Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 4)

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Welcome Internet travelers, to my examination of the highs, the lows, the greats, the not so greats, and everything in between of DC Comics in the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got a widely diverse pair of books with a quartet of quirky stories to quicken your pulses!  Check them out below!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32

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


The Phantom Stranger #12


Phantom_Stranger_Vol_2_12

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

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

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

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

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Well, this seems perfectly normal and healthy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“A Time to Die”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Superboy #173


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Trust Me or Kill Me!”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome internet travelers, to my first strides into the next year of DC’s Bronze Age comics, 1971!  We’re beginning a whole new year, a year that will bring us the expansion of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books to include all of their titles, and a year that will bring a number of changes to the DC Universe, starting with the Man of Steel himself.  We’ll tackle the landmark “Kryptonite Nevermore” story at the end of this set of posts.  I’ll be adding Superboy to my staple of books, as it will be gaining a Legion of Superheroes backup feature, which means that I’ll now be reading every superhero comic DC published other than Wonder Woman, and the Amazing Amazon is due to get added to my list when Denny O’Neil takes over the title in preparation for her return to her classic roots, in April of 1972.  We’ve got a while to wait for that one.  As for 1971, I can’t wait to see what this year of comics holds for us!  I hope you’ll join me as I continue my journey!

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:

  • Cigarette ads banned on TV
  • Ohio agrees to pay $675,000 to relatives of Kent State victims
  • Globetrotters lose 100-99 to NJ Reds, ending 2,495-game win streak
  • Berkeley chemists announces 1st synthetic growth hormones
  • 29 pilot whales beach themselves & die at San Clemente Island, Calif
  • Irish Republican Army (IRA) carry out a ‘punishment attack’, tarring and feathering 4 men accused of criminal activities in Belfast
  • Congressional Black Caucus organizes
  • Rev Philip Berrigan & 5 others indicted for plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger
  • 2 bombs explode at UK Employment Secretary Robert Carr’s home
  • At a party conference in Dublin, Sinn Féin end their 65 year abstentionist
  • John Lennon and Yoko Ono record “Power to the People
  • Riots break out in the Shankill Road area of Belfast, North Ireland
  • Charles Manson and accomplices convicted for the Tate murders
  • Military coup in Uganda under major general Idi Amin
  • The 170 delegates of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) call for the resignation of Northern Ireland Prime Minister James Chichester-Clark
  • Apollo 14 launched, 1st landing in lunar highlands

Clearly 1971 did not bring calmer days with it, especially not in Ireland.  I was really surprised that TV ads for cigarettes were banned this early.  I thought for sure they continued into the 80s.  Unrest continues around the world, but in America, this month is more about aftermath than new events.  It does feature Apollo 14’s mission, which is pretty exciting.  There is the plot to kidnap Henry Kissinger by a gang of priests and nuns, though.  That’s pretty insane, and I’m more than a little surprised that I never heard about it.  Apparently, the group was never convicted, and there are rumors that this was a setup.  Perhaps Nixon asked someone to ‘rid him of this troublesome priest.’  Still, one wonders!

This month’s number 1, just barely, is George Harrison’s deceptively lovely “My Sweet Lord,” which the unobservant might not realize at first is actually a Hare Krishna song, not a Christian one.  Harrison had joined the slightly cult-y Hare Krishnas back in the 60s and this song was an expression of his new religion.


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

  • Action Comics #396
  • Adventure Comics #401
  • Batman #228 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and Bold #93
  • Detective Comics #407
  • G.I. Combat #145
  • Superboy #171
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135
  • Superman #232 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #233

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


Action Comics #396


action_comics_396“The Super-Panhandler of Metropolis!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Invaders from Nowhere!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Ohh, hooray, another gimmicky Superman story.  Yay?  This is not the most electrifying beginning for the new year.  Our headline tale, as you can gather from that cover, is another ‘Superman in an everyday situation’ yarn, which doesn’t have much appeal for me, and this one goes beyond the normal gimmickiness to also portray the Man of Steel himself rather badly.

It all begins in the far future decade of the 1990s.  What could such an inconceivably distant era hold for the Metropolis Marvel?  Well, nothing good, I’ll tell you that much.  The story opens with an episode of “Where Are they Now,” a TV show that tracks formerly famous individuals.  They catch up with James Olsen, now chief producer of WMET-TV, but instead of asking him about his own life, they ask a bunch of question about Superman, who disappeared years ago.  I bet that had to tick ‘ol Jimmy off.  Apparently, the Man of Steel just gradually faded from public view, and eventually no-one was able to contact him any longer.  We cut to the man himself, slumped and defeated, sitting in a wheelchair and panhandling on a street corner.  What could have brought him to this low state?  Well, we don’t get to find out this issue.

