Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 4)

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Hello Internet travelers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  It’s time to explore some more classic, Bronze Age DC comics, and we’ve got a pretty interesting trio of titles to talk about this time.  We have a significant issue of The Haunted Tank’s harrowing adventures, a cool and unusual issue of JLA, and finally another frantic feature of the Fourth World!  Let’s dive right in, shall we?

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 #406
  • Adventure Comics #412
  • Batman #236
  • Brave and the Bold #98
  • Detective Comics #417
  • The Flash #210
  • Forever People #5
  • G.I. Combat #150
  • Justice League of America #94
  • New Gods #5
  • Superboy #179
  • Superman #244
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
  • World’s Finest #207

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


G.I. Combat #150


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“The Death of the Haunted Tank”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor/Cover Artist: Joe Kubert

“The Two-Legged Mine”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Robert Kanigher

“Hip Shot”
Writer: Sam Glanzman
Penciler: Sam Glanzman
Inker: Sam Glanzman
Editor: Robert Kanigher

“Ice Cream Soldier”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
Editor: Robert Kanigher

We’ve got a landmark issue of the Haunted Tank this month!  For once, the cover doesn’t lie, and when it promises the “Death of the Haunted Tank,” it is being quite literal!  After roughly 60 issues, the plucky little M-3 Stuart tank will meet its demise in this issue.  And that cover is a pretty good one, in addition to being honest.  It’s dramatic, catching a moment, not before disaster strikes, but just as it is striking, which creates a pretty dynamic effect.  Of course, Kubert’s stark work adds to the drama of the moment rather nicely.

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Inside, our tale begins in what has become normal fashion, with the spectral J.E.B. Stuart offering one of his habitual vague warnings that could really mean anything, as Kanigher continues to not really take advantage of his awesome premise.  In this case, the General’s super helpful warning that “things aren’t what they seem” applies to a seemingly crashed German bomb that is actually a trap for the tank.  Jeb and company knock it out in a nice two-page splash, but then their ghostly guardian informs them that this was the last time he could “help” them, and bids them farewell.

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As Jeb ruminates on this startling turn of events, his crew continue to contemplate his apparent insanity as he seems to speak to empty air.  They roll past a depot where other crews are cannibalizing knocked out tanks for parts.  There are two things of note in this scene.  First, the other crew actually asks who Jeb’s tiny little Stuart constantly knocks out tanks much heavier than it, joking that it must be because it is haunted.  Second, we get a shot of this crew, who include Joe, Russ, and Steve, who are given very detailed faces.  I feel like this has got to be a reference to particular folks.  I’m guessing, and this is just a guess, that the fellow in the middle is Joe Kubert and the one on the right is Russ Heath.  I would love to hear from any readers who actually know!

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Anyway, possible creator cameos aside, the ghostly guys next run into trouble when they encounter a Jeep full of wounded troops fleeing a fighter.  The crew manages to knock the perilous plane out of the sky (more unbelievable feats!), encouraging the team.  Yet, their continued faith in the old Stuart meets a much tougher test later on, when they are sent into a hot zone to aid Dog Company.

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The infantry is getting cut to pieces on the banks of a river by a tank and artillery in the woods on the other side.  Jeb charges the Stuart into the teeth of the enemy guns, and they get the enemy tank.  However, the AT gun tears their little tin box apart piece by piece, and in surprisingly short order, the Haunted Tank dies, though the crew manage to make a frantic escape.

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When Jeb and company realize that no more backup is forthcoming, they race to the depot and assemble a new, “Jigsaw Tank” out of cannibalized parts.  They take their new makeshift metal monster into combat, just in time to stop two new Nazi tanks charging across the river, and they even manage to clean up the AT gun that killed their previous ride.  The story ends with General Stuart returning, and explaining that the tank didn’t matter, only the dedication of the men inside, so the grateful crew christen their new vehicle The Haunted Tank once more.

