Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 5)

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Hello folks, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I’m back on my routine, at least for a little while, so I’ll hopefully finish this month up soon.  I’m very excited about today’s post, as we’ve got New Gods #1, the start of what is undoubtedly the most significant of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books.  There’s also a delightful little surprise in this month’s Superboy, which added to my enjoyment of these comics.  In general, we’ve got a good set of books to discuss, so let’s get to it!

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 #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

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


Justice League of America #88


JLA_v.1_88“The Last Survivors of Earth!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

This is an interesting cover for an unusual issue.  Notably, this comic has the distinction of being the only pre-crisis JLA book to feature Mera on the cover, and she does look good there with the rest of the League.  It’s a shame she didn’t get into action with them more often.  The cover itself is indicative of the era, showing the JLA having failed in some fashion, a common trope, but interestingly, there is some truth to this particular tableau.  The issue inside is a fun one, if a bit odd, as the heroes really don’t have much impact on the outcome.

The tale begins with a strange golden spaceship, which has a pretty cool design, speeding towards Earth as a robotic voice addresses its passengers.  The voice reminds its charges that they are the people of Mu, which, like Atlantis, is a legendary lost continent, and a very promising addition to the mythos of the DCU.  The mechanical voice continues, recounting how the citizens of Mu had used their superior technology to flee what they thought was a dying world, but their return, thousands of years later, has revealed a flourishing orb.

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The people of Mu, being kept alive by their machines, are now degenerated and decadent from their enforced isolation and inaction, and they can only respond with hatred to the modern inhabitants of Earth who they assume must be inferior to themselves.  Dillin achieves a pretty creepy, horrific effect with his portrayal of the Muians, vast rows of stiff, motionless figures, all screaming mindlessly for blood.  It’s like a much darker version of Wall-E, and as we’ll see, it serves a similar theme.

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Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of the threat approaching from space, a trio of Justice Leaguers pursue a “busman’s holiday,” working at an archeological dig in the South Seas Islands.  Carter and Shiera Hall have been joined by Hal Jordan of all people, and they are working to uncover clues to lost civilizations.  I love these types of glimpses into the ‘off-duty’ lives of the Leaguers, especially when they are hanging out together.  This is a really fun setup, and I would have enjoyed spending more time with these characters here, but Shiera quickly turns up a tablet inscribed with strange symbols that seem to point to the mysterious continent of Mu.  Just then, lightning strikes her out of a clear sky!  Green Lantern is able to blunt its force, but she’s still stunned, so the heroes suit up, with Hawkman taking his wife to a hospital while Hal contacts the League.

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In a touch that I quite enjoyed, Aquaman was on his way to join the trio to lend his services in interpreting whatever they found.  If you’re working on lost continents and civilizations, what better expert to call in than the king of just such a place?  It’s a really cool detail, and it proves wise, as he fills Hal in on what the Atlanteans know about Mu: it was an advanced civilization in the pacific that disappeared mysteriously.  The Sea King also brings news that strange disasters are occurring in the Gulf of Persia, the Mekong Delta, and the Coast of California, all of which point to Mu (though how they do so is quite unexplained).  The Emerald Crusader divides the League’s forces to deal with the different disasters and heads out himself, only to be struck by lightning as well, just managing to save himself at the last moment!

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In California, Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary arrive in the Batjet, but there is some tension in the air, as Batman remembers a kiss aboard the Satellite.  When they land, Black Canary pulls the Dark Knight aside, much to Arrow’s chagrin.  After telling Ollie that she’ll talk with whoever she care to, she tells Batman that she wants his advice on how to deal with the hot-headed archer, and she came to him because she thinks of him as a brother!  Ouch!  Bats is stuck in the one trap not even he can escape, the friend zone!  Nonetheless, he takes it like a man, and when the Emerald Archer starts flipping out and demands to take off, the Masked Manhunter even lets them use his plane.  (Real mature, Ollie.  It’s not like lives are at stake or anything.)  It’s a surprising but enjoyable little scene, with a bit of humor and just a touch of pathos, as Batman realizes that the attraction he feels is one-sided.

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Back on the other side of the world, Superman and the Atom approach the Persian Gulf, where refugees are fleeing a violent set of earthquakes.  The readers get a glimpse of the culprit, a golden medallion, an artifact of Mu, worn about the neck of a respected Iranian man, which serves as a transmitter for the destructive energies of the Mu spacecraft.  The heroes labor in ignorance, however, with Superman doing his best to help the evacuation and save lives while the Atom heads to a lab to try and sort out what is going on.  He stops a few looters and then gets to work, eventually determining the center of the disturbances, but not their cause.

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As the heroes head towards the epicenter of the quakes, the medallion’s owner smashes it, unwittingly ending the disaster.  Notably, the man, a devout Muslim, is portrayed as wise and selfless in a very positive and sympathetic treatment of Islam for a comic from 1971.  We even get an editor’s note providing a touch of background for the religion, which is surprising.

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At the same time, in Vietnam, the Flash has his hands full with an out of control monsoon.  Floods are destroying the country, and the Fastest Man Alive is run ragged trying to save lives.  While he labors, a young woman accustomed to tragedy prays to her household gods, another artifact of Mu.

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In another surprising touch, we’re told her husband was killed by the Viet Cong and her son by American napalm, an unexpected glimpse of the ongoing tragedy unfolding in Vietnam, and one that is handled with an unusually light touch.  Just as Green Arrow and Black Canary arrive and mark the center of the disturbance with a flare, the young woman smashes her idol in rage at its failure to protect her family, ending the storms.

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JusticeLeague88-23Finally, in California, Batman is left alone to confront the arriving Muian ship, and his valiant but foolhardy barehanded attack against the technological marvel, ends in defeat.  It’s a shame he didn’t have an advanced jet with all kinds of weapons on hand.  Once again, Green Arrow’s temper gets everyone in trouble.  The League just might be better off without him.

The people of Mu have their robotic caretaker snare a youth off of the street to interrogate, trying to discover how their attacks have been defeated.  The young man tells gives them a fiery response about how they are really jealous of the freedom and life that regular humans have, and then escapes the ship.  When it takes off, something suddenly goes wrong and it crashes into the sea, incidentally killing hundreds or thousands of Muians.

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When his friends ask him what happened, the young man informs them that he threw a wrench into the craft’s engines, thus saving the day….and also committing a touch of genocide!  The story ends with the Leaguers comparing notes and realizing that none of them ended the threats.  Finally, Aquaman recommends that they write this case up as “unexplained.”

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Yay!  They’re all dead!

This is a fun issue, though the final resolution is really rather too sudden and random, and I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to make of all of this.  The final narration stresses the theme of the Muians’ plight, the dangers of overreliance on machines, but the message is a tad muddled in delivery.  There’s something here about the triumph of human nature over machines, but it doesn’t quite get developed.  This idea is apparently in the zeitgeist, as we’ve just seen an Aquaman issue on the dangers of over-mechanization.

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JusticeLeague88-10 - CopyDespite the slightly awkward ending, there are a lot of neat elements in this tale, interesting and thoughtful little touches, like having Aquaman be called in as an expert in lost civilizations, some decently graceful attempts at exposing readers to other cultures, and even a little romantic intrigue.  The lost continent of Mu itself is a really fascinating concept, and it’s a shame it didn’t get a bit more development here, though that’s often the case for comics of this era.  I’m curious if anyone else ever made anything of the seeds planted in this story.  The threat the heroes face is one well suited to the League, and it’s an interesting change of pace that the team doesn’t actually save the day.  Most everyone gets something to do, though Aquaman gets the short end of the stick, as usual.  Dillin’s art is uneven in this one, alternately very strong and rather awkward, but for the most part he turns out a very pretty book.  There are a few just strange looking panels, though, like Batman’s awkward run.  In any event, this is an enjoyable read without the weirdness of the some of our previous issues.  I’ll give this one a solid 3.5 Mintuemen.

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New Gods #1


New_Gods_v.1_1Orion Fights for Earth!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

Now here we go!  Kirby’s New Gods book is, unsurprisingly, the core of his New Gods saga, and it is here where we really begin to learn what’s behind everything we’ve seen teased in the other books.  The cover copy declares that this is “an epic for our times,” and that is a fitting description for the adventure that lies inside.  After all, an epic is usually defined as a long narrative poem of high tone and style dealing with the deeds of a powerful hero, often across a backdrop of the fantastic, and, other than the lack of verse, Kirby’s book does match up to that definition fairly well.  It is certainly a story that is larger than life, mythic in scope and proportions, and that is obvious even here at the very beginning.  In his other Fourth World books, the King has been introducing interesting and exciting new concepts, innovating in smaller ways, but with this book, Kirby begins to do that which he had done in Marvel in the 60s, create something completely new.

The world he conjures is unlike anything seen before, at least in DC Comics.  There are similarities to his Asgardian adventures and the cosmic aspects of his Fantastic Four, but there is a scope here, an imaginative intensity, that is unprecedented.  These are truly new myths being created before our eyes, with just that type of archetypal power, and the end result, however flawed in the particulars as it can be on occasion, is still something incredible.  I love these stories, and it is really a breathtaking experience to go back and read them in the context of what was going on at the time.  Reading them cold in the 21st Century only allows you to experience them obliquely.  You don’t realize how incredibly groundbreaking they were, because what they accomplished has in the decades since become commonplace as swarms of imitators have flooded comics with similar work.  Yet, seeing Kirby’s Forth World burst onto the scene in this book in 1971 really puts into perspective just how revolutionary Kirby was, as he always was.

This first issue is no exception, and from the beginning, you can tell you’re in for something special.  I have to say, though, that the cover is not particularly impressive.  The figure of Orion is a striking one, but the weird coloring has never appealed to me.  I’ve always preferred the recolored versions I’ve seen.  Nonetheless, what’s within does not disappoint.  The tale starts with the fall of the old gods.  In an incredible Kirby splash page, he tells with remarkable narrative efficiency of the Twilight of the Gods, of Ragnarok.  These old gods, who look rather suspiciously like Kirby’s Asgardians, battle one another in an apocalyptic scene, and with a single page, the King wipes away what he had once created in order to begin afresh.  It’s beautifully fitting on many levels.

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The conflict ends in the destruction of the world of the gods, which is torn in two, and the two new orbs are left floating in space.  We aren’t told yet, but these will become New Genesis and Apokolips, the eternally opposed homeworlds of the New Gods.  Kirby’s narration throughout this section is, quite honestly, probably some of the best prose he’s ever written.  He really manages to capture the epic tenor he sets out for, and though sections of the book can get a bit clunky, the opening pages set an impressive tone.

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Across the vastness of space comes the dramatic figure of Orion, possessor of the “Astro Force,” whatever that means, a warrior who we meet as he returns home to New Genesis, and we’re treated to some incredibly striking visuals of its beautiful floating city and Cyclopean architecture.  He’s greeted by the lighthearted Lightray, a lightning quick young man who flies circles around the dour Orion and implores him to stay in the paradisaical city and “learn to laugh again.”

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Their conversation reveals our first hints at Orion’s dual nature, and we get a sense that he is a troubled soul and more than meets the eye.  The warrior has been summoned home to meet with his father, and the New Gods’ leader, Highfather.  The very patriarchal looking Highfather leads his son to “the chamber of the Source,” where they see a white stone wall, their “link with the Source.”  The idea of “the Source” provides a suitably vague and cosmic…well, source, for the powers of good, while still allowing for a surprising compatibility with the concept of the one God and thus folding in rather nicely with DC’s lightly drawn cosmology, even jiving peacefully with my own religious sensibilities.

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As the pair stands before the wall, they are joined by Metron, an eternal scholar, a being of intellect, whose outlook has something in common with the cold logic of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  It seems there is no love lost between Orion and this newcomer, and their verbal sparring is only interrupted when Highfather communes with this mysterious Source, and a in very biblical image, a fiery finger writes upon the wall and “having writ, Moves on.”  The message it leaves behind is “Orion to Apokolips–then to earth–then to WAR.”  It’s a portentous declaration, but Highfather reminds Orion that, though the Source advises, they still have the freedom to choose, and it is this freedom that separates those of New Genesis from Apokolips.  The young man’s choice leads him across the vast distances between worlds, to war!  As he takes his leave, Metron offers a cryptic statement that reveals he knows that Orion’s true origins lie on Apokolips, and Highfather angrily swears him to secrecy.  I quite like the celestial scholar’s line, “How wonderfully wise is the Source!  Who is more ready to fight the father– than the son!”  It illustrates the archetypal dimensions of the story Kirby is spinning.

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To Apokolips Orion flies, and our first glimpse of the grim, gray world is quite stunning, with its ashen surface and massive fire pits.  It looks every inch the archetypal Hell, and as he travels above it, Orion’s thoughts inform us that it is the opposite of New Genesis, a world dedicated to conquest and domination, to the extermination of freedom.  His reconnaissance is interrupted by a trio of Apokaliptian shock troopers, the parademons, which starts a running battle as Orion faces various waves of enemies, including heavy cavalry mounted on giant, vicious dogs!

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Most of the troops are visually interesting and imaginatively designed, and the action looks good in Kirby’s wonderfully dynamic style.  In the various skirmishes, we begin to get a sense of Orion’s lust for battle and the dangers of his temper.  Finally, the warrior makes his way to the palace, only to discover that Darkseid has already gone to Earth, but his visit does not go unremarked, as the titanic tyrant’s son, Kalibak the Cruel, is there to greet him.  Their battle is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Metron, who has come to hurry Orion on his way.

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ng01-29The scholar warns the warrior of Darkseid’s plans, telling him that the Apokaliptian monarch even now works on a device that will allow him to search all of the minds on Earth for the mysterious and sinister ‘Anti-Life Equation.’  Before vanishing as mysteriously as he appeared, he also reveals that Darkseid began his search there on Apokolips with a quartet of kidnapped humans.  The warrior frees the captives, and holding Kalibak off, opens a boom tube to Earth to help them escape.

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Then to Earth they travel, leaving a raving Kalibak behind them, swearing revenge.  Once there, Orion explains to the four he rescued that there is a conflict brewing of universal significance, something far beyond their understanding, and the book ends with him shouting a challenge to Darkseid, a challenge which Darkseid, from his hidden fastness, answers.

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ng01-20Then to War!  Wow!  Summarizing this book was a real challenge.  Since so much of this is new and since there are so many big ideas flying around, it is tough to be brief when talking about this story.  In fact, I left some interesting moments untouched, like the glimpse of New Genesis’s culture revealed in Highfather’s reverence for the innocence of youth, which itself is an effective shorthand for his world’s love of freedom and for the stakes for which this galactic game shall be played.  In general, this is a great story, though it will eventually be overshadowed by what comes after.  Kirby’s art is a little rough in some spots, and of course Colletta’s inking doesn’t do him many favors.  None the less, the visual imagination at play is wonderful, with both New Genesis and Apokolips fitting perfectly into their archetypal roles.  Kirby’s imagination is clearly unleashed in this book, and the fruits of his labors are wondrous.  There are Promethean structures everywhere, and many panels stress the scale of the world we’ve entered, as Orion is shrunk to insignificance before a starfield or an ominous edifice.

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ng01-16I’ve mentioned how archetypal this story is, and that is an important part of its success, as the King is essentially creating a new myth, working in the broad, bright colors of legend, evoking the eternal struggle of the Norse Gods, the Olympian war against the Titans, or similar cosmic conflicts.  This is a larger scale, a much larger scale, than anything we’ve seen in DC Comics, and clearly already more fully realized than any similar worldbuilding we’ve seen in the last year.  The only parallels can be found in Kirby’s own work in Marvel, but with the Fourth World the King seeks to surpass even those heights .  Think about how astonishing this book must have been when it hit the stands amongst the mundane everyday stories filling DC’s books.  Even this month’s Justice League tale, which has some measure of imaginative reach, feels positively cramped and halfhearted by comparison.  Despite that, he’s doing some pretty solid character work even from this first chapter, especially considering the era.  There are mysteries surrounding Orion, and a lot of personality at play in everyone we meet.  The impression of depth is downright palpable, and you just know that this conflict sprawls far beyond the pages of this book.  What’s more, we can see the lasting impact of this story in the fact that so many of its elements, even just from this first entry, have gone on to become central elements of the DC Universe.  It’s a great beginning, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!  I’ll give this first chapter 4.5 Minutemen, as it loses just a little for the clunkier moments.

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Superboy #172


Superboy_Vol_1_172“The World of the Super-Ape!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Brotherly Hate!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska
Letterer: Joe Letterese

Oh boy, we’ve got gorillas on the cover!  According to legend, DC’s indefatigable editor, Julie Schwartz, believed (and not without some reasonable circumstantial evidence) that a gorilla on the cover of a comic would boost sales.  Supposedly, the effects were so marked in the Silver Age that all of his editors wanted gorillas for their covers, and he had to institute a policy of no more than one gorilla cover a month!  Whatever the case may be, there sure are tons of gorilla covers from this era of comics!  This particular offering is a fairly striking one, and there’s a nice mystery, which gets a fairly good buildup in the story itself.  As for that very cover story, it has a really ludicrous premise, but the whole thing is handled surprisingly well.  While the concept is very Silver Age, the writing feels a tad more mature.

