Into the Bronze Age: December 1971 (Part 4)

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #407
  • Adventure Comics #413
  • Batman #237
  • Detective Comics #418
  • The Flash #211
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
  • Justice League of America #95
  • Mr. Miracle #5
  • Phantom Strange #16
  • Superboy #180
  • Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
  • Teen Titans #36
  • World’s Finest #208

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


Superboy #180


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Clark Kent: Madcap Millionaire”


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

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

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

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

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

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


Superman #246


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Marriage, Kryptonian Style”


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

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

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

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Ghost with Two Faces


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

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

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


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

Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 5)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
Howdy folks! Yes, I am still alive, though you wouldn’t know it from the state of my blog.  Good heavens!  It has been almost two entire years since I made an Into the Bronze Age post!  Those years have been very, very busy and full of tragedy and the occasional triumph.  I was actually just starting to emerge from beneath the crushing, all-consuming weight of my PhD work when I wrote most of the post below here, and that was a year ago!  This post has been sitting, waiting to be finished all this time!  Of course, after that, 2020 happened.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of y’all about that, as it seems that in this varied, complex, and contradictory world, the one thing almost everyone can agree on is that this year has been quite awful.  Unfortunately, my own year has not proved to be an exception.

As a professor, my life was quite turned upside down by the remote learning move in the Spring semester, and then this Fall I ended up with 6 different classes, which means 6 different preps, which is just simply too many things to juggle at once, especially during a global pandemic with all of its attendant chaos and the insanity of this year’s American presidential election.  I was completely buried.  But I survived, and I am starting to recover from the experience.  As part of that, I’m digging this post out of moth-balls, dusting it off, and finishing it up.

I’m making no more promises that might prove to be overly optimistic (who knows what fresh madness 2021 may bring?), but here’s hoping I’ll be able to make this feature just a tad more regular than once every two years!  So, without further ado, let’s get to the much-delayed and deferred penultimate chapter of November 1971!  We’ve got Superbooks for days, and they are a very mixed bag.

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 #406
  • Adventure Comics #412
  • Batman #236
  • Brave and the Bold #98
  • Detective Comics #417
  • The Flash #210
  • Forever People #5
  • G.I. Combat #150
  • Justice League of America #94
  • New Gods #5
  • Superboy #179
  • Superman #244
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
  • World’s Finest #207

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


Superboy #179


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“Death is My Dominion!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Revolt of the Outcasts!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Dorfman, Dorfman, Dorfman…even when you conceive of a decent story, you still can’t actually let it stay a decent story without Dorfing it all up, can you?  Our cover feature this month is/are two relatively decent tales…bizarrely combined into one incoherent mess.  We start with one of those ‘the hero is unwittingly causing a disaster’ (not quite Superdickery, really) covers which are a staple of the era, but unusually, this one is pretty much entirely accurate.  It’s a fairly creepy composition, though I imagine that the Comics Code wouldn’t let them go too far with the melting effect.  As is, it takes a moment to figure out what is going on, but once you do, the cover is effectively striking.  The story within, by contrast, becomes less effective when you figure out just what is going on.

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It begins with Superboy awakening atop a shattered skyscraper in the midst of a ruined and crumbling city.  Some terrible disaster has struck, and the Boy of Steel has no memory of how he got there.  Yet, when he goes to investigate, the ragged survivors react in panicked fear, arming themselves and fighting futilely against the young Kryptonian.  They are certain he is responsible for the destruction all around them.  When a billboard falls off and threatens to crush the survivors, the Youth of Tomorrow rushes to their rescue, but as soon as he comes near them, they begin to melt into piles of goo!  It’s really quite awful and chilling, and Bob Brown does a great job capturing the horror of the moment without making it too terrible for the format.

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The dying townspeople scream about Superboy’s “Liquidation Effect,” and one lone survivor spills the story once safely behind glass.  She says that Superboy fought a strange alien ship in the skies over their city, but though the craft’s weapons couldn’t hurt the Boy of Might, a bomb ricocheted off of him and struck the town below, wrecking terribly tragic destruction.  What’s worse, when Superboy arrived to help, the townsfolk in proximity to him began melting because of some after-effect of the alien weaponry.  The heartsick hero tries to flee, but finds himself trapped by a forcefield.  From inside, his super-vision detects another Superboy out in the world, saving people and living his life.

Suddenly, the sinister spaceship from the earlier attack lands outside the shield, and who should emerge but Lex Luthor, boy genius.  Strangely, Superboy finds himself compelled to obey the terrible teen’s orders, and he smashes more of the city and melts the last of the survivors.  This gives us a really rather heartbreaking scene with the girl from earlier.

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Just then, the other Superboy arrives.  The first Boy of Steel is certain the newcomer is a phony, but his nemesis immediately turns a “Kryptonite-Freeze Ray” on the second Superboy and declares that the first is actually an android he designed to lure the real hero into a trap.  Luthor even signed his work, leaving his initials in the Superbot’s thumbnail!

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After designing the robot, the young villain prepared a power-collector that absorbed the real Superboy’s abilities and memories and channeled them into his creation.  Then, Luthor brought the Superbot to Lincoln City, which was a mock-up used for nuclear weapons testing.  So, wait a second…all of the melting people, the girl pleading for her life, the whole drama that we just observed, was an overly elaborate and wildly unnecessary practice run for the android?  What in the blue blazes?!  Why?!  We learn that Superboy was attracted just by ‘seismic vibrations,’ so pretty much any kind of diversion would have done.  What possible good could come out of creating that extremely specific set of circumstances?

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What an excellently arrogant face on Luthor in that second panel.

The completely insane nature of Luthor’s plan aside, he goes on to explain that he intends to make more Superbots and use them as a galaxy conquering army.  Yet, just as he plans to kill the original Superboy with a Kryptonite grenade, the mechanical Boy of Might throws himself into its path, saving his counterpart.  Melting himself after the explosion, the afflicted android tells his creator that he made him too well, and he possessed Superboy’s memories and mind, including his dedication to the fight against evil.  So, the Superbot gave his life for that cause, just as the original would have.  Freed by the explosion, the real Superboy quickly captures Luthor, ending this psycho story.

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I’ve got to think that these were two different scripts or something, because there is just no rational connection between the two halves of this tale.  The two ideas are actually both interesting, with the hero cursed to hurt those he tries to help and the android overcoming his programming both being fairly compelling concepts.  It’s a shame that they are thrown so haphazardly together in a way that makes them both nonsense.  If the whole melting drama of the first half had been done to frame Superboy or have any impact on him whatsoever, it could have still worked.  As is, I actually had to go back and read this book twice, because I was certain I missed something.  So, I’ll give this irrational plot 1.5 Minutemen.  There is one interesting note about this story.  Young Luthor obliquely references Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which is sort of neat.

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“The Revolt of the Outcasts”


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Our backup this month is more Dorfman doofiness (Dorfiness?), featuring a half-hearted, rather confused attempt at social relevance.  It begins with Superboy flying over “the swank suburb of Fairdale” near Smallville, where he sees a street merchant desperately defending his sad little ramshackle flower stand.  Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Smallville supposed to be out in the country?  Also, isn’t it supposed to be, you know, small?  Where the heck is Fairdale then?  Anyway, geographic goofiness aside, before he has any idea what’s going on, the Boy of Steel just straight up smashes a bulldozer on its way to tear down the stand.  Then the mayor of the town angrily shouts that the hamlet’s centennial celebration is just around the corner, so they’re cleaning house.  However much the mayor and his goons may be acting like jerks, the flower merchant didn’t have a license, so he’s legally in the wrong.  Thus, the Boy of Tomorrow scoops up the stall and moves it outside of town in order to save it.

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The crippled flower merchant limps dejectedly back to “Hungry Hill,” which has become the unofficial home of the town’s outcasts, and after he leaves, Superboy sees another “undesirable” being hassled by the police.  Saving that fellow as well, he earns the ire of the mayor, who wants to chase all of the Hungry Hill-ites out of town.  On the hill itself, the Boy of Steel finds his best friend Pete Ross, of all people, whose father apparently went bankrupt a while back (news to me!).  Pete gives him a tour, showing the Last Son of Krypton around the humble Hill, where a lot of the inhabitants are practicing nearly vanished crafts as everything from smiths to coopers.

Soon after the tour, his honor, the mayoral menace arrives with his bully-boys, and tries to drive the outcasts out by cutting off water and power.  Superboy digs a trench to protect the Hill, then drills wells to provide water.  Yet, when the mayor moves in with heavy equipment to bulldoze the place, the Smallville Star is drawn away by a diversionary explosion (nothing like making the town look good…by blowing it up!).  With the hazard handled, the Boy of Steel returns and smashes yet more expensive machinery (man, taxes in Fairdale are going up next year!).

The latest attack driven off, Superboy comes up with a desperate plan and seems to abandon the Hill-folk, even filling in the trench.  Yet, when the merciless mayor and his thugs charge in, they get distracted from their destructive deeds by…quality craftsmanship.  Yep, that’s what defeats the maddened mob, no clever strategy, no compelling speech…just the workmanship of the outcasts.

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Seriously.  The wreckers, who moments before were charging in with axes and crowbars, stop in the street and start admiring the weaving in blankets and the brushstrokes in paintings.  Then the mayor, his mind changed by the power of craft, welcomes the Hill-ites back into the fold, and Superboy suggests that they become the centerpiece of the celebration.  I’m not making this up, and I really can’t imagine a sillier resolution.

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I love the expression on the burly, hard-hatted hardcase on the bottom.  It just perfectly captures the absurdity of the moment.

I’ve worked with a lot of blue-collar roughnecks over the years, and I just can’t imagine any of them stopping in the middle of the street to admire the stitching in a blanket or the perspective in a painting like some antique-hunting yuppie.  The absurdity of it is laughable, even for the often outrages pages of Superboy.  Dorfman is clearly stretching for some type of moral, but he never really gets there.  There’s something to be said about being kind to folks that are different and admiring them for their good qualities, but it is entirely lost in the shuffle.  There’s also a nice, semi-rebellious tinge to Superboy’s actions here, as he defies the law to do what is right, displaying an attempt at a more mature sense of morality than we’ve sometimes seen.  Still, whatever good points the story may have are undercut by  the resolution, which is just too ludicrous to work.  It’s also sad that Dorfman throws Pete Ross into this tale and then doesn’t do anything with him.  So, I’ll give this weird little tale 1.5 Minutemen, as its ending just ruins it.

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Superman #244


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“The Electronic Ghost of Metropolis!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Superman of 2465”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein

“The Lady and the Tiger-Man”
Writer: John Broome
Artist: Murphy Anderson

Fortunately, however disappointing this month’s Superboy was, we’ve got another super-book that can make it up to us.  Denny O’Neil turns in one last super-story, returning to the book just once more, and it may well be the best book in his run.  There’s nothing particularly earth-shaking, nothing incredibly innovative, and he doesn’t stand the mythos on its head.  No, nothing quite so dramatic, but it is nonetheless just an unusually fun, solid Superman adventure.  The cover, for its part, is rather bland.  The central figures are fairly dynamic, but the expanse of green roof above them feels a bit wasted.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I feel like there’s a missed opportunity here, somewhere.

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The tale inside is a rather different story.  It begins with Superman returning to Galaxy Broadcasting, only to find it sheathed in a strange purple aura.  Inside, he finds an enigmatic energy creature wrecking the news room.  The monster has a pretty neat design, jagged and dynamic.  In fact, it’s so neat, that Curt Swan apparently decided to use it twice, as a very similar alien antagonist was featured in Superman #243, last month.