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Instead, we get a tour of the true city of tomorrow, Metropolis, circa the 1990s!  In this remote future, the citizens no longer need a Superman, as they have all kinds of nifty technological wonders , like anti-gravity beams, escape-proof capture cells in banks, and fire detectors in every streetlight, as well as helicopter fire engines.  Do you remember when they came out with those anti-gravity beams in the 90s?  What a time…

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Superman’s sad-sack inner monologue tells us that he has lost all of his powers except for his super vision and hearing, and this has apparently left him a complete wreck of a human being.  He thinks of himself only in terms of his abilities.  He also thinks of himself entirely as Superman, not Clark or even Kal-El.  Herein is one of the biggest problems with this story.  This mopey, defeated loser doesn’t have much in common with the Superman from last month’s World’s Finest, dragging himself through the dirt of an alien world to save the universe, despite the overwhelming odds against him.  Some of the best Superman stories are those in which he loses his powers and then goes on to demonstrate that it isn’t super strength, invulnerability, flight, or any of the rest that makes him a hero; it’s the indomitable spirit that animates him.  In fact, one of my favorite episodes of Justice League is “Hereafter,” where the Man of Tomorrow gets transported to a very distant tomorrow indeed where the sun is red.  He quietly, calmly, and heroically goes about doing what he can to survive and to find answers, despite the fact that he’s powerless.  It’s a wonderful examination of what makes him special, the unassuming greatness that isn’t about bullet-proof skin or laser eyes.

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Anyway, back to our story.  The crippled Superman, who is definitely not just Clark Kent, saves a young boy who stupidly runs into traffic, who repays him by insulting the man who saved his life.  Nice, kid.  A good Samaritan sees the deeds and gives the Super-bum five bucks, which he uses to buy some food, taking it home to an abandoned tenement building.  He’s apparently got a bunch of diseased folks living there with him, as we get a glimpse of ‘strangely mottled arms’ reaching out for the food.  That doesn’t get explained, this month, though.  Desperate to regain his lost glory, the former Man of Steel also does some experiments in an attempt to restore his powers.  All they do, however, is destroy his clothes, leaving him nothing to wear but his costume so that we can reach maximum gimmick.

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action-396-15-11So, the next day he goes out covered with a blanket and a shawl so people won’t see the costume, and while he’s out, he runs into Lois, now married with children, and what’s more, married to a dead-ringer for Clark Kent.  The girl’s got issues, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this, either.  Later, while begging in front of the Daily Planet building, Superman reaches for a dropped coin and reveals his costume.  The crowd notices and bombards him with questions.  The issue ends with him fleeing in his wheelchair, pursued by the quizzical crowd.

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Check out those groovy 1990s fashions!

This is a weird one, and it rubs me the wrong way to an extent.  There’s probably a good story to be told about Superman losing his powers; in fact, that story has been told several times, and told well, but this isn’t one of them.  The character examination that should be the fruit of such a storytelling endeavor is wasted here, with the bitter, broken former hero concerned only with his loss of power and glory.  It isn’t that we couldn’t handle a story about an embittered Man of Steel, it’s that this story gives us no real justification for his state, other than the loss of his powers.  Of course, there are also the logical problems with this story, as it is just strange that, with or without powers, Clark Kent would end up a beggar.

He’s a talented and intelligent guy.  Plus, you know Bruce would kick some money his way!  Heck, the Last Son of Krypton could just sell some of his homeworld’s technology and live in luxury the rest of his life.  Instead, he’s apparently just left the Fortress of Solitude sitting empty.  The sci-fi elements of the far-future 1990s are pretty hilarious in retrospect, but that isn’t anything to hold against this story.  There are some intriguing mysteries teased in the background of this tale, like the apparently diseased inhabitants of Super-bum’s tenement and the question of how he lost his powers, but they are not the focus of the plot.  I assume they’ll get developed next issue, but I can’t say I’m particularly excited about reading that tale.  I’ll give this one 2 Minutemen for its misuse of its central character.

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P.S.: Interestingly, the effects of “Kryptonite Nevermore” were already being felt when this book hit the stands, as it includes a one page update on the state of Superman and his setting.

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“The Invaders from Nowhere”


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This is a fine Superman story, if not particularly impressive.  While this tale is a bit unusual for the Last Son of Krypton, for the Atom, it would just be a Tuesday.  The curtain rises on the Man of Steel himself ripping his way into his Fortress of Solitude, as all of the security systems are going nuts and the great golden door has jammed.  A rapid search of the place at super speed reveals two weird looking aliens who introduce themselves as Seekers from the world of Krann.  This pair of extraterrestrial invaders precede to capture the Metropolis Marvel despite his best efforts.  His punches pass right through them, and their weapons render him helpless.

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Superman is transported aboard their ship to a world under a red sun where some sort of sinister experiment awaits him.  Once planetside, he’s locked in a strange cage-like device, but our hero won’t take this sort of thing lying down.  He’s determined to fight, despite the fact that he should be powerless under a red star, yet when he starts to resist, he discovers that his powers remain undiminished.  Strange!  He throws himself at his cage again and again, but his efforts have no effect.

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We cut to the aliens in the control room, and they helpfully fill us in on their plot.  It seems the core of their world has run out of energy and begun to grow cold.  They’re trying to jump-start it by siphoning off Superman’s energy through his escape attempts.  They accomplish their purpose, and the Man of Steel, exhausted, slumps over…dead!    The Krannians drag him outside, only for their captive to spring back to life!  Superman notes that he can control his hearbeat, so he could stop it long enough to appear dead.  That’s a useful trick that could make Batman jealous.

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Fearing that the red sun would render him powerless as he tried to fly to Earth, the Man of Tomorrow hijacks the alien ship and heads for home.  Yet, as he flies, he experiences a strange phenomenon, as he begins to grow.  Eventually, he and the ship emerge back in the Fortress of Solitude, springing out of the model of Krypton!  The entire alien world was actually part of a microscopic universe, and the incredibly advanced extraterrestrials were inhabitants thereof.  This fact explains why Superman didn’t lose his powers under the red sun, as it was just the replica in the Krypton display.  Before our hero can decide what to do with the pint-sized kidnappers, there is a tiny explosion, and a microscopic examination of the area reveals the ruins of Krann.  Their plan worked too well, and their planet’s core overheated until it exploded like Krypton-that-was, for a nice little touch of irony.

