Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 4)

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Hello Internet travelers, come on in and enjoy some classic comic goodness!  Today we’ve got a double dose of Superman titles with some good stories and some better backups.  Let’s see what the the Last Son of Krypton is up to as Man and Boy!

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 #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Superboy #176


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“The Secret of Superboy’s Sister”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Invisible Invader!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska

We’ve got what looks like a super gimmicky story for our Superboy comic today, but it isn’t as bad as it seems.  The cover is just okay, one of those ‘what in the world is happening’ pieces, and the sight of a little girl on a flying carpet made of junk is pretty unusual, admittedly.  The design definitely feels a bit archaic at this point, though, right down to the softer coloring in this particular image and the Silver Age-ish setup of the composition.

Fortunately, the story inside isn’t quite as gimmicky as the cover might lead you to believe.  it begins during a powerful thunderstorm, with the Kents awaiting a visit from an old friend and her daughter.  Notably, the ages of these guests don’t actually make sense with the recently established actual ages of the Kents, which sort of illustrates how unnecessary and unhelpful that retcon was.  Nonetheless, the tempest is bad enough that Clark goes out as Superboy to keep an eye on things, arriving just in time to see the visitors, the Warrens, skidding over a cliff in their car!  The Boy of Steel manages to save the daughter when she is thrown from the vehicle, but he can’t stop the car before it crashes.  The mother is badly injured, and he rushes her to the hospital.

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Mrs. Warren asks the Kents to care for her daughter, Kathy, until Mr. Warren can arrive from South America.  Clark is concerned about having this little girl around the house, worried about the pressure this puts on his secret identity, but he makes the best of it, zooming around the world and collecting toys for his short-term sibling.  It’s a sweet response and his parents are proud of this display of character.

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superboy176 0006Later on, the Smallville superstar detects something approaching the Earth from space and zooms into orbit to find a strange, octopus like machine which attacks him.  Easily shrugging off its weapons, he deactivates the device and experiments with it, trying to solve its mysteries over the next few days.  He finds that its heart is an intelligence-gathering machine, essentially a massive electronic brain that absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge about Earth from the machine’s instruments.

Unfortunately, while the Boy of Steel is distracted, the device activates and leaves his lab.  When Kathy touches it, the globe explodes.  She is unharmed, but it is quickly revealed that she has become super intelligent, as she turns the Kent’s black and white TV into a color set and starts correcting her teaches in school.  Her young mind is stuffed with a planet’s worth of knowledge.  She should hang out with the Hawks!

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The young genius even picks the lock on Superboy’s lab and drops hints that she knows who Clark is.  That afternoon, Kathy accompanies Clark to a scrap yard, and when he is distracted by a an emergency at a nearby missile test (why is the army testing weapons in Kansas?!?), the grade-school Einstein takes the opportunity to whip up a makeshift flying carpet out of spare parts.  The Boy of Steel barely manages to save her from a collision with a set of powerlines, and she helpfully reveals that she knows his secret identity!

superboy176 0015Just then, a set of inter-dimensional aliens, the Truhls, arrive to complicate matters.  Apparently Superboy had tangled with them before, even leading a slave revolt on their homeworld.  Apparently, the octopoid device was theirs, and they intend to drain the knowledge it gathered out of Kathy to aid them in conquering the world.  They hit the Boy of Steel with a cool looking weapon and threaten the girl, but she was ready for them!  Having learned of their nefarious motives when she absorbed the machine’s memory, the pint-sized prodigy turned her doll into a weapon!  She zaps the invaders, but her device explodes from the strain, knocking her out as well.

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When Clark recovers, he returns the would-be world-breakers to their own dimension and discovers that the weapon erased all of the super-knowledge from Kathy’s mind.  I rather like to think that she did this on purpose, having been smart enough to realize that she would never be happy with such vast intelligence and preferring just to be a regular kid.  There is, of course, nothing to establish that in the story itself.  The tale ends with her father coming to claim her and the Kents bidding the little girl a fond farewell.

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This is a decent if not terribly outstanding little yarn.  It throws some unusual curves into Superboy’s life without making too much of them, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like some similar stories we’ve seen.  It is guilty of the old device of over-emphasizing Superman’s invulnerability, where nothing even phases him, with even hi-tech weapons that would be a good source of peril for him simply shrugged off.  At least the aliens’ final attack does some good, adding a little tension.  Speaking of the Truhl, this story really makes it seem like they hail from an earlier issue, but I can’t find any mention of them.  That’s a shame, because the two panels we get about Superboy’s previous adventure with them sounds way more interesting than this comic!  In terms of the art, I’ve noticed that Bob Brown seems to take on a slightly more cartoony style for this book, which works well for the lighter tone of Superboy.  Perhaps that has something to do with Anderson’s inks.  Either way, his work is quite good throughout, and I’m enjoying his tenure on the title.  As for this issue, I’ll give this readable if forgettable tale 3 Minutemen.

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“Invisible Invader”


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I was excited to see that we’ve got anther Legion backup in this issue.  I’m always happy to see those fine future fellows return.  Their stories tend to be a lot of fun, and this one is no exception.  It begins with Chemical King (who apparently has to be a rebel and not conform to the kid, boy/girl, or lad/lass formula that works for the rest of the Legion) attending the unveiling of the first commercial time-travel service, which is a fun idea.  The Legionnaire is on hand to act as security, but he gets shown up when a masked figure suddenly appears out of nowhere, steals the fares, and then vanishes into the thin air.

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When Chemical King reports to his comrades, the assembled Legionnaires try to sort out how the thief accomplished this feat.  It is the Invisible Boy that comes up with the answer when he deduces that the culprit must have discovered the same invisibility serum that the young hero did.  We get a brief flashback to Lyle’s efforts to work out the formula, along with some really great, thoughtful touches of realism, like the youthful inventor realizing that, if his eyes are transparent, light won’t be able to register on them, rendering him blind.  That’s a great bit of detail, and it makes the hand-waving of the explanation a few panels later easier to swallow.

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The crux of this issue is that the team has to find some way to counter the Invisible Kid’s powers, despite the fact that, once they do, others will be able to do the same thing as well.  Lyle selflessly stresses that there is more at stake than his career, and they get to work.  Unfortunately, nothing they try is effective, but after countless tries, the Invisible Kid suddenly has a revelation and figures it out.  With a solution in hand, the team plans to ambush their unseen assailant during a likely heist, and he obligingly shows up.  The Invisible Invader materializes to steal a jeweled cup from a hovercar race.

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However, when he tires to vanish again, he stays visible, leading the team right to his accomplice and allowing the real Invisible Kid to take him out.  What Lyle realized was, since he had complete knowledge of the serum, he could tell Chemical King what chemical reactions it caused, allowing the chemistry master to simply cancel those in their target.  Thus, the Legion captures the villain, and using a tactic only available to themselves.

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This is a fun little story, brief as it is.  In only seven pages we get a good setup for a crime and a great resolution to the challenge by our heroes.  We even get a tiny bit of worldbuilding and characterization, and all of the assembled Legionnaires get a little bit to do.  These Legion backups are really some of the most consistently enjoyable yarns I read.  They always seem to be fun, and much of their material is new to me, seeing as I’m generally not too familiar with the Legion.  I’ve been enjoying George Tuska’s art on this feature too, though it isn’t as strong on this outing as it has been.  I’ll give this one 3.5 Minutemen, once again, a strong score for a seven page story.

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Superman #240


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“To Save a Superman”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Dick Giordano
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Man Who Cheated Time”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Michael W. Kaluta

This issue of Superman continues to develop the ongoing plots that Denny O’Neil has been cultivating, and it takes the seminal superhero in some interesting directions.  It’s rather more intriguing than it is successful, but O’Neil’s innovation deserves credit as he actually does shake up Superman’s status quo.  The cover this month isn’t particularly great.  We’re effectively just told that Superman failed without any real visual representation of the event.  It’s not the most electrifying of compositions, though it certainly delivers some melodrama.  The image is well crafted, of course, which is only what I expect from Neal Adams.

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The actual story begins with Superman arriving at the site of a blazing inferno as the fire department tries to put out a burning building.  Discovering that there is still a family trapped within, the Man of Steel flies to the rescue, but he is strangely hesitant.  We learn that his powers are still greatly diminished after his previous adventure, and he’s worried that he won’t be strong enough to pull off a rescue.  Despite his reduced power, the Metropolis Marvel still manages to rescue the family, but once he gets them out, the building’s owner approaches and demands to know if the hero is going to try to save it in turn.

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I love the sweetness of this sequence, as the worried Superman takes time to comfort the kids.

superman 240 0005Once again displaying unusual trepidation, the Action Ace takes to the sky, but his lessened powers prove unequal to the challenge.  In a really nicely rendered sequence, the building collapses, despite his efforts.  When the shaken hero steps abashedly out of the rubble, a photographer snaps a picture, and we get the headline from the cover.  Meanwhile, the Generic Gang has decided to narrow their focus to Superman (shoot for the stars, boys).  Calling themselves the “Anti-Superman Gang,” they meet to discuss whether or not the Man of Might has really become the Man of Milquetoast, finally deciding to risk a test to try to take him out.

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For his part, the Metropolis Marvel finds his town turning against him, meeting mockery in the streets and becoming embittered by the lack of respect for his years of sacrifice and service, which is a pretty natural reaction.  Suddenly, he sees smoke rising nearby and realizes someone is robbing a bank.  For a moment he debates whether he should leave Metropolis to its own devices, which is a nice touch, but the better one is that he shakes off his self pity and does the right thing.  His reasoning here doesn’t quite hit the right tone, though, as he thinks to himself “I’ve got to be what I am,” making his heroics a function of habit rather than a product of principle, which rather misses the mark.

At the scene of the crime, the Man of Steel finds a freaking artillery piece in the street (nobody noticed this thing being driven through town?), and the gang fires on him as he approaches slowly, thanks to his diminished powers, and they actually shoot him out of the sky.  Unable to get close, Superman decides to hit them from range, and in another great sequence, he rips the bank vault off of its massive hinges and hurls it at the artillery piece!  At least the hoods got into the spirit of crime in the DCU, dressing up in matching outfits, though they aren’t terribly interesting.  It doesn’t quite make them a themed gang, but it’s something.

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Back at the Daily Planet, Clark gets a visit from, of all people, Wonder Woman’s mentor and walking cliche, I-Ching, the blind Asian martial arts master and mystic.  Apparently the old man has learned of Superman’s plight, somehow, and, somehow, knows his secret identity…for plot reasons.  He claims he can help, so Clark doesn’t just vaporize him with heat vision and instead agrees to meet him later that night for an attempt to restore his powers.  Yet, a young punk in the office secretly observes this meeting and, being in the employ of the gang and set to spy on Superman’s friends, calls in a report, which eventually leads the criminals to I-Ching’s apartment, just as he begins working on the Man of Steel.

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The martial artist attempts to us his mystic powers to draw the Metropolis Marvel’s spirit out in order to cure it, leaving him temporarily powerless, but in the middle of the ritual, three gunsels barge in and knock him out.  Isn’t he supposed to be sort of awesome, despite being blind, what with the martial arts mastery and all?  Like Zatoichi?  Either way, he goes down like a punk, and the emboldened thugs beat on the immobile Man of Steel, only to find out that he’s more the man of Flesh now, as they manage to bruise him!

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Coming to his senses, Superman leaps up and attacks the trio.  His invulnerable costume stops a bullet, though he is still badly hurt by the impact (which is a nice touch of logic).  In a desperate fight, the suddenly completely mortal Action Ace manages to take out all three gangsters, and the book ends with him standing proudly, having proven himself despite the loss of his powers.

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This is only really a decent story taken all together, but it has elements that are really rather exceptional.  The first sequence, with Superman striving to do what he can, despite his lessened powers is pretty striking, and seeing the Man of Steel fail is definitely surprising in this era.  As is often the case, O’Neil’s treatment of the emotional dimension of the story is just slightly off key, close, but falling a little short of what it should be.  He hits the right note in the the final scene, however, with Superman fighting without his powers.  The desperation of that moment is captured fairly well.

