Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 2)

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“One of Our Landmarks Is Missing!”


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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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“My Place in the Sun!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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*

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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.

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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

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Someone please tell me why Gil Kane was so popular…

“The Explosive Heart of America”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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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!