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The tale opens with a recapitulation of Superman’s origin, but this time, there are two rockets headed for Earth.  One crashes in Smallville, and the other, strangely enough, in the heart of Africa, where its inhabitant is adopted by the apes.  Then the scene shifts forward 15 years, where an ivory poacher vanishes after an encounter with a strange shadowy figure.  The preserve officers call in Superboy when they are stumped by the lack of tracks.  A second group of poachers, out to capture gorillas for a zoo, also go missing, once again accosted by a shadowy figure.

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There’s a nice effect to these mysterious attacks, and Robbins continues to delay the final reveal of the antagonist, granting the first half of this comic a cool, old-school monster movie feel.  Tension mounts from scene to scene as the mystery deepens.  The payoff isn’t quite as good as I had hoped, however.  Eventually, Superboy decides that there must be connection between the apes the poachers were hunting and the mysterious disappearances, so he dresses as a gorilla in order to have the primates lead him back to their tribe….which is pretty silly, but okay.  The apes oblige, and in their cave, the Boy of Steel sees strange statues, idols, and even a magnificent throne, all carved in the likeness of a massive gorilla, and carved by intelligent beings.  Brown does a good job rendering these scenes and granting them a mysterious atmosphere.
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Inside the cave, Superboy discovers the captured poachers making a break for it, one of them having secreted a gun when they were taken, and he reveals himself in order to help their escape.  The gorillas pose no threat to him until, all of a sudden, a SUPER ape appears, one speaking Kryptonese!  That’s right, he is confronted by a flying, invulnerable gorilla, complete with cape and tights, no less!  They fight but find themselves too evenly matched, even clashing with heat vision in a nice panel.
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The Boy of Steel decides to try to solve riddle of this obvious fugitive from his homeworld, so he heads back in time and observes a second renegade scientist, the anthropologist an-kal, sending a cybernetically enhanced ape to safety and cursing the Science Council for not approving of his work.  Oookay.  This guy is even crazier than ol’ Jor-El!  What is it with Kryptonian scientists?
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“They can be a great people […] They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son…err…simian.”

Back in the modern day, Superboy rounds up the escaping poachers and brings them right back to the super-ape, Yango, telling his simian simulacrum that they don’t need to fight.  The youth realizes that the gorilla has dedicated himself to protecting the animal world as he has the human world, and so he is delivering the criminals to his justice and trusting, for some reason, that the gorillas won’t just murder them.  They part as friends, Superboy to continue his work in man’s world, Yango, in that of the animals.
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What a goofy concept, and what a goofy visual!  Yango, a gorilla in a full costume, looks pretty silly.  Despite that, this is a fun issue, and the super-fight is pretty entertaining.  It’s also interesting to see Robbins take on the issue of poaching, however obliquely, way back in 1971.  We see in this another attempt on DC’s part for social relevance, and, interestingly, the message doesn’t overwhelm the adventure, unlike some Green Lantern yarns I could name.  In fact, it rather fades into the background amidst the energetic rush of the story.  The first half of the comic is really the best, as the mystery of what is taking the poachers unfolds, but the reveal of Yango himself is, I have to admit, not what I expected.  I’m curious if this oddball character ever appeared again, but I don’t think he did.  If any of you readers know differently, please let me know!  Despite the silliness of the super-simian, I have to say, I enjoyed this read.  The whole tale has something of an Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan feel to it, and that’s a good thing.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as the yarn is entertaining despite its goofiness.
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“Brotherly Hate!”


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We’ve got a real treat in the back of this book this month!  After too long in limbo, the Legion of Superheroes returns to the pages of DC Comics!  This starts what will become a regular backup feature for quite some time.  Eventually, the Legion will actually muscle Superboy out of his own book!  This is good news to me, as I’ve really enjoyed the daring deeds of these futuristic do-gooders.  Our story this month is a solid one, with a touch of family drama flavoring the adventure.  It begins with a Legion rocket arriving at the “Interplanetary Bank,” where they discover that the “guardian beasts” have been disabled.  I’m already 100% onboard, as a setting in which there is something called an “Interplanetary Bank” and which is guarded by giant monsters seems pretty promising to me!  The Legion team, Lightning Lad, Timberwolf, and Light Lass discover that the perpetrator was none other than Lightning Lord, the brother of Lad and Lass!

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We get a brief reprise of how the trio got their powers, and then, to my delight, we get a nice origin for the Legion itself!  Young Lightning Lad, Garth Ranzz, travels to Earth looking for his brother, and on the ship, he meets the future Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, as well as the “richest man in the universe,” R.J. Brande.  When a gang of assassins try to kill Brande, the trio intervene, each using their powers to pitch in.  Brande is thankful, but he is also inspired, so he offers to set the three youths up as superheroes, citing Superboy and Supergirl as examples of teenage heroes.  They all agree, and the Legion is formed.  I’d read summaries of this event, but it is really fun to actually see it played out.

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With their flashback over, the team tracks Lightning Lord’s ship, confronting him on a barren and rocky world.  When they confront him, Lightning Lad tries to talk his brother down, but when he refuses, both of the Legionnaire siblings hesitate, causing Timberwolf to spring into action.  The high-voltage villain tries to zap him, but Lightning Lass throws herself in front of the beam to save the boy she loves.  This enrages Timberwolf, but Lightning Lad insists that he face his brother alone.

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They are evenly matched, and they throw electrical bolts back in forth to little effect.  Yet, Lightning Lad backs his brother against a metallic cliffside and ricochets a blast into his back, knocking him out, but turning his hair white in the process.  Their sinister sibling captured, the heroes find themselves hoping that he will reform, but something tells me that’s a tad unlikely.

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This is an all-too-brief adventure, but it is a fun one.  Bridwell manages to add just enough pathos to the confrontation to make it interesting, and the action is entertaining.  I have to say, though, I think my favorite part is a look at the Legion’s founding.  I suppose I share something of Bridwell’s love of continuity.  That sense of history, of more stories than exist on the page, is key for the “impression of depth” that is such an important part of a well-realized setting.  I’ll give this fun little Legion legend 3.5 Minutemen.

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What a set of stories!  We finally get the debut of New Gods, and we get the return of the Legion to boot!  I’ll call that a win.  This finishes off our penultimate batch of books, bringing us to the end of the month, a hearty dose (an overdose?) of Superman!  Please join me again soon for my commentary on those comics as I trudge further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to part 2 of February 1971!  We’ve got a good pair of books in this post, and I found plenty to talk about.  I’m afraid I grow a tad long-winded on this one, folks, so be warned!  Let’s see what awaits us as we travel Into the Bronze Age!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Aquaman #55


Aquaman_Vol_1_55“Return of the Alien!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Computer Trap!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

Man, I am LOVING these Nick Cardy Aquaman covers.  They’re always exciting, dynamic, intriguing, and just beautifully rendered.  This is a particularly striking example.  The story within is definitely worthy of such a great cover, and it returns to a plot thread readers must have thought abandoned back in issue #52.  This tale takes us back to the strange microscopic world that exists within Mera’s ring and to the brave girl who helped Aquaman during his sojourn there.  I was really struck by the moral conundrum with which Skeates faced his character in that earlier story, as the Sea King had to choose between leaving his alien girl Friday in the clutches of slavers or risk her death at the hands of a hostile colony.  While I understood Aquaman’s choice to abandon her, it definitely seemed like an unresolved issue when he came back to the normal world.  In this story, the Marine Marvel finally sets out to right that wrong.  It’s great that Skeates brought this thread back from three issues ago, despite there not having been a single mention of it since.  That level of continuity was still rather rare in this era, and it’s the smallest example of such in this issue.

The story itself begins with Dr. Vulko, playing his role as Atlantis’s resident mad scientist, as he prepares a machine to transport the Sea King back to the microscopic madhouse.  Apparently, in a fun little touch of universe awareness, Aquaman got advice from the Atom about how to build this shrinking device.  Operating the machine, Vulko reminds Mera that she must concentrate, as she’s vital to the procedure.  As we discovered in that earlier story, the Queen can actually exert some form of telepathic control over the realm in her ring.  There’s actually room for a really interesting set of stories exploring that connection and the origins of this place, and I have to think that Skeates saw that possibility.  Unfortunately, he never got the chance to investigate those mysteries.

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Vulko throws the switch, and Aquaman shrinks back to the surreal, Dali-esq sub-reality.  He begins to explore, but he encounters another one of those horrible cyclopean blob creatures that attacked him on his first visit.  Realizing that there’s nothing to be gained by fighting the monster, the Sea Sleuth evades it and continues his quest.  There’s a nice bit of characterization in that encounter, as Arthur evinces sound judgement but also shows some awareness of his public role as king, noting his subjects might not understand his actions.  As it turns out, that’s a thought that proves somewhat prophetic given the other events in this story.

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With the telepathic guidance of his wife, Aquaman succeeds in locating the colony of the big-headed slavers of the previous story, and he just charges right in swinging.  It’s a pretty dynamic sequence, as the Sea King just smashes into their defenses.  Meanwhile, back in Atlantis, Mera can sense that her love is in combat, and Vulko stresses that she must not think about wanting him to return to her or she’ll bring him back prematurely.  At the same time, Aqualad is observing a fiery speech in an Atlantean park, where a local nutjob has managed to acquire quite a following.  The rabble-rouser, named Noxden, is stirring up resentment against the King by claiming that the destiny of Altanteans is to be air-breathers, and this is a destiny of which Aquaman robbed them!

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I would NOT want to be in that guy’s way!

All the way back in issue #35, the Atlanteans were converted into air-breathers, and their king restored them (in issue #43), because it’s pretty stupid to live on the bottom of the sea if you can’t breathe underwater.  Yet, despite the utter absurdity of the fellow’s claims, people are beginning to listen.  There was a time when that would have seemed more far-fetched than it does today, I suppose.

Yet, if there’s one thing that history teaches us, it’s that a looney who shouts loud enough and provides a convenient scapegoat for people’s problems will always be able to attract a following.  Aqualad is disgusted by the raving rhetoric, seething at the idea that Atlanteans would be so ungrateful to the king who had done so much for them, and he heads out to tell Aquaman.  Just at that moment, the Marine Marvel is getting overwhelmed by his alien antagonists and…oh no.  Not again…that’s right, the third head-blow in a row!  Arthur gets conked on the noggin and he’s down for the count!

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Before we learn what happens with the Sea King, though, we have another stop.  Subplots galore!  In this case, we’re touching base with Mupo, the fiery young man who led the rebellion against Aquaman’s regent-turned-tyrant way back in issue #47.  This book is just full of continuity!  Mupo has been swayed by Noxden’s speech, and he begins to spout some racist rhetoric, which Aquagirl calls him on.  The Marine Mistress shows her class by storming out on the moron.

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Meanwhile, Mera uses her connection with the ring-world to revive her husband, which si a nice touch and a way to give her more of a role.  Aquaman awakens as he’s being taken prisoner by the aliens and carefully times his escape, plowing through the guards that thought he was helpless.  As he’s swimming through the city, searching for a place to hide and make plans, who should he encounter but the object of his quest herself!  The girl signals him and hides the hero while they talk.  The Marine Marvel realizes that she’s communicating with him telepathically, despite the fact that this was against her beliefs when they last met.

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Aquaman55_14She explains that her captors have opened her mind and taught her to think for herself, strangely enough.  Yet, even more surprising, when he tells the young lady that he’s there to rescue her, she refuses, saying she’s happy in her role!  While she may be a captive, she is, in many ways, more free than she was in her oppressive home.  It’s an interesting wrinkle and an unexpected twist.  Yet, it is also a bit unsatisfying.  Our hero has gone through all of this to save her, and she doesn’t want to be saved!

Stunned, Aquaman leaves, realizing that he’s got twenty hours on the clock before he’s due to be recalled and hoping he can find somewhere to hide and wait for his rendezvous.  At the same time in Atlantis, our plot threads are converging, as Aquagirl encounters Aqualad, just as she’s thinking over things with Mupo.  When the young Aquatic Ace brushes her off in his hurry to see the King, she thinks that the more he ignores her, “the more attractive Mupo looks!”  Uh-oh Garth, better watch out!  You’ve got competition!

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Nobody draws action like Jim Aparo.

Back in the microscopic world, Aquaman encounters another group of the aliens, and as he’s tearing his way through them, he suddenly begins to grow, way ahead of schedule!  When he arrives back home, Mera apologizes, realizing that her anxiety must have inadvertently led to her recalling him, but her husband stops her, saying that she came through at the perfect time.   Just then Aqualad arrives and tells his tale, but Aquaman silences him as well, reminding his young charge that he respects free speech and isn’t about to start censoring folks he disagrees with, which is a nice character beat.  The story ends with a very striking image of Noxden, gesturing in a manner that is grimly familiar.

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This is a very good tale, and it is absolutely packed full to the gills (if you’ll forgive the expression) with plot.  In fact, it’s so stuffed with story that I had trouble summarizing it!  Skeates is layering in storylines that could stick with the book for a long time to come, doing some worldbuilding, and in general giving Aquaman a more fully realized setting to inhabit.  Of course, that makes the title’s impending cancellation all the more heartbreaking.  None of these plotlines will get resolved in the next and, as it happens final issue, leaving so much undone, so much potential wasted.  I suppose I’ll talk about that in more detail when I cover the final issue, but on this read-through, I’m really struck by how much this loss hurt the character.  At the very beginning of the Bronze Age, where the DC Universe is evolving and growing, and when he had a fantastic opportunity to do the same, the powers that be cut the legs out from under Aquaman.  That’s just a crying shame, and it explains a lot of the problems the character has had since then.

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Anyway, in terms of the story itself, it is a really enjoyable read.  The quick cuts between the different plots keep it moving at break-neck pace.  While the resolution of the plot of Aquaman’s girl Friday is a bit of a letdown, the adventure that reunites the pair is pretty exciting.  It does seem like the Sea King could have offered her a third option, or at least tried to do so.  He could have sent the Atom in to bring her up to Atlantis, where she could have had her mental and physical freedom.  Maybe that idea would have materialized in time, if Skeates had been given the opportunity.  We’ll never know now, I suppose.

I enjoy the mini-plots with Aquaman’s supporting cast.  At this time, the Marine Marvel is the only character that has his entire extended super family gathered around him, giving him unique story possibilities that other characters with similar supporting characters don’t have access to at the moment.  It’s great to see Skeates take advantage of that.  I also love seeing more of Tula in general.  The character she developed into under Skeates’ pen, capable, level-headed, independent, and still with a great sense of adventure, is one that I really love.  The plot of the trouble-making politician that the young Aquatic Aces are mixed up in is certainly not a new one for Aquaman, but this time it comes with a new twist.  Interestingly, part of Noxden’s platform is a call for free and democratic elections, which is actually quite sensible and seems only natural to an American audience.  After all, one of the central values of our culture is reverence for democracy.  There is a lot of potential for some fascinating stories in the interplay between tradition and progress in Atlantis.  Sadly, we won’t really get to see Skeates develop that potential.

In the end, though this isn’t a perfect story, it is a lot of fun and just full of intriguing beginnings.  The SAG team has done a lot of experimentation, but I rather feel like, with this issue, they were settling into what would have been a very promising routine.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Computer Trap”


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We’ve got a very pleasant surprise this month in the form of an extra Aquaman yarn as a backup in this issue.  This is a great little 7 1/2 page story that hits on some unexpected themes.  The backup begins with Skeates doing a bit more aquatic world building, as the Sea King, returning from a mission on the surface, swims through a submarine ghost town.  It’s a forlorn abandoned city that rather gives our hero the creeps, and while he’s pondering what happened to its inhabitants and how long it has lain empty, he suddenly detects a telepathic signal.  Strange!

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When he goes to investigate, he discovers an advanced computer, a self-aware machine that attacks his mind!  The AI attempts to enslave his will, but Aquaman is no mental weakling, and his incredible willpower and mental strength hold off the telepathic attack.  In the interim, we get treated to a flashback to this device’s origins, and it’s a pretty interesting story, the archetypal ‘machines turn on their masters‘ setup. An advanced aquatic society built this powerful computer to help run their civilization, but, in a classic twist, the machine found the humans far too unstable and imperfect, so it simply took over.

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In this case, the device actually dominates the minds of the citizens and turns them into efficient little worker-bees, creating more and more machines and more and more advancements, all in the name of ‘progress.’  That was the great ideal, progress for its own sake, and progress defined as technological growth, while all else in this culture decayed.  In a really neat take on the concept, the machine can only control the minds of the adult society members because their brains are fixed and rigid, leaving the youth to grow disaffected and eventually to abandon the colony in search of a place that valued more in life than the endless pursuit of ‘progress.’  In a cool example of truth in fiction, the minds of young people actually are more flexible and less fully developed, so this is surprisingly believable on that score.  Of course, there are also obvious social parallels as well.

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Eventually, the machine’s slaves grew old and died, leaving no-one to serve it.  The computer plans to use Aquaman to attract a new population to pursue ‘progress,’ but the King of the Seven Seas is nobody’s pawn.  He stops fighting the device long enough to summon help, and though the computer invades his mind, the timely arrival of an electric eel breaks its control!  To put an end to the menace of this mad machine, Aquaman summons a horde of his finny friends, and they collapse the cave it inhabits.  Yet, Skeates leaves a note of mystery in the ending of this tale, as the machine may yet survive!