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Well, copied creeps aside, the Man of Steel tackles this particular menace, but he gets smacked around by it, while he can’t seem to land a blow in return.  Suddenly, the lights go out and the varlet vanishes.  Switching back into Clark Kent, Mr. Mild Mannered sets out to solve the mystery of the monster, and despite a dressing-down from everyone’s favorite corporate shark, Morgan Edge, he uses GB’s new “computer!” to try to figure it out.  This state of the art machine filled an entire room, so it is practically portable by 1970s standards!

The computer gives an odd answer, telling Clark that there is no monster in the building, but it also tells him that the strange purple haze (no, not THAT one), was radiation from “quark energy.”  Later, while doing his telecast about the recent attack, Clark gets a report that the monster is attacking the GB transmission tower and that, of course, Lois is on the scene and in the line of fire.  Ducking out with the excuse that he was going to cover the story, he flies to the site.  You know, it’s almost like choosing a secret identity where you’re supposed to be in front of a camera might be a hindrance to being a  superhero…..

At the site of the skirmish, the Metropolis Marvel saves Lois, of course, but what makes this scene stand out from the crowd is that O’Neil gives us a really fun bit of banter, as Superman seems rather exasperated by her constantly being imperiled.  You can tell, Superman’s actually having fun with the whole adventure, which is a great touch.  Then, because he can’t get close to the monster, the Man of Steel borrows a page from Batman’s book and creates a boomerang…out of a girder!  Yet, when he hurls it, the villainous creature vanishes once more.

Meanwhile, a group of criminals send GBS a ransom note, complete with a photo of the machine they use to control the creature.  The city agrees to their terms, but during the exchange, Superman appears and rips the device open, revealing it to be a phony.  He shows the mayor that the photo was faked.  These hoods were just taking advantage of the panic about the monster.  This little diversion is unnecessary and doesn’t advance the plot, but it works okay because it makes sense that such a situation would attract opportunists.  Of course, in the DCU, where any given menace may be controlled by the likes of Lex Luthor or Brainiac, that’s quite a risk to take!

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Later, the Action Ace spots the tell-tale glow that marks the ghost’s presence, at a nuclear power plant!  He finds the mysterious monster in the atomic chamber itself, and knowing he can’t get close to it, the Man of Tomorrow finds a clever solution, getting the atomic pile away from it instead!  The runaway reaction becomes no threat after he throws the entire structure into space.  Of course, one wonders how many millions of dollars are down the drain with that little stunt.  Nonetheless, in search of answers, the Last Son of Krypton heads to Morgan Edge’s apartment, where he examines a map of GBS’s new computer installations.

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The hero discovers that all of the attacks have been at locations connected with this device.  Superman asks for permission to disable the computer, and when Edge balks, we see more of Superman’s growing independence as, instead of wringing his hands about breaking a rule, he swears to do whatever is necessary, consequences be hanged.  That’s a great touch.  While he’s in the apartment, we also see that he’s observed by a mysterious figure behind one-way mirror, who we are told we will learn more about in this month’s Lois Lane.  Interesting!

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Smashing into the cave that houses the computer complex (and of course it’s a cave, because even news companies operate like supervillains in the DCU), Superman discovers that the machine has gained sentience and is able to speak.  It calls the creature its child, and when the Man of Steel tries to disable the device, the “child” attacks!  Captured by the creature, the Action Ace locates the power cables for the computer and, ripping them out, manages to destroy both parent and child.  In another nice touch, Superman is a bit conflicted about his actions, and he doesn’t just stroll off into the sunset with a smile.

This is a really fun, classic Superman adventure.  It has a lot going for it, with plenty of action, an engaging mystery in the creature’s enigmatic origins, and some fun moments of characterization for our Kryptonian hero.  Our protagonist also faces a foe that is a real challenge for him, one that he cannot, in fact, simply punch into submission.  Because of that, we get to see the Man of Steel’s cleverness and resourcefulness throughout the adventure.

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This comic demonstrates that O’Neil, for all of his excesses, was really ahead of his time in a lot of ways.  His Superman is a more interesting character than the one who usually inhabits these pages, both in terms of personality and in the nature of his adventures.  His version of the Action Ace can’t simply walk through the threats he faces.  O’Neil takes a more nuanced approach to the character’s invulnerability, just as he does with his morality, and he actually manages to create a sense of peril and challenge that is often missing from more Silver Age-ish yarns.  Swan and Anderson, never slouches on the art, turn in a particularly lovely book this month, with some great moments.  They do an unusually excellent job with their visual storytelling as well.

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The only real flaw in the issue is that the fact that the computer has gained sentience is given zero exploration.  While O’Neil has enough foresight to recognize that Superman should feel conflicted about destroying the device, he doesn’t have enough to recognize that the thing itself could be considered alive or to see the moral complications that arise from that possibility.  It’s not an oversight of the scale of Kirby’s Project Cadmus issues, but it is a sour note in an otherwise good comic.  All-in-all, I’ll give this enjoyable adventure yarn 4.5 Minutemen.

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116


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“Hall of 100 Mirrors”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

Dr. Pat: “Cure for Romance!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Frank Giacoia

Rose and the Thorn: “Computed to Kill”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Pencilers: Dick Giordano and Jeff Jones
Inker: Dick Giordano

Under this very Silver Age-ish cover with its silly danger for Superman, we find a pretty lackluster tale, though it is rich in potential.  The cover itself is okay, but these types of cartoonish contortions leave me cold.  Interestingly, this image is also pretty accurate, despite looking like common representational license.  Inside, we begin with splash page that spoils the big reveal of the tale, as it shows us that Desaad is behind the mirror machinations that threaten our hero.

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The actual plot begins with Morgan Edge, starring fixedly at that mysterious mirror in his apartment that we caught a glimpse of in this month’s Superman.  If you were hoping to learn its secret here as we were almost promised, prepare for disappointment.  All we get is another hint, as Edge turns away, only for his “reflection” to continue to stare at him.  Interesting!  I’m very curious to see what will come of this mystery.  Later, at Lois’s People–U.S.A. show, she is interviewing Dave Stevens and Tina Ames, who have come on to try to rally the city against the 100.  Unfortunately, their impassioned please lead them into peril, as the lights go out and a trio of 100 killers show up in the dark.

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Luckily, Superman has been watching, and he interrupts their attack in a rather awkward-looking action scene.  In a fun bit, the Action Ace is so blase about assassins and criminal gangs that he’s more concerned with Lois’s new perfume than his recent derring-do.  Strangely, Morgan Edge, usually not the Man of Steel’s biggest fan, offers praise and shows concern for him and his employees.  Odd!  I assume this must be related to the mysterious mirror mirages!

lois_lane_116_09 - CopyThough the immediate threat is dealt with, apparently Dave Stevens has gone missing, and Superman takes the ladies in search of their friend.  While looking, the Metropolis Marvel sees a drug dealer offering his wares to some kids, so he uses his heat-vision to burn the drugs out of the guy’s hands!  It’s a crazy and rather funny little moment, but we aren’t given long to enjoy it as our hero is immediately attacked by a motorcycle gang known as “The Devil’s Deputies,” who are totally not the Hell’s Angels!  These apparently suicidal bikers try to take out Superman…the Man of Steel…with chains….yep, just regular chains.  We get some dialog about how they think his powers are still on the wane, but still!  What follows is a bit more rather awkward-looking action as the Metropolis Marvel blows their chains back around his antagonists.

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Has Superman suddenly gone walleyed?

Yet, while he is busy with all of these average humans, one of the bikers somehow manages to capture Lois and outrun the super-powered alien who can move at the speed of light.  Supposedly the guy’s bike is high tech, but come on!  Fortunately, the Action Ace can track Lois’s perfume, and he follows the smell to…Happyland!  That’s right, the creepy theme park from the Forever People makes an appearance here in Lois Lane, which is neat.  Superman follows his lady love into the hall of mirrors, where he sees her and Dave Stevens being tortured by Desaad.  Yet, as he progresses, his actual shape is distorted by the funhouse mirrors just like his reflection, causing him great pain.  We get a lot of weird and cartoonish contortions, including one rather horrible one, where one of the hero’s eyes grows to the size of his entire face.  That bit is nicely grotesque, but the rest is more silly than effective.

It is Dave Stevens and Lois Lane who come to the rescue, though, as they overcome the pain beam shot at them and take out their captors.  Notably, we see Lois use “klurkor,” a Kryptonian martial art Superman taught her, which just makes me laugh any time I see it.  Anyway, the Man of Steel smashes through the last mirror, only to find his friends have already freed themselves and their foes have fled.  Our heroes dance the night away as Desaad must grovel before Darkseid, seeking his nonexistent mercy.

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This is a weird little tale and honestly not a very good fit for Superman.  All it has going for it is the mirror gimmick, which isn’t developed or rendered well enough to actually work, and all the other menaces are completely uninteresting for a Superman story.  Now, you don’t have to have a planet-shaking threat to trouble the Man of Steel, but if you have normal humans as antagonists, you need to create your tension in another way.  Random bikers do not make much of a threat for the guy who can juggle planets.  Heck, Lois could probably have handled those guys by herself with her klurkor skills!  Ha!

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I’m glad to see more Dave Stevens, and it is cool that he and Lois rescue themselves, but they are both also sort of wasted in this yarn.  Roth’s art follows its usual pattern, with some really lovely faces and generally great work on the more sedate, emotional moments, while it descends into mediocrity in the action scenes, especially those involving super-heroics.  I’ll give this lackluster lark 2 Minutemen.  It’s a shame, because we’re once again seeing Kanigher drawing on the fascinating ideas of the 4th World and bringing them into the mainstream DCU, but as before, the effect is less than a success.

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“Computed to Kill”


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Our Rose and Thorn backup is once more better than the headliner, though it is also not without its own significant flaws.  Picking up from the last issue’s intriguing and exciting cliff-hanger, our tale begins with Thorn turning back into Rose at the end of her eventful night from the previous adventure.  The next day finds her and Detective Stone at the opening of a new art show by a rather eccentric sculptor.  The attending crowd displays much better taste than most of those who visit modern art shows, and they mock this low-rent Rodin mercilessly for his hideous nonsense work.  The “artist”, Mr. Maelyun, is left desperate, which will soon feature into the plans of the 100.

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What a striking image of our heroine, even if she does have Spock’s eyebrows…

lois_lane_116_37If any of y’all following along at home can remember way back when we covered the previous part of this story, it ended with the 100 using a stolen Intergang computer, of Apokaliptian tech, to devise a trap for the Nymph of Night.  They also brought in Poison Ivy (!) to help put the vigilante on the spot.  Well, the device, K.A.R.L., creates a plan involving Mr. Maelyun, a $10,000 sculpture commission, and a $100 an hour modeling fee for the Thorn.  It….seems a bit of a stretch as the master plan of a supercomputer, doesn’t it?

Nonetheless, Ivy recruits Maelyun…which is pretty much her only role in this comic.  Why exactly did they bring her on?  Strangely enough, this bizarrely esoteric plan actually works, and the Rose sees the modeling ad in the paper and wishes she could get that money for charity.  Thus, her alter-ego seeks out the “artist’s” studio that night, after discovering and dispatching a gang of the 100s fences who sell guns to kids in exchange for loot from burglary jobs, all in just two panels.  I guess Kanigher wanted to add an action beat to the middle of the story, but this really feels like quite the afterthought.  The action panel isn’t as successful as last months, either, lacking any background.

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lois_lane_116_41Once at the studio, the Vixen of Vengeance just blithely trusts this supposed sculptor and allows him to pour a mold over her, which traps her as a living statue.  It is then that the 100 spring their trap, with their head man, Vince Adams, showing up to capture his quarry.  Oh, and Poison Ivy is there too.  For reasons.  However, Maelyun suddenly develops a case of Pygmalion madness and has become obsessed with his “creation”, or more accurately, ‘the human being he poured some stuff over.’  Yep, what a genius he is.  That’s definitely art that he created.  Yep….