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This is a fun little backup yarn, clocking in at a brief but enjoyable 9 pages.  It manages to set up the problem, provide some action, and even deliver a bit of a surprise, all in those few pages, and that is nothing to sneeze at.  The concept of a mysterious microscopic world and invaders therefrom is not a new one, having showed up often in the Atom’s escapades, but it’s always one I enjoy.  It provides an opportunity for fantastic and unusual adventures that can stretch the imagination.  After all, the possibilities of such a setting are limitless.  Of course, Krann barely gets any exploration in this story because it is so short, but the possibility is still there.  In this case, I’ll give this tale 3.5 Minutemen for a fine read.

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Adventure Comics #401


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“The Frightened Supergirl”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“The Strange House”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

As with the last issue, this book contains a backup for Tracey Thompson, an extremely short-lived character, which I won’t be covering as it isn’t really a superhero story.  The Supergirl feature is an unusual but entertaining little tale, featuring a character I had previously only encountered in All-Star Superman, Lex Luthor’s niece, Nasthaltia “Nasty” Luthor.  Nasty, a fitting antagonist for the Maid of Might, was apparently only introduced a few issues ago in #397.  It seems she had a fairly short life, appearing in only ten issues, but it looks like we’ll see her a few more times before she fades into obscurity.  However, it isn’t the presence of the awkwardly named ‘Nasty’ that makes this issue unusual.

We begin in media res, with the villainess’s plan already completed.  Supergirl has been reduced to a quivering, cringing wreck, completely paralyzed by fear.  She is cowering in terror from a mouse while Lex Luthor and his young niece look on.  Nasty helpfully fills us in on how the Maid of Steel got into this situation.  The Lady Luthor poisoned the heroine’s drink at a luncheon in her honor, spiking her water with an an agent that caused utterly crippling fear.

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In complete panic, Supergirl smashed her way out of the building, fleeing down the street.  Everything and everyone she encounters just feeds the fires of her fear.  In a funny little episode, she encounters a little boy dressed up as a cowboy who tries to play with her, which only horrifies the girl more.

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I love the kid’s sheepish encouragement in panel 3.

adventure-401-06She tears through everything in her mad flight, smashing buildings, cars, and more.  The police try fruitlessly to restrain her, for all the good that does, and finally, Nasty herself shows up, claiming to be a friend of the frantic female.  By speaking calmly and soothingly, she temporarily allays the Maid of Might’s fears and brings her back to her hideout.  There, joined by her villainous uncle, she revels in the humiliation of her foe.  Lex plans to sell tickets to view the terrorized teen to the underworld, by which he expects to make a fortune.

adventure-401-13First, however, Nasty wants to have a bit more fun, so she pulls out a little toy car that can follow a target and sics it on Supergirl.  Spooked by the device, the Maid of Steel lashes out again, utterly destroying the house they were hiding in and very quickly revealing how bad an idea it is to panic a super strong, invulnerable person in an enclosed space.

All of a sudden, Linda Danvers awakens in bed and slowly realizes that this had all been a dream.  She sees with relief that the city still stands.  Then, that same toy car from her dream rolls into her room, a gift her roommate got for her little brother.  How strange!

This is an odd story, though it is fun.  The ‘it was all a dream‘ maneuver surprised me, because as crazy as this all was, it didn’t seem substantially crazier than a normal Sekowsky story.  All throughout, I was thinking, ‘man, folks are really going to love Supergirl after this.  First there’s that bridge from a few issues ago, now she’s torn down the entire town!’  I think it would have been interesting to see Sekowsky actually play with the consequences from such an event as he did with the bridge incident, but I suppose he really didn’t have time in only 14 pages.  It’s entertaining to see Supergirl just tear through town, and there are several funny moments in the tale.  The dream angle also covers over some issues I had with the story, as it does seem a bit odd for Supergirl, while certainly acting irrationally because of fear, to nonetheless run away instead of flying away.  Also, the pair of super geniuses who have captured her certainly don’t act too bright when they antagonize the incredibly powerful alien in their little house.  Of course, with the plot being the product of a dream, you can handwave all of that.

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Speaking of the villains, I like the focus on female antagonists so far in this book.  It’s something of a rarity to have a cast that is primarily female agents in comics, and there’s good potential in that setup.  That being said, I’m not certain how I feel about Lex Luthor having a niece.  I rather prefer him to be alone in the world, a solitary man of brilliance, will, and blackened soul.  Nonetheless, Nasty is undeniably fun in this story.  The whole story is enjoyable, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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And that is our first pair of books.  Not the most impressive duo, but I’m sure there are better stories awaiting us.  Please join me again soon for another step in my Journey into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 5)

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Welcome to the Greylands!

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 #394
  • Adventure Comics #399
  • Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
  • Brave and Bold #92
  • Detective Comics #405
  • The Flash #201
  • G.I. Combat #144
  • Justice League of America #84
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
  • Superman #231
  • World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • World’s Finest #198

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


Superman #231


superman_v-1_231“The Wheel of Super-Fortune!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Dan Adkins

This one is pretty nuts, ladies and gents.  It’s the second part of last month’s crazy-pants story, and it ups the insane ante to new heights.  It’s a weird, wild combination of random elements that make a very Silver Age-ish story, continuing the trend of the Man of Steel’s books feeling dated.  This particular issue combines magic and mad science, plus a bald Superman and lots of melodrama with Lois.  Feast your eyes on this odd offering.

