vulko in order to prompt Mera into such an effort, and this triggers the Sea King’s return.

Aquaman52_26.jpg

Yet, is it all for naught?  The Dead Detective realizes that the time limit has expired!  Fortunately, it seems that his efforts were enough, even without destroying the central device…or were they?  Tatsinda tartly informs the smug spirit that it was, in fact, she, who saved the day.  She swam out to the ship and sabotaged the device so that it backfired, stupefying the aliens and forcing their withdrawal.  This is an unexpected and fun twist.  I enjoy Tatsinda’s self-satisfied recounting of her deed, and she also coolly informs our hero that no lady, no matter what her form, cares to be ignored.  It’s a fun little ending, even if it is a bit of an anti-climax.

Aquaman52_28.jpg

To add to the fun of this issue, the team also provides us with an accounting of the creation of these interlocked tales, which is, in and of itself, an enjoyable and interesting read.  I’ll reproduce it below so y’all can enjoy it as well.  Essentially, it was a collaborative idea that all the creators contributed towards, the story evolving as it was told.

aquaman52_29

Anyway, the story itself was a good read, and Deadman’s frantic efforts made for good adventure fare.  In the end, these aliens just didn’t seem like that great of a threat, and that rather lowered the impact of the story.  I think that this is the weakest of the Deadman chapters, and the weakest chapter overall, especially considering the weight and enjoyability of the Aquaman section from this issue.  Still, those are pretty high marks to hit, and the tale deserves an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

The epilogue reunites our two submarine superheroes, and the couple discusses the strangeness of the recent ordeal while also bringing the returned king up to date on Black Manta’s odd behavior.  Mera notes that she is, in a sense, the goddess of this bizarre microscopic world and speculates about other such places.  We know from the Atom that they abound, making the DCU Universe even more packed with life and wonder than is apparent.  It’s a neat concept, and it rather reminds me of the medieval idea that God would waste no space in creation, thus, every element and every area must have its life, its wonder, and its purpose.  It’s a lovely vision of the universe, and, though it raises endless questions, is great for a world of wonders such as this.  The issue ends with Aquaman calling out Manta and promising further adventures to come!

Aquaman52_31.jpg

 

Well, I am going to stop this post here, letting these two issues stand alone.  I’ve decided to start treating multi-feature books as multiple entries since their writing takes just as long as do multiple individual issues. That will also hopefully help me keep up a more rapid and consistent pace.  I’m trying to use this blog to discipline myself in writing, in part as training for my dissertation writing which is coming up soon, so hopefully this will aid that objective.  I’m also going to try to rein in my issue commentaries a bit, as they’ve grown more than I had intended, so you may look for more restrained summaries in the future.  As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments, and I hope you will join me next week as we tread further on our journey Into the Bronze Age!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg

Poor, poor Aquaman.  He becomes the second hero to make a return appearance on the wall of shame.  At least this time, it might make some sense.  I have to say, I expected we’d see even more entries, but I suppose we aren’t even a year in yet, are we?  Clearly, this trope is alive and well in the Bronze Age.

 

Into the Bronze Age: July 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpgHoly Hannah!  I began writing this post all the way back at the beginning of summer, and here we are at its end.  My how the time has flown by!  I’ve been hard at work on my mods, finishing two of them during these months, Marvel Adventures Vol. 2 and Pulp Adventures, both of which will be released soon.  Know my time has been well spent!  Well, if this post won’t kick off the summer, at least it can be the beginning of a fond farewell, with another journey Into the Bronze Age!  Join me as we begin to explore the comics of July 1970.  *Sigh*  I was almost ahead there for a while!

This month in history:

  • Unrest continues in Ireland, with riots and clashes aplenty
  • The first 747 takes to the skies
  • America’s Top 40 debuts on the radio with Casey Kasem (of course best known to this particular commentator as the voice of Robin and Shaggy)
  •  Libya orders confiscation of all Jewish property
  • USSR performs nuclear tests
  • Race riots in Asbury Park and Hartford

The top song this month was Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” which is great fun!

As you can see, it was a pretty ugly month, with unrest and conflict everywhere you look, along with a healthy does of Cold War saber rattling.  Let’s see if the comics reflect that harsh climate or offer us an escape!

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

  • Action Comics #390
  • Batman #223 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and the Bold #90
  • Challengers of the Unknown #74 (Final issue!)
  • Detective Comics #401
  • G.I. Combat #142
  • Green Lantern #78
  • Superman #227 (Reprints)
  • Superman #228

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

Action Comics #390

Action_Comics_390.jpg“The Self-Destruct Superman”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“The Tyrant and the Traitor”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

The headline tale in this issue was a Silver Age-y miss, but as seems to be the rule for these Action Comics books, the Legion backup saved the day.  The Superman story isn’t bad per se, but it does engage in several of the common Silver Age Superman tropes that I rather heartily dislike.

The Man of Steel’s adventure starts with a slight tremor dislodging something buried deep beneath the White House.  Suddenly, a strange device is accidentally activated, and the President, in classic comic shadows, calls the Man of Tomorrow to warn him that “it” is coming for him.  It seems that Superman gave the President a secret weapon to use against him if he should go rogue.  I wonder what Batman would give to have one of these tucked away for a rainy day.  Of course, if the President had this thing, one wonders why it wasn’t used on any of the zillion occasions where the Last Son of Krypton went nuts because of Red Kryptonite, brainwashing, or just because it was Tuesday.

action390-04.jpg

Nonetheless, the mysterious mechanism hunts Superman all across the Earth and even into the past!  He can’t seem to shake it, no matter what he does.  He tries flying through the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, and he even leads the device into the path of the gigantic meteor that struck Arizona in the distant past.  That last one manages to bury the weapon for a time, though, if it is capable of time travel, it seems like it could just make that time up by going back a little earlier…time travel!

action390-08.jpg

Well, nothing the Man of Steel does manages to do so much as scratches this thing, and the reason why, such as it is, gets revealed when Kal-El is contacted by a Kandorian scientist.  Apparently the device comes from Krypton, so “it’s super like me,” as our hero declares…and that brings us to my biggest problem with this issue.  This is a common trope from the worst part of the Silver Age Superman mythos.  Writers apparently forget their own setup for the character, that he is super powered because of the interaction of his biology and the conditions on Earth, like the yellow sun.  Simply being from Krypton doesn’t make an inanimate object super.  This is the kind of breakdown in story logic that bugs me.

action390-11.jpg

Well, back to our story.  Before the scientist can tell the Last Son of Krypton (except for all of those other kryptonians in Kandor), the weapon arrives, sending the hero running for cover.  For some reason, he is filled with paralyzing fear whenever it approaches.  Superman used ‘self-hypnosis’ to remove knowledge of the device from his mind to protect its efficacy, but the Kandorian managed to give him one last tip before he had to flee.  The machine is tracking the Metropolis Marvel through his brainwaves.  Taking a desperate gamble, Superman puts on a “relaxer hood,” a trophy from his space adventures that blanks out a person’s mind.  Unable to track non-existent brainwaves, the device self-destructs!

action390-15.jpg

When the hood shuts off, Superman visits Kandor and gets the whole story from his friend.  It seems this machine was actually created by Jor-El, his father, who apparently left this incredibly dangerous weapon just lying around his back yard, where a young Kal stumbled across it.  Way to go, Jor, real father of the year move there.  After accidentally activating the kill-bot, the boy was fortunately saved by his father, who deactivated its weapons permanently.  The even left an indelible mark on Kal-El’s psyche, causing him to be terrified of the gadget even years later.

action390-16.jpg

This isn’t a bad story, despite it’s glaring logical flaw.  That does hurt it, but the basic premise of Superman facing a threat that he can’t outdo physically is a solid one, done many times over the years, of course.  His solution is reasonably clever, but the whole thing doesn’t really come together in any particularly impressive way.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen, knocking it down a bit because of the stupidity of the ‘ohh, it’s from Krypton, this inanimate object must be super in the same way as a living organism!’ bit.

minute2

“The Tyrant and the Traitor”

action390-17.jpg

Now this Legion tale is much more promising, displaying a sophistication and a potential that is decidedly more impressive than the headline story.  The basic setup is very interesting, with a pleasantly surprising complexity and a sociological realism.  The premise is that there is an uprising in progress on the planet Lahum, a world ruled by the tyrannical “President Peralla,” who has his sights set on galactic conquest.  Unfortunately, the rebels are not any better, being led by a vicious fellow named Diol Masrin who, even worse, is just a pawn for some sinister sounding organization called the Dark Circle.  At the moment, the conflict is merely planetary, thus the United Planets cannot intervene, but the Legion, being a private organization can.  What a set-up!  Minus the sci-fi trappings, this could easily be the plot for a solid G.I. JOE story from the awesome Larry Hama comic run.  Those stories often featured morally ambiguous situations that the heroes had to navigate, choosing between two evils or the like.

