Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome back to my feature delving into DC Comics in the Bronze Age!  ‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,’ as the saying goes, and a long and exhausting but wonderfully adventure-filled trip to Yosemite, King’s Canyon, and Sequoia national parks put my plans for regular updates on hold for a time.  Lady Grey and I took Faber’s advice, of Fahrenheit 451 fame, to heart and “stuffed [our] eyes with wonder.”   We’re home now, and I’m back once more on my Bronze Age quest!

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


This month in history:

  • US/Canada ISIS 2 launched to study atmosphere
  • Classic sci-fi/fantasy soap opera Dark Shadows concludes its run
  • Fran Phipps is 1st woman to reach North Pole
  • Mt. Etna erupts in Sicily
  • US Lt William Calley sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering 22 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre
  • In Sri Lanka, insurrection launched against the United Front government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
  • US President Richard Nixon orders Lt. Calley freed
  • The Republican commemorations is held in Belfast of the Easter Rising (in 1916 in Dublin), revealing conflicts between the two wings of the Irish Republican Army
  • President Nixon ends blockade against People’s Republic of China
  • Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Follies” premieres in NYC
  • Supreme Court upheld busing as means of achieving racial desegregation
  • People’s Republic of Bangladesh forms, under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
  • Charles Manson sentenced to life (Sharon Tate murder)
  • Soyuz 10 launched; cosmonauts become 1st in Salyut 1 space station
  • Columbia University operations virtually ended by student strike
  • About 200,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters march on Washington, D.C.
  • USSR performs nuclear test at Eastern Kazakh/Semipalitinsk USSR
  • Turkey state of siege proclaimed
  • US performs nuclear test at Nevada Test Site
  • Significant Films: Billy Jack, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and Big Jake

I quite liked the show Dark Shadows when I was a kid, and as with many of the pop-culture artifacts with which I was closely attached, that attraction probably has as much to do with the dearth of options as with the inherent quality of the program.  There simply was nothing else like that around, so even though it is pretty hokey by today’s standards, I ate it up as a kid because it was a source of the fantastic which was quite rare in live action in those days.

On more serious fronts, we can see tensions surrounding Vietnam continuing to escalate, and the rival marches that once illustrated the division in the culture have been replaced by one large anti-war march.  There are still plenty of divisions, but I’d say that is an interesting insight into how things have changed in just a year, as are the politics and media circus surrounding Lt. Calley.  The world of 1971 is a pretty grim one in many ways, and we can certainly sympathize with that here in 2017, so let’s try to find some color and some joy!

Fittingly, the top of the charts this month was occupied by Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” a great rock song and one that is just plain fun, nonsensical lyrics and all.


Roll Call


(You can see everything cover-dated this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Action Comics #399


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“Superman, You’re Dead… Dead… Dead”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“Superbaby’s Lost World”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Well, we’ve got two Dorfman-penned tales in this month’s book, and they’re about what I’ve come to expect from him, ranging from mediocre to goofy.  The first is actually mostly inoffensive, but the second is just too silly for me.  Whatever the contents, we’ve got another nice looking Neal Adams cover, and it sets up the central mystery, such as it is, for the headline tale.  It’s a bizarre enough image to capture a reader’s interest.  One does want to know what is going on.

Within, the story in question centers around a disaster in the making, as Superman is summoned from his ‘rolling news room’ which we saw introduced a few issues ago, to stop a run-away experimental generator before “the chain reaction ignites the atmosphere and turns Earth into a ball of flame.”  No pressure.  Did you know, that was actually one of the outcomes scientists thought possible when they tested the first atomic bomb?  And they still tested it.  Maybe comics aren’t all that far-fetched after all.

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You know, I wonder, do scientists in the DC Universe ever work on projects that don’t have the potential to destroy life as we know it?  Oversight committees must reject any new study that doesn’t endanger the entire planet as a matter of course.  This particular disaster-waiting-to-happen is a new experimental solar generator that is going critical.  Just as the Metropolis Marvel attempts to stop it by…flying directly into it for some reason, he feels himself pulled…somewhere!

The Man of Steel finds himself in a strange cage with three other familiar figures.  They announce that they are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Lt. General George Custer.  (One of these things is not like the others.)  Escaping from the cell, the Man of Tomorrow discovers that each of these ‘heroes’ has been pulled from the past by an experimental time machine for, of all things, a history class!

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Now, sure, unquestionably, George Washington deserves to be on that list.  The only reason the U.S. is a democracy (at least for a while longer) is that he was a good enough man to refuse to be made a king, and few men would set aside power once taken up.  Lincoln, for all of his culpability in the beginning of the Civil War, deserves the spot for freeing the slaves, even if it was largely a symbolic gesture when first made.  That’s still an incredibly important moment in our national development.  But Custer?  Really?  Not, I don’t know, F.D.R., or Teddy Roosevelt, or just about anyone else?  George, ‘I-led-my-men-to-their-deaths-while-attempting-genocide’ Custer?  Well, I suppose perception of him hadn’t quite gotten past the simplicities of the ‘cowboys and Indians’ portrays of the previous half century.

Anyway, on with the story.  The scientist running the experiment explains to the Action Ace that he is “the last might Superman of [his] era,” which makes no sense.  Demanding answers, the Man of Steel is shown a memory tape that displays his history, including memories supposedly wiped out by the process of being brought through time.  According to the tape, Superman was killed by an alien being, but human scientists cloned him (though they don’t call it that), because the world can’t get along without a Superman.

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The new Man of Tomorrow didn’t remember his death, and he also died some time later of an alien disease.  The scientists recreated him again, knowing it would be for the last time.  To further prove their story, the future scholar takes the shocked hero to a crypt and shows him the remains of the previous two iterations of ‘Superman’ and gives him a medal posthumously awarded to his past self.

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Stunned, Superman asks how he will die, and he’s told that he’s killed trying to shut down an experimental energy source.  That certainly sounds familiar, right?  Well, during the explanation, the shell-shocked Kryptonian hears a broadcast about an archeological expedition trapped by a cave-in in Greenland and, without a thought, rushes off to help.  He rescues them, but when that feat is finished, the head scientist tells his time-tossed guest that he must return to the past.  At first Superman refuses, asking why he should return just to die, but when the panicked egg-head tells his wayward visitor that, unless history plays out the way it should, time itself will unravel and destroy the universe (see, everything they make can destroy reality!), the true Man of Tomorrow valiantly heads back to meet his fate.

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Yet, back in the past, he successfully flies the haywire generator out into space and survives the experience.  Confused, he ponders his medallion, only to discover that it contains an element not present on Earth.  Superman deduces that he was accidentally pulled into an alternate dimension’s future, and remembers clues in the scientist’s descriptions of the other historical figures, who were all described differently than in real life.

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This is a solid enough story.  It’s got an interesting and curious twist, and it’s good to see the selflessness of the Man of Steel, which is also nicely tempered by a reasonable desire to stay alive if he doesn’t have to die.  Yet, when faced with the necessity, he willingly sets out to make the ultimate sacrifice.  It’s curious to note that the idea of cloning a replacement for Superman was presented way back here in 1971.  The idea would, of course, famously return in future stories.  There’s nothing particularly exciting here, but it’s an entertaining enough read.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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“Superbaby’s Lost World”


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The second story, however, is not quite so easy to enjoy, despite having some honestly funny moments.  Unfortunately, it’s a ‘Superbaby’ tale, which is from the start a concept not terribly likely to win my undying affection, and this particular outing is pretty painful in some ways.  I haven’t read enough of these to know if such features are established conventions of the conceit, but if so, heaven spare me from more Superbaby stories!  The yarn involves the Kents taking their otherworldly infant to an amusement park, and from the very beginning this tale rubs me the wrong way.  Apparently, despite being fairly desperate for their son to keep a low profile and not reveal his powers, the Kents just let little Clark run around with a bright red and blue outfit, complete with a freaking cape!  Okay, I can deal with the adventures of Super-tot, but could we get just a trace of logical consistency for the concept?  No?  That’s too much to ask?  *sigh*

The actual plot has the potential to be rather charming, but the trappings surrounding it are just plain maddening.  You’ve got the Kents trying to keep Clark under wraps while the little super-psychopath destroys attractions left and right in the park with his super strength and poor impulse control.  When the nosy child discovers a pair of jewel thieves hiding their ill-gotten gains in a garbage can, the kid rips the receptacle open to return their basket to them, thinking they’ve lost it.  The image of the two-foot tall super-tot, cape flapping in the breeze, is just too goofy for me.

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This begins a series of mis-adventures, as the kid lost sight of his parents in the interim and the jewel thieves decide to bring him along as cover and to prevent him making a scene.  There is a fun idea here, but the ridiculous visual, combined with Dorfman’s device of having kiddie-Clark speak in a weird 3rd person pidgin that I’m fairly certain no child has ever used in the history of the world, make the result rather grating.  The plot, such as it is, continues with the crooks taking the kid on a boat ride, where he reveals his powers, ripping an animatronic animal out of the ground, and then flying the couple out of the river when their boat swamps.

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Then follows a comedy of errors as the Super-simpleton tries to fix each of his mistakes, which leads to more mistakes.  He tries to dry the couple’s clothes out on a fake volcano, only for them to be chocked by smoke, which he blows away, knocking them off of a cliff!  When they are discovered by the cops, the glibly named ‘Connie and Hyde’ (get it?) practically throw themselves into the arms of the boys in blue, begging them to save them from the psychotic super-tot.  Of course, the police don’t believe their stories, and the Kents finally find Clark, destroying yet more of the park’s exhibits.  One has to imagine the little wrecking-machine put the poor place out of business with the untold amount of damage he inflicted on it.

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The idea of Superbaby unwittingly foiling the crooks is actually a rather promising one, but while the story has its moments, kiddie-Clark’s ‘me do such and such’ routine, combined with the ridiculous little cape just prove too much for me and drag this book down to the absurd.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.  At least this one wasn’t as bad as the last super-baby we encountered!

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Adventure Comics #405


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“Starfire’s Revenge!”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

Here we have the conclusion of the Starfire saga begun several issues back.  Starfire has proven an interesting antagonist for the girl from Krypton, and Sekowsky’s continuing story has been entertaining for the most part, though it stands out more for its creativity and willingness to depart from the status quo than for its quality.  With this issue, it ends strong, and Sekowsky delivers an exciting adventure full of intrigue and peril.  The cover is effective if not particularly dynamic, and it hints at the central complication of the yarn.  It certainly does the job of intriguing prospective readers, which is half the battle.

adventure 405-02 - CopyThe tale picks up where the previous outing of the story left off, with Supergirl desperate to track down Starfire and her scientific flunky in order to find a cure for her fluctuating powers.  She is on the verge of despair until her powers return, allowing her to use her super senses to detect her quarry…by just looking around from her apartment.  Okay, that’s a bit silly, even for a super character in this era.  She just uses telescopic and x-ray vision to scan, presumably miles and miles around her, all without moving from home.  That makes things a bit too simple, but Sekowsky is apparently in a hurry to get into his plot.

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The Maid of Might discovers the villains aboard a plane bound for Paris, but before she can pursue them, her powers fade out once more.  Starfire, for her part, is busy with plans of her own, and she directs the professor to create a stronger dose of their anti-power drug.  She also contacts a man with a familiar face.  The lethal Lothario from the first issue, Derek, apparently has a twin brother named Rodney, and she spins him a twisted version of his brother’s death to turn him against Supergirl.  Claiming that the Girl of Steel killed his twin, Starfire recruits Rodney for help with her plan, which will involve him dosing the heroine with the new drug when her powers are at ebb.

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We get a fun scene as the Maid of Might has to find a way across the Atlantic despite her unreliable powers, eventually hitching a ride on a passing jetliner and feeling rather embarrassed about it.  Awaiting her in the City of Lights, Starfire has other plans in motion.  She informs her gang about their next job, which involves the murder of a major designer, the theft of his fall line, and the destruction of his salon.

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adventure 405-13In a very convenient turn of events, Supergirl just happens to hear a broadcast of the designer’s fashion show which is interrupted by the thieves, despite the fact that she’s just hanging out in the woods waiting for her powers to return.  There had to be an easier and less ridiculous way to bring those plots together!  Nonetheless, the Maid of Might rushes to the salon, and her powers return just in time to let her tackle the gang.  Yet, Rodney’s sudden attack and his resemblance to the deceased Derek distract her long enough for her nemesis to escape.  The Maid of Might becomes a mediocre maiden once more, and she plays a dangerous game with the berserk brother as the building burns, finally getting close enough to knock him out.

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She takes her captive to safety, then strives to convince him that she didn’t kill his brother, no easy task.  Finally, she hits upon a plan to capture Starfire and prove her innocence at the same time.  After realizing that Supergirl is willing to risk her life in this gambit, Rodney relents, and that night, he shows up at the villain’s headquarters, carrying the heroine’s apparently helpless form.  Starfire is pleased, but while preparing to dispose of her Kryptonian prisoner, she decides to tie up loose ends with Rodney as well and reveals the truth.  The pair find themselves menaced by a gorilla of all things (how did he not end up on the cover?), but fortunately Supergirl is up to the challenge and puts the beast to sleep.