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It begins with a recap of last issue, as Super-Lex takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude, where he just happens to have a giant crystal that can somehow replay the past.  He shows her Clark Kent’s ridiculous villainous origins, but Lois is way too obsessed to listen to any of his ‘logic’ or ‘reason.’  She’s in love with the formerly comatose crook, and nothing can change that!  We’re not quite dealing with the capable and self-possessed Lois we were just talking about in the last post.  In the flashback, we see that Clark may have been given ‘evil genes,’ but he apparently wasn’t given brains, as he plans to set himself up as a ‘big-time gang boss’ with the proceeds from one little gas station robbery.  Is…is that how it works?  Somehow, I doubt it.

Meanwhile, in his deceased mad scientist/benefactor’s secret lab, Clark discovers a criminal teletype, which tells him about some mystic named Grandovic that can predict the future for criminals, which sounds promising to him. The neophyte ne’er-do-well takes one of the bad doctor’s unlikely inventions and robs a bank, nearly killing Lois in the process, as she’s too smitten to get out of the way of the giant rolling tank!

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Fortunately, Super-Baldy is there to save the day, and we get a bizarrely hilarious scene where Lois furiously attacks the hero because he’s preventing her from leaping to her death and he knocks her out with one finger.  Of course, while he’s dealing with the irrational reporter, Clark gets away, having left behind a bomb to cover his escape.

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The villainous Kent uses his ill-gotten gains to garner an audience with Grandovic, a randomly floating mystic-type in Tibet.  After giving him a diamond worth 2 million bucks, the visionary answers his burning question, how can he defeat Superman.  Grandovic fills Clark in on all of Lex’s history, and points out that he loves Lois, so he can be attacked through her.  In response, Kent proves how evil he is by poisoning the swami, who in turn prophecies his assailant’s death through the means of a steering wheel.  Clark thinks he’ll just avoid cars and be fine, but apparently he never studied his mythology.

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Back in Metropolis, Lex secretly protects Lois from a falling piece of masonry, though she notices that Superman must have intervened in some fashion and begins to reassess her view of him.  Before anything else can come of that, Lex is attacked in his apartment by a cool looking robot, which unfortunately only lasts two pages before the hero literally chops it in two with his hand.  Inside is a taped message that directs the Man of Tomorrow to a rendezvous with Clark, wherein the criminal reveals that he’s given Lois a drug that he can use to kill her with the push of a button.  He tells his nemesis that unless the big baldy backs off, he’ll kill his girl.

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After a mix-up with a super-robot, Clark makes good on his threat, but he only stuns Lois, rather than kill her.  She immediately throws herself at him when she awakens, but he’s got no time for her.  He’s got a wildly impractical war-machine to drive!  He takes a new vehicle out to level Metropolis, and when Super-Lex doesn’t back off, he does just that, amazed that the Metropolis Marvel would allow this to happen.  As the hero destroys his vehicle, Clark declares that all the thousands of deaths he just caused are on Lex’s head, but the Man of Steel was one ludicrous step ahead of him.

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It turns out that Lex built an entire, FULL-SCALE replica of Krypton at some point in the past and filled it with androids.  He just evacuated the entirety of Metropolis overnight and filled it with his kryptonian androids, so no-one died!  Wow.  That’s a big development to toss out in a single line of dialog.  Of course, it doesn’t account for the billions of dollars worth of property damage, but oh well.  I wonder if Zack Snyder read this comic.  I suppose not, since there’s no sex and death.

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Well, silly plot devices and terrible directors aside, Clark pulls a different kind of device out of his pocket.  It’s a ray that steals Superman’s powers and transfers them to a nearby object, specifically, a steering wheel.  Clark very helpfully explains the entire situation to Lex as opposed to, you know, just grabbing the artifact himself while the hero is reeling.  In the struggle that follows, Super-Lex gets the brass super-ring and Clark dies…because….the story is almost over?  There’s really no good explanation.  His ‘evil genes’ basically fry his brain, and this magically fixes everything, including Lois’s obsession.  I’m not going to try to explain this last page.  Just read it and marvel at the craziness as Bates suddenly realizes he’s run out of space and has to wrap everything up.

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This is a pretty goofy story.  It’s all over the place, with the random criminal guru, the tons and tons of mad-style science, the Lois subplot, and ridiculous ending gambit by Super-Lex.  Interestingly enough, this issue also reprints a Superman story from 1956, and that one is positively grounded and restrained compared to this one, which is instructive in context.  There’s not really much to recommend this comic.  I’ll give this goofy tale 2 Minutemen.  It’s entertaining, but nutso.

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World’s Finest #198


worlds_finest_comics_198“Race to Save the Universe!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell

“Joanie Swift, Queen of Speed!”
Penciler: Paul Norris
Inker: Paul Norris
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth, Jack Schiff, Julius Schwartz, and E. Nelson Bridwell

Well in contrast to that last Superman story, this issue of World’s Finest is just plain fun!  It’s full of big, bombastic action, cosmic concepts, and a universe-spanning setting that would be perfectly at home in Grant Morrison‘s JLA.  Considering the fact that Morrison penned some of the best League adventures of all time (not perfect, but undeniably great), that’s a very good thing.  This comic is just a rip-roaring adventure from start to finish, and while it’s packed full of crazy events and ideas, they all work together and make sense in the mad, wonder-packed world of the DC Universe.