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I actually expected rather more form this tale.  It’s a fine, fun story, however unrealistic it is for the guys to assemble a new tank so quickly and easily.  Still, I’ve been seeing this cover approaching for some time, and I just expected the death of the tank that had been through so much with the crew to be given a little more weight.  Instead, Jeb and co. basically joke about it for a minute, then immediately replace the faithful old girl.  Of course, there’s only so much you can do in a 14 page story, but I found myself a bit surprised that Kanigher didn’t make more of the moment.  The actual adventures here could have been condensed, with more focus on the central conflict at the river and the loss of the Stuart, which I think would have been more effective.

 

As is, the story is really rather forgettable.  Of course, Russ Heath’s art remains excellent, perfect for the title.  He’s a master of both the dynamic battle scenes and even the quiet, character moments.  On a broader note, I continue to be disappointed by the lack of development of the premise.  General Stuart leaves the crew for most of the issue, but functionally, it doesn’t actually play out any differently than 90% of the stories we’ve read, as he plays no active part in most plots after his traditional enigmatic warning anyway.  Well, missed opportunities aside, I’ll give this solid armored adventure 3.5 Mintuemen.  At least Jeb and crew now have a tank that might stand a ghost of a chance against German armor in real life!

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Justice League of America #94


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“Where Strikes Demonfang?”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Pencilers: Neal Adams and Dick Dillin
Inkers: Neal Adams and Joe Giella
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Tarantula Strikes”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Bert Christman
Inker: Bert Christman
Editors: Vincent Sullivan and Julius Schwartz

“The Amazing Starman”
Writer: Jack Burnley
Penciler: Jack Burnley
Inkers: Jack Burnley and Ray Burnley
Colourist: Raymond Perry
Letterer: Betty Bentley
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth and Julius Schwartz

Alright!  Time for another issue of my favorite comic team’s book!  Despite the fact that this title has been so uneven since we’ve started, I still find myself excited about it each month, and this issue features my favorite character….sort of!  Sadly, we’ve got a pretty lackluster cover, really.  It’s got Deadman’s dramatic pronouncement, but the blank blue background and compressed, box-out cover-space don’t do it any favors, and all the pointless occult paraphernalia in the foreground can’t change that.  Of course, the actual art is lovely, as Neal Adams contributes the image, as well as several pages inside!  Yet, the biggest trouble with this cover is that it spoils a significant part of the story, which is a shame.

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As for that story, it is actually a pretty darn good one.  We begin with a wonderfully detailed splash page of the League of Assassins’ leader, the enigmatic Sensei, who is plotting revenge against an unknown JLA member for a previous slight.  We join the trio of characters who disappeared from the last arc, Batman, Green Arrow, and the Sea King himself, Aquaman, as they prowl about the waterfront, hunting for an assassin who hunts them in turn.  The Bold Bowman spots a flash from the killer’s scope, and the heroes leap into action, quickly corralling the gunman.  Yet, the assassin refuses to talk, and the Leaguers are left in the dark about who is the target of the “Demon’s Fang,” the League of Assassins.  That’s right, it’s League vs. League!

 

Back at the Demon Fang’s headquarters, the Sensei is not pleased that his man has missed his mark, and he summons one of his best, Merlyn, the archer.  We get an interesting note of continuity and world-building here, as the League of Assassins are part of Ra’s Al Ghul’s set-up and have been introduced in the Batman books, so it is exciting and surprising to see them here.  What’s more, the Demon’s Head, Al Ghul himself, gets name-dropped, as Merlyn mentions that their master has a special interest in their target.  Nonetheless, the ancient Sensei is adamant, and the archer is sent on the attack.

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Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite sleaze, Morgan Edge, makes another universe-building appearance, and sends Clark Kent out on assignment.  There are hints of Intergang’s involvement, and the under-cover Kryptonian brings along a little action figure-sized ace -in-the-hole, the Atom, as the assignment brings him near the last known location of the missing Leaguers.  Yet, before they can arrive, their news van is ambushed with arrows!  Superman attacks, only to be taken out of the fight by special gadgets prepared by the Demonfang techs, including a gravitational arrow which increases the pull of gravity on the Man of Steel exponentially.

