Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

I’m back at last!  Welcome readers and friends, to a long deferred new edition of Into the Bronze Age!  My world wandering has come to an end for a while, but it seems like Lady Grey and I only started to recover when we found ourselves swamped by the beginning of the semester!  Our adventures were excellent but exhausting, and for a while after we got back, we did as little as possible.  Now we’re running to catch up!  The semester has proven much busier than we anticipated, and I find myself getting smashed by my dissertation work, so updates will be intermittent for a while.  I will be happy to return to my Bronze Age ruminations and to my modding projects, though, and I was glad to find time to finish this post, which sat half-way completed for a month!  Here’s hoping that the early days of Fall will have some wonder left in them for all of us.

This month we’ve got several super, but not exactly superb, tales, featuring Superman and Supergirl, as well as some deeds of Detective derring-do.  Let’s check them out!

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:

  • Walt Disney World opens in Florida (the only Disney of my youth)
  • Tennis star Billie Jean King becomes 1st female athlete to win $100,000
  • Social Democratic and Labour Party continues its boycott of the Northern Ireland Parliament
  • Northern Ireland PM and British PM meet and agree to send an additional 1,500 troops to Ireland
  • John Lennon releases “Imagine”
  • US and USSR perform various nuclear tests
  • Jesus Christ Superstar premieres
  • 2 killed in racial violence in Memphis
  • Pittsburgh Pirates beat Baltimore Orioles, 4 games to 3 in 68th World Series
  • Last issue of Look magazine is published
  • A group of Northern Ireland MPs begin a 48 hour hunger strike against the policy of Internment
  • West German Chancellor Willy Brandt is awarded Nobel Peace Prize
  • Nobel prize for literature awarded to Pablo Neruda
  • Troubles continue in Ireland, with several IRA members killed in various confrontations with police and troops
  • IRA explodes a bomb in Post Office Tower, London
  • U.N. agrees to admit the People’s Republic of China
  • Films of note: The French Connection, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Last Picture Show

We’ve got another month with the Troubles continuing in Ireland and racial unrest continuing in the States (Get used to seeing those words; they aren’t going away any time soon).  Yet, there are also a number of interesting cultural events that take place this month.  I’m rather surprised that the Florida Disney World opened this late.  I rather thought it had opened shortly after the original location.  We also get the release of several memorable films, including a childhood favorite of mine, Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

To me, the most interesting of these events is the debut of Jesus Christ Superstar because it says rather a lot about the spiritual state of the country, with its humanized, un-deified Christ and its focus on a sympathetic Judas.  It’s a good show, one that I’ve enjoyed, but it is certainly a product of its time and, in terms of its dubious theology, very much a product of the modern world.  It is human nature to want to confine the cosmic and limit the illimitable.  As soon as you grant the deity of Christ and the significance of his appearance, he goes from a ‘wise philosopher’ who talked about how people should be nice to each other to a God whose existence makes certain demands upon us.  This is is a significant part of the reason that we’re always trying to rewrite the historical Christ, trying to redefine him as something that will demand less of us, no matter how little sense such revisions might make.

On a more grounded note, this month’s chart topper by a clear margin is Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” which is a great song with a lovely, bittersweet tone to it.  It’s interesting, and in context of the history and culture of its day, the song feels even more fitting.

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #405
  • Adventure Comics #411
  • Detective Comics #416
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
  • Mr. Miracle #4
  • Phantom Strange #15
  • Superboy #178
  • Superman #243
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
  • Teen Titans #35

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


Action Comics #405


Action_Comics_405

“Bodyguard or Assassin?”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“The Red Dust Bandit!”
Writer: Don Cameron
Penciler/Inker: Howard Sherman
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Haunted Island”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler/Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Most Dangerous Bug in the World?”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got a weird one to start us off for this month, just an odd duck from start to finish.  It has a solid enough cover, with some type of mysterious threat presumably lingering just beyond the image and Superman in an iconic pose, but it isn’t really all that dynamic.  The story inside is similarly uninspiring.  It begins with the Man of Steel answering an urgent summons from the President.  Notably, we aren’t treated to the conventional shadowed figure of a non-specific president.  No, this time we see the Commander in Chief clearly, and he and his security chief, General Trevis, scan the Metropolis Marvel before he is admitted to the Oval Office, citing fears of assassination.  Apparently, a mysterious malefactor left a message on the President’s desk, declaring that an enigmatic assassin named Marsepun would kill the head honcho at 9:00.  Note the name.

action 405-01

Well, to protect the President from this would-be killer, Superman, upon advice from Trevis, takes him to the automated base, Tonacom, hidden in a mountain in a secret location and supposedly impenetrable.  Once inside, the Action Ace is given an overview of all of the defenses guarding the only way in, but suddenly communications with Trevis fritz out and the sensors detect an intruder barreling straight through the base’s protections.  To make matters worse, the evidence indicates that it is somehow Superman himself who is fighting his way inside to kill the President.  The Man of Tomorrow realizes that it is his voice on the assassin’s message and that the name, Marseupun, is just an anagram for his.  Hands up if you saw that one coming.  In the face of all this, the Kryptonian begins to lose his grip.

action 405-06

action 405-12

The many moods of Superman

Now, this could have been an intriguing, suspenseful sequence…if Bates hadn’t immediately revealed that Trevis is behind it all.  He’s working for a secret organization that doesn’t want the President to sign a peace deal that will lead to nuclear disarmament, and he’s set Tonacom up as one big trap, combined with a hidden thought-scrambler designed to turn the Man of Steel psychotic.  In an attempt to calm the increasingly agitated hero, the President narrates some of his “spectacular acts of courage in the past,” leading to a weird couple of pages with flashbacks to non-existent stories.

action 405-08

Despite all of the Chief Executive’s efforts, as the intruder gets closer, Superman gets more enraged.  Suddenly, the vault door of the base explodes inward and the Action Ace is confronted…with his reflection.  Yep, that’s it.  This confirms that he’s been the assassin all along, and he turns against his charge, who shoots him with a “gamma gun.”

action 405-13

Unfortunately, the politician’s beam reflects off of his invulnerable target and strikes him instead.  Trevis has been watching and recording all of this, planning on using the video to chase Superman from the Earth, but suddenly, the Man of Steel explodes, revealing that he is in fact as well as in name, a man of steel, a Superman robot.

action 405-14

action 405-17

Destroying all of the evidence, Trevis flees, but when he reports to his masters, they tell him he has failed and execute him through the phone (neat trick, I wonder if it works on telemarketers…).  Just as he dies, he sees the President, still alive, but it is actually Superman in disguise.  While searching for the authors of all of this misfortune, the Metropolis Marvel thinks to himself that the President was suspicious of Trevis for weeks, and that the two of them had planned this sting to catch him.

action 405-19Superman controlled his robot with a remote, a remote with some very specific buttons and used….*sigh*….”Super Ventriloquism” to speak for it.  Sadly, his efforts to track down the spy ring behind the assassination attempt meet with failure, as he follows their signal to a phone booth on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean….only to have the device explode after a mocking message.  That’s a lot of preparation for not a lot of payoff, but I suppose the shadowy organization knows its business.  The story ends with the notice that it was an imaginary tale and that the danger still exists…which seem like rather contradictory ideas.

action 405-20

This comic could have had an interesting, suspense-story vibe, as Superman wrestled with whether or not he was losing his mind, but Bates decided to discard the suspense, and with it, most of the interest of the story, by revealing, not only the villain, but the entire plan as well.  Superman’s twist feels like a bit of a cheat, and it makes his narration of his previous deeds rather ridiculously boastful in retrospect.  The end result here is just awkward.  Bates couldn’t quite decide what he wanted this story to be, and so it is a loose collection of ideas that don’t resolve into anything worthwhile, despite some interesting potential.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

minute2


“The Most Dangerous Bug in the World”


action 405-40

The backup is forgettable but solid enough.  It begins with a boy bumping into Clark Kent on the street and planting a tiny ‘bug’ on him that would have been science fiction in 1971 but is pretty commonplace today.  This device fits unnoticed in the newsman’s pocket and yet can transmit several blocks away.  Is this some nefarious scheme by Lex Luthor to learn Superman’s secret identity?  Nope, it’s just dumb luck.  The kid is the grandson of an inventor who wants to show off his new bug to some investors.  He sent the boy out to plant it on some poor schmuck, which seems wildly unethical to me.  The men, unconcerned with the inventor’s casual invasion of privacy, then proceed to listen in on the private life of this random stranger.

action 405-44

However, because the stranger is the Man of Steel, what they hear is unusual.  First, they hear him typing at super speed, and then, after he gets a distress call from a small space ship from an antimatter universe, they hear him flying at super speed.  They can’t make sense of these sounds at first, and the Action Ace’s rush to the aid of the antimatter astronauts brings them confusion.  The aliens tell him that if they make contact with the Earth, both it and they will explode in a cataclysm as matter meets antimatter.  Now, I’m no physicist, but wouldn’t they already be in contact with molecules of air…which is matter…so wouldn’t they already have annihilated the planet?

action 405-45

Comic book science aside, the Man of Tomorrow leaps into action, ensuring that there will actually be a tomorrow after all.  He burrows a path through a mountain and then pulls them ship up into space in his slipstream.  Guiding the craft back to the rift through which they had accidentally passed, he sends them home, only then realizing that there is a transmitter sending out a signal from his pocket.  Meanwhile, the scientist has, with a rather astonishing leap in logic, figured out that he’s listening in to Superman, and the kid, feeling bad for having accidentally exposed the hero’s secret (this is why you don’t spy on people!), confesses to Clark.  Of course, Mr. Mild-Mannered covers, and that night he shows a film of Superman, featuring the same sounds, and informs his audience that he previewed it in his office, allaying the eavesdropper’s suspicions.

action 405-46

This is not a bad little story, though a bit silly in the convenience of its logical leaps.  I rather wish Bates had played the mysterious sounds for a few more laughs, as that could have been a fun source of humor, with the scientist trying to convince his investors that the device really was working properly.  Still, it’s a fine if forgettable tale.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  The art in both of these stories is good, in the usual ‘Swanderson’ style, with some really rather nice bits in both strips.

minute2.5

This comic had classic Vigilante and Aquaman stories as backup strips, and they were a lot of fun.  The Vigilante yarn was very much Lone Ranger-style Western rather than straight superhero, but it was nonetheless a neat surprise, as was the super charming Ramona Fradon Aquaman tale.  I’ll have to do a feature on those classic Aquaman stories one of these days.