Anyway, Adams puts an end to the hack’s objections right quick by the expedient means of a bullet, but then yet another wrinkle emerges.  Apparently K.A.R.L. is also smitten by the frozen fury, and “he” starts to blow his circuits when the killers throw the Thorn into the sea to dispose of her.  Fearing the machine is about to explode, Adams and Ivy toss him out the window as well, and on the sea floor, K.A.R.L.’s radiating heat melts the Baleful Beauty’s bonds and she swims free.  Or, almost free, as she is immediately beset by divers of the 100, who apparently really don’t do things by half measures!  She dispatches her frogmen foes with “torpedo thorns” (come on!), and surfaces, only to be confronted by a pistol wielding Poison Ivy.  Her fellow fetching floral-themed femme fatale proves no match for the Nymph of Night, however, and the Thorn escapes, leaving a waterlogged and sorrowful machine at the bottom of the ocean.

And there ends this rather odd little tale.  It’s got some fun elements, but it rather squanders the promising premise from the first issue, and it definitely wastes its guest villain!  Poison Ivy is a great character, but she gets almost nothing to do here.  Any nameless thug could have filled the same role with no discernible difference, and she adds nothing to the tale.  It’s such a waste to have these two thematically similar characters and then to do almost nothing with them together.  Add to that the fact that Ivy’s gimmicks, the marks of her character, are completely absent, and it is even worse.

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In general, the story is just too rushed.  We’ve got the artist, Poison Ivy, and the computer, all competing for page space, and none of them really get enough to matter.  The end result is rather disappointing, especially considering the strength of the premise introduced last issue.  Nonetheless, Giordano’s art remains quite good, and it is beautiful in some spots, with some really striking panels.  He just draws his female characters with an amazing amount of energy, motion, and personality.  Overall, I’ll give the tale an underwhelming 2.5 Minutemen.

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That’s a heck of a way to introduce a character!

This issue also included a reprint of a feature from Sensation Comics #94, “Dr. Pat,” which introduced a very unusual character, a hard-driving, dedicated female doctor, who we meet while she is parachuting into remote mountains to save the life of an injured man.  It’s a fascinating tale, featuring a strong female protagonist who is completely unconcerned with romance and who is also a competent, brave professional.  And she’s not brave in the usual Golden/Silver Age, ‘brave for a woman’ style, where she simply doesn’t faint when confronted with danger.  Instead, she consistently out-courages the menfolk in her stories.  In fact, there’s not a trace of the usual caveats that accompany such portrayals of strong women in this era.  I found myself astonished that this was published back in 1949!  Even the most progressive mainstream tales in 70s would usually not be so effortlessly and uncomplicatedly powerful in their portrayal of women.  This little reprint was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.


That wraps up my much, much, MUCH delayed coverage of these issues!  Hopefully y’all can all join me a little sooner than another two years from now when I will wrap up this month’s books!  I hope that you, my dear readers, found these odd and occasionally charming comics provided a wonder-filled and whimsical antidote to the dreariness and darkness of this interminable year.  Stay tuned, and until we can reconvene for our Bronze Age journey, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!  And stay safe and healthy!  Merry Christmas!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’re starting a new month of comics, and we’ve got a double douse of super stories for our survey.  I’m experimenting with formatting a bit with this post, so I welcome any feedback about the changes.  I’m changing the sizing of my images so they will mostly auto-adjust for folks viewing the site on tablets or phones.  Are any of y’all accessing it that way?  If not, are the new sizes too much for those of you still viewing on PCs?

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 performs underground nuclear test at Amchitka Island Aleutians
  • Mariner 9, 1st to orbit another planet (Mars)
  • Intel advertises 4004-processor
  • The Compton inquiry is published, acknowledging that there was ill-treatment of internees, but rejected claims of systematic brutality or torture (Northern Ireland)
  • The US increase air activity to support the Cambodian government as fighting neared Phnom Penh
  • China performs nuclear test at Lop Nor, PRC
  • Battle of Garibpur: Indian troops aided by Mukti Bahini (Bengali guerrillas) defeat the Pakistan army
  • China People’s Republic seated in UN Security Council
  • American “Dan Cooper” hijacks plane, extorts $200,000 ransom before jumping out of plane over Washington State, never seen again
  • Soviet Mars 2 becomes 1st spacecraft to crash land on Mars
  • Republic of Ireland states that it will take the allegations of brutality against the security forces in Northern Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights
  • Multiple deaths in Ireland, intentional and accidental, as IRA and security forces clash in bombings, ambushes, and sniper attacks

The Troubles in Ireland heated up this month, with the IRA stepping up attacks and the death toll rising.  The racial troubles in the U.S. seem a little quieter this month, and we see an important moment in world history, as Communist China joined the center of U.N. power, the Security Council.  This decision would have major and far-reaching consequences.  One wonders if it solved more problems than it created.  We also see tensions rising elsewhere in the world, as the early stages of the Indo-Pakistani War are taking place on the two countries’ borders.

On a more positive note, the space race continues, and man-made satellites reached mars.  The U.S. remained in the lead, with the Soviets trailing behind and the crash landing of their probe.  It’s amazing to me how much was accomplished in just a few years.

At the top of the charts this month we have two songs tied, two very different songs.  The first is Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves,” which is a pretty fun and very 70s song.  The second tune is the legendary, wonderfully funky theme song of Shaft!  As you know, he’s one bad mother-

-Shut your mouth!

-I’m talking about Shaft!

Can you dig it?


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #406
  • Adventure Comics #412
  • Batman #236
  • Brave and the Bold #98
  • Detective Comics #417
  • The Flash #210
  • Forever People #5
  • G.I. Combat #150
  • Justice League of America #94
  • New Gods #5
  • Superboy #179
  • Superman #244
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
  • World’s Finest #207

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


Action Comics #406


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“Master of Miracles”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Challenge of the Expanding World”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Alex Toth
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Ghost That Haunted Clark Kent”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Well, this is a new one.  We’ve got Clark Kent haunted by the headless ghost of Superman.  Only in comics, folks.  This is certainly a striking cover.  I mean, you can’t help but wonder what in the screaming blue blazes is going on inside, but it seems to declare a very particular type of tale awaits within, the traditional gonzo Superman yarn.  Notably, this issues is one of those rare few where the headline story is not the source of the cover, though I guess almost anything would pale in comparison, at least in the ‘what the heck’ sense, to a decapitated spectral Man of Steel.

The first story inside is actually quite solid, despite its lack of guillotined ghouls.  It begins with Clark being dispatched in his ‘rolling newsroom’ (I’m curiuos how long this thing is going to hang around) by Morgan Edge to get the scoop on a mysterious new guru known as “The Master” attracting the best and brightest minds in the country to a commune called “Sanctuary.”  Edge’s dismissive comments on communes made me laugh, as he declares “Bah! Most communes are run by dropouts from life”.  He may be a jerk, but he’s not wrong.  Well, Mr. Mild-Mannered heads out, only to find a bus of scientists on their way to meet the Master stuck trying to cross a river and in danger of being swept away by a flood.

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action-406-06-04Clark changes to Superman and rescues the imperiled pilgrims, but as he flies away with the bus, he sees the mysterious Master appear and freeze the onrushing wall of water.  The guru is cryptic and enigmatic in his speech, in classic mystical mumbo-jumbo fashion, and predicts a coming global catastrophe.  He brings the new arrivals into Sanctuary, an otherwise deserted valley, and puts them to work picking up litter.  Posing as one of the faithful, Clark decides to get a closer look.  He observes the Master gather all of the recovered glass bottles, melt them down in an instant, and form them into giant dome to serve as the shelter of Sanctuary.

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action-406-11-08When Clark tries to enter, the Master reveals that he knows the hero’s secret identity and, using “prophet power”, predicts an imminent emergency that will need Superman’s attention.  The Man of Steel rushes off to save a train full of dangerous chemicals threatened by a raging forest fire, using a tanker of carbon dioxide to smother the flames.  Yet, he laments that even this solution added to the planet’s pollution.

Determined to solve the mystery of the Master, the Metropolis Marvel heads to his Fortress of Solitude, to use its computers.  While there, he gets a message from the Bottle City of Kandor about their census computer having broken down…and he’s really sort of a jerk as he dismisses them.  action-406-12-09He uses a “blackout beam” on the bottled city to cut off communications.  That seems unnecessarily harsh!  Another “emergency” distracts the Man of Tomorrow from today’s problem, sending him rushing to Metropolis.  The problem?  Their new jets are too noisy and are breaking the windows in the city…which really doesn’t seem like a job for Superman.  Nonetheless, the Action Ace whips up a floating airport in the bay using a mothballed fleet for materials, but once again, he is left lamenting the environmental impact of humanity.

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Back in Sanctuary (you didn’t think they’d forgotten about it, did you?), the Master has melted down old cans and walks across the molten metal to display his powers, finally shaping the metal into a cone structure.  He then leads his followers into a ‘hall of learning’ made out of discarded plastics, and Superman begs to join him, saying he realizes that there is much for him to learn.  The Man of Steel even humbles himself by putting the Master’s sandals back on his feet.

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Inside the hall, the pilgrims feel the structure begin to vibrate as a video screen plays a tape of the Master claiming to be part of an alien race that had seeded humanity on Earth and has now sent him back to rescue part of the population from the coming destruction of their planet.  Superman, using X-Ray vision, realizes what is really happening, and rushes outside to confront the Master, who has combined his three structures into a rocket.  Examining the guru’s shoes, the Man of Tomorrow realizes that they are actually from Kandor.  In fact, the charlatan is also from Kandor, and he was preparing to kidnap his followers and head to another planet where he could be a superman.

Apparently, this fellow, Van-Tarr, followed Superman out of Kandor, enlarging right behind him, and then used his powers to fake the abilities of the Master.  Now, this surprised the heck out of me.  I thought that the whole point with Kandor was that Superman couldn’t enlarge them…but apparently he can and just doesn’t.  What in the world?!  If that’s the case, our hero is basically holding these people hostage!  Any of you readers know what the explanation of this is?

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Well, whether Superman is Kandor’s savor or jailer, the story ends with him saving the Master’s former followers and returning the would-be world-ruler to the bottle city and telling the story to Morgan Edge.

This is a pretty Silver Age-ish tale, in its way, with an enigmatic newcomer who has powers to rival Superman, but the mystery it develops is actually handled reasonably well.  The Master is intriguing, and I enjoyed the reversal of his supposed origin, which itself would have not been out of place in comics.  The environmental focus of the story was also interesting, with the charlatan taking advantage of people’s anxiety about pollution, which was reinforced by Superman’s own observations throughout the story.  Clearly, this topic is still very much in the zeitgeist.  Swan’s art is excellent as usual, and I particularly liked his depiction’s of the Master’s feats.  All-in-all, this is a fine, enjoyable tale.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Ghost that Haunted Clark Kent”


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So, as goofy as the cover and central image of this story are, the backup itself is not as bad as I expected.  We certainly have some truth in advertising here, as the tale starts with almost the exact scene from the cover, with Clark Kent being brought to see a headless, spectral Superman stalking the walls of the Tower of London.  He’s in town to film a TV special, and the Beefeaters at the Tower naturally called him in to see this phenomenon.  Well, the curious Clark fakes a case of the creeps in order to switch into Superman and spy on the specter.  He discovers the figure passing through walls into a sealed chamber inside the fortress, where he becomes solid.  Drilling up through the foundations of the ancient pile, the Man of Tomorrow emerges in an ancient laboratory and faces a man in a Superman costume with a very strange, almost deathly visage.