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It opens with a bang, as Jimmy Olsen steps out of bed and right through time itself!  He plummets through a strange hole in the time continuum (gotta’ love comics science!) and right into the middle of a Roman chariot race, circa 15 B.C.!  Not only that, a Roman charioteer charges through a similar portal and finds himself in ‘modern’ day Metropolis.  Of course, the Man of Steel is confused at first, thinking that this guy in the Roman getup is just some nut.  After all, given the insanity of his daily routine, that’s as likely as anything else.  In a fun and funny little moment, Superman just lets the Centurion break his sword on the ‘ol abs-of-steel so he can see for himself how pointless it is to fight.  Just as the Metropolis Marvel is about to take this time-tossed Roman to the funny-farm, he’s interrupted by one of the Guardians of the Universe!

The Guardian, with their usual tact, orders the Man of Tomorrow to get to Oa, today, and we get one of the only bits of this story that irked me.  Superman flies straight to their world, with his Roman in tow, and somehow the guy doesn’t die a messy and unpleasant death in the vacuum of space.  The text tells us that he takes a ‘space-warp,’ but one would imagine such a phenomenon as being…you know…in space.  Still, it’s a minor point, and I absolutely love the poor, rattled Roman’s befuddled thought bubbles as he tries to make sense of what in the heck is happening to him!  “Surely I have passed beyond the mortal realm!” he thinks as Superman flies him through space, and “Have I passed unto Olympus?” is his wondering thought when he sees the strange science of the Guardians.  If I have one criticism of this comic, it’s that I would have loved to see more of this guy!

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Well, speaking of the Blue Man Group, no, not that one, once he arrives, they fill our hero in on the situation that spurred his summons.  Apparently beings called the ‘Anachronids,’ bizarre forms of life that move faster than the speed of light, have moved into inhabited space.  These creatures move so fast, in fact, that their very passage is playing merry havoc with space/time, causing random rifts to open between today and yesterday, the likes of which spawned Superman’s Latin companion.  The Guardians have need of the Man of Steel’s incredible speed and endurance, as they must stabilize the time-stream by employing a counter-balancing speed-force to that of the Anachronids.  Of course!  That kind of wonderful techno-babble totally works in the DCU.  The trouble is, Superman by himself is not going to produce enough power, so the Guardians send him to recruit the Flash and give the Scarlet Speedster a medallion that will grant him endurance and the ability to run in space.  Together, the titanic twosome must race for the galaxy or risk time itself unraveling in the face of the universe-shattering speed of the Anachronids!

Got all that?  Good, because we’re only on page six!  Well, once Superman picks up his partner in speed, the Flash offers a friendly idea, noting that they have raced in the past, but they have never had a definitive outcome.  He suggests that they make their universe-saving jaunt a competition, which would hopefully drive both of them to give their utmost.  This, and several other moments, show a particular strength of O’Neil’s writing in this issue.

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The casual, jolly attitude they take to their world-saving, the free-spirited love for adventure that both heroes evince, is a great deal of fun.  I just can’t help but compare this to the endlessly grim and serious comics of the modern era, where even characters who should have a real sense of wonder and adventure about them still manage to be relentlessly serious and joyless as often as not.

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So, it is with good spirits that our heroes set out on their race, passing the Moon in a moment and tearing through the cosmos on an incredible journey.  In a fun little detail, Batman officiates the start of the contest.  Meanwhile, we check back in with poor Jimmy in Rome, and his high school Latin fails him miserably as he finds himself sentenced to death as a wizard!  Back in space, Superman and the Flash are ambushed by the incredibly speedy Anachronids, who begin firing at them with energy weapons.  The Man of Steel manages to protects his partner, but their antagonists turn their deadly attentions to a nearby star, causing it to go super nova in a matter of moments.  It’s a lovely page, and it really sells the scope of the challenge facing our heroes.

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The turbo-twosome have to outrun the exploding star (how’s that for wide-screen action?), but they are almost caught by the solar fire until they dive through a rift in space, perhaps caused by the Anachronids’ passage.  They fall into a bizarre, barren landscape, getting separated in their descent.  Superman finds himself under a strange, center-less sun that oscillates between red and yellow, and during the sanguine state, he’s clobbered by a trio of…shall I say ‘phantom’ assailants?  We just see their ghostly outlines, but sharp-witted DC fans will likely recognize some of the Phantom Zone villains.  What is going on?!

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The trio attempts to feed the unconscious Man of Steel to a horrible, Lovecraftian monster, and the sun’s split personality renders him mostly helpless.  Fortunately, the Flash has been searching for him, and he launches a cleverly deduced attack against the big green ugly.  He sees that it has no eyes, and, in a bit of a stretch, he thinks that it may have a radar sense that he can confuse.  He does so by whipping up a dust storm.  The Speedster guesses that the antenna near the creature’s mouth are probably important, so with a dust storm and an attack to its sensitive tendrils, he frees his partner, who, with a return of yellow sunlight, decks the beast into a mountain.  It’s a great action sequence, and while the Flash’s idea about a radar sense doesn’t really get set up properly, I’m willing to let it go because the rest of the encounter makes pretty good sense.  Eyes or radar, it’s reasonable to think that a dust storm might be a good distraction.