Adventure Comics #411


Adventure_Comics_411

“The Alien Among Us”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inkers: Bob Oksner and Steve Englehart
Editor: Joe Orlando

“The Wedding That Wrecked the Legion”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: John Forte
Inker: Sheldon Moldoff
Letterers: Vivian Berg and Milt Snapinn
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“Warrior Shepherd”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Joe Orlando

Our Supergirl story this month is an interesting one, with a bit of a 50/60s morality play sci-fi feel, something of a cross between The Day the Earth Stood Still and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”.  It’s a little surprising that this comic is from 1971 rather than 1961, at least until you notice the fashions.  On an unrelated note, this is the second month in a row where we’ve had a cover with a kid blindly wandering into danger as Supergirl rushes to help, which is rather random.  Someone at DC had child endangerment on the mind.  The cover image itself is okay, though the alien is more odd than menacing, really.

adventure 411-02

The tale begins with the news crew getting a report of an alien entering Earth’s atmosphere in some type of transparent capsule, and Linda slips off to go investigate the matter, with Nasty all set to follow, only to get trapped into staying late and typing up order forms, thankfully putting a temporary end to her inane quest to discover the secret she already knows about Supergirl’s identity.  For her part, the Maid of Might zooms up to discover a strange looking space traveler on his way to the surface, but the gasses that form his clear cocoon begin to react violently with the atmosphere, and while she is putting out fires, the creature slips away.  Let’s leave aside for the moment how the creature can slip away from someone with super vision and super speed…

adventure 411-03

The stranded space traveler has crash-landed on Earth, and he decides to investigate a native city before he tries to contact the inhabitants for help.  He meets with entirely predictable paranoia, fear, and cruelty, being attacked by three apparently myopic young misanthropes, who don’t seem to pay much attention to the fact that he’s seven feet tall and green.  The antagonized alien easily disables the punks without hurting them, only to then be accosted with about the same level of restraint by the gendarmes.  The cops pretty much immediately attack him, giving the creature only the briefest of warnings before they shoot to kill.  Remember, at this point, as far as anyone knows, he hasn’t done anything aggressive.

 

Fortunately, the bullets bounce off the alien’s armored skin, and the enraged being tries to toss the cops, car and all, away, only to be stopped by Supergirl who catches his metallic fastball.  When she tries to capture the creature, he vanishes, leading her to be summoned to a meeting of a bunch of soulless bureaucrats in suits, who chew her out and tell her not to interfere anymore as they set out to kill the innocent extraterrestrial.  The Girl of Steel objects, but not on any humanitarian grounds, instead arguing that capturing this sentient being could be scientifically advantageous….which is way too cold -blooded for the character.  We do get a brief note mentioning that Supergirl had helped cure the bird-people from her previous adventure, which is nice to know but is obviously an afterthought.  Apparently someone noticed that she totally abandoned those folks last issue.

 

The next day, the city is panicked, and citizens are attacking anyone who is different, thinking they may be the alien in disguise.  The Maid of Might has to intervene again and again to rescue different innocents from angry mobs.  The source of all this fear, meanwhile, is hiding out in a basement, scared and lonely himself, when he is discovered by a young boy.  The child befriends the being, feeding him, and in return, the traveler heals the young boy’s arm, which had been useless since birth.

 

Unfortunately, the boy’s father discovers the alien and reports him, leading the bureaucrats and the police to ambush the hapless creature.  After promising he won’t be harmed if he surrenders, they immediately open fire, while Supergirl stands by and watches, ineffectually objecting but not doing anything to intercede as they murder the innocent alien.  That’s really the most unforgivable part of this issue to me, that Linda, who absolutely has the power to prevent this tragedy, doesn’t act, all because some jerk in a suit tells her not to.  After the space traveler is struck down, we get the standard sci-fi ending, as the boy rushes to him, pleading innocence in the ambush, only for his newfound friend to forgive him before he dies.

It’s a surprisingly grim ending, and unnecessarily so, especially since Supergirl could and should have interceded to prevent it.  This is particularly surprising considering the growing independence of thought and increased moral maturity that we’ve been seeing in these books.  We’ve seen Superman and Supergirl both buck corrupt authority….but not this time.  Nonetheless, this isn’t a bad issue, though it doesn’t have enough space to do everything it is trying to do.  It definitely feels like a classic sci-fi morality play, but in order to create that atmosphere, Albano mishandles his protagonist and rushes to reach his “the real monster is man” ending.  It’s still a relatively decent tale with some emotional weight behind it, and the too-brief scenes with the boy and the alien are actually rather charming.  Bob Oskner’s art is functional throughout, though his alien is suitably strange, yet sympathetic, and he does a great job portraying the creature’s very human fear and despair.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, with it losing some points because of Supergirl’s portrayal.

minute2.5


Detective Comics #416


Detective_Comics_416

“Man-Bat Madness!”
Writer/Artist: Frank Robbins
Colorist/Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Deadly Go-Between!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Rex-Circus Detective!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Sy Barry
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Case of the Gold Dust Death”
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Letterer: Ira Schnapp
Editor: Jack Schiff

Detective Comics this month brings us another tale of that Bronze Age staple, the macabre Man-Bat!  We have an intriguing yarn in this issue, as Frank Robbins is handling both the art chores and the writing, and the result is unique and striking.  Neal Adams does a great job with the colors, and the pair create a really nicely moody and eerie adventure that is a bit ahead of its time in style.  The whole effect reminds me of books from the 80s and 90s, especially the limited-color palette Dark Horse Star Wars books like Dark Emipre.

The story itself begins at a quiet, subdued wedding ceremony where Kirk Langstrom and his fiancee, Francine, finally managed to tie the knot without anyone bat-ing out.  Batman himself watches over the ill-starred couple, and after the ceremony, he gives them a gift, a case full of his Man-Bat antidote.  The gift comes with a warning, as he doesn’t know how long the original dose will last.  The pair of newlyweds swear never to go down that monstrous road again and prepare to build a life together, though they realize they can never have children for fear of what they might become.

 

After their honeymoon, Langstrom destroys his formulas and vows never to experiment again, but when someone uses a prototype sonic device elsewhere in the museum, a change comes over the scientist,  Working in a frenzy, he prepares a new batch of his mutagen.  Fortunately, the device is shut off before he takes the devilish draught, and Kirk locks the new formula away, rushing off to meet his wife at the opera, complete with stylish and totally not portentous cape.  This whole sequence is just wonderfully rendered, capturing the oppressive madness of the scene, with Langstrom’s face distorted by beakers and cast in somber lines by dim lights.

At the opera, all is well until the violinist starts to play, and the high-pitched sound once again affects the scientist, who begins to revert to Man-Bat!  Francine tries to give him the antidote, but, hilariously, the prima donna’s solo aria shatters the ampule.  Completely transformed, the Man-Bat once more takes flight, pursued by Batman, who was also attending the show.  After a brief fight, the monster flees to the subway, railing against the moon that he fears controls him and declaring his own independence from outside forces.

Man-Bat invades a subway train, causing a panic and an emergency stop, which in turn causes an electrical fire, trapping the passengers.  In a nice moment, Batman appeals to his alter-ego’s remaining humanity, and the pair rescue the hapless travelers and together lead them out of the blackened tunnel.  Yet, once the deed is accomplished, Man-Bat once again escapes from the Dark Knight, arriving at his lab, where Francine awaits him.  However, this time the monster has no compassion for his mate, and he knocks her aside and drinks his new formula, intending to remain Man-Bat forever.  Fortunately, Batman beat him to punch, switching the vial with a new antidote.  The experimental serum cures Langstrom, perhaps forever (what are the chances of that, huh?), but it is still untested, so only time will tell.  The couple may even be able to have children. I’m sure that couldn’t possibly go horribly wrong.

Detective Comics 416-16

This is a fine little adventure, but it is too brief to be really successful.  We get some nice moments, and the sequence in Langstrom’s lab is great, but the whole thing resolves a little too quickly and too easily.  In general, this story just needs more development, especially the element with the sonic triggers for Langstrom’s transformations.  There’s an interesting angle there, but it’s left entirely unexamined.  I like Batman’s appeal to Man-Bat’s “ember of humanity”, and it’s nice to be reminded that the creature does have a heroic streak.  Throughout, Robbins’ artwork is just striking, and his work on Man-Bat’s face is really quite exceptional.  The furry, monstrous, yet wonderfully emotional visage is very effective.

His figures get a little cartoonish at times, which really doesn’t fit the tone or themes of the story, but overall, I quite liked his work here.  He gives several scenes a wonderful dramatic weight and definitely evinces a good sense of storytelling, even if his style is a little off at times.  It’s unusual but enjoyable.  So, all-in-all, this is a solid and interesting tale.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, with the unusual art raising it above average.  On a different note, this Man-Bat appearance struck a chord in my memory, and I found myself reminded of Spider-Man’s foe, the Lizard.  There are a lot of similarities between these characters and their settings, down to a long-suffering wife and the tragic regularity of their backsliding.  I wonder how intentional the parallels were, as the Lizard had premiered a decade before at Marvel.

minute3.5


“The Deadly Go Between”


Detective Comics 416-18

Our Batgirl backup for this week is a solid story, which begins with the funeral of one of Gotham’s Finest, a close friend of Commissioner Gordon, killed in the line of duty.  Gordon swears to catch the fiend responsible and works himself ragged in search for the mysterious murderer.  When the Commissioner gets an enigmatic call in the middle of the night, Babs listens in, worried about her father, but she gets quite a shock.  The voice on the line claims to be Batgirl, and the real girl detective hears her lure Gordon into some sort of trap, claiming to have found his friend’s killer!

Detective Comics 416-20

Detective Comics 416-20

Heading out to catch her impersonator and protect her father, Batgirl discovers her doppelganger, only to be captured by a pair of thugs acting as backstops for the duplicitous Dare-Doll.  Meanwhile, the bogus Batgirl leads Gordon to a meeting of radical political group, claiming that their leader killed the Commissioner’s friend, just because he hates cops.  The scene is accompanied by some very goofy slang, as the fellow is described as an “ice-the-pigs radical”.

