Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 6)

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Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap long-boxes in a single bound, it’s Into the Bronze Age!  I’ve certainly got an interesting pair of books in this post as we finish out the end of the April, 1971.  All of these stories are unusual in one way or another, so it shouldn’t be a boring batch, if nothing else.

I want to thank all of my readers for your patience as I’ve been moving slowly on this feature lately.  I’m rushing to finish a great deal of my professional work here at the end of the summer, which sadly leaves me little time for this pleasant diversion.  Anyway, thanks for sticking with me, and I promise to keep limping along steadily, if not rapidly.  Well, without further ado, let’s see what awaits us at the end of the 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 #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.


Superman #236


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“Planet of the Angels”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Doomsayer!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

Say what you will about Denny O’Neil, he was unquestionably an innovator, always trying something different, though it didn’t always succeed.  Today’s cover story is just such an experiment.  It’s interesting and unusual, but not entirely effective.  The cover is certainly striking, picturing the Man of Steel facing off against demons at the very gates of Hell, a very unlikely image for a Superman comic.  O’Neil has been trying to shake up the status quo, to bring new life and energy to the rather staid hero, and he’s been succeeding so far.  This comic isn’t quite as successful as some of his previous efforts, though.

It begins with a fun little scene where the World’s Finest team of Superman and Batman bust some safe-crackers.  O’Neil and Swan manage to make them both seem useful, despite the fact that the invulnerable, super-fast sun god could easily have handled these two ordinary crooks before Batman so much as put on his cowl.  Swan really does a great job with this team.  The effect is enjoyable, despite their incongruity.  Superman offers to buy his partner a cup of coffee, and I’m deeply disappointed that we don’t get to see a HISHE style scene with the two heroes sipping java in a cafe.

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Missed opportunities aside, after the Dark Knight begs off because he’s bushed, the Man of Tomorrow heads to his Fortress of Solitude where he tries out a ‘brainwave project’ that he’s been working on, a device that will compare his brainwaves to those of a normal human.  Envying humans and their need for sleep and dreams, he tries out the gadget and suddenly finds himself on a strange world!  What’s going on?

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He’s on a fiery plane where he is suddenly attacked by a gang of demons straight out of pop-cultural portrayals, right down to the goat-feet and pitchforks.  Their polearms glance off him harmlessly, and the Kryptonian easily repulses their attack.

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Just then, he is greeted by a trio of angelic looking figures who introduce themselves as Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, Christian archangels who tell the Man of Steel that he’s in the afterlife.  They stand amid beautiful green hills, and below them burns a sulfurous pit.  They display the popular misunderstanding of theology that Hell is for “those who follow not the paths of virtue,” and tell Superman that he has died and must prove himself worthy of Heaven by slaying the demons below.  Something about this seems off to him, but the Action Ace heads into the flames nonetheless.

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In the pit he discovers a massive gate and is haunted by twisted images of his friends appearing in the flames.  Realizing that something is off, Superman decides to use his head, and he tunnels underneath the gate, easily disarming the ‘demonic’ guards on the other side, where he tries to get some straight answers out of one of their number.

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The ‘fiend’ tells the Metropolis Marvel that what he sees is an illusion caused by the ‘angel’s’ hypnotic powers.  With concentration, the Man of Steel sees, not a demon, but a uniformed alien, who tells the hero that he and his fellows are law officers who were chasing criminals, those same ‘angels,’ who lured them to this planet and trapped them.  The criminals telepathically summoned Superman to destroy their enemies for them.

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Confronting the false heavenly host, the Man of Steel sees through their illusions, including phantoms of his friends being threatened, and charges through their weapon blasts to knock two of them out.  The third escapes, however, carrying a powerful bomb (through deep space!), with which to destroy the Earth!  The Man of Tomorrow catches up just in the nick of time and stops the antagonistic archangel, returning him and his fellows to the lawmen (err…law-aliens?), and repairing their ship.  The tale ends with Superman back in the Fortress of Solitude, where he reflects that he had a living dream, even though he didn’t sleep.

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This is a weird issue.  I like how Superman picks up on the incongruous elements of the ‘angel’s’ stories and setting, and I like his willingness to question figures of even the ultimate authority.  It shows a greater maturity for his character than we’ve seen in the past, and these are obviously elements that O’Neil has been trying to develop.  Yet, precisely what is happening in the story is rather unclear.  Does Superman’s device cause him to dream?  Is this a real and random encounter that has nothing to do with the device?  It’s really ambiguous, and unintentionally so, I think.

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Neither possibility lines up perfectly with the story as told, and there doesn’t seem to be any overriding point to either possibility either.  Add to that the fact that Superman just absolutely breezes through all of his challenges in this story, despite the fact that O’Neil has been trying to present him as less all-powerful and the presence of alien weapons that could reasonably have presented a threat to him, and you’ve got an uneven tale that feels a bit sloppy.  I’m also a little disappointed that the ersatz angel’s appearances weren’t illusions, as it seems incongruous for aliens to be flying through space in robes and without any protective gear.  I understand what O’Neil was going for with his little ‘evil can be beautiful’ touch at the end, but it still doesn’t quite work.  In the end, I’ll give this off-beat issue 2 Minutemen, with the dip below average primarily because of its unnecessary ambiguity.  It’s strange but ultimately forgettable.

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“The Doomsayer!”


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While the first story was something new, this backup is something old.  This is another ‘Fabulous World of Krypton’ backup feature, though, honestly it feels like a bit of a gyp.  The frame-tale guest stars Green Arrow and Black Canary, so take a wild guess what the theme is.  If you guessed ‘yet another preachy environmental yarn,’ you win the cigar!  This story just doesn’t fit the tone of Kryptonian tales, and it’s a good example of what happens when you shoe-horn in a message, prioritizing that over story.  It all begins with Superman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary having a picnic, which is a fun idea, but a rather odd set of characters.  Predictably, Ollie starts bellyaching about a nearby factory that’s spewing out pollution.  At this point, why does anyone even hang out with this annoying archer?  Well, this reminds Kal-El of a story from the glory days of Krypton, the story of a city called Surrus.  In this city there grew special flowers, the Surrus blossoms, that sang a beautiful, calming song that had an almost soporific effect on the populace.  Shades of the “Lotus Eaters!”

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This city was also home to a scientist named Mo-De, who discovered the fate of Krypton twenty whole years ahead of Jor-El!  After he made his discovery, he rushed out into the city streets and started playing Jeremiah, telling the citizens that there was still time to act.  The people didn’t want anything to do with him, just wanting to be left alone to listen to their flowers.  In desperation, Mo-De rushed into the fields and cut down the blossoms, but the enraged citizens, finally shaken out of their lethargy, beat him mercilessly and locked him in a greenhouse with more of the singing sprouts.

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Eventually, the sounds break his will, and he emerges another zombie-fied lotus eater, err…flower listener.  He passed the remaining years in peace, but died with the rest of Krypton.  After Supes finishes his story, Canary is horrified, and she rushes off to have a word with the factory’s owner, having been shaken out of her lethargy.  “Message for you, sir!”  It’s a shame it was so subtle.  I almost missed it.

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This isn’t a bad story, really.  It just doesn’t really belong here, and the entire thing feels forced, from the odd picnic with these characters that don’t really seem to have much in common (all in costume, no less), to the rather Twilight Zone-esq plot, which just really doesn’t seem to fit the utopian, highly organized Krypton that we’ve seen before.  O’Neil does a good job of economical storytelling, packing his preachy message into seven short pages pretty efficiently.  The message itself, though feeling a bit repetitive because of its environmental theme, is actually a slightly unusual one and not half bad.  Focusing, not on the pollution itself, but on the populace’s apathy, their greater interest in their entertainments, their distractions, than on their future, is a good angle.  The execution of the plot itself isn’t half bad, with the crowd’s reactions and the scientist’s fate all fairly creepy and menacing.  The fact that O’Neil did use Krypton allowed him a certain amount of shorthand with the fate of the planet, which helps his efficiency in storytelling.  There is also significance in the continued push towards social relevance, even in such an unlikely place as the Krypton backups.  Taken all together, this little yarn is worth 3 Minutemen, with the incongruous elements limiting it to an average score.