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The monster escaped, the heroes take to their heels once more, racing straight through the heart of the bizarre star, hoping that their path to freedom lies within.  Superman points out that space and time is distorted around stars, so they count on this being their doorway back into the normal universe.  That mostly works in a comic kind of way, so I’m not going to kick, especially because it just looks awesome.

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Free, the racers once again encounter their eerie antagonists, and they endeavor to capture one.  When they manage to slow the speeding being down, they discover that it is actually a robot!  What’s more, the machine disintegrates shortly thereafter, apparently not designed to exist at anything below the speed of light.  With more questions than answers, the heroes once more take up their race, tearing off through space, and for the final page of the book, we check back in with poor Jimmy, who is facing a firing squad of Roman archers.  The story ends with their arrows in the air!

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worlds_finest_1970_198_22This is just a fun, exhilarating issue.  This is the type of Bronze Age story that I really love.  It’s got vast, cosmic scope, big ideas, and bigger action.  The cheerful, grand heroism of this tale is precisely what makes comics great.  The mystery set up in this comic is intriguing, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next issue.  It helps that Dick Dillin is really firing on all cylinders for this book, turning out some great art and some really dynamic, well-rendered action.  The stiffness from some of his JLA issues is gone and what is left is imaginative and lovely.  I really like the camaraderie and friendship displayed between the two heroes, even if they aren’t given a ton of development.  Their spirit of adventure comes through, and in an epic tale like this, that’s enough.  They also each got a moment to shine, as the narrative was nicely balanced between their exploits, and the Jimmy subplot provided an enjoyable dose of comic relief.  I particularly enjoy the universe spanning nature of this yarn, bringing in several different elements of the DC mythos, from the Guardians to our spectral villains.  I’ll give this cosmic adventure 4.5 Minutemen, a great score!

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There’s an enjoyable reprint of a Johnny Quick story as a backup to this issue.


Final Thoughts for the Month:


This was really a rather fascinating month.  It really drove home to me how much things at DC had changed in just one year’s time.  Over the course of the last year, we’ve watched as DC comic books go from the racial homogeneity of the Silver Age to a set of titles that, at least in the supporting casts of their stories, tend to feature more than a few minority faces.  It really seems like there has been an increasing attention to racial issues.  Obviously, this month we saw a particularly excellent story on race, but it seems to me that the company as a whole has taken an effort to present a more realistically diverse portrayal of the world in the pages of their books.  I’m not positive, but it does seem to be so, and that is a pretty cool development to watch happening.

This month also gave us both the highs and the lows of creativity, with two different new concepts being introduced, both of which would endure for a time, though to very different fates.  While the Ten-Eyed man was a goofy concept that was too silly even for comic books, the League of Assassins showed promise from the very beginning, worthy antagonists for the Dark Knight, employing many of the same methods and skills that he himself uses.  They are an interesting threat lurking out there in the DC Universe, and readers must have looked forward to their return.  At the same time, one can’t quite imagine anyone clamoring for the return of the Ten-Eyed Man.  Despite that, he will once again grace the pages of Batman in just five issues.

Perhaps most intriguing of all, this month showed us another side of Robert Kanigher.  I’ve certainly not been kind to this fellow, and yet in this month alone saw several solid stories penned by this maligned writer and one exceptional tale.  How strange to see Kanigher take an inning after the messy, silly stories he’s told previously.  I’m very curious about whether this is a turning point or a high water mark.

Well, that will do it for November, 1970!  It was a pretty good month, all told, but I’m excited to head into the final month of this first year.  Hopefully I can move through 1971 a little more quickly.  Otherwise, this process is going to take forever and a day!  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Once again, it’s been a quiet month, with no new additions to the wall of shame.  I bet December will hold new noggin’ knockin’ wonders for us, though!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 6)

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Hello my dear readers, and welcome to the last edition of Into the Bronze Age for October 1970.  We’ve made it through another month and are well on our way to 1971!  It’s been a particularly interesting month, and at the end of the post I’ll provide some reflections on the overarching themes that we’ve been observing in this set of books.  Well, let’s get started!

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 #393
  • Adventure Comics #398
  • Aquaman #52
  • Detective Comics #404
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
  • Phantom Stranger #9
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 (Jack Kirby’s debut!)
  • Superman #230
  • Teen Titans #29

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


Superman #230


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“Killer Kent Versus Super Luthor”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Dan Adkins

Ohh boy, this is a goofy one, folks.  This issue, with its incredibly gimmicky premise and its simplistic execution could be the poster child for the current state of Superman comics in 1970.  While change is abroad at DC, with social relevance breaking in on superheroes and growing depth and complexity to be found in most books, their flagship character remains completely unaffected, starring in stories that could easily have come from 1960 rather than 1970.  This is definitely one such tale.  Yet, despite its silliness, this issue actually has some pretty fascinating concepts behind its foolish facade.  The basic idea is an old one, what would happen if the hero and villain exchanged lives.  In this case, it is Lex Luthor who comes from Krypton and Clark Kent who is born on earth.  Bates actually adds some really interesting wrinkles to this setup, though they don’t amount to much.

To begin with, young Lex-El’s childhood is rather different than Kal’s.  His mother dies in a completely predictable accident with one of Jor-El’s inventions when an ion storm overloaded the device, which, for some reason, wasn’t designed to deal with common weather events.  What is this, like the third time, just in this year of comics, that one of Jor-El’s inventions has gone horribly wrong?  Seriously, why would this guy be let within a mile of a lab?  Everything he builds tries to kill somebody!  Anyway, this leaves Lex without a mother, but it leaves his father embittered and bat-guano insane to boot.  Instead of blaming himself for forgetting the fact that Krypton occasionally has storms, Jor blames the real villain.  Krypton itself.  That’s right, the planet killed his wife, and the planet must pay!  It’s utterly nuts, even for a crazy man.