Detective Comics 416-23

 

In the interim, our real red-haired heroine’s situation hasn’t improved any, as her two captors prepare to toss her off the roof.  She manages to turn the tables on them and escape, rushing to trace her father, while he and her criminal counterpart await the departure of the fall-guy, Zed Kurtz, who the false Batgirl is certain will kill Gordon when confronted.

Detective Comics 416-25

This is a fine first part of an adventure, and I’m certainly curious to see how it will all play out.  The one real weakness is the ease with which Babs is captured.  She’s sneaking up on her double, and the dialog tells us she’s alert and scanning for trouble…and then her captors just materialize next to her.  That section could have been handled better, but that’s a fairly minor quibble.  It’s nice to see Gordon get something a spotlight, and a duplicitous version of our dynamite dame protagonist is an interesting angle.  Heck’s art is really a bit better this issue, with no real weak points, and he brings a lot of detail and richness into his setting and backgrounds.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.

minute3

 


Alright my friends, that wraps up this edition of our little Bronze Age ballyhoo.  I hope that some of my dear readers are still out there and check in every once in a while.  I’m sorry for the long delay and hope that we’ll be able to meet more often going forward.  This was a solid batch of books with which to reconvene, but the next set looks to be much more memorable, including another Mr. Miracle, but also the conclusion to the Green Lantern/Green Arrow drug story!  Check back soon for more Bronze Age goodness and a little comic craziness.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 2)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
Hello folks, and welcome to the next iteration of my investigation of Bronze Age DC comics!  It’s another beautiful day here at Grey Manor, the birds are singing, the sky is cloudlessly blue, and there are comics to be read!  We’ve got a double-dose of Batman today, with a side of something sinister, as well as the sensational Batgirl.  Please join me for a trip through these two books!

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 #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.


The Brave and the Bold #93


brave_and_the_bold_93“Red Water Crimson Death”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Colourist: Jack Adler
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Within this comic there is a solid and pleasantly subtle ghost story and mystery, but it’s framed by a device that seems more like Bob Haney than Denny O’Neil.  In fact, I had to double check the credits as I was reading.  This issue really drives home the fact that, although we’re getting closer and closer to the iconic portrayal of Batman that will come to define the character for decades to come, we are not quite there yet.  Even O’Neil, who will largely create the Dark Knight that I know and love, has not quite got the character sorted out at this point, and thus this story begins with a really off-beat moment that colored the rest of the book for me.

Curiously, the “guest star” for this issue of B&B is ‘The House of Mystery.’  Bit of a stretch there, DC.  I’m going to have to call shenanigans.  It is to this very house that a desperate criminal runs, pursued by none other than the Batman!  Inside, the House of Mystery host, Cain, plays narrator, a role he’ll continue by tagging along throughout our adventure.  Just as the Masked Manhunter is about to get his man, he trips, falling at the thug’s feet.  The would-be killer pulls the trigger of his pistol, but it jams, and the Caped Crusader lays him out.

brave_and_bold_v1_093_01

When Commissioner Gordon arrives, he insists that the Dark Knight has run himself ragged in recent weeks, and he argues that even the great Batman can’t keep going nonstop.  Gordon insists, quite pointedly, that the hero take a vacation, even giving him tickets for a cruise to Ireland and insisting he be on it.  The Masked Manhunter finally agrees and sets out on vacation…and the scene is just plain weird to me.  Can you imagine the modern version of Batman taking a vacation?

brave_and_bold_v1_093_03

Now, far be it for me to speak well of the modern, sociopathic version of the character, but this does seem a bit much.  Just up and taking a cruise and planning to be gone from Gotham for a month doesn’t really seem to fit the character of a man who is driven to pursue justice because of the murder of his parents.  brave_and_bold_v1_093_08It just seems a bit off.  Part of the trouble is the fact that it is Gordon playing the role of caregiver, which doesn’t suit him well either.  If this exchange had happened between Bruce and Alfred, I’d have been much more okay with it.  That could have actually been charming.  In this case, not so much.  What’s more, apparently the Commissioner hands Batman a ticket for a cruise ship, but Bruce Wayne shows up and climbs on board.  Real good work there, Brucie.  Say goodbye to that secret identity!

Anyway, on the cruise itself, the vacationing hero meets a boy named Sean, who is swept overboard during a storm one night.  Bruce dives in to rescue the child, who seems to call out to a face in the storm.  The pair are pulled back onboard, and Bruce discovers his costume in his luggage, despite the fact he told Alfred not to pack it.  Here we have another uncharacteristic moment, as he tosses it overboard, which just doesn’t jive with his motivations.

brave_and_bold_v1_093_06

More convinced than ever that he needs a rest, Bruce decides to get off the liner at a peaceful, isolated island that also happens to be the home of the boy he rescued.  They go ashore together, and the youth’s family welcomes their visitor very warmly.  Bruce learns that Sean’s parents died mysteriously years ago during an inexplicable red tide that doesn’t fit the usual patterns of the phenomenon.  That night, the billionaire awakens to the touch of a spectral hand, only to discover that he’s somehow dressed in his costume!  What’s more, he sees young Sean walking out of the house, apparently in a trance.  Fearing he’s losing his mind but unwilling to let the boy get hurt, Batman heads out into the night, only to be ambushed by the villagers!

brave_and_bold_v1_093_13

He quickly disarms them in a solid sequence, and after telling them he’s no threat in the most awkward way possible, (“I dress as I do for…personal reasons!”) they explain that the castle of King Hugh, a king from centuries ago, has become a source of terror for them, and they fear that spirits and worse may be abroad, originating from that ancient pile.  Strangely enough, that is where Sean was headed, and despite bizarre apparitions, the Dark Knight will not be deterred.  He smashes a giant screen which was the source of the visions and rushes into the castle, narrowly avoid the dropping portcullis.  Interestingly, he has a moment of doubt as he’s pursuing the boy, trying to talk himself out of getting involved, which once again seems off for the character.

brave_and_bold_v1_093_17

That’s some tortuous logic there, Cain.

The Caped Crusader begins to search the medieval fortress, receiving enigmatic, ghostly hints as he goes about it, which eventually lead him to a pair of thugs who helpfully provide exposition.  Apparently, their boss has bought the castle and is trying to drive the islanders out of the village so that he can control the fishing rights in the area.  It’s a bit Scooby-Doo, but they escalate things as well.  They are planning to poison the boy and leave his body for the natives to find in order to seal the deal.  Batman takes the pair out but receives a cut on his arm in the process.

brave_and_bold_v1_093_21

brave_and_bold_v1_093_24Finally, the Dark knight confronts the big boss himself, though as he saves the boy and takes out the hired help, some poison gets into his wound, and Aloysius Cabot, the somewhat unintimidatingly named villain, plays it cool, waiting for the venom to do its work.  Because this is O’Neil writing, the guy isn’t just a murderer and a crook, he’s also planning to pollute the environment.  The fiend!  Batman’s diatribe about these nefarious doings is super dramatic.  I wonder if he’s been hanging out with Green Arrow too much.  As the hero grows weaker, Adams tries an intriguing experiment, rendering the panels of the villain, representing Batman’s view, in a strange, unfinished fashion to portray the effects of the toxin.  I like, but it took me a moment to suss out.

brave_and_bold_v1_093_27

Cabot, toying with his victim, tells him that there are two beakers on the desk, one containing an antidote and the other water and offers to let the Masked Manhunter choose.  Losing his battle with the poison, Bats notices the portrait of King Hugh hanging behind the evil industrialist seems to be pointing, not to the beakers, but to a test tube.  Taking a desperate gamble, he drinks the liquid in the tube, and Cabot is incensed that he somehow figured out the trap, as both beakers contained more poisons.  He plans to shoot the still recovering hero, but that same heavy portrait just happens to fall off of the wall, killing him.  Batman is very confused by the events of the night, so many inexplicable, and when Sean awakens on the way home and asks what happened, all he can answer in reply is “I don’t think I’ll ever know!”

brave_and_bold_v1_093_28

This is a pretty good ghost story, told with a surprisingly subtle touch, other than the apparition in Batman’s room.  It makes for an interesting plot, and I enjoy that much of what happened and why is left unexplained.  The reader can piece some of it together from context, but O’Neil never spells it out.  The third act in the castle is suitably atmospheric and spooky, and of course, Adams’ art is lovely.  Cain’s wry, macabre narration throughout is a fun addition to the story, and I enjoyed his presence more than I expected.

brave_and_bold_v1_093_29

The only real problem with the story is that incongruous triggering event and the discordant moments of mischaractetrization.  Now, you can argue that they fit in perfectly with the version of Batman that Bob Haney has been writing in this book, but that’s not much of a defense in my opinion, as Haney is just in a world of his own.  At any rate, it isn’t enough to make this a bad story, just enough to keep it from being a particularly great one.  I’ll give this off-beat tale 3.5 Minutemen, as it is a fun read despite its missteps.

minute3.5


Detective Comics #407


detective_comics_407“Marriage: Impossible”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“One of Our Landmarks Is Missing!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

The return of the macabre Man-Bat finally arrives!  It’s been a while since we last saw Man-Bat, way back in issue #402, which, interestingly enough, ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, as Batman prepared an antidote for his monstrous double that could cure him or turn him into a vegetable.  That cliffhanger has been left…well…hanging all this time.  The human-chiroptera hybrid makes his triumphant return in this issue, which really amps up the insanity of his concept in interesting and surprisingly effective ways.  This is a weird one, yet somehow it works.

detective407-02

We don’t pick up where we left off.  Instead, the story opens with Batman reading the paper on what we can only assume is an exceedingly slow news day, as the headline proclaims “Bat Exhibit Opens at Museum of Natural History Today!”  It’s bad enough that the bat exhibit at the local museum is your front page story, but is it really worthy of the exclamation point, newspaper?  Anyway, the story catches his attention because the noted bat-expert Kirk Langstrom, a.k.a. Man-Bat, will be hosting the event, which will be followed by…his wedding!  Horrified by this news, the Dark Knight races to the church, desperate to stop this union.  Why?  Is Batman secretly in love with Francie Lee, Langstrom’s fiancee?  No, it’s because he fears she’s being duped.  The Masked Manhunter rushes into the cathedral and, in a great splash page, unmasks Langstrom, revealing the monstrous features of the Man-Bat beneath one of those incredibly life-like masks that are just everywhere in fiction.

detective407-03

Man-Bat curses his human counterpart’s continued interference, and he takes off for the dark recesses of the Cathedral ceiling, a very fitting setting for this little drama.  The Caped Crusader then turns to the stunned Francie and declares that he couldn’t let her go through with the marriage, but she protests that she loves Kirk no matter what,and  still wants to marry him!  What is going on?!

