Hello and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age! While I know nothing can live up to the incredible extravaganza that was the Ten-Eyed Man’s return, I think we’ve got an interesting pair of books on tap today, including a fascinating first appearance. So, check out more of what May 1971 has in store for us!
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #400
Adventure Comics #406
Brave and Bold #95
Detective Comics #411
The Flash #206
Forever People #2
G.I. Combat #147
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
Justice League of America #89
New Gods #2
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
World’s Finest #202
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Detective Comics #411
“Into the Den of the Death-Dealers!” Writer: Dennis O’Neil Penciler: Bob Brown Inker: Dick Giordano Letterer: Ben Oda Editor: Julius Schwartz
“Cut… and run!” Writer: Frank Robbins Penciler: Don Heck Inker: Dick Giordano
This month we’ve got an uneven cover. It’s a bit oddly designed, with some wonky perspective, and the sword of the fellow in purple is misshapen. The concept is cool, however, and seeing Batman facing ninjas is always exciting. Inside is an important issue in the the Dark Knight’s history, introducing a significant character and advancing the League of Assassins plot that continues to develop across these books. Yet, as is so often the case, the significance of this story isn’t immediately apparent. It will take a little time for the groundwork laid here to bear fruit.
Our story starts with a nicely dramatic splash page, courtesy of Bob Brown. We see Batman perched atop the “Statue of Freedom,” which is totally not the Statue of Liberty, with Gotham spread out in the distance. I enjoyed this little touch of ersatz world building, though the Statue of Liberty is a bit too iconic for this to work. Their world is not our world, and I prefer it that way. Within the edifice, the Masked Manhunter has planned to meet an informant with information about the League of Assassins, but those same killers find the fellow first! The Caped Crusader fights off their followup attack, and we see some more of the ‘martial arts master’ Batman that would become the standard in following years, though the art doesn’t quite sell it.
Before he dies, the informant manages to give the hero a lead. With his last breath, he whispers that the nefarious Dr. Darrk will be on the Soom Express (totally not the Orient Express), and soon we watch as Dr. Darrk and a beautiful young woman board the train, followed by a mysterious old lady. As the train slows for a hill, Darrk and his companion leap off, and once more they are followed by the old woman, who throws off a disguise to reveal the Batman…who somehow hid his pointy-eared cowl under a mask and wig. It’s still a rather cool moment, despite its silliness. Yet, Darrk was waiting for him, and his assassins overwhelm the Dark Knight, beating him unconscious with bo-staffs.
When the Masked Manhunter awakens, he discovers that he is the un-masked Manhunter! The girl, who introduces herself as Talia, daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul (that’s right!), has taken off his mask to treat his injuries. She declares that Darrk had fallen out with her father, and he had taken her prisoner as part of their feud. Their conversation is cut short when Darrk leads them to what he intends to be their doom!
Talia is tied to a stake in the middle of an arena, while Batman is left free, free to face an enraged bull! The Crusader uses his cape to confuse and distract the animal before leading it into Darrk’s minions. Then, in an exciting display of resourcefulness and power, he rips Talia’s poll out of the ground and uses it to pole-vault into Darrk, where the villain watched from a balcony. With the bad Doctor in tow, the Dark Knight heads to meet the train, only to be blinded by a hidden weapon of Darrk’s. As the assassin master prepares to finish off his foe, Talia shoots him, and the villain falls into the path of the train, meeting a grisly end. The story ends with Batman comforting the traumatized girl, who was forced to take a life.
This is a good, solid adventure story, continuing to develop the threat of the League of Assassins. It seems like a fairly straightforward resolution to that arc, with a suitably dramatic and treacherous ending for the demonic Dr. Darrk, but there is, of course, much more going on here. O’Neil layers in some pretty good plot hooks for new stories, introducing Talia, casually mentioning her father, and the significance of these things is easy to miss.
Yet, the seeds of something great are already here. While the girl claims she cannot recognize Bruce Wayne’s face, she has seen it, which will open up possibilities in the future, and the way she speaks of her father makes it clear that he is a powerful and dangerous man. There isn’t much chemistry between our hero and this new lady in his life yet, but then again this is only their first meeting, a meeting under adverse conditions.
I imagine that O’Neil realized that he had something promising with the League of Assassins, but at the same time understood that Darrk, was not nearly an interesting enough head honcho for such an outfit. With this tale, he disposes of one functional if uninspiring villain and makes the way for a much, much better one. Next month, we’re going to meet on of the greatest Bat-villains of all time, and one who defines the Bronze Age of Batman! This story, however, is not quite so impressive as I remember that one being. It’s an exciting adventure tale, and Brown’s art is strong if not spectacular. I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.
P.S.: I realized after the fact that this story was actually loosely adapated into the Batman: The Animated Series episode, “Off Balance.” Thus, Timm and Co. actually adpated both parts of the introduction of R’as Al Ghul!