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P.S.: There’s also a somewhat clever joke in the name of the town, as “SUSsurrus” is a word meaning a soft murmuring or whispering, something of an indistinct, gentle noise.


Teen Titans #32


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“A Mystical Realm – A World Gone Mad”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Joe Letterese
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Steve Skeates’ tenure on the Titans book continues this month, and we get a rather weird story under a fairly awesome cover.  The peril of the two Titans in the image is pretty dramatic, and the dragon is quite impressive looking.  The whole composition has a dream-like (or perhaps, nightmare-like) quality that smacks of the twisted fairy tale we find within. The story it represents begins with a scene that takes in media res too far, with Kid Flash and Mal traveling through time and referencing events that the reader hasn’t seen.  It seriously made me go back and check the last issue to see if I had forgotten something.  It’s a clever scene given the use of time travel, as it begins ‘in the present,’ but it’s probably too clever for its own good.

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They think they are back in 1971, but instead of finding familiar surroundings, they discover medieval-looking peasants and, of all things, a dragon!  Kid Flash’s speed manages to get them to safety, and only then do we get the flashback we’ve been needing.  It seems that Mr. Jupiter, the vague and largely pointless patron of the Titans team, is apparently a scientist as well as a millionaire.

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One day he was experimenting with a time-travel device, just casually running incredibly dangerous and unstable tests in his building with a bunch of teenagers around.  Something went catastrophically wrong (shocking, I know), and Mal was flung back in time.  Cardy’s rendering of the page is really cool, but the scene is rather dumb.  It’s pretty clear that we’re moving at the speed of plot, here.  Also, here is yet another experiment that could conceivably destroy the world as we know it.  I’m thinking that the safest course of action in the DCU would be to ban science in general.

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Mal finds himself back in the Stone Age, facing a tribe of cavemen who begin to worship him because they saw him appear out of thin air.  Apparently the young man listened to the Ghostbuster’s good advice, as he plays along.  Meanwhile, back in the present, Jupiter feels bad for about half a second for how his irresponsibility and complete lack of safety standards hurled an innocent kid through time.  The other Titans encourage him for some reason, and Kid Flash makes plans to take a jaunt through time to try and find his friend.

Back in the past, Mal finds trouble by stealing a caveman’s cavegirl and finds himself in a club duel.  Cardy renders the fight beautifully, and Skeates doesn’t spoil it with dialog.  Mal holds his own, but a misstep leaves him hanging onto a cliff, just as Kid Flash arrives.  As the caveman prepares for a death-blow, the Fastest Boy alive knocks the club out of his hand, but he manages to bean himself in the process and earns a spot on the Head-Blow Headcount, as well as sending the neanderthal plummeting to his death.  With the hero knocked out, there’s no way to save the savage, which doesn’t seem to bother the boys much.  They take manslaughter awfully casually.

In the altered present, Kid Flash realizes that they’ve unintentionally changed history with the death of that caveman.  The young speedster knows they must go back and save the neanderthal, but he needs a cosmic treadmill to do it and doesn’t know where to find one in this medieval world.  The peasants from earlier mentioned sorcerers, so they set out to try to find someone with the power or knowledge to help them.  Discovering a castle, the pair are greeted by illusory monsters in the moat, but they manage to get past them by pole-vaulting onto the battlements, despite a mysterious hooded figure’s interference.

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It’s a nice sequence, but it gives us one of the stranger dialog exchanges I’ve seen in a while.  Mal says to Wally, “Love your white soul, brother Titan!” and his partner responds “Love your black one, Mal–and if I’ve got any soul–you taught me how!”  It’s a pretty goofy exchange by today’s standards.  I understand what Skeates was aiming for, and it makes more sense in the context of the racial tensions of the day.  In addition, there’s some decent character development in this passage and the story as a whole, as Kid Flash was the most antagonistic to Mal in their earlier encounters.  This emphasis on racial unity, however silly the setting and clumsy the effort, is an interesting and thoughtful move on Skeates’ part.  Nonetheless, I can’t help laughing when I read it.

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When the pair reach the castle’s walls, they discover that the wizard is none other than Mr. Jupiter, who here is known as Jupiterius, and he has a quartet of super-powered knights who are ersatz counterparts to the Justice League, including Batman, Superman, the Flash, and Green Arrow, which is a fun little touch for this alternate reality.  The boys ask the sorcerer for help, but he and his champions insist they pass a test to prove their worth first.

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Their first challenge is a test of bowmanship.  Weirdly, they are confronted with Lilith and Speedy, who look like their modern counterparts with no good explanation.  It’s supposed to be some type of trick, but I don’t really see the point of it.  Nonetheless, things seem pretty hopeless.  How can Kid Flash compete with Speedy in his element?  Well, despite the boy bowman making a perfect shot at a keyhole, Kid Flash manages to pull a Robin Hood and split his arrow.  Even more, his shaft manages to slice through the other and unlock the door.  The tale ends with the time-tossed Titans facing whatever mysterious menace awaits on the other side!

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This is certainly an entertaining and unusual story, but it feels very uneven.  What Skeates is trying here is creative and promising, (I always like an imaginative alternate reality) but his execution is just rather off.  It’s fun to see the medieval Justice League, a concept that will be revisited a few times over the years, but they don’t really do anything, and the addition of Mr. Jupiter feels a bit shoe-horned.  Sure, he’s important to the Titans, but his presence with the League implies a more important role in the DCU than really seems warranted.  Of course, I may just be letting my dislike for the pointless character color my reading.  As for the death of the caveman, I think I would be much more bothered by that if it wasn’t pretty clear that the heroes will reverse it.  Nonetheless, I would have liked to see Wally deal with that at least a little bit, rather than immediately shrugging it off.  Honestly, after reading this story, I had to double check to make sure it wasn’t ‘ol Zany Haney.  I was certain that this was one of his half-baked yarns, as the wild world the characters visit just feels more random than thought–out.  Needless to say, the art is gorgeous, and Cardy does a great job with all of the medieval and fantasy elements.  His soft, sketchy work really sells the illusions and mystery of the book.  In the end, it’s a fun if flawed and strange story, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We’ve got a bunch of new additions to the Wall of Shame this month.  Poor Aquaman makes yet another return, but he is in good company as Batgirl, Mr. Miracle, and Kid Flash all join him.  This puts Batgirl back ahead of Robin, sadly for her.  The Headcount certainly drives home just how much of a trope this is, with so many of our stars showing up on it.  I wonder if we’ll ever see the Last Son of Krypton gracing this feature.


Final Thoughts:


And that finishes up April 1971!  This is a month of endings and beginnings, a month of specters and spooks, and a month of innovation as well as repetition.  The books of this month reflect the paradoxical nature of this era in DC Comics, with the extremely conventional sharing space with the experimental.  At the same time Leo Dorfman is turning out standard Silver Age fare, Denny O’Neil is working to revamp Superman, all while Jack Kirby is busy pushing the boundaries of the medium.  Notably, while O’Neil fails to challenge the Man of Steel, Kirby finds great success with both physical and dramatic obstacles worthy of Last Son of Krypton.

Comics also seem to be edging further into the long forbidden realms of horror and the supernatural, with two different tales this month featuring hauntings and wandering spirits.  This is to be expected in the Phantom Stranger, though his story once again proves mature and impressive, but the theme is surprising in the Rose and Thorn backup.  I am also surprised by my continuing enjoyment of the Lois Lane book as a whole.  It remains an interesting and off-beat change of pace in my monthly readings.

This month saw the end of Aquaman and the birth of Mr. Miracle, the death of something special and the advent of something unique.  One group of creators was denied the chance to finish what they started, while the King is finally given the chance to give form to the gathered inspirations of his unsatisfying final years at Marvel.

Social relevance continues to be a force, with even the last Aquaman title dealing with themes of pollution and human environmental impact in an oblique fashion.  Denny O’Neil, of course, continues to hit environmental themes, but even his prime Superman story this month has a touch of social commentary in its subtle encouragement about questioning appearances.