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This is a quite a good story for as brief as it is.  It helps that it fits into the end of the previous yarn, building off of its momentum, allowing this one to feel a bit more expansive than it really is.  Skeates also deals with some really fascinating themes here, including the dangers of the rapid pace of technological advancement, one of the perennial subjects of science fiction.  As long as man has built machines, there has always been a fear that they might somehow cost him his humanity.  As it turns out, it’s a fear well founded.  We’ve begun to see that our hypertechnological society comes at a cost, with kids losing the ability to interact socially because of their addiction to social media and the like, not to mention the impact of information and sensation overload in the Internet Age.  These are just the newest manifestations of an ancient phenomenon.  Very little that we create comes without a cost, and it seems that those costs are growing more dear.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the story for me was Skeates’ implicit criticism of the concept of progress as its own goal.  C.S. Lewis described the origins of this tendency brilliantly in his essay “De Descriptione Temporum,” where he wrote of the modern idea of a progressive, which is to say ‘evolutionary,’ view of history:

“that what has imposed this climate of opinion so firmly on the human mind is a new archetypal image.  It is the image of old machines being superseded by new and better ones.  For in the world of machines new most often really is better and the primitive really is the clumsy.”

And he critiqued this view in his Mere Christianity, arguing that:

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

There can be no progress without a concept of a destination, without an ideal and a goal, and you’re either moving closer to that end or you’re moving further away, so movement by itself is not necessarily progress.  It’s a useful lesson to remember, and, in its own small way, this little backup tale teaches it.  The departure of the colony’s youth makes the point rather well, as they are searching for the things that give a culture its soul, the things that make life worth living, like the sublime pleasures of art and literature.  Of course, Skeates’ story is so brief that it can do little more than gesture at its themes, but they are interesting enough on their own merits that they still add some flavor to the final product.  I’ll give this great little backup 4.5 Minutemen, as it gets extra credit for at least having the potential to be thought-provoking.

Of course, it hardly needs to be said at this point, but Aparo’s art in this issue is as beautiful as usual.  His depictions of the action scenes are particularly impressive, but I just plain love his illustration of the ring-world.  He gives that place such a wonderfully insane feeling that it really adds something to Aquaman’s adventures there.  His Tula is a tad off this issue (she’s probably the only Aqua-character for whom I really prefer Nick Cardy’s rendition), but Aparo, as usual, also injects a lot of personality into the supporting characters.  That last shot of the rabble-rousing politician is a bit chilling and instantly conveys the fellow’s nature and personality.


Batman #229


“Asylum of the Futurians!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Temperature Boiling… and Rising!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Not the most amazing cover we’ve had here, though I suppose it does do its job of making the reader curious about what’s going on.  And what is going on is rather weird.  This isn’t the type of terrible, lazy story we’ve encountered from Kanigher in the past, but neither is it the stronger type of tale he’s been telling lately in our reading.

The yarn itself opens with a young woman running along a country road where she encounters the Batman, who has come searching for her and her husband.  Her name is Laura, and how the Dark Knight knows her isn’t explained.  When she asks about his fortuitous arrival in the middle of nowhere and the middle of the night, he just says he’ll tell her later.  Odd.  She proceeds to tell the Caped Crusader that her husband disappeared in the middle of the night, and when she found him, the scene she witnessed was almost enough to drive her mad!

Refusing to describe the source of her trepidation for fear he won’t believe her, Laura leads Batman to an eerie, gloomy old house in the woods.  Therein, they observe a scene out of an asylum, as musicians play on invisible instruments, waiters serve phantom food, and diners dressed in futuristic garb eat off empty plates.  They observe Larua’s husband, Stephen, a “famed photographer of psychic phenomena” looking on in befuddlement before he finally breaks out in anger, demanding to know the meaning of all of this.  In response, the creepy lady in charge yells out that they thought he was “the Seventh Futurian,” but since they were mistake, they must kill him!  His work made them think that he’d be able to “hear” their music, and “taste” their food, things only a Futurian can do.

Batman takes that as his cue, rushing in and overcoming the gathered gang and their futuristic weaponry.  It’s a nicely drawn sequence for the most part, and it ends with only the girl left standing.  She declares that the Futurians are “the wave of the future,” born psychic and destined to rule the world.  They have cells all over the planet, waiting for the arrival of the Seventh who will lead them.  She reasons that only one person could overcome five of her fellows, and thus the Dark Knight himself must be the Seventh for which they’ve been waiting.  They hand the Masked Manhunter a crown, and he decides to play along in order to take care of them peacefully.  But it’s a trap!  The crown tightens on his head, knocking him out, and the Futurians decide to put him to the test.

Taking a book out of Renaissance witch trials, they lock him in a coffin and toss it in the lake, thinking that only the special Seventh could escape from a watery grave.  Inside his sinking prison, the Dark Knight uses the now loosened crown to pick the coffin’s lock and swims for the surface.  For some reason, the Futurians seem sure that this guy they’ve just tried to kill, TWICE, who has dedicated his life to fighting crime, is going to help them take over the world.

Instead, for some strange reason Batman seems more inclined to punch them in their faces.  He takes them out, using the estate’s statuary, and captures their lovely leader.  Then, as he takes the rescued couple home, we discover that when Stephen was captured, he “screamed silently for help,” and somehow, that call reached the Caped Crusader.  The question of psychic powers is left ambiguous, but not in a particularly productive way.  It’s so vague and these characters so forgettable (I had to go back and look up their names), that it doesn’t have much impact.

This is a mediocre story.  It’s okay, and Novick renders the action nicely.  Yet, the Futurians are too big of a concept to be tossed out in 15 pages while also vying for space with two other supporting characters, one of whom is entirely superfluous to the plot.  Kanigher could have just had Batman show up at the house and saved two pages for better use.  The gang/cult themselves are just shy of being interesting.  With some more development, they could have made the jump, but as is, they just seem like generic would-be world-conquerors.

In general, the concept of this story just doesn’t quite manage to come together, and that concept, interestingly enough in light of the Aquaman backup tale above, seems to be tied into Futurism, an early 20th Century cultural movement originating in Italy that, coincidentally enough, advocated complete neglect of the past and an ethic of unbridled progress.  Even when I first read the “Futurist Manifesto” in college, I thought its principles were utterly foolish.  To once more quote Lewis, he argued that “[t]o study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place.  But I think it liberates us from the past too.  I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians” (12).  Far from enslaving us, a knowledge of the past frees us from the blindness that makes contemporary mores into commandments and fashion into fact, and it also puts bygone days in their proper context, removing the rosy tinge that nostalgia tends to apply to all such visions.

But what has this story to do with Futurism?  It’s only tangentially related, but I can’t help but think that it is this movement which Kanigher had in mind when he penned this tale.  The antagonists of the piece read like a more militaristic version of the Futurists, which is impressive considering just how militaristic the originals were.  There are some definite parallels, and the sad thing is that these guys could actually furnish some really interesting villains if they were given any chance to develop a personality other than ‘strangeness.’  The story just feels a bit unfinished, though it is entertaining enough.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.


“Temperature Boiling… and Rising!”


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It’s nice to get a bird’s eye view of Hudson University.

The second half of this Robin tale is pretty good, even better than its predecessor.  It picks up with the student volunteers for Prof. Buck Stuart’s senate campaign as they try to make sense out of the shocking newspaper headline from last issue and the picture showing their golden boy giving a payoff.  In an interesting scene, a hippy-looking kid blows his top and tells Dick Grayson that he’s through playing by the rules before storming out.  What makes the scene fascinating is the boy’s mention of the Kent State Massacre.  Bringing that real event into the story instantly makes it feel more serious and grounded, and it really puts the kid’s anger and impatience into perspective.  This election, and those like it in which young people were getting involved, mattered.  They mattered because they were a chance to show the youth of this country that the system worked…or risk driving them into the streets in anger and despair.  It’s a small moment, but it struck me nonetheless.

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The story continues, with the candidate himself arriving and telling the boys that the claims are phony.  With the help of Phil Real, the campaign photographer, Dick does some good detective work by realizing that the damning picture is doctored and sets out to prove it as Robin.  The Teen Wonder heads to the local paper where the editor tells him in no uncertain terms that their publisher is backing the incumbent and won’t allow a retraction without hard evidence, so Dick goes in search of just that when the fellow reveals that their source’s name was…Phil Real!

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When Robin arrives at his friend’s room, he finds Phil’s roommate, who is one of the kids behind the fire at the campaign office from last issue.  The firebug and his friend jump the young hero, and for the second issue in a row, Robin barely escapes a slot on the Head-Blow Headcount, as he gets his bell rung pretty good.

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Still, he keeps his feet and easily dispatches the two college-toughs. In the room he finds the evidence he needs of the photo tampering, enough to force the paper to print a retraction, which helps to swing the election in Stuart’s favor!  At the end of the tale, Dick Grayson leaves the victory party, saying there’s still much more work to be done, an ending that I rather liked.  There’s something in it that indicates our young hero is growing up.

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This is a good ending to this story, and it manages to pack a really impressive amount into these seven pages.  There’s enough of a misdirect to make the mystery feel somewhat satisfying, with the evidence of both this and last issue seeming to point to the photographer.  Robin gets to display some detective skills and gets in a touch of action as well, in general, being portrayed as the intelligent, capable, and resourceful young man he is, which hasn’t always been the case with these Robin tales.

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It’s nice to see the Teen Wonder come off well.  He is one of my favorite characters, after all.  This iteration doesn’t have as much focus on youth involvement in politics as the previous one, but together they make an interesting whole, commenting on the situation.  It’s fascinating to see the social unrest of the period work its  way so clearly into comics, and this tale is a particularly obvious example of the tendency.  I’ll give it a good score of 4 Minutemen.

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And that will do it for the second part of February 1971.  I hope y’all enjoyed the read and will join me again soon for the next edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ll have a little something from the Dark Knight and the Fastest Man Alive.  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Oh no!  Three in a row!  Poor Aquaman.  He just can’t catch a break, and the biggest blow of all is yet to fall.  Once again, Robin narrowly avoids inclusion on the Wall of Shame, and no-one else has really come close.  We’ll have to see if this month holds any more additions to the august company.

Into the Bronze Age: June 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to the next chapter in our Bronze Age journey!

This month in history:

  • Soyuz 9 launched into Earth orbit for 18 days
  • 1st artificial gene synthesized
  • Tonga (formerly Friendly Islands) declares independence from UK
  • The Falls Road curfew in North Ireland, imposed by the British Army while searching for IRA weapons, is lifted after a march by women breaches the British Army cordon
  • Race riots in Miami Florida
  • Edwin Land patents Polaroid camera
  • “Catch 22” opens in movie theaters
  • Two young girls die in a premature explosion in Derry after their father, a member of the Irish Republican Army, was making an incendiary device
  • Following the arrest of Bernadette Devlin, intense riots erupt in Derry and Belfast leading to a prolonged gun battle between Irish republicans and loyalists

It seems that the situation in Ireland continues to deteriorate this month, and the Space Race also continues apace.  Imagine that, the same decades that saw some of the very greatest of human endeavors, our challenging of the great void of space, also saw the worst of our collective character in the violence of brother against brother all across the world from which we were in the process of escaping.  I wonder if we’ll continue to see these tensions transferred in interesting ways to this month’s comics.

The number one song this month was the Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road.” (I can’t find a decent version of it)  I’ve always felt that the Beatles are a bit overrated, but this is a fairly pretty song.  Yes, yes, I know that a good quarter or more of my readers are now frothing with rage, and I appreciate that.  I respect their importance in musical history, their influence, and all of that, but they’ve just never been one of my favorite bands.  Give me Zeppelin any day of the week.

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.

Action Comics #389

Action_Comics_389.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“The Mystery Legionnaire!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

This is one of those stock Superman plots that provide the fodder for the Super-Dickery pages the internet so dearly loves.  We have The Man of Tomorrow acting uncharacteristically, seeming to disregard his duties and generally act like a jerk, only to be revealed at the end of the tale to have had a good motive for his actions.

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Our odd little adventure begins with the situation you see portrayed on the cover, and for once, the cover doesn’t lie!  Superman suddenly decides to start trying out some different sports, claiming that he’s considering a career change.  You’d think by this point in the DCU there would be some regulations against aliens, mutants, or other super-humans participating in professional sports!  The Batter of Steel performs various super feats on the diamond, but a young boy is brought in for the thrill of pitching to the hero, only to actually slip one by him!  The Metropolis Marvel reacts uncharacteristically to this little upset, hurling the ball into space and storming off.

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Next, he tries soccer, playing the entire field by himself and eventually launching the ball through the net and into orbit!  Are we starting to see a pattern here?  Perhaps!  Once again, Superman abandons the promise of a lucrative contract and flies off to try something new.  Next up on his sports-tour?  Boxing.  Really.

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The strongest being on earth climbs into the ring with a regular, squishable, mortal man.  His sparring partner wears full plate armor, but still!  What kind of nutjob would get into the ring with the Man of Freaking Steel?  Well, his opponent’s sanity aside, everyone else involved, including Jimmy Olsen, points out that this is a recipe for disaster in the form of lots of boxers dying from acute punch-death.  Superman gives a seemingly petty rant about being tired of the responsibilities that come from being a superhero, and he knocks the speedbag he’s working with into the stratosphere!  Yep, I think we’ve figured out the pattern by this point.

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In the end, the Sportsman of Tomorrow tries tennis, basketball, and football, each time sending a ball into orbit.  It’s worth noting that writer Leo Dorfman takes the time to establish that our mighty hero has to use special sporting equipment that can stand up to his strength.  I appreciate that little nod to logic.

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The situations of the earlier games are repeated, but after sending the pigskin into the great black yonder, Superman follows it up.  We discover that he’s been slowly decorating a strange-looking satellite with these various sports accoutrements, and our hero conveniently provides us with an explanation.

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Apparently, this is an alien probe designed to test Earth’s atmosphere to see if it is fitting for invasion.  It is also rigged to explode cataclysmically if anyone or anything living comes too close to it.  The Last Son of Krypton had fortunately been informed about these aliens, the Slurrans, and their tactics, so he was able to prepare a plan to deal with their machinations.  Fearing he was being monitored, Superman faked his sports career to surreptitiously clog all of the air intake ports on this device with balls filled with a special gas which will mutate the alien animals it is to be tested on.

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The aliens are horrified and mark Earth off as a no-go.  The tale ends with Superman relating the adventure into his journal in the Fortress of Solitude, noting that “Earth is entitled to know the truth behind that strange sports craze[…]I’ll record the facts[…]to be opened a century after my death.  While I think there’s no good reason for him not to tell the planet now, I do rather like the idea that Superman is not at all concerned with his image.  Who cares if people think he went sports crazy for a little while?  He saved the world!

This is a weird story that mostly serves as an excuse to show off Superman playing a bunch of sports, but unlike the King Kong riff from last month, at least this tale provided something of a justification for itself.  It’s not the best plot ever, but it isn’t bad, and Dorfman actually takes the time to cross some of the “t”s and dot some of the “i”s of this yarn, which I appreciate.  He addresses what would otherwise be niggling little plot holes or irrational moments.  He even explains how Superman knows about these aliens in the first place.  The sports imagery doesn’t do much for me, since I’m not much of a sports person, other than fencing, but it’s fun enough.  I think they provide a clever cover for our hero’s plan.  So, in the end, I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it is an enjoyable enough Superman story.

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“The Mystery Legionnaire”

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I think that the Legion story is once again going to be the star of the book.  It’s another of those mystery member yarns that seem to make up a good 90% of Silver and Bronze Age Legion stories, but the central conceit is an interesting one.  It involves a robotic criminal whose disembodied head is summoning its erstwhile body back to it across the space lanes.  It turns out this mechanical malevolent was defeated by a trio of Legionnaires, and what exactly happened during that earlier conflict forms the mystery of the issue.

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Apparently, somewhere in space is a prison for handicapped villains, ne’er do-wells who can now do nothing well because they’ve managed to cripple themselves in their ill-conceived pursuits of ill-gotten gains.  While unable to continue pulling crimes themselves, these ill-favored inmates take advantage of their light security to construct a robotic robber, named KLIM, to steal in their stead.

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On a wild alien world, he was confronted by the three teens, Cosmic Boy, Chemical King, and Shrinking Violet, who defeated, trapped, and beheaded the robotic renegade.  Fortunately for the synthetic villain, his head had its own propulsion and managed to elude his pursuers.  After recovering from his defeat, the bodiless bogey summons his body from across the cosmos.

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Fortunately for the forces of order, the Legionnaires manage to track the body, though they encounter a series of traps at the villain’s sanctuary.  They each use their powers to overcome the obstacles, Shrinking Violet slipping through a gate, Chemical King rusting the bars, and Cosmic Boy smashing a trap with magnetized rocks.

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Finally, they challenge the disembodied head, who is fixated on the single Legionnaire who defeated him, but it turns out that there was no solitary hero to blame.  Yet, the robot remains certain there was.  It seems that he conflated Cosmic Boy and Chemical King with his damaged optics.  Nonetheless, he determines to be revenged on all of the young heroes!  Yet, just as he prepares to strike them down with his powerful eye beams, his vocal device suddenly malfunctions, shattering his invulnerable prisma-glass shield!  How could this be?  Through the  machinations of Shrinking Violet, of course!  She shrunk down and played havoc with KLIM’s mechanisms, causing his boasting to burst his protective bubble.