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Pictured: A glimpse of why comics are awesome.

The escaped Maid of Might crashes a fashion show of the stolen styles and chases Starfire down.  Her powers fail her once more, allowing the villainess to lock herself behind a heavy door, but when Supergirl smashes through using her exo-skeleton (no longer confusingly called a “cyborg”), the door strikes the cyclopean psycho and sends her crashing through a window to her death below.  That’s right, Supergirl just committed a touch of manslaugher.  It is clearly an accident, but what an accident!  The tale ends with the gang captured, the antidote secured, and the villain quite dead.  I guess that explains why she never returned!

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You just took a human life…oh well!

This is a surprisingly good issue.  The last two chapters have been fairly mediocre, despite their promising premises and the still rare departures from the status quo and ongoing elements.  This comic, however, had an exciting, engaging plot, and Sekwosky made good use of his fluctuating power deus ex machina to deliver some reasonably exciting action sequences.  Perhaps most importantly, the art in this issue is significantly better than the last two portions of the tale.  Sekowsky simply turned out a better looking comic this month.  There’s a certain creativity in his layouts and design work that makes the book visually interesting, and while some of his figures are still awkward, there are no glaring problems this time.  There are a few downright lovely panels scattered throughout these pages, and on the whole, Sekowsky seems to be putting more polish into his work, or perhaps the diligent Dick Giordano made the difference.  The biggest flaw in this issue is the fact that Supergirl takes a life, however unwittingly, and the consequences of this act are given a grand total of one panel of development.  If you’re not going to give a moment like that the treatment it deserves, you shouldn’t employ it in the first place.  So, all told, this is a fun but flawed issue, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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And that wraps up the first post of April 1971.  Next up we have a very bittersweet subject, as we’ll be covering the very last issue of the original Aquaman comic.  I’ll also have something of a surprise for y’all, a special feature.  So, be sure not to miss it!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 1)

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Hello Internet travelers!  Sit down and rest a spell, and let me do the traveling for you.  You just kick back and relax while I delve deep in the 1970s in search of the elusive character of the Bronze Age!  That’s what this feature is all about, and this post begins my coverage of another month of DC Comics.  We’ve got a really exciting slate of books in this batch, including two, count them, two, new titles by Jack Kirby that expand his ground-breaking Fourth World series.

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

This month in history:

  • Bomb attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
  • Winnie Mandela sentenced to 1 year in jail in South Africa
  • “City Command” kidnaps 4 US military men at Ankara, Turkey
  • Egypt refuses to renew the Suez cease fire
  • Joe Fraizer beats Muhammad Ali and retains the heavyweight title
  • Gun battle between official and provisional IRA leaves one dead
  • Hafeez al-Assad elected President of Syria
  • Several British soldiers killed by the IRA
  • South Vietnamese troops flee Laos
  • Chatrooms make their debut on ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet
  • Irish PM resigns in protest over limited British response in Ireland
  • Thousands march in Britain demanding interment for IRA members
  • USSR performs nuclear test at Eastern Kazakh/Semipalitinsk USSR
  • Bangladesh (East Pakistan) declares its independence
  • George Lucas makes his directorial debut with THX 1138, based on his student film
  • The Andromeda Strain released

It’s certainly a full month, with a great deal going on.  Conditions continue to deteriorate in Ireland.  I’m feeling repetitive typing that month after month, but it’s going to be a recurring theme for quite some time.  The Vietnam war also continues, and it will roll on for a few more years yet, but I imagine that the tide of public opinion has begun to turn by this point.  I was very surprised to see that chatrooms made their appearance this early.  I knew that ARPANET was in development in the 70s, but it’s mind-blowing that the forerunner to the Internet was that far along as early as 1971.  We also have the first appearance of a man who would come to define a significant portion of the 70s with his cinematographic vision, George Lucas.  At this point, he was just a promising young filmmaker with no real hints of what was to come.  I used to really admire Lucas as an artist, but last few decades cured me of that.  You still can’t help but marvel at what he achieved in the original Star Wars movies, but I suppose that’s quite a ways away.

At the top of the charts this month is an amazing song, one of Lady Grey’s all-time favorites, Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.”  It feels like it belongs to a slightly earlier day, but darn if it isn’t a great song, melancholy and beautiful.


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.


Action Comics #398


Action_Comics_398“The Pied-Piper of Steel”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“Spawn of the Unknown”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got an unusually mediocre cover by Neal Adams and an equally uninspiring headline story within.  Though the actual plot isn’t exactly electrifying, there’s some fun reflections of the zeitgeist in Dofrman’s setup for this tale.

It’s all about the music, man!  Well, actually, it begins with a plunging globe, as the new owner of the Daily Planet, Galaxy Broadcasting, replaces the iconic globe with an antenna, because corporations have no souls.  The cable breaks, and the globe plunges towards the crowd below.  Fortunately, Superman is on hand, but unfortunately, apparently he’s also super stupid, as he rescues the two workmen on the landmark but leaves it to continue its fall.  He realizes his mistake and uses his ‘super aim’ (come on Dorfman) to harpoon the thing with a pole instead of catching it.

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After that daringly dim rescue, the Metropolis Wonder switches back to Clark Kent and meets with Morgan Edge.  The callous CEO declares that print is dead (thanks Egon!), and that he’s going to make Kent a roving TV reporter…so, basically repeating the setup we’ve already seen elsewhere.  It’s quite fascinating to see that the conversation about the future of news media and the survivability of print papers has been an issue since way back in the early 1970s.  As we seem to be living in the actual death of print publications here in the Internet Age several decades later, those predictions are rather entertaining.  Anyway, he gives Mr. Mild Mannered a ‘rolling newsroom,’ a fancy newsvan with it’s own transmitting equipment and sends him to cover a big music festival.

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In a reflection of outdoor music festivals of the era following in the footsteps of Woodstock, a former science professor named Cy Horkin has taken to organizing concerts across the country.  The band list is rather funny, feeling more like artists from the early 60s, including ‘The Ding-a-Lings’, ‘the Soda Pops’, ‘Porky and the Hamlets’, and ‘the Astronauts’, an entertaining line-up.  At the festival, Clark isn’t allowed to record the music because of licensing issues, but he records the concert itself.  Strangely, as ‘the Astronauts’ start playing a song about ‘digging that rock,’ the crowd goes wild and starts mindlessly digging into the hillside behind them, threatening to collapse the house above.

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Superman leaps into action, picking the entire house up, and almost certainly doing more damage than the kids would have in the process, but then the crowd snaps out of it, confused by their compulsion to dig.  Clark interviews Horkin, but he gets no real answers, and apparently he doesn’t bother to look into the matter any further.  Really?  How often has the Man of Steel seen mind control?  You’d think he might find this just a tad suspicious.

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At any rate, Morgan Edge is very pleased with the ratings for this story, so he sends Kent to cover the next concert.  At that venue, when a comedy act called the ‘Bucket Heads’ who, you guessed it, wear buckets on their heads, sing about drinking up sunshine, the audience starts to drink everything in sight.  This could easily have turned ugly, but Superman intervenes by opening up underground springs until the effects wear off.  There’s a decided Woodstock vibe in the art of this scene, which is interesting.  Following the show, Clark is again placated by a very unhelpful interview with Horkin, but we discover that the promoter is behind all of this chaos, as he’s invented an ‘Electronic Brain,’ which, for some reason, is in a humanoid-shaped head, and which psychically compels people to follow the directions of the song lyrics they hear.

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Meanwhile, the Man of Steel tries to analyze the music from the concerts, but when his tape bursts into flames, he just assumes his tape recorder must have malfunctioned.  Sure, that’s perfectly normal.  Instead, he takes a Kryptonian tape recorder (it’s hilarious that it’s also a tape recorder, not just a hi-tech recording device) with him to the next venue.

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At the final show at Horkin’s old college, there is a group called ‘Satan’s Angels’ playing.  Get it?  When they sing “Break it up!  Tear it down!  Wipe it out!” the crowd complies, and they begin wrecking the campus!  This is all part of Horkin’s plan.  He left the school in disgrace when he wasn’t chosen as president and designed his device to get revenge.  Superman shows up to thwart him, but strangely, the Man of Tomorrow begins to join in with the anarchy!  He smashes a building, but shortly he leads the crowd back towards the stage, and while they tear the venue apart, the hero nabs Horkin and smashes the brain.

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The Metropolis Marvel explains that he was immune to the mind control because of his, *sigh* ‘super brain’, but when he listened to the Kryptonian tape recorder, he was brainwashed like everyone else.  Because that makes sense.  While smashing the building, a falling beam knocked the headset off, and he came back to his senses in time to capture the villainous Horkin.  Notably, the crowd wants revenge and threatens to mob Horkin, but Superman insists on handing him over the proper authorities.  In jail, the perfidious professor rails as the authorities pipe rock music over the loud-speakers in an ironic little ending.

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This is a decent enough story, though the structure feels a bit Silver Age-ish.  The focus on violence and mob-mentalities at music festivals are an intriguing reflection of the zeitgeist, coming a little over a year and change after the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, which for many, marks the unofficial end of the 60s counter-cultural movement.  Infamously, the Hell’s Angels were involved in a violent riot that caused one death and revealed a brutal and ugly spirit at the event.  With this story we have another fantastical attempt to contextualize and grapple with current events, like last month’s brain-controlled students in Teen Titans.

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Probably the most interesting thing about this yarn is the idea that the music itself is not responsible for what the concert-goers are doing, which is a curious response to these events.  It seems as if Dorfman wants to emphasize to his readers that there can still be value in the art of the counter-culture, even if its ideals have been revealed as hollow.  That being said, I’m probably giving this tale more attention than its author did.  Whatever cultural commentary Dorfman employed, he definitely didn’t portray the Man of Steel in the best light.  The hero seems a bit dim throughout, and I really hate the whole ‘super brain’ concept.  One of the great weaknesses Superman has is the fact that he’s just as susceptible to mind-control as other mere mortals, though I know that wasn’t always the case in the Silver Age.  I suppose I’ll give this story with its goofy elements 2.5 Minutemen.

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“Spawn of the Unknown”


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This title sounds like the headline of an old Shadow story or the like, very ominous and foreboding!  The story to which it relates, on the other hand, isn’t quite so atmospheric.  It’s also a bit of cheat, as the Fortress of Solitude features in this tale only tangentially.  It begins with Superman’s arrival at a volcanic crater, presumably someplace in Africa.  A game keeper named Ituru tells the Man of Steel that he must not touch the ground because the area is infected with a plague that turns living creatures into plants, and he claims it can even affect the Kryptonian!  The game keeper fills the hero in, telling the story of a Prof. Bruno, a botanist who set up a lab in that crater and began doing super-sciencey experiments with the local flora.  He created all kinds of strange mutant plants, and after being warned that he was ‘tampering in God’s domain,’ his lab exploded, releasing strange spores that seem to have mutated the animal life in the area into plants.

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The Man of Tomorrow isn’t worried until Ituru leads him to a grisly sight nearby, where a twisted tree grows from the ground, a miserable mockery of Supergirl!  The plant-being can’t speak, but Superman swears to help her.  He gets an emergency call, leading him to Egypt to prevent a tomb robbery in the Valley of the Kings, where he decides to scare the thieves rather than capture them.  I’ve got to say, I think there may be a question of priorities here, Supes.

Nonetheless, the scene is fairly entertaining, even if a bit Scooby-Doo-silly.  The tomb-raiders (nope, not him) are hauling out their ill-gotten gains, when suddenly, a statue of Anubis, the god of the dead, speaks to them in tones of grim portent!  Superman is, of course, inside the statue, and he uses his x-ray vision to make them all see-through, because that’s how x-rays work.  Sure, Superman’s x-ray vision is pure comic book science, but this is inconsistent even for the comic portrayal of the ability!  Well, regardless of how absurd the gimmick is, the thieves find it pretty compelling, and they hightail it out of there.  The Man of Steel reasons that, if he had arrested them, there would just be more back tomorrow, but this way, they’ll spread the word and fear will do what the law couldn’t, which is actually relatively clever.

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Back at the crater, the Metropolis Marvel tries to uproot Supertree, but it begins to grow around him!  He rips its ‘arms’ off as he frees himself, and just as he’s lamenting how he’s crippled her for life, a hale and completely not plant-like Supergirl arrives!  She explains that the seeds scattered all over are actually just an experiment of the professors that grow to mimic nearby lifeforms as a type of camouflage.  One had grown to mimic her, and since he was there last, another has grown to mimic the Man of Steel himself!

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Superman is supremely relieved, and the super-pair transplant the entire crater to a remote world in case the plants should prove dangerous.  Apparently, their code against killing applies to “any kind of life”  Who knew they were Super-vegans?  I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard that before, and it seems both intensely stupid and obviously regularly broken.  How often does Superman heat-vision through a giant plant or smash an alien monster?  Anyway, the story ends with the super-pair admiring the hideous new plants that grace the Fortress of Solitude.