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The Atom, after delivering a great pint-sized punch, is also put out of commission by a sonic arrow.  Now, if you had told me that Merlyn was taking on a significant subset of the League on his own, I would have said that was silly, but Friedrich actually manages to write his way around the problem of a vastly under-powered villain with some reasonable gadgets.  It’s nice to see Superman treated as something other than completely unstoppable, and without recourse to Kryptonite or something completely silly.  Is it convenient that Merlyn has trick arrows that can take out these heroes?  Yes, but I’ll buy it for the purposes of this story.

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Unfortunately, our other heroes don’t have much better luck than their fellows, as our original trio finds their captive assassin killed almost as soon as they turn him over to the police.  On the arrow that killed him is a note, which declares that “The price of failure in the League of Assassins is death!”  It is signed by the mysterious Merlyn, and it is here that we discover that Green Arrow knows our enigmatic assassin.  Merlyn was a master archer, and he was Ollie’s first great rival, who embarrassed him in a competition before disappearing, only to emerge now, as a master of a decidedly more deadly discipline.

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The titanic trio set out on Merlyn’s trail, but we have an odd little moment where Batman asks Aquaman if he has enough time, and the apparently confused Sea King responds, ‘sure…uh…why not?”  I saw what was coming, and I was a bit annoyed by it, and sure enough, as soon as they reach their destination, a creepy old house that is definitely not a trap, the Marine Marvel passes out.  He’s been out of water too long (that darn 1 hour limit can’t go away soon enough!), and I just couldn’t believe Friedrich had put the character in the book just to have him act this stupidly.  But, when the Caped Crusader finds a fountain inside and submerges the submarine superhero, things take a much more interesting turn, as the Dark Knight puts Aquaman in a headlock and demands to know….who he is!  Just then, the trap springs, and Green Arrow is locked in a vacuum tube!

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While the hunted heroes investigate the house, the agonized Atom manages to smash the sonic arrow and free himself, and he comes up with a novel way to free the Metropolis Marvel too.  He can’t budge the gravity device, but he wraps his belt around it and enlarges the machine until it becomes unstable and explodes! That’s actually a really clever solution, and fitting for the brilliant Ray Palmer.  The haggard heroes aren’t yet back at a hundred percent, however, and they must hitchhike towards their allies!

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I love the hilarious banality of Superman having to listen to some schmo blather on as he hitches a ride! “Really, I have more important things on my mind, man!”

Back in the villain-haunted house, the Masked Manhunter can’t break his Emerald ally out of his glass prison, but Superman, recovering enough to take flight and escape their blabbermouth chauffeur, is able to spot the predicament with his super vision and hurl the Atom hard enough to free Ollie.  It’s really a nice sequence.  Yet, at the same time, Batman has become stuck on the fence that separated him from his fallen friend, a perfect target for Merlyn, who has emerged at last to kill his true target…the Dark Knight, of course!  He lets fly, but the stunned Green Arrow recovers rapidly enough to string and fire an arrow just in time to deflect Merlyn’s killing shot!  His nemesis salutes such a fine shot, and his carefully calculated chance gone, the magician uses a jetpack built into his quiver to escape.  Merlyn himself is now a hunted man, as he reminds the heroes that “the price of failure in the League of Assassins is death!”

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It is then that the “mystery” of Aquaman’s identity is solved in another pair of Adams-penned pages, as the Sea King and the Dark Detective discuss the case.  It turns out that Deadman took over the Marine Marvel’s body because the being he serves, Rama Kushna, warned him of an attempt to kill a Justice Leaguer which would upset the balance of the world.  He didn’t know who the target was, and the Sea Sleuth was just the first hero to hand, effectively.  That’s why he ran himself out of gas (or water, as the case may be), and made various other mistakes.  All of this was in revenge for Batman interfering with the Sensei’s attack on Nanda Parbat back in Brave and the Bold #86, apparently, which I must have read but have forgotten.

Of course, this would be a lot more impressive if we didn’t know Deadman was possessing Aquaman from the cover (even if I did get swept up in the story enough to forget!).  Yet, the tale doesn’t end there.  It ends with a return to the JLA Satellite, where something is wrong with the teleporter, something that we won’t discover until next issue!  Meanwhile, the Sensei has learned his lesson, and the next time he strikes, he shall isolate and destroy his enemy!