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This is a fun story, and the focus on the mystery is not overpowering or ridiculous as they sometimes tend to be in Legion tales.  KLIM provides an interesting villain, and overall this is just a solid all-around adventure yarn.  I like that Shrinking Violet, the apparently weakest member of the team, is the one who saves the day.  Everyone gets something to do, and even if there isn’t much characterization, it is entertaining.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Aquaman #51

Aquaman_Vol_1_51.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“The World Cannot Wait for Deadman”
Writer: Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Editor: Dick Giordano

The excellent SAG run continues, and Aquaman’s sojourn in the strange alien world continues as well!  This is a visually spectacular arc of issues, with Aparo at the peak of his powers.  Story-wise, this arc is intriguing and has that heady, wildly creative feel of the best Silver Age Stan and Jack Marvel books, where innovative and fascinating concepts and characters are tossed out rapid-fire with amazing regularity.  It’s one of the great tragedies of the comic book world that the Aquaman book and the SAG team would not last long enough to really capitalize on the myriad creations they added to the mythos of the character and his world.

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Of course, we’re first faced with that beautiful Nick Cardy cover.  That situation doesn’t really happen inside, but what an image!  We rejoin the Aquatic Ace right where we left him, meeting the leader of the strange, MC Escher-esq city on the edge of nowhere where he’s found himself marooned.  Unfortunately this Brother Warnn can tell Arthur no more than his winsome companion, despite the fellow’s awesome forked beard and robe.  The Sea King struggles with the seeming hopelessness of his situation, but Aquaman is not one to give in to despair.  He vows to once again brave the bizarre wastelands outside the borders of this strange city in search of other beings who might know the way…home!

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Yet, his newly acquired ‘Girl Friday’ is horrified by his declaration.  Apparently it is blasphemous to her people to even suggest that there are any other civilizations outside of The City.  Their telepathic “conversation” attracts the attention of the powers that be, and the lovely lady warns the Sea King that he will face attack if he leaves the shrine, but a little danger is no deterrent for the Marine Marvel.  He takes out the guard at the entrance, but quickly finds himself pursued by more of these grim guardians with their strange bubble-weapons.  We get a really love page of how our submarine sojourner escapes the bizarre bubbles, diving through a narrow opening in a building to scrape them away.

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Still, he finds his exit blocked, so he knocks out another sentry and uses the poor schmuck as a human (alien?) shield!  His strategy works, and he manages to escape his pursuers, hurling their hapless fellow back into them as a parting gift.

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Aquaman, King of the Sea and King of Fair Play

Yet, as he strikes out into the vast unknown of the wilderness beyond, the Sea King discovers that his plucky companion has followed him.  We get a nice little moment where he privately hopes that her interest isn’t romantic.  Yeah, I don’t think Mera would be okay with that!

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As they begin their journey in search of answers, they discover that the inhabitants of The City are rather sore losers.  They activate some sort of telepathic death-ray, and it nearly does both of the travelers in!

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The girl collapses in pain, but our hero is able to struggle onward.  I like that.  It works for me that Aquaman, who must have an incredibly powerful mind, is able to resist this weapon.  They finally escape the reach of this weird weapon, our hero once again struggles with despair, but he refuses to give in, thinking only of Mera and home!

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Speaking of the fetching fire-haired water witch, we check back in with her in Atlantis, where she is fighting a similar battle against despair, with Aqualad’s encouragement.  We get a brief recap of the events that have led us here, but then we discover that Black Manta is approaching Atlantis!  The Queen of the Sea orders out the army to go on alert, but secretly she laments the fact that she must face this challenge…alone!  We get probably a bit too much melodrama here.  It makes Mera seem rather weak, which I don’t care for.  Still, I like the idea of both man and wife pining for each other from more than a world apart.  I suppose I’m just a big old romantic softie, but that gets me.

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We rejoin our intrepid explorers in time for a strange and funny little scene where they pass two small figures working a mine.  These elfin characters are named Steev and Jimm, and they reference another named Dikk.  That’s right, Skeates and Aparo added the whole team to their story.  Fun!

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Well, Aquaman does indeed discover another city, but one much different from the first!  From a distance it seems to be a blue sphere, but when they get closer, they see it is actually honeycombed with caves and inhabited by a primitive looking people.  Unlike the inhabitants of The City, these folks “talk” in the open, a fact that proves too much for the Sea King’s companion.

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She draws her weapon, and she fires at these peaceful people!  Fortunately, Aquaman realizes what she’s doing and slaps the gun away, though the shot summons a hostile response!  Suddenly the Marine Marvel finds himself preparing to fight for his life, and all because of this girl’s unthinking prejudice!

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I love the look of frustrated determination on Aquaman’s face in that last panel.

This is a good story, as are all the issues from this run.  It captures that wonderfully weird, exotic sense of exploration and adventure that should absolutely characterize an Aquaman book.  I love for the Sea King to get up on land and mix it up, show that he’s a conventional superhero, but a good Aquaman series also has to take advantage of the unique and amazing setting the character has.  The undersea world of the DC Universe is a fantasy world, populated by all sorts of strange peoples and creatures, civilizations and wonders.

This era of the character did a great job capturing that sense of awe and scope in his undersea adventures.  What’s more, I think this tale has a subtle message about prejudice in the portrayal of the inhabitants of The City, and especially Aquaman’s “Girl Friday,” who, despite having MET someone whose very existence challenges her worldview, can’t escape the confines of her preconceptions long enough to see that wonder of the world around her.  Her willingness to murder the inhabitants of the cavern-city is particularly telling.  Once again, we’ve got a message delivered with subtlety.  Mr. O’Neil, are you taking notes?  I think we’ll see with the next week’s issues that you aren’t.  I’ll let you make your own inferences about how this applies to the current political climate in the U.S.

Unfortunately, this little yarn is just that, little.  It’s limited by its length, as the book is accommodating the Deadman backup, leaving only 15 1/3 pages for Aquaman’s adventures.  That means the tale feels abbreviated and a little rushed.  Still, all-in-all, it’s another fascinating chapter in this submarine saga!  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“The World Cannot Wait for Deadman”

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Speaking of that Deadman backup, it continues to be interesting and, of course, beautifully drawn.  It’s a fast-moving, engaging little yarn that also presents a wealth of potential that, sadly, doesn’t seem to have ever been exploited.  We rejoin our deceased daredevil in the grips of some otherworldly phenomenon caused by that bizarre cat-like creature from the previous issue.  He suddenly finds himself quite corporeal and whole in a strange new world, accompanied by a beautiful and mysterious young woman.

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Deadman somehow senses that she is, in fact, the reason he is there.  It seems that the cat-creature was her manifestation in his dimension, though she is a native of this new world.  She explains that the aliens actually trap her people and use them to dispose of spirits like him, as their only way home is to “ride” a spirit back to their own dimension.  The explanation having been delivered, Boston naturally demands to be taken home.  Earth is still in danger, after all, and he’s the only one who even knows about it!  The lovely lady refuses, stating that she would be trapped again if she were to return.  Right from the start, you can feel Adams stretching his creative muscles in the design of this alien dimension.  We get only the most fleeting glances of it in this short story, but it’s got the makings of a fun fantasy setting, with the people riding giant birds, dwelling in sprawling subterranean caverns, and facing extraordinary threats.

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It’s a real shame that, as far as I know, this is the only glimpse we ever get of this unique world, named Dano by its inhabitants.  Yet, though eerily beautiful, this place is dangerous, and Deadman, the girl, Tatsinda, and some of her people quickly find themselves facing a flash flood, so they flee into the caverns that their race calls home.  Once inside, the little party is ambushed by creepy, arachnid looking antagonists riding a giant…well, hypno-crab would be the best description, I’d say.  (All glory to the Hypnotoad!)  I really like the design for these arachn-anderthals (TM).  Once again, we see them only briefly, but they have lots of visual interest.

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The bizarre mount of the arachn-anderthals renders the little party helpless with its gigantic, hypnotic eyes, and the raiders grab Tatsinda.  The Dead Detective shakes off the mind-warping effects of that gaze and pursues the attackers into a perilous web stretching through the caverns.  He employs his acrobatic training to good effect and quickly gains on them.  Deadman’s aerialist attack lets him get in close, and he turns those dangerous eyes against their owners in rather wonderful fashion.

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Finally, he faces the last of the raiders in a desperate hand-to-hand battle, strength against strength, like Beowulf and Grendel.  Unlike the monstrous Mere-Stepper, though, this fellow doesn’t leave behind an arm as he plunges into the night.  Deadman effectively kills this guy, which is something that I’m usually, ahem dead-set against (I’m sorry!) in comics, but I’m willing to give him a pass this time.  After all, he’s not your average superhero, and this is a sword-and-sorcery-esq tale.  It feels right, even if it is a bit surprising.  There’s something ironic and interesting in Deadman using deadly force.  I don’t know the character particularly well, but I hope writers have taken advantage of that concept at some point in time.

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The story ends with Tatsinda giving her rescuer a kiss, and then, thinking that his world needs his heroic heart more than hers needs her, she once again rips open the dimensional barriers and sends Deadman home!

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It’s a good tale, far too brief to really stretch its proverbial legs and breathe the way we’d like it to, especially given the intriguing nature of the setting, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.  Adams manages to inject a lot in a small space, and one just wonders what he could have done with more pages.  Once again, it’s hard to rate stories this short (7 1/2 pages), but I’ll be generous and also give this 4 Minutemen.

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Batman #222

Batman_222.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Case of No Consequence!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

This is certainly a unique instance of “real life” influencing comics!  The famous urban myth that hounded the Beatles in 1969 about Paul’s death gets a silly, light-hearted treatment with this story.  In case you aren’t aware of this bizarre little conspiracy theory, apparently in 1969 a rumor began circulating around American college campuses, eventually gaining national attention, that claimed Paul McCartney of Beatles fame had died.  The crux of this whole weird myth was that his band-mates had covered up his death and hired a double to replace him…for reasons.  The proponents of this theory pointed to a number of “clues” to the musicians demise supposedly hidden in the Beatle’s music.  Supposedly, playing certain songs backward or in specific ways revealed messages about Paul’s death.

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It is with just such a musical experiment that our tale opens.  Dick Grayson and his college friends at Hudson University are listening to an album of “The Twists,” playing it backwards at a specific speed, and they hear a line by the leader singer, “Glennan,” that seems to indicate “Saul Cartwright” (get it?) is dead.  The Teen Wonder’s curiosity is piqued, and when he discovers that the band is coming to Gotham, he talks Bruce Wayne into offering to host the fab-four during their stay, giving him a chance to get to the bottom of this “mystery.”

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The band arrives, with Saul safe and sound, reassuring the cheering crowds that he is, in fact, still among the living.  Once they are settled in at Wayne Manor, specially re-opened for the occasion, even Batman’s curiosity is piqued.  The reunited Dynamic Duo decide to put the rumor to the test.  Dick gets a recording of “Saul’s” voice and compares it to an earlier sample from one of his records.  The two are markedly dissimilar when compared in the Batcave, but the Dark Knight points out that they would be, one being a speaking and the other a singing voice.

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Robin decides to try a more direct approach, so he dons his costume and steals the mini-recorder that Saul always carries about from his room.  Or rather, he tries to, but the trained crimefighter is jumped in the darkened hallway of his own home by one of the British musicians.  Think about that for a moment.

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We get a classic head-blow knockout, sending the young hero plummeting down the stairs!  Poor Dick is not coming off too well in this issue.  It’s also worth noting that our heroes start running around in full costume in Wayne Manor with guests staying there.  Good job protecting the secret identities, guys.

Bruce discovers his crumpled sidekick and brings him to the Batcave, where they start to work on new strategies.  After a few more failed efforts, they discover that the band is preparing to do a recording session at a studio in Gotham.  The Masked Manhunters head out to get there ahead of time, but there are a number of hired guns waiting for them!  Batman predicts their ambush with some really weak logic, and the heroes make short work of the gunsels.

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The Dynamic Duo finally simply confront the Twists in Wayne Manor!  Really guys?  “Saul” is sick of all these rumors, but he doesn’t know anything about these attacks.  “Glennan,” however, is not so innocent.  He pulls a gun, because no-one has ever tried that with the Dark Knight before.

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They slap the singer down without much trouble, and all is finally revealed.  Apparently, Saul is not an imposter, but the other three are!  It seems that the previous year, the rest of the band died in a plane crash while Saul was still home in London.  He wanted to keep the band alive, so he hired look-alikes and trained them for a year, starting rumors of his own death to throw people off the scent.  The truth comes out, and the remaining musicians, minus “Glennan,” form a new band called Phoenix.

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So, this was a silly story, but funny as a parody of the whole “Paul is dead” craze.  It is not really clear why Batman would be interested in all of this.  Slow night in Gotham?  Is everybody actually staying in Arkham for a time?  Anyway, the joke is pretty much all that this tale has going for it, and the reversal at the end is a nice twist on the idea.  It’s funny enough, but there isn’t much to it.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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“Case of No Consequence!”

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I really liked this backup tale.  We’ve heard a lot in recent years about how Superman cares about everybody, how that’s one of his defining characteristics which is completely absent in this new big screen portrayal.  That’s entirely true, but what the people who cringe at Superman taking a life and cheer at Batman doing the same forget is that this is a trait not unique to the Man of Steel.  It is, in fact, a definitive mark of both of DC’s founding fathers.  That’s what makes this little yarn so good; it captures the fact that Batman does what he does, not just out of a desire for revenge, not because he is so broken and damaged inside, and not because he is bat-guano insane.  No, he fights his never-ending battle because he, more than anyone else in the DCU, knows the value of life, the value of redemption.  And that’s a beautiful thing, often lost amongst the darkness and grimness of his world.

This particular tale begins with Batman, exhausted from a non-stop night fighting crime, so tired he can barely stand, encountering a simple mugging.  He discovers that the victim is a deaf man, a free-lance journalist whose camera was stolen.  The Dark Knight realizes that the camera is this man’s livelihood, and though he wonders if this is really a case that deserves his attention, he quickly realizes that he can’t abandon the poor soul in his need.

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The thief stepped in developing fluid, and the Dark Detective uses this to track him, tracing the fleeing felon to a seedy pool hall.  The camera-snatcher, a punk named Bleeker Bill, is reveling in his take and playing some pool, until the exhausted hero surprises him.  The Caped Crusader’s fatigue allows his prey to escape, but the hero’s physical abilities are much less important to his success than his brains, so he figures out where the rat will run.

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Bats surprises him by taking a shortcut through the sewers, and cows the coward purely through force of his presence.  The tale ends with the Dark Knight returning the camera, secretly repaired, and pausing for a snapshot for the shutterbug before tottering home, utterly out of energy.

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It’s a quick but complete story, and it captures that too-rarely seen quality of the character, his love for humanity at large.  Batman helps this man because he needs help, because it is the right thing to do, regardless of how he felt and how small the matter seemed.  To the victim, it was the biggest thing in the world, and the Dark Knight recognized that.  It’s simple, but good.  That being said, I’m not crazy about the thief getting away from our hero in the bar.  Tired or not, you’d think the Caped Crusader could toss a batarang or something!  Either way, I’l give this backup 4 Minutemen.

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Thanks for joining me for another set of stories from the Bronze Age!  Please come back next week when we trek a little further into this great era.

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We’ve got a new addition to the Head-blow counter!  Poor Robin adds another appearance to the wall of shame.

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: April 1970 (Part 1)

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Further up and further in!

This month in history:

  • Riots continue in the Ballymurphy estate in Belfast between Catholic residents and the British Army
  • Midnight Cowboy won the Academy Award for best picture
    • Ironically, John Wayne won best actor for an actual cowboy picture, True Grit
  • The Beatles officially broke up
  • Apollo 13 announces, in one of history’s most amazing examples of understatement, “Houston, we’ve got a problem”
  • Muammar Gaddafi started the “Green Revolution” in Libya
  • 50,000 US & South Vietnamese troops invade Cambodia

We’re still in pretty troubled waters here and will be for the foreseeable future, though I think the Beatles breaking up is an interesting yardstick for our progress out of the 60s and into the 70s.  Of course, the first few years of every decade tend to be more like the previous one than the one they actually inhabit.  We’re seeing that trend write small in the development of superhero comics this year.

This month’s #1 song evenly split between the Beatles’ “Let it Be” and the Jackson 5’s
“ABC.”  Double points for the rhyme!  Man, how far there is to go for little Michael Jackson.  Poor little weirdo.  Say what you will about him, but he could sing.

Well, that sets the stage, but what about the main feature?  Well, we’ve got a rather short month, having lost a few titles.  I’m particularly sad that Strange Adventures stop printing new Adam Strange stories, as they were really hitting a nice stride.