We’ve also got superheroes accidentally killing people left and right this month, with both Supergirl and Kid Flash unintentionally taking a life.  We’re still in an immature enough era that these deaths are mostly unremarked and their moral dimensions almost completely ignored.  Hopefully we’ll see a more intentional approach to the moral responsibility of these characters grow up in the succeeding months and years.

In terms of form, we’re seeing more and more continued stories, with Supergirl wrapping up a several month long arc that actually did affect the character during its progression.  Rose and Thorn continues its episodic format, and Jimmy Olsen and the Titans books are doing the same.  This is providing the opportunity for more expansive plots and greater development.  I wonder if we’ll see that become the dominant form for most of DC’s titles.

Well, it was certainly an eventful month in comics, and there is still plenty more to come!  I hope y’all enjoyed this month’s books and commentary, and I also hope you’ll return soon as we begin another month of reading.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 6)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’re still working on February, but we’re almost done.  We’ve got a solid set of books to talk about today, and we get a new entry on the Head-Blow Headcount!  Adventure awaits!

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 #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87 (AND Avengers #85-6)
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Superman #234


Superman_v.1_234“How to Tame a Wild Volcano!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“Prison in the Sky”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Curt Swan

We’ve got a nicely dramatic cover for this issue, and the headline story within is definitely a step in the right direction for O’Neil’s Superman revamp.  The plot is a standard setup for the Man of Steel, a natural disaster threatening innocents, but there are added complications, physical, and, more interestingly, moral.

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The story begins with everyone’s favorite evil CEO (before Lex Luthor went legit), Morgan Edge, who is calling Clark Kent into his office.  He gives the mild mannered man a new assignment, to cover the events on the island of Boki as they unfold.  Apparently, the Boki volcano is about to erupt for the first time in 100 years, and, in another display of impersonal, corporate evil, the island’s owner is refusing to let his workers evacuate.  Edge orders Clark not to intervene, only to report, displaying a telling level of vicious callousness.  Fortunately, while Clark Kent may be forbidden from intervening, Superman is under no such restrictions!

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superman 234 0006He streaks off to the south Pacific, where he sees armed ships firing on natives in canoes.  Helpfully gathering up the fired shells, the Man of Steel lands on the lead ship’s deck, and there’s a funny bit as the sailors continue firing with small arms and Superman contemptuously points out how stupid that is when their deck guns couldn’t hurt him.  He’s confronted by Boysie Harker, the island’s owner, who refuses to believe that the volcano will really blow and is willing to kill his employees (more like slaves) if they leave.  Harker declares that the law is on his side, and he forbids the hero from setting foot on his island.

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Now, this is where the Silver Age Superman would have a big existential crisis because heaven forbid he break the law to save a life.  Fortunately, in what is probably the strongest part of the issue, the Metropolis Marvel flat-out acknowledges that he’ll break the law if he has to, “because there’s a moral law that’s above some man-made laws.”  That’s just the kind of increased moral sophistication I’ve been wanting to see from these stories.  Of course, it’s ironic that this comes from Denny O’Neil, whose Green Lantern was completely unwilling and unable to see the difference between law and morality, but perhaps this is growth for both character and writer.

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Either way, Superman sets out to save the island without technically breaking the law, figuring there’s no reason to court trouble if he doesn’t have to.  After setting up his camera and using a remote transmitter to do his narration while in action, he begins drilling a channel under the sea to relieve the pressure of the volcano and prevent the eruption.  Yet, far away, another familiar figure is stirring!  The sinister sandy shape from the previous issue stalks across the desert and then shakily takes to the skies, heading for Superman.

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When it passes overhead, the Man of Steel suddenly loses his powers and grows ill.  He’s forced to abandon his drilling and wonders what in the world could have caused his weakness now that kryptonite is gone.  As the situation grows more dire and time grows shorter, the Man of Tomorrow is distracted by a crashing plane.  After he manages to save the aircraft, he learns from the officials onboard that the U.N. is preparing to move in and arrest Harker and free the natives.  Yet, they’re still an hour out, while the volcano is due to erupt in twenty minutes!  Superman learns that the plane was damaged by a storm, and this gives him an idea that just might work!

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He flies to the storm-clouds, and by flying at super speeds, he creates a powerful wind that blows them right over the volcano’s cone.  The contact of hot and cold air triggers torrential rains, and the raging fires below are cooled enough to delay the eruption.  Yet, as Superman washes off in the downpour, the sandy figure appears above him once more, and he plunges from the skies, crashing right into the deck gun of Harker’s ship.

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In a hilarious and beautiful sequence, Harker and his men attack the Man of Steel with their bare hands, busting many a knuckle between them, as the hero simply ignores them, lost in thought about what caused his sudden fall.  It’s wonderfully funny and illustrative of his power and his personality.  I’m reminded a bit of the scene from Deadpool where the Merc with a Mouth breaks all of his limbs attacking Colossus (warning, SUPER not family friendly).

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With Harker arrested and the people evacuated, Clark Kent is free to cover the deferred eruption, but he can’t help but wonder, what was it that sapped his strength?  Meanwhile, inside the volcano, a sandy figure waits, its features slowly taking on greater distinction.

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This is a great, straight-forward Superman adventure.  It’s a simple enough plot, but the addition of the legal angle and the moral depth it reveals is enough to make it something special.  The continuing thread of the sand Superman is intriguing, and I’m definitely interested in where that is going.  We’re definitely seeing evidence of a change in values in these comics as we have yet another villain who is a corrupt industrialist.  We’re clearly seeing a lot of distrust for the wealthy and the powerful and the focus on social justice that comes with that.  I’m impressed that O’Neil manages to gives Superman some challenges without robbing him of his powers or resulting to too many plot devices.  One of the hero’s greatest limitations has always been his own code of conduct, and that’s always a source for good story conflict.  The humor and humanity Clark displays is also quite good.  In short, this is a fine Superman story and an encouraging sign of O’Neil’s progress.  I’m looking forward to seeing what else he comes up with.  I’ll give this tale 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Prison in the Sky”


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The ‘Fabulous World of Krypton’ backup strip continues to be a fun glimpse into history, and it’s penned by the perfect fellow in the person of E. Nelson Bridwell, DC’s own champion of continuity.  This particular tale gives us a look at Kryptonian culture and the nature of their elections.  Curiously, we learn that the ruling body of Krypton, the ‘Science Council,’ has its members elected by the population based on the strength of their scientific achievements.  That’s a novel idea, and I’m sure it’s been formally argued, but I can’t for the life of me remember by who.  I’ll let you make your own wry comparisons between scientist-run Krypton and the current situation in the U.S.

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The relative merits of the system aside, we observe the proceedings along with Jor-El and Lara as two different scientist demonstrate their inventions.  Ken-Dal created a warp fuel, while Tron-Et (no, not THAT Tron) shows off a ‘Dissolver-Beam’ that can break up storms.  To vote, the citizens of the world use a ‘vote projector’ to flash a green or blue shape on the sky.  That seems a tad inefficient to me, but nonetheless, Tron-Et wins the election.  As his first act, he proposes that, because of growing overpopulation in Krypton’s prisons (not very utopian, is it?), they should disintegrate condemned criminals.  The rest of the Council strongly objects, calling a death penalty barbarous (perhaps a touch of social commentary?), and demand that they open the floor for alternate solutions.

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Jor-El, always ready with a half-baked idea, comes to the rescue with a plan to put prisoners in suspended animation and then put them into orbit, where they can be brainwashed into good citizens, thus stealing a page from Doc Savage‘s playbook.  Interestingly, even he calls it brainwashing, which indicates that he’s at least partially aware of the huge ethical concerns raised by such an idea.  Shades of A Clockwork Orange!  His idea is approved, and he builds a prototype.  A prisoner volunteers for the first test, and he’s launched into space for 73 days.  During its orbit, Krypton loses track of it for a time, but rediscover the ship before it lands.