Well, the non-reveal aside, I really enjoyed this issue, despite some trademark overwriting and generally deplorable dialog from Friedrich.  It’s a lot of fun, and it is really great to see the universe-building happening in other books filter into the flagship title like this.  How interesting must it have been to be reading the Bat-books and JLA, and to see these characters and concepts jump from one title to another?  Of course, this makes perfect sense, but it isn’t the kind of thing that you see that much in DC from earlier eras.  I imagine it will become more common as we get further into the Bronze Age.

In addition, the story is pretty solidly plotted, with events having a decent logic to them, with characters acting with clear motivations.  As I was reading, several story beats seemed off to me, only to be revealed to work perfectly in Friedrich’s plot, which was a pleasant surprise.  On another note, the removal of Kryptonite seems to already be paying story dividends, as it has forced Friedrich to come up with a clever way of taking the Man of Tomorrow out of the fight, rather than relying on the formerly ubiquitous mineral.  One of the only real downsides to this tale is that Aquaman doesn’t actually get anything to do, which seems like a real waste when he features so prominently in the comic, especially since he isn’t actually Aquaman.

The art is solid throughout, though evincing the standard weaknesses I’ve come to associate with Dillin’s JLA work, though the interpolated Adams pages are beautiful.  They are also a bit distracting, as the clash of styles is very noticeable.  Nonetheless, this is a fun, interesting issue, with some fascinating world building happening that still manages to include a solid adventure.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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New Gods #5


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“Spawn!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Mike Royer
Letterer: Mike Royer
Editor: Jack Kirby

“Introducing Fastbak”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We finally return to the centerpiece of Kirby’s Fourth World epic, and it is a definite improvement over the somewhat understated and disappointing last issue, as the operatic action that suits this book best is back in spades.  Our dramatic tale lies beneath a solid, if flawed cover.  It’s got a nice, dynamic image in the central brawling characters, though their poses are a bit odd.  Yet, their size rather downplays the significance of the massive monster symbolically squeezed into the corner.  The orange background doesn’t really help either, especially with Orion’s red costume.  Kirby just isn’t producing his best covers for this run, which is a real shame, as the stories really beg for ‘kapow’ images.

This particular issue begins with Metron, who is traveling through dimensions once more.  This time his wanderings take him to one of the most memorable and dramatic settings from Kirby’s Fourth World, the Promethean Galaxy, the last barrier of the Source, where float for all eternity the Promethean Giants who give the place its name.  Kirby gives us an amazing, dramatic two-page splash, depicting the size and scope of this strange sight as only the King could.  It’s a really striking image.  We discover that these giants were beings who tried to force their way to the source, and in return for their hubris, they are bound forever in suspended animation, just short of their goal.  I love this concept, wonderfully archetypal, reflecting all of the myths of giants and titans, who have traditionally been associated with the sin of pride and destroyed by the deities they opposed.  What a wonderfully Kirby-cosmic treatment of the theme.

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Star-sized super-beings aside, once his contemplation is finished, Metron returns to New Genesis, but our story is much more concerned with a humbler sphere, the Earth, where a detective named Terrible Turpin is interrogating Dave Lincoln after the events of the last issue.  Turpin has discovered the war between gods that is brewing in his city, and he’s determined to put a stop to it, before the place is leveled in the process.  When Lincoln returns to Orion’s human allies, we check in with them, but the Useless Crew continues to contribute little to the plot, other than some exposition and general fretting.

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Fortunately, we don’t waste too much time with them, and we soon rejoin Orion, who was captured by the Deep Six last issue.  He’s pinned by a giant clam, where he is taunted by Slig, who also demonstrates the Six’s sinister powers, the ability to mutate living beings with just a touch from his right hand, and to kill instantly with his left!  Fortunately for the Dog of War, he is able to free himself with a hidden device after his captor has finished his gloating, though he discovers that the clam is more than meets the eye.