Apparently, this operation is to be undertaken by the Legion’s “Espionage Squad,” which I didn’t even know existed.  How neat!  Chameleon Boy is the head, and we get a rather nice Mission Impossible-esq scene with him picking his team.  The undercover operatives will be Brainiac 5, Timber Wolf, Element Lad, Saturn Girl, and Karate Kid.  The Legionnaires have to infiltrate the rebels by hijacking a shipment of contraband weapons from a crew of smugglers, and then posing as gun-runners to make contact.

action390-18.jpg

Once on Lahum, the Legionnaires jump the rebel officer who comes to inspect the guns, with the help of Proty, Cham’s shape-shifting pet, disguised as one of the weapons.  Chameleon Boy himself takes the officer’s place, with the help of Saturn Girl’s telepathy, and the The other Legionnaires pose as volunteers for the rebel force.

action390-21.jpg

Their infiltration is running quite smoothly until their column is hit by the “Humanoids,” artificial troops of the planetary tyrant who are rumored to be unstoppable.  The Legion pitch in during the battle to maintain their cover, blazing away with the newly acquired blasters, but the strange foot-soldiers reform as soon as they are blown apart!  The situation looks hopeless until Element Lad disables the Humanoids by turning the ground under their feet to mercury, sinking them into the very earth…err…Lahum.

action390-23.jpg

action390-24.jpg

Once in the rebel camp, the team makes contact with Masrin, pretending to be fellow operatives of the Dark Circle.  They are welcomed with open arms, but a little later Cham discovers that the officer he’s impersonating has a sweetheart in camp, and he has to do some smooching to keep his cover.  It’s a fun little detail, and Chameleon Boy’s “the things I go through for the Legion” line made me chuckle.

action390-27.jpg

Meanwhile, Saturn Girl has split off to infiltrate the other side of this conflict, and she poses as a science student in order to get a position as a research assistant with the tyrants chief scientist.  There’s a nice little moment when she reaches the capitol, as she is disgusted by the “primitive” conditions that Peralla’s rule imposes on his subjects.  There are no moving sidewalks or flying cars, how dreadful!  It’s a good touch to the setting, the idea that technological development and infrastructure would be different on a world like this, under the heel of a dictator.

action390-29.jpg

The tale ends with the chief scientist conferring with a young assistant of his about whether or not to hire the undercover Legionnaire, and we are greeted with a cliffhanger as the girl answers that she knows the heroine’s identity!  Dun, dun, DUNNN!

action390-30.jpg

This is a great tale, with some solid action, but the best part of it is the maturity of the set-up.  You’ve got some moral complexity as well as some science fiction trappings.  The heroes are up against a challenge that is not only going to be very difficult to overcome, removing BOTH the rebel leader AND the powerful Peralla, but also quite interesting.  Bridwell squeezes a great deal in only a few (12) pages.  He does a fantastic job of being economical with his storytelling, yet still providing everyone with something to do and developing the principal characters, like Chameleon Boy and Masrin, very effectively in the limited space.  This story doesn’t have the space to be flat-out amazing, and it is still just a solid adventure tale.  Nonetheless, I’m very impressed.  It was by far the most interesting yarn I read in this batch.  I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen.  The strength of the setup really takes it a long way in my book.

minute4

Brave and Bold #90

Brave_and_the_bold_90.jpg“You Only Die Twice!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

This is a weird one, definitely fairly Zaney Haney.  While I like Adam Strange and would be happy to see him guest star in Brave and Bold, he really doesn’t do so here.  The Hero of Rann is essentially just a plot device, having almost no part in the actual story other than to instigate some of the events.  This is one of those left-field stories that put Bayman through the type of arc that would be a “bold new direction” these days, lasting months or years and drastically altering the character’s status-quo.  For Haney, though, this is a Tuesday.  The ridiculous events of this tale are precisely the type of thing that gave rise to the phrase, Earth-Haney, as such things really don’t fit in with the main DCU, no matter how Silver Age-y it is at a given moment.

brave and the bold 090 003.jpg

Get ready.  This is going to be a weird, wild ride.  This zaney yarn begins with Batman interrupting a mob hit in a barbershop, saving the life of a notorious criminal named Jarrett, but apparently losing his own in the process!  That’s right, Batman catches a burst from a Thompson submachine gun, and he goes down for the count.  The EMTs load him into an ambulance, and just as they are preparing to leave, a reporter wonders aloud what Batman’s place in history will be and what his obituary will look like.

brave and the bold 090 004.jpg

Strangely enough (or naturally enough in a Haney story), this snaps the Dark Knight back from the brink, and he awakens, surprising the heck out of the medics.  After his narrow scrape with death, Bruce Wayne broods about how he will be remembered when he dies.  One might pause to wonder how the recovering, wheelchair-bound Wayne managed to escape from the doctors and EMTs with his secret identity intact, seeing as he almost died, but then one would be expecting too much logic out of a Bob Haney story.

brave and the bold 090 005.jpg

brave and the bold 090 006.jpg

Later, we get our plot device appearance from Adam Strange, who just shows up while Batman is patrolling the streets.  The Hero of Two Worlds tells the Caped Crusader a strange story, relating how his usual Zeta Beam transit between Rann and Earth was interrupted by solar flares, which somehow shunted him into the future.  During his brief stay, he saw  Batman’s obituary!  He managed to snag part of the article before he was pulled back through time, but unfortunately the date didn’t make the trip.  What’s more, the obituary contains some strange and ominous information.  It declares that Batman died in disgrace, having betrayed those close to him and pushed everyone away (so, like modern Batman then?).  There’s a funny, though rather ill-fitting scene where Batman wanders distractedly through the middle of the Gotham street, completely absorbed by the article.

brave and the bold 090 009.jpg

brave and the bold 090 010.jpgHe narrowly avoids all kinds of troubles, finally bumping into a businessman named Mike Morrison, who tells the Dark Knight that he’s being hunted by the same thugs who were after Jarrett at the beginning of the story.  Apparently he was desperate and took a kickback, which the mob used to blackmail him.  When he refused to pay, they sent trigger men after him.  Bat’s saves Morrison from a gunman, then goes to have a word with the syndicate behind them.  Here we get one of those bizarre Haney moments, as Batman cuts a deal with the criminals to protect Morrison because he has no proof of their wrong-doing.  Instead of, you know, beating a confession out of these thugs or dangling them off of a rooftop or anything, the Caped Crusader agrees to just let them do whatever they want for two weeks.  Imagine that.  Doesn’t that seem entirely anathema to Batman?  Well, not in the Haneyverse.

brave and the bold 090 012.jpg

Of course, this is all a setup, and Batman is smeared for making a deal with them.  Publicly humiliated, he loses his temper and belts the mob’s lawyer in front of city hall, opening the city to a lawsuit.  Sheesh, I’m running out of energy!  Well, to skim over this tangled web of Haney madness, Commissioner Gordon resigns in protest for…reasons, and the Dark Knight gets bitter and hangs up his cowl.  He drives Alfred away, brooding over his coming death and the seeming inevitability of his fate.

brave and the bold 090 015.jpg

brave and the bold 090 017.jpg

I have to admit, Batman at a hearing in front of a committee is a pretty funny image…

So, he does the natural thing…runs off to Rann.  Yep, he catches a Zeta beam with Adam Strange and hides out on another planet, figuring he can’t die on Earth if he’s not actually on Earth.  That’s actually pretty solid reasoning, if one has the resources to flee the solar system when necessary.  Here we get a nice little montage of Batman doing touristy things on Rann, which is actually rather fun.  Nothing manages to cheer him up.

brave and the bold 090 020.jpg
brave and the bold 090 025.jpgYet, his fate does seem inescapable.  Watching an invention of Sardath, the Masked Manhunter observes a scene on Earth, witnessing Alfred having lost his life savings to the mob and being threatened by the thugs.  They want him to badmouth Batman in order to expiate his debt, but the loyal old retainer refuses, knowing that death will be his reward.  Millions of miles away, the Dark Knight realizes he has no choice.  He must return and face his own death in order to save his oldest friend.  We get an admittedly cool panel of his interplanetary transit via Zeta beam, and then a moodily inked but awkwardly drawn sequence where Batman infiltrates an Ellis Island stand-in known as Immigrant Island, where the gang is holding Alfred.

brave and the bold 090 022.jpg

Apparently the great Detective has lost a step during his retirement, because a gunman gets the drop on him.  It looks like this will be all she wrote for Batman, until a gloved hand knocks the gunsel’s weapon aside.  Adam Strange to the rescue!  Yep, deus-ex Adam decided he couldn’t let his friend face his destiny alone, so he came along, and this is the first and last useful thing he does in this issue.

brave and the bold 090 028.jpg

The two heroes rescue Alfred…or rather, Batman rescues Alfred, and Adam Strange strikes a pose.  Seriously, Alfred does more in this scene than the ‘Hero of Two Worlds.’  Batman should have brought John Carter along.  The original dual-planetary hero would have been more help.  In fact, I’d read the HECK out of that story…anyway, I suppose I can’t put off this summary any longer.  Bruce and Alfred bury the hatchet, and the Dark Knight realizes that he jumped to a conclusion about that newspaper fragment.

brave and the bold 090 031.jpg

We end with what Rob Kelly likes to call the ‘Friendly Farewell,’ and a note about the inscrutability of fate.  All’s well that ends well…except for the damage done to Batman’s reputation, Bruce Wayne’s life, and Gordon’s career!  Ohh yeah, those things are just completely ignored, as one would expect from a Zaney Haney story.  It reminds me a bit of the totally complete solution to global warming from Futurama.  The problem is solved once and for all.  ONCE AND FOR ALL!

brave and the bold 090 032.jpg

As you can probably tell, this story didn’t exactly grab me.  Writing this summary was something of a tortuous undertaking, trying to keep all of the random Haney touches straight and make it make sense on the page wasn’t easy.  I can only assume that Haney just sat down at a typewriter, banged out a script, and never looked back to see if it made any sense.  Sometimes he came up aces, and sometimes he didn’t.  This isn’t the worst example of Zaney Haney-ness, but it isn’t a particularly good one either.  There could be a good story here, with a character’s struggle against fate and all that, but it doesn’t really reach that point.  In the end, I’d give this one 2 Minutemen.  It’s not great, but it isn’t terrible either.

minute2

Challengers of the Unknown #74

Challengers_of_the_Unknown_Vol_1_74.jpg“To Call a Deadman”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: George Tuska and Neal Adams
Inker: George Tuska and Neal Adams
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

This is and isn’t the final issue of the Challengers.  This is the final issue of new material, sadly.  After this story, the book becomes a reprint title.  This is a shame because, as we’ve seen, this team is just starting to hit it’s stride.  George Tuska definitely turns in a fabulous job on pencils, and O’Neil delivers an interesting and entertainingly eerie supernatural yarn with the plot.  Once again, we see the Challengers dealing with something that really should be a bit out of their line, but we have a pleasant surprise that makes this tale work better than some of the others, a guest star known as Deadman!  Neal Adams lends his considerable talents to the Deadman portions of the story, so this is one fine looking issue.

deadman 074 003

The book in question opens in suitably atmospheric fashion, with Deadman inviting us to enter his world of mystery and spirit, and we meet a frantic man pounding upon the doors of a crumbling stone prison.  The door is opened by a twisted little man, and the visitor, an older fellow named Dr. McJames, declares that he has what was promised, a huge ruby.  Just as the old timer is preparing to hand over the jewel, a voice rings out in the night, and who should appear but Johnny Double!  He’s DC’s answer to the hard-boiled detective, and I was surprised to discover that he had only been around a short time at this point, having debuted in 1968.  I rather expected that he was a character from the 50s, but apparently he’s late Silver Age.

deadman 074 004a

This is a nice little cameo, and he serves as our entrance into the story, catching us up on the plot and helping to bring the Challengers into the action.  He was apparently hired by the museum for which Dr. McJames works to determine if the scholar was stealing, and Johnny just caught him red handed.  It seems the ruby which was to be the currency of this late night assignation belonged to the museum’s collection.  Yet, the gumshoe knows that there is more to this than meets the eye, and he contacts to our heroes to see what that might be.