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When the rocket touches down, instead of being reformed, the prisoner bursts out of the hatch, seemingly possessing superpowers!  After clobbering Jor-El, the convict takes to robbing banks.  Just as he’s making his escape, Jor-El confronts him again, and this time, the scientist gets the upper hand.  After he recaptures the prisoner, the scientist reveals that the fellow was faking his powers with the aid of an anti-gravity belt (which, if you recall, was created by Jor-El himself just last issue, making him the perfect person to solve its mystery.

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The would-be thief spills the beans after he is captured, revealing that he’s actually the test subject’s twin brother, and he’s working for the head of Krypton’s biggest ‘crime combine.’  Surprisingly, his leader is none-other than Tron-Et himself.  He finagled his way onto the Science Council in order to silence captured criminals who knew too much.  To ensure his plan was adopted, he tried to sabotage Jor-El’s idea, disintegrating the original capsule and creating a duplicate complete with a false prisoner.  Ironically, Tron-Et then becomes the first test subject for Jor’s design.

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This story could probably do with some more space, as it’s really crammed a bit too full of ideas to be entirely successful.  Nonetheless, it’s a fun tale, and all of those ideas are intriguing and lively.  It’s always great to see Jor-El play ‘action scientist,’ which is more entertaining than the ‘Jor-El the barbarian’ we saw in Man of Steel.  Krypton is developing into a more fully realized setting, and while certain elements of Bridwell’s plot, like the sky-light voting, are a bit on the silly side, there isn’t anything here that is flat-out ridiculous, unlike many earlier stories about the planet.  It’s notable that we even manage to get a touch of continuity, with this yarn following naturally from the previous one.  In the end, it’s just enjoyable to see Bridwell explore the world of Krypton, and his imagination is certainly up to the task.  I’ll give this backup 3.5 Minutemen.

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Teen Titans #31


Teen_Titans_v.1_31“To Order is to Destroy”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Dick Giordano

“From One to Twenty”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Joe Letterese
Editor: Dick Giordano

This so-so Nick Cardy cover (a rarity) promises another campus-centric comic, though the headline tale within is an odd example of the type.  Of course, I love Steve Skeates, but I don’t think this yarn is really his best work. It does feature his usual imaginative touch and dramatic sense, but the handling is a bit clumsy.

This teen tale opens on the campus of Elford College, where a mustachioed man waits to see the school psychologist.  He looks like he’s in his 30s, but we’re supposed to think he is a student.  Interestingly, he looks a bit like Tony Stark, and, of course, George Tuska was perhaps most famous for his run on Iron Man.  As he sits in the waiting room, casually reading a magazine, he overhears the doctor talking with a student in his office.  The kid complains about being distracted by the chaos in the world and having trouble studying because of it (I feel ya’, kid!).

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In that middle panel observe the lined, world-weary face of an 18-year-old.

The shrink offers the boy some therapy and helps him come to grips with the instability of contemporary politics…ohh, wait, no.  He gives the kid a brain operation and implants a device in his head to “help him concentrate” by controlling his thoughts!  I wonder if that’s covered under student insurance.  Hearing this insane treatment plan, our middle-aged teenager reacts completely realistically, freaking the heck out and getting the heck away from that office.

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Oddly, we get the traditional first page title-splash on page three.  Why?  I have no idea.  I’m wondering if the pages for this issue somehow got out of order.  Anyway, a week later, young Wally West pays a visit to the campus as he’s starting to tour colleges.  That’s a fun bit of character developing verisimilitude.  I wonder how many years it will be before Wally actually goes to college.  At the school, he spots our mustachioed muchacho from the opening being attacked by a gang of students!  Immediately forgetting all about the whole ‘not using powers or costumes’ nonsense, Wally leaps into action as Kid Flash, noting that he doesn’t know what’s going on, but he can’t stand a one-sided fight.  I rather like that, and it’s a nice character beat.

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Rescuing the man-boy from the melee, the Fastest Boy Alive follows his directions to a shack in the hills where the fellow, Johnny Adler, has been hiding out.  Adler tells his tale, which leaves several things unexplained.  Apparently, after he realized what a quack the school shrink was and fled his appointment, he became a marked man.  It seems that all of the students on campus have been turned into school zombies, and they follow the administration’s orders, even attacking on command.  Yet, who Adler is and how he ended up at the shack remains a bit fuzzy.  He claims that he can’t get away because the only way out is through campus…but that’s a bit hard to believe.  You can’t just walk around?  Maybe it’s a failure of the art that I can’t conceptualize this.

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Anyway, the young hero speeds away to gather his teammates and investigate Elford.  When they arrive on campus, we we discover the most interesting element of the comic as we are introduced to the nefarious Dr. Pauling himself, along with the university president, who watch the Titans suspiciously.  It seems that Pauling began his operations because of growing tensions at the college and the rising tide of student unrest throughout the country.  The powers that be wanted a way to pacify the student body, and they naturally turned to the most wildly unethical and supervillain-ish way imaginable.  To top things off, the not-so-good doctor doesn’t even have a medical license!

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The junior JLA, curiously enough, are dressed in their non-costumes from the pointless Mr. Jupiter, but they immediately switch into their costumes to go meet with Johnny.  At the shack, they discover signs of a struggle and a very absent Mr. Adler, so they change back and return to campus in search of him.  Once they arrive, the psycho psychologist sics the school on them, and the Titans find themselves fighting for their lives.  What’s worse, they can’t use their powers without revealing who they are.  It’s almost like giving up your costumed identity is a huge mistake for a superhero.  Who knew?

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Surprisingly, Lilith actually makes herself useful and reveals she’s been taking judo.  As the team is attacked, young-old Johnny Adler, newly zombiefied, begins to struggle against his programing and stumbles towards the president’s office.  During the fight, we also get an awkward exchange between Mal and Roy that doesn’t amount to anything.  I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be light-hearted ribbing or something more serious, but it comes across as a bit mean-spirited.  See what you think.

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Once Johnny makes it to the office, he forces Pauling to call off the attack, and with his last ounce of strength, he rips out the mic cord, saving the Titans just before they would have been overrun.  The team dashes off to find Pauling, clearly completely nuts, ranting and raving about how the campus will be consumed in riots without his stewardship.  The story ends with an attempt at a melancholy and thoughtful reflection that doesn’t quite strike home.  The heroes point out that the human spirit triumphed over programming and compulsion in Johnny, but that just indicates that the other students might have done the same too, yet didn’t.  They wonder if the majority of people are really that weak and easily led.  Have you read your history kids?  Yes.  The answer is yes.

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This slightly weird story has its strong points, but I think Skeates might be wrestling with his page limit on this first one.  There are some really interesting ideas at play here, but they don’t quite come together enough to be effective.  You have a really neat reflection of the anxiety about student involvement that we’ve watched spread through the culture and through the comics.  It’s fascinating that the motives for the villains are effectively just pacification, the maintenance of the status quo.  They want their students to go about their studies and get their degrees in peace, which is a perfectly reasonable goal, though it is obviously taken to a horrific extreme.  By implication, this tale has some rather interesting things to say about that very status quo and the ‘establishment’ that maintains it.  Yet, these fascinating ideas don’t get enough space to breathe.

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That first panel gives us a delightfully deranged face.  Yikes!

The same is true with Johnny Adler’s sudden ability to resist the brainwashing (something of a theme with today’s books).  We just don’t know enough about the kid for his triumph to have much of an impact.  If we had been introduced to him as a free-thinker, an independent spirit, it might have been more effective.  The character was a good chance for Skeates to make some kind of statement about HOW to avoid becoming one of the easily led masses, but he passed up the opportunity.  In the same way, there’s a slight effort to develop the Titans themselves, but it doesn’t really amount to anything.  This would have been a good chance to break with the Mr. Jupiter setup, which is clearly not working, but we aren’t so lucky.  Of course, the central conflict, the random brain operations, also needs a bit more to sell it.  How exactly did this school psychologist convince presumably every student on campus to let him cut into their brains?  You can’t throw something like that out in one page and then call it good.

In terms of the art, we’ve got a change this month.  George Tuska is a fine artist with a reputation for interesting and memorable faces, speed, reliability, and versatility, but he’s no substitute for Nick Cardy in my book.  This issue looks good, but I miss Cardy’s unique style and can’t help wondering what might have been.  I suppose I’ll give this tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s strengths and weaknesses sort of even out to an average score.