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What follows is a cool sequence as Orion battles his way through various mutated menaces, who all have wonderfully cool Kirby designs (the man just constantly produced awesome creations, even for these little creatures which we’ll never see again!).  Finally, the hunted hero discovers a massive, battleship sized cradle, which once held some gargantuan beast created by the Six, but now lies ominously empty.

 

Back in the city, Turpin continues his investigation and the Useless Crew continue their fretting, but they are all interrupted by the coming of….Kalibak!  Darkseid’s scion arrives with a smash, prepared to spread fear and devastation on Earth!  However, Orion is busy elsewhere, so the Cruel one will have to keep for the moment.  Back in the undersea caverns, Slig finally finds his quarry amid a pile of smashed guards.  Unfortunately for him, the warrior has also found something, his Astro-Harness, and he blasts his foe in the face before proceeding to pummel him pitilessly.

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It’s another great sequence, and Kirby shows us the savage joy Orion takes in the terrible thrashing he administers, as well as showing us Slig’s beaten face.  The King actually manages to make this malicious monster a little pitiful in that moment.  Interestingly, Orion’s brutal visage is revealed by the violence of his attack, and he is forced to have Mother Box replace his fallen features, another hint about his origins.  Finally, the Dog of War disposes of his fallen foe by tossing him into a pit and sets out in search of the monster the Six have unleashed.  We get a glimpse of the beast in a nice splash page, but lacking anything to establish its scale, it’s not as effective as it might be.

 

So this is a great, action-packed issue, setting up a lot of what’s to come with Terrible Turpin and Kalibak’s chaotic arrival, as well as the monster unleashed on the seas.  There is a lot going on here, and Kirby handles it quite well.  While the time spent with Orion’s supporting cast feels wasted, every moment with the warrior’s quest is exciting and dramatic, and the glimpses of the wider mythology with Metron are fascinating.  The whole thing feels operatic and earth-shaking in the best ways, like a particularly good issue of the classic Fantastic Four, but elevated by the cosmic overtones and archetypal underpinnings of the Fourth World.

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It’s also fun to see Detective Dan Turpin introduced, as he will later be recast as a tribute to Kirby himself in Superman: TAS, where his bulldog attitude and heroic perseverance make him a fitting match for his creator.  On the art front, this issue looks quite good, and it is immediately noticeable that Colletta is gone from the book.  Mike Royer’s inks aren’t perfect, but they seem to pick up more detail and generally drown out Kirby’s pencils less.  At least so it seems to my inexpert eye.  As I said, I love the creativity of the Deep Six’s monster minions.  Why no-one has brought the Six back as recurring Aquaman villains, complete with a Kirby-esq monstrous menagerie of mutants is quite beyond me.  Missed opportunities aside, I’ll give this exciting adventure 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Introducing Fastbak”


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We get another brief Young Gods backup strip in this issue, this one featuring Fastbak, a free-spirited New Genesis youth with a need for speed.  Once again, there are only four pages to the strip, so there isn’t really time for Kirby to do much with the character, but we see him lead the New Genesis equivalent of cops, the Monitors (no, not those Monitors) a merry chase as he flies around Supertown at reckless speed.

The aptly named Fastbak is joined by more restless young gods, and when he finally comes to Earth, he is given a quick wardrobe change by his friends just in time to sing before Highfather.  It turns out that our rebellious friend has the voice of an angel when he’s not busy raising Cain. This was a fun little strip, full of exuberance, energy, and the boundless enthusiasm of youth.  With Fastbak and his fellows, Kirby immediately humanizes the New Gods by showing us a fitting parallel to our own youthful foolishness even in their hallowed halls, yet this youthfulness is presented in an inimitable Fourth World fashion.  Of course, the King also gives us more great designs both in characters and wild Kirby-tech.  I’ve decided I’m not going to rate these backups, as they are really too brief to be judged as full stories.


Well, I will close out this post with Fastbak’s flying feats and bid you all a fond farewell until next time!  I hope you enjoyed my coverage of these exciting adventures and that you will join me again soon, for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

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!