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

  • Action Comics #387
  • Aquaman #50
  • Detective Comics #398
  • Green Lantern #76 (First issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow)
  • Superman #225
  • Teen Titans #26

Bonus!: The Space Museum

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

Action Comics #387

Action_Comics_387.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“One Hero Too Many!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Our journey into the distant future with the never more appropriately named Man of Tomorrow continues in this, the third installment of our story.  The cover, though nice and dramatic, represents only a fairly minor incident in this tale.  The story itself is that somewhat frustrating mixture of fascinating and frustrating.  We see some particularly good character work with Superman this issue, courtesy of Bates, but we also see one of the more ridiculous (and maybe just a tad sacrilegious?) super-feats I’ve encountered in my comic reading tenure.

This chapter of Superman’s enforced future exile begins with his discovering a number of astronauts floating in space in capsules of suspended animation.  The Man of Steel rescues them by flying them through a “rainbow sun,” because Carey Bates apparently doesn’t understand how light works, and, though clumsily expressed, we get a good moment that sets the tone for the rest of the episode, as Superman thinks to himself that “this would have thrilled me once, an eternity ago!  Now even the most spectacular feats don’t give me a charge!  I’m just tired of doing my thing!”  It seems a bit uncharacteristic for Clark to refer to saving lives as “doing his thing,” but the wistfulness, the ennui of a man forever banished from his home, and now aged and facing the prospect of an eternal, anchorless life, is what gives this issue its emotional weight.

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Once rescued, the astronauts naturally have some questions, being chronal refugees themselves, after a fashion, having been in suspended animation for 5,000 years.  Superman has no time for such light weights and, in a really lovely panel, with unusual detail and depth for Swan (‘m thinking Russos’ inking should get some credit here), the Man of Tomorrow blows them off and heads for space, not even bothering to flag down a passing spacecraft, just burning out a component with his heat-vision to force them to stop.  Now that’s an example of super-dickery if ever there was one, but I feel it is somewhat justified by the emotional turmoil that Superman is dealing with.

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We get a brief summary of the story so far, which ends with a nice panel of the Time Trapper secretly observing his hapless victim.  The Man of Might then pays a visit to the Earth of this distant future, and he finds a grim sight awaiting him.  The planet is completely dead.  We get a neat, subtle (for the period) note at this point, where Clark remarks that he should have guessed as much “after a million years of pollution, war, and untold abuses from man.”  Once again, we find the thread of environmentalism being weaved into these comics, which is even more surprising given the generally traditional tone of these Superman books.

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Well, Earth is dead and of no use to anyone, so the galactic cleanup crew arrives to dispose of it in the form of two massive, moon-sized robots.  Superman, being rather sentimental about his adopted world and not entirely in his right mind tries to drive them off, but finds the massive machines entirely unfazed by his efforts.  A frontal assault having proved useless, he heads inside their giant heads, crossing wires and generally mucking things up.  He turns them both into gigantic electromagnets of the same polarity, causing them to repel each other with great violence.  It’s a clever solution, and it is nice to see Superman not simply juggle these planetoid sized automatons…but then Bates blows it by having our hero juggle a planet instead.

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Or rather, bring one to life.  In a ridiculous series of pages, Superman carves the dead world in two by drilling through it again and again, splitting it in two…though how exactly that’s supposed to lead to a world reborn is a bit beyond me.  Next Superman uses his…*sigh* super lungs to collect fresh atmosphere, gathers new vegetation, and new animals, all from alien worlds.

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Finally, and this is really more than a little troublesome if you think about it for more than five seconds, the Man of Steel steals a freaking family of neanderthal-like creatures, cave and all, flies them through space, and deposits them, entirely alone, on a new and alien planet.  Just so that he can play God to a new Garden of Eden.  Of course, his version of a supreme being is definitely the watchmaker type, because he’s off again on his wanderings the next moment, leaving these poor, displaced primitive folks to almost certainly die on this new world without a tribe to help them survive.  Not to mention, it’s just a mother, father, and a son.  It’s not like this new race can go beyond the second generation.

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Good job, Superman.  I’m beginning to think that maybe Lex has been right about you all these years.  And speaking of the smartest man on Earth, we get a rather neat flashback to an aged Luthor visiting the Superman museum back in the past, where he reflects that he never believed his nemesis was dead, nor would he believe it without seeing a body.  He knows he is nearing the end of his days, but the inventor is unwilling to let his hatred die with him, so he creates a small spacecraft, empowered by his own final breath, to hunt Superman across the stars and through the centuries.  Its’ a really cool scene, and it totally works for Luthor.  I rather like the idea of Lex being unable to let go, knowing that HE did not kill Superman, no matter what might have happened to his foe.  It’s a great story beat.

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This weapon has been traveling the spaceways for the last million years, improving its technology and pursuing its neverending search.  I’m reminded of Amazo from JLU, where he just kept adapting until he because practically unstoppable.  Well, the device happens to come across the Metropolis Marvel in his meanderings and strikes him down.  Our hero is saved from the very brink of death by the robotic healer from the cover, and we get another nice character moment, as Superman derides the futuristic physician for saving his life, as he would have welcomed the release of death.  Now, once more, he finds himself in the same position, directionless, ageless, and deathless.  It’s a real curse of eternal life moment.

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Back in the land of the living, despite his wishes, Superman pursues Lex’s weapon and destroys it by luring it into a massive comet.  Then…well, then the story gets weird.  I know, I know, you’re thinking, ‘wasn’t it already weird, with that whole reviving a dead planet thing?’  That’s a reasonable question, but at least that made sense in a Silver-Agey way.  This ending, though?  Well, I’m thinking that maybe Bates wrote himself into a corner.  So, how does he wrap up this tale and bring Superman home?

He has him re-live his entire life.  That’s right.  Superman flies far enough into the future that he suddenly wakes up again as a baby, living through his ENTIRE LIFE a second time, unable to change anything or deviate in any way from what happened.  Think about the Hell that would be for a moment.  Every mistake you ever made, every stupid thing you ever said, every embarrassing moment you ever  experienced, you get a second chance at every single one of them, but you can’t change a single thing!  Wow, I’m going to go ahead and say, I think that may be worse than living forever.  Of course, it also makes no darn sense.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m fine with the whole ‘time is curved’ concept.  It’s the out I was expecting, but why would Superman just pop back into his original life as an observer?  It’s just a bizarre story choice.

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The story finally ends with him observing the empty platform that the malfunctioning time bubble had occupied and considering his adventure.  It’s really a weak, weird ending for a story that held a surprising amount of promise.  On the whole, this is another very uneven issue, containing some great moments and some off-putting ones, with some just plain odd ones sprinkled in for flavor.  The pathos of Luthor hounding his greatest enemy even beyond the end of his life is a great boost to the tale, and Superman’s despair over his fate is rather touching in a few moments.  The problems with the recreation of Earth and the tacked-on, madness-inducing resolution weigh the story down, as does the fact that the Time Trapper’s roll in all of this remains entirely undiscovered and unpunished.  That wouldn’t bother me if we had checked in with him one more time to let him “win,” having tortured his enemy, even if he hadn’t completely trapped him.  As it is, this just seems like Bates ran out of pages and interest.  Still, there are elements here of something grander.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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“One Hero Too Many”

Our Legion backup tale for this month is, for once, not markedly better than the headliner, being a by-the-numbers mystery where all the Legionnaires are working against each other to try to sacrifice themselves so their fellows don’t have to.  I’m beginning o lose track of how many Legion stories like this I’ve read.  This particular iteration has the distinction of involving politics and taxes, which is a new angle for me.  Basically, the Legion is meeting to test a teleportation device when the head of the future Earth’s equivalent of the IRS shows up, saying the team needs to pay taxes on this new gadget!

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This is quite a surprise, as the Legion is a tax-free outfit, but this fellow informs them that such organizations are limited to 25 members, while they have 26.  The rest of the story consists of the Legionnaires fighting to fall on the sword of resignation.  They each claim to be more useless than the last, though I’ve got to say I think Bouncing Boy probably wins that particular argument…

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As you might be able to tell, this story bored me a bit.  There’s really not a whole lot to it, the central conflict being about an unknown person sabotaging all of the Legion’s efforts to pick a member to drop.  They try to draw lots, only to have them burst into inextinguishable flames.  Next, Brainy has his super computer calculate who has done the least super feats in the last year, only to have it select him!

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Supergirl insists on taking his place as the odd woman out, but she is stopped by the story’s strangest moment, as the Legion of Super Pets show up and insist that if she goes, they go.  Wow.  Is there a more Silver-Agey concept than the Legion of Super pets?  I honestly can’t think of one.  I can’t decide what’s sillier, a superpowered horse or a superpowered monkey…or maybe it’s the idea that a cat with superpowers would be a hero rather than a villain.  (Hey!  Don’t throw things at me; I’m a cat person, but you have to admit that the latter is WAY more likely..)

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The issue ends with Superboy getting caught red-handed in an act of sabotage, revealing he was behind all of the others.  He hands in his resignation and refuses to tell his future teammates WHY.  Interestingly enough, he doesn’t tell the reader either.  The Teen of Steel bids a rather steamy goodbye to Duo Damsel, and then he heads back to his home time, leaving the Legion wondering why he resigned.

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This is a rather generic story, with nothing that interesting going on.  None of the Legionnaires evince all that much personality either, other than Duo Damsel at the very end.  Any story that the Super Pets show up in is going to suffer in my eyes.  Given the promising notes in the headline story, this one feels like even more of a relic of the Silver Age.  I think it will also merit 2.5 Minutemen.

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Aquaman #50

Aquaman_Vol_1_50.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Deadman Rides Again!”
Writer: Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Editor: Dick Giordano

Now here we go!  While this issue isn’t perfect, it is definitely just flat-out beautiful!  We’ve got the ideal Aquaman artist and the definitive Bronze Age artist together in a single issue, Jim Aparo and Neal Adams, teaming up to tell an intertwined tale about Aquaman and Deadman.  Of course, I’m also simply always excited to cover an Aquaman story by the SAG team.  This issue was covered by that home to all Aqua-awesomeness, The Aquaman Shrine, and I’ll be drawing on some of Rob Kelly’s boundless expertise on this subject.

Let’s start with that dynamite cover!  I love that long-time Aqua-artist Nick Cardy, who always produced truly beautiful books during his tenure on the title is still around to create our covers here at this later date.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Cardy cover that I didn’t like.  The man always seemed to bring something compelling and dynamic to his composition, and this particular offering is no exception.  We have this really intriguing image of Aquaman being attacked by this strange substance from an even stranger city, all against that stark white background.  It’s beautifully rendered and quite striking.  I’d certainly have plunked down my $0.15 (just 15 cents!  Even calculated for inflation, that’s barley a dollar today.  Why are we paying 4 bucks for a 15 page comic these days?) for this comic.  How could you not want to know what was going on inside?

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And speaking of that very topic, let’s dive (I’m sorry, I’m sorry!) right in!  This issue demonstrates, perhaps as well as any I’ve read, the power of Jim Aparo’s visual imagination.  Throughout it is designed in fascinating, psychedelic fashion, and the reader’s disorientation in strange and alien landscapes recreates that of our hero as he journeys into worlds unknown.  We start with a splash page that hints at what is to come, and then we are dumped straight into a bizarre world that defies explanation or description.  Instead of wasting my words, I’ll just add an image of the strange vista that greets the Sea King as he recovers his senses.

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He thinks back, trying to piece together how he ended up in this place, and we are treated to several panels of Aparo’s wonderfully fluid illustrations of the Undersea Aces in aquatic motion.  You really get a sense of their grace and power as they swim along.

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They quickly spy Ocean Master and Mera, still in parley as we left them in the last issue, and before Aquaman can finish his challenge to his villainous brother, Ocean Master interrupts, swearing that his intentions are honorable.  In fact, he is there to warn Monarch of the Oceans about “Them!”  Orm declares that, for the first time in years, his mind is clear, and he remembers that Aquaman is his brother; unfortunately, this realization came too late, and he made a deal with “Them” to kill his sibling turned enemy.  Before he can explain the threat, a strange craft arrives, disgorging even stranger looking creatures armed with sinister devices.  Aquaman moves to defend himself, but he’s too late!  In a really striking panel, the Sea King is consumed by an inky black ray that literally splashes the page with obscuring ink.

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We return to the “present,” where our Submarine hero is “swimming” through the air of the alien world in which he has awakened.  He comes upon a vast, amoebic lifeform with a single, cyclopean eye.  The creature pursues Arthur, and his strength and telepathy seem useless.  Suddenly, he finds that he is not alone in his fight, as a pretty young woman in odd garb opens fire on the beast.  Aquaman tries to contact her telepathically, but to no avail.  He takes the weapon from her and strikes the monster in its eye, only to have the girl shove him to cover as it explodes!

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After he regains his senses, Aquaman begins to hear a telepathica “echo,” a distant, garbled signal, which is actually a familiar name!  This begins a nice little game that Aparo plays throughout the issue, hiding references in the “noise” of this bizarre world.  Let me also take a moment here and point out how refreshing it is to have our hero go to a world where there would be no reason for the inhabitants to speak English, and to have that actually be followed up in the story.  It’s a minor point, but it’s nice to see Skeates is on top of that type of detail.

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As the Sea King pursues the “sound,” desperate to find a way home to Mera and his kingdom, he discovers that his lovely protector is following him, right to a wondrous and outlandish alien city that sees to stretch in all directions.  If this were a Lovecraft story, I’m pretty sure that the sight would tear Aquaman’s mind asunder, but our hero is made of stern stuff, and he takes the strangeness of this pace in stride.

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Again he finds the inhabitants of this world “deaf” to his telepathic pleas, so he continues to pursue the “sound” he heard before, which lead him to a large building, but it is guarded!  Aquaman, plans to rush the guard, awash in garbled telepathic signals that are actually a whole set of names, featuring the best and brightest at DC!  The SAG team is featured, as are many, many others.  See how many you can pick out!

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The guard responds by firing, seemingly blindly, and his gun discharges those very same bizarre green bubbles from the cover.  Aquaman laughs them off, until the coat him, sapping his strength and threatening to bring him down.  He shakes them off in a really lovely sequence, diving once more for the guard before he can fire another salvo, and lays a tremendous looking blow on him.

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Once Aquaman reaches the interior of the structure, he discovers that it is, in fact, a temple, the one place where the inhabitants of this mad city are willing to “converse” telepathically, since they believe that communication is sacred.

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Arthur learns that the people of this world have no conception of planets, stars, or anything beyond their own realm.  The girl tells the hero that their leader is the only one who might be able to aid him, and that is where the first half of our story ends!

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This is, as I said, not a perfect issue, but it is a darn good one.  It is very creative, with a mysterious delima, fascinating new setting, and subtle but consistent characterization for Aquaman.  This is an inventive tale, especially visually, and you can really see the SAG team starting to hit their stride.  They’re doing new and exciting things, and they are putting out stories that are definitely of the Bronze, rather than the Silver Age.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Deadman Rides Again!”

A particularly neat feature of this and the next two issues is that they include a set of backup Deadman stories drawn and plotted by none other than Neal Adams himself!  What is particularly cool about this arrangement is that editor Dick Giordano was not one to do things by half measures, so he wove the Deadman stories into the main Aquaman narrative.  The Aquaman Shrines’ Mr. Kelly writes that this decision was made in order to give Aparo a chance to get caught up on his deadlines, and I think it is fortunate for us that it did, as we get a really unique story.  It’s a rarity when a backup and a main feature overlap like this, and the pairing here is a particularly fun and unlikely.

This chapter of our tale opens in the mystical land of Nanda Parbat, where the restless Boston Brand prepares to resume his identity as Deadman in a quixotic attempt to fight evil and balance the cosmic scales.  He has a trippy, fascinatingly drawn conversation with the powerful…spirit…god…thing?  Rama Kushna.  This gives us one of my favorite panels in the book, a wonderful conflation of Deadman’s blank visage with the diving submarine of the Ocean Master.

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Aquaman50_26.jpgKushna informs Brand that he can begin his quest, but first he must address a danger that threatens the entire world, and she points him towards the aquatic villain without much more explanation.  Deadman pops in on Orm and plays fly on the wall long enough to observe him plant some sort of device and meet with a bizarre pair of aliens near a otherworldly craft.  I’m not crazy about the design of these aliens, as they are a bit too Silve Age-y for my tastes, but I’ll be darned if they don’t look quite striking in Adam’s stark pencils.

During this villainous tete-a-tete, Deadman learns that Orm has made a deal to have Aquaman killed, and he pursues Ocean Master to warn the Sea King.  In trying to take over Orm’s mind, Boston finds a small piece of it inaccessible, and in his efforts to break in, he inadvertently releases the blocked memories of the villain’s true family ties.  Thus, Orm recovers his memories and rushes off to warn his brother, bringing that portion of the plot back up to speed with the main tale.

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I know folks make fun of Orm’s stylized helmet, but I’ve always rather liked it.  The design is very unique, and when streamlined as it was in later years, it makes for a great look for the villain.

One crisis averted, Deadman heads back to the aliens’ base, but they seem to be aware of spirits like him.  Before they can act, he discovers their plan, which is to reduce the intelligence of the Earth’s population drastically in order to make them more tractable.  I’m not the first to say this, but the current political climate really makes me wonder if a similar plan succeeded in our world.  The aliens quickly realize what is going on when the intangible hero starts possessing them, and they have a defense on board for just such an occasion!  They release a bizarre looking creature that resembles a cross between a monkey and a cat, with huge, hypnotic eyes.  It tears Deadman free of his host, and casts him into…”Noplace!”  There our tale ends.