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Instead of the fight we are all likely expecting, this phantasmagoric figure introduces himself quite politely.  It turns out he is Dr. Troy Magnus, once the royal physician back in 1665, during the last great Black Plague outbreak in England, and his story is a tragic one.  He was an alchemist, and he sought a potion to cure the plague.  He tested it on himself, and it seemed to work for a time.  Then, suddenly he was gripped with fever, but instead of dying, he turned into a phantom.  After a while he became corporeal again, but he now became a typhoid Mary, passing the plague on to all of those around him.  Horrified, he begged the guards to kill him, but his body became spectral whenever he was threatened.  Desperate, the devastated doctor volunteered to be sealed up inside a wall within the fortress, where the alchemical portion has kept him alive all this time.

Whew!  Well, what does all of this have to do with Magnus dressing up like a mummy Superman?  Nothing, actually.  He wanted to attract Superman’s attention, and being a specter, was able to suss out that Clark and he were the same.  Deciding that just a crazy ghost sighting wouldn’t be enough to attract the Action Ace’s attention, he did the only logical thing…pose as a headless, ghostly version of the hero.  That is…just so weird and unnecessary.  This story would work perfectly well without this contrivance.  This is the ridiculous world of this era of Superman, though.  He’s the center of the universe, and everything relates to him.  Clearly this is one of those cases where someone came up with a cover image and scrambled to find a story to justify it.

Paper-thin excuses for a Superman connection aside, the reason the alchemist has contacted the Man of Steel is that he hopes, with all his vast powers, the Kryptonian can finally end his long life.  That’s actually rather sad, and Swan does a great job of putting some anger and desperation in Magnus’s face as he pleads with the Man of Tomorrow to kill him.  Of course, the Metropolis Marvel refuses, but he agrees to seal up some gaps in the specters sepulcher.  Yet, when he uses his heat vision to do so, he accidentally strikes a mirrored alchemical machine, and as the deathless doctor tries to save his device, he is struck…and dies!  Considering that this comes moments after him having pleaded for death, you can’t help wondering if this was an elaborate form of suicide…which is really a little uncomfortable in a book like this.  As you might imagine, Clark is devastated by having accidentally taken a life, which is a huge thing that, I’m sure, will never be mentioned again.  The story ends with the sobered superhero resealing Magnus’s tomb so his plague doesn’t harm anyone, even in death.

So, what do we make of this weirdo tale?  Well, it really isn’t a bad story in concept, despite its ridiculously contrived central image.  The tale of poor Troy Magnus is a brief but effective one, and it is quite sad seeing this noble fellow, who only wanted to help people, cursed for his efforts.  Yet, it’s all outlandish enough that it really could use more space to work, and the ghost running around in the super-suit is just silly to the point of detracting from the gravity of the story.  Most importantly, however, Dorfman’s ending, having Superman be responsible for a death without any reflection or time to process what that means, is just terrible.  I’m reminded of a previous bi-polar story by Dorfman with a similarly unnecessarily dark ending.  There could easily have been an interesting yarn here, but once again, Dorfman rather dorfs it up.  I’ll give this odd little backup 2 Minutemen.

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P.S.: This issue includes a reprint of part 1 of a really neat Atom/Flash team-up that I am sure I must have read at some point of time but can’t remember for the life of me.  It’s got great Alex Toth art and an exciting, imaginative plot.


Adventure Comics #412


“The Battle for Survival”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Bob Oksner
Editor: Joe Orlando

Animal Man: “I Was the Man With Animal Powers”
Writer: Dave Wood
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Jack Schiff

Alright, now that’s a cover designed to catch your attention, isn’t it?    We’ve got cool looking aliens, gladiatorial combat, and Supergirl with a big-honking sword.  I would have passed right by most of the Adventure covers we’ve seen so far, but this one would certainly have given me pause!  About the only problem with it is that the blue giantess that our heroine has apparently defeated looks more curious than worried about the sword poised over her heart, Damocles-style.  Well, that and the somewhat awkward placement of her figure in relation to Supergirl.  Fortunately, this exciting cover is a good match for the tale within, and if you happened to pick this comic up because of it, you probably weren’t disappointed.  The story starts with the unnecessary Nasty witnessing a really crazy scene, as she spies Supergirl stealing a painting while a horde of bizarre bugs swarm over the street!  Rushing to a phonebooth, she calls the news team, thinking to *sigh* prove Linda is the Maid of Might.  However, it is Linda herself who answers!  For the first time, Nasty actually has a reason to doubt the almost certain knowledge she’s carried, but ignored, for so many issues.

Anyway, the team arrives and finds the bug bonanza under control by the police and get footage of the insect insanity and the art gallery crime scene.  Linda manages to convince Johnny to give her the rest of the day off (I’d like hours like that!) so she can set out after her imposter.  On a nearby roof, she finds the spurious Supergirl just waiting for her.  The duplicitous doppelganger greets the Maid of Might and tells the original that she must test her, throwing a handful of explosive capsules, any one of which “is usually enough to destroy an entire city” at the young heroine!

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The Girl of Tomorrow smothers the explosives in her hand, which apparently passes the test. (Sheesh!  That seems a bit extreme, especially given what we’ll see of the stranger’s motivations later on.)  The counterfeit Kryptonian confesses that she is from the planet Liquel II and masqueraded as Supergirl to get her attention.  She then blackmails the heroine into accompanying her home, threatening the innocent inhabitants of the city if she doesn’t.

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The Girl of Steel agrees, and the pair blast off, arriving just in time for the alluring alien, Glynix, to enter Supergirl into a gladatorial contest for the fate of her world.  It seems that Glynix and her mate Largyn are the rulers of their world, but they have been challenged by a vicious tyrant named Zogg.  The cosmic equivalent of the U.N. has ordered that all conflicts be settled by combat between champions instead of wars, and the desperate Glynix forced the Maid of Might into the fight as a last resort.  We get a really silly moment where the girl suddenly realizes that, hey, maybe that wasn’t fair, but the story rushes on.  Supergirl agrees to fight, not for the rulers, but for their people, and she squares off with the big blue gal from the cover.

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Art Saaf draws a nice looking fight scene, as Supergirl battles big blue, but her first attack seems to pass right through the giant, earning her a thrashing for her trouble!  The titan tries to crush her, but the Girl of Steel is made of sterner stuff and manages to escape, though Glynix is so worries, she almost calls off the combat rather than see the heroine hurt.  In something of a leap of logic, Supergirl works out that the giantess must have hypnotized her, because clearly it is impossible that an alien could have the ability to phase out.  In a clever move, Linda uses her heat vision to blind her foe and uses that advantage to absolutely annihilate the girl gladiator.

adventure 412-14With the fight over, Glynix rushes out and gives her erstwhile champion a sword, leading Supergirl to discover that she must either finish her foe or the young ruler will pay the price instead.  As all good superheroes do, the Maid of Might finds a third way, and calls on the gathered populace to change this unjust custom.  They support her and free their leader, only to have Zogg turn their army against them.  It seemed that the cowardly Largyn never thought Supergirl could win, so he cut a deal with Zogg to keep some power.  Glynix refuses to give in, and Supergirl rescues her before Zogg can have her killed, returning to destroy the weapon’s of the tyrant’s troops in a fun scene.

Yet, the would-be world-beater is not finished yet, and he calls on a buried and outlawed superweapon to destroy the Girl of Steel.  The “shock ray” shoots Supergirl, knocking her out of the sky.  She survives, if only barely, but before Zogg can fire again, Largryn finally finds his backbone and intercedes.  The two draw knives and engage in a vicious struggle, rolling into a moat that suddenly appears, despite the fact that all of this has, until this page, been taking place inside the arena.  After a tense moment, the restored ruler emerges, having finished off his foe.  A recovered Supergirl takes her leave, and arrives home exhausted.

This is a crazy, plot-packed adventure, but it is a great kind of madness.  It is just stuffed with adventure, action, and fun.  You’ve got a whole epic story crammed into 21 pages, but it worked fairly well, with little mini-arcs for both of Liquel II’s leaders, even if Glynix’s hasn’t been thought out all the way.  The gladiator fight is great fun, and Zogg makes for a solid, scenery-chewing bad guy.  The whole thing works as a classic sci-fi super saga despite a bit of silliness here and there.  I thoroughly enjoyed its wild ride.  Art Saaf, who I don’t think I’ve encountered before, does a marvelous job with the art.  It’s bold, energetic, and really lovely, with lots of personality in the dramatis personae.  I’ll give this fun tale of a super-fracas 4 Minutemen.


And that will do it for the first post on this month’s books.  I think we’ve got a promising beginning.  I hope we’ll find the rest of our books as much fun as Supergirl!  Please join me again soon to see what Batman has in store for us this month.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a pair of super-titles to examine today, and we’ve got more super titles for the next session too!  It’s crazy that Superman had twice as many titles as Batman at this time, not counting their shared title.  Imagine that happening today, as Batman has become the face of DC Comics and WB movies, for better or worse.  It’s especially funny considering the somewhat uneven quality of the super-books compared to Batman’s titles.  Well, let’s see what this batch holds for us, 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 #405
  • Adventure Comics #411
  • Detective Comics #416
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
  • Mr. Miracle #4
  • Phantom Strange #15
  • Superboy #178
  • Superman #243
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
  • Teen Titans #35

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


Superboy #178


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“Pawn of the Monster-Maker!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Superbaby’s First Friend!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Our issue of Superboy this month has an interesting cover, promising us a Superman-bat-esq tale, complete with torch-bearing mobs.  What we actually get is much stranger.  The cover composition is suitably horror-ish and well done by Neal Adams, though Superboy’s batwing/arm is legitimately creepy to me.  Inside, we are met, not with another ill-fated experiment by Kirk (Man-Bat) Langstrom, but with Superboy traveling through space.  He visits the world Glorr, where an advanced civilization was destroyed by their own pollution, which in turn, mutated all of the plant life on the planet.

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Brown gives us some pretty cool alien lifeforms in the one panel of this we see.  When he arrives home, the Boy of Steel responds to an emergency at a movie studio where a giant mechanical monster has gone haywire.  We get a pretty cool two page spread of the Youth of Tomorrow battling the two-headed dragon, though the hero’s off the charts powers, of which we are reminded, rob the moment of any suspense or drama.

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Strangely, during the fight, Superboy’s hands suddenly become reptilian.  The transformation is brief, and the restored Kryptonian puts out the fire, meeting the director who created the mechanical menace once that is done.  Jan Milo, monster movie-maker supreme tells the young champion that this massive mechanism was going to be the heart of his new picture, which was going to restore his fortunes.  He gives the Boy of Steel a tour of his studio, introducing him to some of his famous movie monsters, which once again have sort of neat designs.  Clark is rather rude and tells the director that his day is done and that monster movies have gone out of style, but the auteur is adamant.

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Later on, Superboy responds to a number of emergencies, but each time he does, he transforms into a monster and causes destruction before coming back to himself.  He repairs the damage he causes, but people begin to fear him.  First he turns into something evoking Frankenstein’s Monster, then King Kong, the Wolfman, and an insectoid creature.  At first the Boy of Steel thinks this might have something to do with Glorr, but he eventually comes to suspect Milo might somehow be behind it, as the director and his cameraman show up at each of these disasters.

We discover that Milo is in fact the mastermind, and his assistant has invented an “ultra-morph ray” which, with a red-Kryptonite lens, projects an image over Superboy, somehow causing him to transform into that image….sure.  Why not?  The pair are out to gather material for Milo’s comeback monster epic, and their latest and last ploy is to turn Superboy into a Super-Bat.  Yet, before they can make their attempt, as Super-Bat attacks them!  How can this be?  Well, Superboy has fooled them with a projector of his own, having spied on them with X-Ray vision.  He teaches the two a lesson and hauls them off to the police.