We catch up the Chals in a great panel with Red practicing his acrobatics and Rocky taking up painting, as he says, trying to improve his mind, “glom up some of that culture…refinement.”  His expression in that panel is just priceless, instantly establishing the character.  I don’t know if he’s ever more reminded me of the infinitely likable Ben Grimm.  I definitely am enjoying the characterization work O’Neil is doing with these guys.

deadman 074 004

Interestingly, it has just occurred to me that we’re seeing a rather unusual cycle of influence here.  The Challengers of the Unknown inspired the creation of the Fantastic Four, and now the Fantastic Four is being drawn on in order to flesh out the personalities of the Challengers themselves.  In fact, even the tumultuous relationship between two members of the team has been adapted for this book.  Just as the The Thing and the Human Torch are always fighting with one another, so Rocky and Red are always in conflict here.  It’s notable that the ersatz Thing’s antagonist is the ‘fiery’ member of the team, Red.  I suppose it isn’t terribly original, but then again, what in comics, or any other literature, is?  Twenty-three hundred years ago Solomon said “there’s nothing new under the sun,” and I suppose it’s even more true now than it was then.

Well, their customary brawling is interrupted by the arrival of the rest of the crew, along with Johnny Double.  He fills them in on what he knows, which isn’t a whole lot, and points them in the direction of the mystery.  The fabulous foursome (actually a quintet at the moment, with Prof. tagging along), attempt to interview the the troubled scholar, but he refuses to talk!  Not one to be so easily stymied, Corinna uses her amazing powers of deus ex machina…err…I mean hypnosis.  Right, hypnosis.  She’s apparently a skilled hypnotist, as well an expert on mystical lore, a magician, and whatever else the plot requires her to be.  It’s a bit weak, but at least it is vaguely in the same vein as some of the skills we’ve already seen her demonstrate, and we’re far enough along in her tenure on the team that it isn’t quite as jarring as other inexplicable skills she’s evinced.  And, to be fair, it’s a lovely page.

deadman 074 006

Of course, there’s a bit of an ethical dilemma here, what with hypnotizing someone against their will, and while it isn’t solved, I’m pleased to see O’Neil at least acknowledge it.  Red, of course it’s Red, raises an objection, but Corinna pleads necessity as she sensed “that he’s in deep trouble.”  Under the influence of her mesmerism, Dr. McJames relates his story, and an odd one it certainly is.  Apparently, his daughter fell ill, and medical science was helpless.  Suddenly, a spectral figure in 18th Century dress appears and sucks his child’s very spirit into a small, coffin shaped box!  The ‘ghost’ claims that he has taken her soul as revenge because one of the good doctor’s ancestors sentenced him to hang.  Yet, the spirit offers a bargain, the museum’s ruby in exchange for the soul of his only daughter!

deadman 074 009

The Challengers decide to take the case and try to free the girl’s spirit, but Ace asks Prof. to stay behind because he is still recovering, a request to which the Prof. concedes…but with silent, though bitter, frustration.  Of course, this also serves as another chance for Red to be a jerk to Corinna.  O’Neil is really playing up the jerk angle with his character.

deadman 074 011

The team heads to the ominous tower in search of the spirit box, which Corinna suspects is the key to the mystery.  When they arrive, they are greeted by the specter who threatened McJames, seemingly hanging from a gallows, offering cryptic and threatening warnings.  Trying to comfort a shaken Corinna, poor Rocky gets rebuffed once more, but while woe-is-me-ing, the hulking hero is toppled headlong by an unexpected attack.  That strange little man from the beginning of the tale hurtles out of the night, scattering the Challengers like ten-pins.  Before they can recover, he hi-tails it into the tower and bars the door, which only momentarily delays the mighty Rocky.

deadman 074 013

Once inside, the quartet play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the weird little fellow, eventually culminating in an acrobatic altercation in the rafters, as Red and Ace corner him.  The Igor-esq little fellow, named Nodo, apparently serves the ghostly villain of the piece, and he’s determined to protect the casket.  Yet, the vital McGuffin is smashed in the fight.  Much to everyone’s horror, they see the girl’s spirit drift away in the night, apparently in the grasp of the villainous ghost!  Here ends one half of the tale, and here begins another.

deadman 074 018

deadman 074 020

 

This is one of the neat aspects of this story.  The first half is told from the perspective of the Challengers, but the latter half follows our spectral hero, Deadman, as he relates the end of the adventure for us.  He found his way into these events by visiting his old friend at his former circus, Vashnu, a seer and mystic.  Yet, Boston Brand finds his friend locked in his thoughts, so we get a frame within a frame, as he recalls how an apprentice of his, Seth Gross, betrayed his trust and stole both his secrets and the spirit casket from him.  I think we can probably see where this is going.  Gross learned the secrets of astral projection, and used this stolen knowledge along with the casket to pose as a ghost and extort the poor professor.

deadman 074 024

Deadman sets out to track Gross down, and he arrives just as the “ghost” is putting on his hangman act.  The spurious specter heads back to his body, but Deadman beats him to it, and uses it as leverage to force the truth out of the weasel.  Deadman is steaming mad at Gross’s misdeeds, especially because he is running a big risk that time will run out before the girl’s spirit is rejoined to her body and it could be lost forever.

deadman 074 026

deadman 074 027Realizing that he needs an astral body in order to save her, Deadman pulls a new stun.  He batters Gross’s spirit into submission, then actually possesses the spirit itself!  The pain and strain are incredible, but he manages to reach the tower just in time to save the girl and return spirit from whence it came.

Fortunately, the girl is restored, but when Deadman frees Gross’s spirit, he’s been driven insane by the ordeal.  Whoa, that’s pretty brutal, though seeing as he was going to do more or less the same to the girl, it’s hard to feel too bad for him.  Of course, Deadman does tell us that the bogus bogey, Gross, is now doomed to wander the earth forever.  So, we end with a fairly dichotomous moment, split between the happy reunion of father and daughter and their fond farewell with the Challengers one the one hand, and the shattered psyche and spiritual doom of Seth Gross on the other.  It’s an interesting end to the tale.

deadman 074 028

That’s not the type of thing you expect to find in Silver Age story, that’s for sure!  There’s definitely a more mature tone to this tale.  For all of its faults, it’s goofier moments, it’s stretched set-up, poorly developed villain, and the clumsy exposition that drives too much of the plot, there is definitely something here that is markedly different from that which came before.  O’Neil is, as he has in several of the previous issues, pushing for more complex and compelling storytelling.  The effort may be flawed, but it’s still noteworthy.  The final result is an uneven but undeniably interesting read.  The art is really lovely and full of personality, suitably moody and atmospheric.  The characterization doesn’t advance too much, spinning its wheels with several already-old beats, but we do get a few nice moments. All-in-all, this is a fine story, and it seems like the creative team was just was really starting to cook.  That makes it all the more lamentable that this is the last new issue.  I would have enjoyed reading more of this cast of characters’ adventures.  So, this last issue of the Challengers earns a solid 3 Minutemen out of 5.

minute3

Well my friends, that just about does it for this greatly belated edition of Into the Bronze Age!  With any luck I’ll be able to get back on track after this, most of the work on my mods being done at this point.  The semester is beginning, but here’s hoping it will still leave me some time for this little project.  Join me next time as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!

 

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: June 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to the next chapter in our Bronze Age journey!

This month in history:

  • Soyuz 9 launched into Earth orbit for 18 days
  • 1st artificial gene synthesized
  • Tonga (formerly Friendly Islands) declares independence from UK
  • The Falls Road curfew in North Ireland, imposed by the British Army while searching for IRA weapons, is lifted after a march by women breaches the British Army cordon
  • Race riots in Miami Florida
  • Edwin Land patents Polaroid camera
  • “Catch 22” opens in movie theaters
  • Two young girls die in a premature explosion in Derry after their father, a member of the Irish Republican Army, was making an incendiary device
  • Following the arrest of Bernadette Devlin, intense riots erupt in Derry and Belfast leading to a prolonged gun battle between Irish republicans and loyalists

It seems that the situation in Ireland continues to deteriorate this month, and the Space Race also continues apace.  Imagine that, the same decades that saw some of the very greatest of human endeavors, our challenging of the great void of space, also saw the worst of our collective character in the violence of brother against brother all across the world from which we were in the process of escaping.  I wonder if we’ll continue to see these tensions transferred in interesting ways to this month’s comics.

The number one song this month was the Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road.” (I can’t find a decent version of it)  I’ve always felt that the Beatles are a bit overrated, but this is a fairly pretty song.  Yes, yes, I know that a good quarter or more of my readers are now frothing with rage, and I appreciate that.  I respect their importance in musical history, their influence, and all of that, but they’ve just never been one of my favorite bands.  Give me Zeppelin any day of the week.