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This is an interesting story, though we don’t get a whole lot of plot.  Fortunately, it can ride the narrative coat-tails of the main feature, so it doesn’t suffer much in that department.  The art is, of course, superb, and we get several really captivating page and panel designs.  It is appropriately moody and psychedelic for a Deadman story, despite the slightly goofy alien designs.  I’ll give it a 4 out of 5, mostly for its role in the larger tale.

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Detective Comics #398

Detective_Comics_398.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Moon Struck”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This issue of Detective comics is something of a rarity, being a better Bruce Wayne story than it is a Batman story.  It isn’t a bad Batman tale, but it just has a few character moments for Bruce out of the mask that I particularly enjoyed.  We start off with a lovely metaphoric Neal Adams cover, so lovely that I wonder if the Bob Brown artwork inside might have been a bit of a letdown to kids who paid their change without thumbing through it ahead of time.  Brown is a fine, solid artist, but his action is a bit stiff, and he’s certainly no match for Adams.

The story itself begins in an airplane winging its way west as a couple of stewardesses try approach Bruce Wayne’s seat, hungry for an autograph.  Bruce, traveling incognito in a pair of all-disguising sunglasses (taking disguise tips from Clark, are we?), thinks they’re after him, and there is a fun little subversion of that which gives him a slight touch of humility as they ask the lady beside him for her John Hancock.  It turns out she is the famous, or perhaps more accurately, INfamous author of a new smutty, tell-all scandal book about Hollywood’s best and brightest.  This prompts a rather surprising and interesting exchange between this woman, Maxine Melanie, and our Un-Caped Crusader.

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She offers to sign his copy, and Bruce responds rather stiffly, assuring the overconfident lady that he “wouldn’t be seen dead reading your book!”  She responds that he’s alone, as her work will soon be splashed all over the big screen thanks to the very studio our hero is on his way to visit.  Our scene shifts to said studio, and we get a continuation of that theme, which I find most intriguing.

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Wayne storms into the studio and demands that they kill this movie, declaring that no business of his will have anything to do with such trash.  The executives respond by asking him if he’s even read the book, a fair point, and one that Bruce concedes, offering to read the work in question.  The plot begins to pick up here, but honestly, this short scene is the portion of the issue that caught my attention.  I really enjoyed the fact that Bruce Wayne was concerned with, not only murder, mayhem, and such other obvious evils, but was also with morality on a smaller scale.  He intends that he and his businesses should be a force for good, moral good as well as practical good, in the world.

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That’s an excellent little touch.  That’s a hero, someone who isn’t just saving lives, but who is trying to live a morally exemplary life himself.  Not only that, but when he is challenged about the book, he immediately recognizes the point and agrees to read it.  That’s a reasonable, thoughtful response.  This is not the emotionally crippled sociopath that is the modern Batman.  I know this may seem prudish to a modern audience, but I really appreciate a character that is not simply a moral relativist.  How completely alien for heroes today who are, as often as not, devoid of all real virtue.  It’s sad that these days it’s not even possible to differentiate heroes from their villains by their being unwilling to kill.

Anyway, as for the plot itself, Bruce ends up having to go to a bookstore to get the book, as the studio’s advance copy is missing, and he finds the arrogant author there doing a signing.  Suddenly, she is murdered with a poisoned pen by a surprisingly spry granny who throws Wayne for a loop when he tries to stop her.  The murderer is clearly someone in disguise, and thus begins the real mystery.  We see some of the stiffness in Brown’s art in the action of this page.

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Well, this hated writer had a long list of enemies, but at the top of said list are the Hollywood luminaries skewered in her book, a husband and wife along with an aging leading man.  Batman finally makes his appearance and begins to investigate, discovering that the couple each try to take the fall for the other, the husband going so far as to attack the Dark Knight with a poker.  Yet our hero is unconvinced.

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On his way to interrogate the last fading star, he is attacked once again by the husband!  Or rather, it LOOKS like the husband, but it turns out to be our third suspect, who, as well as being a talented actor, is also a master of disguise!  This leads us to the other charming feature of this issue, which is the reveal that the star couple really do love one another, each having been willing to sacrifice their lives for their spouse.  That’s a good ending.

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So, thus ends a rather unusual Batman story, one that is not a particularly great BATMAN tale or a particularly excellent mystery, but which has some intriguing features that make it stand out as a character tale.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, just for being interesting.

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“Moon Struck”

Here we have another rather disappointing Robin story, which is a shame, because I’ve been looking forward to these backups. The setup is certainly interesting.  A Russian scientist is lecturing at Hudson University, and he has been presented with a moon rock by NASA.  Of course, young Dick Grayson is in the audience for the lecture, but so is an antsy young man named Herb who is so paranoid he is wearing what looks like a homemade space suit in fear of radiation.

When the students approach the hunk of lunar geography it gives off a bizarre flash of green light, leaving the fretful teen a verdant shade of weird himself!  This causes a lockdown of the school and fears of radiation and who knows what else.

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Robin hits the scene and starts to check into this strange occurrence.  He checks out the showers, where Herb was right before he started looking like a Martian, discovering some strangely scented soap.  Just as he is starting to put things together, the lights go out and he is jumped by a mysterious figure!

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Here’s where things get disappointing.  Robin has a brief fight with this guy, and then he is taken down by one punch.  Big hero.  The issue ends with him recovering consciousness and with me once again saddened by the poor performance of a secondary member of the Bat family.

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I really want to call this a head-blow, but unfortunately, it doesn’t quite make the grade.

I think that the really fun bit of this story, at least for me, is the Cold War and Space Race subtext to the issue.  One of the students remarks that he’s surprised that the Russian scientist is working with NASA since his people lost the race to the Moon, and it struck me, here in 1970, the Moon landings were a very recent memory.  We are not yet even an entire year on since mankind first walked on the Moon. Science fiction has only recently become science fact. This very month a real-life space opera was playing out above the nation’s collective heads in the form of Apollo 13’s struggle for survival. I’m not quite sure what to make of this realization yet, but I am quite sure it is significant. There is no doubt that it puts this whole era into somewhat sharper focus for me.

It is one of the strengths of man that we organize reality in our thoughts, but it can also be a weakness as we impose boundaries and borders, cutting off possibilities and preventing ourselves from seeing connections. Thus, to my mind, the Space Race was a phenomenon of the Sixties, something quite alien to the atmosphere of the 70s, yet here we are, in 1970 with these events very clearly part of the zeitgeist.  This is a good lesson for me as a reader not to be too rigid in my thinking.

In the final analysis, the mystery of the moon fragment is an intriguing one, but Dick being dropped like a sack of potatoes doesn’t really seem worthy of the character.  The subtext of Cold War tension adds a little something, but it’s still a sub-standard tale  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.

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That’s it for this month.  I hope you’ll join me again next week for the next league in our journey Into the Bronze Age!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: February 1970 (Part 1)

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So, we’ve gotten through January, and now it is time to tackle February 1970!  Let’s see what this month has in store for us.

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

  • Action Comics #385
  • Aquaman #49
  • Batman #218 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Batman #219
  • Detective Comics #396
  • Flash #194
  • Justice League of America #78
  • Phantom Stranger #5
  • Showcase #88
  • Strange Adventures #222
  • Superman #223
  • Superman #224
  • Teen Titans #25
  • World’s Finest 191

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others in the next.

Action Comics #385

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Cover Artists: Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Mort Weisinger

Ohh, time travel in the Silver Age…

For some reason, every hero had to time travel, just as they all had to do everything in tandem.  Everyone made at least one movie (how amazing must superhero movies have been in the DCU?), everybody got a sidekick, everybody got a weakness, everyone adopted a pet, and so on and so on.  Another of those tropes that was endlessly repeated in the Silver Age was time travel.  I generally find the Silver Age synchronicity and the stock plots rather charming, but the time travel stories leave me cold.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against time travel stories per se, but there is a weird trend in Silver Age DC stories where most of the main characters not only occasionally time traveled, but also took regular trips to a particular era in order to adventure in that time, as if there wasn’t enough bizarre craziness to be found in a current-day universe that was packed with aliens, super-science, magic, and lost civilizations!

Green Lantern, Flash, and Superman all did this.  Green Lantern even had a future girl friend on the side, but Flash topped that with a wife who turned out to actually be from the future in one of the most bizarre and confusing retcons of Silver/Bronze Age history.  (We’ll get there.)  Superman, of course, had the Legion, and while I have come to like them, I don’t much care for Superman’s involvement.  He tends to overshadow the other characters, especially Ultra Boy and Mon-El with their similar power-sets.  Having Superman, at least the Silver Age Superman, in a team book is always a dicey prospect, as he’s just so powerful that he tends to make other great characters superfluous.  Good writers could deal with that challenge quite well, but that wasn’t always the case.

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Nonetheless, this particular adventure is not one of Superman’s Legion jaunts.  Instead, it’s a time-travel tale to a ‘new’ future, one involving the year 101,970!  Now that’s the far future!  This issue opens with Superman meeting with the President, who remains in shadow in classic comic form, preventing the real world from crashing in too much.  I’ve always liked the practice of keeping real-world parallels at arms length.  The DC or Marvel Universes should be LIKE our world, but not too close, for my money.  That’s one of the reasons I love the concept of the DCU’s fictional cities.

The President tells Superman that the army is mucking about with something called the “Vortex Experiment,” and that he needs the Man of Steel not to go messing with time travel for the next 24 hours or it might upset the experiment.  Personally, I’d be more than a little concerned about the government, especially the military, doing anything that interacts with the space-time continuum, but I suppose that’s just me.

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Supes promises that he’ll stick in the present, which is probably a bigger sacrifice than it sounds like to a sane person, and heads back to the Fortress of Solitude.  There, much to his surprise, he encounters a gigantic robotic hand writing on the golden door of the Fortress.  I can’t say for certain, but I’d be willing to bet that at least a good chunk of this book exists just to provide an excuse to create that image.  Shades of Daniel!  Yet, the finger writing on the wall is not that of God, nor is the message nearly so portentous.  Instead, “the moving finger writes” that his help is needed in the distant future.  One might stop to question how in the blue blazes people in the year 101,970 could POSSIBLY know about Superman, much less be able to contact him directly, but then one is really overthinking this very Silver-Agey plot.

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The Man of Tomorrow (a particularly fitting sobriquet in this tale) remembers his promise and uses a defective Legion Time-Bubble rather than time travel himself, so that he doesn’t upset the Army’s experiment that is almost certainly not going to unleash untold horrors upon the universe or destroy the space-time continuum….where was I?  Right, the story’s deus ex machina, which is fittingly enough an actual machina, takes Superman 100,000 years in the future, but there’s a problem!  Because of the defective Time-Bubble, Superman also AGES 100,000 years!  Yet, because of his super-ness, the Man of Steel doesn’t look a day over 65.  That takes ‘aging well’ to a new extreme!

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After all that set-up, I’m afraid the actual story is fairly mundane.  Why have the denizens of this dizzily distant future brought Superman all the way to their remote era?  Is it to fight some universe destroying menace (perhaps one released by the U.S. military in 1970)?  Is it to save them from some vast cosmic catastrophe?  Is it to battle some merciless alien race that is steam-rolling across the stars?  No.  They reached 100,000 years into the past to summon Superman in order to…catch a bank robber.

Yep, you read that right.  Apparently the space-future equivalent of Fort Knox is losing money, and these future folk can’t figure it out.  They lock the Last Son of Krypton in the vault, where he discovers that an energy creature has been hiding in the very defenses of the vault itself and munching on money every night when the room is sealed.  The conflict is actually a pretty nice one.  Superman can’t hurt the creature, as it is has no real physical form, but it can hurt him, so he just outruns it all night until the vault opens again.  Since he can’t defeat the crackling critter by throwing punches, the Action Ace uses his brain and comes up with a plan.  He noticed that the monster ate only warm colored space-money, so he used a paint gun to trick the creature into eating blue money, thus destroying it.

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I love how in the Silver Age, writers seem to regard color as an integral part of the make-up of matter, like mass or elemental composition.  If something was “blue” or “yellow,” it meant that it had inalienable qualities, rather than just absorbing and reflecting certain wavelengths of light.  They did this ALL THE TIME in Green Lantern, where he would find objects that were yellow in nature, despite having been painted another color or the like, and thus completely immune to his ring.  Think about that for a moment.  His ring wouldn’t work on an object that was, say, red, because it was actually secretly yellow the whole time!  It’s so utterly crazy, but it was a pervasive idea, I’ve noticed.

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Anyway, Superman saves the space-future, but finds that he cannot return home!  Unbeknownst to him, the old Legion foe, the Time-Trapper has sealed-off The Man of Steel’s home time.  Unable to escape, the Man of Tomorrow heads to the future Earth to see what’s what, where he encounters some difficulties because there is apparently a criminal gang who have stolen his act!

Long story short (too late by far!), Superman is gassed by some future heroes, passes out, and awakens to discover that his few weaknesses have all disappeared, and he is now truly invulnerable.  Yet, rather than be elated at this news, all Supes can think about is how everyone he’s ever known and loved is dead in the distant past.  Yep, that will put a damper on a party really quick.

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This scene really drives me bonkers, as it demonstrates another of those fundamental misunderstandings that have stuck with Superman over the years.  Somehow he has been made invulnerable to magic, as if this were just an extension of his normal invulnerability, but he doesn’t really have a WEAKNESS to magic.  Superman’s invulnerability is physical.  He’s really, really tough, but non-physical attacks, like mental and magical attacks, can harm him because they have nothing to do with that physical toughness.  He only seems “vulnerable” to magic in comparison, but he’s not more vulnerable to magic than I am to, say, a sword in the gut, which is to say, normally vulnerable.

Wow.  I’ve spent way more time on this little story than it really merited.  Anyway, I liked the actual conflict of the tale, and the involvement of the Time Trapper has promise, but the silliness of the time travel elements, the magic vulnerability nonsense, and the over-all Silver Age-ness of the story knocks it down a peg for me.  It’s not a bad story, but it’s also not a good story.  I give it 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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“The Fallen Starboy”

ac_385_20.jpgThat brings us to the backup feature of this comic, as well as the real star tale of this book, The Legion of Super-Heroes.  This story is really a nice inversion of the previous month’s offering.  In that by the numbers yarn, Dream Girl had a vision of a Legionnaire’s death, and the heroes struggled to prevent it.  This month’s back-up also involves the heroes trying to fight against fate, but this time it is the villains who have the visions!  Star Boy heads to his home planet with Saturn Girl and Colossal Boy to investigate a series of robberies by a gang that always seems to be one step ahead of the authorities.

The Legionnaires decide to escort the next shipment of valuable goods, hoping to ambush the thieves with the help of Saturn Girl’s telepathy, but they are ambushed in turn!  It seems the raiders were prepared for Saturn Girl with anti-telepathy helmets (I wonder if they stole those from Magneto…)!  It’s almost as if they knew she was going to be there!

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The Legionnaires put their heads together to try to figure out what happened, and Star Boy conveniently figures out that the raiders must be from Dream Girl’s home planet and be able to dream the future.  It’s a bit of a jump, but I suppose we can give it to them since they do know someone with those exact powers and it does fit as a rather neat explanation of the facts.

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Incidentally, it seems to me that such a race of people would be down-right unstoppable.  Though, it now occurs to me that just last issue the Legionnaires were facing the inevitability of Dream Girl’s visions, completely unable to change the future she had seen, yet these crooks seem to be able to see the future and make adjustments!  Whoops, that doesn’t quite line up, does it?

But to get back to our tale, we next check in with the villainous raiders and we discover that all of their robbing and pillaging was just bait to lure Star Boy home so that their leader, Yark Althu, could kill him in revenge for his brother!  We get a flashback to a deadly encounter wherein Althu’s brother murdered Star Boy’s friend and disabled his powers.  In desperation, the young Legionnaire grabbed a fallen gun and killed the fellow.  Wow.  They showed a Legionnaire use deadly force ON panel.  As far as I can tell, this isn’t from a previous issue, meaning that the writer, who I’m assuming is Bates, just tosses out the added twist that Star Boy is a killer in a three panel flashback in a BACKUP.  That’s quite a heavy revelation, and it is given absolutely no attention whatsoever!

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Well, the story ends with Star Boy being teleported into a trap by Althu, where the Master of Mass (patent pending) displays some really clever uses of his powers, despite the fact that the raiders have disabled the artificial gravity on their ship in order to render him helpless.  Star Boy keeps the gang off balance until the cavalry arrives, and the Legion win the day!

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All in all, this was a fun, solid Legion story.  It had a nice dilemma, clever solutions, and fit a lot in its few allotted pages.  The one real problem is the use of deadly force by Star Boy without so much as an eye-bat by ANYONE in the story.  I kept expecting it to be revealed that he hadn’t actually killed the guy, but nope, apparently Star Boy is perfectly willing to bust a space-cap in a villain whenever it seems necessary.  That sets a rather grim precedent for a 1970s comic book.  All-in-all, I give it 3 Minutemen out of 5.