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“From One to Twenty”


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Hawk’s caveman-like contempt for poetry is picture perfect for him.

Like last issue, we’ve got two stories in this month’s book, but sadly the backup this time isn’t Aqualad and Aquagirl.  Instead, we’re treated to a fun solo adventure by Hawk and Dove.  It’s nice to see these two new characters getting a bit of a chance to develop some, as there isn’t a whole lot of space in the main Titans book to flesh them out with everyone else competing for panels.  This tale begins with Hank Hall who is on the hunt for some crime to fight, and he’s decided to stalk the streets with a pair of binoculars…for some reason.  That’s not at all unusual and apt to draw attention or anything.  He spies a strange transaction at a newsstand, wherein a customer gives the proprietor $1 and gets $20 in return!  Strange!  Thinking that this must be some type of shakedown, the young man trails the customer, changing into Hawk in the process.

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Ironically, the suspect is himself mugged a few minutes later, and Hawk decides to intervene, better to bash multiple crooks instead of just one!  He plans to take out the muggers and then let the suspect go on his way so he can keep tailing the guy, but he the warlike one lets himself get distracted during the donnybrook and, joy of joys, he gets taken out by a head-blow!  That’s right, Hawk makes his official first appearance amongst the august company on the Wall of Shame.

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When he comes to, his brother Don has found him, having been out on his own type of patrol, focusing on protecting victims rather than punishing criminals.  They bicker a bit, but pretty quickly they decide to stake out the newsstand again and see if anything else happens.  Once there, they observe the same customer return and get another $20 for $1, and Don works out what’s going on as they leap into action.  When the peaceful pacifist tries to talk the pair into surrendering, one of them pulls a gun, and the other slugs him.  Fortunately for Dove, Hawk is there to bust some heads.

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I don’t much care for the way Tuska draws their transformations.

After the fight, Don explains to his brother that this was part of a counterfeit ring, where passers could trade one dollar of real money for twenty funny bills.  As they search for change to call the police, they hope that the men they captured will help lead to bigger fish in the syndicate.

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This is an entertaining little tale.  It’s nice to see the brothers in action on their own, and it’s also nice to see them do more than just argue with one another.  Hank comes off better in this issue, if a tad dim, and while Don doesn’t come off as a coward, gamely dodging gunfire without a complaint, he does seem a bit ineffectual as he can’t even stop an unarmed hood without his brother’s help.  It is funny to see him try and talk the thug into surrendering, only to catch an elbow to the face, but it would have been nice to see him pull his weight a bit more.  In the end, this is a good story that provides these two with a chance to shine.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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And that fills out this post.  We had a fun set of books in this batch, and I’m always pleased to add another entry to Headcount.  I hope you enjoyed my commentary, and please join me soon for the final book in this month of 1971, along with my final thoughts.  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

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Hawk joins many of his fellows and two fellow Titans on the Wall of Shame!  I wonder if his partner will join him sometime soon.Clearly, the ol’ head-blow trope is alive and well in ’71.

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 5)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Hello Internet travelers, and thank you for joining me for today’s stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  This is the very last post covering the banner year of 1970.  We are standing at the threshold for the 70s proper, and soon we’ll be exploring a whole new year of comics.  We’ve got a promising trio of titles to examine in this post.  So, hop in your Whiz Wagon and join me as I investigate these classic comics!

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 #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134


jimmy_olsen_134“The Mountain of Judgment!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We return to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World today in our second issue of Jimmy Olsen.  With this book we get a bit better of an idea about the setting Kirby is developing, but there are still far more questions than there are answers.  Kirby is setting up a great deal here, and my memory doesn’t quite serve to show me which threads will get paid off.  I have a vague notion that several of the ideas he sets up here won’t quite get the development they need.  Nonetheless, this issue is full of wild ideas and colossal concepts, including some classic Kirby artistic experimentation.

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It opens in grand fashion, with a full-page splash of a mass exodus from the tree-house like ‘Habitat’ we saw at the end of the previous issue.  It’s a parade of crazy, Kirby-esq vehicles, led by the wondrous Whiz Wagon.  Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion are leading the Outsiders out in search of the mysterious and oh-so-awesomely named ‘Mountain of Judgement.’  The Newsboys get into some antics as they try to film the crowd that turns up to see them off, and Flippa-dippa is already stretching for an excuse to make himself useful…which is not a great sign.  Yet, the festivities are interrupted by the newly recovered Man of Steel who tries to talk the crew out of pursuing their mission, intimating that he knows something they don’t.  Jimmy and the Legion insist they have a job to do, but their discussion is cut short by the antagonistic bikers, who mount another attack on the Metropolis Marvel.

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One of them tries to run Superman down with a rocket cycle, because apparently he’s a moron and doesn’t get the whole ‘more powerful than a locomotive’ thing, and that goes about as well as you’d expect.  The Man of Tomorrow catches it and plays rocket wrangler in a really cool panel.  Yet, the next attack is more effective.  One of these dropouts with their ridiculously advanced weaponry, targets the hero with a bazooka shell of kryptonite gas, and another finishes him off with a “green K paralysis gun.”  Of course, this is another example of that ‘everything is kryptonite’ problem with this era of Superman stories.  Fortunately, next month we get “Kryptonite Nevermore,” and I am really looking forward to that.

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Anyway, Superman is defeated and possibly poisoned, you know, what with the deadly element he was exposed to and all, and his best friend, Jimmy Olsen, casually and callously notes that now they can get on with their job.  This is the one point of the book that really bothered me.  Last issue, the attack on Superman was sudden and unexpected, and Jimmy had just taken control of the gang.  This issue, on the other hand, the attack goes on for some time, the young reporter is clearly more in control, and yet he does nothing to stop it.  What’s more, he greets his friend being knocked unconscious with all the concern that you or I might muster for seeing a stranger stub their toe.  That’s a beat that doesn’t ring true.  It seems like, at the least, they could have, you know, listened to what Superman had to say.

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After that kerfuffle, the convoy heads out, careening towards the foreboding Zoomway and beginning a race with death as they encounter obstacle after obstacle in their search for the mysterious Mountain.  First, Jimmy sends the Whiz Wagon straight through a camouflaged entrance to the roadway at top speed, ‘trusting in his instincts,’ which seems an unnecessary gamble, but what do I know?  Next, they must build up speed on a rock-strewn course in order to leap a chasm, a jump that some of the bikers don’t make.

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Then they wade into “the water course,” where Flippa-dippa actually contributes, by planting a charge on a blocked exit, though his incompetence nearly gets himself killed as the charge goes off too early.  Of course, the incredible Kirby-bikes of the Outsiders are equipped for submarine operation as well, because Jack Kirby’s reality is way more interesting than ours.

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Next, the crew encounters a reality-warping tunnel that messes with their senses, and they have to pilot by instruments as they lose all sense of direction.   This is portrayed by two bizarre pages of Kirby’s patented black and white photo-collages.  They’re fairly psychedelic and surreal, but it rather irks me that his model car doesn’t actually look that much like the Whiz Wagon.  I think he’d have been better off to incorporate some pencils, as he did in similar instances with the Fantastic Four.  I know that this was the King experimenting with the medium, pushing its boundaries and pioneering new techniques, but I never really cared for the effect that this type of gambit created.  According to the letters’ pages of the old Marvel books, though, it seems to have received at least some positive reaction from fans.  I wonder what DC readers would have thought of this in 1970.  If they hadn’t been reading Marvel books, it’s possible they wouldn’t have seen anything like this before.