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It’s interesting that O’Neil uses I-Ching for this role.  I suppose it makes sense, seeing as he created the character, but it definitely feels like it comes out of left field.  It would have made much more sense for Superman to contact Dr. Fate or Zatanna.  I’m not even sure these two had ever met before this issue.  I know almost nothing about this character, and he doesn’t really interest me.  I can’t say his showing in this issue is terribly impressive.  His role here, presumably to provide a way to restore our hero’s powers, points to the interesting fact that O’Neil has done something pretty unusual, having kept the Man of Steel at a reduced level for several issues now as his plot unfolded.  In previous stories, when Superman lost his powers, he almost always had them back at the end of the issue.  This arc highlights the changes O’Neil was bringing to the character.  This tale is another solid step forward in that arc, and I’m curious to see what O’Neil will make of the seeds he’s planted here.  I’ll give it a good 4 Minutemen.  The incongruous and unheralded presence of I-Ching and the uninteresting antagonists are the only real problems here.

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“The Man Who Cheated Time”


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The backup this month is another “Fabulous World of Krypton” tale, and it’s a good one.  It begins with a janitor (a SPACE janitor!) checking out the hidden devices in a secret depot of forbidden weapons hidden beneath a cool looking jungle.  The man marvels at a time machine and wonders how it got there, which leads us a flashback where we meet a brilliant scientist, Mal-Va, and his nefarious assistant (scientific assistants seem to be a bad bunch in the DCU), Zol-Mar.  Mal-Va is building a time machine that is set to be demonstrated the next day, but his assistant plans to steal the device and use it to set himself up in the past and live like a king.

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Interestingly, as he leaves, Zol-Mar observes protestors tearing down a statue of ‘Krypton’s most famous military leader,” Dar-Nx, and wishing that the authoritarian leader was still around to keep people in line.  This is a subtle piece of social commentary, and it has surprising resonance today, given the conversation in the U.S. about statues and cultural history.

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Anyway, to put his plan into action, the ambitious assistant meets with one of his master’s colleagues and, distracting the old man by planting an explosive in his lab, he steals an invention that creates hard light illusions.  Next, disguised as Mal-Va, the thief ‘borrows’ a ‘weather-regulator’ from another scientist before paying a visit to his last target.  However, when Zol-Mar meets the last scientist, the fellow pulls a gun on him, knowing that the masquerading miscreant can’t be be Mal-Va because he was just talking to him.  Desperately, the abominable assistant strikes out, grabbing the gun, and vaporizing his opponent.  Stealing a final device from his victim, Zol-Mar is ready.

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The next day, he takes his place in the time machine, having disabled the recall controls, planning to set up in the past and become Dar-Nx’s right hand man with the technology he has stolen.  Yet, as he travels, he realizes that if he just materializes out of thin air, the natives of that time might kill him out of fear, so he uses his image device to make himself look like Dar-Nx himself, reasoning that no-one would oppose him.  Unfortunately, this creates an energy pulse, reversing his course through time, and sending him into the future.  With the return circuit disabled, his master can’t bring him back, and Zol-Mar materializes fifty years in the future, only to find that Krypton is no longer there!  He meets his fate alone in the cold vacuum of space.

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That’s a great ending to a fairly tight little crime story with science fiction trappings.  It’s a great example of the classic ‘villain hoisted by his own petard‘ trope, and it works quite well, with a fitting end for the selfish would-be tyrant.  This wouldn’t feel out of place in one of the more horror/Twilight Zone-esq titles.  At the same time, the tone and setting fit Krypton quite well.  In terms of the art, I’m not that impressed with Kaluta’s work on this backup.  While it is nicely detailed and really imaginative in some ways, especially in terms of devices and technology, it is a bit rough and unattractive in terms of figures and faces.  He does have a nice gift for realizing spaces, though.  Seeing as this was some of his earlier work, I imagine he improved over time.  I’ve seen some of his later work, and it is much nicer.  Either way, his art here is still perfectly serviceable, and the final effect of the story is quite memorable.  I’ll give it a full 4 Minutemen, though I wonder about Bates wasting a page on the unnecessary framing device.

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P.S.: Notably, this tale introduces an artist named Mike W. Kaluta to the DCU.  You might recognize his name from a long and distinguished career, though little of it was in superhero comics, or, if you’re like me, you might recognize it from this month’s Green Lantern issue!  That’s right, the name of the little pins, the strange sound in the backgrounds?  Kaluta.  Presumably, this was in honor of the new talent arriving at the company.  B. Smith kindly pointed this connection out in the comments of that post.  I don’t know what the connection was between Adams and Kaluta, but what a neat little discovery!


This month’s Superman illustrates how far DC Comics have come in one year in terms of continuing storylines.  When we started this little journey, continuing plots were the exception, rare enough to elicit comment and debate in Aquaman, but they are becoming much more prevalent, with ongoing arcs in several titles, including some of the company’s flagship comics.

That brings us to the end of this post, but not the end of the fun for this month.  Come back soon for some more Bronze Age goodness, but in the meantime, be sure to check back on Tuesday for a special Halloween edition of Into the Bronze Age!  If you noticed something missing from the roll call of titles, you might be able to figure out what is waiting for you in a few days.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 1)

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 4)

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Thanks for joining me for another stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  It’s all Superman, all the time in this post, so I hope you like the Man of Steel!  Yet, these are three very different comics, so there is probably something for everyone to be found here, even with the same character featured in all three.  That is a feature of the Bronze Age, the variety of styles and stories available at the same time.  It’s a wide and varied selection of comics that DC published in the 1970s, and about to grow wider in the coming years.  So, let’s see what awaits us in these comics, shall we?

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #401
  • Adventure Comics #407
  • Batman #232
  • Detective Comics #412
  • The Flash #207
  • Justice League of America #90
  • Mr. Miracle #2
  • The Phantom Stranger #13
  • Superboy #174 (reprints)
  • Superboy #175
  • Superman #238
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #33
  • World’s Finest #203

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


Superboy #175


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“Doomsday for a Super-Phantom!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

I am growing to dread seeing Leo Dorfman’s name in the credits.  His stories tend to be on the goofier, more poorly thought out side.  This particular offering is a weird hybrid.  There are elements of it that are quite goofy and others that show a surprising amount of thought.  It has a decent cover, with the shriveled husk of Superboy a pretty striking image.  The villain isn’t that imposing, however, just standing there, though he isn’t that impressive inside either.  The story itself concerns a modern day warlock named oh-so-originally ‘Faustus,’ and his ‘coven,’ his extended family who are supposedly descended from “the race of witches and warlocks.”  Now, putting aside for a moment that the idea of a “race” of witches makes no sense, this actually sounds a bit like the origin of Zatanna Zatara and her “Homo Magi” ancestry.  Interestingly enough, this little tale actually predates that development of Zatanna’s mythos.

Anyway, these modern day magic users are mostly a sad lot, not having much mystical mojo after centuries of inbreeding with regular humans.  Still, Faustus has gathered the family in the hopes of restoring their preternatural power by stealing it from the greatest source remaining in the modern world….Superboy!  Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Superboy’s powers aren’t supernatural!’  And you’re right.  To my surprise, that little detail is actually addressed in this comic.

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While most of his family’s powers have withered, Faustus plans to supplement their abilities with technology, as he declares that he has become “the world’s greatest expert in cybernetics,” which, while possibly fitting into a technical definition of the term, really doesn’t quite seem to be a great fit.  Nonetheless, he uses his machines and the most promising of his relatives, an orphan named Asmo, to reach out and steal Superboy’s soul in a decent looking two-page spread.  When the spirit arrives in their lab, he explains that his powers are not magical (see), but scientific, the result of his Kryptonian biology.  He also points out that everyone knows this, making Faustus quite the moron.

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Meanwhile, Superboy’s body sort of continues functioning on autopilot, botching the repair job he was doing on a shattered bridge and flying home, his memory gone, but his instincts remaining…which doesn’t quite fit with what we see.  In the warlock’s lab, the ‘Super Phantom’ seems useless, so most of his family abandons him, but Faustus plans to use Asmo to make use of their catch.  By luring the Boy of Steel’s body to them with a fake distress call, they supercharge the ghost with its powers and leave the discarded form trussed up like a scarecrow.

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Faustus tries to take control of his ‘Super Phantom,’ but Asmo was the source of the power, so he is his master, and when the boy orders the spirit to bring them home, they discover that his powers have manifested as psychokinesis, the one ability that a phantom could use…which actually makes some sense, insofar as a portrayal of magic can.  When they arrive at Faustus’s mansion, the warlock tries to get the boy to use Superboy’s spirit for big, showy crimes and evil deeds, but the kid just uses him for childish desires, like sporting equipment from his heroes and an entire Olympic skating rink.  There’s a sad little scene where Superghost, left on his own for a while, recovers his body and brings it home, only to scare his parents half to death because they can’t see the spirit and just see their son, seemingly dead.  Nice job Clark!

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Back at the mansion, Faustus grows impatient with the boy’s lack of vision, especially when Asmo decides that he has no right to us Superboy for his own benefit when so many people depend on him.  The magician strikes the boy, but realizing that the kid could have Superspirit squish him, the warlock changes his tune and promises to reunite soul and body.  Yet, he betrays Asmo and plans to transfer the power to himself when suddenly his computers seem to suddenly goes all Skynet on him and gains sentience.  The mad machine tosses its former master about until he agrees to obey it, and after some frantic rewiring, the whole house begins to shake.

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Suddenly, Superboy’s body crashes through the wall and spirit and flesh fuse back into a whole.  Not to be beaten, Faustus rushes to press his lab’s self-destruct switch, only to be electrocuted because of the rewiring he had done.  To end the adventure, Superboy explains that he used the telepathy that being a spirit granted him (sure) to read the warlock’s mind, learn how to work the computers and devices, then make them seem to turn on their master and convince him to create a machine that would undo his bodiless condition.

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It’s all really pat and convenient, and it seems more than a little bit of  a stretch.  I know Superboy is supposed to be super smart, but this just seems to take things a tad far, as the kid does all of this presumably incredibly advanced science and magic on the fly, all after reading the antagonist’s mind, despite showing no ability to do that before that point.  The rest of the story is surprisingly fun for a Dorfman tale.  As a matter of fact, the basic concepts, descendants of magic users in the modern world and the fusion of mysticism and technology are pretty promising.  They’ll be parlayed into better stories later on in this decade.  Still, despite its goofy elements and rushed, silly ending, this is a fun enough read.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, knocked off of the average by that ending.

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P.S.: This comic also includes a weird little two page feature explaining why Ma and Pa Kent look younger these days.  I’m really curious what the real-world explanation is, because the in-universe retcon is that an alien TV executive was secretly filming Superboy for a show, and when his bosses wanted younger actors for the Kents, he sent them a youth serum, and the Boy of Steel faked a mass incident with other old folks to hide the fact that his parents specifically were effected.  So apparently in the DC Universe there are gonna’ be about half a dozen folks from Smallville that are going to have drastically increased lifespans!  What a weird little attempt to address a continuity problem!


Superman #238


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“Menace at 1000 Degrees!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Carmine Infantino

“A Name Is Born”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Gray Morrow
Inker: Gray Morrow

This is not the story I expected.  That’s not to say that it isn’t a good story.  In fact, it is, but this cover led me to expect something rather different.  Despite that, it’s a really great image.  I’ve been looking at this comic coming up in my reading order and I’ve been pretty excited about it.  The two figures, beautifully rendered, perfectly convey a crisis of perspective, with Superman’s mirror image lacking the empathy that makes the Man of Steel a hero and thus unwilling to help his counterpart.  The cover copy is hardly needed, the image is so effective.  The trouble is, while this moment is actually in the comic, it is pretty much entirely ancillary to the actual plot.

That plot, instead, centers around the still weakened Man of Tomorrow’s efforts to save the world despite his lessened powers, which is a promising setup.  Oddly, we don’t pick up where our last issue left off, with Superman confronting his dusty doppelganger.  Instead, our hero has gone back to his normal life in Metropolis, and we join him as he springs into action when he hears reports of modern day pirates attacking a ship.  (Hey!  Quit horning in on Aquaman’s act!)