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

  • Action Comics #389
  • Aquaman #51
  • Batman #222
  • Detective Comics #400
  • The Flash #198
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77
  • Justice League #81
  • Phantom Stranger #7
  • Showcase #91
  • Teen Titans #27
  • World’s Finest #194

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

Action Comics #389

Action_Comics_389.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“The Mystery Legionnaire!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

This is one of those stock Superman plots that provide the fodder for the Super-Dickery pages the internet so dearly loves.  We have The Man of Tomorrow acting uncharacteristically, seeming to disregard his duties and generally act like a jerk, only to be revealed at the end of the tale to have had a good motive for his actions.

action389-03.jpg

Our odd little adventure begins with the situation you see portrayed on the cover, and for once, the cover doesn’t lie!  Superman suddenly decides to start trying out some different sports, claiming that he’s considering a career change.  You’d think by this point in the DCU there would be some regulations against aliens, mutants, or other super-humans participating in professional sports!  The Batter of Steel performs various super feats on the diamond, but a young boy is brought in for the thrill of pitching to the hero, only to actually slip one by him!  The Metropolis Marvel reacts uncharacteristically to this little upset, hurling the ball into space and storming off.

action389-06.jpg

Next, he tries soccer, playing the entire field by himself and eventually launching the ball through the net and into orbit!  Are we starting to see a pattern here?  Perhaps!  Once again, Superman abandons the promise of a lucrative contract and flies off to try something new.  Next up on his sports-tour?  Boxing.  Really.

action389-07.jpg

The strongest being on earth climbs into the ring with a regular, squishable, mortal man.  His sparring partner wears full plate armor, but still!  What kind of nutjob would get into the ring with the Man of Freaking Steel?  Well, his opponent’s sanity aside, everyone else involved, including Jimmy Olsen, points out that this is a recipe for disaster in the form of lots of boxers dying from acute punch-death.  Superman gives a seemingly petty rant about being tired of the responsibilities that come from being a superhero, and he knocks the speedbag he’s working with into the stratosphere!  Yep, I think we’ve figured out the pattern by this point.

action389-10.jpg

In the end, the Sportsman of Tomorrow tries tennis, basketball, and football, each time sending a ball into orbit.  It’s worth noting that writer Leo Dorfman takes the time to establish that our mighty hero has to use special sporting equipment that can stand up to his strength.  I appreciate that little nod to logic.

action389-13.jpg

The situations of the earlier games are repeated, but after sending the pigskin into the great black yonder, Superman follows it up.  We discover that he’s been slowly decorating a strange-looking satellite with these various sports accoutrements, and our hero conveniently provides us with an explanation.

action389-14.jpg

Apparently, this is an alien probe designed to test Earth’s atmosphere to see if it is fitting for invasion.  It is also rigged to explode cataclysmically if anyone or anything living comes too close to it.  The Last Son of Krypton had fortunately been informed about these aliens, the Slurrans, and their tactics, so he was able to prepare a plan to deal with their machinations.  Fearing he was being monitored, Superman faked his sports career to surreptitiously clog all of the air intake ports on this device with balls filled with a special gas which will mutate the alien animals it is to be tested on.

action389-15.jpg

The aliens are horrified and mark Earth off as a no-go.  The tale ends with Superman relating the adventure into his journal in the Fortress of Solitude, noting that “Earth is entitled to know the truth behind that strange sports craze[…]I’ll record the facts[…]to be opened a century after my death.  While I think there’s no good reason for him not to tell the planet now, I do rather like the idea that Superman is not at all concerned with his image.  Who cares if people think he went sports crazy for a little while?  He saved the world!

This is a weird story that mostly serves as an excuse to show off Superman playing a bunch of sports, but unlike the King Kong riff from last month, at least this tale provided something of a justification for itself.  It’s not the best plot ever, but it isn’t bad, and Dorfman actually takes the time to cross some of the “t”s and dot some of the “i”s of this yarn, which I appreciate.  He addresses what would otherwise be niggling little plot holes or irrational moments.  He even explains how Superman knows about these aliens in the first place.  The sports imagery doesn’t do much for me, since I’m not much of a sports person, other than fencing, but it’s fun enough.  I think they provide a clever cover for our hero’s plan.  So, in the end, I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it is an enjoyable enough Superman story.

minute3

“The Mystery Legionnaire”

action389-20.jpg

I think that the Legion story is once again going to be the star of the book.  It’s another of those mystery member yarns that seem to make up a good 90% of Silver and Bronze Age Legion stories, but the central conceit is an interesting one.  It involves a robotic criminal whose disembodied head is summoning its erstwhile body back to it across the space lanes.  It turns out this mechanical malevolent was defeated by a trio of Legionnaires, and what exactly happened during that earlier conflict forms the mystery of the issue.

action389-21.jpg

Apparently, somewhere in space is a prison for handicapped villains, ne’er do-wells who can now do nothing well because they’ve managed to cripple themselves in their ill-conceived pursuits of ill-gotten gains.  While unable to continue pulling crimes themselves, these ill-favored inmates take advantage of their light security to construct a robotic robber, named KLIM, to steal in their stead.

action389-22.jpg

On a wild alien world, he was confronted by the three teens, Cosmic Boy, Chemical King, and Shrinking Violet, who defeated, trapped, and beheaded the robotic renegade.  Fortunately for the synthetic villain, his head had its own propulsion and managed to elude his pursuers.  After recovering from his defeat, the bodiless bogey summons his body from across the cosmos.

action389-24.jpg

Fortunately for the forces of order, the Legionnaires manage to track the body, though they encounter a series of traps at the villain’s sanctuary.  They each use their powers to overcome the obstacles, Shrinking Violet slipping through a gate, Chemical King rusting the bars, and Cosmic Boy smashing a trap with magnetized rocks.

action389-29.jpg

Finally, they challenge the disembodied head, who is fixated on the single Legionnaire who defeated him, but it turns out that there was no solitary hero to blame.  Yet, the robot remains certain there was.  It seems that he conflated Cosmic Boy and Chemical King with his damaged optics.  Nonetheless, he determines to be revenged on all of the young heroes!  Yet, just as he prepares to strike them down with his powerful eye beams, his vocal device suddenly malfunctions, shattering his invulnerable prisma-glass shield!  How could this be?  Through the  machinations of Shrinking Violet, of course!  She shrunk down and played havoc with KLIM’s mechanisms, causing his boasting to burst his protective bubble.

action389-32.jpg

This is a fun story, and the focus on the mystery is not overpowering or ridiculous as they sometimes tend to be in Legion tales.  KLIM provides an interesting villain, and overall this is just a solid all-around adventure yarn.  I like that Shrinking Violet, the apparently weakest member of the team, is the one who saves the day.  Everyone gets something to do, and even if there isn’t much characterization, it is entertaining.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

Aquaman #51

Aquaman_Vol_1_51.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“The World Cannot Wait for Deadman”
Writer: Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Editor: Dick Giordano

The excellent SAG run continues, and Aquaman’s sojourn in the strange alien world continues as well!  This is a visually spectacular arc of issues, with Aparo at the peak of his powers.  Story-wise, this arc is intriguing and has that heady, wildly creative feel of the best Silver Age Stan and Jack Marvel books, where innovative and fascinating concepts and characters are tossed out rapid-fire with amazing regularity.  It’s one of the great tragedies of the comic book world that the Aquaman book and the SAG team would not last long enough to really capitalize on the myriad creations they added to the mythos of the character and his world.

Aquaman51_03.jpg

Of course, we’re first faced with that beautiful Nick Cardy cover.  That situation doesn’t really happen inside, but what an image!  We rejoin the Aquatic Ace right where we left him, meeting the leader of the strange, MC Escher-esq city on the edge of nowhere where he’s found himself marooned.  Unfortunately this Brother Warnn can tell Arthur no more than his winsome companion, despite the fellow’s awesome forked beard and robe.  The Sea King struggles with the seeming hopelessness of his situation, but Aquaman is not one to give in to despair.  He vows to once again brave the bizarre wastelands outside the borders of this strange city in search of other beings who might know the way…home!

Aquaman51_04.jpg

Yet, his newly acquired ‘Girl Friday’ is horrified by his declaration.  Apparently it is blasphemous to her people to even suggest that there are any other civilizations outside of The City.  Their telepathic “conversation” attracts the attention of the powers that be, and the lovely lady warns the Sea King that he will face attack if he leaves the shrine, but a little danger is no deterrent for the Marine Marvel.  He takes out the guard at the entrance, but quickly finds himself pursued by more of these grim guardians with their strange bubble-weapons.  We get a really love page of how our submarine sojourner escapes the bizarre bubbles, diving through a narrow opening in a building to scrape them away.

Aquaman51_06.jpg

Still, he finds his exit blocked, so he knocks out another sentry and uses the poor schmuck as a human (alien?) shield!  His strategy works, and he manages to escape his pursuers, hurling their hapless fellow back into them as a parting gift.

Aquaman51_07.jpg

Aquaman, King of the Sea and King of Fair Play

Yet, as he strikes out into the vast unknown of the wilderness beyond, the Sea King discovers that his plucky companion has followed him.  We get a nice little moment where he privately hopes that her interest isn’t romantic.  Yeah, I don’t think Mera would be okay with that!

Aquaman51_10.jpg

As they begin their journey in search of answers, they discover that the inhabitants of The City are rather sore losers.  They activate some sort of telepathic death-ray, and it nearly does both of the travelers in!

Aquaman51_13.jpg

The girl collapses in pain, but our hero is able to struggle onward.  I like that.  It works for me that Aquaman, who must have an incredibly powerful mind, is able to resist this weapon.  They finally escape the reach of this weird weapon, our hero once again struggles with despair, but he refuses to give in, thinking only of Mera and home!