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This is an okay story, but that’s as much as you can say about it.  Swan’s art is great, as usual, and his inventive work with the plant-creatures and the x-ray skeletons are really the highlights of the yarn.  The central problem doesn’t really last long enough to have much impact, and the resolutions to both the minor and major complications are a bit on the silly side, but it’s still a reasonably enjoyable read.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it’s just so-so.

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Adventure Comics #404


Adventure_Comics_404“Super-girl?”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

This comic picks directly up from the off-beat comic of two issues ago, and it certainly offers us another unusual story.  I’m very curious to see how long Sekowsky will continue this arc, especially given its complete departure from the usually sacred status quo.

This one begins as Supergirl awakens from her impromptu nap, courtesy of the thugs with the machine guns who ambushed her, and she discovers that she’s bleeding!  How could this be?  How could an invulnerable woman bleed?  Well, she realizes that her almost-beau, Derek, poisoned her somehow, but apparently he didn’t do too thorough of a job.  Her powers begin to come back, but they fade in and out.

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In search of answers, she heads to the Fortress of Solitude and visits the Bottle City of Kandor in the hopes that their tiny but advanced minds can help her.  Despite a battery of super-science-y tests, the Kandorian braintrust is stumped.  Since they can’t restore the Maid of Might’s powers, they give her a hi-tech exoskeleton (for some reason called an ‘exoskeleton cyborg,’ despite the fact that it is neither robot nor living creature and therefore not a cyborg) that can grant her super strength, as well as rocket boots to let her fly.  These gadgets should let her continue adventuring until they can figure out how to restore her powers permanently.

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Meanwhile, Starfire, the nefarious femme fatale from our first issue, is pursuing her plans for a female dominated planet.  Derek has arrived for his payoff, but when the villainous vamp suspects that her Lothario for hire might talk and thereby endanger her schemes, she has him killed!  On panel!  It’s a surprising move, and it establishes how ruthless Starfire is rather nicely.  It’s also surprising to see the villain actually flat-out kill someone in a comic of this era, but I imagine no-one weeps for Derek!

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Afterward, the would-be queen investigates her Amazonians in training, her female followers, and plots her first moves now that Supergirl is believed dead.  She and her all-girl band are going to a town near the Maid of Might’s college, Carvale, where they plan on robbing the place blind during its Mardi Gras festival.  Now, for many of you Yankees from the uncivilized reaches of our fair country, that might not mean much, but where I’m from, Mardi Gras is a massive celebration with parades and parties galore.  We get out of school, people take off work, and it’s quite something to see.

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Starfire and her gang blend in by wearing costumes and begin a criminal campaign, robbing party-goers and heisting banks.  Meanwhile, in nearby Stanhope, Linda Danvers reads about the crime wave and heads to town as Supergirl, staking out the last bank to be hit and confronting the thieves.  Her superpowers short out at just the wrong time, of course, to provide us with the requisite dramatic tension.  Fortunately, the Maid of Steel still has her exoskeleton, and she flips the getaway car and piles into the fleeing femmes.  Her luck runs out, though, as one of the larcenous ladies lands a lucky blow and knocks the powerless heroine out.

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The gang bring Supergirl to Starfire, who plans to kill her herself, but first she enjoys herself by beating on the helpless captive.  After smacking her around a bit, the psycho cyclops has her prisoner untied and then proceeds to prove her dominance with a further beating, knocking her out once more.  When the Maid of Might comes to, she discovers her powers have returned, and she immediately makes short work of the gang.  Yet, Starfire and her pet scientist escape, leaving the heroine without any answers about her condition.

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This is a pretty decent story.  The loss of powers, however silly the mechanism, creates some reasonably nice tension, though the on-again-off-again powers are a pretty blatant deus ex machina.  Starfire is certainly appropriately villainous here, but she doesn’t get quite enough time to develop much of a personality other than ‘vicious.’  Perhaps the next issue will flesh her out some more.  Unfortunately, while the plot of the story is enjoyable, the art continues to be awful.  Sekowsky gives us some fun designs of the various Mardi Gras costumes, but his figures are awkward and stiff, his proportions are all over the place, his panels mostly lack backgrounds, and his perspective is almost always wonky.  I’m not sure which is worse, this issue or the last one.  Nonetheless, the comic is a fun enough read that it makes up for the art, to a degree.  All told, I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, but only barely.

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And that does it for our first few books of March 1971.  We’re off to a reasonably good start, and I can’t wait to see what else this month holds for us.  Please join me again soon for another addition of Into the Bronze Age, and until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome internet travelers, to my first strides into the next year of DC’s Bronze Age comics, 1971!  We’re beginning a whole new year, a year that will bring us the expansion of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books to include all of their titles, and a year that will bring a number of changes to the DC Universe, starting with the Man of Steel himself.  We’ll tackle the landmark “Kryptonite Nevermore” story at the end of this set of posts.  I’ll be adding Superboy to my staple of books, as it will be gaining a Legion of Superheroes backup feature, which means that I’ll now be reading every superhero comic DC published other than Wonder Woman, and the Amazing Amazon is due to get added to my list when Denny O’Neil takes over the title in preparation for her return to her classic roots, in April of 1972.  We’ve got a while to wait for that one.  As for 1971, I can’t wait to see what this year of comics holds for us!  I hope you’ll join me as I continue my journey!

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

This month in history:

  • Cigarette ads banned on TV
  • Ohio agrees to pay $675,000 to relatives of Kent State victims
  • Globetrotters lose 100-99 to NJ Reds, ending 2,495-game win streak
  • Berkeley chemists announces 1st synthetic growth hormones
  • 29 pilot whales beach themselves & die at San Clemente Island, Calif
  • Irish Republican Army (IRA) carry out a ‘punishment attack’, tarring and feathering 4 men accused of criminal activities in Belfast
  • Congressional Black Caucus organizes
  • Rev Philip Berrigan & 5 others indicted for plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger
  • 2 bombs explode at UK Employment Secretary Robert Carr’s home
  • At a party conference in Dublin, Sinn Féin end their 65 year abstentionist
  • John Lennon and Yoko Ono record “Power to the People
  • Riots break out in the Shankill Road area of Belfast, North Ireland
  • Charles Manson and accomplices convicted for the Tate murders
  • Military coup in Uganda under major general Idi Amin
  • The 170 delegates of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) call for the resignation of Northern Ireland Prime Minister James Chichester-Clark
  • Apollo 14 launched, 1st landing in lunar highlands

Clearly 1971 did not bring calmer days with it, especially not in Ireland.  I was really surprised that TV ads for cigarettes were banned this early.  I thought for sure they continued into the 80s.  Unrest continues around the world, but in America, this month is more about aftermath than new events.  It does feature Apollo 14’s mission, which is pretty exciting.  There is the plot to kidnap Henry Kissinger by a gang of priests and nuns, though.  That’s pretty insane, and I’m more than a little surprised that I never heard about it.  Apparently, the group was never convicted, and there are rumors that this was a setup.  Perhaps Nixon asked someone to ‘rid him of this troublesome priest.’  Still, one wonders!

This month’s number 1, just barely, is George Harrison’s deceptively lovely “My Sweet Lord,” which the unobservant might not realize at first is actually a Hare Krishna song, not a Christian one.  Harrison had joined the slightly cult-y Hare Krishnas back in the 60s and this song was an expression of his new religion.


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

  • Action Comics #396
  • Adventure Comics #401
  • Batman #228 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and Bold #93
  • Detective Comics #407
  • G.I. Combat #145
  • Superboy #171
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135
  • Superman #232 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #233

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


Action Comics #396


action_comics_396“The Super-Panhandler of Metropolis!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Invaders from Nowhere!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Ohh, hooray, another gimmicky Superman story.  Yay?  This is not the most electrifying beginning for the new year.  Our headline tale, as you can gather from that cover, is another ‘Superman in an everyday situation’ yarn, which doesn’t have much appeal for me, and this one goes beyond the normal gimmickiness to also portray the Man of Steel himself rather badly.

It all begins in the far future decade of the 1990s.  What could such an inconceivably distant era hold for the Metropolis Marvel?  Well, nothing good, I’ll tell you that much.  The story opens with an episode of “Where Are they Now,” a TV show that tracks formerly famous individuals.  They catch up with James Olsen, now chief producer of WMET-TV, but instead of asking him about his own life, they ask a bunch of question about Superman, who disappeared years ago.  I bet that had to tick ‘ol Jimmy off.  Apparently, the Man of Steel just gradually faded from public view, and eventually no-one was able to contact him any longer.  We cut to the man himself, slumped and defeated, sitting in a wheelchair and panhandling on a street corner.  What could have brought him to this low state?  Well, we don’t get to find out this issue.

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Instead, we get a tour of the true city of tomorrow, Metropolis, circa the 1990s!  In this remote future, the citizens no longer need a Superman, as they have all kinds of nifty technological wonders , like anti-gravity beams, escape-proof capture cells in banks, and fire detectors in every streetlight, as well as helicopter fire engines.  Do you remember when they came out with those anti-gravity beams in the 90s?  What a time…

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Superman’s sad-sack inner monologue tells us that he has lost all of his powers except for his super vision and hearing, and this has apparently left him a complete wreck of a human being.  He thinks of himself only in terms of his abilities.  He also thinks of himself entirely as Superman, not Clark or even Kal-El.  Herein is one of the biggest problems with this story.  This mopey, defeated loser doesn’t have much in common with the Superman from last month’s World’s Finest, dragging himself through the dirt of an alien world to save the universe, despite the overwhelming odds against him.  Some of the best Superman stories are those in which he loses his powers and then goes on to demonstrate that it isn’t super strength, invulnerability, flight, or any of the rest that makes him a hero; it’s the indomitable spirit that animates him.  In fact, one of my favorite episodes of Justice League is “Hereafter,” where the Man of Tomorrow gets transported to a very distant tomorrow indeed where the sun is red.  He quietly, calmly, and heroically goes about doing what he can to survive and to find answers, despite the fact that he’s powerless.  It’s a wonderful examination of what makes him special, the unassuming greatness that isn’t about bullet-proof skin or laser eyes.

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Anyway, back to our story.  The crippled Superman, who is definitely not just Clark Kent, saves a young boy who stupidly runs into traffic, who repays him by insulting the man who saved his life.  Nice, kid.  A good Samaritan sees the deeds and gives the Super-bum five bucks, which he uses to buy some food, taking it home to an abandoned tenement building.  He’s apparently got a bunch of diseased folks living there with him, as we get a glimpse of ‘strangely mottled arms’ reaching out for the food.  That doesn’t get explained, this month, though.  Desperate to regain his lost glory, the former Man of Steel also does some experiments in an attempt to restore his powers.  All they do, however, is destroy his clothes, leaving him nothing to wear but his costume so that we can reach maximum gimmick.

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action-396-15-11So, the next day he goes out covered with a blanket and a shawl so people won’t see the costume, and while he’s out, he runs into Lois, now married with children, and what’s more, married to a dead-ringer for Clark Kent.  The girl’s got issues, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this, either.  Later, while begging in front of the Daily Planet building, Superman reaches for a dropped coin and reveals his costume.  The crowd notices and bombards him with questions.  The issue ends with him fleeing in his wheelchair, pursued by the quizzical crowd.

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Check out those groovy 1990s fashions!

This is a weird one, and it rubs me the wrong way to an extent.  There’s probably a good story to be told about Superman losing his powers; in fact, that story has been told several times, and told well, but this isn’t one of them.  The character examination that should be the fruit of such a storytelling endeavor is wasted here, with the bitter, broken former hero concerned only with his loss of power and glory.  It isn’t that we couldn’t handle a story about an embittered Man of Steel, it’s that this story gives us no real justification for his state, other than the loss of his powers.  Of course, there are also the logical problems with this story, as it is just strange that, with or without powers, Clark Kent would end up a beggar.

He’s a talented and intelligent guy.  Plus, you know Bruce would kick some money his way!  Heck, the Last Son of Krypton could just sell some of his homeworld’s technology and live in luxury the rest of his life.  Instead, he’s apparently just left the Fortress of Solitude sitting empty.  The sci-fi elements of the far-future 1990s are pretty hilarious in retrospect, but that isn’t anything to hold against this story.  There are some intriguing mysteries teased in the background of this tale, like the apparently diseased inhabitants of Super-bum’s tenement and the question of how he lost his powers, but they are not the focus of the plot.  I assume they’ll get developed next issue, but I can’t say I’m particularly excited about reading that tale.  I’ll give this one 2 Minutemen for its misuse of its central character.

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P.S.: Interestingly, the effects of “Kryptonite Nevermore” were already being felt when this book hit the stands, as it includes a one page update on the state of Superman and his setting.