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Still feeling the effects of his contact with his opposite number, the Metropolis Marvel is unable to fly, so he leaps over tall buildings in a single bound on the way to the sea.  Once he arrives at the site of the attack, he just drops straight through one of the pirate ships, which is pretty funny and clever.  The Man of Steel then stops a torpedo from the other craft, though it actually stuns him in his weakened condition.  Fortunately, the Coast Guard arrives and mops up.

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superman 238 0006Unfortunately, they soon realize that this pirate attack was actually a ruse to draw the Coast Guard ship away from its station, guarding “Project Magma.”  Essentially, this is an effort to tap the magma below the Earth’s crust in an effort to provide unlimited power, as the world has begun to realize that oil, coal, and the rest won’t last forever.  The trouble is, the undertaking is incredibly dangerous, because of course it is.  Once again, DC scientists just can’t help but create things that imperil the world, can they?  Well, Superman leaps to the floating test site, only to be met with a “magma house” which is…pretty much exactly what you’d expect.  In a nice sequence, the Action Ace is covered in molten rock, knocked out of the sky, and then trapped as the stone cools upon contact with the water.

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Straining mightily, the Kryptonain manages to break free, but he realizes that the platform is too well defended for him to take by himself without the terrorists having a chance to cause incredible destruction, so he decides to call in the Justice Leag…err…no.  In fact, Superman declares that “there’s just one creature in the universe I can call on,” and that’s his alluvial alternate, the Sand Superman.  Really?  With the entire League at your disposal, he’s the only one who can help?  It’s not like you’re friends with the World’s Greatest Detective, who could develop a foolproof plan for storming the facility, or the Fastest Man Alive, who could disarm all of the terrorists before they even knew they were threatened, or the King of the Seven Seas, who could summon an army of sea creatures to swamp them and wash the place clean.  It’s a tad silly.  If O’Neil had just given us a single line of dialog saying, ‘It’s too bad the JLA are on another case’ or something, there wouldn’t be a problem, but this is an example of the narrative moving at the speed of plot.

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Anyway, it’s at this point that our cover image gets its payoff, as Superman goes to meet his dusty double in the hopes of persuading him to help, but the Sand Superman won’t budge, pointing out that mankind means nothing to him because he isn’t human.  There is a really intriguing element to this encounter, as the doppelganger has the original’s powers and knowledge, but he lacks the human upbringing and experiences that make Superman himself a humble man rather than a superior god.  This doesn’t get developed, which is something of a shame, but neither does it get resolved, so I imagine we’ll see this thread get paid off in a later issue.

In the meantime, the terrorists, lead by a freelance spy named Quig, issue their demands.  It seems that they’re a desperate lot how have run out of places to hide, so they have nothing to lose, and they threaten to unleash a bomb under the Earth’s crust unless their demands are met.  They want a hydrogen bomb, $50 million in gold, and 50 hostages to ensure everyone plays nice.  Interestingly, Lois volunteers to be one of the hostages so that she can be on hand to get the story, which is really brave…probably stupidly brave, but it mostly works.  This brings us to another little flaw in the story, as the powers that be simply roll over and give the terrorists literally everything they want, which is pretty insane in context.  There’s no stalling, no negotiation, just, ‘here’s your 50 hostages, gold, and nuke!  Have a nice day!’

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As Quig gloats over his success, he notices Lois and calls her over.  The daring girl reporter puts him at his ease, then snatches his gun and tries to force the terrorist to give up.  Unfortunately, he’s got nerves of steel, and she backs down before he does, which I wasn’t crazy about.  It’s really a no-win situation for Lois, because if she kills him, she’s going to get gunned down by his men, but she mostly gives up because she doesn’t have the will to shoot him, which seems out of character.  It’s not that Lois would want to take a life, but I think she’s a tough enough lady that, if she had to, she would do so and then feel bad about it afterward.

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After she surrenders the gun, Quin plans to shoot her as an example, but then one of the hostages moves with blinding speed, grabs the girl reporter and takes her to safety.  As he runs, he sheds his disguise to reveal the colorful costume of…Superman!  In a funny bit of detail, he once again is rather annoyed at Lois getting herself into such a situation, telling her “Stay put, Lois!  For once–just…keep out of trouble!”  The Man of Steel then takes out Quig’s men and disables the Magma cannon, but he isn’t quick enough to stop the head terrorist himself from releasing his bomb down the shaft.

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The Man of Tomorrow dives after the explosive, falling a great distance (though the art doesn’t really show that), catching the deadly device, and throwing it back out of the chute.  When he emerges, Superman easily captures Quig, but he finds himself at something of a loss about how to answer Lois’s questions about why he waited so long for his rescue.  What can he tell her without revealing his diminished powers?

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This is a good, solid Superman story, with a lot going for it.  The danger he faces is appropriately cataclysmic, and the magma-hose is a good, believable way to allow the regular human terrorists to pose a bit of a threat to the Kryptonian powerhouse.  The device of his weakened powers is also a good one, forcing the hero to take a different approach than he is used to and ramping up the stakes in the story.  This is not the planet-juggling Superman of the Silver Age, and the tale is more dramatic because the odds are a bit longer for him.  Throughout, Curt Swan’s art is even better than usual.  His depiction of the Sandy Superman, which I didn’t think entirely worked last issue, is really lovely in this one, as the creature’s dusty form drifts away in the arctic winds.  My only real disappointment, other than minor quibbles about Lois’s portrayal, is that I had hoped for a bit more out of the Sand Superman plot, but that isn’t really a fault with this story.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen for a good, enjoyable Superman adventure that continues to develop O’Neil’s intriguing plot threads.

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“A Name is Born”


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Our backup feature is another edition of ‘The Fabulous World of Krypton,’ and this is really a great short story!  It tells the tale of how Krypton was named.  It begins with two Kryptonian school teachers talking about their classes, with the younger complaining that she can’t get her “level-one students” (presumably like first graders) to sit still for five minutes.  I’m sure any parents or teachers among my readers are shocked by this.

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Her older colleague offers her a story that he claims will keep the class enraptured, and we flash back to the early life of the planet Krypton.  The world is surrounded by a cocoon of strange matter and has no human life upon its surface.  An alien spacecraft makes a landing, but it is observed by a castaway, a different alien whose ship crash-landed on barren planet.

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The two strangers approach one another, both hoping for a peaceful meeting but prepared for hostilities.  The marooned spacer, a xenobiologist, presents the newcomer with a small flower, but unfortunately, it reacts with the strange atmosphere and erupts.  The startled pilot reacts violently, thinking this was an attack.  He draws his weapon and fires, but his ersatz foe, though not a warrior, has a defensive shield that absorbs ray-blasts, allowing the energy to be channeled off safely.

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The fight becomes hand to hand and desperate, but as the newcomer tackles the castaway, his would-be victim spots a deadly peril approaching, as part of the matter surrounding the world rained down upon them.  The biologist, realizing that escape was impossible, chooses to throw the warrior to safety, becoming mired in a clinging, suffocating slime.  There’s a wonderful moment as each of these strangers wonders about the other’s motive, but the newcomer chooses to trust that this gesture was a selfless one, and shoots his former foe, charging the shield and allowing the power to be diverted into the clinging matter.

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Finally, the two stand facing each other in peace, and when they remove their helmets, they discover that they are both humanoid, and that the biologist, is actually a woman!  It’s a great reveal.  They introduce themselves, Kryp, the newcomer, and Tonn, the castaway, and discover that the warrior’s ship has been damaged too, so they are stuck on this planet for a while.  And that is how Krypton got its name, and its first inhabitants.

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This is a really great little story, with some fun action, some nice sci-fi flavor, and a surprisingly effective message about giving folks the benefit of the doubt.  It’s a very effective science fiction morality play, something the genre excels at.  Gray Morrow’s art is just great, with a really unusual style full of details both thoughtful and decorative, like the collapsible stock on Kryp’s weapon, or the stylized creature on his helmet.  I’ve heard of Morrow, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen his artwork before.  I’ll be on the lookout from now on, though!  This whole story feels like it might have made an appearance in the classic sci-fi collections of the Silver Age, like the Space Museum.  In fact, this reminds me quite a bit of one of those stories, though I can’t quite place it.  Either way, I really enjoyed this Space Age Adam and Eve tale, and I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138


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“The Big Boom!!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell

We round out this trio of books with another piece of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, and this is a really good one.  Sadly, it’s under another ugly photo-collage cover.  It’s similar to the cover-copy-happy composition of Mr. Miracle #2, but this one doesn’t benefit from a gripping central image.  Nevertheless, the comic inside makes up for it.  It picks up right where the last issue left off.  The DNA Project staff are scrambling to respond the Monster Factory’s attack in the form of the four-armed terror they unleashed.  The creature is currently tearing its way towards the Project’s nuclear reactor, while Superman and the Newsboy Legion are trapped in a strange egg-like prison.  The Project troops, along with the original Newsboy Legion and the Guardian clone, mount up and head towards the reactor in a surprisingly effective photo-collage double-page spread.

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We also get a lovely full-page splash, one of many in this issue, of the whole gang charging to the rescue, as well as one of the imprisoned protagonists.  Inside the egg, Superman discovers that the alien substance absorbs his strongest blows, but while the monster tunnels ever closer to its goal, the Man of Tomorrow tries to ‘hatch’ the egg by trying to recreate the energy the DNAlien used to create the egg in the first place by generating electricity by…rubbing his hands together at super speed.  It’s a fairly dubious use of the Kryptonian’s powers, but nevertheless, he frees himself and flies after his foe.

We then cut to an odd little scene at the Daily Planet, where Perry White has called in a girl named Terry Dean, supposedly a friend of Jimmy’s, in his search for his young reporter.  She tells the editor about Olsen leaving on a job for Morgan Edge, and this makes White worried.  The scene feels a bit unnecessary, and as far as I can tell, we’ve never seen Terry Dean before, so her introduction is a bit odd as well.

Meanwhile, events continue to accelerate as the Project troops near the site of the action, the Monster Factory flunkies prepare reinforcements for their perfidious progeny, and the malevolent Morgan Edge is warned to escape Metropolis before the inevitable cataclysm.  The soulless CEO casually walks out of the building with a smile, leaving his staff to a quick and certain death.  It’s an effective demonstration of his cold and calculating character.

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Back at the reactor, Superman narrowly manages to intercept the monster, but it is able to damage the machinery despite his efforts.  Suddenly, more monsters pour from a portal, but the Project troops arrive just in time back up the Man of Steel.  Unfortunately, the damaged reactor begins to meltdown, and with the control rods smashed in the fight, there is no way to stop it.

Superman rips the entire structure up and carries the massive device, spewing radiation, and leads the marauding monsters after him, knowing they are drawn towards the power.  He dumps the raging reactor down a vast pit, a test tunnel bored deep into the Earth in preparation for tapping the core for power, a popular topic this month.  The pursuing creatures tumble in after it, like so many multi-armed lemmings, and there is a tremendous explosion that, despite plot of the previous Superman story, doesn’t actually destroy the planet.  That’s lucky!

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The tale ends with Superman and the Guardian returning to Jimmy and the Legion, only to receive a cold shoulder because the kids were kept out of the desperate fight.  Guardian finds their reaction a tad ungrateful, considering that the Action Ace did just save all of their lives, but the kids are having none of it.

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This comic is just a blast, with a rapid-paced, pulse-pounding adventure with great stakes and some fantastic Kirby art.  The King does a good job pacing his plot for the most part to achieve this frenetic rush, but the strange side-trip to the Planet does throw it off just a bit.  In the same way, while the writing on this issue is strong in general, it does have a few minor weaknesses.  Superman seems just a tad off, which has been the case for most of Kirby’s treatments of the character.  In the same vein, the Man of Steel’s random electrical generation, while reasonable in the art, is a tad silly in the explanation.  Unfortunately, the Legion are once again kept out of the plot, so they don’t get a chance to do anything useful or interesting. Still, we get an instructive character moment with Morgan Edge and some great action as Superman and the Project troops take on the monster horde.