Aquaman51_16.jpg

Speaking of the fetching fire-haired water witch, we check back in with her in Atlantis, where she is fighting a similar battle against despair, with Aqualad’s encouragement.  We get a brief recap of the events that have led us here, but then we discover that Black Manta is approaching Atlantis!  The Queen of the Sea orders out the army to go on alert, but secretly she laments the fact that she must face this challenge…alone!  We get probably a bit too much melodrama here.  It makes Mera seem rather weak, which I don’t care for.  Still, I like the idea of both man and wife pining for each other from more than a world apart.  I suppose I’m just a big old romantic softie, but that gets me.

Aquaman51_15.jpg

We rejoin our intrepid explorers in time for a strange and funny little scene where they pass two small figures working a mine.  These elfin characters are named Steev and Jimm, and they reference another named Dikk.  That’s right, Skeates and Aparo added the whole team to their story.  Fun!

Aquaman51_17.jpg

Well, Aquaman does indeed discover another city, but one much different from the first!  From a distance it seems to be a blue sphere, but when they get closer, they see it is actually honeycombed with caves and inhabited by a primitive looking people.  Unlike the inhabitants of The City, these folks “talk” in the open, a fact that proves too much for the Sea King’s companion.

Aquaman51_18.jpg

She draws her weapon, and she fires at these peaceful people!  Fortunately, Aquaman realizes what she’s doing and slaps the gun away, though the shot summons a hostile response!  Suddenly the Marine Marvel finds himself preparing to fight for his life, and all because of this girl’s unthinking prejudice!

Aquaman51_19.jpg

Aquaman51_20.jpg

I love the look of frustrated determination on Aquaman’s face in that last panel.

This is a good story, as are all the issues from this run.  It captures that wonderfully weird, exotic sense of exploration and adventure that should absolutely characterize an Aquaman book.  I love for the Sea King to get up on land and mix it up, show that he’s a conventional superhero, but a good Aquaman series also has to take advantage of the unique and amazing setting the character has.  The undersea world of the DC Universe is a fantasy world, populated by all sorts of strange peoples and creatures, civilizations and wonders.

This era of the character did a great job capturing that sense of awe and scope in his undersea adventures.  What’s more, I think this tale has a subtle message about prejudice in the portrayal of the inhabitants of The City, and especially Aquaman’s “Girl Friday,” who, despite having MET someone whose very existence challenges her worldview, can’t escape the confines of her preconceptions long enough to see that wonder of the world around her.  Her willingness to murder the inhabitants of the cavern-city is particularly telling.  Once again, we’ve got a message delivered with subtlety.  Mr. O’Neil, are you taking notes?  I think we’ll see with the next week’s issues that you aren’t.  I’ll let you make your own inferences about how this applies to the current political climate in the U.S.

Unfortunately, this little yarn is just that, little.  It’s limited by its length, as the book is accommodating the Deadman backup, leaving only 15 1/3 pages for Aquaman’s adventures.  That means the tale feels abbreviated and a little rushed.  Still, all-in-all, it’s another fascinating chapter in this submarine saga!  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

minute4

“The World Cannot Wait for Deadman”

Aquaman51_23.jpg

Speaking of that Deadman backup, it continues to be interesting and, of course, beautifully drawn.  It’s a fast-moving, engaging little yarn that also presents a wealth of potential that, sadly, doesn’t seem to have ever been exploited.  We rejoin our deceased daredevil in the grips of some otherworldly phenomenon caused by that bizarre cat-like creature from the previous issue.  He suddenly finds himself quite corporeal and whole in a strange new world, accompanied by a beautiful and mysterious young woman.

Aquaman51_24.jpg

Deadman somehow senses that she is, in fact, the reason he is there.  It seems that the cat-creature was her manifestation in his dimension, though she is a native of this new world.  She explains that the aliens actually trap her people and use them to dispose of spirits like him, as their only way home is to “ride” a spirit back to their own dimension.  The explanation having been delivered, Boston naturally demands to be taken home.  Earth is still in danger, after all, and he’s the only one who even knows about it!  The lovely lady refuses, stating that she would be trapped again if she were to return.  Right from the start, you can feel Adams stretching his creative muscles in the design of this alien dimension.  We get only the most fleeting glances of it in this short story, but it’s got the makings of a fun fantasy setting, with the people riding giant birds, dwelling in sprawling subterranean caverns, and facing extraordinary threats.

Aquaman51_26.jpg

It’s a real shame that, as far as I know, this is the only glimpse we ever get of this unique world, named Dano by its inhabitants.  Yet, though eerily beautiful, this place is dangerous, and Deadman, the girl, Tatsinda, and some of her people quickly find themselves facing a flash flood, so they flee into the caverns that their race calls home.  Once inside, the little party is ambushed by creepy, arachnid looking antagonists riding a giant…well, hypno-crab would be the best description, I’d say.  (All glory to the Hypnotoad!)  I really like the design for these arachn-anderthals (TM).  Once again, we see them only briefly, but they have lots of visual interest.

Aquaman51_27.jpg

The bizarre mount of the arachn-anderthals renders the little party helpless with its gigantic, hypnotic eyes, and the raiders grab Tatsinda.  The Dead Detective shakes off the mind-warping effects of that gaze and pursues the attackers into a perilous web stretching through the caverns.  He employs his acrobatic training to good effect and quickly gains on them.  Deadman’s aerialist attack lets him get in close, and he turns those dangerous eyes against their owners in rather wonderful fashion.

Aquaman51_30.jpg

Finally, he faces the last of the raiders in a desperate hand-to-hand battle, strength against strength, like Beowulf and Grendel.  Unlike the monstrous Mere-Stepper, though, this fellow doesn’t leave behind an arm as he plunges into the night.  Deadman effectively kills this guy, which is something that I’m usually, ahem dead-set against (I’m sorry!) in comics, but I’m willing to give him a pass this time.  After all, he’s not your average superhero, and this is a sword-and-sorcery-esq tale.  It feels right, even if it is a bit surprising.  There’s something ironic and interesting in Deadman using deadly force.  I don’t know the character particularly well, but I hope writers have taken advantage of that concept at some point in time.

Aquaman51_31.jpg

The story ends with Tatsinda giving her rescuer a kiss, and then, thinking that his world needs his heroic heart more than hers needs her, she once again rips open the dimensional barriers and sends Deadman home!

Aquaman51_32.jpg

It’s a good tale, far too brief to really stretch its proverbial legs and breathe the way we’d like it to, especially given the intriguing nature of the setting, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.  Adams manages to inject a lot in a small space, and one just wonders what he could have done with more pages.  Once again, it’s hard to rate stories this short (7 1/2 pages), but I’ll be generous and also give this 4 Minutemen.

minute4

Batman #222

Batman_222.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Case of No Consequence!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

This is certainly a unique instance of “real life” influencing comics!  The famous urban myth that hounded the Beatles in 1969 about Paul’s death gets a silly, light-hearted treatment with this story.  In case you aren’t aware of this bizarre little conspiracy theory, apparently in 1969 a rumor began circulating around American college campuses, eventually gaining national attention, that claimed Paul McCartney of Beatles fame had died.  The crux of this whole weird myth was that his band-mates had covered up his death and hired a double to replace him…for reasons.  The proponents of this theory pointed to a number of “clues” to the musicians demise supposedly hidden in the Beatle’s music.  Supposedly, playing certain songs backward or in specific ways revealed messages about Paul’s death.

Batman222-01.JPG

It is with just such a musical experiment that our tale opens.  Dick Grayson and his college friends at Hudson University are listening to an album of “The Twists,” playing it backwards at a specific speed, and they hear a line by the leader singer, “Glennan,” that seems to indicate “Saul Cartwright” (get it?) is dead.  The Teen Wonder’s curiosity is piqued, and when he discovers that the band is coming to Gotham, he talks Bruce Wayne into offering to host the fab-four during their stay, giving him a chance to get to the bottom of this “mystery.”

Batman222-04.JPG

The band arrives, with Saul safe and sound, reassuring the cheering crowds that he is, in fact, still among the living.  Once they are settled in at Wayne Manor, specially re-opened for the occasion, even Batman’s curiosity is piqued.  The reunited Dynamic Duo decide to put the rumor to the test.  Dick gets a recording of “Saul’s” voice and compares it to an earlier sample from one of his records.  The two are markedly dissimilar when compared in the Batcave, but the Dark Knight points out that they would be, one being a speaking and the other a singing voice.

Batman222-06.JPG

Robin decides to try a more direct approach, so he dons his costume and steals the mini-recorder that Saul always carries about from his room.  Or rather, he tries to, but the trained crimefighter is jumped in the darkened hallway of his own home by one of the British musicians.  Think about that for a moment.

Batman222-07.JPG

We get a classic head-blow knockout, sending the young hero plummeting down the stairs!  Poor Dick is not coming off too well in this issue.  It’s also worth noting that our heroes start running around in full costume in Wayne Manor with guests staying there.  Good job protecting the secret identities, guys.

Bruce discovers his crumpled sidekick and brings him to the Batcave, where they start to work on new strategies.  After a few more failed efforts, they discover that the band is preparing to do a recording session at a studio in Gotham.  The Masked Manhunters head out to get there ahead of time, but there are a number of hired guns waiting for them!  Batman predicts their ambush with some really weak logic, and the heroes make short work of the gunsels.

Batman222-11.JPG

The Dynamic Duo finally simply confront the Twists in Wayne Manor!  Really guys?  “Saul” is sick of all these rumors, but he doesn’t know anything about these attacks.  “Glennan,” however, is not so innocent.  He pulls a gun, because no-one has ever tried that with the Dark Knight before.

Batman222-13.JPG

They slap the singer down without much trouble, and all is finally revealed.  Apparently, Saul is not an imposter, but the other three are!  It seems that the previous year, the rest of the band died in a plane crash while Saul was still home in London.  He wanted to keep the band alive, so he hired look-alikes and trained them for a year, starting rumors of his own death to throw people off the scent.  The truth comes out, and the remaining musicians, minus “Glennan,” form a new band called Phoenix.