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Aquaman #49

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Cover Artists: Nick Cardy
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

As most folks who know me know, my favorite comic character is Aquaman.  It wasn’t always thus.  When I was a kid, my unalloyed favorite was Batman, but I did always have a soft spot for the King of the Seven Seas. Part of that is due to the fact that he has always had a really neat and unique look.  What other hero is orange and green?  Another part of it is that he inhabits such an amazing and interesting world, though writers and artists haven’t always taken advantage of that fact.  You see, I’m a coastal boy, growing up in the islands and bayous of the Gulf Coast, sailing about in my little skiff since I was a kid, and living every minute I could on or in the water.  Folks used to say I was part fish, so naturally I was drawn to the guy who could talk to our “finny friends.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the sea, but I’ve also had her treat me badly enough often enough to have a very healthy fear of both the water and what is in it.  I’ve lived through half a dozen hurricanes, after all.  Thus, I’ve always loved the idea of this hero, this adventurer, that not only wasn’t afraid of the sea, but ruled it, completely and utterly.  Everything that lives and breaths underwater answers to him, and he is totally, completely at home under the waves, even more so than we are on land.  That is pretty darn cool.  If you can’t see the appeal of being able to breath and live underwater, then you’ve let the world beat too much of the wonder out of you.  Every kid who has ever sat on the bottom of a pool, holding their breath, and wishing they stay under forever knows that it is a universal dream, ancient and powerful.  Aquaman is the realization of that archetypal wish.

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Yet, that is only part of my love for the character.  Another significant reason is that I’ve always had a thing for underdogs.  Give me the character that is (unjustly) maligned.  Give me the hard-luck hero.  Give me the guy that just can’t catch a break.  I always see their potential, even when there isn’t all that much evidence around to engender faith in their underlying worthiness.  Aquaman is perhaps the best example of this tendency, though some of my other DC favorites like Hawkman and the Atom also fit the bill.

Aquaman has really had a hard time of it, though.  His book has been cancelled again and again, he’s become a cultural punch-line thanks to Super Friends, and his greatest enemy has become, not Ocean Master, not Black Manta, not even the Human Flying Fish, but DC Comics themselves.

You see, DC has, since the early 70s, apparently had it in for the Aquatic Ace.  Now, I’m not suggesting some actual mustache-twirling, monocle-wearing conspiracy, so you can put away the tinfoil hats, but it just seems like the company consistently makes the wrong choices about this character, often inexplicably.  They cancel his book when he’s selling well, they replace successful teams, they allow other media to mistreat and under-utilize the property, and weirdest of all, they publicly bad-mouth their own product.  It’s like they collectively have a spot of madness where Aquaman is concerned.  Of course, much of the blame for this attitude can be laid squarely at the feet of Super Friends.  For every Rob Kelly, of Aquamanshrine fame, out there, who grew to love the Marine Marvel in that show, there are a thousand more that learned to regard him as a joke or as useless.  Of course, he’s anything but, as any self-respecting DC fan can tell you.

HERE is a relatively brief Aquaman primer written by yours truly to educate those in the dark about this great character.

This particular comic is from right about the middle of what was, up until recently, arguably the best Aquaman run of all time.  It is lamentably short, and its cancellation is perhaps the best example of DC’s inexplicable strikes against their own character.  I’m talking, of course, of the legendary SAG run.  The SAG run is the set of issues by the team of Steve Skeates (writer par excellence), Jim Aparo (artist extraordinaire), and Dick Giordano (editor and guiding light).  They were a fantastic team, and under them Aquaman’s title, which had been slipping for years, started an impressive comeback.  They finally treated the Sea King with the respect he deserved, explored the wonders of his underwater realm, and took his villains and supporting cast in interesting and intriguing directions.  It wasn’t without its flaws, but these comics were Aquaman at the best he had ever been, for my money, and the best he would be for decades to come.  He was a heroic, likable character, an adventurer who did what was right regardless of the cost, traits very soon to be lost for some thirty years.  These stories are classic, Bronze Age comics at their finest.

Check out some of Aparo’s lovely splash pages from this run at Diversions of the Groovy Kind.

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This issue is not the best of the bunch, but even so, it’s a solid, fun read, bursting with potential like so many of the issues of this run.  It takes place shortly after the most famous story-line from the SAG run, “The Search for Mera,” wherein Aquaman tore through every kingdom under the sea in a hunt for his kidnapped wife.  It also saw unrest and revolution in Atlantis, defused only by the bravery of Aquagirl (a character that I sorely miss being part of the Aquaman mythos).  By the beginning of this story, however, things have begun to return to normal, and Aquaman and Aqualad are traveling in the frigid waters of Alaska to answer an emergency summons from an “old friend.”  It’s funny how our heroes have so many old friends that make one appearance and are never heard from again.  I guess superheroes are bad at keeping in touch…

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Well, the tale actually opens with a silent, moody sequence of a black-clad diver destroying a building, leading in to a beautiful title page.  Jim Aparo is one of my favorite artists of all time, and with the exception of the two astonishingly talented teams that have worked on Aquaman recently, Aparo’s work is hands-down the best version of Aquaman for my money.  Ivan Reis and Paul Pelletier have done amazing work in the new Aquaman series, creating some of the finest comic book art of all time, but nonetheless, Jim Aparo is a giant in his own right.  His work his this wonderful, flowing, liquid feel to it, and he is always doing something interesting with layout, position, and design.  I’m no artist, but even I can appreciate the sheer beauty of Aparo’s work.

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Back to the story!  Our heroes are ambushed by frenzied fish that won’t answer to Aquaman49_07.jpgAquaman’s telepathic commands, and they are soon fighting for their lives.  A strange figure in a diving suit shows up to help them, and it turns out to be Phil Darson, a somewhat enigmatic scientist and explorer who the Aquatic Ace had encountered some issues back.  It seems that the mysterious malady plaguing the fish is the reason Aquaman has been summoned to these cold climes.  The heroes meet up with Arthur’s “old friend,” Professor Davidson, and Aparo gives this briefly appearing, one-shot character a really distinct face.  One look at this guy and you get a sense of his personality.  He’s serious, grizzled, and worried, and we know this before he ever opens his mouth.  That’s the power of a good artist right there.

Anyway, Davidson fills the Aqua-team in about what has been going on.  Apparently factories in the area are poisoning the environment, and the fish with it, and a mysterious vigilante known as the Saboteur has been bombing the different businesses in retaliation.  It has been a violent but bloodless attack until recently, when a night watchmen was killed in a blast.  The exposition is nicely inter-cut with scenes of Saboteur striking again, and Aquaman rushes off to investigate.  The Marine Marvel catches up to the destructive diver before he can get away, and the shadowy figure fires a miniature torpedo at him!  Aquaman survives a near-direct hit (remember that for later), but the Saboteur gets away.

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The mystery continues to unravel, with the introduction of a fat-cat industrialist type who is having none of this ‘save the environment’ nonsense!  Not at the expense of HIS bottom line, you don’t!  He lays a trap for the Saboteur, planning to kill him quietly so that he can prevent an investigation that would reveal his nefarious doings.

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Cut back to Atlantis, and we get a brief, tense little scene between Mera and Ocean Master, who has apparently come in peace, complete with underwater white flag!  We get to see Mera being a capable, intelligent ruler here, as well as hints of something waiting in the wings.  Orm claims he needs to speak to Aquaman…but why?

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Back in Alaska, Aquaman and Aqualad have a discussion about whether or not Davidson might be the Saboteur, and it is handled rather nicely.  Instead of having this turn into a melodramatic, angsty teen-age drama, Arthur listens calmly to Garth’s thoughts, then he does the unthinkable.  He puts stock in what his partner says and agrees that they can’t afford to take anything for granted.  It’s a simple little exchange, but it shows the strength of the father-son bond between the two.  Leaving Aqualad behind to watch Davidson, the Aquatic Ace heads out to investigate the remaining factory and encounters the Saboteur!  This gives us a lovely little underwater scene that shows off Aparo’s skill.

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Note Deadman’s face in the rock, a fun little teaser of what is to come in book’s future

Aquaman49_26 - Copy.jpgHe follows the criminal, but it seems he breaks in on the factory owners planned ambush, and nobody is happy to see him!  In another close call, Aquaman takes shrapnel from a grenade that explodes practically on top of him.  That is two explosions he has survived, making him one tough son of a gun, right?  Well, then we see one of the weaknesses of this series, as he is taken out by a clot to the head, in true DC hero fashion.  I swear, if I had a penny for every time a DC hero is disabled by a blow the back of the head, I’d be living in my own underwater city….

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Anyway, this series mostly does a good job of showing how powerful, how tough, and how impressive Aquaman was, but every once in a while, they treat him just like a regular guy.  Still, we’re treated to a really nice panel of Aquaman waking, literally BATHED in flames, and non-the-worse for the fiery wear.  So, I suppose it isn’t all bad.  He comes to in time to see the factory owner and the Saboteur locked in combat at the edge of a cliff, and before he can reach them, over they go!  Aquaman makes his way down to the fallen Saboteur, and to no-one’s surprise, he discovers that it is the no longer quite so enigmatic Phil Darson under the mask.  He explains that he loved the ocean and couldn’t stand to see it destroyed, so he took action when the law wouldn’t.  He apologizes for attacking Aquaman, and the Marine Marvels are left in the falling snow, pondering the justness of his actions.

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So, I’m sure we all saw the reveal coming.  Phil Darson is the Chekhov’s gun of this particular story, the only piece that doesn’t fit without being found in the Saboteur’s flippers, but nonetheless, it’s a good story.  I think it’s a shame that Darson was killed off, as he was an interesting character, always showing up when least expected.  I would have liked to know more about what he had going on.  The tale is an unusual one for Aquaman, more moody mystery than undersea adventure, and it makes for a nice change of pace.  It is a little inconsistent with its treatment of Aquaman, and it really doesn’t give him or Aqualad all that much to do.  Still, it’s a neat story, and the art is excellent, as always.  This is only an average offering from the SAG team, but that still puts it a cut above average for most comics!  I’d give it 4 Minutemen out of 5.

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Batman #219

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Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

Backup
Writer:Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano

This issue of Batman has two solid stories in it.  The first involves Bruce Wayne trying to get federal money to support his then current VIP (Victims Inc. Programs) undertaking.  That whole plotline loomed large in these middle years, but it doesnt’ seem to have amounted to much in the Bat-mythos.  Instead, as with so many comic characters, the elements that have stuck are those that were there in the beginning, or almost so, at least.  The skyscraper lair has been replaced by Wayne Manor and the Bat-Cave, and in general, those original concepts seem to have staying power.

But back to the story at hand.  Bruce is seeing a senator at his office who introduces him to a secretly visiting old warhorse of “our party.”  It’s hard to imagine Batman engaging  in partisan politics, so this was a minor little note that struck me as a more than a little off key.  It’s rather strange to see the Dark Knight engaged in politics to begin with, but that’s not the only offbeat bit of this story.

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Batman219-04.JPGThe Senator convinces Bruce to fly back to D.C. with him to help with a crime bill that’s supposed to really make waves, and on the way, the flight is hi-jacked by his political enemies!  In a nice little touch, the pilot seems, not scared as you’d imagine, but nonplussed and wearily resigned, if anything.  “Not another Havana Hijacker,” he says grumpily.  Apparently this period, from ’68-’79 is the “Golden Age of Skyjacking,” so I suppose this scene speaks volumes about the ubiquity, the almost hum-drum regularity of such events here in the Bronze Age.

What follows is a somewhat amusing comedy of errors with Batman switching between his Bruce Wayne and Caped Crusader identities.  First, in one of those other slightly sour notes I mentioned, Bruce takes on the skyjackers single-handedly, in full view of the public, unmasked.  Way to protect your secret identity there, Bats.

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He gets thumped on the head for his troubles (Another one!  I’m going to start a running tally) and thrown into the back of the plane.  He wakes up, uses a “Mae West,” which I did not realize is an inflatable life raft (who says comic books aren’t educational?) to fill his vacated civilian clothes, and sets out to take on the bad guys as Batman!  Then he…promptly gets knocked out…AGAIN!  The skyjackers toss Bats back with Bruce (!), fortunately not bothering to check on their other prisoner.  This does offer Batman a chance for a witty little rejoinder, though, so that’s something.

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Finally, Bats fools the villains with a few quick changes and has the Senator fake a heart-attack, hoping that these criminals don’t want him dead.  While flying to a nearby medic, the Batsuit rigged to that previously mentioned “Mae West” (Chekhov’s raft, apparently), springs out of a compartment and scares the skyjackers silly.  The Senator (and the other passengers, but who cares about them?) is saved, and we’re left with Bruce pondering an invitation to get into politics full time.

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This is a solid Bat-story, not particularly remarkable, but certainly not bad.  Bruce is a little too quick to take the bad guys on single-handed without his costume, especially considering the excellent job Bob Haney did (how often does someone say that about logical consistency?) just last month with a similar situation.  Still, this was fun, with a neat resolution.  I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.

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“The Silent Night of the Batman”

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The backup tale in this issue is the one I particularly enjoyed, which seems to be becoming a trend in these multi-part books.  It’s a simple but sweet little Christmas story.  It’s almost entirely silent, except for a strain of different Christmas carols moving through the pages.  There isn’t really all that much to the plot, and in this case, that’s not really a problem.  Commissioner Gordon tricks Batman into coming down to the precinct so he can force the Caped Crusader to take a night off.  He convinces the Dark Knight to stay and sing Christmas carols (!) until there is an emergency.  Batman, sure that something will momentarily go horribly wrong, begrudgingly agrees.  There’s an odd but funny little beat where the cops ask him to lend his “deep vocal chords” to their songs.

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We then travel around Gotham, seeing several moments where tragedy COULD strike, but doesn’t because of the Christmas spirit, along with a healthy dose of the spirit of Batman as well!  It’s a touching set of silent stories where people choose a better path, at least in part because they were inspired by Batman.  It’s a really a lovely expression of how the presence of heroes can improve the world, outside of their immediate actions.  Having truly virtuous, truly heroic figures to look up to can make us all better.  In the end, Batman wakes, having fallen asleep on a quiet, uneventful night.  It’s a good ending.  It is strange, even incongruous to see Batman singing Christmas carols, but it is charming and enjoyable nonetheless.

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I give this one 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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Detective Comics #396

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Executive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Orchid-Crusher”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This is an odd little tale, full of 60s-ness, and more than a little reminiscent of a Zany Haney script, but it has its moments nonetheless.  The issue opens with Bruce Wayne in his office having an “eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the ‘youth revolution'” as he reads NOW! Magazine, which apparently has a plot convenient cover story.  This is where I had to double check the credits to be sure this wasn’t a Bob Haney yarn.  detective396-02.jpgThe whole plot turns on the idea that there is this young whiz kid named Rory Bell who is a stock genius, and makes all of his business decisions while riding a motorcycle and talking to his secretary/girlfriend via “radio-phone”!  To add to the oddness of this concept, apparently a gang of crooks who are feeling a bit out of date decide that the best way to turn things around is to kidnap this kid and have him make a fortune on the market for them.  We are on page 2.

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It’s amazing how many concepts a minute these creative teams threw out back in the day.

So, these enterprising gangsters kidnap the kid, who, in a scene chock full of migraine inducing 60s slang, convinces these geniuses he “can’t make market decisions ‘less I’ve got this throbbing heap under me…and the wind blowing my mind!”  I don’t know about you, but I think that’s the kind of thing I’d keep to myself.  Just saying.

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Well, it just so happens that this fellow’s girl Friday is Bruce’s stock broker as well, and the kid sends an S.O.S. by ordering a number of uncharacteristic sales and buys.  When the broker discusses this with Bruce (isn’t that insider trading?), he deduces the pattern and sets out as Batman in a decent display of detective work.

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He ambushes the gangsters when they stop at a gas station, and almost puts them down before one of them grabs the kid as a hostage.  Batman drops a smoke pellet, and in the highlight of story, he fakes the gang out by sending the Batmobile tearing away under remote control so he can get the drop on them.

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There’s not a whole lot to this one.  It’s a solid enough story, but not a particularly good one.  It’s enjoyable for what it is, and all of the characters are given just enough personality to make them more than just moving pieces of scenery.  Still, it is more than a bit forgettable.  I give it 3 Minutemen.

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“The Orchid Killer”

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This Batgirl backup is interesting, though you really feel that the Robbins was a bit constrained by the 9 page limit.  The story opens with our lovely red-headed crime fighter having a nightmare about a mysterious killer that’s been haunting Gotham lately.  He’s known as the titular “orchid killer” because he always leaves a crushed orchid at the scene of each crime.  At this point in her history, Babs is a librarian, a reasonable if unexciting secret identity for a superhero, I suppose.  Librarians have interesting jobs, but it doesn’t seem like quite the vocation that Barbara Gordon should have.

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Employment aside, she stumbles upon a clue to the crime in a copy of The Femme Mystique, a computer punch card (how quaint!).  It seems to be a computer dating service quiz (I didn’t even know they HAD computer dating services in 1960) belonging to the latest victim!  It appears the books previous possessor was studying up on how to manipulate women (creepy!), and a passage about orchids is underlined.  Babs does some detective work, tracking the library book back to a man named Darren Thompkins.  He’s apparently skipped out of his boarding house, so Batgirl pays a visit to the computer dating service and sets a trap using herself as bait!