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jo134-19At any rate, Superman has awakened during all this adventure, and he sets out after our young travelers, zooming past the dangers they overcame.  Along the way, he passes the bikers who were left behind in the madcap dash towards their goal, and, in a bit of a cheat, he notes that they are all unharmed.  I can’t help but wonder if that was a Comic’s Code sop, because you’ve got to think that the guys that failed that jump and plowed into the chasm wall probably didn’t do too well.  Nonetheless, the Man of Steel suddenly encounters a bizarre, Brobdingnagian behemoth, a boogeyman from the nightmares of a regular car, a gigantic converted missile carrier with a frightening facade that is screaming down the Zoomway.  This is the Mountain of Judgement.  Who should be caught in its path but the plucky Legion.  Pulling off a last minute save, the Metropolis Marvel carries the Whiz Wagon into the Mountain, which is Kirby-tech from top to bottom.  Instantly, the enigmatic Hairies who we heard about last issue spring forth and start examining the Wagon with delicate instruments.

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Only Kirby could design this gloriously mad vehicle.

Superman begins to explain but is interrupted by the discovery of a tiny but incredibly powerful bomb hidden in the car-mounted camera.  The Hairies lessen its power, and the Man of Steel smothers its blast, leaving the Legion boys entirely gobsmacked.  At this point, Jimmy finally begins to show some appreciation for the guy who is constantly saving his life.  It seems that Morgan Edge had an ulterior motive for sending this expendable little gang of kids on this assignment.  They were a Trojan Horse designed to destroy the Hairies.

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But, just who are these strange people, and what are they doing in this bizarre corner of the world?  Most of our questions remain unanswered, but their new hosts take the hero and his crew on a tour and show them the incredible insides of the Mountain, which serves as a giant rolling home for their enclave.  Essentially, theirs is a “mobile scientific society,” whatever that is, and Superman somehow knew about them.  The issue ends with the Legion wondering what game Morgan Edge is playing, and we get a glimpse of the man himself contacting a mysterious master, a strange character by the name of…Darkseid!

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This is another jam-packed issue, full of Kirby’s signature wild, rollicking action, an imaginative overload.  Unfortunately, our inker is the notorious Vince Colletta, so I imagine that we’re losing some of the nuances of the art.  Nonetheless, the book is full of fantastic visuals and wonderfully over-designed gadgets.  I don’t think he’s quite got the hang of Superman himself yet, as the Man of Steel occasionally looks a bit wonky, but the rest of the art in this issue is as gorgeous and creative as you’d expect.  The King delivers a plot that centers around a frantic race, which makes for a fun read, and the mysteries he’s introducing left and right are intriguing.

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Obviously, DC fans will recognize where a lot of this is going, but it is great fun to see the seeds planted.  The weakness, other than the odd moment with Jimmy’s indifference to Superman’s plight, is Kirby’s dialog.  It’s got a strange quality to it that I just can’t put my finger on.  Just check out some of the examples I posted above.  It has something in common with Beat poetry, an odd rhythm and cadence, combined with some silly 60s slang.  I’m definitely not the first to observe this, and while it isn’t a huge problem with this issue, this is something that marks the Fourth World books and can make them feel a bit dated, even for their contemporary milieu.  Still, on the whole, this is a fun issue, full of the manic energy that always characterizes Kirby’s plotting.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Interestingly, despite several ads for more forthcoming Fourth World books due out this very month, we won’t see them premiere until a few months into the next year.  I wonder what happened there?

P.S.: Several of my friends over at Freedom Reborn have been kind enough to remind me of something that I really should have remembered.  Apparently, despite hiring Jack Kirby to draw Superman and Jimmy Olsen, DC’s top brass were concerned that he would somehow damage the characters by drawing them like Jack Kirby rather than like the house style.  They actually had artists like Al Plastino and Murphy Anderson retouch and sometimes completely redraw both of those characters, leading to the weirdness I noticed in the Superman figures above.  Here’s a great article by Kirby champion and expert, Mark Evanier.  It’s really a crying shame, and the few samples of existing Kirby Superman art really make me long for what might have been.  I had actually learned this years ago when I read through the 4th World omnibuses, but I apparently had forgotten.  Thanks guys!

P.P.S.: This issue also came with an odd, off-beat text piece by the King himself where he praises the possible development of real-life Whiz Wagons and ponders the world that might come.  It’s an interesting read, though Kirby’s strange prose style is a bit hard to get a hang of.  It seems that prediction like these were everywhere decades ago, and yet I still don’t have my flying car, my personal submersible, or my jetpack.  Clearly, we’ve failed to make the future as awesome as it should have been.  After all, we’re living in the 21st Century, and aside from the Star-Trek like device I carry around in my pocket, it doesn’t seem all that different from the 20th.  Buck Rogers would be heartbroken!

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Teen Titans #31


Teen_Titans_Vol_1_30.jpgGreed… Kills!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Some Call It Noise”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Nick Cardy
Editor: Dick Giordano

Apparently we’re seeing a change in format with this issue.  Instead of a single story, we’re going to get two short yarns each month for a while.  I’m more than a little disappointed by that, as I’ve been looking forward to this issue because the cover indicated it would be Aqualad-centric, even featuring the fantastic but rarely used Aquagirl.  Imagine my dismay when I realized the promising cover only represented a brief backup tale (8 1/2 pages) rather than a full comic.  Promisingly, both of the stories herein are penned by Steve Skeates, but they didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The first tale, which is actually not the cover story, sadly returns our titanic teens to the pointless Mr. Jupiter plot.  We find them engaged on a mission for the mysterious millionaire, costume-less and also rather clueless.  Lilith has had another vague vision, and she has brought them to a pawnshop she foresaw being robbed.  The team debates the value of following her “hunches,” and Kid Flash is particularly dubious.  Yet, the would-be thieves do show up, and while the boys tackle them, quickly dispatching two of them, the young speedster lets his pigeon get away.

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For some reason, he doesn’t use his super speed in pursuing the guy, and then he just stands idly by while the fellow stumbles into traffic and gets run down.  Now, it’s supposed to be sudden, but how sudden does it have to be for a kid with super speed not to be able to intervene?  That bothered me, and it smacked more of Kid Flash just choosing not to act than anything else, which is a failure on Skeates’ part.

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A scene follows with the police in the hospital that tells us that the injured man is Kevin Murphy (no, not Tom Servo’s alter ego), a notorious thief, thought to have died ten years ago.  What does all of this have to do with a job for Mr. Jupiter?  Well, wait and see.  The kids follow up on their “mission,” visiting a wealthy businessman, named Mr. Tout, from whom they are tasked with getting a donation for a charity to help first time youth offenders reform.  Mr. Scrooge, er…I mean Tout doesn’t react take too fondly to this idea, and he screams about how criminals can’t be reformed and how he won’t subsidize lazy bums who won’t get jobs.  Cardy really does some great personality work with this fellow, giving him a distinct and evocative look.

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Their plea having failed, Mal notes that Tout looked directly at him during his tirade and speculates that there were probably racial overtones in it.  The quintet try to decide what to do now, and Lilith surprises them all by insisting that they go visit the injured Mr. Murphy.  teentitans30-08It’s handy to have the powers of plot.  Meanwhile, Tout discovers the concussed crook’s whereabouts and, strangely, begins to panic.  He decides that he must take care of this situation, immediately!

When they arrive at the hospital, the former Titans discover gunmen attempting to take out the police guards and kill Murphy.  Fortunately for the lone cop still standing, the girls intervene, promptly incapacitating the two assassins in a nice Cardy action sequence that, like some of our previous issues, demonstrates the different fighting styles of the participants.  Interestingly, Lilith is actually useful in the fight, which I didn’t expect.

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The gunsels grounded, the kids get an explanation from Murphy, who is dying from his injuries (that’s entirely on you, Wally).  Apparently, he and Tout were partners years ago, and after a big score, the ‘self-made man’ went straight and built himself a business empire.  Yet, he was afraid that his former partner would one day be caught and turn on him, so he tried to have him killed.  Murphy faked his own death in order to escape, and when his identity was in the papers after his capture, Tout decided it was time to finish the job.  Strangely, the issue ends, not with the capture of Tout, but with the youths just wandering down the street, talking over the enigmatic events of the case.  Tout’s fate is implied, but not shown.