Batman222-14.JPG

So, this was a silly story, but funny as a parody of the whole “Paul is dead” craze.  It is not really clear why Batman would be interested in all of this.  Slow night in Gotham?  Is everybody actually staying in Arkham for a time?  Anyway, the joke is pretty much all that this tale has going for it, and the reversal at the end is a nice twist on the idea.  It’s funny enough, but there isn’t much to it.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

minute3

“Case of No Consequence!”

Batman222-18.JPG

I really liked this backup tale.  We’ve heard a lot in recent years about how Superman cares about everybody, how that’s one of his defining characteristics which is completely absent in this new big screen portrayal.  That’s entirely true, but what the people who cringe at Superman taking a life and cheer at Batman doing the same forget is that this is a trait not unique to the Man of Steel.  It is, in fact, a definitive mark of both of DC’s founding fathers.  That’s what makes this little yarn so good; it captures the fact that Batman does what he does, not just out of a desire for revenge, not because he is so broken and damaged inside, and not because he is bat-guano insane.  No, he fights his never-ending battle because he, more than anyone else in the DCU, knows the value of life, the value of redemption.  And that’s a beautiful thing, often lost amongst the darkness and grimness of his world.

This particular tale begins with Batman, exhausted from a non-stop night fighting crime, so tired he can barely stand, encountering a simple mugging.  He discovers that the victim is a deaf man, a free-lance journalist whose camera was stolen.  The Dark Knight realizes that the camera is this man’s livelihood, and though he wonders if this is really a case that deserves his attention, he quickly realizes that he can’t abandon the poor soul in his need.

Batman222-19.JPG

The thief stepped in developing fluid, and the Dark Detective uses this to track him, tracing the fleeing felon to a seedy pool hall.  The camera-snatcher, a punk named Bleeker Bill, is reveling in his take and playing some pool, until the exhausted hero surprises him.  The Caped Crusader’s fatigue allows his prey to escape, but the hero’s physical abilities are much less important to his success than his brains, so he figures out where the rat will run.

Batman222-24.JPG

Bats surprises him by taking a shortcut through the sewers, and cows the coward purely through force of his presence.  The tale ends with the Dark Knight returning the camera, secretly repaired, and pausing for a snapshot for the shutterbug before tottering home, utterly out of energy.

Batman222-25.JPG

It’s a quick but complete story, and it captures that too-rarely seen quality of the character, his love for humanity at large.  Batman helps this man because he needs help, because it is the right thing to do, regardless of how he felt and how small the matter seemed.  To the victim, it was the biggest thing in the world, and the Dark Knight recognized that.  It’s simple, but good.  That being said, I’m not crazy about the thief getting away from our hero in the bar.  Tired or not, you’d think the Caped Crusader could toss a batarang or something!  Either way, I’l give this backup 4 Minutemen.

minute4

Batman222-26.JPG

 

Thanks for joining me for another set of stories from the Bronze Age!  Please come back next week when we trek a little further into this great era.

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpg

We’ve got a new addition to the Head-blow counter!  Poor Robin adds another appearance to the wall of shame.

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: March 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg

Our trek into the Bronze Age continues!

And so does the evolution of this feature.  I’m going to add a little historical information to set the scene and provide some context for the comics I’m covering.  Each month’s first post will feature a couple of notable events and, stealing shamelessly from the ever entertaining and delightfully British Fantasticast, will also include that month’s longest reigning #1 single.

This month in history:

  • Rhodesia becomes independent
  • The Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty goes into effect
  • The “Weathermen” domestic terrorist group bomb 18 West 11th St in NYC
  • US lowers voting age from 21 to 18
  • The film Airport is released
  • Explorer 1 re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere after 12 years in orbit
  • Riots erupt in Belfast, Ireland

As you can see, these are turbulent times we’re touring.

And quite fittingly, this month’s #1 song was “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” As an aside, Garfunkel is a weird looking dude.  Just saying.  Now, to the comics!

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

  • Action Comics #386
  • Batman #220
  • Brave and the Bold #88
  • Challengers of the Unknown #72
  • Detective Comics #397
  • Flash #195
  • G.I. Combat #140
  • Green Lantern #75
  • Justice League of America #79
  • Phantom Stranger #5
  • Showcase #89
  • World’s Finest #192

Bonus!: Star Hawkins

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

Action Comics #386

Action_Comics_386.jpg

Cover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“Zap Goes the Legion!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abe

Wow, what a switch from the last issue and the first half of this story!  Don’t let that gimmicky cover fool you.  Even though this issue may have been born out of someone proposing the asinine question, ‘hey, wonder if there would be a retirement home for old superheroes?’ this story rises above such silly beginnings.  It looks like this tale is going to be exactly like its predecessor, rife with Silver Age silliness, but while there is certainly some of that to be found here, the whole actually hangs together remarkably well.  That’s the key difference between this story and its first half.  This one is surprisingly logically consistent.

We join our hero, the time-lost Man of Steel, still banished from his home time and seeking solace in the far future.  He leaps forward in time once more, this journey taking him to the year 121,970, where he finds a devastated world, poisoned by nuclear war.  Right from the beginning we see that this is a more interesting, thoughtful story than the previous offering from Action Comics.  Superman is wrestling with the unexpected loss of the life he knew, and in a fit of rage he destroys a cliffside that’s been fused into glass.  It’s a nice little moment.  He sees his aged reflection and is confronted with the reality of his loss, lashing out in anger.  That’s more emotion from the Man of Might than we saw in the entirety of the previous issue.  The Time Trapper observes this outburst with glee and reflects on the events of that past story.

action386_02

Finding nothing to assuage his sorrow, Superman once more lives up to his more esoteric nickname, the Man of Tomorrow, by traveling further into the future.  There he finds an interesting world.  On the one hand, it’s taken right from the Jetsons, complete with skyscraper buildings that house humanity above a sea of poisonous atmosphere that blankets the planet.  On the other hand, the way the world got to this point is really quite intriguing and unusually thought-provoking for a story from this era.

action386_04.jpg

Superman finds himself surrounded by strange floating robotic sentries that arrest him for using superpowers (!), hauling him before the leaders of the world.  They recognize him, but at least this time it is played as something of an unusual occurrence instead of having this 100 centuries old superhero instantly known by everyone in the future.  It is from the powers-that-be that Superman learns the sad history of this era, and an interesting story it is.  It seems that thousands of years ago a trio of super beings, much like Superman himself, came to Earth.  They were benevolent, protecting and caring for the people of the planet, and in turn the citizens showered them with love.  Yet, love was their undoing.  The three beings were two men and one woman, and the men fought over their female companion.  Theirs was a war that lasted only two days but which was so incredibly destructive, especially from the damage of their “proto-vision,” that it left the entire Earth poisoned in its wake.  The beings, the Naurons, fled, leaving the world a wasteland.  In response, the survivors banned the use of all superpowers, which seems like a fairly sensible precaution after such an experience.

action386_06.jpg

This is quite the interesting little throw-away detail, or so it seems at the time.  It is a rare moment of perspective from a comic, especially a DC comic, of this era.  The presence of beings as powerful as Superman would be an incredible threat to the worlds they call home, and if they were any less careful and dedicated than he is, a tragedy would be inevitable.  This has been explored quite well in later years, of course, but the tale of the Naurons is certainly noteworthy in context.  It adds a different, though also somewhat sombre note to the story of Superman’s exile.

Well, Superman decides to explore this time a bit more, being careful not to employ any of his powers, and he happens upon the future incarnation of the Daily Planet, complete with nifty floating sign.  Inside he first discovers that it is no longer a newspaper; as the Man of Steel puts it, “the printed page must be ancient history in this era.”  This is another surprisingly thoughtful detail in this story.  While comic writers could easily imagine the future with flying cars and push-button houses, they often had some of the most interesting blind spots for other elements of life in such an era.

Next Superman happens upon the archives of the video-paper and learns what had happened to his friends after he disappeared from his native time.  We discover that Lois apparently never got over her thing for Superman, as she married the actor who portrayed him in the movies.  I think I’d call that unhealthy and more than a little creepy.  ‘Hey, you look like my vanished love, so I guess you’ll do.  Would you mind wearing his clothes too?’  Jimmy Olsen fared better, writing a best-seller about his adventures with the Man of Steel and finally finding enough dignity to call himself James…but not enough to stop wearing bow-ties.  Before he can learn anymore (one wonders what happened to Batman and the League without their heaviest hitter), Superman gets kicked out and goes back to wandering the streets.

action386_08.jpg

He sees an accident about to occur, and unwilling to let any law prevent him from saving a life, leaps into action, only to be arrested again!  This time they have no mercy and banish him to another world!  Here is where we get to what on the cover seems like a goofy concept, but what, in context, actually makes sense.  It seems that this is a retirement center of sorts for aging heroes, men who could not fit into civilian life or who violated the law in their attempts to help.  In a sense, it’s a cushy prison for metahumans, a logical necessity if you’ve outlawed powers.