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And Jor-El is not just your garden variety madman.  No, he’s a madman with access to incredibly destructive super science!  He creates a weapon called the ‘Lethal Liquid’ that destroys Krypton from the inside out, but not before he and his bald-as-an-egg boy (also the fault of one of his inventions, by the way) hop a rocket for Earth.

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I am become Jor-El, destroyer of worlds…

Meanwhile, on Earth the parents of Clark Kent are also quite different from the kindly farmers we remember.  Ma and Pa Kent have more in common with Bonnie and Clyde than with the rural American ideal.  When we meet them, they’re engaged in a running gunfight with the police, a chase that is only ended by the sudden arrival of the kryptonian rocket.  It drives them off the road, killing them.  However, they had already given their son to an underworld scientist named Dr. Markem so that he could implant, and I kid you not, “evil genes” in the kid.  Apparently, these parents of the year were really concerned that their son should grow up to be a criminal himself…for some reason.  So, they hired this quack to take their “evil genes” and implant them in their sons brains…despite the fact that A) that’s incredibly stupid and B) he’s already their son and should therefore already have their genes.

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Well, unspeakably goofy and unnecessary plot devices aside, the Dr. drops his now orphaned charge off at the Smallville Orphanage while Jor-El discovers that, for some reason, he doesn’t have powers on Earth, though his son does.  The mad scientist gives baldy a super suit and sets up a medical practice, using his advanced science to become very successful.  The years pass, and Clark, adopted by the Langs, grows up to be young Lex’s best friend.  Lex becomes Superboy, and when Clark saves his life from an assassin, they become friends in that identity as well.

Yet, the peace of these idyllic times is soon shattered by madness…and also plot.  The insane Jor-El decides once again to blame an inanimate object for a misfortune and concludes that he must destroy Smallville in revenge for the attack upon his on.  He invents a new doomsday device (ohh, is it Tuesday already?), and he unleashes it on the town.  At the same time, Superboy and Clark had gone flying when the adopted boy went into a trance as his evil implant began to do its work.

Superboy rushes Clark to his father’s office, then notices the device destroying the town.  He manages to stop it, but his friend awakens, now ‘evil,’ and attacks the nutball scientist, killing him in the struggle.  Yet, our story doesn’t end there!  Next, for some reason, we leap ten years into the future, where Lex Luthor is a reporter for the Daily Planet and Clark Kent is in a comma after a failed robbery.  Because this wasn’t complicated enough, Lois Lane is also moonlighting as a nurse and has fallen in love with the comatose crook.

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But we’re STILL not done.  The aged Dr. Markem shows up at the hospital and uses an invention to teleport the patient to his hideout, where he revives the criminal in hopes that he’ll pay him the money his parents owed when they died.  Just then, the evil scientist, not to be confused with the mad scientist, dies of a heart attack, leaving Kent alone in his hideout with a plethora of super-scientific inventions and a sudden desire to kill Superman.

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Phew!  Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  The setup with an aggrieved Jor-El and a motherless Lex could have been really fascinating, but the execution is just so silly that there isn’t much here.  The evil gene device is so goofy that it undermines another fun concept, which is the idea of a human Clark Kent with reason to hate the superhuman kryptonian.  The issue manages to be readable and entertaining, but too silly to amount to anything.  It’s a shame, because there were neat ideas here.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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P.S.: The one standout feature of the issue is an item printed in the letter column which makes the same observations about the Superman books that I’ve been noting.  Keane Bonyun asks why, with so much of DC evolving, the Man of Steel is stuck in the past, a flat and uninteresting character in comparison with many of his fellows.  The editor notes that a big change is coming for Superman himself, and in the meantime, he points out new directions in Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, which is rather neat.  Clearly even at the time people both within and without the company were aware that the times were changing and the genre was evolving..


Teen Titans #29


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“Captives!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza

This book, on the other hand, is a fun read.  Unfortunately, it reveals that the pointless Mr. Jupiter experiment is not yet over, but at least it gets the Titans back in action and back in costume.  Despite a few weak moments, it’s an interesting issue.  Perhaps the most compelling feature of the story is that it engages with the concept of Hawk and Dove in both frustrating and enjoyable ways.  Skeates manages to make Dove both aggravating and likeable at different points, but the most important thing is that he delivers an action-packed and enjoyable adventure.

We pick up where the previous issue left off, with Aqualad having been defeated by Ocean Master and his cronies and tied to a tree to die of dehydration.  The silly one hour limit is mentioned again, unfortunately.  I wonder when they got rid of that.  Anyway, just as he’s about to run out of time, the young Aquatic Ace sees that the cavalry has arrived, in the form of the Teen Titans!  That’s right, they finally got off their duffs and decided to do something useful.  Aqualad fills his friends in on the story so far and tells them that he managed to put a tracer on one of Ocean Master’s men.

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Meanwhile, Hawk and Dove have slipped away from the team in order to pursue the investigation on their own.  Hawk actually has a pretty good plan, and they head to Sharon’s (the girl who was attacked last issue) apartment and wait, hoping that the villains are still watching the place.  Sure enough, a band of thugs show up, and Hawk plans to disable them and let one escape so that they can trail him back to Orm.  In the donnybrook that follows, Dove is pretty much useless, but even worse, he turns tail and runs, rationalizing that they can’t take these three, seemingly average guys and he needs to get help.  Of course, if Dove had been even moderately useful in the fight, that probably wouldn’t have been the case.  This brings me to a problem I had, not so much with the issue, but with the character.