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“The Invaders from Nowhere”


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This is a fine Superman story, if not particularly impressive.  While this tale is a bit unusual for the Last Son of Krypton, for the Atom, it would just be a Tuesday.  The curtain rises on the Man of Steel himself ripping his way into his Fortress of Solitude, as all of the security systems are going nuts and the great golden door has jammed.  A rapid search of the place at super speed reveals two weird looking aliens who introduce themselves as Seekers from the world of Krann.  This pair of extraterrestrial invaders precede to capture the Metropolis Marvel despite his best efforts.  His punches pass right through them, and their weapons render him helpless.

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Superman is transported aboard their ship to a world under a red sun where some sort of sinister experiment awaits him.  Once planetside, he’s locked in a strange cage-like device, but our hero won’t take this sort of thing lying down.  He’s determined to fight, despite the fact that he should be powerless under a red star, yet when he starts to resist, he discovers that his powers remain undiminished.  Strange!  He throws himself at his cage again and again, but his efforts have no effect.

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We cut to the aliens in the control room, and they helpfully fill us in on their plot.  It seems the core of their world has run out of energy and begun to grow cold.  They’re trying to jump-start it by siphoning off Superman’s energy through his escape attempts.  They accomplish their purpose, and the Man of Steel, exhausted, slumps over…dead!    The Krannians drag him outside, only for their captive to spring back to life!  Superman notes that he can control his hearbeat, so he could stop it long enough to appear dead.  That’s a useful trick that could make Batman jealous.

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Fearing that the red sun would render him powerless as he tried to fly to Earth, the Man of Tomorrow hijacks the alien ship and heads for home.  Yet, as he flies, he experiences a strange phenomenon, as he begins to grow.  Eventually, he and the ship emerge back in the Fortress of Solitude, springing out of the model of Krypton!  The entire alien world was actually part of a microscopic universe, and the incredibly advanced extraterrestrials were inhabitants thereof.  This fact explains why Superman didn’t lose his powers under the red sun, as it was just the replica in the Krypton display.  Before our hero can decide what to do with the pint-sized kidnappers, there is a tiny explosion, and a microscopic examination of the area reveals the ruins of Krann.  Their plan worked too well, and their planet’s core overheated until it exploded like Krypton-that-was, for a nice little touch of irony.

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This is a fun little backup yarn, clocking in at a brief but enjoyable 9 pages.  It manages to set up the problem, provide some action, and even deliver a bit of a surprise, all in those few pages, and that is nothing to sneeze at.  The concept of a mysterious microscopic world and invaders therefrom is not a new one, having showed up often in the Atom’s escapades, but it’s always one I enjoy.  It provides an opportunity for fantastic and unusual adventures that can stretch the imagination.  After all, the possibilities of such a setting are limitless.  Of course, Krann barely gets any exploration in this story because it is so short, but the possibility is still there.  In this case, I’ll give this tale 3.5 Minutemen for a fine read.

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Adventure Comics #401


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“The Frightened Supergirl”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“The Strange House”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

As with the last issue, this book contains a backup for Tracey Thompson, an extremely short-lived character, which I won’t be covering as it isn’t really a superhero story.  The Supergirl feature is an unusual but entertaining little tale, featuring a character I had previously only encountered in All-Star Superman, Lex Luthor’s niece, Nasthaltia “Nasty” Luthor.  Nasty, a fitting antagonist for the Maid of Might, was apparently only introduced a few issues ago in #397.  It seems she had a fairly short life, appearing in only ten issues, but it looks like we’ll see her a few more times before she fades into obscurity.  However, it isn’t the presence of the awkwardly named ‘Nasty’ that makes this issue unusual.

We begin in media res, with the villainess’s plan already completed.  Supergirl has been reduced to a quivering, cringing wreck, completely paralyzed by fear.  She is cowering in terror from a mouse while Lex Luthor and his young niece look on.  Nasty helpfully fills us in on how the Maid of Steel got into this situation.  The Lady Luthor poisoned the heroine’s drink at a luncheon in her honor, spiking her water with an an agent that caused utterly crippling fear.

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In complete panic, Supergirl smashed her way out of the building, fleeing down the street.  Everything and everyone she encounters just feeds the fires of her fear.  In a funny little episode, she encounters a little boy dressed up as a cowboy who tries to play with her, which only horrifies the girl more.

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I love the kid’s sheepish encouragement in panel 3.

adventure-401-06She tears through everything in her mad flight, smashing buildings, cars, and more.  The police try fruitlessly to restrain her, for all the good that does, and finally, Nasty herself shows up, claiming to be a friend of the frantic female.  By speaking calmly and soothingly, she temporarily allays the Maid of Might’s fears and brings her back to her hideout.  There, joined by her villainous uncle, she revels in the humiliation of her foe.  Lex plans to sell tickets to view the terrorized teen to the underworld, by which he expects to make a fortune.

adventure-401-13First, however, Nasty wants to have a bit more fun, so she pulls out a little toy car that can follow a target and sics it on Supergirl.  Spooked by the device, the Maid of Steel lashes out again, utterly destroying the house they were hiding in and very quickly revealing how bad an idea it is to panic a super strong, invulnerable person in an enclosed space.

All of a sudden, Linda Danvers awakens in bed and slowly realizes that this had all been a dream.  She sees with relief that the city still stands.  Then, that same toy car from her dream rolls into her room, a gift her roommate got for her little brother.  How strange!

This is an odd story, though it is fun.  The ‘it was all a dream‘ maneuver surprised me, because as crazy as this all was, it didn’t seem substantially crazier than a normal Sekowsky story.  All throughout, I was thinking, ‘man, folks are really going to love Supergirl after this.  First there’s that bridge from a few issues ago, now she’s torn down the entire town!’  I think it would have been interesting to see Sekowsky actually play with the consequences from such an event as he did with the bridge incident, but I suppose he really didn’t have time in only 14 pages.  It’s entertaining to see Supergirl just tear through town, and there are several funny moments in the tale.  The dream angle also covers over some issues I had with the story, as it does seem a bit odd for Supergirl, while certainly acting irrationally because of fear, to nonetheless run away instead of flying away.  Also, the pair of super geniuses who have captured her certainly don’t act too bright when they antagonize the incredibly powerful alien in their little house.  Of course, with the plot being the product of a dream, you can handwave all of that.

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Speaking of the villains, I like the focus on female antagonists so far in this book.  It’s something of a rarity to have a cast that is primarily female agents in comics, and there’s good potential in that setup.  That being said, I’m not certain how I feel about Lex Luthor having a niece.  I rather prefer him to be alone in the world, a solitary man of brilliance, will, and blackened soul.  Nonetheless, Nasty is undeniably fun in this story.  The whole story is enjoyable, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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And that is our first pair of books.  Not the most impressive duo, but I’m sure there are better stories awaiting us.  Please join me again soon for another step in my Journey into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 1)

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Welcome to December 1970, where we have finally reached the end of the first year of this not-so-little project, something over a year after I actually began it!  Hopefully, we’ll be able to move through the next year a bit more quickly.  But first, we’ve got to get there, which means we’ve got one more month of comics to read.  Let’s take a look at what was going on in the world back then, shall we?

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

This month in history:

  • USA’s Environmental Protection Agency created
  • US and USSR perform nuclear tests
  • Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy & Bill Masterson Trophy stolen from NHL hall of fame
  • The Dutch Antilles government of Petronia falls
  • Soviet Venera 7 is 1st spacecraft to land on another planet (Venus)
  • An uprising against Poland’s communist regime fails
  • Walt Disney’s Aristocats is released
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (United States) signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon (OSHA arrives)
  • Unrest continues in Ireland
  • Paul McCartney files a lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles

This is a fairly quite month, at least compared to our last few, though there are dozens of nuclear tests perform that provide mute but eloquent witness to the tensions in the world.  Perhaps the event of greatest note is the landing of the first spacecraft on another planet.  That was quite an accomplishment, and one I hadn’t heard of before.  Of particular interest to this blog, given my propensity for jokes about it, is the advent of OSHA.  I suppose now my teasing won’t be anachronistic.

The top song this month was “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles.  You’ve gotta’ love Smokey Robinson!


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

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

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


Action Comics #395


action_comics_395“The Secrets of Superman’s Fortress”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Credit Card of Catastrophe”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

This is a pretty solid issue, with two enjoyable tales within, and just check out that cover!  That’s a striking image, and it certainly piqued my curiosity.  The headline tale doesn’t quite live up to the cool cover, but it’s fun enough, with some cool extra treats.  It does have one glaring logical problem, though.

This cover story starts with something unexpected, a flashback to Superman’s creation of his Fortress of Solitude!  We just get a brief glimpse of him setting the place up, then we are treated to cool two-page spread diagram of the place, which was a pleasant surprise.  I’ve mentioned before how much I loved this type of thing as a kid, and I still think it is a nice feature to add to a story, to give readers a spatial sense of a place, fleshing the setting out a bit more fully.  The diagram accompanies a visit from Jimmy Olsen, who Superman takes for a tour in thanks for the boy’s assistance on his adventures.

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I love what the giant gold key says about Superman

In time, he also brings Lois for a tour, and he shows her his not-at-all creepy hall of Lois dioramas immortalizing her aid in various cases he’s faced.  The girl reporter takes this as a charming sign of the Man of Steel’s affection.  I think I might be more inclined to take it as a sign of him being a super-stalker, a-la Superman Returns!  Anyway, Lois’s questionable sense of romance aside, she also notices a restricted access door and asks the hero about it, but he refuses to answer.  After he returns her home, the Metropolis Marvel looks inside the forbidden room and spends some time in melancholy reflection of the artifacts within, a cape and a feather.  It’s a nice, moody scene, and readers are really left wondering what could affect Superman so profoundly.

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In answer to the burning question on the audience’s minds, Superman puts on a device that will help him recall the experience he has been trying to forget because he just has to see it again.  We learn that on a mission in space he spotted a crashed spacecraft on a wild planet and decided to investigate.  When he arrived, he discovered a tribe of primitive humans, probably survivors of the ancient shipwreck, who are being hunted by slavers using dogs.  The Man of Tomorrow leaps into action, not one to let such injustice pass, and creates a shelter for the panicked savages, and, in a funny scene, he also just lets the dogs chew on him until he weaves a net to hold them.

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But his efforts do not go unnoticed, and we meet a group of alien amazons, powerful warrior women who are on the world to mine an element vitally necessary for their race.  The commander of the crew, Captain Althera, is quite struck by the heroic conduct and appearance of Kal-El, the ol’ lady killer, and she begins to wonder about where he might have come from.  For his part, Superman promises the tribe that he’ll protect them until the slavers leave.  The next gambit of the amazons, which involves booby-trapping a fruit tree they visit, is easily defeated when the Man of Steel simply carries the tree away, prisoners and all.  Althera’s crew is concerned about her infatuation with the alien, but she attempts to hide her feelings.

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The amazons have a very Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon look, which I love.

Later that night, Superman discovers her slipping out of their camp to carve a statue of him, only to smash it in anger at her own feelings.  Clearly this chick’s got issues!  Like Lois, the hero has perhaps poor judgement about romance, and he finds this strange outburst quite endearing.  The kryptonian, long sojourning among frail humanity, is fascinated by this powerful, passionate female alien.  Her strength and spirit are intriguing for him, and he begins to wonder if he’s found a woman of iron who could keep up with a Man of Steel.  That’s actually a cool angle, and it makes sense that, even though Superman identifies with humanity, there would always be a part of him that would desire the company of beings that were really his equals.

On her way back to cap, the distracted Captain accidentally triggers a deadfall setup by the tribesmen, and though she has the strength to hold it temporarily, the Man of Tomorrow must come to her aid.  His intercession moves the warrior woman.  She insists that he must be one of her people, and she wants him for her mate!  Interestingly, Superman isn’t in too big of a hurry to dissuade her at first, but when her helmet falls off, the feathery plumes covering her head reveal that her people are avian.  For some reason, this is a deal breaker, and it is also the on real problem with this story.  (It never stopped Captain Kirk!)  Superman realizes that they are incompatible, but seeing as he’s the last of his race, that’s true of any other being, including Lois!

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In a neat touch, the reason that Althera was convinced the hero was one of her people was because he could fly, which her bird-like race had once been able to do as well.  She assumed he was a further evolution.  That works pretty well, and it makes the kryptonian’s revelation of his origins an effective turning point for the story.

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With Superman’s help, the amazons quickly manage to mine the materials they need, and the two races part in peace, leaving Clark nothing to remember his lovely lady-lark but a single plume from her head.

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The whole thing happens too fast to be entirely successful as a tale of lost love, but it’s a fun story, and the Vrandarians have a cool design.  There’s a story worth a longer treatment here, with a warrior woman who rebels against her matriarchal culture in the name of love and Superman lured to the stars by the prospect of a partner who could really be his equal, but these promising elements are really only here in embryonic form.  Still, it’s an enjoyable enough read, despite Superman’s seeming overreaction to his possible paramour’s plumes and the speed of their romance.  I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.

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“The Credit Card of Catastrophe”


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This is a story that I fully expected to be super gimmicky and silly, but, despite the fact that it seems like an utterly conventional ‘overly elaborate but harmless scheme’ story on paper, it actually features a more thoughtful, reasonable resolution than I expected.