Fortunately, just as we’re beginning to feel like we’ve missed an issue, Robbins provides us with a flashback.  Just as Batman was about to administer the antidote back in the Batcave, where we left things in #402, the mutated man recovered and escaped, hiding in the dark recesses of the cavern.  The hero brought Francie to the cave in order to try and reach Langstrom’s remaining humanity, but he was too late, as Man-Bat had already fled.

detective407-05

The Dark Knight gave her a number at which to contact him if her former fiancee returned to her, and that very night, he did.  Yet, when Francie suggested contacting the hero,  her macabre man grew enraged, refusing to give up his powers and questioning her love for him.  He ripped up the number and persuaded her to do things his way.

detective407-10

With her help, Langstrom disguised himself and completed his work, but that wasn’t the only goal he had in mind.  With another dramatic unmasking, Francie herself reveals that she and Kirk are now two of a kind!  That’s right, she has been changed as well, and with that, she flies up to join her freakish fiancee.

detective407-14

Realizing that these two are definitely not in their right minds and more than a little concerned about having super-powered mutant bats just hanging around Gotham City (I mean, the place has enough problems already!), the Dark Knight sets out to cure them against their will.  Racing to the bell-tower, the Masked Manhunter is confronted by the flying freaks, and a desperate struggle ensues.  As the hero is being mauled by Man-Bat, he just manages to inject his opponent with the antidote.

detective407-16

When Woman-Bat presses her attack, he manages to jab her too, and both of them transform back into their human forms.  Batman leaves them together, trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and recover from their horrific experiences.  The story ends on an interesting note, as Bats observes that the love which held them together had been corrupted as much as their bodies, transforming into “an evil obsession.”

detective407-17

This is a crazy story, yet the Bat-Jekyll and Hyde angle, mixed with twisted love story actually makes for a fairly compelling read.  It moves a bit too quickly, and I would have liked to see how Langstrom managed to mutate Francie.  That would have really helped to establish just how far gone the Man-Bat was into his monstrous nature.   I think giving a page or two to that process would have strengthened the story, but the plot still works.  I find Francie’s devotion touching and more than a little creepy, and Batman’s willingness to put his life on the line to save their humanity is suitably heroic.

detective407-18

The whole thing has the high-drama feel of one of those old, classic Universal horror films.  Adams’ art, as always, is great, but it is really effective here, evoking an appropriately Gothic and atmospheric feel to the story.  The horror elements come through well, with the grotesque visages of the Man/Woman-Bats and their uncanny revelations.  It’s a good story, even if it doesn’t quite have time to reach its full potential.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.  I’m definitely enjoying these Man-Bat appearances.

minute4


“One of Our Landmarks Is Missing!”


detective407-22

Our Batgirl backup for today picks up right where we left off last issue.  The hippy terrorist, Mal, as well as the hapless and stupid Shelley Simms, have trapped the Daring Dame in a mined basement.  The resolution to this story is pretty good, definitely a bit stronger than the first inning.  In particular, Babs’ escape from the sepulchral basement is quite impressive, as is her cool-headed planning leading up to it.

She realizes that Mal activated the bombs with the room’s light switch, and she refuses to panic, keeping a clear head and fixing her eyes on the spot where the switch was after the lights go out.  She memorizes its location even though she can’t see, and then she takes off her cape and tries to trip it, hoping that the fabric won’t be heavy enough to trigger the mines.  She comes close, but the cape is so light that it can’t flip the switch!

detective407-23

Thinking quickly, the Girl Detective takes off her boot and uses it as a weight, which provides enough heft to successfully lift the switch.  It’s a nice sequence, and it emphasizes her intelligence and resourcefulness.  I do have to wonder why she didn’t use a batarang or the like from her utility belt, but that’s neither here nor there.

detective407-25

Meanwhile, Edward G. Robinson apparently decides to make a cameo in this comic, as a fat-cat building owner in league with the maleficent Mal.  Apparently the heinous hippy has made a deal with this guy, Slavin, to destroy a Gotham landmark that is on the historic building registry so that the developer can build apartments there and turn a tidy profit.

detective407-26

In exchange, Slavin pays Mal $10,000.  The domestic terrorist argues that he’s just using the bourgeois badnick to fund their activities and ‘the cause.’  Shelley objects, and when Batgirl arrives to break up the bomb bash, the girl actually intercedes to save the heroine.  She gets shot in a fairly striking panel for her troubles!

detective407-28

In return, Batgirl utterly devastates Mal with a flying blow and a really lovely panel, dispatching the rest of the gang with ease.  Edward G….errr, I mean Slavin runs right into the arms of the arriving police, and despite his attempts to talk his way out of things, the Girl Detective is able to give the cops the whole story.  Fortunately, stupid Shelley survives, and the tale ends on an interesting note, as she doesn’t change her politics, in spite of her ordeal, but does gains a new respect for Batgirl.

detective407-29

This is a fun story, the highlight being Batgirl’s very resourceful and steel-nerved escape, as well as her take-down of Mal.  The punk was quite hate-able, and it was satisfying seeing him get decked.  I’m intrigued by the story’s ending, which pulls back from condemning youth involvement and walks a finer line than I expected.  We’ve got Shelley perhaps a little less stupid and a little more realistic continuing to pursue her ideals, but in a more constructive way.

detective407-30

Also, it struck me that Shelley indicated that she and Batgirl were from different generations, which seemed odd to me.  I know Batgirl is out of college, supposedly, since she’s already a librarian, but I would have though that she was JUST out of college, only a few years older than Dick Grayson, which would probably make her part of the same generation.  Anyway, it’s a good little adventure, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, which is about as high as a seven page story is apt to climb.

minute4


And there you have it.  Thanks for joining me today, and I hope you’ll come back soon to see what the next batch of books bears for us.  My next post will include my first foray into Superboy, so…here’s hoping it’s not going to be as bad as I expect!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 3)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Thank you for joining me for the third set of books from August, 1970, as we travel Into the Bronze Age!  This post we cover the second appearance of Man-Bat, which is an interesting landmark.  I hope you enjoy my musings on these two issues!

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

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

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

Detective Comics #402

detective_comics_402“Man or Bat?”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“My Place in the Sun!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza

This issue features two solid tales, though the Man-Bat story is definitely the prize, as you might imagine.  It’s great fun to see this character coming back and to see what will be the recurring themes of his story taking shape, with the worried fiance, the quest to become human again, and the conflict between his animalistic and rational natures.  I never thought about it before, but in that sense, this character can serve as something of a metaphor for the basic struggles between body and soul in all of us.  I suppose that’s the source of the archetypal draw of these kinds of stories, the Jekyll and Hyde tales.  They reflect a primal part of the human experience, the feeling that we’re at war with a part of ourselves.  That’s no great revelation, I realize, but I was struck with it particularly on this reading.

This is only Man-Bat’s second appearance and, as before, it still very much feels like the kind of fresh concept that the Bronze Age is only starting to produce but which will soon become indicative of the period.  There are horror elements that distinguish this book from many of the others on the shelf at the time, as well as a generally more serious, melodramatic tone.  Of course, it hardly needs to be said that Neal Adams’ artwork is just plain gorgeous.

detective comics 402 004.jpg

Our tale begins with a gang of thieves preparing to rob a biochemical company.  Unbeknownst to them, they are being observed by a very nervous Man-Bat.  The unfortunate Dr. Langstrom needs something inside the safe, but his plans are interrupted when Batman bursts in through the window and starts kicking butt.  When it seems like one of the thieves has the drop on the Dark Knight, Man-Bat intercedes, and the two chiroptera-themed combatants quickly dispatch the rest.  The Caped Crusader is quite pleased to see his one-time ally again, even grinning in most un-grim avenger-ly fashion, but Langstrom is desperate to get what he needs.

detective comics 402 005.jpg

He tells the hero that he is no thief, being prepared to pay for what he needs, but Batman refuses to budge.  Here we see a weakness in the issue, a misstep in characterization.  Once the Dark Knight realizes that Man-Bat is wearing no costume, that he is the monster he appears to be, the hero still refuses to let him buy the chemicals, effectively just because it is after business hours.  Come on, Bruce!  Sure, ideally you’d seal the crime scene and wait for the police, but this is clearly not an ideal situation, what with the horrible mutation and all.  I like Batman being inflexible and relentless.  I think that’s a very fitting character trait, but this is more a matter of him being unreasonably obtuse.

detective comics 402 006.jpg

detective comics 402 007.jpgAccidentally disabling his idol, Man-Bat takes what he needs and flees into the night.  When the Masked Manhunter recovers, he lives up to that particular nom de guerre, and tracks the frightful fellow to the location of their first meeting, the museum.  There he encounters Langstrom’s frantic fiancee, who hasn’t heard from her husband-to-be in days.  They go to investigate this disappearance, Batman with grave suspicions, and they interrupt Man-Bat just as he prepares to take his antidote…and the interruption causes him to drop it!  It’s one of those tragic twists of fate that makes this little drama work.  Things could so easily have been otherwise, and it imbues the story with a certain amount of gravitas.

detective comics 402 010.jpg

Man-Bat flees once more, and the mystery partially solved, a remorseful Dark Knight sets out to synthesize a new batch of the antidote.  He heads to his lab in the Batcave, and we’re forced to wonder if he doesn’t have such a setup in Wayne Tower.  I suspect that the truth about this sudden return home is a matter of plot convenience combined with the fact that the Batcave is just objectively cooler than Wayne Tower.  At the same time in a convenient twist that actually makes a certain amount of sense, Man-Bat, now fully transformed and losing his mind fast, follows a regular bat home…to the Batcave!  I suppose that, if you’re a bat living on the outskirts of Gotham, you probably live in the Batcave.  I’ll buy that.  Our plot threads rush to a convergence as Batman arrives there as well, unaware of his uninvited guest.