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Hawk and Dove are a cool concept, and one that is definitely timely for the era of their creation.  However, making proper use of them is rather tough.  It just makes no sense for a sincere pacifist to be a superhero.  It’s an inherently violent job, after all.  Justice League Unlimited handled the portrayal quite well, presenting a Dove who was very capable in a fight, despite the fact that he didn’t resort to direct violence.  The Dove who is a master of aikido, the martial art that turns an attack back upon an attacker, is a much more reasonable and useful character, after all.  Aikido is used to protect the practitioner, but it also emphasizes protecting your opponent from injury, which fits as a pacifistic way to take an active part in a fight.  Lifeline from G.I. JOE employed it for just such a purpose in the 80s comic.  Of course, we’re dealing with the very beginning of the character’s career, and it makes sense that neither he nor his writers would have worked out all the kinks just yet.  The result is still frustrating, making Dove seem like a coward rather than a man of principle.

Well, back to the story, Dove finds the other Titans and brings them on the run as their attackers cart Hawk off.  They make short work of the minions in a nice Cardy action scene, only to have Hawk dragged beneath the waves by Ocean Master!  Dove tries to intervene, only to be captured as well.  The pair awaken in an underwater base, tied to a pole.  The peaceful partner has managed to piece together the plot, and it seems to be related to one of our previous Aquaman stories.  Remember the aliens who were in cahoots with Orm?  They’re back, and now they’ve brought in some intergalactic muscle!  The handsome gents from the last issue of Titans were a super strong warrior race that the original invaders recruited.  The strange transformation that Sharon witnessed was a process that they use to walk among humans.

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After they compare notes, our heroes manage to escape from their foolproof prison by…standing up.  Even the heroes seem to be surprised by how easy it is.  Apparently Ocean Master is really not cut out for this world domination bit, as he tied the two brothers to a pole that had no top.  It’s a little taller than the teens, but they stretch a tad and manage to free themselves.  It’s…a bit silly that the mighty supervillain would make such an oversight, and it makes him seem incompetent.  It’s a fairly minor issue, though, and the escape requires cooperation from the brothers, which helps to add to the story and gives them a solid character moment.  Once free, they fight their way through the base until they run into Ocean Master himself, displaying good teamwork despite their differences.

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With Ocean Master they find one of the disguised aliens, and Hawk can’t take him alone, so Dove abandons his principles in the face of global Armageddon, and comes out swinging.  They’re holding their own when alien reinforcements arrive and things start to seem hopeless.  Just then, the Titans charge in, having used the tracker to find the base, and they clean up their extraterrestrial enemies with aplomb.  It’s another lovely Nick Cardy sequence.

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After the action, the heroes deal with the big question, the future of the Titans.  As I mentioned in the intro, we sadly don’t see the end of the Jupiter episode, but at least Aqualad is smart enough to realize how completely inane the whole thing is.  The rest of the Titans say they still feel like their vow has merit, and I suppose a vow is a vow, no matter how foolish.  Of course, they’ve already broken it by taking part in this adventure.  Nevertheless, they say that they’ll only help out in extreme cases like this and that they’ll leave regular crime fighting to the police.  Hopefully this is Skeate’s first step to moving them into a new direction.  We’ll have to wait and see.

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This is another good issue, as if that were really in doubt with Steve Skeates holding the pen.  Cardy’s art is as lovely as always, though I really don’t care that much for his Ocean Master.  He’s well drawn, but he just seems softer, less imposing than Aparo’s or Adams’.  Anyway, this issue is fun, exciting, and even manages to ask some interesting questions about principles and pacifism, even if it does so a bit awkwardly at times.  Despite the frustrating moments with Dove, I’ll give Skeates credit for trying to do something new and challenging.  The whole adventure is enjoyable, and it’s great to see the Titans back in action.  I especially enjoy that Aqualad gets to play the leader and the level-headed one.  It’s a role he’s good at, and it’s a shame we don’t see it more often.  Unfortunately, it looks like Aqualad will be leaving the book after next issue, and that is a crying shame.  The team won’t be the same without him.  Anyway, I’ll give this issue 4 Minutemen, though I’m tempted to go a bit higher.

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Final Thoughts:


This was a solid if hardly electrifying collection of issues.  While most of the books were fairly average in quality, we had a handful of stronger offerings.  In particular, it’s worth noting that we actually got an entirely tolerable, even enjoyable, issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  Even if the comics weren’t stellar, this month provided us with several unique and interesting moments, from the arrival of Jack Kirby at DC to the first, halting steps towards bringing more mature themes to the Man of Steel in Action Comics.  At the same time, issues like this latest Superman remind us of just how far there is to go, and the contrast between this month’s two Superman books is really telling.  Even more interesting to me is the fact that, in the context of the whole catalog of DC comics, what Jack Kirby is starting to do in his Fourth World books is all the more exciting and innovative.  I’m sure it will be a fascinating experience to read those books in context.  Well, that’s it for October 1970.  I hope you’ll join me soon as we begin our sojourn in November!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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It’s been an uneventful month, in terms of the wall of shame, though I’m sure we’ll see new additions soon to rack up the headcount!