The story beings with an off-beat scene, as Superman, for some reason that is never explained, visits a fortune teller named ‘Madame Mephisto’ (apparently the Marvel character is moonlighting at DC!).  The Man of Steel is oddly affected by her routine, but he remains skeptical, though he accepts a token from her: a card that is supposed to grant him three wishes, wishes with a secret price.

Later on, the Metropolis Marvel is in disguise as his mild-mannered alter-ego, covering a baseball game (apparently he, like his recent movie counterpart, has the most eclectic beat in newspaper history) when the stands begin to collapse!  He rushes to help as Superman, but his powers fail him.  In desperation, he wishes to be able to accomplish his usual daring do, and suddenly leaps into action.  Afterwards, his card glows mysteriously!  One wish down.

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The next day, because every day in the DCU is a constant cavalcade of crises, Clark is covering the filming of a movie when something goes wrong.  A hot-air balloon threatens the crowd, and once again the Man of Tomorrow’s powers fail him.  Once again, his wish saves the day, accompanied by the glowing of his card!

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The third day, you guessed it, we get another disaster, an oil platform threatened by an iceberg.  One quick wish later and Superman is carving the ‘berg into ice cubes,’ and his third wish is gone.  His powers seem to have deserted him permanently, and he sets out to find the mystic who started all of this.  She claims to have affected him with her magic and promises to restore his powers, but for a price!  Madame Mephisto demands that the hero hand over half the gold in Fort Knox, and Superman faces an interesting moral quandary.  If he agrees, he’s committing one heck of a crime and betraying the public trust.  If he refuses, there’s no telling how many could suffer and die because he won’t be able to help them.  I’m pleased that the rational choice of the greater good is actually the one he takes, displaying a slightly more mature morality than ‘crime=bad’ that usually populates such books.

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Yet, when he returns with the gold, he gives it to the fortune teller in an unexpected fashion, dumping the heavy bullion right on her head!  I was sufficiently taken aback by this twist, thinking, ‘that would kill her!’  Here’s where the story impressed me and proved itself to be more than I expected.  Superman digs the buried clairvoyant out, only to unmask her as…Supergirl!  This is where the cliche comic story would generally provide a paper-thin excuse, which this one certainly has, but it also has a surprisingly well thought-out resolution.  Supergirl attended a lecture on hypnotism and was curious if she or Clark could be conned into doing something against their will, so she wildly unethically decided to experiment on her cousin without his knowledge or consent.

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She hypnotized him into believing his powers were gone and that the card could restore them; then she followed him to ensure that nothing really went wrong.  The fun bit is that Superman reasoned it out in a believable fashion, without ridiculous jumps in logic.  He realized that in each challenge he faced, he wasn’t hurt, despite his powers supposedly having been cancelled.  He recognized that only his voluntary powers were affected, making it unlikely that magic was the cause, which is quite clever and reasonable.  When the Maid of Might restored his powers in order to get the gold, he spied on her with X-Ray vision and sussed out enough of the rest to turn the tables on her.  Supergirl complains that he ruined her experiment, so they’ll never know if they can actually be controlled through hypnotism, which, of course, is magic in comics.

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This is a fun and curious little story, surprising in that the contrived plot is actually given enough thought to make it work out in the end.  Supergirl’s experiment seems unnecessary, and I think I’d be more than a little annoyed at being used as a guinea pig if I were Superman, but, let’s face it: he’s probably done worse things to her.  I’ll give this simple and gimmicky but enjoyable story 3 Minutemen.

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The letter column for this issue includes a funny missive to the sour-grapes writers who voiced complaints about the same names constantly showing up in the letter feature as certain epistlers got their dispatches picked fairly often.  The letter included a hilarious and very clever little poem which I found worth sharing with y’all:

A pox on Martin Pasko,
A plague on Irene V.
And fie to all the other fans
More fortunate than me!

Thus readers rant a million ways
O’er fruitless hours of writing praise
In deathless prose and deathless verse,
At times verbose and sometimes terse.

Suppose the reader knocks the tale
And says the artwork was too stale?
Or if not, what else might be wrong–
Was the story too short? Or too long?

Yes, that just might be the key
To critical success for me!
And so, once more, to pen and paper
To criticize each startling caper
Of daring men and super-creatures,
Aliens, spirits, other features.

But hapless writers, don’t lose heart
If the pearls of wisdom you’d impart
Are deemed too dull by guys and dolls
Who cull comments for lettercols.
No hard names should you others call:
Patience and work will conquer all.

Better luck next time.

Isn’t that clever?


Adventure Comics #400


adventure_comics_vol_1_400“Return of the Black Flame”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

We’ve got a milestone for Adventure Comics here in issue number 400, and to celebrate, Mike Sekowsky, who is wearing three different hats in this issue, arranges a return engagement for a Supergirl villain.  I didn’t even know she had any villains!  The femme fatale of our tale turns out to be the Black Flame, a Silver Age character I’d never heard of.  Apparently, she’s a rogue from the Bottle City of Kandor, which is a pretty neat idea, honestly.  In one of her previous encounters with the Maid of Might, she was stripped of her powers with gold kryptonite, which is apt to make one a bit cranky.  I was pretty thrilled to find a tale with an actual supervillain, as those have been few and far between in our comics this year.  The story itself is fun, if a bit goofy.  Apparently Sekowsky thought that the Black Flame’s triumphant return wasn’t enough to mark the 400th issue, so he introduced three more bad guys, putting the heroine up against a fitting four antagonists.  The trouble is, whereas the Flame is an established villainess with a kryptonian pedigree, her three associates are one-shot opponents who don’t make any sense in this setting.

We join the Maid of Might as she repairs her super-suit (apparently, she doesn’t have an Edna Mode on call).  She’s enjoying a classic black and white film (a girl after my own heart), so she catches a strange news broadcast that follows the flick.  The station received an unusual note, a public appeal to Supergirl for help, including a hidden phone number that only her super senses can detect.  Intrigued, Kara decides to investigate.  A call leads her to a mysterious rendezvous that is definitely not a trap.

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Meanwhile, at the trap…err…rendezvous, a quirky quartet are gathered together, watching her progress.  They include the tall, spindly figure of ‘The Inventor,’ the green-clad leprechaun, ‘L. Finn,’ and the portly presence of ‘the Toymaster.’  Now, that’s ToyMASTER, not ToyMAN.  He’s totally different and original and not at all a ripoff.  Shut up!  Toyman is a well-known DC villain.  Toymaster has, I’m fairly certain, never appeared again.  Why Sekowsky didn’t use the existing villain, who already had a grudge against Superman and his friends, I’ll never know.  Anyway, this very motley and unimpressive assortment are lead by the costumed Black Flame, who has a pretty cool look, though it really doesn’t scream ‘black’ or ‘flame.’  She obligingly gives us a flashback to her escape from prison, which is pretty neat.  She slowly assembled odds and ends until she could build a one-shot stun ray, which she used to zap a guard and get his gun.  Then she staged a daring breakout of her kandorian prison, blasting her way to a ship.

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Oddly, she takes that ship to the Phantom Zone, as if it were a planet to which you could just fly.  My knowledge of the Silver Age Superman mythos is a tad spotty, but I’m pretty sure that even then it was firmly established that the Zone was a separate dimension you had to have special equipment to access.  That was more or less the whole point.  I hope a reader will correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m inclined to put this down to Sekowsky’s confusion, especially considering what happens next.  The fiendish flame wants to recruit some fellow villains.  So, who does she carry away from the Phantom Zone?  Perhaps General Zod, Jax Ur, or another famous kryptonian criminal?  Perhaps some new and exciting foes from Krypton-that-was?  No!  She calls the three goofballs we met before, who just seem to be earthlings.  How in the world did they end up in the Phantom Zone?!

Well, their inexplicable origins aside, the narrative returns to the present, where Supergirl strolls into the eerie old house that is definitely not a trap.  Once inside, she’s ambushed by a robot maid with a lasso coated in kryptonite dust.  She destroys the automaton, but she begins to succumbs to the effect of the poisonous element.  Suddenly, Streaky, little cape and all, arrives, ignoring her pleas for help and coating her with more kryptonite dust!  It turns out that this is another robot, controlled by the Toymaster, and the embattled heroine beheads it with a blow, passing out from the effort.

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Robo-Streaky, no!

The Maid of Might awakens in a strange setting, tied up with kryptonite coated bonds and posed as a ten-pin in an oversized bowling alley.  The quartet of criminals have a supply of kryptonite bowling balls, and they take turns rolling for a deadly strike.  That’s right, we’re in classic villainous death trap territory here.  The whole setup is pretty silly, but I’m willing to give it a pass considering how central a part of the genre this kind of thing is.  I’ll admit, it’s weird and unique enough to be entertaining.

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With each strike, Supergirl grows weaker, but she also realizes that the impacts are knocking the kryptonite off of her bonds, so she recovers between rounds.  Finally, she is strong enough to break free, and she puts her foes on their heels until L. Finn hits her with a blast of magic, knocking her out once more.  It is revealed, to literally no-one’s surprise, that the fellow dressed as a leprechaun is, in fact, a leprechaun!

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Once more, the Maid of Might awakens in a death trap.  Twice in one issue is pushing things a bit, even in a comic book!  Genre conventions be darned, the Black Flame is going to have her overly-elaborate revenge, even embracing the classic villain mistake, and leaving the heroine to her fate, confident that there is no way she can escape.  To be fair, things do look grim for Supergirl.  She’s bound in a pile of gold kryptonite dust (one wonders where the Flame got all this stuff!), with a giant kryptonite harpoon pointed at her chest.  Now, once again, I’m going to plead foul.  Doesn’t gold kryptonite remove powers pretty quickly?  I didn’t think it was a slow process.  What’s more, aren’t the effects of the gold variety irreversible?  Didn’t we just see that a few months ago in a Superman story?  Then again, I suppose green kryptonite doesn’t accomplish its effect all at once.  I suspect that I’m giving this more thought than Sekowsky did.  Still, I’m inclined to call shenanigans.

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adventure-400-21Inconsistent alien minerals aside, the situation looks dire for our heroine, but she escapes in a cute and moderately clever sequence.  It does depend entirely on the incompetence of the Toymaster, though.  He left his toys and his control box right next to her prison, within convenient reach.  I can’t help but think that the Flame would have been better off going for the name-brand villains rather than these generic knock-offs.  Toyman would never have made such a rookie mistake.  I suppose you get what you pay for.

Either way, the Girl of Steel discovers that she can control these little automatons telepathically, and she orders them to free her.  They make for an entertaining and charming little robot army.  She turns their adorable ire on her captors, and they make quick work of the villainous team, enabling Supergirl herself to put the Black Flame out of action.  I have to say, I just love the scene of the toys descending on the villains.  That’s so silly and yet so fun that it really captures the joyful absurdity of a superheroic world.

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This is a fun enough story, but it really does have some weak points.  The random earth-villains randomly being in the Phantom Zone is odd by itself, and the double death trap dilemma is a bit much.  I would have liked to see more of the Black Flame, as she piqued my curiosity.  Unfortunately, after her escape, all she really did was give orders to her evil associates.  I suppose I’ll give this flawed issue 2.5 Minutemen. as its faults slightly outweigh its enjoyability, but the adorable antics of the animate toys make me smile.

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That covers our first post on December of 1970.  I hope you enjoyed it and will join me again soon for our next few issues.  They promise to be an interesting pair!  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 1)

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Hello fellow comic lovers, and welcome to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age!  In this batch of posts we’ll be covering November 1970.  Tomorrow, America is swearing in a new president, and I don’t know about you, but personally I think I’d rather spend my time with heroes and visit a brighter, happier world than ours!  Today we’ve got a triple serving of supers, with two Superman stories and one with the current star of Adventure Comics, Supergirl.  Let’s see what history had in store for November 1970.  With any luck, it will put our current troubles in context.

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

 

This month in history:

  • Genie, a 13 year old feral child was found in Los Angeles, California, having been locked in her bedroom for most of her life (warning, depressing stuff)
  • Trial of Seattle 8 anti-war protesters begins
  • Luna 17, with unmanned self-propelled Lunokhod 1, is launched and lands on the Moon
  • Two men are shot dead by the Irish Republican Army
  • Scientists perform 1st artificial synthesis of a live cell
  • Lt Gen Hafez al-Assad becomes PM of Syria following military coup
  • In Japan, author Yukio Mishima and two compatriots commit ritualistic suicide after an unsuccessful coup attempt
  • George Harrison releases 3 album set “All Things Must Pass”
  • Pope Paul VI wounded in chest during a visit to Philippines by a dagger-wielding Bolivian painter disguised as a priest

Wow, this was a pretty fascinating month!  It features the rescue of Genie, who many of y’all may have learned about in psychology and sociology classes, the trial of the Seattle 8, and even the stabbing of a Pope!  What a crazy time.  The events related to the Seattle 8, members of the ‘Seattle Liberation Front,’ a radical anti-war movement, are particularly noteworthy for our purposes.  They display the unrest, social upheaval, and political turmoil that we’ve been watching creep into these comics.  1970 is considered the beginning of the end for much of the counter-cultural movement, an ending signaled by the tragedy of Altamont, which came at the tail end of 1969, but clearly these things have not run their course quite yet.  We see that the Space Race continues, with a craft landing on the Moon itself.  Once again, I’m struck by the contrast between humanity’s best qualities, embodied by this generation’s attempt to reach for the stars, and their worst, embodied in…almost everything else on this list.  Well, enough of that.  Let’s get to the comics!