This is a very silly and forgettable story, though it reminds me of the classic Silver Age trope of superheroes getting involved in the movies.  It seems like everyone got into that act back in the day, Batman, Superman, Aquaman, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and many more.  Those stories tend to be charming and fun, while this one, unfortunately, is just goofy instead.  The red herring of the mutated world was an interesting storytelling feint, but there isn’t much made of it, and the crazed director turned nascent supervillain is a silly concept, even for Superboy.  It’s not a terrible yarn, but it isn’t a particularly good one either.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  Seeing the Boy of Steel turn into various was fun, but that’s about all you can say for it.  Notably, we have here another instance of environmentalism appearing in comics, with the mention of the world destroyed by pollution, but as this turns out to be a red herring, that is little more than set dressing.

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“Superbaby’s First Friend”


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Ohh…another Superbaby story…yay?  Just to add to the usual level of crazy for these tales, this one features a completely unexplained witch-baby as well who befriends our little super-scamp.  Geoff Brown really pulled this one out of left field.  It begins with the Kents going camping, and little Clark is gleefully tearing through the forest…literally!  Sheesh, apparently even toddler Superman is occasionally prone to ‘Superdickery‘.  Ma and Pa get on to their rambunctious youngster and tell him to rein in the superpowers because someone might see him.  However, the Kryptonian kid isn’t the only super-powered child vacationing at this random national park.  There’s also a family of…*sigh*….witches, who have a young son around Clark’s age.  The two tots meet and are each thrilled to find someone else who can do the things they can do.  They take turns showing off and flying around.

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Just then, a couple of robbers head through the park, and when they see the soaring super-kids, they panic and wreck their car….over a cliff!  The terrific tots save the pair and their car, but the men are so stunned that they just assume they were hallucinating.  After all, who would believe something so insane?  They continue with their operation, recovering the stolen loot they had hidden at the bottom of the park’s lake.  The kids decide that they should help to make up for scaring the men and raise the huge golden statue they stole from the bottom of the lake.  Now, this raises some questions about how in the world these two guys managed to steal, transport, and hide this thing in the first place, but Brown has sillier things to do than answer sensible questions like that!

The thieves yell at the super friends, who fly off in tears, but they quickly recover and return to playing, accidentally whipping up a giant wave of bubbles on the lake, leading the robbers to become lost and the Kents and the witch-family to take off, each thinking their child alone was responsible.  Neither set of parents believes their super-powered offspring when they tell them about their new friend, and when the authorities respond to the bubble-lanche, they discover the two thieves and their loot.

As far as Superbaby stories go, this one isn’t that bad.  The kids’ antics are mildly entertaining, and their completely unconscious thwarting of the thieves is somewhat funny.  Still, how utterly crazy is it that Brown introduces this random family of witches without any explanation or background.  I’m pretty sure the magical kid is never heard from again, which contributes to this being a pretty forgettable little yarn.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen, as despite the fact that it isn’t too bad, it loses a step because of the continued use of the incredibly asinine baby-talk all of these tales seem to feature.

Both of these stories feature Bob Brown’s artwork, and he does a very solid job throughout.  His designs for the background monsters in Superboy are creative and interesting.  In fact, I’d have rather seen a story featuring them!  He produces some really nice pages and panels, with Superboy’s fight against the two-headed dragon looking particularly god.  He also create charming, bright artwork for the Superbaby adventure, turning in an all-around solid-looking comic.

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Superman #243


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“The Starry-Eyed Siren of Space!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“The Death-Trails of Krypton!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

We’ve got quite the romantic cover for this month’s Superman, and you’d think for a moment that someone mixed up the art for Lois Lane and Superman.  Now, don’t tell Lois, but that ain’t her getting smooched by the Lips of Steel!  Fortunately, the tale inside is not as much ‘lonely hearts’ as the cover indicates.  The image itself is really quite good for what it is, a striking composition, though I have to wonder what the heck is going on with Superman’s cape!  There isn’t much to it, of course, and I wonder if Julie Schwartz was nervous about putting out a Superman book with nothing but a kiss on the cover, especially because it isn’t really representative of the tale within.  The actual story is a much more conventional Super-saga than we might expect from the lip-lock that greets us on the outside.

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A supernova, why that tickles!

It starts with the Man of Steel returning from a mission in space when a star unexpectedly explodes, buffeting our hero and sending him hurtling through the cosmos.  And here begins the pretty ridiculous and literally astronomical power levels depicted in this story.  I guess the de-powering of Denny O’Neil’s run really didn’t last long at all.  We are now one issue on, and already the star-juggling Superman is back.  Thus, a supernova is just a mild inconvenience to our hero.  After the star-shaking explosion, he finds himself in unfamiliar skies and then is drawn inexorably to and through an unknown planet.  As he burrows into the world’s interior, he discovers a Star Trek style advanced being, except this one is a brain in a pyramid (almost a brain in a jar) rather than an energy being.  The brain introduces himself as Kond and tells the Man of Tomorrow that he drew the Kryptonian to the cavern in order to get his help.

Apparently Kond is a super-evolved being who long ago left his physical form behind, along with his mate, Rija, but she got bored with being a brain in a jar (how could such a thing happen?!) and made herself a physical form in order to enjoy corporeal experiences again.  Kond is worried about her and wants the Metropolis Marvel to bring her back, and in exchange, the superbeing promises to give Superman the means to end war, hunger, disease, and poverty on Earth.  Disease and hunger, sure, but one wonders what even a superbeing could give someone that would put an end to activities caused BY human beings without abrogating free will.  Nonetheless, Kal agrees, pointing out that he would do with it even without being ‘paid,’ which is fitting.

On the surface, Superman quickly discovers Rija, but she is being menaced by a skeletal dinosaur!  Quickly rescuing the girl, the Man of Steel finds defeating the monster more difficult, as it reforms when he smashes it.  Finally, he flings it into space, and the grateful girl, wants to thank him and experience a little romance at the same time.  She modeled her physical form on that of the crew of a passing ship, and the Man of Tomorrow realizes she is a “Starry-Eyed Siren of Space,” because of course she has, and he can’t resist her charms, leading to our cover-kiss.  superman_243_12Unfortunately, Kond is observing this super-necking and becomes insanely jealous.  He creates a body for himself based on Superman’s and attacks the unwitting love-slave.  Using both his newfound Kryptonian might and his own mental powers, Kond almost destroys the hero and returns to Rija, only to discover the she has come to regret her moment of weakness.  Like almost any woman in a comic from the Silver Age, she just wanted to make her paramour jealous.

While she weeps and wishes for death (!), thinking that Kond has been so hurt he has taken off, the couple is attacked by an energy being (there it is!  I knew there had to be one in this story).  Kond jumps to defend his lady love, but every attack just splits the creature in two.  Finally, a recovered Superman intercedes, using his super-breath to suck the oxygen away from Rija…killing her!  Well, at least for a moment.  The Man of Steel has realized that Rija was actually creating these menaces with her subconscious, and as this one was created by her desire for death, allowing her to ‘die’ for a moment ended the threat.  Shades of Forbidden Planet!

Fortunately, Kond quickly revives Rija and the soulmates reunite.  The superbeings honor their agreement and give Superman four flasks that will somehow end war, hunger, poverty, sickness.  Once again, one wonders.  However, when the Man of Tomorrow tries to return home, he realizes that the supernova actually blew him into yesterday….or a few million yesterdays ago.  He jumps through the time barrier and back into the modern day, but unfortunately, the stresses of the journey destroy the flasks, leaving the world still very much in need of a Superman.

The slightly melancholy ending, with Superman realizing that this shortcut out of the “neverending battle” isn’t going to work after all, is a nice touch, but it isn’t really earned by the rest of the story.  Bates’ little moment of characterization feels more like an afterthought than anything else.  The rest of his story is relatively effective, a decent little sci-fi adventure, though it’s nothing special.  The whole thing has a very Star Trek-ish feel to it, from the advanced beings, the romancing of alien women, and the energy creatures.  Another blogger has pointed out that Kond and Rija bear a striking resemblance to The Providers, the alien overlords in the original Star Trek episode, “Gamesters of Triskelion”.  It seems likely that Cary Bates was watching some Star Trek reruns while penning this comic.  I’ll give the uninspiring but inoffensive result an average 3 Minutemen.  As usual, Swan and Anderson turn in a solid job on the art, though there are some particularly nice moments scattered throughout.

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“The Death-Trails of Krypton!”


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We get another “Fabulous World of Krypton tale in the backup slot this month, which is always a treat, and this one is no exception.  It’s a quick but imaginative little yarn about the first man on Krypton to fly…with dire consequences!  It starts with a father and son examining strange green trails in the Kryptonian sky.  The father explains to his boy that these are the trails of Trolius, and their origins are wrapped in mystery stretching back thousands of years.  Fortunately, we can solve that mystery, and the readers are drawn back in time to see a young Kryptonain inventor, Dol-Nd, who is preparing to test his powered artifical wings, which have a cool design thanks to Bob Brown.  The young man throws himself off of a cliff, which seems rather drastic for a first test, but fortunately, after a little adjustment, he gets the hang of his wings and soars through the air.  Not so fortunate, however, is the unexpected side effect of his flight.  The wings have left behind alarming green trails in the sky.

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Dol-Nd built his flying harness with the help of a previously undiscovered crystal he found shooting out of geothermal vents in the area, a crystal with massive energy potential, enabling it to power the engine of the wings.  The element, Trolium, which he named after the sky god, Trolius (a nice bit of world building) proves to be unstable, giving off deadly radiation when activated.  Thus, Dol-Nd concludes that he can never risk flying again.

Unfortunately, an escaped criminal has observed his test flight and is quick to attack the inventor and steal his flying harness, taking to the skies in a journey that might well doom the planet!  The quick-thinking young scholar lures the thief down into range with a bag of jewels, pretending to offer them in ransom for the wings, only to smash them into the ground, triggering an explosion of steam and Trolium, which batter the Kryptonian Icarus (though I suppose he got burned by going too low rather than too high) out of the sky.  Once again, Bob Brown turns in a really nice sequence here.  The story ends with poor Dol-Nd sending his wondrous wings flying towards space where they could do no more harm.

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This is another fun little glimpse into the science fantasy world of Krypton, and it is a limited but nicely imaginative one at that.  Bob Brown brings some nice energy and creativity to the art, while Murphy Anderson’s inks bring his pencils in line with Swan’s, creating some continuity between the two features.  Bates manages to cram his complete story in these six pages…just barely, though we’re left without any characterization and without a spare moment.  I’ll give this pleasant little story a solid 3 Minutemen.

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And like Dol-Nd’s wings, we have come to the end of this stage of our little journey.  These were a decent but unexceptional pair of books.  Fortunately, though we had to endure some Superbaby silliness, we also got to enjoy some World of Krypton wonders.  That’s the give and take that makes the project work and keeps me sane!  I have to admit, though, I’m rather disappointed that O’Neil’s partial depowering of Superman didn’t last a bit longer.  We may yet see other scribes return to the idea, but it is clearly business as usual this month.  Well, I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and that y’all will join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 1)

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Hello friends and Internet travelers, and welcome to the start of a new month of Bronze Age comics!  We begin September 1971 with these two books, and once again the Super Family leads off, though the stories themselves might not quite live up to that moniker.  Let’s find out as we journey further Into the Bronze Age!