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While disposing of the reactor in an underground tunnel strains credulity a bit, seeing as it would probably cause massive earthquakes at the least, it makes comicbook-sense.  Once again, the King seems to be reveling in the freedom to create his own stories without constraints from anyone else, and the proliferation of full-page splashes in this issue, like in New Gods #2, reveals an exuberance and energy that is really exciting, even if it does make the issue a bit breezy.  As you can tell by the glut of images in this commentary, the art was so good I had a hard time making my choices for display!  In the end, this is just a really enjoyable read, like a classic issue of the Fantastic Four, so I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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And this set of Superman stories brings us up to the final stretch of June 1971.  We’ve only got two comics left to cover!  I hope that you’ve enjoyed this batch, and it did contain a number of really entertaining stories.  I was particularly pleased to read the ‘World of Krypton’ feature, as I’d heard of that odd bit of history, but the actual event was much more engaging than I anticipated from an element of the mythos that I expected to be silly and Silver Age-ish.  We also see a continued growing interest in the occult and the supernatural with the villainous warlock in this month’s Superboy, a trend I expect to see become more pronounced in the years to come.  Before too long we’ll see what the future holds, and I hope you’ll join me for that adventure as we continue our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome, readers, to the Greylands and to the beginning of another month’s journey Into the Bronze Age!  We recently finished May, 1971, and with this post we start our voyage into June of that year.  We’re off to a really interesting start, with some intriguing Superman stories and the first appearance of a classic Batman villain which I have been eagerly awaiting since O’Neil began to plant the first seeds of his arrival several issues ago.  That’s right, this month is witness to the coming of the Demon’s Head, R’as Al Ghul!  That makes this a red-letter post.  Let’s see if the character lives up to his reputation in this first appearance!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


This month in history:

  • The Ed Sullivan Show aired its final episode, ending an era of entertainment
  • Soyuz 11 takes 3 cosmonauts to Salyut 1 space station, but crew found dead on return
  • Willie Mays hits 22nd and last extra inning home run
  • North Vietnam demands U.S. end aid to the South
  • US ends ban on China trade
  • The New York Times begin publishing excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, classified documents on the long history of the U.S. in Vietnam
  • An Orange Order march causes a riot in Londonderry in North Ireland
  • Various groups boycott the opening of the North Ireland Parliament
  • International Court of Justice asks South Africa to pull out of Namibia
  • Supreme Court overturns draft evasion conviction for Muhammad Ali
  • Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards sentenced on drug charges
  • Notable films: Le Mans and McCabe and Mrs. Miller

The ending of the Ed Sullivan Show seems to me to mark the ending of a certain element of innocence in American entertainment.  Can you imagine a TV host today that had so little screen presence?  Well, aside from Jimmy Fallon, but clearly that talentless personality black hole made a deal with the devil.  It’s the only way to explain his career.  At any rate, that event shares this month with a new tragedy in the Space Race, as several cosmonauts die during a mission.  Of course, tragedies are in no short supply on Earth itself, and Ireland continues to bleed, while tensions continue to rise.  It’s a shame that the turmoil on the planet was mirrored, in a fashion, in space.  On a lighter note, the ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll’ reputation of the genre is further cemented by the antics of the Stones.  I imagine this isn’t the last time such a thing would happen.  It’s an interesting month, all told.

The top song this month and into the next is Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” which I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever heard.  That’s unusual.  It’s rather melancholy song about the end of a relationship, which seems somehow fitting for this month.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #401
  • Adventure Comics #407
  • Batman #232
  • Detective Comics #412
  • The Flash #207
  • Justice League of America #90
  • Mr. Miracle #2
  • The Phantom Stranger #13
  • Superboy #174 (reprints)
  • Superboy #175
  • Superman #238
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #33
  • World’s Finest #203

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


Action Comics #401


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“Invaders Go Home”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Boy Who Begged to Die!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

It seems last month’s Lois Lane issue was not a fluke, but rather presaged something in the zeitgeist.  We start off this month with another comic story depicting the plight of Native Americans, and penned by Leo Dorfman of all people.  I have to say, I wasn’t expecting this.  The comic has a provocative cover, showing the Man of Steel defeated and helpless before a band of tribesmen. Interestingly enough, this image is not a cheat, but of course, it doesn’t tell the whole tale.

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The story begins with Clark Kent using his ‘mobile news room’ to cover the anniversary of of statehood for an unnamed region in the southwest where a train is carrying tourists to a celebration.  Suddenly Indians appear, armed with bows and arrows, braves on motorbikes!  Mr. Mild Mannered thinks its part of the show until they start firing arrows at the cars and he sees a fire on a bridge ahead.

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Shifting into Superman, he carries the locomotive to safety, only to discover that the flames were just a harmless slogan, part of some type of public stunt on behalf of the local tribespeople.  The motorized raiders take off, but the Man of Steel is able to trail them easily enough, smashing into the cliff in which they’re hiding and confronting them.  Yet, he finds that their leader is a man named Don Hawks, now going by Red Hawk, who was a leading astrophysicist.  The young man has come home to help his people, and he takes the Man of Tomorrow on a tour of their plight today, showing him the pitiful state of their tribe.  The fiery leader explains that all of the surrounding region used to be theirs, but the white settlers had stolen it all from them.

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In a scene evocative of Kanigher’s great racial story, we then visit an improvised Indian classroom where the children, and Superman, are given an education on proud heritage of the people to counteract the negative stereotypes to which they’ve been exposed.  Interestingly, the beautiful teacher, Moon Flower (sounds more hippie than Hopi), teaches her students about the technological achievements of native populations like agriculture and the Mayan calendar, but she also mentions their own mythical superman, Montezuma.  Now, I figured this was just Dorfman talking out of his hat, making up ‘Indian superstitions,’ but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is a legend surrounding Montezuma II.  He apparently became the focus for many southerly tribes’ legends about the ‘King in the Mountain’ archetype.  Most cultures have such a legend, regarding a famous king who will return at an appointed hour to save or to avenge, like King Arthur for Britain or Frederick I in Germany.  Apparently Dorfman actually did a bit of research for this story.  Color me impressed.

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Anyway, after his education and tour, the Man of Steel is, naturally, much more sympathetic to the native people’s troubles.  Finally, Red Hawk takes the hero to “Montezuma’s Castle,” a massive plateau that is sacred to his people but has been taken over as a rocket testing site for a major company (oh-so-cleverly bearing the acronym G.R.A.B.).  The Metropolis Marvel wants to help, but despite his efforts to mediate, the president of the company, Frank Haldane, refuses to budge, insisting that their weather studies have shown that this is the perfect location for their projects.

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Just then, Red Hawk’s uncle, Old Snake, the medicine man of the tribe, appears and promises to drive the white men away with magic, using mystic sand paintings.  The impatient young man will have none of his uncle’s superstitions, however, and when Superman flies away laughing, he is deeply shamed by what seems like contempt for his people’s ignorance.  Yet, it seems Old Snake is as clever as subtle as his namesake, and his painting of lightning brings a massive storm.  Only the Man of Steel’s timely arrival saves the base.  The hero repairs the damage, earning the ire of Red Hawk, who resents this apparent betrayal, though Moon Flower is more sympathetic, seeing that his is only doing his duty.

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Next, Old Snake apparently summons a tornado, but once again the Man of Tomorrow intervenes to prevent damage.  It is then that we learn that he and the medicine man have been in cahoots, with the Kryptonian actually creating the disasters in order to drive the rocket company away.  Of course, he also feels obligated to fix what he breaks, but he’s hoping that they will wear the stubborn Haldane down.  Their last gambit, creating an earthquake, might have been successful, but Old Snake is, after all, quite an old snake, and he dies of a heart attack during the excitement.  The GRAB folks are relieved, but Red Hawk unexpected declares that he has learned his uncle’s secrets and will carry on his work.  He invites Superman to come to their camp that night in order to show him.

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When the Action Ace arrives, he is confronted by another sand painting in the form of his shield and a strange red jewel.  Red Hawk declares that he has used his magic to sap the hero’s powers and his men jump the astonished Kryptonian who suddenly finds himself unable to resist.  They truss him up, and the story ends with the native leader declaring that they will trade Superman for their land!

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There is a lot going on in this comic.  On the one hand, Dorfman is engaging in the traditional, ‘all Indians are the same’ trope in some ways, as with the train attack, evoking as it does the classic cowboys and Indians stories that were about Plains tribes.  Still, since some of those elements were meant to be part of a publicity stunt, it isn’t as bad as it might be.  On the other hand, Dorfman is using a pastiche tribe, the Navarros, as opposed to a real people group, and thus he avoids misrepresenting a real tribe.  He also includes traits that are indicative of southwestern tribes, like the sandpainting.  But he blends those with mythology that has more to do with Mexican and Central American peoples, with the Montezuma legends.  It’s a bit of a mess, but it is clear that his heart is in the right place, and the result is certainly less sloppy than Kanigher’s recent effort.

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I like Superman’s wry self-assurance here.

Dorfman gives us a positive overview of native peoples, stressing their development and the fact that they weren’t just ‘savages.’  He also sympathetically portrays their modern plight and their extremely legitimate grievances with the folks who stole their land.  Notably, Superman is unable to simply resolve the conflict.  His powers, which he willingly uses to aid the righteous underdog here, at the expense of the rich and powerful, are still not sufficient to solve the problem.  This, as fantastical as his efforts are, results in a more mature, effective story.

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Quite a striking image, the native leader standing triumphantly over the symbol of the white status quo.

It’s a solid tale on its own merits, featuring common and enjoyable Superman plot devices, but given the social agenda that it promotes and the attempt, however uneven, at accuracy and respect, it is more than the sum of its parts.  Swan’s art is great, as usual, but he really does a great job with some of the unusual parts of the tale, like the poverty and despair evident in the Navarro village, and, to his great credit, he generally depicts the tribesmen wearing at least some modern clothing, which immediately sets this comic apart from the last Indian yarn.  All told, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as it is a moderately provocative, at least slightly challenging story, especially for 1971.  I’m quite surprised it came from ‘dopey Dorfman,’ who usually tells pretty silly stories.

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“The Boy Who Begged to Die”


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The backup tale for this issue is also quite provocative.  It presents our hero with an intriguing ethical quandary, which is the type of story device that I always enjoy.  It begins with the crash of a small meteorite in the center of a small town called Masonville.  Superman, flying over, happens to see the commotion and comes to investigate.  He waves the crowd back and does the natural thing for him, examining the hunk of space junk with his x-ray vision, but this turns out to be a fatal mistake!  The radiation from his vision (which contradicts at least one explanation for how those powers work, I’m sure) triggers a reaction in the rock, turning it into a drastically unstable bomb.  He can’t move without triggering a massive explosion, so he orders an evacuation of the town.

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The people flee, trusting in the Man of Steel, and soon they are outside a mile perimeter, and not a moment too soon, because the hero realizes that the reaction is increasing, and thus the yield of the explosion will increase as well.  Just then, a young man with a broken leg limps slowly up the Metropolis Marvel, wondering where everyone is.  After a quick explanation, the boy, who was in the basement of the orphanage and was forgotten in the hurried evacuation, realizes that, hobbled as he is, he could never escape from the blast in time.  What’s more, every moment Superman delays in detonating the meteorite–turned-bomb, the larger the radius will be and the more danger to the townsfolk.

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action-401-26-04 - CopyDisplaying incredible courage, the young man insists that Superman do what he must, choose the greater good over his single life, and detonate the bomb.  The Action Ace is paralyzed by indecision.  He can’t bring himself to willingly kill this boy, yet he knows that if he doesn’t, thousands more could die.  This is a great moral puzzle for the Man of Steel, but his motivations are a bit off.  Instead of focusing just on the boy’s life, he thinks about his vow to stop hero-ing if he takes a life and the consequences of that, which is a little immature reasoning.

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Nonetheless, the situation is one of great tension, and the youth decides to take matters into his own hands, taking responsibility for his death upon himself as he tries to set the rock off by hitting it.  Yet, his efforts are too little (which does rather make me think that Superman could perhaps have flown it away, but that’s neither here nor there).  Finally, in an effort to force the Kryptonian’s hand, the young man takes his cape to create a noose.  Just then, Superman drops the meteorite, creating a powerful explosion that just barely misses destroying the huddled townsfolk.