The chart topper this month was “I think I Love You,” by the Partridge Family, a song whose odd tune seems somehow fitting for the time.

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

  • Action Comics #394
  • Adventure Comics #399
  • Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
  • Brave and Bold #92
  • Detective Comics #405
  • The Flash #201
  • G.I. Combat #144
  • Justice League of America #84
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
  • Superman #231
  • World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • World’s Finest #198

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


Action Comics #394


action_comics_394“Midas of Metropolis!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“Requiem for a Hot Rod!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Urg!  This is yet another of the gimmicky, ‘hero is acting like a jerk for a good reason’ stories that the Silver Age loved so much.  This trend is, of course, the origin of the Super Dickery trope, and this comic is a prime example of the form.  Just look at that cover!  Ohh, those pitiful poor people!  I imagine the strategy must have worked.  Kids must have thought to themselves, ‘well, he can’t REALLY be doing’ whatever monstrously jerkish act was on the cover, and they’d just have to pick up the book to find out.  The practice leaves me pretty cold, and this one is no exception.

This particular story just feels rather pointless.  It’s all an incredibly, ridiculously, hilariously elaborate plot to catch a master counterfeiter.  It begins with Clark Kent interviewing Cyrus Brand, the richest business magnate in the country, who apparently has an unhealthy relationship with the gigantic globe in his office.  During the interview, a pair of dim criminals attempts to rob his vault, apparently forgetting that they’re in Metropolis, and a quick change later, Superman smashes through the wall, probably doing more damage than the criminals would have.  His efforts are for naught, though, as a sophisticated security system traps the crooks.  This prompts Brand to taunt the Man of Steel, saying that his money is better than any superpower.  I’m thinking I’d still like to be able to fly or be bulletproof, but sure.

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Beautiful two-page spread but…should we…should we leave him alone with that globe?

action-394-11-08-copyShortly thereafter, Superman begins acting like Super-Capitalist, charging for all of his super-feats.  He rescues a sinking ship, a crashing plane, and a derailed train, all belonging to Brand, and he charges for each deed, quickly amassing a fortune and even building his own bank to hold it!  The altruistic Man of Tomorrow has turned into a libertarian champion of his own self-interest, and, of course, he is condemned by Lois and his friends.  Who is John Gault?  Apparently, Superman is.  He begins a business war with Brand, rapidly squeezing him out of many industries.  Finally, he sells an oil field to the tycoon, throwing in a golden trophy he created to commemorate the sale.  When Brand returns to his secret counterfeiting ring, hidden in a lead mine of course, the trophy takes off through the ceiling, revealing its location.

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Superman bursts in and captures the crooks, revealing that he had noticed the almost perfect forgeries when he had examined Brand’s vault with X-Ray vision, but he had to go through this ridiculous ruse in order to reveal the guy’s funny money source.  He had to gather up all the bogus bucks in secret to avoid a panic, and the job done, he torched it all, giving his remaining holdings to charity.

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action-394-18-14The whole thing is goofy, but the execution is not terrible.  It’s a silly, Silver Age-y plot (I’m going to use that phrase so often, people are going to think I hate the Silver Age, which isn’t the case!) that just feels unnecessary.  This is an extreme length to go to in order to catch a counterfeiter.  It seems like Superman could have simply spied on the guy with telescopic vision, and sooner or later he’d have led him to his source.  Dorfman does make an effort to explain the necessity of the Man of Steel’s business bluff, citing the possible panic caused by a flood of funny money, and I appreciate the effort to cover that angle, even if it is still a bit much.  In the end, this is a by the numbers tale, with some fun images of Superman doing some slightly unusual things, like drilling for oil or building his own bank, but it’s pretty forgettable.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutement.  It’s silly but not offensive.

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I’m not sure why, but something about the ‘Superman National Bank’ strikes me as terribly dystopian…


“Requiem for a Hot Rod”


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This is a story that, strangely enough, gains from the predominant absence of Superman.  It’s very rare in these old stories that poor, pitiful Clark gets a chance to shine.  Usually, he’s just brought in for a quick joke at his expense, and the charm of his secret identity, the quiet strength of the character, is rarely explored.  We get a glimpse of something better in this short little backup.

It begins with Clark and Lois riding in an antique car (better motorheads than I can probably identify it) as part of a parade of classic vehicles, when suddenly they are driven off the road by a rampaging drag racer in a modified hearse!  Shades of Twisted Metal!  Well, Clark is thrown clear of the car and switches to Superman to save the run-off roadsters before switching back.  They continue on their way and stumble upon a drag strip and their automotive antagonist.  The suped-up hearse is in the midst of a game of chicken, and the driver, “Coffin” Crowley, wins, but the disguised Man of Steel notices a pattern.  He calls the racer out, and the crowd force him into his roadster and into a new game of chicken with the supposedly fearless ‘Coffin’ fellow.

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Clark holds steady, and the dragster turns away, crashing into bales of hay on the sidelines.  After the race, the reporter reveals that Crowley’s undefeated record was the product of cheating, as he had a device in his car that would momentarily blind opposing drivers, causing them to turn away in a predictable pattern.  Crowley is humiliated, and the racers learn a lesson about the stupidity of the game of chicken.  The best part is the mild mannered one gets to succeed on his own, having used sunglasses to block his opponent’s secret weapon.  Kent is given a hero’s welcome after the race and enjoys a rare moment of triumph.  Of course, the story ends with poor Clark getting a ticket for holding up traffic as he heads home in his antique auto.

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This is a fun little story, and it’s great to see Clark Kent take an inning rather than just be the butt of a joke to protect his secret identity.  I haven’t encountered many stories like this in this year of reading, but I’m pleased to see that they are still around.  I’m hoping that Clark’s part of the Superman mythos will see some development after the “Kryptonite Nevermore” storyline.  In any case, this is a simple but original (in my experience) tale, and the resolution is clever.  I’ll give this enjoyable little backup a solid 3.5 Minutemen, brief as it is.

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Adventure Comics #399


adventure_comics_vol_1_399“Johnny Dee…Hero/Bum”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“Television Told the Tale!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Bernard Sachs

The Black Canary backup is a never printed story that was written back in the Golden Age, so I won’t be covering it.  It isn’t current continuity and it doesn’t really fit into the scope of this project.  Instead, I’ll just focus on the headline tale.

I have to say that this cover didn’t exactly instill me with confidence, but I am pleased to say that the story inside, though odd, is actually a fun adventure with some surprising moments of personality.  That cover made me wary, as I really don’t care anything for football, but the game is not really the focus, serving instead as the background for the tale.  The plot is at once conventional and unusual  It’s a standard idea, an athlete is threatened into throwing important games so that the ne’re-do-well villains of the piece can clean up on unlikely bets.  The unusual angle is all of this is happening around college football, which just seems incongruous.

The story opens with an awkward attempt at an in media res beginning that doesn’t quite work, as we’re thrown into the middle of a conversation between Supergirl and star athlete Johnny Dee.  The boy is refusing to play in a game, and, for some reason, Supergirl has decided to talk to him about it.  Why the Maid of Might is involved in the career of a college athlete Sekowsky doesn’t bother to explain.  We’re then told, in a fairly nice collage page, the story of Dee’s rise to stardom.

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adventure399p05Not willing to let sleeping dogs lie, Supergirl decides to investigate the football star’s sudden case of stagefright.  She vibrates through the wall of his girlfriend uninvited after spying on the young lady’s private tears.  I think Clark might need to teach his cousin what ‘invasion of privacy’ means!  After being scared to death by the sudden materialization of a super-powered alien in her room, the girl, Roxie, says that her beau has sworn her to secrecy.  So, Supergirl respects her decision and heads home…err…wait, no, that’s not quite it; she kidnaps the young lady and flies her to Dee’s room to confront him.

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This finally elicits the story of his woes, which seem rather out of proportion to the usual lot of a college athlete.  Apparently, Johnny and Roxie were recently ambushed by hooded figures who beat them both and told the star in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t follow their instructions to throw certain games, they’d kill his girl.  The ambush scene is really pretty effective, dark, moody, and the pain of these two poor, innocent kids is rather touching.

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Well, as a result, Johnny feels like he has no choice, and he refuses to go to the police…for some reason.  He also refuses Supergirl’s help…for some reason.  Sekowsky is having to play logical leap-frog to tell the story he wants, it seems.  Nonetheless, the Girl of Steel is not so easily deterred, as we’ve already seen.  She spies on the boy until he gets a call from the villains, who tell him that he’d better sit out the next game.  To ensure his cooperation, they’ll have three (!) snipers there to kill Roxie if he doesn’t comply.  That also feels a tad excessive to keep a college football player in line, but apparently this gambling syndicate is super serious, despite being involved in college athletics.

Supergirl determines to aid the athlete one way or the other, so she watches the next day as the game begins, and in there fun sequences, she captures three hidden or disguised gunmen (one dressed as an old lady!), freeing Johnny Dee from their threat and allowing him to turn the tide of the game.  Yet, this syndicate has more guts than gray-matter, and they decide that they want yet MORE trouble with the flying, indestructible sun goddess, so they kidnap Roxie.

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The Maid of Might, being a bit more enthusiastic than wise, traps them on a bridge by bending the steel supports into a cage.  Yay for the destruction of millions of dollars of public property!  It’s also a pretty cool sequence, but while reading it, I kept thinking, ‘geez, there has to be a less destructive way to do this!’  It’s possible I’m getting too old for comics!  Anyway, the girl rescued, the heroine drops her back off at the stadium just in time for the winning field goal, kicked by none other than Johnny Dee!  Their reunion is sweet, but I enjoyed the coda even more, as Supergirl suddenly remembers her caged crooks and rushes back to capture them, only to be met by an unsympathetic policeman and given a pile of citations!  Ha!  That’s a surprising and unusual touch, and I quite enjoyed it.

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This is a fun story with more personality and charm than I expected.  The silliness of some ruthless criminal syndicate being super invested in college athletics, let alone having enough resources to dedicate multiple killers to keeping one particular athlete in check, is a bit much.  Still, Sekowsky keeps everything moving and injects enough tension and entertainment into the story to make up for it.  I found it particularly interesting that the two supporting characters in this comic were both Black.

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That’s still unusual for this time, and I was even more surprised when their race didn’t feature into the story at all.  Good for Sekowsky, giving his comic some diversity and treating the move naturally.  I’d call that a positive.  Nevertheless, there’s a subtext to a pair of African Americans being harassed by hooded whites that should make us all at least a little uncomfortable.  I can’t imagine that the imagery was unintentional, and hopefully the injustice of the moment, outside of the context of race, stuck in the minds of readers at the time and made it easier to recognize it in other contexts as well.

On the art front, this book is like most of the Sekowsky pieces we’ve seen lately, varying greatly in quality from page to page.  There’s tons of personality in the art, as well as some very striking panels, but there is also plenty of wonky anatomy and awkward composition.  Sekowsky art is never boring, at least.  Well, I’ll give this unusual little yarn 3.5 Minutemen, held back from 4 by the silly elements, but earning extra for its charm and uniqueness.

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That’s it for these books, and fun reads they were.  Assuming we all survive inauguration day, I hope you’ll join me soon for the next edition of Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 4)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Hello fellow Bronze Agers, and welcome to another edition of my investigation of the depths of DC’s Bronze Age books.  We have an interesting pair of comics lined up for today’s article, one sci-fi and the other supernatural.

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

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

  • Action Comics #393
  • Adventure Comics #398
  • Aquaman #52
  • Detective Comics #404
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
  • Phantom Stranger #9
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 (Jack Kirby’s debut!)
  • Superman #230
  • Teen Titans #29

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


Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80


green_lantern_vol_2_80Even An Immortal Can Die!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

As has became a sad routine, I dreaded this comic, but I was very pleasantly surprised when I it.  Some of the trademark excesses of this series are still on display in this month’s issue, but I think this must be the most successful story of this run, as a story.  Ironically, as the type of thoughtful investigation of important social issues that O’Neil set out to deliver, it is, perhaps, the weakest.  It’s an interesting contrast.  To his credit, O’Neil displays more subtlety and nuance than has been his wont in this book, and even Green Arrow doesn’t come off as too insufferably self-righteous.  Unfortunately, taking the action off the Earth robs the comic of the social consciousness it has been trying ohh-so-hard to cultivate.