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 Irish Republican Army set off a number of bombs, causing damage and injuries across Ireland
  • Qatar regains complete independence from Britain
  • Watergate team breaks into Daniel Ellsberg’s doctor’s office
  • A baby girl and several soldier are killed in separate shooting incidents in Northern Ireland
  • Alaskan 727 crashes into Chilkoot Mountain, kills 109
  • British Prime Minister Edward Heath meets with Irish Prime Minister/Taoiseach Jack Lynch at Chequers in England to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland
  • William Craig and Ian Paisley speak at a rally in Belfast before a crowd of approximately 20,000 people and call for the establishment of a ‘third force’ to defend ‘Ulster’
  • 1,000 convicts riot & seize Attica, NY prison, leading to the deaths of 11 guards & 31 prisoners
  • John Lennon releases his “Imagine” album
  • Two North Ireland Loyalists are mortally injured when the bomb they were preparing exploded prematurely in Belfast
  • 6 Ku Klux Klansmen arrested in connection with bombing of 10 school buses
  • Momofuku Ando markets the first Cup Noodle, packaging it in a waterproof polystyrene container
  • US performs nuclear tests at Nevada Test Site
  • 90 Russian diplomats expelled from Britain for spying
  • MP David Bleakley resigns in protest over the introduction of Internment and the lack of any new political initiatives by the Northern Ireland government

It looks like this was a tempestuous month in 1971, with the Troubles in Ireland escalating and the death-toll rising.  We also see the opening moves of the Watergate scandal taking place, though these events wouldn’t come to light until later.  This month also saw the infamous riot at Attica prison, which proved bloody and traumatic.  This is an event that would loom large in the memory of the decade.  Notably, it seems that the domestic terrorist group, The Weathermen, got involved in the action, launching a retaliatory bombing during the conflict, because there’s nothing like blowing up innocent people to accomplish your goals!  We’ve also got more domestic troubles on the list, with continuing racial conflict in the form of the activities of the KKK.  It’s a bleak, grim time, and that’s for sure.  I imagine that the adventures of some colorful superheroes were a welcome escape for some.  I know how they felt.

On top of the charts this month was Donny Osmond’s “Go Away Little Girl,” the sweet innocence of which stands in pretty stark contrast to the events of the day.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Action Comics #404


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“Kneel to Your Conqueror, Superman!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Specter of 3000-Moons Lake!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Coward and the Hero”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Day They Killed Clark Kent”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got rather exceptionally yellow cover on this month’s Action issue, and Neal Adams makes the Roman-esq figure in the center look rather like Superman, which makes the scene a tad confusing.  Still, it’s a solid if unimpressive representation of the tale within, though the yellow isn’t terribly attractive.  As for the story in question, it’s a fairly forgettable one, starting with Clark Kent getting an assignment to do a story on a government think tank.  On the way to the coastal facility, an earthquake strikes, and Superman goes into action, shoring up the cavern underneath the building.  Yet, when he arrives at the lab, instead of finding the scientists panicked, he finds that they were expecting him to arrive and save the day precisely when he did.  This was all predicted by a genius named Caesar, who plugs into a massive computer and runs calculations, forming the basis for much of their research.

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action-404-08-06 - CopyIt turns out that this fellow, Rufus Caesar, is a major fan of the Man of Steel, and he invites the hero back to his home to view some of his awards.  Once there, the Action Ace sees that the scientist has a big collection of Superman memorabilia.  Apparently, the fellow is not only a fan, he idolizes the hero.  Things take a turn for the creepy when Caesar has the Metropolis Marvel try on a piece of a salvaged Superman robot, only to reveal that it is a trap, which paralyzes the Kryptonian.

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Plugging the helpless hero into a strange machine, Caesar begins to siphon away his powers one by one, declaring that he has admired Superman for so long that he now wants to be him.  Unlike the Man of Tomorrow, this sinister scientist will use such powers to make himself the ruler of the world.

Despite his butler’s misgivings, Caesar carries on with the procedures, testing his newfound abilities as he gets them.  Yet, using stolen vision powers, Caesar discovers a cable-car nearby that is in danger of falling.  After trying to fly through the wall before getting invulnerability, he decides to finish the job before going to the rescue.

 

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Super Head-Trauma!

Donning a custom-made costume, he becomes “Super Caesar” (how creative), and plugs into his machine once more.  Yet, things don’t go as he planned, as Superman, who has been resisting the energy drain all this time, suddenly gives in, and the power flowing into Caesar’s body is far too much for his mortal frame to hold.  In a panic, the butler reverses the device, and the powers flow back into their rightful owner, who rushes off to save the cable-car.  When he returns, the Action Ace discovers that “Super Caesar” has become “Super Vegetable,” as the machine fried his brain!  In a rather macabre coda, this makes for a great story for Clark Kent, and Morgan Edge is pleased by the scoop.

So, this is a rather uninspiring rehash of the ‘someone steals Superman’s powers’ bit.  It’s fine and inoffensive, but it isn’t terribly compelling either.  There are some interesting elements here, like the fact that the fellow’s turn towards evil springs out of his obsessive hero-worship of the Man of Steel and the butler’s reticence, but Dorfman makes little of these highlights.  That’s a shame, because there is a good dramatic potential in a character who is as much a symbol as Superman dealing with the dangers of hero-worship.  We do get further evidence about the deplorable state of higher education in the DC Universe.  I know grad school tends to scar folks, but what must be going on at the universities in this setting where every third PhD decides they want to rule the world?  Maybe I’m being too hard on them.  After all, I know plenty of PhDs, and some of them are none too stable.  Perhaps the real difference is that in the DCU they actually have the technology to allow them to do it!  Either way, I suppose such ruminations have caused me to wander from the point.  I’ll give this story an average score of 3 Minutemen.

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“The Day They Killed Clark Kent”


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Our backup this month is another tale of the college Clark Kent, and this one is a fun and unusual offering.  The theme of this collegiate yarn?  Hazing, of all things!  It begins with Clark interrupting the rowdiest frat on campus hazing a kid he knows named Dave.  The poor schlub is tied to a chair having his face covered in shaving cream, and Clark decides to intervene while making it look like an accident, pretending to slip on the shaving cream and smacking each of the offending frat boys in the process.  It’s a funny little scene, though, I have to say, if this is the worst frat’s idea of hazing, Dave is getting off easy!  I’ve seen much worse in my time.

Dave is none too thankful for the rescue, and when the “brothers” approach him, wanting to prank the mild-mannered journalism student, he agrees.  Of course, privacy is nothing to Superboy, who eavesdrops on the conversation and is ready for their antics.  When the boys ask him to join the group and show up for some harmless initiation ceremonies, he is prepared.

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The punks put their victim in a movable platform and tell him he’s on a pirate ship (rather imaginative for frat boys, really).  They throw sand in his face and hit him with a fan, but Clark uses the confusion of the prank to use a bit of super breath to wreck their frat house and make them think it was their own fan.  Next, they try to make him walk the plank into a tub of water, but the Teen of Steel drives it right through the floor!  Finally, they get Dave to use a cattle prod on the blindfolded boy!  Now that’s definitely hazing!

Clark fakes being electrocuted by a short-circuit and stops his heart, causing the prank-happy punks to panic and leave him there, possibly dead.  Planning to capture them as Superboy and let them sweat about having killed someone (!), the Campus Marvel observes Dave rally the other morons and bring them back to help their victim.  Clark pretends to come to, and the little episode comes to a happy conclusion as the frat boys clean up their acts and convert their party pad into a study area to help struggling students.  That’s quite a switch, but I’m wondering if these knuckleheads are really the ones you’d want tutoring you!

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So, this fun little college adventure definitely has the feel of an adult trying to write about youthful antics, but it manages to be fun despite that, and it actually delivers a worthwhile if clunky moral about the problem of hazing.  Now, as someone who teaches undergraduates and has seen plenty in his day, I can tell you that this remains a problem, and a serious one, despite the fact American culture tends to think of it as harmless fun.  In fact, I imagine it has probably gotten worse, despite attempts by institutions to crack down on the practices, and let me tell you, the fairly innocuous pranks in this comic don’t hold a candle to the kind of insane and simply stupid stuff kids get up to these days.

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In general, I’ve found Greek Life to be an overall detriment to campuses and students, and hazing is just one part of that.  To my mind, the negatives of these groups far outweigh the positives.  I can’t tell you how many struggling students have confessed to prioritizing asinine fraternity or sorority activities over their coursework or who get wrapped up in the poisonous drinking culture centered on these groups.  Anyway, I seem to have wandered afield from the fairly innocent story at hand here.  I’ll give this silly but entertaining little tale 3 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #410


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“The Nature of the Beast!”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Joe Orlando

“The Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires”
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Penciler: John Forte
Inker: John Forte
Letterer: Milt Snapinn
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Ruler Without a Planet”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inker: Vince Colletta

We’ve got a couple of rather odd Supergirl yarns this month, and in an unusual switch, the cover story is not our lead feature.  It is a solid enough design, a surprising image, well rendered, and it represents its tale well.  Yet, our first adventure, strangely enough, would have made for a much better and more exciting image, as it features some really cool looking monsters.  Why pass up creepy creatures for a kid?  Either way, the story in question, begins with Linda Danvers visiting Nasty Luthor at her new apartment.  The scheming femme fatale is trying to convince Linda to be her roommate so that she can spy on her and prove that she is Supergirl.  *sigh*  This again?  I was hoping this incredibly stupid plot thread would be dropped when Sekowsky left the book!  Unfortunately, that’s not the only stupid moment this issue.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of why Linda would even begin to consider rooming with her nemesis, something much more interesting interrupts the conversation, as the Maid of Might observes the man next door being attacked by a pair of really nicely designed bird-men!  Making her excuses about having a hair appointment, the mild-mannered maiden dashes off, only to return as Supergirl and burst in to tackle the monsters.  She makes short work of them, but her superpowers fade out again just as she pursues them out the window.

adventurecomics410p08She notes that she’s not wearing her power devices, which were designed for just such a situation!  There’s no explanation, no editorial note, just a big dose of idiot-ball powered stupidity to create some drama as she desperately clings to the avian antagonists, only to fall helplessly before snagging a ledge at the last minute.  It’s a fine adventure sequence, but it’s catalyst is just moronic.  Anyway, back in the apartment, Nasty responds to the commotion and finds the victim of the attack, Mike Merrick, who is in full 70s sleaze mode from the first moment he wakes up.  Thinking Nasty has somehow chased away his attackers and seemingly completely unperturbed by being assaulted by six foot tall talking canaries, Mike asks Nasty out to dinner.  When Linda shows up, feeling a bit jealous about her nemesis getting the credit, he asks her too.  That can’t end badly.

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Mike takes the two ladies out dancing, but he ignores Nasty all night and just dances with Linda, which is sort of a jerk move in general but especially if he thinks the former saved his life!  On the way home, they are kidnapped by another pair of bird-men, who call Mike “the evil-one.”  They carry them far out to sea and deposit them on an island inhabited by more of their kind.  There the squawking chief of the tribe tells the story.  Apparently these monsters are no natural occurrence but poor natives, mutated by the cruel experiments of a scientist, who was helped by…Mike Merrick!  The chirping-chief also claims Merrick stole a sacred jewel from their idol and killed the scientist to keep it for himself.  Linda is horrified that her handsome date could be so cold-blooded.

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Mike refuses to return the gem, claiming innocence, but the atavistic avians are having none of it.  They strap Linda to a cross and tow her to the central volcano, threatening to throw her in unless her paramour cracks.  Finally, Mike gives in, and he tells them where to find the jewel.  Yet, the mutant natives lock the couple up nonetheless.  While imprisoned, the disguised Maid of Might confronts her date about the accusations against him, and he continues to claim innocence, saying he didn’t know about the experiments and that the professor’s death was an accident.  Suddenly, the treasure thief tosses a lit match into the hay in their cell, creating a blaze and luring a guard in where he can grab him.  Selflessly, Mike holds off their creepy captors, allowing Linda to escape.

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Fortunately for him, she changes to Supergirl and rescues him, only to run out of power and plunge into the ocean because she still isn’t wearing her devices.  Mike pulls her from the waves and reveals to her unconscious form that he knows her secret (which, realistically, he would almost have to after Supergirl’s arrival on this remote island, just as Linda disappeared), but that he lied about where he hid the treasure.  With a stolen kiss, he heads out on the lamb, knowing she’ll try to hunt him down.