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This is a fine story, with an interesting twist, but the trouble is that it isn’t really a Teen Titans story, just like some of the earlier issues I’ve covered.  Replace little-miss plot device with a clue that connects Murphy to Tout, and you could lift the Titans entirely out of this plot without anyone noticing.  None of the team use their abilities, none of their secret identities come into play, and the characterization, while solid, isn’t particularly distinctive or necessary to the narrative.  There’s nothing at all that makes this a Teen Titans tale.  The kids aren’t even in costume.  Cardy’s art is as beautiful as usual, but it also suffers from the lack of costumes.  His Kid Flash and Speedy are pretty hard to tell apart without any of their action garb to aid us.  Cardy still turns out a lovely story here, but I miss his seeing his Titans in action.

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Part of the problem here is just the situation that Skeates inherited, but I’m disappointed that he didn’t just go ahead and disentangle the team from this narrative albatross around their necks.  There are some elements of social commentary here, with the bootstraps-businessman’s success not actually a product of his own hard work, the racial tension, and the counterexamples for criminal reform and the like.  It subtly pushes for a more liberal approach to several social issues, but there isn’t much made of those ideas.  I suppose I’ll give this story 3 Minutemen.  It’s about average.

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Oddly, this comic also includes a two-page, mostly text short story about Kid Flash encountering a bank robber with a portable whirlwind, who is definitely not Whirlwind.  I wonder if this was an experiment or just a space filler.


“Some Call it Noise”


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The story I was so eagerly anticipating proved more than a little disappointing in context, mostly from its brevity, which left Skeates just too little space to follow any of the fun and interesting ideas he introduced.  Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable little adventure, and it is great fun to see Aqualad and Aquagirl in a story together, something we haven’t seen for quite some time, and never in a Teen Titans book, methinks.

This little yarn begins in an operating room where a desperate case is met by a daring doctor.  The patient has some type of head trauma that will prove fatal, unless, perhaps an experimental treatment the doctor has been developing is employed.  Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite aquatic adolescents hurry out of the waves on their way to a concert.  This is a fun idea, but unfortunately, Skeates just doesn’t have the time to do much with it.

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It does give us a charming image, though.

Just as the two young heroes reach the concert, the experimental surgery reaches its own crescendo, and the patient seems to be recovering well.  Yet, there is a terrible side effect of the new drug, and the recovering man goes mad!  His body chemistry thrown into turmoil, he develops superhuman strength, and he smashes his way out of the hospital.  Outside, he pulls a Grendel, catching wind of the merry music in the park and, enraged by the noise like that lonely fen-stalker, he sets off to put a stop to the revelry in most violent fashion.

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The maddened patient charges past the Aqua-teens, clocking poor Tula on the head and leaving her stunned.  Aqualad sets out in pursuit, realizing that this guy needs to be stopped before he kills someone.  Just as the crazed music critic prepares to smash the band, the Aquatic Ace attacks, laying into the fellow in a nice action sequence.  However, here we get one of my only real critiques of the issue.

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Aqualad thinks to himself that he’s able to throw a strong punch underwater, so he’s even more capable on the surface without the water resistance to fight.  Now, you might be thinking, ‘but that’s right!’ and you’d be correct.  My issue is that this really rather sells his abilities short, as he isn’t just able to throw “a strong punch;” he’s downright super strong!  I think Skeates, as much as I love him, forgets the super strength of his Atlanteans too often.  Still, it’s a minor complaint, and the kid still handles the enraged patient with aplomb.

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Yet, his encounter with his angry antagonist proved a dangerous distraction.  Aquagirl, injured more seriously than he realized, has wandered off in a daze, trying to head to the sea, but stumbling further inland in confusion.  In growing fear, as their one-hour deadline looms closer and closer, Garth sets out on a desperate search.  Following a few clues, he finds her leaning against a lamppost in town, and then we get one of the stronger beats of the story.  Aqualad notes that their hour was up five minutes ago, yet they don’t just drop dead.  Instead, they grow weaker, yet the young man pushes himself to a heroic effort, carrying the lovely lady all the way back to the beach.  He even passes out on his feet, but keeps stumbling forward blindly, collapsing mere inches from the sea.

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Fortunately, the tide comes in, reviving the exhausted Atlanteans.  It’s a great sequence, and it shows that Aqualad has some of his surrogate father’s force of will.  It also establishes that the one hour limit is not a hard and fast rule, but a general guideline that threatens, not immediate death, but growing weakness.  That’s a significant step in the right direction.  In the final half page, the two teens head out to sea, and I really love the spin Aqualad puts on their adventure.  He argues that, even though they missed part of the concert, it was worthwhile because he “saved a man from doing something he would have hated himself for for the rest of his life.”  That’s true, and an unusual angle on the events of the day.  It implies a thoughtful, empathetic quality for the young hero, which I enjoy.

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This is a fun little adventure, but it is definitely just that, a little adventure.  I really enjoy seeing Aqualad and Aquagirl get to share a story together, but it is so brief that Tula’s role is almost nonexistent.  She takes no part in the real action, and she’s even out of her head for half of the tale.  That’s a shame because she’s a great character who doesn’t get much focus in the first place.  Despite the fact that I wanted more from this backup yarn, it is effective and efficient, delivering a complete story in just a few pages.  I’ll give it a fun but limited 3.5 Minutemen.

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World’s Finest #199


worlds_finest_comics_199Race to Save Time”
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Colourist: Tatjana Wood
Editor: Julius SchwartzE. Nelson Bridwell

This is the second half of our two-parter featuring the race around the galaxy between Superman and the Flash, and it is great fun.  The crazy cosmic adventure of the last issue continues here, though the scale gets reduced a bit for the finale.  Also, Jimmy faces more chronological conundrums.  Interestingly, the first issue promised, in no uncertain terms, that we would get an answer to the age-old question about who would win in a race, the Flash or Superman.  “There must be a winner!” declared the cover copy, and there is…sort of.  O’Neil still cheats a bit.  I wonder if that question was ever entirely settled in the Bronze Age.  Who wins, you ask?  Well, there’s only one way to find out!

Our story picks up right where it left off, with poor, time-displaced Jimmy facing a flight of airborne arrows.  The situation looks pretty hopeless, until the hapless teen fades through time once more, but this is only a temporary temporal reprieve, as he lands right in the middle of a witch trial by the masked menace of the Spanish Inquisition!  I bet you didn’t expect that!  Of course, the young man’s sudden appearance is taken as proof positive that he is in league with dark powers, so he is sentenced to die. Poor Jimmy, out of the frying pan, into the inquisitional fire.

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Meanwhile, our two heroes are continuing their race, and we get a brief recap of events , thanks to some exposition from the masters of the art, the Guardians.  Our nameless Centurion is still hanging out, but sadly we don’t get any more of his inner monologue.  That’s a missed opportunity Mr. O’Neil!  Anyway, the radical racers are ambushed by another batch of the Anachronids, and unfortunately they chose their sector of space well as they are near an orange star, so Superman is weakened.  The charging champions put up a good fight, but eventually they go down, captured by the super-fast robots!

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Back in 15th Century Spain, Jimmy is not one to wait idly by for his fate.  He uses his wristwatch, a marvel in that era, to distract his guard and then takes him out, fleeing the prison.  He escapes into the night, trying to figure out how to get home.  In search of shelter, he stumbles into a barracks, accidentally stirring up a hornet’s nest of trouble!  Fleeing the roused soldiery, the young reporter climbs up a balcony, only to run smack into the grand inquisitor himself, Torquemada, now unmasked.  Poor Jimmy!  His luck is worse than mine!

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As time continues to fluctuate, we also get a brief check-in with some other DC characters, including Batman and Wonder Woman, as their environments shift and anachronisms creep into the modern day.  In deep space, Superman and the Flash awaken to meet their captors and the architects of the universe’s current peril, the Phantom Zone Villains!  They kindly introduce themselves to the Scarlet Speedster as: Kru-El (definitely a case of nominative determinism), Jax-Ur, the notorious General Zod (whose Silver Age look is only so-so), and Professor Va-Kox.  This criminal quartet have had their robotic minions bring the heroes back to the strange, extra-dimensional planet they visited last issue.  Apparently, the villains have managed to escape from the Phantom Zone to this dimension, but they can go no further.  They created the Anachronids to turn the universe on its head, as they’ve determined that upsetting the time-stream will weaken the dimensional barriers enough for them to escape.  That’s workable enough technobabble for the setting.  The Flash cries out that this plan will kill billions of beings, and, in true villainous style, the Phantom Zone refugees respond with callous disregard.  All that matters is their freedom, and once free, they’ll pick up the pieces and rule like kings!