Ohh, it starts on Earth alright, with our Hard Traveling Heroes continuing their cross-country trek in their old truck.  Ollie even broaches the very hopeful topic of their getting off the road for a while, but that will have to wait as a near miss by a big rig sends the trio off a bridge and into a river.  To get out of the drink, they climb aboard a ship transporting toxic waste.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that: A) the poor schlubs having to transport the stuff were not mustache twirling villains, just decent, hard-working sailors trying to do a job and do it right, and B) the stuff was on the way to be disposed of properly rather than being dumped into the river for poorly defined reasons.  Are we sure this is really a Denny O’Neill script?

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Unfortunately, the ship’s boiler blows, almost killing Green Lantern and setting the scow ablaze (O.S.H.A. must be the most lax and laid back organization on the planet in the DC Universe).  The Guardian is presented with an interesting moral dilemma.  He has enough innate power to either save the ship or take Hal to a doctor, but not both.  The logical (hello there, Spock) choice is to protect the lives of the crew and the health of the environment by saving the ship, or at least that’s how it’s presented.  Instead, the immortal, changed by his time on Earth, chooses to save his friend.  It’s actually a nice moment, but it is undercut because it strikes me as a bit of a false choice.  Yeah, it’s bad to let the toxic sludge get loose in the water, but the sailors are not in immediate danger, and the life of a human being is of great value.  It seems strange that even a being with as long-term a view as a Guardian would take such an ecological incident as more important than a human life.

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Wait, isn’t the Lantern’s ring supposed to automatically protect them from lethal dangers? Oh well, plot will out…

Well, in another pleasant touch of nuance, the crew has to toss the waste overboard because it is flammable, but O’Neil goes out of his way to show that they do so unwillingly, aware of the cost.  It’s actually a pretty effective scene.  Meanwhile, the Guardian’s swift action saves Hal’s life, but their happy reunion with Ollie is short-lived, as the immortal’s peers are none too happy with his choice.  They inform him that he’s transgressed and needs to be judged.  Green Arrow responds with his trademark tact and diplomacy, telling a race of god-like beings that the Guardian’s choice was “the only human thing to do!”  I’m sure that carries tremendous weight.  Thanks Ollie; you’re a big help.

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The traveling trio are sent to a world called Gallo, which is like the intergalactic Supreme Court.  This is actually one of my only real problems with this issue.  It doesn’t make much sense that the Guardians would farm out their justice system to anybody else.  They aren’t exactly shy about their abilities or bashful about their judgements.  I’m wondering if this place ever showed up again, because it really doesn’t fit in with the Lantern Corps. mythos.  Anyway, when they arrive, a robotic bailiff demands that they surrender their weapons, and when the Emerald Archer resists, the electronic enforcer insists, violently.  Here we see a very nice piece of storytelling, where Adams and O’Neil work together in perfect sync.  Arrow uses the distraction of the fight to snap off one of his arrows’ warheads, and the art conveys this perfectly but unobtrusively.  You hardly notice it if you aren’t looking for it.  This will, of course, become important later on.

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Apparently, things on Gallo are not what they should be, and both the Emerald Crusader and his erstwhile boss notice, but it is too late as they have already been disarmed and captured.  Instead of the customary tribunal, they are greeted with one cruel and vicious judge who proceeds to give them a trial that could have been plucked from the pages of Kafka.  The accused are gagged and summarily sentenced to death on false evidence, a sentence delivered by a jury of robots!

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In the holding cells, the green-garbed heroes discover the real Tribune of Gallo, whose power has been usurped by their former master mechanic, who has some type of hangup about the superiority of robots to flesh and blood.  Unfortunately, that angle really doesn’t get much development.  The guy is crazy and on a power-trip, and his pro-machine agenda doesn’t really provide much more than window-dressing for the story.  Nonetheless, O’Neil delivers a great scene as Green Arrow rapidly strips their cell to create a makeshift bow, arming the arrow with his salvaged warhead.  It serves ably and destroys their robotic jailer, allowing them to escape and recover their weapons.  It’s a great character moment for him, though it continues the process of elevating Ollie at Hal’s expense.

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In the meantime, the Guardian’s death sentence is being carried out as he is slowly sealed in plastic, only to be rescued at the last minute by our emerald heroes.  It’s a lovely, dynamic sequence illustrated beautifully by Adams, but it also includes the other false note of the issue.  Hal has a moment of conflict as he goes up against the judge, thinking to himself “it’s hard–very hard for me to use my ring!  Though the judge is mad, I’m conditioned to respect the authority of the law!”  Good heavens!  It’s not like Hal was in the SS!  He’s not a brainwashed cultist; he’s a former soldier, daredevil test pilot, and space cop.  To a certain extent, we’re all ‘conditioned’ to respect authority.  It’s part of growing up in an ordered society, but most of us don’t get paralyzed with indecision when we encounter something that is obviously and grossly unjust.  It’s not like this judge is even the proper representative of the court on this world.  Hal just freed those guys from a cell, so the law is definitely on his side!  It’s just a stupid moment, and it makes the character seem incredibly dense to boot.  I understand what O’Neil is going for, but as with so many aspects of this series, the execution is just off.

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‘Hard, very hard because I lack basic reasoning skills!’

Fortunately, our heroes manage to get ‘the old timer’ out of his plasticine tomb in time, and he notes that he simply held his breath, having learned from humanity that “where there is life, there is hope.”  That’s one of John Carter of Mars’s favorite phrases, and one I’m quite fond of too.  It’s a good lesson to learn and certainly a truth that humanity bears out.  Despite our flaws, we are awfully hard-headed (which can occasionally be an asset).  The Guardian decides to stay behind and receive a judgement from his fellows, but he sends Hal and Ollie back to Earth and the adventures that await them.

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This is definitely a much better comic than many of its predecessors.  The plot works, the threat is actually pretty legitimate, and the alien setting is a lot more fitting for the power ring wielding Green Lantern than random small towns in the American countryside.  The characterization of the protagonists is, on the whole, better.  Even Green Arrow only gets one short self-righteous speech (thus fulfilling his contract).  The Guardians’ moral dilemma is interesting, even if it feels a tad forced.  It does make sense that a being used to seeing the biggest of big pictures, galactic order, would struggle with the emotional attachment of living life on a small, personal scale with the two heroes.  Yet, the comic definitely loses something by taking its action off-world as well.  While an examination of themes of justice is possible in a story set among the stars, it loses any real social relevance by having no connection to the more terrestrial problems of injustice found under the Sun.

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I know I’ve been hard on this series, but it is important for us to remember, and especially for me to remember as I write, that what it is doing is well and truly unique for its time.  This book was like nothing else of its day, and nothing really like this had ever been done before in comics.  As ham-handed and tone-deaf as it often was, it was also groundbreaking and incredibly innovative.  I’ve probably not been giving O’Neil enough credit for the risks he took and for overcoming the obstacles he must have faced.  Nonetheless, a story is good or bad, regardless of context.  It either works as a story or it is flawed, and noble intentions do not a successful plot make.  I’m trying to deal with these tales both as stories and as cultural artifacts, so I’ll try to balance my coverage appropriately.  Make no mistakes, though.  Many of these stories are not particularly good, as stories.  Something can be important without being actually good.  So, all things considered, I’d give this issue a strong 3.5 Minutemen.  It loses points for Hal’s inane inner conflict, but only just.

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Phantom Stranger #9


phantom_stranger_vol_2_9Obeah Man!”
Writers: Joe Orlando and Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo

This is fun story with a bit of a flawed resolution.  Notably, we’ve got Mike Sekowsky handling the writing chores this month, and he varies up the formula a bit to interesting results.  Instead of what has become the standard, with a frame tale setting up stories narrated by both the Stranger and Dr. Thirteen, this issue just gives us Thirteen’s flashback in addition to the frame tale.  It gives both of them more room to breathe and is definitely a step in the right direction.  I think we’re seeing this book continuing to find its feet.  I’m hopeful that it will soon settle into a really strong run.

This issue takes us down to an unnamed Caribbean country that is a clear analogue for the mysterious island nation of Haiti, and of course, that puts our heroes up against the dark forces of Voodoo!  Now, I know, you’ve probably heard how Voodoo in real life has very little in common with its portrayals in popular media.  In fiction, it is the religious equivalent of the Nazis, the perfect theological antagonist, spooky, enigmatic, and full of dark rituals.  In reality, it’s a religion that’s much like others of its kind, shamanistic and made up of an amalgam of Christian and African beliefs and practices.  We’re dealing with the most sensational type of portrayal here, but I was fascinated to discover that the sinister influence of Voodoo in this story is actually loosely based on real history.  In 1970, the Haitian dictator François Duvalier was in the last years of his reign, a reign that he had supported by co-opting the local forms of Voodoo.  He claimed to be one of the Ioa, or governing spirits of the world, as well identifying himself as Jesus and God himself, just to up the ante on the blasphemy all the way to 11.  He used Voodoo and dragooned its leaders into his service in order to gain spiritual as well as political control over his subjects.  That’s a pretty perfect setting for a spooky Phantom Stranger adventure and a dystopian nightmare!

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And the story doesn’t disappoint.  In Haiti we discover professional wet blanket Dr. Thirteen coming to the aid of the country’s president.  Interestingly, though he looks like Duvalier, he’s actually the good guy here, trying to improve his country and being opposed by shadowy and nefarious Obeah Men (Voodoo sorcerers).  It seems his assistant has died without a mark on him after receiving a Voodoo warning.  The President tells Thirteen that he’s been unable to make any headway against the Obeah Men and asks for his help to discredit them so that the people will stop supporting the charlatans.  He offers to take the good doctor to a ruined fortress where the Voodoo ceremonies are held.

On their way there, Thirteen tells the Haitian head of state about a similar case.  Here’s our interpolated episode, which is actually a pretty standard story.  I’ve seen this plot adapted in a few different places, including on the radio show Escape.  I imagine there is a short story that has served as the originator, but I haven’t bothered to track it down.  Anyway, it’s a pretty standard setup.  A colonial officer in Africa runs afoul of a Voodoo priest and is forced to kill him.  With his dying breath, the man curses the officer, and he lives in fear of that curse ever after.

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Eventually, he sees the man again and is given a token of warning, in this case, a Voodoo doll with pins in the legs.  The victim’s fear and belief create a psychosomatic reaction (he loses the ability to walk), and there is a threat of death.  In this instance, the worst is prevented by Dr. Thirteen discovering that the man’s nephew had faked the second encounter and used a recording to hypnotize his uncle in his sleep.  You know, people are always doing that in fiction, and it seems to require a huge amount of luck.  All it would take is one bad dream, midnight snack, or trip to the bathroom to reveal the scheme.  But I digress.  There’s a reason that plot has been adapted multiple times; it’s a good one, and Aparo’s beautiful art makes this a memorable version.

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Back in our frame tale, guess who makes an appearance?  It’s the Unnecessary Teen Gang.  At least Sekowsky lampshades the absurdity of their showing up in Haiti, as they explain they mysteriously won a trip, and we can assume this was orchestrated by a higher power…for some reason…despite the fact that they contribute absolutely nothing to the plot.  Dr. Thirteen spots the kids in a market and flips his lid.  He leaps out of the car and starts demanding that they tell him where the Stranger is, arguing that he’s never far away from them.  Just as they tell the overly excited ghost breaker that they haven’t seen the man with the awesome medallion, the Stranger himself appears, in the limo no less.  Immediately, the President proves more sensible than the supposed scientist, as he doesn’t discount any possibilities out of hand, willingly hearing his visitor out.

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The gang all head to the ruined fortress, and once there they they find a ceremony in full swing, as well as a pair of strangely garbed figures in the midst of the dark ritual.  One is revealed, of course, to be Tala.  The other is the enigmatic Obeah Man.  And here we have the big weakness of the issue and one of the very few failures of Aparo’s art.  The Stranger leaps at the Voodoo priest and socks him, and then…something happens.  The art just doesn’t quite manage to convey the action, and the whole thing is wrapped up in a single page.  The Stranger grabs some type of jar called the ‘Seal of Solomon‘ (a symbol with historical and occult significance, figuring prominently in medieval lore about Solomon’s extra-textual magic powers) and the Priest sort of dissolves, and then, I guess, turns into a bug.  The Stranger slaps him into the jar, and tosses it into the sea, prompting Tala to bug out in response (sorry!).

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Confusing or not, that fourth panel is still cool looking.

It’s not much of a showdown.  Anticlimax can be quite effective, but the whole thing is so vague and the action so unclear that it just feels unsatisfying.  Once again, Dr. Thirteen accuses the Stranger of having faked the whole thing and being in league with the villains of the piece, but the President demonstrates a broader mind, thanking the mysterious champion for his aid.  Of course, the Stranger disappears, leaving Dr. Thirteen cursing the empty air once more.