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After the debris clears, we discover that, as he always does, Superman found a third way.  Inspired by seeing the boy carrying his invulnerable cape, the Man of Tomorrow used his super breath to blow the cape around the youth, then detonated the bomb, trusting in the Kryptonian fabric to protect the young man.  It works, and the boy survives, though he is badly injured.  Superman rushes him to the hospital, and we get a happy ending.

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This is a pretty great story for only seven pages.  It puts Superman in a genuinely challenging situation, one which his powers cannot outright solve, which is always a good source of dramatic tension for the incredibly powerful character.  I really enjoyed the fact that the Man of Steel was unwilling to sacrifice even one life, even to save thousands.  That’s the core of the character right there.  There are only really three flaws.

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The kid is a bit too willing, even anxious to die.  I can certainly see a virtuous and courageous young man coming to that decision, but it should have brought with it at least a little turmoil.  This youth seemed positively chipper about annihilation.  In the same vein, Superman’s anguished reaction misses the emotional core of the moment, focusing on his future career rather than the guilt of taking a life.  Finally, the protective powers of the cape are really a bit ridiculous if they can survive the explosion we’re shown here.  No matter how invulnerable the cape is, the kid inside would be jelly!  Of course, Bates only had seven pages to work with, and he fit a lot in.  So, we’ve got a tale with impressive aspirations and a great concept, though it is a bit immature in execution.  It’s still a good read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #407


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“Suspicion Confirmed”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Henry Scarpelli
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

While this month’s Superman stories present us with engaging and challenging moral dilemmas, this week’s Supergirl tale attempts to follow suit…with rather less success.  This issue of Adventure is quite a convoluted journey.  Unfortunately, it’s continuing the rather pointless plotline from the last issue, with ‘Nasty’ Luthor still trying to find concrete proof of Supergirl’s secret identity, as if she is a cop instead of a supervillain.  Last I checked, due process just doesn’t mean that much to megalomaniacs bent on world domination.  The issue does have a fairly nice cover, the standard dramatic confrontation angle, with a hidden (though obvious) figure challenging our heroine with knowledge of her secret.  Though Linda’s figure is a tad awkward, it’s otherwise a nice looking cover, with the unusual angle of looking out from the closet.

The tale inside begins where the last left off, with Linda Danvers in the hospital following her undercover heroics in the burning building.  With her super powers returning and her wounds healing, the girl knows she must escape before she is examined, and the arrival of a critically injured police officer provides her with the opportunity she needs.  Notably, the officer is black, which is a little detail that you wouldn’t have seen that long ago.  There’s also a funny little scene where Linda, clad only in a stolen sheet, hails a cab, and the unflappable cabbie doesn’t even bat an eye.

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Back at the office, Linda is greeted as a hero, but Nasty’s suspicions continue.  Yet, celebrations are short-lived, as there is a new story in the offing.  A man named Renard has come to them with a mystery he wants their help to solve.  He’s recently bought a reputedly haunted theater, and it has been plagued by strange occurrences, so he wants the news crew to bring their cameras down and find the culprit…which really seems less like a new crew’s job than a private detective’s job…or you know, the Ghostbusters!  “Who you gonna’ call?”  Random reporters, apparently.

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Sekowsky does give the fellow an interesting face…though he doesn’t have Geoff’s dynamite fashion sense.

Johnny, Nasty, and Linda head to the theater that night and set up different camera posts to cover the place with high-tech film gear in the hopes of snaring the would-be specter.  As the night rolls on, the silence of the place is split by a scream, as Nasty observes Johnny being carted off by a grisly-looking phantom.  Of course, the villainess is just waiting for such an opportunity to catch Supergirl in the act.  Just like her cousin, the Maid of Might is facing a terrible choice, intervene and reveal her secret or do nothing and leave her friend to an unknown fate.  So, she does what any hero worth their salt would do and finds a third way…ohh, wait…no she doesn’t.  She just sits there and watches her friend get abducted, possibly sacrificing his life to protect her secret.

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This is a huge problem.  The character rationalizes her choice, thinking about how much she would lose if she were exposed, and slightly more appropriately, how it would endanger her family, but she’s still utterly failing in her responsibilities as a hero.  These are realistic concerns, but there’s no emotional weight behind her struggle.  If she had good reason to believe that Johnny wouldn’t be harmed, that would be one thing, but she has no such guarantee, and her inaction could easily end in tragedy.  In fact, when the police arrive and search the place, they find nothing.  And then…she still doesn’t intervene.  Instead, she goes to Kandor for a fashion show.  Picking up her new, indestructible costumes, the Girl of Steel leaves her friend to his fate while she plays dress-up.  It’s not her finest moment.

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While there she sees the Professor, who is at work on creating an antidote for his anti-superpowers pill.  As she returns, she has the utterly silly thought that her new costume, which looks almost exactly like her OLD costume, will somehow give her an edge when she confronts her foes because it will confuse them.  Because apparently they aren’t capable of extrapolating minor changes.  She must think that getting a haircut really messes people up.

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My friend may be getting turned into clothing by a grisly monster as we speak, but yay! Fashion!

Back on Earth, her boss, Geoff, is fed up with the police’s lack of progress, so he decides to head a team going back to the theater…with more cameras.  Because that worked so well last time.  They do precisely the same thing, and, astonishingly, it works about as well the second time around.  This time, it is Nasty who is snatched, so Supergirl actually gets into action, but she misses the phantom.  In a particularly stupid detail, the police, seeing footage of the event, decide that the girl dressed almost exactly like Supergirl, who has a giant ‘S’ on her chest, must be a stranger in league with the monster.

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Geoff, feeling somehow responsible for sending two people to an unknown fate, takes a gun and goes down to the theater, which, had he done earlier, probably would have solved the problem.  Yet, Linda calls the police on him, defying his orders, and intervenes as Supergirl, another course of action that could have resolved this whole situation much earlier.

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Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen…

Using her conveniently working X-Ray vision, she locates a hidden passage and follows it down, just in time for her powers to very conveniently conk out again.  In the tunnels under the theater, she finds the two captured reporters as prisoners of a surprisingly well-spoken phantom, who reveals his boss…Starfire!

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The femme fatale seems not to have died in her plunge from the castle window after all…on which I’m definitely going to have to call shenanigans.  We didn’t see a body in that sequence, which I attributed to the era, but we did see what seemed to be a lifeless hand sticking out of the water in the last panel, which seemed pretty darn clear.  According to the villainess, she just swam under water and hid until the authorities left.  Pretty shoddy job on the part of the police.  ‘No body?  Ehh, she’s probably dead.  Let’s go get dinner!’

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The page in question

Covering the captives with a pistol, the spurious specter has Supergirl between a rock and a hard place, and the villains capture her, dropping her into a tank of acid.  Fortunately, the Maid of Might is still wearing her invulnerable uniform, so she flips her cape over her head, feigns agony, and endures the immersion until her bonds burn through.  Then she leaps out, breaking Starfire’s hand (!) to stop her drawing a gun, and capturing the villains with a flying tackle.  The story ends with Supergirl taking her prisoners to the police station and unmasking the phantom as Mr. Renard.  Finally, we see the gang joking about going to a show, while Nasty still plots to pin Supergirl down.

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It’s all very Scooby Doo, isn’t it?  That last scene especially is just a bit ridiculous and cartoonish.  The story is entertaining enough, though the book continues to suffer from Sekowsy’s dramatically uneven artwork.  There are some genuinely nice layouts, interesting angles, and nice panels…and then there are the usual bunch of downright ugly pages.  The bigger problems are Supergirl’s complete failure as a hero and the fact that the center of the book just feels like so much running around, with three different trips to the theater and the unnecessary side-trip to Kandor.  Starfire’s return and convoluted plot seem beneath her as well.  This is quite a ridiculous setup.

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“And we would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling Kyrptonains!”

She has her henchman pretend to haunt his theater in the hopes of attracting Supergirl’s attention?  I can’t help but think there must have been a simpler way to accomplish that.  The slippery master-villain also suffered a very ignominious defeat.  She plagued the Girl of Steel for multiple issues at a time previously, proving a suitable nemesis for our heroine.  And here, she gets taken down with fairly little fan-fare, just dumped in the local police station, and then forgotten about.  It’s a waste of a character that had a certain amount of villainous credibility built up.  In the end, I’ll give this silly story 2 Minutemen, though I’m inclined to give it less because of Supergirl’s unheroic performance.  It is particularly egregious in light of the much better told Superman story dealing with the same kind of dilemma that it shares space with this month.

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Batman #232


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“Daughter of the Demon”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

It’s finally here!  The debut of R’as Al Ghul, one of the greatest Batman villains created after the Golden Age, and arguably the most significant to the character in recent years, following his revitalization in Batman Begins.  I have been eagerly awaiting this issue, remembering it fondly from my previous read-through of the Bat-books, and, perhaps most significantly, from the wonderful adaptation from that best of Bat-worlds, Batman: The Animated Series.  The episode “The Demon’s Quest,” is an extremely faithful translation of this story, so much so that I was really struck by that when I first read the comic, having started my Bat-experience with the cartoon.  The episode in question is an excellent one, but that is no surprise considering the source.  Timm and Co. had an affinity for elevating their material, capturing the potential in every story and character and presenting them in all of their archetypal and dramatic power (though the recent release of Batman and Harley Quinn indicates that this is sadly no longer the case).  Yet, their task was an easy one in this case.

I loved R’as Al Ghul already from his appearances in B:TAS, and I was excited when I encountered him in this book and in his subsequent appearances.  I have been particularly looking forward to returning to his first appearance here, both to see if it lived up to my memory and to experience it in its original context among the DCU.  I’m very pleased to say that I was definitely not disappointed.

I supposed I’d better begin with the iconic cover, which is dramatic and nicely symbolic.  There are a few problems with it, but the biggest is the fact that it gives away the twist of the entire issue!  The thrust of the book’s mystery is the identity and agenda of the enigmatic Al Ghul…only that mystery is solved, in part, before you ever open it, as the villain is clearly orchestrating whatever is happening to Robin.  The other issue is the slightly distracting cover copy and the odd coloring of the ghostly Al Ghul.  I like his spectral image, but I think there is a little something missing from the execution.

Nonetheless, the tale within does not disappoint.  It begins with the Teen Wonder stealthily returning to his room one night at Hudson University, only to be ambushed within by a pair of gunman who shoot him down!  Now, having seen the cartoon episode first, I didn’t really appreciate how big a moment this, or that which comes later, really was.  I was just watching the familiar patterns of a well-known plot, but in context, I now realize that this is a really shocking event, with shadowy figures awaiting, not Robin, but Dick Grayson, in his home!  From the first page, the stakes are set as being extremely high, and we are given to understand that this is definitely not your normal adventure.

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A short time later, Bruce Wayne receives a most distressing envelope bearing a picture of his unconscious ward and a simple note, “Dear Batman, we have Robin!  Save him if you can!”  Once again, I read right past this the first time, but here is a note, sent to Bruce, but addressed to Batman.  The message is clear, and it is only made clearer by what will happen later.  First, Bruce swings into action, heading to Wayne Manor in order to use his mothballed crime lab to examine the note.  Now, this raises a bit of a question, as why would he not have the same type of facilities in his Penthouse headquarters, but it seems clear that O’Neil is taking a bit of a mini-tour of the Batman mythos in this book.

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The truly shocking moment comes when, upon reaching the Batcave, the Dark Knight is surprised to find that he has visitors!  An intense looking man in a cloak with a looming servant/bodyguard greet him, calling him by his real name!  This is R’as Al Ghul, who explains that he discovered the Dark Detective’s identity by deduction, reasoning he would need to be wealthy and meet certain criteria.  Bruce unmasks and accepts all of this with a truly surprising lack of reaction.  It seems quite out of character, and the mysterious man’s explanations seem far too simplistic, but these issues, while not given entirely adequate explanation by O’Neil in this issue, can be reconciled by what we learn by its end.