This places inmates are embittered, holding on to their past glories, but they immediately take to Superman, having long revered his legacy.  It makes sense that there would be somewhere to put heroes who broke the power laws, and it also serves to underscore Superman’s own sense of emptiness and uselessness, so this hero retirement home actually works in this story, strange as it may seem.

action386_12.jpg

The Man of Tomorrow finds himself on this world only a short time before a dignitary from Earth arrives, begging for the help of the banished heroes.  They basically tell the guy where he can go, but Superman sways them with an impassioned speech…or rather, he basically says, ‘hey, come on guys…come on!’ and the heroes, apparently senile and easily influenced, immediately get on board.

action386_13.jpg

They all fly to Earth where they discover that a storage silo for an incredibly powerful fuel that is inexplicably stored smack-dab in the middle of downtown future-Metropolis has become unstable and is going to explode!  One wonders why you might not want to store your super explosive materials somewhere else, but apparently safety concerns just aren’t that big of a deal in the future.  I wonder what future-OCSEA would say…

Anyway, heroes, weakened by age and sorrow, don’t think they can save the city, but Superman once again displays his quick wits, as well as his natural leadership abilities.  He leaps into action, deploying his super-powered squad all around the solar system in pursuit of various materials, which he uses to create blast shield that will focus the force of the explosion downward.  When the tower goes up, Superman uses his own impervious form, spinning at super speed, to further contain the explosion and turn the building into a rocket, sending it harmlessly into space.  It’s a clever solution, and it’s a nice sequence of pages, with the elderly champions chipping in to save the day.

action386_15.jpg

Finally, the story ends with Superman journeying on further into the future, not even bothering to say goodbye.  As he flies, he ruminates on lost opportunities.  “Why didn’t I marry Lois?” he wonders as he is secretly observed by the sinister Time Trapper!  It’s a nice note to end on, keeping the melancholy undercurrent of the story alive, despite the seemingly happy conclusion of this adventure.

action386_16.jpg

This is a really fun, surprisingly thoughtful and interesting story.  Now, I’m being generous here, as there are certainly silly elements and moments throughout it, but the whole thing holds together remarkably well considering its origins.  Pretty much every element that is introduced makes sense, and there are really thought-provoking pieces to this story, including the war of the super-beings and Superman’s own sadness at being banished from everything and everyone he knows.  While I’d hardly call this story soulful or truly melancholy, it certainly has elements that a generous imagination can magnify into more than the sum of their parts.  I also wonder if the concern with devastated, dead, or poisoned worlds might reflect the growing environmental consciousness being displayed in JLA this and last month.  I can’t say for sure, but it does seem like a curious bit of synchronicity.  All-in-all, I’ll give this tale 4 Minutemen out of 5.

minute4

 

action386_17talesofthelegion.jpg

“Zap Goes the Legion!”

That brings us to this month’s Legion backup.  For once, the backup doesn’t overshadow the feature, which seemed to be the trend for the last two months.  Still, this is a fine Legion tale, and it too features a neat, unusual element.  The adventure begins on the prison planetoid of Takron-Galtos, a Legion fixture I’ve encountered once or twice before.  I like recurring elements like this.  They make the universe of these stories seem more complete, more filled out and lived-in.  Anyway, we meet two prisoners who are due for release.  In a scene out of a Clockwork Orange (though, interestingly this comic predates that movie by a year!), both inmates are given “prism therapy,” which apparently brainwashes them into doing good.  Shades of Doc Savage!  The two prisoners claim to be transformed and to feel remorse for their actions.  The woman, Uli Algor, an old foe of the Legion’s, has actually faked her reformation and immediately sets out to destroy the heroes of the future!

action386_18talesofthelegion.jpg

The method by which she defeats the “prism therapy” is rather hokey, as she effectively just says, ‘hey, I used light to fight the Legion, so I made myself immune to all forms of light!’  Wow, I wish I knew it was that easy!  I’ve shot guns, so I should have just made myself immune to all metal!  Silly me!  Anyway, several of the Legionnaires are out on the town, viewing *sigh* a “time-scope,” showing a 20th Century prize fight and noting that the ‘barbaric’ sport of boxing has been outlawed for hundreds of years.  Remember that, as it will become strangely important later on.  Our uninterestingly named villainess challenges the heroes, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and even substitute hero Night Girl, to a fight.  She quickly dispatches each of the heroes by turning their powers against them with her advanced equipment.  Lightning Lad is short-circuited, Cosmic Boy is thrown into a wall with bone-breaking force, Saturn Girl is given wide-awake nightmares, and Night Girl is blinded!  All things considered, I think Night Girl got off rather easily by comparison.

action386_20talesofthelegion.jpg

I like that panel of Saturn Girl’s nightmares.  It’s pretty neat, and the menace is palpable.  No, here’s where we get something a bit unusual.  The heroes don’t just pick themselves up and dust themselves off.  No, they are well and truly defeated, and the next scene is Brainiac 5 and Karate Kid visiting them in the hospital where they are all entirely incapacitated.  It’s a surprising scene, showing the consequences of a loss for our heroes, and while they will all be okay, it is clear that they were hurt pretty badly.  I particularly like the image of the heroes in the pitch-black room, only their goggles standing out.  The whole scene has the effect of reminding us that our heroes are actually playing for high stakes and implies that their victory is far from certain.

action386_22talesofthelegion.jpg

The remaining heroes, Brainiac 5, Ultra-Boy, Phantom Girl, and Karate Kid, receive a a second challenge from Algor (not to be confused with another future-dwelling Al Gore), and they choose a junkyard asteroid as their battleground.  Despite Brainiac 5 preparing the ground and rigging the junked spaceships littering its surface to trap her, Algor manages to escape, inadvertently bringing Phantom Girl back to her hidden base.  The villainess is ready for the young heroine’s intangibility, however, and takes her out.  This enrages her boyfriend, Ultra-Boy, and he sets out to bring Algor down.  She plans how to counter each of his many superpowers, but is so wrapped up in what she’ll do in this, that, or the other circumstance, that she allows the fighting-mad Legionnaire to walk right up to her and belt her on the jaw.

action386_26talesofthelegion.jpg

She was prepared for any of his powers, but not for old-fashioned boxing, it seems!  Now, the story assures us Ultra-Boy isn’t using super strength, and it lampshades the fact that he is hitting a girl; yet, it is still a bit off-putting that he just straight-up socks this woman in the jaw!  It’s rather surprising in a 1970 comic book, and I have to admit that my old-school Southern gentlemanly upbringing quails a bit at that image.

action386_27talesofthelegion.jpg

The resolution is a bit silly, as even if boxing isn’t allowed as a sport, the Legionnaires clearly have some hand-to-hand training, so a punch to the face wouldn’t be quite as innovative as Ultra-Boy seems to think it is in this story, especially for someone like him, who often engages in fisticuffs.  Algor’s very convenient powers are another weakness of this story, as she seems to have the power of ‘plot.’  I imagine that is why she didn’t really become a major Legion foe.  That, and she doesn’t really have much personality, but there is only so much you can pack into an 11 page story, and master of continuity, E. Nelson Bridwell has already got this one stuffed to the gills.

Despite those few weaknesses, this is definitely a fun story, and the injuries sustained by the first tea of Legionnaires really helped to raise it above the herd a bit, giving the whole tale a more serious feeling.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

Batman #220

Batman_220.jpg

Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

This is a fine Batman tale, a good, classic style murder mystery, though the ending is a bit of a cheat.  We are back to the dark, brooding detective Batman once again, and that’s always a good thing in my book, though it emphasizes the unevenness of the character’s portrayal across the line at this time.  Our story opens with Batman rushing to a payphone where he hears the taped confession of a murderer, though the man says the Caped Crusader will never live to use it, as the entire phone booth explodes!  It’s a literal ka-pow moment and a nice beginning for our tale.

Batman220-02.JPG

Cut to the previously discussed Victims Inc. office of Bruce Wayne, where he is visited by a strangely silver-haired Marla Manning, a young woman (and it rather bothers me that no-one comments on the fact that this 20-something woman has white/silver hair!) whose columns inspired Bruce to start his organization.  She is there because she was investigating a car bomb that claimed the life of a city clerk and she has received a warning to “lay off!”  Bruce goes to check his files, and discovers that this particular file has been stolen!

He tells her that this is now a case for Batman, which seems a bit cavalier with the whole secret identity thing, but not the worst offense we’ve seen recently. *cough*Superman*cough*  Then, properly attired in cape and cowl, the Dark Knight detective goes to interview the victim’s sister…by knocking on her door.  It’s a rather incongruous image, seeing Batman in 70s grim avenger-style art knocking politely at a door while standing in a well-lit hallway.

Batman220-06.JPG

The sister isn’t talking, and Bats deduces that she’s being threatened, so he bursts in and disarms the gunman in a rather nicely drawn scene.  Irv Novick may not be in the same league as Neal Adams, who will shortly become THE artist associated with Batman in this era, but he’s no slouch either, and he draws a dynamic, powerful, and resourceful Caped Crusader.

Batman220-08.JPG

Unfortunately, the killer gets away, leaving the Dark Knight without a lead to follow, so he reexamines the case and decides to investigate a construction company that won a bid the murdered clerk had been involved in.  While snooping through the company’s records (and unlike a true Silver Age story, we don’t get any tortuous justification for Batman clearly breaking the law to do so), our stalwart hero discovers that Zachary Nova, the head of the Nova Demolitions company has just the skill-set needed to handle the car-bomb, having been a demolitions expert in Vietnam.  Nova catches him spying, and gets the drop on the detective, but Batman is able to turn the tables on him, leading to a tense stand off involving some really rather casually stored explosives.  If Batman can’t pin a murder on the guy, at least he can totally get him for unsafe working conditions!

Batman220-12.JPG

Nova, clearly more than a little crazy, threatens Batman with a bundle of TNT, and the Dark Knight leaves without finding any proof.  Next, the Cape Crusader rather blithely decides to put Marla Manning’s life in danger.  He has her print a story claiming she has some proof about the killer and making herself bait.  The reporter gets a call from Nova, who says he knows she doesn’t have any proof, but he’s willing to sell her some if she’ll meet him.  Batman insists on making the exchange, which brings us back to that deadly phonebooth!

Batman220-21.JPG

After the Dark Detective’s seeming demise, Nova emerges and threatens Marla, but he is suddenly assaulted by his disembodied voice!  Nova panics and empties his gun, then Batman tackles him from the shadows.  That brings us to the rather cheap explanation of Batman’s survival.  Apparently he had a life-sized dummy UNDER HIS CAPE!  He threw it in the phonebooth and dove for cover.