detective comics 402 016.jpg

When the Caped Crusader opens the garage door to the Cave, Man-Bat realizes where he is and tries to escape.  During a desperate struggle, in which our hero takes a bad-looking fall, Batman manages to trap his opponent, who knocks himself out against the Batcave door.  He quickly checks to make sure that the man-monster is unhurt and sets out to try and reverse his mutation.  To be continued!

detective comics 402 018.jpg

This is a good issue.  Langstrom is sympathetic, and his slow descent into a more beastial nature is decently compelling.  The story moves quickly, but it fits a good deal in, plenty of action, good character moments, and plenty of tension.  Other than Batman’s intransigence about the antidote in the beginning, the characterization was effective.  The natural anger that Langstrom feels towards Batman after the Dark Knight ruins his chance at a cure is fitting and well handled.  It doesn’t turn instantly into hatred, but it does color the mutated scientist’s actions for the rest of the issue.  I particularly enjoy Batman’s deliberation at the end of the story about whether or not to try to create an antidote, knowing that Langstrom’s mind may be permanently corrupted by the transformation.  It’s a good, thought-provoking moment, and it is another fairly compelling moral question without an entirely clear-cut answer, like the one from this month’s Aquaman.  Is it more merciful to restore him to the semblance of humanity if he is to remain, at heart, a monster?  That’s an interesting question, and the fact that it gets asked is indicative of the higher tone and tenor of the storytelling Robbins is doing here.

detective comics 402 020.jpg

It is, of course, beautiful, and Adams does some great work with light and shadow.  His Man-Bat looks fantastic, human, yet monstrous, and he puts an incredible amount of emotion expressiveness in the creature’s face.  You can really feel the impact of his internal struggle in some of these panels.  It’s just a good, moody Batman tale, with a healthy dose of mystery and drama, certainly worth the read.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

minute4.5

“My Place in the Sun!”

detective comics 402 023.jpg

This Robin backup features a guest appearance (one could hardly call him a guest star) from Speedy, the Boy Bowman.  It’s a solid, though short of course, character piece.  I’m curious to see what, if anything it will lead to.  Interestingly, in my copy, at least, Speedy is mis-colored, with his scheme inverted.

Our little tale begins with a certain arrow slinging teenager (or teen-ager as the comics sometimes refer to them) arriving in the awesome Arrow-Plane.  I enjoy this little scene with the two friends meeting and discussing recent events.  As I hinted last post, this Robin yarn actually follows in the footsteps of the previous issue of Teen Titans, #28.  Apparently Aqualad’s impassioned speech has had an effect, and Robin is back with his team.  I quite like that type of mild continuity, reminding us that these characters are part of a larger universe.  It doesn’t require any specific knowledge to enjoy this story, but a reader in the know is rewarded just a bit.

Well, the Teen Wonder gives his visitor a tour of campus and his dorm, and Roy drools over the local ladies.  It’s a nice, quiet little character moment, and I enjoy watching these two guys just palling around.  Their friendly tour is interrupted in the cafeteria where visiting kids from a nearby juvenile detention farm break out into a fight.  One of the biggest guys belts one of the smaller ones.

detective comics 402 024.jpg

Robin shows surprisingly good sense when he realizes that Speedy suddenly showing up when Dick Grayson just happens to have a guest from out of town might endanger his secret identity.  He then immediately makes up for that moment of good sense by changing into his costume in “a corner of the kitchen.”  Meanwhile, poor Roy is a ‘casualty,’ catching a pie to the face.  He retaliates in kind in a funny beat.

detective comics 402 027.jpg

Robin leaps into action and lays into the bigger kid, but one of the guards tells him that he’s picked the wrong pigeon.  Apparently the little fellow started things.  As the day goes on, Roy and Dick hear people around campus badmouthing the Teen Wonder, spreading the story of his mistake and questioning his character and future.  The Boy Bowman shows surprisingly good sense when he reminds his friend that when they put on their costumes they become symbols, and that means that people judge them much differently and have less patience for mistakes.

detective comics 402 029.jpg

Speedy heads out to keep a date with Wonder Girl, and Robin is left to ponder his future.  In an interesting scene, he wonders just who he is and what his role is going to be as an adult.  After some reflection, Dick rededicates himself to his calling, swearing that he’s going to make a name for himself on his own.

detective comics 402 032.jpg

As you can see, there’s not too much to this tale.  It has some good character beats, and it is fun to see Dick and Roy just hanging out together.  The central conflict isn’t really the action scene, but the existential reflection that follows Robin’s mistake.  One does wonder why a superhero, even a teenage superhero, would really feel the need to intercede in a simple fistfight.  It seems something of a waste of talents, but I guess even Superman sometimes stops a purse snatcher.  If I remember correctly, Friedrich is setting something up, so perhaps it will end up being worthwhile in retrospect.

The idea of a teenage Dock Grayson dealing with some uncertainty about his place in the world is a good one.  Ideally, this would be the first step to the character making some changes in his identity, most especially in his costume!  Notably, at least one of the voices he overhears on campus makes fun of Robin’s costume, so clearly the folks behind the scenes realized how ridiculous that outfit was for a guy his age.  It’s really rather inexcusable that they have him wearing it while he’s in college.

detective comics 402 031.jpg

I’m not one who cares much for the whole Nightwing identity (I vastly prefer the Earth 2 angle, with him as an adult Robin or the Kingdom Come Red Robin identity), but, for Heaven’s sake, just giving the poor kid some pants would have done wonders.  Unfortunately, I’m quite sure we see no such change any time soon, but perhaps there will be some good stories that will come out of this direction nonetheless.  Either way, this particular issue doesn’t have quite enough going on to raise it above an average score, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

minute3

Flash #199

the_flash_vol_1_199“Flash?– Death Calling!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta

“The Explosive Heart of America”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta

Ohh man, this confusing, pointless mess of a story doesn’t have much to recommend it.  Surprisingly enough, the letter writers seem to be full of praises for Gil Kane’s turn on the book, but even if you like the art, and I’m pretty ambivalent about it, the writing in these last few issues has been pretty lackluster.  We’re also in the middle of a supervillain slump, with no Flash issue in the last several months and none for months to come featuring any of his foes.  I’m pretty sure that it has been an entire year, a full twelve months, since the last story featuring a supervillain in this book.  It’ll be OVER a year (judging by covers) until the next one!  That is a crying shame.  After all, the Flash has, objectively, the second best rogue’s gallery (after Batman, obviously) in all of DC Comics.  Why the heck would you waste time month after month with generic gangsters and thugs when Captain Cold is just sitting around waiting for a call?  Not every story needs to feature a supervillain, but come on, at least SOME should.  I really love the Flash, but I’m definitely not enjoying these comics.

This particular tale is one of the worst.  Kanigher seems to have no idea what he’s doing or why.  I have to say, I’m really beginning to dread seeing his name in a writing credit.  I don’t think I’ve given a single one of his stories higher than a 2.5, and this one isn’t going to get any better.  It wanders aimlessly from one plot driven coincidence to another.  We start with the cover image, a man who is apparently the Flash sleeping on a park bench, covered with a newspaper article proclaiming the death of the Scarlet Speedster.  This fellow is awoken by a beat cop who chases him off, and then he encounters a robber fleeing from a store.  His efforts to stop the fleet-footed fellon are for naught, and the guy cleans his clock.  Clearly this is not the fastest man alive.

flash 199-03.jpg

The crook is captured by a few little leaguers (seriously), and this faux-Flash continues wandering aimlessly, much like the plot.  He encounters Iris Allen, the hero’s wife, and she flashes back (no pun intended) to the events that led to his apparent demise. We briefly see Barry leaving the house for a JLA meeting and then the League burying the Fastest Man Alive, now not so quick (sorry!).  She snaps out of her reverie, and jerks the cowl off the Pseudo-Speedster’s head, revealing a random guy.  He is apparently a scientist named Dr. Hollister, who, stay with me now, was on a TV show with the Flash the day he “died.”  Hollister was being interviewed about his new cryogenic process, which lead him to being threatened by gangsters.  Still following?

flash 199-07.jpg

Anyone else wonder who the other pall-bearers were?

They try to force the doc to put them on ice, and Flash shows up to stop them…somehow.  He is accidentally exposed to Hollister’s formula, and though he chases off the would-be crook-cicles, he seems to die afterwards.  Next, we see Iris donating one of Barry’s uniforms to the Flash museum, which Hollister, feeling guilt over the hero’s demise, steals…for…reasons.  *sigh*

flash 199-15.jpg

He snaps out of…whatever was going on with his dressing in the costume, and steals the Scarlet Speedster’s body in order to run more experiments and try to revive him.  One step forward, two steps back there, Doc.  During the attempt, while nothing is working, the Generic Gang breaks in again, and lightning happens to strike one of their guns, reflecting onto the hero’s body and bringing him back to life.  There is one moderately clever moment, where the gangster seems to be struck by lightning, but it is revealed in an “instant replay” that it was actually the Flash reviving and smacking him at super speed.  We get a nice reunion with Iris that, like everything else that actually has some value in this story, is not given nearly enough space.

flash 199-16.jpg

flash 199-17.jpg

This story is just confused, as you know from trying to keep up with that summary, and unnecessarily convoluted.  It is not terribly interesting.  The mystery of Flash’s apparent demise could have been decent fodder for a story, but this one just limps along awkwardly with no clear idea of what it wants to do or how it wants to do it.  The actually interesting elements, like Iris’s reaction to her husband’s sudden demise and return are glossed over.  Hollister’s guilt over the hero’s fate could also have been compelling fiction.  Instead, we see him dazedly wandering around in a Flash costume.  We get neither entertaining action, nor enjoyable drama.  It definitely doesn’t deserve more than 1.5 Minuteman.