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Batman232-05The Caped Crusader does demand to know what the intruders want, though, and Al Ghul reveals that his daughter has been taken as well, and he wants Batman’s help in rescuing her.  The hero recognizes Talia, the girl he recently rescued from Dr. Darrk and, realizing that they have a common cause, the great detective gets to work.  A microscopic examination of the note reveals residue of an herb used by a far eastern cult of killers who have their headquarters in Calcutta, so the trio take off for the orient!  As they leave, Ubu, Al Ghul’s servant, makes a big deal of allowing his master to go first, and the Dark Knight quietly takes the man’s measure.

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On the flight, we see a Batman that has been developing in the last few years but has not, I think, been seen in such clarity before this point.  He sits in stoic, brooding silence, replying to his companion’s questions about his composure that he must control his emotions because he has a job to do.  The character’s portrayal throughout this issue is of the driven, collected, self-possessed Dark Knight Detective that came to define the best version of the concept, and this scene is a striking departure from the grinning, joking Batman that we’ve seen even recently in the rest of the DCU (Bob Haney doesn’t count, of course).  During the trip, we peer into the Masked Manhunter’s reverie and see him remembering his origin, that terrible night when a boy’s innocence died along with his parents and something hard and pure was born in its place.  We get a capsule version of the familiar origin story, complete with his adoption of Dick, with a focus on the self-sacrifice and dedication that his destiny demanded, further establishing this issue as a new beginning.

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In Calcutta, an old beggar is accosted by some street toughs, only to reveal himself as Batman, terrifying the low-lifes and forcing information out of them about the “Brotherhood of the Demon.”  Finding his way to their supposed headquarters, the Dark Knight enters first, only to be pounced upon by a leopard!  In a great sequence, the hero uses his strength and agility to grapple with the great cat and break its neck.  The danger passed, the detective notes that the animal was a trained guard, though the only thing in the room is a desk with a map of the Himalayan Mountains.  He claims there is a faint scratch tracing a route, and R’as offers to finance a mountain expedition.

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Later, on Mount Nanda Devi, the trio continue their search, following a clear trail, and Neal Adams includes what I have to think is Deadman’s face in the mountainside.  I wonder if this is near Nanda Parbat!  To continue their search, the travelers must scale the mountain, and Batman leads the way, though R’as takes a moment to admire the beauty of their surroundings, admitting to a love of desolate places that is positively Romantic, a nice character moment.  Suddenly, a shot rings out, and the mystery man seems to be hit.  Batman launches a desperate swing from the cliff-face to elude the gunman, and when the attacker follows, the hero springs from the snow in which he had secreted himself to take the assassin out.

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Interestingly, the Caped Crusader’s knows something we don’t, and he approaches the hidden camp of his enemies brazenly, walking boldly through their armed sentries and telling them that he knows they won’t fire.  As he strides into an inner chamber, he sees Robin and, ignoring the guards, secretly slips his partner a knife.  Just then, a masked figure enters, but the Dark Knight has had enough and declares that he knows the whole score.  From the very beginning, he knew that the entire quest was all a show, recognizing that R’as Al Ghul’s convenient appearance was all-too transparent, and his suspicions were confirmed when Ubu, always solicitous of his master’s honor, let the hero walk ahead of him when danger awaited.  Batman also fooled them with the map, lying about the scratch, but they took him to this mountain nonetheless.

Batman232-21Having vamped long enough, the Masked Manhunter asks the Teen Wonder if he’s ready, and they clean house, taking out the gathered assassins in a nice sequence that only suffers from having no backgrounds.  Then, the Dark Knight snatches the mask from the robbed figure to reveal Ubu, who decides to try his luck.  But Batman isn’t impressed by the man’s size or strength, and he flattens the hulking bodyguard in another great sequence.  Finally, R’as and Talia Al Ghul are revealed, and the Dark Detective confronts them, demanding an explanation for the dangerous game that the enigmatic man has been playing.  Al Ghul responds simply that his daughter loves the hero and, being inclined to retire, he wanted to see if Batman were worthy of being his successor and….son in law!

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What an ending!  The look of complete surprise on Batman’s face in the final panel had to be mirrored in that of many a fan as they read this book.  Of course, I knew it was coming, but trying to put myself in their shoes, I really felt the impact of this twist.  Readers must have been on the edge of their seats waiting for the next issue!  Reading this book in context really emphasizes how important and innovative it was.  This issue is the culmination, or at least a culmination, of all of the reworking and renovating that O’Neil had been doing in his Batman stories, and this is, in many ways, a new beginning, a line drawn in the four-colored sand, declaring that ‘what comes next is to be something new, yet classic,’ something that returns to the core of the character and positions him in a world worthy of him.

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This is the Batman I love.  This is the Batman that was translated so wonderfully into the Animated Series.  This is the Batman that realizes the character’s potential and takes advantage of the archetypal power of the concept.  He is dark, driven, intimidating, hyper-capable but believable, marked by the sadness of his origin, yet capable of enjoying his adventures, especially when joined by his adoptive son.  He is serious, but not joyless, and that’s an important distinction, often lost these days.  It isn’t perfect, not yet.  O’Neil is still a little clumsy with some of his dialog, but it is close, the character is close.

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I am also very impressed with R’as Al Ghul in this first appearance.  He is mostly just busy being mysterious, but there is a dignity and a certain Romantic air about him that is appealing.  Already you can see the Byronic anti-heroic quality that will define the character (though he will usually lack the self-critical element of that archetype).  Throughout there are hints that there is more to this enigmatic figure than meets the eye, like the ability of the older man to keep up with the powerful Caped Crusader during his quest and his calm self-assurance in every situation.

This issue is beloved for a reason.  It is a great declaration of a new (and old) vision for the Dark Knight, and it presents an exciting, world-trotting adventure that both honors and challenges many of the important elements of the Batman mythos, reuniting the Dynamic Duo in the end and introducing an intriguing new villain with a very unusual agenda.  Adams art is beautiful throughout, of course, but he too is coming into his own here.  His Batman is powerful yet agile, dynamic yet mysterious, full of untapped depths yet in complete control.  The art is alternately moody, intense, exotic, and exciting.  O’Neil, for his part, turns in some of his best writing here, focusing on character and story and really creating something special.  I’ll happily give this landmark issue 4.5 Minutemen.  It isn’t perfect, but it is darn close.

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P.S.: The letter’s page of this issue included a short note about the Futurians, the villainous secret society of several issues back, about which I had wondered.  It turns out that the name was a reference to a group of science fiction fans from the 30s, many of whom would go on to be major influences in the genre.  How neat!


And that’s it for this post, though I don’t know what else y’all could ask for!  We’ve got a great selection of stories in this batch, even with the Supergirl clunker.  This is definitely an exciting time in comics, and change is in the air!  DC is growing, and there are exciting things on the horizon.  On that note, I hope you’ll join me again soon for the next installment of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome to another installment of Into the Bronze Age!  We begin our journey through May of 1971, marching ever further into the last great age of comics!  Our books for this post aren’t the best we’ve ever had, but I can honestly say they aren’t the worst, either.  I’m looking at you, super baby.  Join me as we see what was going on many years ago!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


This month in history:

  • Amtrack railroad begins operation
  • National Public Radio begins programming
  • Nixon administration arrests 13,000 anti-war protesters in 3 days
  • Race riots in Brownsville section of Brooklyn
  • Friends of Earth return 1500 non-returnable bottles to Schweppes
  • Multiple killings and bombings continue to occur in Ireland
  • USSR launches Mars 2, 1st spacecraft to crash land on Mars
  • USSR Mars 3 launched, 1st spacecraft to soft land on Mars
  • US Mariner 9 1st satellite to orbit Mars launched
  • 36 hospitalized during Grateful Dead concert; drunk LSD apple juice

Well, it wasn’t quite as crazy as some of the previous months have been, but there was certainly plenty going on.  I’m slightly surprised that NPR only started this late in the Century.  I had sort of imagined them being around much longer.  We can see the tensions continuing to escalate both in the U.S. and abroad, with arrests of protesters here and the Troubles continuing to grow in Ireland, taking a toll on both sides.  We also see the space race proceeding apace, with both superpowers rushing to examine the Red Planet.  It’s clearly a strange, worrisome, but also fascinating time.  I wonder how the contemporary comics reflect it.

It seems that Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” remained at the top of the charts through May, but at the tail end of the month, the Rolling Stones snuck into #1 with “Brown Sugar,” a fun, carefree song plenty at odds with the turbulent headlines of the time.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #400
  • Adventure Comics #406
  • Batman #231
  • Brave and Bold #95
  • Detective Comics #411
  • The Flash #206
  • Forever People #2
  • G.I. Combat #147
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
  • Justice League of America #89
  • New Gods #2
  • Superman #237
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Action Comics #400


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“My Son… Is He Man or Beast?”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“Duel of Doom!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

It’s the landmark 400th issue of Action Comics…unfortunately, there’s not really anything particularly noteworthy to mark the occasion.  But hey, look at that, another monkey on a cover!  That’s right, this month Superman gets the ape allotment at DC, and it is certainly an unusual image.  In fact, it represents a very unusual story as well.  The cover probably primes you to expect another Saga of the Super Sons, but no, Dorfman has even weirder plans.  And when you’ve got weirder plans than Bob Haney, watch out!

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So our strange story begins with Superman attending the funeral of yet another old friend who we’ve never heard of, in this case, a scientist named Jan Nagy.  The Man of Steel attempts to comfort the late scientist’s son, who Swan draws to look like he’s an adult but is presumably still a teenager.  Unfortunately for the hero’s efforts, the kid reacts with hatred, saying he wants nothing to do with the Metropolis Marvel.  Oddly, the scientist’s will appoints Superman as the boy’s guardian, which is just really strange in multiple ways, if you think about it.  The bereaved boy, Gregor, storms off, saying he wishes he could kill the Kryptonian, and his family lawyer comments that he’d have to be some kind of “super gorilla” to do that.  What an unimaginably odd thing to say.  It can’t possibly be foreshadowing.

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Well, Supes chases after the angry young man but sees him phase right through a door!  Inside, the Action Ace spots Gregor transforming into…you guessed it, a gorilla.  Superman confronts the irate ape, only to have the creature tell him that the hero himself is to blame for the transformation.  Gregor turns back to normal and reminds the Man of Tomorrow of a yesterday not that long ago when he saved the boy’s father from an experiment gone wrong.  The scientist had created a new element, metamorphon, in an atomic furnace, but it threatened to explode and mutate everyone nearby (and here’s another threat to civilization thanks to a DC scientist).  The hero disposed of the furnace in a swimming pool to drown the reaction, but the nearby Gregor was affected by the fumes, despite his efforts.

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The boy soon found himself transforming uncontrollably at his slightest whim, becoming intangible or taking on the shapes of animals.  Instead of being thrilled to have developed some honest-to-goodness superpowers, donning a costume and taking to the streets to fight crime, which seems to be the dominate way of dealing with such trauma in the DCU, the boy just becomes bitter and blames his new guardian.  He even spurns the woman he loves because he feels like a freak.  Superman encourages the youth to learn to control his powers and use them for good, and the boy agrees, but demands that the Man of Steel teach him, still full of venom.

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Helping the Man of Tomorrow open locked and booby-trapped doors and scaring poachers, Gregor begins to control his powers, but he also uses them to spy on Superman, discovering his secret identity.  In an attempt to reach the little punk, Clark takes him to the Fortress of Solitude, where the boy carelessly damages a satellite by pushing random buttons, causing the Action Ace to run off to try and save it.

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Meanwhile, a distress call comes in about a sub trapped in the Sea of Japan, and Gregor, finally displaying some character, realizes that he’s been acting like a jerk and sets out to help them by taking Superman’s place.  He recreates the Kryptonian’s powers temporarily, but his own abilities don’t last long enough to finish the job.  He is injured by the pressure before the real Man of Steel arrives to save him, and the two have a supposedly touching farewell reconciling as Gregor dies, his metamorphic form turning to dust at the end.