Batman220-24.JPG

Other than that somewhat silly explanation, this is a solid issue.  It isn’t great, but there is a fair enough mystery and Nova makes for an entertaining enough villain, even if there isn’t all that much to him.  The mystery would be a bit more substantive if there were more than one suspect, but it effectively wraps everything up in one issue.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

The Brave and the Bold #88

Brave_and_the_bold_88.jpg

Executive Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We return again to the Brave and the Bold, the private comic fife of Bob Haney!  For all of his quirks, something Haney could do quite well was a character-focused story.  He was surprisingly good at turning in a tale bursting with genuine character development, where a hero or heroine went through a personal arc between the covers, but there was a catch.  The character being developed often bore little actual resemblance to the mainstream DC hero he or she was supposed to be.  What’s more, all of that character work was usually promptly forgotten by everyone, including Haney himself, about five minutes after the issue ended.  This trend gives rise to the old joke that Zaney Haney stories take place, not on Earth 1 or Earth 2, but on Earth H, for Haney.

Yet, despite the, well, zaniness of such stories, they are still noteworthy for providing real character growth and change (however short-lived) in an era where DC Comics very rarely engaged in any such storytelling.  Where Haney really shined is with characters that were, at the time, largely forgotten.  There was no real established continuity for him to flaunt, and thus no other writers to ignore what he had done.  Over the course of the next few years, Haney will produce several fairly interesting, though fittingly insane, stories about mostly forgotten characters from the Golden Age.  This is one such tale.

Our guest-star this issue, Wildcat, seems to have been one of Haney’s favorites, and he certainly makes a number of return appearances, most of them fairly good.  In this tale, which bears much more in common with that rather striking cover than you’d think likely, as we first find the former costumed hero down on his luck in a flophouse.  Bruce Wayne has come seeking the undefeated former heavyweight champion of the world, and he has found Ted Grant a shell of the man he once was.  Bruce asks the older man what happened, and Grant, in terse, bitter sentences replies that he had opened a gym to help underprivileged kids, but got drawn into the problems of the inner city.  He went into debt trying to help, and suddenly found himself quite alone when the money ran out.

brave and the bold 088 003.jpg

Wayne offers to pay his debts, saying he has come to get Grant’s help.  It seems there is a youth Olympic-style set of games in the offing, and the U.S. of A. needs someone to coach the boxers.  Who better than the Champ?  Interestingly enough, Bruce himself is coaching the fencing team.  It makes sense that Bruce Wayne, wealthy socialite that he is, would be a fencer, but does it follow that he’d be good enough (publicly) to justify such a position?  Well, it’s a Haney tale, so we shouldn’t peer too closely behind the curtain.

Convinced that he has nothing to offer anyone, grant turns the job down, but when he hears Bruce getting jumped right outside his window, he leaps into action without a second thought, laying out the two thugs who were robbing the millionaire.  This gives him a dose of confidence, and he agrees to join the team.  As they leave, Bruce tosses a roll of bills to the two “thugs,” who he had hired for just that purpose.

brave and the bold 088 004.jpg

Cut to Vienna, where the games are being held, and we find a very Rocky-esq twist in the plot when Grant is challenged and insulted by an Russian ex-boxer named Koslov, who claims the Champ was too chicken to fight him back in the day.  Interestingly enough, this comic predates the famous boxing film by six years!  Well, Ted brushes off the insults, and his young team begin to wonder if the Ruskie’s claims are true!

brave and the bold 088 006.jpg

Just when I bet you’re beginning to wonder if any actual superheroes will make an appearance in this book, Batman slips over to meet with military intelligence in downtown Vienna.  They brief him on the mission they’ve asked him to perform, intercepting the plans for an armed satellite from a turncoat agent who is planning to sell them to the Russians.  To my mind, this gives us the real reason that Bruce got involved with these games, as it gave him an excuse to travel around in his civilian guise without being connected to Batman.  In costume, he starts his investigation, and back in the non-Olympic village, the Russian coach is stirring up trouble and continues to badger the Champ.  Afterwards, the veteran boxer confesses to Bruce that he may very well be afraid of Koslov.  After all, the fellow is younger and in better condition than he is, and his nom de guerre is “The Hammer!”  If you share a nickname with Charles Martel, you’ve got to be tough!  It seems that Grant’s confidence was shaken even worse than it seemed by his setbacks in life!

Finally, Koslov jumps into the ring with the retired hero and shoves him, at which point Grant slugs him.  This gives Koslov the excuse to challenge him to a fight, and in a funny exchange, Bruce tells Ted that he HAS to fight or he could single-handedly lose the Cold War!  I’m exaggerating a bit, but from the way the millionaire talks about this challenge, you’d think that the fate of the Free World hung in the balance.  “You’ve got to accept the challenge AND win it!” Bruce declares, “You’ve become part of the Cold War–like it or not!”  Way to lay it on thick, there, Bats.

brave and the bold 088 011.jpg

Grant stalks off, saying he needs time to think, and Bruce slips away to continue his investigation.  He finds the spy, but the slippery fink catches sight of him and begins to run.  Fortunately, Ted Grant has donned his old costume and taken a motorcycle out for a spin to clear his head, perhaps secretly hoping for some trouble so that he can prove himself once more.  He finds it, helping Batman pursue the fleeing spy.  Yet, this fellow is one tough customer, and he manages to lose both of his pursuers, further dampening Wildcat’s spirits.

brave and the bold 088 015.jpg

The trail gone cold for the moment, Batman decides to check in on his friend, and he finds him climbing onto a famous ferris wheel.  Knowing that Grant is waffling and in need of confidence, Batman decides to employ some tough love.  He scales the wheel and enters the Champ’s carriage where he declares that Grant MUST fight Koslov, but the fighter is still unwilling, so Batman does the only rational thing left.  He punches the boxer square in the face!  The Dark Knight swears that “only one of us is going to walk out of this car!” and an epic brawl begins as the wheel slowly turns.  When it finally stops, Grant staggers out, victorious!  Batman, looking quite the worse for wear, thinks that he “laid down a bit so Ted could win,” but considers that the aging pugilist is still quite a combatant.

brave and the bold 088 016.jpg

So, Grant agrees to fight the big Russian (really?  Stallone must have been a DC fan, because this sounds quite a bit like Rocky IV!), and the two start training, but Batman, worried that Koslov might just beat his friend, decides to take out some “insurance.”  I love this.  Batman decides that there is too much at stake to just trust to Grant, so he rigs the lights and prepares to cheat so that the U.S. could come out on top!  It is both perfectly in and perfectly OUT of character for the Dark Knight Detective.  On the one hand, Batman is perfectly willing to cheat to win, providing the ends justify the means, but on the other hand, it’s sort of strange to look back and see this extremely political, patriotic Batman.  Could you imagine the modern Caped Crusader doing something this patriotic, if slightly unethical?

Anyway, after setting up his insurance policy, Batman heads back out on his investigation, but he is gassed and captured by enemy agents!  Meanwhile, the match begins, and the Champ comes out swinging.  For four rounds he “pounds the hulking “Hammer,” but after he has worn himself out, the Russian begins to clobber him!  As they tie up in a grapple, Koslov whispers in his opponent’s ear that his people have Batman, and if Grant doesn’t want to see him die, he’d better throw the match.  Just as things look grim, the lights go out, and Grant lands a knockout punch!

brave and the bold 088 022.jpg

Now, here is the only really weak point in the story.  It is just so silly, so ridiculous, so very much Zaney Haney, that it threatens to undermine the rest of the tale.  Grant, having knocked Koslov out, quickly carries him out of the crowded stadium, throws him in a motorcycle, and proceeds to drive like mad until the Ruskie tells him where Batman is being held.  It seems that Batman is on a barge headed down the Danube.

brave and the bold 088 023.jpg

brave and the bold 088 024.jpgThen, not even slowing down, Grant ramps the bike off a convenient bridge, runs over a crowd of enemy agents, and frees the Dark Knight.  One wonders how the devil he unties those ropes while still wearing boxing gloves, but that’s far from the craziest thing in this story.  The two fight their way out, side by side.  And, if that weren’t enough, they, with “The Hammer” in tow, race back to the arena, arriving JUST as the lights come back up!  Grant has, naturally, carried the unconscious Russian back into the ring just before, and they proceed to continue their fight.  All of that happens in THREE pages.

brave and the bold 088 025.jpg

Batman locates the spy, who is there to make his exchange, and he sets out to capture the turncoat, but spares a moment and a hastily scrawled message on a batarang to give Grant the final push he needs.  When Ted sees “HAS BEEN” written on the batarang that lands in the ring, it lights a fire in him.  He struggles back to this feet, and he launches a last, desperate attack that puts Koslov down, fair and square.  Batman catches the spy, and the last scene is the two successful coaches watching their teams while Grant remarks that “the future looks bright for me!”

brave and the bold 088 026.jpg

brave and the bold 088 027.jpg

This is a great, though chock-full issue.  The ridiculous mad dash at the climax is goofy in the extreme, but the story moves so quickly that Haney gives you no time to consider it.  The rest of the tale is good enough that I’m willing to forgive that excess, especially considering the novelty of a flawed, broken hero who has a real arc of growth throughout.  Haney would go on to retell this story several times with several different characters, but I think this is the first.  It’s a really unusual story for this era, and it is fairly well told. Grant’s presence as Wildcat is negligible, but that’s because this is first and foremost a character piece, as I promised.  He is believable as a man broken by life, though that isn’t given as much space as it might have benefited from.  It’s a story we’ve heard before, but seeing it in this context is new and interesting.  It’s also just a good story, and it brings Wildcat back to the main DCU, rescuing him from obscurity, which is always great to see for a good character.  I’ll give this fast-paced story of redemption, this Rocky-in-a-cape drama, a 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.

minute4.5

 

“Further Up and Further In!”

-As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle, and that’s where we’ll be heading next week with the next installment of Into the Bronze Age, March 1970 Part 2!  I’m going to be doing 3 or so issues a post, as I think that’s a good reading length.  This should also allow me to keep up a schedule of one or two posts a week.  I hope you’ll join me for the exciting next issue!