minute1.5

flash 199-10.jpg

Someone please tell me why Gil Kane was so popular…

“The Explosive Heart of America”

flash 199-22.jpg

This…odd story is at least more coherent than the previous one, though that isn’t saying much.  It introduces a fairly big complication to Barry’s setting without any real justification, as it begins when a secret agent, who looks a bit like Doc Ock in disguise (maybe he’s moonlighting!), walks into Barry’s lab and announces that he knows the hero’s secret identity.  This mysterious operative, who introduces himself as “Colonel K,” hands the Flash a map and tells him that there is an experimental missile being prepped somewhere in a hostile country, and only the Fastest Man Alive can find it in time to disable it.

flash 199-23.jpg

How does this random guy know the Flash’s secret identity?  No clue; Kanigher doesn’t bother to tell us.  He just does, because plot, apparently.  Now, in terms of the plot itself, the basic concept is not a bad one, and it certainly fits the character.  At first, I thought, ‘hey, he’s giving the Flash a list of places to search, sure,’ but I was wrong.  In fact, the map is just a map of China with a search grid on it.  That’s right, the Flash has to search the entirety of China for a hidden missile base.  *sigh*  Hello Silver Age excess.

flash 199-25.jpg

Fortunately, the plot gods are kind, and the Scarlet Speedster just happens to stop to rest on the mountain that contains the base.  In a surprising and neat little scene, he meets a young Chinese boy who greets him enthusiastically.  The boy tells the hero that he and many of the younger generation like and respect the Western heroes, not believing everything the powers that be tell them.  It’s actually a surprisingly optimistic and realistic take on the citizenry of a hostile foreign power, treating them as thinking individuals who might not believe everything the guys in charge say, so credit where it is due.

flash 199-26.jpg

Well, Flash vibrates into the mountain and finds…a missile, I suppose.  It’s more like a pillar of energy, and his arrival triggers it.  So, not knowing what else to do, he climbs on top and rides it all the way to the U.S.  In another odd touch, it happens to be homing in on the exact geographical center of the country, which is marked by a giant metal x, so Flash hops OFF the missile and wrecks the x, assuming that there is a homing device in it.  This…somehow…fixes things.  The missile just evaporates, and all is well…except that some spooky government spy knows our hero’s secret identity.  I’m sure that could never turn out badly.

flash 199-30.jpg

This is a mediocre tale with a rushed resolution and nothing particularly great about it.  The conversation with the Chinese boy is really the highlight, and the random agent who magically knows Barry is the Flash is the low point.  We do see more evidence of the Cold War here, so that’s worth noting, especially since this one focuses on China rather than Russia.  The story isn’t terrible, but it displays what I’m coming to expect from Kanigher, sloppy writing and a lack of imagination, or at least the creative fortitude to fully realize ideas.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.  Apparently, as far as I can tell from a little research, Kanigher is responsible for a lot of fantastic work.  Perhaps this is just a slump in his career.

minute2

 

Into the Bronze Age: June 1970 (Part 2)

DC-Style-Guide-1

 

Welcome, and thank you for joining me as we write another chapter in this history of the Bronze Age!

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

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

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

Detective Comics #400

Detective_Comics_400.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“A Burial for Batgirl!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ahh, Neal Adams back on Batman.  This is how it should be.  And in addition, we get a great, classic Bronze Age character introduced in this issue!  Prepare to meet the macabre, menacing Man-Bat!  The introduction of this grotesque mix of monster and man is something that really wouldn’t have flown in the Silver Age.  He’s a bit too much of a horror character, but his advent represents the loosening reins and the increasing creativity of the Bronze Age!  I really do like this character, having first met him on that greatest of Bat-worlds, Batman: TAS, in an excellent set of episodes.  His first appearance here isn’t quite so awe-inspiring as that desperate flight across Gotham from the inaugural episode of the show, but it’s still pretty good.

Detective400-02.jpg

This milestone issue (I bet Bob Kane and co. had no clue that their creation would go on to headline a book for anything close to 400+ issues!) starts with the quiet eerie looking scientist, Kurt Langstrom, working on an oversized display about bats in the Gotham Museum of Natural History.  Once the curator leaves, Langstrom begins his real work, experimenting with the genes of bats in an attempt to give himself super senses and the ability to “see” in the dark through sonar.  This whole setup is a bit odd.  Why exactly is this guy working at the Natural History Museum?  The TAS setup with him working at a zoo made a bit more sense to me, as did his motives.  In the show, he’s after a traditional mad scientist end, trying to ensure mankind’s survival through acquiring the characteristics of bats.  In comic logic, that’s about as common as a sunny day.

Detective400-03.jpg

This is a wonderfully creepy sequence where Adams economically communicates a lot about the unhealthy fixation of the doctor.

Either way, Langstrom is not the only one seeking an advantage in the dark.  Our scene shifts to an underground location elsewhere in the city where the ‘Blackout Gang’ are looking for a score!  They wear thermal goggles and practice silent tactics for their cappers, but Batman still manages to find them when one of them drops a tool and sets up a clatter.  Though Batman is used to fighting in the dark, the punks can see, whereas he has to rely on his training.  They scatter, and he only manages to recover the device, an “ultra-sonic cutting tool,” which can carve through concrete silently.

Detective400-04.jpg

The crooks are disheartened, as they figure that Batman will find a way to trace the signal from such gadgets, endangering their plans.  Their leader decides to turn this to their advantage by laying a trap.  Meanwhile, Dr. Langstrom’s experiments have borne unexpected fruit!  He suddenly finds his hearing and sight grown to painful sensitivity!

Detective400-06.jpg

If you’re a scientist and you wear a cape, chances are your future isn’t going to include a healthy social life…

He realizes that he’s succeeded, giving himself a natural sonar as well, which, interestingly enough, is exactly what Batman is working on.  The Dark Knight creates an artificial sonar system to guide him in the dark, preparing for his next encounter with the gang.

Detective400-07.jpg

Unfortunately, our resident mad scientist has discovered some rather…unpleasant side effects.  He is turning into a….Man-Bat!  Dun, dun DUN!  He panics and begins working on a way to reverse his condition, but he’s interrupted by the collision of our two plots.

Detective400-09.jpg

Detective400-10.jpg

That’s a beautifully creepy reveal.

The Masked Manhunter tracks the gang to their new target, the Natural History Museum!  He confronts them with quite a surprise when he can suddenly “see” in the dark.  Yet, the Blackout Gang is unreasonably clever.  Their leader deduced that Batman might develop some type of sonar device, so he brought along a secret weapon…ping-pong balls.  That’s right, ping-pong balls.  They toss the balls into the air, and their chaotic bouncing and rebounding deafens the Dark Knight.  The gang dogpiles the detective while he’s “blinded.”

Detective400-15.jpg

Detective400-18.jpgJust as it seems that they will do what any number of supervillains have failed to do, an eerie screech is heard ripping through the night, and horrifying help arrives.  Man-Bat smashes into the gang, tossing them around like ragdolls and giving Batman a chance to catch his breath.  The two make short work of the hoods, and the Caped Crusader thanks his unlikely savior.  Yet, when he turns his penlight on the monstrous Man-Bat, he sees his terrifying visage, taking it for a mask.  Ashamed, Langstrom, still in possession of his faculties, smashes the light and disappears in the night!

Detective400-17.jpg

This is a beautifully drawn tale, of course.  I love a lot of the shots of the Man-Bat, and I really like the all-black design of the thieves.  They make for a nice contrast with the other characters.

Detective400-19.jpg

The story itself isn’t quite as strong.  It’s a fine adventure, but the ping-pong ball deus ex machina is a bit silly.  That’s a very specific guess on the part of the gang leader.  Langstrom’s motivations are also fairly weak.  He’s trying to grant himself an ability that Batman doesn’t have?  Really?  Well, seeing as Batman has no abilities, that shouldn’t be that hard!  Either way, it’s a slightly uneven story, notable mostly for the introduction of a really neat character rather than the plot itself.  Adam’s design for Man-Bat is just excellent, evoking the horror comics of yesteryear with a wonderfully creepy realism, insofar as a giant man/bat monster can be realistic.  I’ll give this 4 Minutemen, largely on the strength of the art and the concept.

minute4

“A Burial for Batgirl!”

Detective400-22.jpg

We have another Batgirl backup this month, and it is an interesting enough beginning to a tale.  This chapter finds Barbara Gordon pulling up to the library of Hudson University, having just arrived in town to attend a Edgar Allan Poe festival, when she suddenly hears a cry for help!  She quickly darns her ‘working clothes’ and races to investigate.  Inside, what should she discover? Why it’s a dirty hippy in love beads running for the exit!  That’s quite suspicious, if I do say so myself.  He lunges out with a desperate punch, but Batgirl is not so easily stopped, so she flips him against the wall.  Gathering her thoughts, she takes note of a strange smell, something that could be ether.  Unfortunately, while she is trying to identify the tell-tale odor, the hippie regains his feet and blinds her with a nearby fire extinguisher.

Detective400-23.jpg

Once recovered, our heroine rushes outside, only to see her escaping hippy having encountered some other pursuers.  A number of college students are chasing him, and they even begin to kick the poor sucker once Batgirl lays him out.  Suddenly, a voice orders them to stop.  Dick Grayson steps out of the night and takes the heroine to task for not helping the hapless hippy, saying that he thought she had a reputation for sticking up for the underdog.

Detective400-26.jpg

We pick the story up back at the police station, where the top cop fill her in on the details of the case.  The hippy is Hank Osher, a student radical, one of the bully-boys chasing him was Jack Markham, an acting major, and the man whose cry for help Batgirl answered too late, was Amos Willard, the University’s business manager.  We even get a helpful visual aid to sort out the plot quickly and efficiently.  It isn’t the most dynamic story-telling move, but it’s a nice way to cover a lot of ground quickly, which is necessary in a tale this short.

Detective400-28.jpg

Apparently it all started with the proposed sale of a plot of woodlands that the school owned.  Willard was in favor of this, but Markham violently opposed it and threatened him.  Sensing that there is more to this than meets the eye, Batgirl interviews the imprisoned suspect, who claims he is being set up.  The masked girl begins to investigate, and we get a wonderfully sexist moment where she wonders if she is just being led astray by her “girlish heart responding to his big blue eyes.”  Great.