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In order to do so, she has to remorsefully brush young Jason Bard off.  It’s a nice moment of background and characterization, especially in a story as tightly plotted as this one.  Jason is a long-time part of Batgirl’s supporting cast, as I understand it.  While I like the character, I don’t like him being Babs’ love interest.  I’m an old romantic, I suppose, but I’ve always loved the pairing of Robin and Batgirl.  It just made perfect sense, and they complement each other excellently.  I would have read the heck out of a backup strip that featured both of them.

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detective396-23.jpgBack to our mystery.  Barbara gets a nibble, and her date is a mousy little fellow who seems harmless…until he offers her an orchid and moves in for a kiss.  Babs rebuffs his advances rather…decisively, and he storms off.  She follows, not quite sure if this is just natural frustration or something more sinister, and she loses him, only to be grabbed, apparently by the orchid killer himself!

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detective396-26.jpgThis backup ticks right along, but it manages to tell a complete story, so far as it goes, in only 9 pages.  I’m not quite sure what I think of the opening dream sequence.  It does establish a good, creepy tone and a sense of threat about this killer, but I wonder if that page could have been put to more effective use.  Nonetheless, packing all of that story into 9 pages is pretty impressive, and Robins does it very efficiently.  You get some characterization, some supporting cast, some civilian identity, some superheroing, and some detective work.  Not bad.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #194

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Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

I really do love the Flash as a character, especially the Barry Allen version.  Yet, reading these Flash comics has routinely been one of the hardest slogs of my grand DC experiment.  It’s strange, I expected to love these comics.  After all, Flash has some of the best villains in the DC Universe, and I am a fan of Barry Allen himself.  I love that he is just a really decent, upright man, all other concerns aside.  He’s the only DC hero other than Hawkman that was a crime-fighter BEFORE he had super powers.  He was a police scientist, already having dedicated his life to protecting people.  It’s a great concept, and the Flash as a character is one as well.  Nonetheless, I routinely found this book to be pretty rough going.  I think it may be the most Silver Age-y book in the DC offerings other than the Superman and Batman titles.  There have been some good stories along the way, and this period has given us a whole Rogue’s Gallery of great villains (and some NOT so great ones *cough*TheTop*cough), but there has also been tons of Silver Age weirdness and general silliness.

Nonetheless, by this point Barry has settled into a pretty enjoyable status quo.  He and Iris are married, and Iris has gone from being occasionally downright insufferable to a genuinely likeable character.  That’s good, because DC love interests in the Silver Age had a hard time of it, often being portrayed as either bat-guano insane or downright mean.  You really had to wonder why the heroes were interested in such ill-tempered or unstable ladies.  It seems to me that a lot of readers hold those portrayals against those characters, but I try to avoid letting bad writing ruin a character for me when they have good potential, and Iris, as an independent career woman in the 60s certainly fits the bill.

This issue is, unfortunately, a weird story from the middle of a run of weird stories.  Remember all of those great villains the Flash has?  Well, don’t expect to see any of them anytime soon.  Instead, we get a dozen issues of random oddness.  This story is an incongruous tale of magic and mysticism that would be a much better fit for the Phantom Stranger than the Scarlet Speedster.  The cover is an interesting one, and you’re really left wondering what the heck is going to happen within this book.  Sadly, the story doesn’t quite live up to that mysterious beginning.  At the start, we find a seemingly confused young lady wandering the darkened streets of Central City, where she encounters the Flash fighting one of those delightful themed gangs that seemed to be all over the place in the Silver Age.  This is one little element of the period that I wished we still saw a bit more of.  This “Owl Gang” have some relatively neat costumes and some distinctive headgear that lets them blind the Wizard of Whiz, but he recovers too quickly for them and rounds them up without much trouble.

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Seriously, there are a bunch of these little themed gangs scattered through the pages of various DC books.  They don’t amount to much, and I am pretty sure 99% of them never make a return appearance, but I like the idea that even the fairly mundane criminals in a world of super-powered beings get in on the fun of costumes and gimmicks.  It makes the setting that much more fun and lively!  I wish that writers had kept these gangs around a bit more, replace some of the generic thugs that populate their pages with recurring appearances by the likes of the Owl Gang, or the Panther Gang from the Atom, etc.  I think that would have been interesting.
flash v1 194 0007.jpgAnyway, this young lady gets a bad fright during the fight and passes out, so the Flash naturally takes her to a hospital where professionals can take care of her and…wait…what?  No, no, no, don’t be silly.  Instead, at Iris’s insistence, he brings her to his home where he can more conveniently endanger his secret identity.  The girl awakes and calls the Scarlet Speedster “Daniel,” giving him a SUPER creepy look in the process.

Barry is naturally weirded out by this, and over the next day things continue to get stranger.  The girl awakes and insists that The Flash, who is still running around his actual house in costume, mind you, is her fiance, Daniel.  Even stranger, Barry begins to see visions of himself as this fellow, circa 100 years ago.  Iris digs up some history and an old photo that marks this Daniel guy as the spitting image of Barry himself.  The Allens begin to suspect that the girl is possessed by a restless spirit (naturally), and feel that their surmise is correct when they discover she has…*gasp* two shadows!flash v1 194 0016.jpg

Flash jumps to the only rational solution.  He has to fake marry the girl.  That’s right.  That’s the first thing he comes up with.  So, they go through with the ceremony, and instead of putting the spirit to rest, it somehow allows her to drag the Fastest Man Alive into some kind of bizarre Limbo along with her!

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This is where the story takes an even stronger term to the weird and where its use as a Flash yarn comes into serious question.  Flash finds himself trapped, besieged by demons, or spirits, or something, but luckily still possessing his super speed.  He attempts to race out of the strange dimension, but finds himself beset by threat after threat, including giant monsters and harpies.  If you’re thinking that it sounds like this mysterious spirit bride seems to drop out of the story, you’d be correct.  She literally just floats away  immediately after they find their way to Limbo…or wherever, making this tale feel even more disjointed.  Eventually Flash RUNS out of the afterlife.  I don’t mean that he vibrates himself to escape the dimension or anything.  I mean that he literally just runs to the edge of…wherever…and falls back into normal life.  Oookay.

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I like all of the crazy dimension-hopping antics of the Flash.  I love the idea that simple SPEED is such a versatile power.  I’m fine with such things, but this weird little episode is a bit much and, as I said, it just feels out of place as a Flash adventure.

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What’s more, this strange ‘afterlife’ he finds himself in is just really vague and boring. aristi Ross Andru does an okay with the weird creatures that inhabit it, but I just can’t help but find myself thinking about how interesting and exciting this same concept would have been if handled by somebody with the imagination of Jack Kirby.  The dimension would have been bursting with potential and personality, and as a reader you’d be left begging to see more of it, as likely as not.  Instead, his place is entirely forgettable, and I’m fairly certain we never see it again.

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This isn’t a BAD story, but it is definitely not a good one.  The action is moderately interesting, but the whole thing just makes such little sense and the limbo-realm is just so uninspired that I think I’ll give this one 2.5 Minutemen.

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Justice League #78

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Cover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella

Now here’s one I’m excited about!  This is, by pure happy coincidence, the official beginning of the Satellite Era Justice League!  I didn’t realize that this issue would fall within my purview, but I’m glad it did.  After all, what better way to celebrate the Bronze Age than by chronicling the adventures of its most definitive team?  The Satellite Era Justice League is the group that most clearly encapsulates this period.  That incarnation begins here at the dawn of the the age, and it comes to its sad end just as the Bronze Age itself draws to a close in ’84.  It just so happens that the JLA are my all-time favorite comic team.  A child of the 80s, as any regular reader knows, I grew up watching re-runs of the Super Friends and playing Justice League with my friends.  We all had footie pajamas of our favorite heroes, and we’d put on those silly little Velcro capes and dash about, fighting the Legion of Doom or playing with those awesome Super Powers action figures.

These guys WERE the heroes of my child-hood.  I think I may have been vaguely aware of Spider-Man, Captain America, or the Hulk, but Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, those were the heroes that filled my imaginative hours, long summer days, and halcyon Saturday mornings.  I didn’t read many of the comics at the time, but I absorbed enough about these characters through other media to leave an indelible mark on my imagination.  They became the lens through which I understood the concept of the superhero.  That’s why, even though Super Friends is cringe-worthy for me these days, even though a lot of the classic comics are pretty painfully Silver-Agey at times, I will always have a soft spot for the DC Universe, but especially its heart and soul, the Justice League.

They are the Knights of the Round Table of superheroes, each powerful, noble, and impressive in their own right, but banded together in common cause, to make the world a better place, to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, and to protect the Earth from threats too big for any one hero.  They are, collectively, what Batman and Superman are individually, the purest expressions of the archetypal nature of the superhero.  The League is like the old pantheons, powerful titans and godly figures of might, each presiding over their own demesne of skill and elemental purview.  Though an odd assortment, it has always seemed to me that they make a more coherent team than the Avengers.  I suppose that says something about the relatively uniform aesthetic of the core DC heroes.

Unfortunately, their stories have often not lived up to the quality of the concept.  I have regularly wondered how the Justice League book survived after Marvel started competing directly with their Avengers.  On average, the Avengers stories in the Silver Age were just so vastly better, you really have to wonder why folks stuck with the JLA.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the book endured, but it boggles the mind to think about.  And of course, just like Aquaman, this lack stellar storytelling in the critical Silver Age has been a weakness for the team going forward.  Whereas the Avengers ended up with a lot of great villains and concepts produced by that most fertile era, the League has always struggled for villains and challenges that really can serve as interesting threats for them.  The period that saw Kang the Conqueror fight the Avengers also saw the League facing off against the likes of Brain Storm and Kanjar Ro, not exactly winners.  Of course, I’m comparing hits with misses, but I think you get my point.  There were some great villains introduced in this era, but this has always been one of the weak points of the League, something Bruce Timm and company struggled with when creating their amazing Justice League Animated Series.

While I think it may continue to be the case that the concept of the League is stronger than the stories they produce in the Bronze Age, at least here the tide begins to turn, and we get some really excellent stories.  In general, the quality of stories does improve, and even more significantly, the team takes on the shape, themes, and challenges that will define it for the rest of its history.

This story brings us about midway into Denny O’Neil’s justly famous JLA run.  O’Neil took over after Gardner Fox’s decade-long and legendary time on the book, and with him came big changes.  He introduced new members, wrote out old ones, and gave the League their definitive Satellite headquarters.  O’Neil updated the team and did a lot of good work in these issues.  The Satellite and the introduction of Black Canary are both great additions to the mythos, but he also did some things that I’ll always regret.  He wrote out the Martian Manhunter, who at this point has headed to another world to help his people colonize it.  The League without its soul, J’onn J’onzz is like a church without a choir.  You can do it, but something’s missing.  It’s a particular shame that, just as the DC staple of heroes begin to get some good characterization, to realize the potential that they have, the Manhunter from Mars is removed from the game.

Anyway, this is the tale, as you can probably guess from the cover, that gives us the Justice League satellite, an excellent addition to the mythos that really fits the League perfectly.  Our story begins with the Emerald Archer patrolling around Star City when he hears gunshots and rushes to the aid of an embattled security guard who is involved in a shootout with some thugs.

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Rather, GA INTENDED to help the guard, but the fellow seems to need no help at all!  In a display of sharpshooting and daring do, he disarms the thugs without breaking a sweat.  It’s an impressive deed, and it hints at the mysterious man’s identity!  Green Arrow attempts to shed some light on the situation with a flare arrow, but in a shocking turn, the flare sets the river alight!  This leads us to a rather nice title page.

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Ollie calls in the League in a rare moment of self-awareness and wisdom, realizing that this blazing inferno is too much for him to handle.  Superman and Green Lantern respond and quickly have the fire under control.  The Leaguers head off to their fancy new satellite headquarters, and GA gets quite a surprise when they toss him in a teleport tube and flip the switch.  We get our first view of the satellite, orbiting “about 22,3000 miles above the United States.”  We also get a small but nifty diagram of the layout.  I enjoy things like this.  I used to spend hours pouring over base layouts and the like, imagining all of the cool gear and secrets that would fill, say, the Turtle Lair.

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The real star of the issue

JLA078-10 The Coming of The Doomsters.jpgWe join that security guard, who seems to be more than meets the eye.  No, he’s not a transformer, but the way he ducks the hoodlums who come gunning for him implies that he’s got some skills.  Apparently he’s being hunted, and he feels his only hope is the Justice League!  He reads about the League making a charity appearance, and he figures that is his chance.  This page also gives us a pick-up line delivered by Green Arrow with a creepy and altogether too intense look on his face.  Way to play it cool, Ollie.  At the event, just as the new Leaguer, Black Canary, is being introduced, this unusual guard forces his way through the crowd, assassins hot on his heels.  The League leaps into action in a rather nice display of their collective skills and teamwork, and the guard reveals his identity and his story.

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It seems that lowly security guard Greg Sanders is actually the costumed western hero, Vigilante!  Or rather, he used to be.  He confesses that he ‘got weary, decided to retire,” which is an extremely unsatisfying answer to how the famous Prairie Troubadour ended up working as a low-rent security guard in Star City!  However, there is just enough wistfulness mixed with determination in those two panels to sell the idea that there is a great deal more to the story that we simply aren’t privy to.

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The tale Sanders tells about his troubles is that he was working at a factory and became suspicious of its activities, eventually doing some snooping and discovering that the place seems to exist ONLY to manufacture pollution, nothing else, thus explaining the flammable river.  He stole some documents which he shares with the League, and they do what they do best…split into teams and investigate!

JLA078-19 The Coming of The Doomsters - Copy.jpgThe more street-level characters head out to investigate the factory, while Superman and GL head out to investigate the location on a star map discovered in the papers.  Green Arrow, being Green Arrow, tells everybody else that he’s got his own plans.  He marches into city hall and gives the assistant city manager an earfull.  In an agressive verbal boxing match, the two yell at each other, with Ollie saying things that may have been a bit shocking in 1970 but seem utterly mundane now, basically that we should probably not poison ourselves or our environment for a buck.  He deploys his usual diplomatic subtlety, insulting the official and screaming in his face.  The manager is having none of it and has the masked hero arrested!

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Meanwhile, the Vigilante rides again, and apparently catches Black Canary’s eye (see Ollie, this is what happens when you over play your hand!) while Superman and GL discover a dead world that was once teeming with life!  Team-Earth is jumped by some more of the trench-coated thugs and make short work of them until a shadowy figure disables them with booby trapped weapons!

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The issue ends with our heroes suspended above a “vat of bubbling, noxious…death!”

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This issue also contains a little four page backup about a scientist who destroys all of his equipment after seeing a future destroyed by…SCIENCE!  It’s a fine story for what it is, originally published in Mystery in Space #6.

I read this JLA issue some years ago, but I didn’t really remember it very clearly.  I went into this read thinking that the issue was nothing special, but I have to say that I have been very pleasantly surprised.  It’s a good, solid Justice League adventure, with some good action beats, a mystery, and a few spots of characterization.  All of the Leaguers get a little something to do, though the story really centers around GA and Vigilante, and splitting the team the way O’Neill did makes sure the stronger Leaguers don’t overshadow the weaker.  It’s really great to see Vigilante get in on the action.  I rather like the character, and I especially loved the friendship between him and Shinning Knight that was explored in the Justice League animated series.  Speaking of that, I enjoy that they adapted the broad strokes of Green Arrow’s introduction to the satellite from this issue for his induction into the League in the show.  That’s a nice little detail.  While it’s great to see Vigilante get back into costume, I have to say, it’s a little distracting to see the smiling, Silver Age-ish Batman standing next to him, especially considering the sleek, dramatic, and classic Batman we’ve been getting in the Bat-books this month and last.  That’s neither here nor there, though.

So, all-in-all, this is an above average Justice League adventure, well balanced, well-paced, and interesting.  I give it 4 Minutemen out of 5.  We’ll have to wait and see if the other half of this story lives up to the beginning!

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P.S.: I just discovered that the river fire in this book must have been a reference to a contemporary event!  In June of 1969, the terribly polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire and blazed away, doing $100,000 of damage.  The incident was immortalized on the cover of Time Magazine, drawing national attention and helping to spark the beginning of the environmentalist movement.  This story was in the headlines when Denny O’Neil would have been writing JLA #78, and there is little doubt that it must have been the inspiration for this particular comic.  That’s a fascinating sign of the rising social consciousness in comics, and it puts the environmental overtones of this story in a very different light.

Closing Thoughts:

Well, I think that, in order for these posts not to stew for months at a time, I’ll post them in chunks.  I tend to write an entry a day or so, but there are a lot of entries to each month, and I end up sitting on a lot of content for weeks that way.  I think I’ll break it into two, maybe even three or four, posts that can get content out more frequently.  After all, this is a LOT of material, so breaking it up is probably not a bad idea.  The last post of each month’s collection will contain my general reflections and notes.  If readers have any preferences for how they’d like me to cover each month, I’d be more than happy to listen.

And, as promised, I’m starting a new, running feature that will be updated with each post.  Introducing-

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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