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As I said, this is a weird one.  There’s a slightly clever reference in the boy’s name.  A character who metamophosizes and is named Gregor.  Hmm!  We get the standard device of a close friend we’ve never heard of, and Superman suddenly finds himself a parent to a surly and sullen teenager, with super powers to boot, as if regular teenagers aren’t hard enough to manage!  The story, at only 14 pages, is way too rushed for any real emotional attachment to Gregor, especially as he comes off more like a jerk than a victim.  His powers don’t really seem like that much of a burden.  If he wants to complain about metamorphic powers, he should probably compare notes with Metamorpho first.  I can’t help feeling like Rex got the worse deal, there!  The story feels fairly Silver Age-ish, with the melodrama cranked up to 11 without any real justification in the story itself.  It’s an okay tale for what it is, but it is certainly nothing special for the 400th issue.  It feels like a bit of a let-down in that context.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen because it just fails to achieve the pathos for which it’s clearly aiming.

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“Duel of Doom”


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As often seems to be the case with these books, the backup tale is significantly more fun than the headliner.  It offers an enjoyable jaunt into the miniaturized world of Kandor, where two young students idolize Superman and Supergirl.  They argue about which hero is the best, like all good comic fans.  Arvor, an electronics student thinks the Man of Steel is the best, while the archeology student, Yllura, supports the Maid of Might.  There’s a charming ‘battle of the sexes’ element to their interactions, which results in their deciding to compete with one another in their final exams, where each student has to achieve something impressive.

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Gota’ say, I think I agree with Arvor here.  Is there really that much future for an archeologist in a bottle city?

Yllura heads to the outskirts of the city to explore ruins located in some caverns and discovers a hidden temple.  Meanwhile, Arvor tests an experimental visor of his own design that simulates Superman’s X-ray vision.  His belt jets short out during his flight and send him plunging into a lake, accidentally finding his way into an underground river.

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While he wanders through the cavern after his embarrassment, the lady scholar triggers an ancient defense mechanism, producing a grotesque floating head.  Her frightened scream leads the electrical whiz to her, and he smashes the source of the projection with a rock.

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Unfortunately, this shorts out the power in the tomb, plunging the pair into darkness.  Yllura realizes that Arvor’s visor could lead them out, and with his invention lighting the way, they escape from the caverns.  The couple realizes that, no matter who is the best, they are still better as a team.  The plucky pair both ace their exam and are awarded a joint trophy by Superman and Supergirl who arrive to officiate their graduation.

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This is a simple but fun little science fiction story.  The two Kandorians have a charming dynamic, with some good back and forth in the small amount of ‘screen time’ they have.  I like the proxy battle of the sexes they play out, which is a neat reflection of the growing concern over gender equality at the time.  I enjoy how both of the kids make mistakes but both also have moments of triumph.  It’s a very brief little story, but it’s an enjoyable one with a decent amount of personality.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #406


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“Suspicion”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Editor: Mike Sekowsky
Cover Artists: Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano

This is an issue that is a bit hard to pin down.  One moment it is hilarious and surprisingly witty, the next it is so goofy and poorly thought-out it almost seems surreal.  The overall effect leaves me wondering if maybe I’m missing some clever parodic elements, but I’m fairly certain it’s just Sekowsky being inconsistent and employing lazy writing shortcuts.  The crux of the issue is the discovery of Supergirl’s most closely guarded secret by her nemesis, but the manner in which this happens is dramatically unworthy of the event.  Sekowsky also seems to have forgotten what happened in the previous issue, as this comic opens with a recap of the recently concluded ongoing Starfire saga, but whereas the last issue ended with the Maid of Might capturing the villainous professor and assured that a cure for her stop-and-go superpowers would be forthcoming, her powers are still unreliable in this one with no explanation.

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The story proper opens with Linda Danvers preparing to go to her college graduation, at which she has, for some reason, agreed to speak as her own alter-ego, Supergirl.  That couldn’t possibly go wrong.  Oddly, the graduation is disrupted by a crowd of pushy protesters, and the demonstration quickly turns into a riot when the football team takes on the demonstrators.  Supergirl just up and leaves, heading back to her room to change, and here is where Nasthalia “Nasty” Luthor enters the picture and enacts her brilliant master plan to discover the superheroine’s secret identity.  What, you may ask, is this staggering work of genius that manages to outwit the wily Kryptonian?

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adventure406-04 - CopyWell, Nasty follows her and watches whose room she enters.  That’s it.  That’s the discovery.  It’s so blazingly stupid that I had to read the sequence twice to be sure I hadn’t missed something.  This is an example of plot induced stupidity if ever there was one, as the being with about a zillion different super senses doesn’t notice that she’s being followed and walks through her front door instead of using the roof entrance that we’ve seen her use before.  Wow.

Back out among the mob as plain old Linda Danvers, our protagonist meets up with her adoptive parents amid the protest, which has descended from carrying standard slogans to parody signs that make fun of the mindlessness of such crowds, which is pretty funny.  Linda and her parents are weirdly unaffected by all of the chaos surrounding them, and Linda herself seems entirely unruffled that her graduation, a rather major milestone, has been completely ruined by these protesting morons.  The page has several little jokes, making it one of the funniest pieces of the book.

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Note the irony of the image and caption in the last panel.

Having graduated, despite the lack of a ceremony, the young Kryptonian says goodbye to her family (about whom I know absolutely nothing for this version) and heads to Metropolis in search of a job.  However, she finds that no-one is hiring, though there is a surprisingly mature reference (for the time) to sexual harrasment as one guy tries to use the prospect of a job to get her to go out with him.  I was surprised to see that kind of thing get a mention in a comic like this.

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Check out the fourth panel.  That image looks familiar, but I can’t quite place it.

Finally endangers Superman’s secret identity as well, calling him while he’s at work in the guise of Clark, with Nasty secretly stalking her.  Cousin Clark comes through, arranging a job for her in San Francisco.  Hooray for nepotism!  I’m actually slightly bothered by the use of Frisco rather than, say, Coast City.  I dislike it when DC mixes real cities in with their imaginary geography.  It ruins the effect of the alternate world with its own internal consistency.  That’s the reason I’ve never cared for things like Firestorm being based in New York instead of his own fictional town or sharing space with another hero.

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At any rate, Linda flies cross-country to take the job at a TV station, K-SFTV, where she meets two groovy guys dressed in the height of early 70s fashion, drawn by Sekowsky to look like they’re in their 30s, which makes their immediate flirtation with the disguised Supergirl even more inappropriate than it would be normally.  Linda also discovers that her old college cohort, Nasty, has taken a job at the station as well.  These two girls are made camerawomen, with apparently no training or experience, and for some reason, they travel in a trio, since apparently one camera isn’t enough.

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Multiple camera angels don’t do a whole lot of good when they are all right next to each other…

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After covering a bunch of stories where Nasty has stuck to Linda like glue, making it impossible for her to do any hero-ing, they respond to reports of a fire, where they find people trapped inside a building.  Supergirl slips away in the crowd, changes into her costume, and flies into the building to rescue a woman and her child.  Then, instead of, ohh, I don’t know, using those same powers to fly OUT of the building with the pair, she slowly walks through the inferno, risking their lives.  Almost at the exit, the rescued woman comes to and tells her savior that there is another victim trapped within, a baby she had been watching.

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Finally employing her x-ray vision (why exactly didn’t she do that before?), the Maid of Might rescues the baby, while Nasty notices her absence and tries to get footage of her, only to be foiled when the heroine switches back to Linda to emerge with the infant before collapsing, her powers having faded and left her vulnerable.  She awakens in an ambulance, wondering how she’ll escape before the doctors notice that her wounds have miraculously healed.

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This story is so silly in places, yet the moments with the protesters are genuinely funny and clever.  It’s really a surprisingly inconsistency.  Whatsmore, Sekowsky is doing really interesting and unusual things with his character.  In the scope of one issue, he dramatically transformed the status quo for Supergirl.  He not only has her graduate college but get a job and start a new life in a new city.  That is a pretty huge change for an era that is still largely about stability.  The renovation of characters is clearly having an impact, even in unexpected quarters.  Of course, Supergirl herself remains pretty flat and unchanged, despite the shift in her setting.

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The whole bit with Nasty discovering the Girl of Steel’s secret identity was just so stupid I hardly have words to describe it, and her inaction throughout the story is inexplicable.  She’s got excellent reasons to believe that Linda Danvers is Supergirl, so why in the world doesn’t she act on that information.  Instead, she’s following her around waiting for proof.  Nasty, baby, proof is for the cops.  You’re a Luthor.  You don’t need proof to do something violent and unpleasant.

In the end, this is just a clunky story with lazy writing and everything serving the plot.  That’s a shame, because there are elements of it that are really promising and interesting, as well as quite funny.  It doesn’t help that the issue continues to feature Sekowsky’s wildly inconsistent art.  It’s quite good in some panels and just plain hideous in others.  This one doesn’t have as many standout mistakes as some previous outings, but it just might be uglier overall than most of the previous run.  I’ll give the issue as a whole 2 Minutemen, rating that high because it made me chuckle despite its foolishness.

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Well, that will do it for the opening act of May 1971.  It isn’t exactly an impressive first showing, but I am sure that the rest of the month will give us some better books, though, perhaps I shouldn’t get my hopes up for the next batch.  Or perhaps I should.  After all, the next issue of Batman features the return of the the most dramatic, the most dynamic, the most dynamite villain ever to grace the pages of one of the Dark Knight’s books.  Who could this wondrous one be?  Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.  Please join me again soon for a story staring an incredibly charismatic character as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

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

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“A Time to Die”


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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.

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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!

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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!?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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“Trust Me or Kill Me!”


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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: April 1971 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome back to my feature delving into DC Comics in the Bronze Age!  ‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,’ as the saying goes, and a long and exhausting but wonderfully adventure-filled trip to Yosemite, King’s Canyon, and Sequoia national parks put my plans for regular updates on hold for a time.  Lady Grey and I took Faber’s advice, of Fahrenheit 451 fame, to heart and “stuffed [our] eyes with wonder.”   We’re home now, and I’m back once more on my Bronze Age quest!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


This month in history:

  • US/Canada ISIS 2 launched to study atmosphere
  • Classic sci-fi/fantasy soap opera Dark Shadows concludes its run
  • Fran Phipps is 1st woman to reach North Pole
  • Mt. Etna erupts in Sicily
  • US Lt William Calley sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering 22 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre
  • In Sri Lanka, insurrection launched against the United Front government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
  • US President Richard Nixon orders Lt. Calley freed
  • The Republican commemorations is held in Belfast of the Easter Rising (in 1916 in Dublin), revealing conflicts between the two wings of the Irish Republican Army
  • President Nixon ends blockade against People’s Republic of China
  • Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Follies” premieres in NYC
  • Supreme Court upheld busing as means of achieving racial desegregation
  • People’s Republic of Bangladesh forms, under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
  • Charles Manson sentenced to life (Sharon Tate murder)
  • Soyuz 10 launched; cosmonauts become 1st in Salyut 1 space station
  • Columbia University operations virtually ended by student strike
  • About 200,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters march on Washington, D.C.
  • USSR performs nuclear test at Eastern Kazakh/Semipalitinsk USSR
  • Turkey state of siege proclaimed
  • US performs nuclear test at Nevada Test Site
  • Significant Films: Billy Jack, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and Big Jake

I quite liked the show Dark Shadows when I was a kid, and as with many of the pop-culture artifacts with which I was closely attached, that attraction probably has as much to do with the dearth of options as with the inherent quality of the program.  There simply was nothing else like that around, so even though it is pretty hokey by today’s standards, I ate it up as a kid because it was a source of the fantastic which was quite rare in live action in those days.

On more serious fronts, we can see tensions surrounding Vietnam continuing to escalate, and the rival marches that once illustrated the division in the culture have been replaced by one large anti-war march.  There are still plenty of divisions, but I’d say that is an interesting insight into how things have changed in just a year, as are the politics and media circus surrounding Lt. Calley.  The world of 1971 is a pretty grim one in many ways, and we can certainly sympathize with that here in 2017, so let’s try to find some color and some joy!

Fittingly, the top of the charts this month was occupied by Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” a great rock song and one that is just plain fun, nonsensical lyrics and all.


Roll Call


(You can see everything cover-dated this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56
  • 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

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


Action Comics #399


Action_Comics_399

“Superman, You’re Dead… Dead… Dead”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“Superbaby’s Lost World”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Well, we’ve got two Dorfman-penned tales in this month’s book, and they’re about what I’ve come to expect from him, ranging from mediocre to goofy.  The first is actually mostly inoffensive, but the second is just too silly for me.  Whatever the contents, we’ve got another nice looking Neal Adams cover, and it sets up the central mystery, such as it is, for the headline tale.  It’s a bizarre enough image to capture a reader’s interest.  One does want to know what is going on.