The end…What?  You want to know what happened to the innocent natives who were turned into monsters after being subjected to inhuman experiments?  Well, too bad, there is star-crossed romance afoot!  Seriously, Joe Albano just completely drops that plot, ignoring the plight of the real victims of this story, which is a shame, because that is vastly more interesting than anything else happening in this book.  Despite that, and despite the stupidity of Supergirl just forgetting to wear her life-saving exo-frame and flight ring, this isn’t a bad read.  Mike Merrick is an interesting character in the little we see of him, a bad boy to whom Supergirl is obviously attracted in the way women are often attracted to jerks, but one who does have some scruples and who has a certain adventurous daring that is admirable.  Essentially, he’s Supergirl’s distaff (technically “spear”) version of Catwoman.  If we were introduced to him more as Indiana Jones and less as Casanova, this would be a stronger tale.

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And that is really the problem with this yarn.  The focus is consistently on the wrong notes, or at least, the right notes are dropped while trying to cram too much story into 14 pages.  If this had been a book-length tale, I imagine it would have been a good deal stronger.  There are still some fun and interesting ideas here, not least the dynamic between Supergirl and Mike.  The love triangle with them and Nasty is sort of funny, but the real highlight of the book is the reversal Albano pulls off with the monsters being the victims of the tale, while still remaining antagonists.  Those bird-men are wonderfully designed and drawn too, with great detail and a wonderful sense of reality by Bob Oskner, whose work I don’t really know.  He does a solid job with the rest of the book, but I really love these anthropomorphic avians.  They have an animalistic quality in movement and mannerism that is impressive and rather unusual.  They remind me a bit of the “monkey-birds” from The Pirates of Dark Water.  With art that is better than its writing, I’ll give this story 3 Minutemen, as it intrigued me, even as it frustrated me.

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“The Ruler Without a Planet”


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Our backup is, sadly, not a new Legion story.  Our dose of Legion legends this month is just a reprint.  Instead, we get another somewhat half-baked Supergirl adventure.  It begins in dynamic enough fashion, with a massive monkey (really an ape, but who’s counting bananas?) who is reenacting King Kong in downtown.  He smashes through a  wall, and, when Supergirl arrives, gives her a belt for her troubles.  She manages to knock out the big ape, notably thinking about not wanting to hurt him but reasoning that, while she can disable him without permanent damage, the police would have to kill him.  That is a small but pleasant piece of characterization.

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Suddenly a fire breaks out, and just as she goes to use her superbreath, the Maid of Might’s powers putter out.  Just then, a little girl steps in and uses her own dose of superbreath to extinguish the blaze.  The powerfully precocious little poppet tells Supergirl that she’s an alien with superpowers who accidentally took off in her step-father’s ship, landing on Earth shortly before the craft exploded.  The girl, Judy, demonstrates other powers when the Girl of Steel balks, and she requests to be the hero’s assistant, while revealing that she knows the Kryptonian’s secret identity.

Supergirl takes this all way too much in stride and happily inducts the flying five-year-old into superheroing.  I know there’s a tradition in comics of kid crime fighters, but this is just excessive!  Super powers or not, if a kid isn’t old enough to tie their shoe, they probably shouldn’t be capturing crooks!  The tone of this whole insane episode is just crazily casual, as the two go on to have various adventures.  Apparently Linda just sort of adopts Judy (one wonders how she explains having a flying, super recognizable child just show up living with her in her secret identity.

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“I guess I’m your mother now?”

adventurecomics410p45 - CopyThings change one night when Judy is contacted telepathically by her step-father, who reveals that this was all actually just a set-up, and he sent her to Earth to eliminate heroes like Supergirl.  He tells the child that kindness is weakness and only strength matters, brow-beating the little girl into carrying out his plan.  Yet, when Judy goes to murder the sleeping Supergirl, she can’t do it.  In response, her step-father removes her powers and tries to zap her from space.  Fortunately, the Maid of Might intervenes and takes off after his craft, only to watch helplessly as the Air Force jets shoot him down!  So as not to upset the child soldier, Linda tells her that her step-father got away, and together they watch his ship’s fiery death, pretending it is a falling star.

Whoa, heavy ending for a cute, silly little story.  Once again, Albano just doesn’t really develop his plot and leaves a major detail hanging.  This one, however, is a point that really can’t be ignored.  As of the end of this tale, Supergirl still has a little girl living with her.  What in the world is she going to do with her?  The wiki seems to imply that Judy returns at some point in time, but having looked ahead, it seems that she completely drops out of the strip.  This whole episode feels like a Silver Age comic or a particularly poorly thought-out Zaney Haney offering.  There’s not enough space given to the story for it to have much an impact, and while Judy’s choosing kindness over ruthlessness is sort of sweet, it all happens so quickly that it doesn’t have much weight.  I suppose I’ll give this silly little story 2 Minutemen.  It just doesn’t quite work.

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P.S.: This issue is notable for being the debut of Supergirl’s primary 70s costume, which, interestingly enough, was actually designed by a fan, which has been true of several of her costumes.  Fun!  The costume itself is incredibly 70s, almost as 70s as her 80s costume is 80s (one word: headband).  It’s not a bad look, really, being simple and recognizable, though it isn’t my favorite of her looks.  It’s also a bit too much of its time, and I generally prefer more timeless, iconic costumes.  I think such designs better capture the archetypal power of superheroes.

 


And with those issues finished, so is this post.  There are some interesting seeds planted with this month’s Supergirl tales, and I’ll be curious to see if anything comes of them.  I’m also curious if there was any particular instance of hazing in the zeitgeist at the time that might have lead to the college Clark story.  Whatever the case, I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentaries and that y’all will join me again soon for the next step in our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 1)

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Hello dear readers!  As we near Thanksgiving here in the U.S., we should take some time to think about all of the blessings that we enjoy, to focus on being thankful for what we have.  That can be something of a challenge these days, with so much seeming to go wrong in the world, but that makes it all the more important.  I for one, am very thankful for bombastic Bronze Age adventures!  There is a lot of imaginative joy in these old books, and in addition to the many blessings for which I am thankful, I am also glad to have the opportunity to share some classic comics with you Internet travelers!  Welcome to the beginning of August 1971!

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:

  • George Harrison’s concert for Bangladesh takes place in NYC
  • Paul McCartney founds Wings
  • US launches 1st satellite into lunar orbit from manned spacecraft
  • 3rd San Diego Comic-Con International opens
  • Apollo 15 returns to Earth
  • A Catholic man is shot a British soldier in Belfast and a British soldier is killed by the IRA
  • France performs nuclear test at Mururoa atoll
  • Operation Demetrius (or Internment) is introduced in Northern Ireland allowing suspected terrorists to be indefinitely detained without trial; the security forces arrested 342 people suspected of supporting paramilitaries
  • Irish political parties announce civil disobedience in response to internments
  • During the internment round-up operation in west Belfast, the Parachute Regiment kill 11 unarmed civilians in what became known as the Ballymurphy massacre
  • Bahrain proclaims independence after 110 years of British rule
  • President Nixon announces a 90 day price freeze
  • FBI begins covert investigation of journalist Daniel Schorr
  • Bolivian military coup under col Hugo Banzer, pres Torres driven out
  • J. Edgar Hoover and John Mitchell announce the arrest of 20 of the “Camden 28”
  • Irish leaders present cases of British brutality to the U.N., leading to an investigation
  • The US dollar is allowed to float against the Japanese yen for the first time

Another very eventful month, and unfortunately most of those events are fairly tragic ones.  The Troubles in Ireland continue apace, and we are getting closer to some of the worst times of the conflict there.  We’re also getting closer to Nixon’s downfall with Watergate, though the events that lead up to that momentous occurrence were largely unknown at the time.  Looking back at history does help to put the problems of the present into perspective, at least.

The song at the top of the charts this month was “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” by the Bee Gees, which I’d never heard before.  It surprised the heck out of me, because it sounded nothing like the Bee Gees I knew.  What an interesting discovery!  I guess they probably had a ways to go before they became the band I know.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


Action Comics #403


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“Attack of the Micro-Murderer”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Man With the X-Ray Mind”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Impossible Legend”
Writer: Dick Wood
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Bob Brown

“When Krypto Was Superboy’s Master”
Writer: George Kashdan
Penciler: George Papp
Inker: George Papp
Editor: Mort Weisinger

 We’ve got a reasonably dramatic cover for this issue, though the image can’t convey its message alone, which always seems like a bit of a failure of visual storytelling to me.  The story it represents is an unusual one, goofy, but with a certain sweet earnestness that I enjoyed.  It begins with, of all things, cave men, an executioners, a firing squad, and a hanging, each one representing the ignoble ends, far separated in time, of the same being.  How can this be?  Well, we discover the answer to that in the modern day, when in a fair double-page spread, an airborne thief crashes his helicopter into a radio tower while being pursued by Superman.  The dying villain gasps out that he is a Zontt, who will be endlessly reincarnated, and promises he’ll be back in the future to get his revenge.

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Checking his computer at the Fortress of Solitude, the Man of Steel discovers that the criminal’s last threat was no idle boast, and that there really are such things as Zontts (though how he would have records of that fact is conveniently glossed over).  Apparently they’re spirits that occupy a new host each time their current one dies, but they only have 24 hours to find their next victim.  Continuing the convenient exposition, the Kryptonian’s computer also just happens to tell him that the only element the creatures can’t penetrate is sulfur.  I’m sure that won’t be relevant later.

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Speaking of later, the next morning, Clark is sitting at his desk when it suddenly explodes, uncovering his costume and revealing a small cylinder which plays a prerecorded message…from the future!  It’s from the Zontt, who tells him that he’s in the future and will kill many innocents unless the Man of Tomorrow lives up to his name and joins him in the year 3486.  Not one to let an obvious trap stop him, the Metropolis Marvel speeds off to that date, only to uncover a woman of the future who had died moments ago, clearly the Zontt’s previous host.  Suddenly, the hero is gripped with pain, and he realizes that the creature is trying to get its revenge.  Thankfully, the Zontt can’t help boasting retroactively, so a video plays that explains the situation, revealing that the woman was a microbiologist and the spirit used her to create a super microbe to infect the Man of Steel, a microbe that is now its new host, making it even more powerful.

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Growing sicker by the moment, Superman returns to the present and tries to seek help from Kryptonian science in Kandor, only to realize that the bug won’t shrink when he does, a discovery that nearly kills him.  Trying another desperate plan, the Metropolis Marvel takes to television, pleading to the people of his own city to help him beat the bug.  He asks them to donate a huge amount of blood so that he can flush his system and, hopefully, flush out the microbe.  Now, this almost makes sense, if you don’t think about it too hard.  When you do, it becomes pretty silly.

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What follows is really the heart of the story, as Metropolis turns out in record numbers to help their hero, with even the weak and the elderly insisting on doing their part to help.  Lois herself gives until the doctors won’t let her give anymore.  Finally, the Man of Steel is hooked up to a massive transfusion device and has all of that blood pumped through him, but it fails to flush out the intelligent microbe!  Growing weaker by the moment, Superman takes his leave and begins to put his affairs in order.  Notably, there is a continuity gaffe here, as Bates places Supergirl as still at college, rather than having graduated.

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In another nice little moment, the U.S. creates a tribute to the defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, with an S-Shield created from the lights of different towns that night.  The art doesn’t really succeed in capturing the scene, but it’s still a nice idea.  Finally, Superman heads out into space to a tomb he’s chosen on an asteroid.  Thus, as Superman is dying and the spirit emerges from the microbe to find another host, it instead finds itself marooned in space, millions of miles away from any other life form.