Detective400-29.jpg

Well, she decides to pursue the case one way or the other, and remembering the strange smell from the library, she thinks she knows where to look for more clues.  While investigating a building under construction, someone knocks her out with…that’s right, the classic head-blow!  That’s another one for this month!

Detective400-30.jpg

Babs awakens to find herself bound and gagged as a mysterious figure reenacts Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”  Yep, the mysterious figure is walling her up with bricks in a hidden alcove of the partially constructed building!  Dun, dun, DUN!

Detective400-31.jpg

That is certainly a nice, dramatic ending, no doubt about it.  This story, brief as it is, is interesting.  We don’t really get enough to establish the mystery properly, but there are the bones of a decent one, an enigmatic murder, a framed patsy, and a clever villain.  It has potential.  We’ll see what the next issue holds.  What is perhaps the most intriguing element of this story is the glimpse of social tensions in the hippy character, the student rabble-rouser, who is rebelling against the system…for reasons.  While his motivations are about as clear as an actual hippy’s, it’s telling that O’Neil is framing him as the victim here.  The whole thing feels a bit deeper than the desperate pandering towards youth culture that used to show up in Haney’s Teen Titans stories.  All-in-all, I’ll give this one a 3.5.

minute3.5

Flash #198

Flash_v.1_198.jpgCover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Call It… Magic!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Vince Colletta

Just look at that cover.  A hero praying is the central image, a sincere plea to the Almighty forms the design.  Can you imagine something like that showing up today?  The Big Two are way too worried about offending somebody to put so unambiguous a reference to religion in so prominent a spot, methinks.  I found it charming, though we’ll see inside that it isn’t quite as simple as it appears.

This strange tale begins with a group of teenagers, described throughout the issue as “teen-agers,” sneaking into a mist-shrouded cave, looking for our titular Scarlet Speedster.  When they find him, he is acting very strangely, holding a pigeon and speaking simplistically, almost…childishly.  In fact, he insist that his name is not “Flash,” it is Barry!  How bizarre!

flash 198-01.jpg

We eventually discover that the Sultan of Speed has lost his memory and reverted back to his eight year old self.  The kids seem to blame themselves, and they convince our hero to keep hiding in the cave when it becomes apparent that he can’t access his speed.  The ‘teen-agers’ decide that they have to protect the speedster until he recovers his senses, and we get a flashback that explains what happened.  It’s actually quite touching how they are willing to risk their own lives for confused champion.

flash 198-04.jpg

Barry, utterly exhausted from his last adventure (nice little nod to continuity), as running THROUGH SPACE will definitely take it out of you, slept late into the day.  Iris didn’t want to wake him, so she left a note telling him she’d be out of town for a few days on an assignment and reminded him that he had promised to visit the children in the Central City Orphanage.  I like the domestic check-in for the Flash, as well as the plot logic nod, recognizing that if Barry was missing for any length of time, Iris would have done something, had she been in town.

flash 198-06.jpg

Anyway, the Scarlet Speedster thrills the youth with his speed tricks, but a trio of ‘teen-agers’ are not so easily impressed.  Desperate to reach these kids, Barry reveals how painfully unhip he is.  He does offer to do all kinds of amazing things for them, like whisk them away to Paris or other distant lands, yet these jaded kids act like they get such offers every day.  Really kids?  A superhero offers to zip you to the City of Lights, and all you can do is yawn?  Man, kids these days!

flash 198-09.jpg

Well, they finally ask the Crimson Comet to take them to their old neighborhood, where he even builds them a brand new clubhouse in record time!  These kids don’t know how good they’ve got it!

flash 198-11.jpg

It is at this point that the plot takes its turn and we meet our antagonists.  Apparently a gang of thieves who had pulled off a big robbery had stashed their loot in that abandoned lot, and they jumped the hero when he accidentally uncovered it.  The Flash managed to get the kids to safety, but a ricochet grazed his head and scrambled his brains a bit, thus his current confusion.  It strikes me as a bit off that the Fastest Man Alive could be tagged by any bullet, even a ricochet, if it wasn’t the first round fired.  After he knew he was being shot at, he, fast as he is, should have been able to casually stroll to the other side of the city before they could so much as pull the trigger another time.  Yet, I suppose that’s a common problem with the portrayal of superspeed.  Such characters really tend to move at the speed of plot.

flash 198-12.jpg

Cut back to the present, where the vengeful villains have discovered our hero’s hideaway.  They toss in smoke grenades, and the befuddled Flash doesn’t know what to do, but while the kids prepare to protect him with their lives, Barry begins to do the one thing he can…pray!  He pleads with God to make him truly the Flash as the kids claim, and suddenly he whips into quicksilver motion!  He takes the thieves out in a blur of super-speed strikes, but the cave begins to collapse, and the Scarlet Speedster takes another crack on the head.  Just like that, he comes back to himself, remembering who he is in classic comic-book fashion.

flash 198-15.jpg

The adventure ends with the Fastest Man Alive bidding a fond farewell to his newfound young friends.  Exhausted all over again, he collapses into bed, where Iris discovers him when she returns home.

flash 198-16.jpg

This is a tale that I really didn’t care for when I read it the first time, but as with several of these Flash issues, I’ve got a lot more appreciation for it on this second reading.  It’s simple but charming, and I like the earnest, wholehearted plea to God.  That’s a nice moment, and it is left ambiguous whether his prayer is answered or whether he simply is able to will himself into super-speed.  That’s the right way to go, as anything else would be excessive.  This is definitely a study in contrast to modern comics, though, with a hero, even a brain-damaged one, making any type of openly religious statement.  In the end, there isn’t a whole lot to this issue, though I like several of its story beats.  Fortunately the child-like Flash doesn’t hang around long enough to be annoying, though that could easily have happened.  I like that the kids feel responsible for what happens and react so strongly in their efforts to protect Barry, though one wonders why they didn’t just tell the police, ‘hey, the Flash is hurt over at the cave!’  Ahh well, one way or the other, I’ll give this gentle-hearted tale 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

“Call It… Magic!”

flash 198-18.jpg

Hey, we get something different this month, a Zatanna backup!  I like this character in general, and though her concept is patently ridiculous, she still somehow works.  I think she works best in a setting like this, with a co-star, rather than holding down a story by herself.  Mystic types always need non-mystics to explain things to, after all.  I’ve read her original appearances from the Silver Age, where she guest-starred her way through the nascent DC Universe, and I’m wondering if this might be the start of a new set of such appearances.  Either way, I’m glad to see her, and although she and The Flash make for an odd pairing, this is an engaging little adventure.  It helps that Don Heck really does a wonderful job with the art chores for the backup, drawing a particularly fetching Zatanna.

This tale opens with one of Zatanna’s perennial magic shows, just as she is calling for a volunteer from the audience.  She picks out Barry Allen, who she of course knows is the Flash, just to tease her friend.  She promises to make him disappear with a kiss (look out Iris), yet when she she lays her lips on him, it is she who vanishes!  Where could she have gone?

flash 198-19.jpg

We jump across the barriers of time and space, watching as Zatanna is drawn through them as well, to discover that a sorcerer in a parallel dimension has summoned her to aid him in a desperate moment!  This wizard, named Namba, was attacked by by an old foe, a demon named Xarkon.  The nicely designed infernal foe takes control of Namba’s body, just as the Mistress of Magic arrives.

flash 198-20.jpg

She tries to use her magic to separate them, but the strain was too great.  It seems she cannot risk using her magic on the supernatural antagonist without hurting the magician she was summoned to help.  Meanwhile, Flash does not take her disappearance lightly.  He races home to his cosmic treadmill and homes in on the vibrations that he felt as the Mystic Maiden was sucked away from him.  I like the cosmic treadmill, as goofy of a concept as it is, as it just fits into the ‘world of wonder’ vibe that characterizes a good Flash story, just like a good Superman story.  Anyway, the Scarlet Speedster unfortunately arrives in hot water!

flash 198-22.jpg

The inhabitants of this strange world are now under the sway of Xarkon/Namba, and they attack the hero on sight.  The Fastest Man alive isn’t a pushover, though, and he quickly slips out of their grasp.  Then we get a nice little moment where he tries to communicate his peaceful intentions by creating a peace sign, which only scares his superstitious (probably justly so, seeing as they live in a world chock-full of magic) attackers.  The kicker is that Flash is a bit disappointed by this result, as “playing the Batman isn’t my role.”  That’s a cool little moment of characterization squeezed into the brief adventure.  The kind-natured, fair play minded Barry Allen doesn’t really enjoy scaring folks.  I like that.

flash 198-25.jpg

The story races (sorry!) to its conclusion as the Crimson Comet speeds in to challenge Xarkon, only to be waylaid by magic!  Fortunately, his presence provides the distraction, and inspiration, that Zatanna needs.  She breaks the spell on Namba…with a kiss!  It’s, honestly, a bit weird, and the justification weirder still.  Apparently Namba brought her to him because she was kissing Barry at the time, and a kiss is just what he needed…okay…some guys will go to any lengths to get a date!

flash 198-28.jpg

It’s a bit odd for a conclusion, and I can’t help but feel like it isn’t quite giving Zatanna the respect she deserves, especially as Namba “thanks” her with a kiss as well.  It seems vaguely sexist, but then again, it’s a comic book from 1970, so no big surprise there.  I like that we end with Barry helping the Mistress of Magic finish her trick with a little help from his own brand of super speed magic.

flash 198-29.jpg

In the end, this is a fun, though necessarily brief, backup.  I like seeing Zatanna, and even though Flash really doesn’t have any impact on the plot, I enjoyed his portion of the tale as well.  This was an unexpected surprise, and the art had a really nice quality to it that I can’t quite put my finger on.  I know that Zatanna is due to join the Justice League sometime soon, so it will be neat to see how that gets built up across the DCU.  It’s interesting how long it took her to become an established character.  She was introduced in 1964, and she had that set of stories, though I don’t think she showed up anywhere else for a while after that.  Here she is in 1970, but she won’t really “make it” until she joins the Justice League in 1973.  That’s a good nine years from her introduction to the point when she hit the big time, insofar as she ever has.  Well, I’ve wandered away from the story itself, which I will give an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_77.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ohh man, I wasn’t looking forward to this one.  Here we continue Denny O’Neil’s death-march into social relevance.  After the last issue being even worse than I remembered, I was pretty unenthusiastic about this month, but it was better than the previous one in some ways, yet, it was worse in the logic of the actual plot.  We still have  moments of teeth-grindingly bad characterization from Hal and self-righteous speechifying from Ollie, but there is perhaps less of each.  The art is, of course, beautiful, and the central action set-piece is really striking, but as one should expect from this series, subtlety and nuance are endangered species, nowhere to be found.