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Well, for something like the fourth or fifth time this month, the villains complete their contractual obligation to leave the heroes alone in order for them to escape, as the Phantom Zone Four propose to leave the pair alive in order to see their triumph.  Man, the DC villains really need to read the Evil Overlord List.  Even so, the strange star of this world is red at the moment, so the Metropolis Marvel isn’t strong enough to burst their bonds, and, his medallion captured, the Flash doesn’t have the energy to vibrate free.  But wait, the medallion was made by the Guardians, so the heroes realize it may function similarly to a power ring.  They concentrate their willpower on the device, and Superman uses it to free himself, but before he can help his comrade, Zod returns, destroying the medallion!  He has them both dead to rights, and he tells them the villains decided they were too dangerous to let live.  That’s the right idea, Zod; if only you had acted on it earlier.

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The Flash, still bound, manages to knock the kryptonian’s gun away, and Superman jumps his father’s old foe.  The Man of Steel, now more like the Man of Soft, Bruisable Flesh, takes a beating, but he eventually manages to knock the former dictator out, twisting his ankle badly in the fight.  It’s a fun scene, as Superman has to work much harder than he’s used to because he doesn’t have his powers, yet he still triumphs through force of will.  I rather prefer the Bruce Timm approach to the character, though, which stipulates that everything Superman does requires great effort, but that’s really a matter of taste.

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Unfortunately, the Flash also catches a ricochet blast from the gun, rendering his legs temporarily paralyzed.  This leaves both heroes unable to walk, but, as the Flash declares in grand heroic fashion, they can still crawl!  They set out, dragging themselves desperately towards the Phantom Zone criminals’ headquarters, where they hope to find the controls for the Anachronids.  Never one to let the weight of the universe resting on his shoulders get him down, the Scarlet Speedster declares to his not-so-super partner that they “began this thing as a race-remember?  Well, we’re still racing–and I’m still determine to beat you!”  That is just a great sequence, and it just wonderfully captures the indomitable heroic spirit of these two characters, Flash in particular, with his cheerful, hopeful personality.

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Next, O’Neil briefly checks back in with Jimmy as he awaits the headman’s axe, just to add a little more tension to the situation.  Back in the future, the two exhausted, injured heroes, arrive at the headquarters and encounter Jax-Ur and the Professor playing six dimensional chess (!).  The Flash throws a rock to distract them, and then, using a last burst of speed, the pair rush the villains and knock them out.  With just thirty seconds left until the the universe is shattered, the heroes drag themselves up the steps of the control center, and the Flash pulls the shut-off lever with only moments to spare.

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Exhausted, he declares somewhat sheepishly, “Hey!  Guess what?  I won!”  That’s right, the Flash won the race…after a fashion.  This sets everything to rights, as the Anachronids decelerate and disintegrate, not being able to survive at sub-light speeds.  Jimmy is yanked back through time just in the nick, as the axe descends.  Just then, Kru-El dashes into the control center with a gun, but the sun has just turned once more, giving the Man of Steel back his powers.  He decks Kru-El and destroys their machinery.  Then he takes Flash home, noting that he’ll get the Guardians to help him seal this dimensional breach.

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Well, this is a great two-parter.  This second half doesn’t have the rapid pace and non-stop action of the first, but it is still a lot of fun.  I love the heroes grit, reduced to crawling, and yet refusing to give in.  They persevere and succeed pretty much entirely on moxie alone.  It’s a lovely character moment for the two of them.  The story does have a few little weaknesses, some break in logical consistency, like Superman taking out Kru-El easily, despite the fact that the villain now has super powers too.  The wrap-up is really a bit too brief, and it seems that O’Neil may have run out of room.  Still, the story is so much fun, and the adventure, both for the heroes and for time-tossed Jimmy, is so satisfying, that I’m not too bothered by such things.  Once again, Dillin’s artwork is really strong, standing in particular contrast to the stiff and lackluster work from this month’s JLA.  By the way, Bronze Age Jimmy is growing on me as a character.  He’s proving resourceful, courageous, and capable.

Speaking of Jimmy, his encounter with the Inquisition gives O’Neil a chance to bring in a little social consciousness, as the youthful reporter notes that the fanaticism and cruelty of Torquemada didn’t die out in the Middle Ages (in fact, it was generally way more common in the Renaissance), but continues to live on in the modern day.  We certainly still see plenty of that kind of viciousness and irrationality in our own time.  It is a fine little note, but it would have been more effective if he could have connected it to the main plot more directly.  I think there’s an angle to be worked there with the Phantom Zone villains, but c’est la vie.  In the end, this is just an all around enjoyable comic yarn.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, with the the Flash’s unflappable good cheer helping overcome its weaknesses.  I just had a blast reading both of these stories.

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Final Thoughts:


And that, my dear readers, is the end of the first year of our journey Into the Bronze Age!  It’s taken a tad more than a year of real-time, but hopefully the next will move a little more quickly!  Either way, I am very excited to have completed an entire year of this project, having read most of the superhero books published by DC Comics for 1970.  It’s been a fascinating journey, and we have watched the Bronze Age grow before our very eyes.  We’ve seen Silver Age tropes grow a little more rare, but more importantly, we’ve seen a revolution taking place in the pages before us, as the cardboard characters of the Silver Age began to grow, developing unique personalities (some of those more pleasant than others…I’m looking at you, Ollie).  We’ve seen Denny O’Neil absolutely everywhere, jumping from book to book to book, constantly innovating, often failing, at least in part, but arguably succeeding more often than not.  I’m really blown away by how large a role he’s played in these early days of experimentation and evolution.  Clearly, the Bronze Age at DC owes a great deal to that man, and even if his writing is sometimes heavy handed and pedantic, the fellow did some amazing work.  It’s easy to credit later works for being more sophisticated than their predecessors, but it is important to remember that the former wouldn’t exist without the pioneers who came before.

Over the last year of comics, social consciousness themes have grown from occasional influences trumpeted, often solely, in the books being penned by Denny O’Neil, to showing up just about everywhere, even in the most conservative of DC’s offerings, like the Superman titles.  The most immediate and marked change, is of course, in Batman, who has evolved quickly and more consistently than most.  He’s already begun to resemble the ‘grim avenger of the night’ version of the character that is the pure expression of the concept, at least for my money.  Books like Aquaman are serving as sources of innovation, both in art and story, and a spirit of change seems to be in the air.  Interestingly, even the fans notice it, and many of the letters of the latter part of the year have talked about the ‘character revolution’ or something similar, going on at DC, calling for the same process to be applied to characters not yet affected.

I would say by December 1970, the Bronze Age was well and truly on the way.  The change between the first and last month is really quite marked, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!  First, what about this month itself?

We’ve had a lot of solid stories and a few strong stand outs.  This month’s comics have featured two different takes on the growing political involvement of America’s youth.  We’ve also seen multiple instances of real-life events influencing and inspiring this month’s comics, from the student march in Cleveland being reflected in Robin’s tale to the cultural anxiety around the rise of Satanism being reflected in the Flash’s macabre plot.  In general, I think there has been a slight uptick in stories with supernatural elements, with Flash, Kid Flash, Batman, and, of course, the Phantom Stranger all facing occult menaces this month.

All-in-all, I’d call that a pretty fitting end to a good year of comics, and I hope that you’ll join me soon as we race back through time on our Cosmic Treadmills to peer into 1971!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Only Aquaman joins our distinguished company on the wall of shame this week, though we had several very close calls, more than we’ve had before, I believe.  There you go, folks, an entire year of head-blows.  It seems Aquaman’s reputation of getting knocked out as regularly as Philip Marlowe is probably deserved.  Hopefully things will improve for my favorite hero in the next year.