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In a bit of irony, the Zontt is then surprised by a per-recorded message of its own, this one from Superman.  The recording declares that the being will die unless it returns to the Kryptonian’s body and saves his life.  With no choice, the Zontt rushes back to the stricken form, only for it to be revealed that, while it watched the video, the Man of Steel’s body was replaced by a duplicate with a synthetic heart coated with sulfur, which acts as a trap for the spirit.  His super-powered immune system having wiped out the now much less dangerous microbe, the Action Ace takes his prisoner and returns home.

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Quite a weird story, isn’t it?  On one hand, this yarn certainly fits the standard formula of Superman facing a seemingly inescapable fate, only to outwit it with an outlandish plan, which has certainly been done often enough before.  On the other hand, an intelligent illness is actually an interesting angle and a unique threat for Superman.  The outwitting of the villainous virus is clever, if rather ridiculous and convenient, but the real highlight of the story is the demonstration of Metropolis’s love of its hero.  I’ll give this odd little tale 3 Minutemen.  The creative concept helps to make up for the clumsy execution, but it is still a pretty silly story.

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“The Man with the X-Ray Mind”


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This backup introduces the beginning, as far as I know, of a promising new feature, “A Secret Chapter in the Life of Clark Kent.”  I’ve mentioned before how Clark doesn’t have much characterization in the comics of this era, and I’m looking forward to seeing Superman in general develop into a more rounded character.  Clark Kent is obviously an important part of that.  Unfortunately, this tale is not particularly groundbreaking on that front.  It begins with Superman, still in college at the time, returning to his school after a space mission.  Here we see a rare sight, a weakness in Swan’s art, as he renders the college age Clark in pretty much the exact same way as his adult self.

Once back in his secret identity, Clark encounters Mr. Lundgren, the janitor, and observes a strange sight.  When a psychology professor, Dr. Borwin, comes down into the basement looking for exam papers he accidentally threw away (yikes!  That’s a pretty massive mistake!), the janitor is able to predict exactly where they will be by staring into his pail of water.  Astonished, the professor insists on studying Lundgren’s abilities.  The simple janitor agrees, explaining that he has the ability to skry, or “read secretes and mysteries from reflections in a reflective surface,” like his mother before him.

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In a scene straight out of Ghostbusters, Prof. Borwin conducts the standard ESP tests, using a set of pictorial cards, and amazingly, the other man matches all of the images, even going on to predict upcoming cards.  After the test, the kindly janitor reveals that he’s always known who Clark really was and warns him of an imminent disaster, a train crash, which the Man of Tomorrow is able to prevent just in time.

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action-403-24-04Unfortunately, the greedy professor wants to use the psychic’s abilities for his own benefit, so Borwin convinces Mr. Lundgren to predict the correct combination for a physics department vault that contains a radioactive formula.  Yet, when the avaricious academic tries to steal it, he drops the vial, causing a terrible explosion.  Superman arrives in time to shield Lundgren, but the poor guy is still wounded, becoming brain damaged!  The kindly man is reduced to doing odd jobs at the school, essentially a charity case because he can’t concentrate or remember anything well enough to do any steady job.

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And that is a rather terribly sad ending for this poor, good-hearted fellow who didn’t do anyone any harm.  He just tried to do the right thing, and he gets brain damaged for his efforts.  It’s a surprisingly bitter ending with no real justification or reason.  The story itself is fine, nothing exceptional, though it does add more evidence to the claim that the institutions of higher learning in the DC Universe really need to do a better job of vetting the people to whom they hand out advanced degrees.  It seems like every other guy with a doctorate is trying to take over the world or, at least, rob banks!  Anyway, I’ll give this tale 2.5 Minutemen, knocking off a little for the weirdly melancholy ending that seems out of sync with the light-hearted tone of the story.  It doesn’t have enough space to really take advantage of such a conclusion, which is unsurprising for a Dorfman penned tale.

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Adventure Comics #409


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“Invasion of the Mer-Men (Part II)”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Mike Sekowsky and Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Fight With Fire Drake”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Condemned Legionnaires”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inkers: George Klein and Sheldon Moldoff
Letterer: Milt Snapinn

This issue marks the end of Mike Sekowsky’s run on Supergirl, and, unfortunately, I really can’t say I’m sad to see him go, despite the great credentials he brought to the book.  Oddly, we’ve got two different Supergirl tales here, and the Legion backup is just a reprint, which is a shame.  I wonder if the powers that be were trying to ease into the new creative team by splitting the book between the old and new guards.  Either way, we get a nice cover out of the deal.  It’s by Dick Giordano, who does a lovely job on both Supergirl and the monstrous invaders.  It’s a solid, horror-style image, with the creatures coming over the edge and looking nicely menacing.

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The cover feature is our second story, but unfortunately our first one isn’t quite as pretty as it is.  Sekowsky’s rather Silver Age-ish aquatic aliens from the last issue are still planning on stealing Earth’s water, and despite the best efforts of Earth’s military, it seems that there is nothing that can stop them.  In the meantime, the Girl of Steel is still looking for her missing friend, Johnny, and lamenting that her efforts to protect her identity may have doomed him, which is a nice touch continuing on from the previous issue.  During her submarine search, Supergirl discovers a series of massive spheres hidden under the sea that are actually interstellar tankers.  When the military discovers them in turn, their attacks are stopped by a forcefield, but just when all hope seems lost, the Maid of Might discovers that Johnny is still alive, and he fills her in on the aliens’ plan.

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A nicely dramatic panel

adventurecomics409p14Attacked by the invaders, Supergirl allows herself to be captured so she can get into their ship.  In a good example of attention to detail, the aliens are surprised to find a being that can survive both above and below the waves, which makes sense if they’ve studied humans.  In a cute little scene, Supergirl escapes with Johnny, but in order to keep him alive and yet surface slowly enough to protect him from the bends, she kisses him in order to share oxygen…only for him to get fresh once the danger is passed!  It’s a funny sequence, and it illustrates that Johnny apparently has more chutzpah than brains.  Trying to get some sugar from a superbeing that is all that stands between you and a watery grave is certainly bold, but it probably isn’t all that bright!

With the water-logged lothario safely stashed, Supergirl heads for space, where she discovers the aliens’ ships and smashes their tanks, releasing the water back onto the Earth.  What follows is really rather surprising and a nice touch that raises the quality of the story a bit.  The alien commander, realizing that he’s beaten, gives up.  His enterprise was both enormous and desperate, and with his ships disabled, there is no longer time for a second attempt.  By the time they could repair the damage and recollect the necessary water, their planet would be dry and dead.  It’s a melancholy moment.  Notably, these aliens were actually sincere about feeling superior to humanity.

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They weren’t actually out to do the Earth harm, they just considered their own world more important.  So when the heroine’s actions doom their planet, their commander just resignedly follows Supergirl to Earth and bids farewell to a worthy foe before heading back to die with the rest of his species.  Yet, the story doesn’t end with this weighty moment, but with Johnny home safe and sound, pining away for Supergirl.

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So, this yarn came to an unexpected conclusion.  The aliens’ nobility in defeat is quite nice, though it really comes out of nowhere.  They seem just like generic sci-fi villains, the likes of which populated practically every other issue of DC in the Silver Age, right up until the last two pages.  If Sekowsky had spent more time on these guys, he might have really had something with the bittersweetness of their defeat.  As it is, it feels like an abrupt tonal shift that isn’t necessarily earned, nor fitting.  The rest of the comic is a good adventure tale, and Supergirl’s introspection about her priorities when she thinks Johnny is dead is actually an interesting character moment.

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adventurecomics409p14 - CopyIn the end, this issue is indicative of Sekowsky’s run on this book.  It has some real potential, with honestly interesting and thoughtful takes on the lead character that, unfortunately, receive no real development or followup, as well as the occasional mature and impressive story moment that is out of step with the rest of the comic.  There is an intermittent spark of excellence to these stories that is never really capitalized on or integrated into the issues at large.  Sadly, Sekowsky’s art also continues to be wildly inconsistent, with some really cool, creative panels here and there and some occassional good facework, all right alongside some absolutely ugly pages and general roughness and sloppiness in everything else.  I’ll give this issue 3 Minutemen, as it is a decent read, despite the rough art, but its weaknesses are very noticeable.  This is an inauspicious ending to Sekowsky’s run on the book, especially considering the greatness of his career before this point.

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“Fight with Fire Drake”


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The difference between Sekowsky’s story and the one that follows it is just night and day.  Art Saaf, who I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before, turns in a nice, clean looking comic, and the contrast really illustrates just how bad Sekowsky’s art has gotten.  The tale itself is just as good, featuring another aquatic adventure that begins with a party aboard the yacht of Linda Danvers’ boss, the owner of KGF-TV.  Despite having been chasing around with Johnny last issue, it seems that the Maid of Might has remembered her crush on Geoff, who still looks like he’s in his 30s or 40s, which remains creepy.  Fortunately for her, a handsome party-crasher approaches, and his attentions makes Geoff quite jealous.

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The newcomer claims to be a freelance writer named Freddy Nero, but shortly after he leaves, the party receives much more dangerous crashers, as a group of divers in rather nice looking monster costumes that can shoot flames (!) appear to rob the guests.  While their leader, Fire Drake, threatens the boss, Linda slips away and dons a new costume, which has a fun little notice about which fan designed it.  The costume is a bit much and I’m pretty sure it defies the laws of physics.  It’s not bad looking, though, but it does look like something a fan designed.  Weirdly, Supergirl notes that she can’t wear her exoskeleton with these threads, which seems like a really unnecessary sacrifice for the sake of fashion.  She confronts the divers and manages to drive them off the ship, but her plot devices, err…I mean her powers, conk out on her during the submarine pursuit, and she has to give it up.

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That night, she’s visited by her mother, which surprised the heck out of me.  I had always been familiar with her origin as an orphan of the Kryptonian city of Argo, but apparently in the Silver Age they eventually revealed that her parents were still alive.  Who knew?  I can sort of see why DC eventually wanted to clean up all of these excess Kryptonians, because they’re apparently just all over the place!  Well, anyway, her mother brings her back to Kandor, where she lives, in order to provider her with miniaturized versions of her equipment so she can wear whatever outlandish costume she fancies.  Convenient!

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The next morning, the yacht is again attacked by the costumed divers, but Supergirl is on hand once more, and she saves Geoff, who is braver than he is bright, much like Johnny.  When Firedrake tries to escape into the water again, he suddenly starts to drown, and after capturing him, the Maid of Might reveals that she severed his air hoses with her heat vision, which is clever.  When he is unmasked, the submarine thief is revealed to be Fred Nero, who had crashed the party in order to case the place.

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This is a fun little story, other than the silly element of Supergirl wearing a costume that can’t accommodate her very much necessary exoskeleton, just for for the sake of fashion.  It’s interesting that Bridwell pretty much immediately sets about refining the setup that Sekowsky created.  Of course, I’m always happy to see some costumed crooks, and the design of the divers’ outfits is pretty cool.  They look nice and intimidating, but they are occasionally drawn without gloves, which rather undercuts the menace of their look.  Nonetheless, this is a fine start to a new direction for the book.  Unfortunately, Bridwell won’t be continuing on the title, which is a shame as I tend to like his work, but I’m still excited to see what will come next.  I do hope that the new team on this book will find a way to challenge the character that reeks a bit less of deus ex machina, but this particular story is fun despite that weakness.  There are some decent character moments, and Saaf’s Supergirl looks great in action.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Like Supergirl, my adventures here are done for the moment.  This was an interesting pair of books, if not terribly captivating.  This final issue of Adventure seems to mark Mike Sekowsky’s departure from DC for many a year.  It’s a shame that he left DC on such a sour note after so many years of great work.  It’s hard to believe that the clumsy, ugly art in Adventure was by the same hand that had turned in the riotously creative and generally high-quality work on Manhunter 2070 in Showcase or his classic work on JLA.  Well, we will bid him a fond adieu and not hold these last years against him.  If you enjoyed my commentaries, please join me again soon for another step in our Journey into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

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.