green lantern 077 003.jpg

The issue opens with our hard-traveling heroes winding through the mountains of some Appalachian town with their sightseeing Guardian in the back of the truck.  For some reason, the juxtaposition of that image cracks me up.  The trio starts taking fire from a group of locals who think they are working for someone unfortunately named “Slapper” Soames.  The heroes leap into action and pretty quickly disable their attackers.  Here we have one of those rather odd moments that this series provides in spades, as the locals don’t recognize either of these world famous superheroes.  I know they’re from a backwater town, but come on!  We also discover that Green Lantern’s ring is somehow malfunctioning.  Uh-oh!

green lantern 077 005.jpg

So, what in the blue blazes is going on here, with folks from this small town shooting at random passers-by?  Well, the short version is that this is a ‘company town,’ a mining town pretty much owned by a man named Slapper, and he runs it like his own little kingdom.  Honestly, I might turn villainous too if my name was ‘Slapper.’  These miners are sick of being oppressed, and they decided to revolt after a local singer/songwriter who spoke out against conditions got arrested for no good reason.  So, armed revolt was the only option instead of, you know, going to the feds or…almost anything else?  Yep, seems so, because in O’Neil’s corner of the DC Universe each and every inhabitant has his melodrama knob turned up to 11.

green lantern 077 008+09.jpg

The Green Team begins to debate what to do about this situation after they hear the miners’ tale of woe, and here we get this issue’s obligatory terrible moment of characterization for Green Lantern.  The townsfolk tell our heroes that this Slapper fellow is acting like a tyrannical monster, and Hal is so incredibly rigid and immature in his thinking that he immediately takes the bad guy’s side, just because he’s in charge.  I get it, O’Neil, Hal respects authority; sometimes that’s bad.  Yes, I understand, but he also isn’t a child.  He can tell the difference between someone in a complex social situation like the fat-cat from the last issue and someone who is effectively running a concentration camp!  At the least he should be willing to investigate the situation since, you know, he is a superhero and all.  Instead, he’s apparently willing to ignore this entire mess, including the band of armed citizens hiding in the hills.

green lantern 077 010.jpg

In case this scene wasn’t annoying enough just on account of Green Lantern’s naivety, Green Arrow immediately responds by invoking Godwin’s Law, yet again.  That’s two, O’Neil.  Yep, Ollie’s response is, ‘hey, Hitler was in charge too!’  Interestingly enough, in case you missed the subtle moral dilemma here, the Archer’s ridiculous comparison actually proves prophetic.

The pair decides to aid the miners, who plan to assault the local robber-baron’s headquarters to free the singer (is this what happened to Jason Quest?), only to discover that this headquarters is less ‘small town jail’ and more ‘fugitive fortress from D-Day.’  That’s right, this small-town robber-baron is holed up in a blockhouse surrounded by concertina wire, watch towers, and a minefield!  Sure, why not.

green lantern 077 012.jpg

All of a sudden, Green Arrow, who has fought against all kinds of terrible odds as a honest-to-goodness superhero, completely chickens out, right after his impassioned speech about helping these yokels.  He says their attack is going to be suicide, and he refuses to participate…despite the fact that he and the man with the magic-freaking-wishing ring could easily take down the small-town tyrant without anyone losing their lives.  In fact, perhaps they could, you know, do this themselves, since this is pretty much right in their bailiwick as superheroes, rather than help an angry mob take on armed soldiers.  No, instead, our heroic archer sits back and watches as men armed with shotguns and pitchforks charge a machine gun.  It’s only after they start dropping like flies, you know, because they are charging a machine gun, that he decides to get off his green-clad backside and help.  He fires a smoke arrow to cover their advance, which would have been great before several men had been shot.  Sorry Ollie, but you just lost the moral high ground from which you’ve been pontificating.

green lantern 077 017.jpg

Better late than never…except for all those men who are dead…

Before the attack actually begins, we do a quick check in with our antagonist and watch the Emerald Crusader charge his ring.  His inner monologue is really quite painful to read, evincing the moral sophistication of a particularly dim and immature 12 year old.  He even goes so far as to say he would have backed our clearly villainous villain in earlier days, just because the guy is in a position of authority, legitimate or not.

green lantern 077 015.jpg

I sympathize; justice is hard to weigh, but here’s a hint: it’s a pretty safe bet that the guys murdering innocents aren’t on the side of the angels…

Green Lantern gets involved, and his ring makes swift work of the defenses, until it shorts out on him again, and then we get a moment that irritated me quite a bit, almost as much as the infinitely more asinine moments that surrounded it.  The Emerald Gladiator gives a big speech about how he’ll have to rely on his fists, and this is what he’s been missing, finding out what he’s really made of…as a man!

That’s all well and good, except that he’s done this in practically every. single. issue. of his series for the last several dozen issues.  I can’t count how many times the Lantern would make a big to-do about not using the most powerful weapon in the universe so he could punch someone with his fist and prove he’s “a man.”  I’m quite certain of this, because the trope quickly began to gall me as it buried what made the concept fun and interesting in the first place.  So, yeah Hal, you’ve gone a whole three days without punching someone in the face!  You clearly need to prove yourself.  If that’s the case, you’ve got some really deep emotional problems.  When did this turn into a grim, naval-gazing postmodern comic where all the “heroes” are mentally ill?  Although…that would explain Hal’s apparent lack of a moral compass…

green lantern 077 019.jpg

This page is like a movie star, beautiful, but stupid.

Ahh well, I understand what O’Neil was trying to do, tying that moment into the whole ill-executed crisis of conscience that will haunt the character throughout this series, but in context of the book that existed just a few months ago, it rings false.  The idea is developed further as Hal realizes that the reason his ring has been failing is that he’s lost confidence, concentration, and clarity of purpose.  I actually like that move; it’s just a shame that the story doesn’t earn it.  In addition, the Guardian tells him that his fellows have decided to reduce his power while he’s on “walkabout.”  Thanks guys.  At this point, Hal is struck by gas rockets, which leaves him wandering wounded and out of the fight.

green lantern 077 020.jpg

Because, despite his ability to juggle multiple super powered heroes in JLA, this is the best way that O’Neil can manage to provide any dramatic tension at the climax of this tale when he’s got this mismatched pair of characters. Even de-powered, Green Lantern really shouldn’t’ have any trouble with random mooks with guns, and if he was allowed to continue his attack for another moment, the issue would be over.  It feels a bit forced.

On the plus side, we get a nice, if slightly heavy-handed scene with the vacationing Guardian saving a little girl.  He begins to wonder if he has underestimated humanity as the child’s helplessness moves him.  There is something of value here, as the immortal being of pure intellect begins to interact with beings of emotion, to slowly be reminded of a truth that we imagine his race once knew, perhaps when the universe was young.  He begins to realize that there is more to weighing and judging matters of justice than logic can entirely supply.  It’s a promising vein of storytelling, and I’m curious to see how well it is mined.  If memory serves, I was not particularly impressed with the treatment this idea received on my first reading, but we shall see.

green lantern 077 021.jpg

In the meantime, Green Lantern’s absence leads to the surviving rebels getting captured, along with the Emerald Archer.  It’s revealed that, surprise surprise, the bad guy’s thugs are actually Nazi war criminals, somehow smuggled into this small-town to work as muscle for this random robber-baron.  Sure.  That’s important, just in case you hadn’t gotten yet that this bad guy is, in fact, really bad.  Anyway, it is also revealed that the head rabble-rouser was actually the villain’s plant.  Slapper wanted to force the miners into a confrontation so he could break their spirits and keep them enslaved.  That’s not a bad twist, but the guy didn’t really get enough characterization for it to matter.

green lantern 077 028.jpg

Lantern and Arrow eventually recover, and they make quick work of Slapper and his bully-boys.  Rather fittingly, despite his (belated) heroics, Ollie is entirely ineffectual and quite doomed until Hal shows up.  The story concludes with the Emerald Archer throwing a big bucket of cold water on whatever happiness this ending might have supplied, as our heroes continue their journey in search of America.  It looks like next issue will feature some more biker movie rejects.  Oh joy.

green lantern 077 029.jpg

Well, I suppose I let my feelings about this issue come through pretty clearly already, probably too clearly!  It frustrated me at several points, and the ham-handed characterization, as well as the irrational story beats, really got on my nerves.  I think that the bones of this tale could have actually been an excellent plot for someone like The Question, Batman, or the classic Vigilante (I think that would have made for a great story!).  Unfortunately, as with many of the adventures that will populate the coming pages of this book, this one is simply not well-suited for its protagonist pairing.  The lack of attention to recent continuity, when even the fairly Silver Age-ish Flash is doing a better job, is surprising as well.  Hal’s continued stupidity is probably the worst element of the tale, though I think the heroes’ inexplicable inaction before the miners’ assault is a pretty close second.  In addition, there is less here that is valuable, conceptually, than the first issue.  I think the days of the Pinkertons beating up striking miners were pretty far gone, even in 1970, though I suppose I could be wrong.  It doesn’t have quite the weight, despite the much higher stakes, as the previous issue.  All-in-all, I’ll give this annoying story 1.5 Minutemen.
minute1.5.png

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

And we have ANOTHER addition to the wall of shame this month.  Neither Batgirl nor Robin are coming off all that well in their backups.

 

Well, that’s it for this week’s issues.  Thanks for joining me, and please visit again when we’ll have JLA and other other goodies to peruse!  Let me note that this coming week is the last week of the semester, so I’m likely to be insanely busy.  The following week I’ll be presenting at a conference out of state, so please don’t fret if it takes me a bit of time to get to the next installment.  I promise I won’t forget it.  Until then, keep the course, Into the Bronze Age!