Within, the story in question centers around a disaster in the making, as Superman is summoned from his ‘rolling news room’ which we saw introduced a few issues ago, to stop a run-away experimental generator before “the chain reaction ignites the atmosphere and turns Earth into a ball of flame.”  No pressure.  Did you know, that was actually one of the outcomes scientists thought possible when they tested the first atomic bomb?  And they still tested it.  Maybe comics aren’t all that far-fetched after all.

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You know, I wonder, do scientists in the DC Universe ever work on projects that don’t have the potential to destroy life as we know it?  Oversight committees must reject any new study that doesn’t endanger the entire planet as a matter of course.  This particular disaster-waiting-to-happen is a new experimental solar generator that is going critical.  Just as the Metropolis Marvel attempts to stop it by…flying directly into it for some reason, he feels himself pulled…somewhere!

The Man of Steel finds himself in a strange cage with three other familiar figures.  They announce that they are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Lt. General George Custer.  (One of these things is not like the others.)  Escaping from the cell, the Man of Tomorrow discovers that each of these ‘heroes’ has been pulled from the past by an experimental time machine for, of all things, a history class!

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Now, sure, unquestionably, George Washington deserves to be on that list.  The only reason the U.S. is a democracy (at least for a while longer) is that he was a good enough man to refuse to be made a king, and few men would set aside power once taken up.  Lincoln, for all of his culpability in the beginning of the Civil War, deserves the spot for freeing the slaves, even if it was largely a symbolic gesture when first made.  That’s still an incredibly important moment in our national development.  But Custer?  Really?  Not, I don’t know, F.D.R., or Teddy Roosevelt, or just about anyone else?  George, ‘I-led-my-men-to-their-deaths-while-attempting-genocide’ Custer?  Well, I suppose perception of him hadn’t quite gotten past the simplicities of the ‘cowboys and Indians’ portrays of the previous half century.

Anyway, on with the story.  The scientist running the experiment explains to the Action Ace that he is “the last might Superman of [his] era,” which makes no sense.  Demanding answers, the Man of Steel is shown a memory tape that displays his history, including memories supposedly wiped out by the process of being brought through time.  According to the tape, Superman was killed by an alien being, but human scientists cloned him (though they don’t call it that), because the world can’t get along without a Superman.

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The new Man of Tomorrow didn’t remember his death, and he also died some time later of an alien disease.  The scientists recreated him again, knowing it would be for the last time.  To further prove their story, the future scholar takes the shocked hero to a crypt and shows him the remains of the previous two iterations of ‘Superman’ and gives him a medal posthumously awarded to his past self.

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Stunned, Superman asks how he will die, and he’s told that he’s killed trying to shut down an experimental energy source.  That certainly sounds familiar, right?  Well, during the explanation, the shell-shocked Kryptonian hears a broadcast about an archeological expedition trapped by a cave-in in Greenland and, without a thought, rushes off to help.  He rescues them, but when that feat is finished, the head scientist tells his time-tossed guest that he must return to the past.  At first Superman refuses, asking why he should return just to die, but when the panicked egg-head tells his wayward visitor that, unless history plays out the way it should, time itself will unravel and destroy the universe (see, everything they make can destroy reality!), the true Man of Tomorrow valiantly heads back to meet his fate.

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Yet, back in the past, he successfully flies the haywire generator out into space and survives the experience.  Confused, he ponders his medallion, only to discover that it contains an element not present on Earth.  Superman deduces that he was accidentally pulled into an alternate dimension’s future, and remembers clues in the scientist’s descriptions of the other historical figures, who were all described differently than in real life.

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This is a solid enough story.  It’s got an interesting and curious twist, and it’s good to see the selflessness of the Man of Steel, which is also nicely tempered by a reasonable desire to stay alive if he doesn’t have to die.  Yet, when faced with the necessity, he willingly sets out to make the ultimate sacrifice.  It’s curious to note that the idea of cloning a replacement for Superman was presented way back here in 1971.  The idea would, of course, famously return in future stories.  There’s nothing particularly exciting here, but it’s an entertaining enough read.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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“Superbaby’s Lost World”


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The second story, however, is not quite so easy to enjoy, despite having some honestly funny moments.  Unfortunately, it’s a ‘Superbaby’ tale, which is from the start a concept not terribly likely to win my undying affection, and this particular outing is pretty painful in some ways.  I haven’t read enough of these to know if such features are established conventions of the conceit, but if so, heaven spare me from more Superbaby stories!  The yarn involves the Kents taking their otherworldly infant to an amusement park, and from the very beginning this tale rubs me the wrong way.  Apparently, despite being fairly desperate for their son to keep a low profile and not reveal his powers, the Kents just let little Clark run around with a bright red and blue outfit, complete with a freaking cape!  Okay, I can deal with the adventures of Super-tot, but could we get just a trace of logical consistency for the concept?  No?  That’s too much to ask?  *sigh*

The actual plot has the potential to be rather charming, but the trappings surrounding it are just plain maddening.  You’ve got the Kents trying to keep Clark under wraps while the little super-psychopath destroys attractions left and right in the park with his super strength and poor impulse control.  When the nosy child discovers a pair of jewel thieves hiding their ill-gotten gains in a garbage can, the kid rips the receptacle open to return their basket to them, thinking they’ve lost it.  The image of the two-foot tall super-tot, cape flapping in the breeze, is just too goofy for me.

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This begins a series of mis-adventures, as the kid lost sight of his parents in the interim and the jewel thieves decide to bring him along as cover and to prevent him making a scene.  There is a fun idea here, but the ridiculous visual, combined with Dorfman’s device of having kiddie-Clark speak in a weird 3rd person pidgin that I’m fairly certain no child has ever used in the history of the world, make the result rather grating.  The plot, such as it is, continues with the crooks taking the kid on a boat ride, where he reveals his powers, ripping an animatronic animal out of the ground, and then flying the couple out of the river when their boat swamps.

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Then follows a comedy of errors as the Super-simpleton tries to fix each of his mistakes, which leads to more mistakes.  He tries to dry the couple’s clothes out on a fake volcano, only for them to be chocked by smoke, which he blows away, knocking them off of a cliff!  When they are discovered by the cops, the glibly named ‘Connie and Hyde’ (get it?) practically throw themselves into the arms of the boys in blue, begging them to save them from the psychotic super-tot.  Of course, the police don’t believe their stories, and the Kents finally find Clark, destroying yet more of the park’s exhibits.  One has to imagine the little wrecking-machine put the poor place out of business with the untold amount of damage he inflicted on it.

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The idea of Superbaby unwittingly foiling the crooks is actually a rather promising one, but while the story has its moments, kiddie-Clark’s ‘me do such and such’ routine, combined with the ridiculous little cape just prove too much for me and drag this book down to the absurd.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.  At least this one wasn’t as bad as the last super-baby we encountered!

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Adventure Comics #405


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“Starfire’s Revenge!”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

Here we have the conclusion of the Starfire saga begun several issues back.  Starfire has proven an interesting antagonist for the girl from Krypton, and Sekowsky’s continuing story has been entertaining for the most part, though it stands out more for its creativity and willingness to depart from the status quo than for its quality.  With this issue, it ends strong, and Sekowsky delivers an exciting adventure full of intrigue and peril.  The cover is effective if not particularly dynamic, and it hints at the central complication of the yarn.  It certainly does the job of intriguing prospective readers, which is half the battle.

adventure 405-02 - CopyThe tale picks up where the previous outing of the story left off, with Supergirl desperate to track down Starfire and her scientific flunky in order to find a cure for her fluctuating powers.  She is on the verge of despair until her powers return, allowing her to use her super senses to detect her quarry…by just looking around from her apartment.  Okay, that’s a bit silly, even for a super character in this era.  She just uses telescopic and x-ray vision to scan, presumably miles and miles around her, all without moving from home.  That makes things a bit too simple, but Sekowsky is apparently in a hurry to get into his plot.

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The Maid of Might discovers the villains aboard a plane bound for Paris, but before she can pursue them, her powers fade out once more.  Starfire, for her part, is busy with plans of her own, and she directs the professor to create a stronger dose of their anti-power drug.  She also contacts a man with a familiar face.  The lethal Lothario from the first issue, Derek, apparently has a twin brother named Rodney, and she spins him a twisted version of his brother’s death to turn him against Supergirl.  Claiming that the Girl of Steel killed his twin, Starfire recruits Rodney for help with her plan, which will involve him dosing the heroine with the new drug when her powers are at ebb.

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We get a fun scene as the Maid of Might has to find a way across the Atlantic despite her unreliable powers, eventually hitching a ride on a passing jetliner and feeling rather embarrassed about it.  Awaiting her in the City of Lights, Starfire has other plans in motion.  She informs her gang about their next job, which involves the murder of a major designer, the theft of his fall line, and the destruction of his salon.

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adventure 405-13In a very convenient turn of events, Supergirl just happens to hear a broadcast of the designer’s fashion show which is interrupted by the thieves, despite the fact that she’s just hanging out in the woods waiting for her powers to return.  There had to be an easier and less ridiculous way to bring those plots together!  Nonetheless, the Maid of Might rushes to the salon, and her powers return just in time to let her tackle the gang.  Yet, Rodney’s sudden attack and his resemblance to the deceased Derek distract her long enough for her nemesis to escape.  The Maid of Might becomes a mediocre maiden once more, and she plays a dangerous game with the berserk brother as the building burns, finally getting close enough to knock him out.

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She takes her captive to safety, then strives to convince him that she didn’t kill his brother, no easy task.  Finally, she hits upon a plan to capture Starfire and prove her innocence at the same time.  After realizing that Supergirl is willing to risk her life in this gambit, Rodney relents, and that night, he shows up at the villain’s headquarters, carrying the heroine’s apparently helpless form.  Starfire is pleased, but while preparing to dispose of her Kryptonian prisoner, she decides to tie up loose ends with Rodney as well and reveals the truth.  The pair find themselves menaced by a gorilla of all things (how did he not end up on the cover?), but fortunately Supergirl is up to the challenge and puts the beast to sleep.

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Pictured: A glimpse of why comics are awesome.

The escaped Maid of Might crashes a fashion show of the stolen styles and chases Starfire down.  Her powers fail her once more, allowing the villainess to lock herself behind a heavy door, but when Supergirl smashes through using her exo-skeleton (no longer confusingly called a “cyborg”), the door strikes the cyclopean psycho and sends her crashing through a window to her death below.  That’s right, Supergirl just committed a touch of manslaugher.  It is clearly an accident, but what an accident!  The tale ends with the gang captured, the antidote secured, and the villain quite dead.  I guess that explains why she never returned!

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You just took a human life…oh well!

This is a surprisingly good issue.  The last two chapters have been fairly mediocre, despite their promising premises and the still rare departures from the status quo and ongoing elements.  This comic, however, had an exciting, engaging plot, and Sekwosky made good use of his fluctuating power deus ex machina to deliver some reasonably exciting action sequences.  Perhaps most importantly, the art in this issue is significantly better than the last two portions of the tale.  Sekowsky simply turned out a better looking comic this month.  There’s a certain creativity in his layouts and design work that makes the book visually interesting, and while some of his figures are still awkward, there are no glaring problems this time.  There are a few downright lovely panels scattered throughout these pages, and on the whole, Sekowsky seems to be putting more polish into his work, or perhaps the diligent Dick Giordano made the difference.  The biggest flaw in this issue is the fact that Supergirl takes a life, however unwittingly, and the consequences of this act are given a grand total of one panel of development.  If you’re not going to give a moment like that the treatment it deserves, you shouldn’t employ it in the first place.  So, all told, this is a fun but flawed issue, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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And that wraps up the first post of April 1971.  Next up we have a very bittersweet subject, as we’ll be covering the very last issue of the original Aquaman comic.  I’ll also have something of a surprise for y’all, a special feature.  So, be sure not to miss it!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!