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This is a fun story, and the historical background I discovered about it makes it all the more interesting for me.  I quite enjoy that the Haitian president is wise enough to insist that a truly rational man must not discount anything out of hand, all while ‘ol Terry rages at the evidence of his own eyes.  Aparo’s art is beautiful and moody as always, nicely evoking the exotic locale of the story.  The narrower focus of this issue allows for a great development of the main plot, but unfortunately the digressions with the Unnecessary Teen Gang takes up some space that would have been better used on the Obeah man.  That vague final confrontation is rather disappointing, weakening a promising story.  Fortunately, the interpolated episode is pretty good, so that helps balance out the flaws of the frame tale.  I suppose I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, though that might be a tad generous.  It has its problems, but it is plenty entertaining and I just find the creepy background of a despotic state ruled through fear and a co-opted religion adds a lot of flavor to the issue.

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The letter column actually includes a note from the editor about how a recent visit to Haiti served as the inspiration for this story, which confirms the setting.  The letters themselves are full of effusive praise for the new direction of this book.  Notably, most folks seem to share my opinion of the useless teen gang, but people are split on Dr. Thirteen.  Everyone seems to recognize that they’ve got something special here, though.  I can’t wait to see what’s next!

 


Well, that’s it for this post.  I hope y’all found these commentaries interesting.  I know that I found a lot in these two issues to sink my teeth into, despite their flaws.  We’re definitely seeing a lot of the changing face of comics with these two books.  They are almost a microcosm of the Bronze Age, pushing the standard boundaries of comics in themes, content, and style.  I hope y’all will join me again soon for another step in our journey Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 2)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to the second edition of October 1970’s Into the Bronze Age!  Today we begin our coverage of Adventure Comics with Supergirl’s new look, and we have another of the Aquaman adventures by the SAG team.  Let’s see what fun awaits us!

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

  • Action Comics #393
  • Adventure Comics #398
  • Aquaman #52
  • Detective Comics #404
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
  • Phantom Stranger #9
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 (Jack Kirby’s debut!)
  • Superman #230
  • Teen Titans #29

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


Adventure Comics #398


adventure_comics_vol_1_398“The Maid of Doom!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Jim Mooney
Inker: Jim Mooney
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“Catcher in the Sky”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Mike Peppe
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

This issue of Supergirl contains a reprint, which is the headline tale oddly enough.  I’m guessing that they had a shortfall of some sort.  Either way, it also features the first of the ongoing adventures of the Maid of Might in her new costume.  DC apparently held a write-in contest allowing readers to design the new look.  That’s a pretty cool idea, and I imagine it was a good way to get interest and buy-in from female readers in 70s.  I do wonder, however, if traditionally “girlie” interests like fashion would have held as much fascination for young ladies that were already breaking with convention by having an interest in superheroes.  I suppose there are still a number of ‘female-friendly’ comics on the shelves at the time, comics marketed specifically at girls like the various romance books, but it seems like kids reading a flat-out superhero might be a bit different.  I suppose that my curiosity on that score isn’t likely to be satisfied any time soon, but there it is nonetheless.  If any of my readers happen to be ladies who were reading these books circa 1970, I’m sure we’d all be delighted to hear your take on the matter.

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Anyway, the results of the contest are Supergirl’s new costume, and I have to say, it’s one of my favorite looks for her.  Unfortunately it is also a rather short lived one, but I find it an overall strong design for the character.  It helps with one of the problems of her classic costume, the color balance.  While Superman has his red trunks (in every proper version, darn you New 52!) to break up the blue, Supergirl doesn’t have such a feature.  The boots and belt of this costume help to provide more visual interest, and I rather like the gloves as well.  It’s recognizably a super-inspired costume, but one that has much more of her personality on display.

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The story itself is a simple but fun little yarn, a variation on a gag that has been used many times before and since this issue hit the stands.  It begins with Supergirl, young Linda Danvers, lounging in her apartment watching TV.  Apparently, she enjoys watching the tube by contorting her body, given the way she has her chair aligned with the set.  Also, she seems not to have gotten the memo from Batman that one should do one’s TV watching in costume.  Nevertheless, she hears a broadcast about an aircraft carrier that has suddenly vanished in the Gulf.

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She leaps into action and goes to investigate, searching for hours above and below the waves but finding nothing.  When she surfaces again, she sees a trio of search planes disappear into the thin air and she follows hot on their tailfins, emerging in an alternate dimension!

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Come on Sekowsky!

When she arrives, she sees a massive alien, on something of a King Kong scale, examining the planes.  When she goes to speak with the creature, a larger being, apparently the smaller one’s father, enters, searching for something called a ‘dimension grappler.’  It seems that Jr. has been playing with Daddy’s tools.  The little one lies and says he hasn’t seen it, and in a funny little scene, Supergirl turns snitch, using super lungs to be heard and pointing out Jr.’s perfidiousness.  The mystery solved, the earthlings are sent home while Jr. gets his just deserts.

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This is a silly but fun little story, and the silliness is so matter-of-fact that one can’t really hold it against the comic.  As goofy as the concept is, it still seems perfectly at home in the DC Universe.  I wonder how many times that gag has been used over the years, the omnipotent child.  I know it’s shown up in everything from Star Trek to Transformers, and many a setting in between.  This particular story is very brief, but it still manages a funny beat with the punishment of Jr. and a little bit of characterization in the way that Supergirl handles the problem.  Her dialog, not wanting to be a snitch, is rather entertaining, and I rather like that her solution is nonviolent, just a direct conversation.  In the end, this is just too brief to earn more than an average rating, however cute it is.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Aquaman #53


aquaman_vol_1_53“Is California Sinking?”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

Well dear readers, you are looking at a rarity, the only clunker in the entire SAG run on Aquaman.  It’s a crying shame too, because this book is graced by one heck of a cover!  Just look at that wild image.  How could you have resisted pulling that off the shelf or the spinner rack?  Unfortunately, the promise of that cover is squandered inside, and the epic struggle against impossible odds never occurs on the pages within.  Instead, we get a really bizarre little story that seems much more fitting for Bob Haney than for Steve Skeates.  It is silly and off-beat, but it feels much more like a handful of independent ideas than a coherent story.  I’m thinking that maybe there is some type of inside joke here I’m not getting, but whatever the case, this story just didn’t come together for me.  Interestingly, the splash page includes the debut of the S.A.G. branding.  This is not the most auspicious premiere of the symbol.

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It begins promisingly enough, though with a quirkiness that proves par for the rest of the course.  A secretary is tap-tap-tapping away at her typewriter in an office building, oblivious to the fact that water is rushing in around her until she is entirely submerged.  The page is rather funny, and the girl’s surprised face once she’s underwater is comedic.  Aparo definitely stretches his comedy skills in this issue, for what that’s worth.

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Yet, the submarine secretary is not actually about to suffer a sea-drenched sendoff.  This is apparently just the sales pitch of a “scientist,” a suspicious looking character wearing sunglasses and a fedora.  He’s trying to convince chubby Race Bannon…er…that is, Eliot Harlanson, a Californian bigwig of some unspecified variety, that Atlantis is destined to rise and, as a result, California is destined to sink beneath the waves.  Fortunately for Mr. Shades, Harlanson (Chubby Race…Chace?) has more money than brains, so he buys the tall tale…though, I suppose in the DC Universe, this would be pretty plausible.

In a really odd touch, the millionaire is not all that worries about the millions that would die if California sank into the sea.  No, what he’s really concerned about is his house, as he continually describes it, his “beautiful, spacious home,” upon which he’s spent millions.  Well, what is a selfish millionaire to do in such a situation?  Mr. Shades has a plan.  He just needs to buy an atomic bomb (an ‘A-bomb’), ’cause you can just pick one of those up at the corner store, and nuke Atlantis.  Problem solved.

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So, you can see that the weirdness of this tale starts out already cranked to 11.  It gets more convoluted, though.  Mr. Shades turns out to be an agent of O.G.R.E.  Remember them?  They’re one of a passel of secret criminal organizations that sprouted up during the James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E. craze in the 60s.  There for a while, every hero had their very own evil organization as a nemesis.  Aquaman had his O.G.R.E. and Hawkman had C.A.W., and there were plenty others to boot.  These guys haven’t been heard from in nearly 30 issues at this point, and sadly this is not the most impressive of homecomings.

That really is a shame because I always felt like O.G.R.E. had a decent amount of potential, though it was never developed.  Blend in some of the 80s anti-corporate themes and make O.G.R.E. a consortium of massive, shady corporations looking to exploit the resources of the oceans and willing to go to any lengths to accomplish their ends; maybe you’d have something.  You could weave any number of plots into their machinations, and such a setup gives you a constant background source of threats and supervillains.  The last gasp of the ill-fated Sword of Atlantis take on Aquaman got into something rather similar, though it never got a good chance to develop the story hooks Tad Williams introduced.

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This is apropos of nothing; I just love Aparo’s undersea vistas…

Anyway, as I said, O.G.R.E. doesn’t come off too well here.  Apparently, they want to take out Aquaman, and they see nuking Atlantis as the simplest way to do this…I wonder if they’ve ever heard of overkill.  Yet, their organization is not up to the job, so they’re convincing some random millionaire moron to do their dirty work for them…somehow.  But their plan is YET MORE convoluted, as they’ve also employed Black Manta to act as (unwitting) bait to lure Aquaman to Atlantis so he’ll be in position for the ensuing nuclear holocaust.  Remember that Manta showed up a few issues back?  Well, this is why.  He’s serving as a catspaw for O.G.R.E., and he’s armed with a shiny new raygun for the job.

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We cut back to him ranting and raving outside of Atlantis, where he provokes the Sea King into sending his finny friends against him, only to have them scattered by a blast from the gun, which ‘scrambles brainwaves.’  For some reason, this single gun seems to convince everyone that Manta can suddenly conquer Atlantis with his half dozen men, so the Marine Marvel goes out to head him off.  In an  admittedly neat page, Aquaman bets on his mental powers to shield him from the ray’s effects and focuses with all his might on a single though, ‘get Manta!’  He powers through the blast and clocks his nemesis with a powerful blow.  I always enjoy displays of the Sea King’s mental fortitude and grit, so I like this bit.

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After capturing the devious devil-ray themed villain, Aquaman interrogates him, literally slapping the truth out of him in a fairly awesome sequence.  The Sea King realizes that something is up, and he gets Manta to admit that someone put him up to this attack.

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Slapping him THROUGH the metal helmet, Aquaman is a tough son of a gun.

Unfortunately, the villain doesn’t know what O.G.R.E. is planning, so the Marine Marvel can’t do anything but patrol around the undersea city.  Luckily, he spots the sub on its approach and summons a giant squid (!) to grab it.  This is an awesome panel, with the sea creature completely dwarfing the sub and emphasizing the power at Aquaman’s command.

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Just as it seems the day is saved, the stupidity and utter incompetence of our Californian millionaire, personally overseeing the mission, of course, comes into play.  He hits the release lever for the bomb, and it seems as if Atlantis is doomed!  Aquaman races desperately to catch it, but even the fastest being under the sea isn’t quite fast enough, and the bomb hits the seabed…and nothing happens.  It’s a dud.

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Meanwhile, G-Men have captured the O.G.R.E. agents, and when Aquaman and Aqualad compare notes with them, they learn that Harlanson’s girl friday was actually one of their operatives, and she arranged for the bomb to be a fake.  We also learn that pretty much everyone was just let go with a warning.  Despite trying to nuke Atlantis, Harlanson is just sent back home.  Apparently he didn’t know Atlantis was inhabited.  I’d call that unbelievable, but given the level of ignorance in the real world, it seems like the most plausible piece of this story.  More inexplicably, our hero just up and lets Black Manta go, saying that “knowing he had been used was enough punishment for him.”  Really?  Not, you know, prison?  They guy is, at the very least, a pirate and a murderer.  At worst, he’s a war criminal.  I know we want to keep our villains in circulation, but this is just plain ridiculous!  There has to be a better solution than, ‘oh well, don’t try to murder us anymore you naughty boy, you!’

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This issue is just too weird.  Harlanson doing all of this just to protect his fancy house is just plain silly.  All of the other elements seem incongruous as well: the O.G.R.E. agents who don’t actually do anything, the anticlimax of the bomb being a dud, the pointless battle with Manta that has zero impact on the story, and the uncharacteristic foolishness of Aquaman just letting his most deadly enemy go free after capturing him IN THE ACT of trying to CONQUER ATLANTIS.  It’s just too much.  There are several fun moments, and Aparo’s art is as awesome as always, but the final result just leaves me scratching my head.  It isn’t actively annoying, like the book of certain Green-clad heroes, but it certainly isn’t nearly as good as the bulk of the SAG productions.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.  There’s some fun to be had here, but it is mostly buried under the silliness.

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I’ll let Aqualad handle the parting thoughts today:

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Thanks…that’s…good to know?

Was this really in the zeitgeist in the 70s?  I thought all that ‘Atlantis rising’ hogwash was a result of the spiritualist movement in the 20s with Edgar Cayce and that bunch.  I’m curious if there’s something I’m missing.  As always, if you know something I don’t, please drop me a line in the comments!


Well, that does it for today’s features.  I hope you’ll join me soon for another pair of Bronze Age stories.  Until then, keep up the search for adventure!