Our backup this month is the continuation of last issue’s Batgirl yarn, and it’s a fun one. The Dynamic Dame was captured by the mod mobsters, the felonious fashionistas who were backing a clothier invested in the skir-craze. It was…an odd but entertaining plot. We join the gangster, ‘Serpy,’ as he straps Batgirl into an automated cloth cutter, and abiding by villain union rules, he leaves her to her fate. Things look grim for the girl detective, but she uses her head, or more specifically, her mouth! She rotates the pattern plate to stay ahead of the cutting blade, and when it reaches the end, it shuts off. This is a nicely clever escape, showing her resourcefulness.
Suddenly, Milt, one of the designers and fashion spies shows up, but he has had a change of heart, not being up for murder, and lets her go. The Masked Maiden tries to warn the gangster’s target, stylista Mamie Acheson, but the girl doesn’t believe her, so the heroine rushes to catch a plane in hopes of beating the assassins to the punch. On the Rivera, Serpy and his right-hand thug toss a helpless Ms. Acheson overboard, only to have the fashionplate rescued by Batgirl!
Then, the Masked Maiden tackles both killers and puts them on ice. Don Heck does a pretty nice job with most of the action, but there are some rough spots too. After her rescue, Mamie is feeling the weight of her decision, and after a comment from Batgirl about her beautiful legs (really Babs?), she comes up with a way out of the conundrum. She shows up on stage in a Batgirl inspired pants-suit, and surely fashion designers the world over started jumping out of windows.
It’s a cute ending to an off-beat story. I enjoyed the repentance of the felonious fashion designer, as it makes sense he would balk at murder, whatever lengths he might be willing to go to for his business. Batgirl’s dynamic rescue is good, but her escape from the deathtrap is my favorite part of the issue. It’s nice to see her recover from the bumbling bombshell she was last issue. The setup is still a bit odd, but the result is an enjoyable little story, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.
The Flash #206
“24 Hours of Immortality” Writer: Robert Kanigher Penciler: Irv Novick Inker: Murphy Anderson Cover Artist: Neal Adams
“Showdown in Elongated Town” Writer: Cary Bates Penciler: Dick Giordano Inker: Dick Giordano
I’m not entirely sure why, but I really dislike this cover. For one, the frozen, blank-eyed expression on the girl’s face says less ‘absence of fear’ and more ‘presence of lobotomy.’ It just doesn’t really work for me. Other than the girl’s plunge, there’s nothing else to it, and the image just doesn’t quite capture her fall, nor the significance thereof. The same is true of the story within, another product of the unequaled master of the uneven, Bob Kanigher.
It begins with aerial daredevil Susan Logan and her son flying to the ‘Sky Devils Circus,’ while at the same time Neurosurgeon William Kandel and his wife are racing towards an operation on a famous scientist. Suddenly, Logan loses control over her plane, and she just happens to crash right into the doctor’s car. The son and wife are killed in the crack-up, but as the two heart-broken humans are left lamenting their lost loved ones, two strange, glowing figures appear out of the ether. They claim to be “aliens countless light-years advanced over” Earth, which doesn’t entirely make sense, and in their weird robes, they look more like bug-eyed spirits than advanced aliens. Nonetheless, they are apparently studying Earth, so in the interest of gathering data, they restore the two lost loved ones back to life in exchange for their relatives surrendering their lives in 24 hours. Until that time, the aliens declare that each of their future victims will be immortal.
Each pair rushes off to finish their business and spend their remaining time together, and each runs into trouble on the way. The doctor is caught in the crossfire between the Generic Gang and the Flash during a car chase, only to find that the rounds passed right through him. The surgeon begs the Monarch of Motion to help him get to his appointment, and then the hero chips in as his assistant to make the multi-hour procedure go faster and give the man more time to spend with his wife.
Afterwards, the pilot, Susan Logan, finds the location of the aerial circus aflame. The Flash is able to put the blaze out, but she still manages to get into trouble and nearly crash for a second time. I’ve got to say, at this point, I’m not sure this woman should be flying. We also get a really weird and random diatribe about forestry and forest fires, as the Flash has a page-long harangue against people whose carelessness starts fires, including a pointed visual reference to dead animals. I sympathize, having grown up in the ‘Smokey the Bear’ era, but this is just absolutely shoe-horned into this issue.
Get it? GET IT?!
Thanks to the Fastest Man Alive, Logan is still able to perform in the show, but she is on the verge of being beaten by the favorite, so she puts her immortality to the test, diving all the way to the ground instead of opening her chute. This seems like something of a cheat to me, but she’s doing it to provide for her soon to be orphaned son, so I guess we’re supposed to say it’s okay.
Finally, the two on borrowed time are taken back to their fateful appointment by the Flash, as he has decided not to let them give up their lives without a fight. He pleads with the two aliens in some rather painfully badly sentimental dialog, the usual ‘we have emotions and minds!’ routine. In response, the robed ones pretty much say, ‘eh, we’ll kill you too.’ They try a few different weapons, with the Flash escaping from each one, and then they literally disintegrate him. And that’s the end of the Flash. This is the book’s last issue! Next month we’ll put the Adventures of Kid Flash in this slot…
Ohh wait, no. Instead, Barry pulls a Doctor Manhattan, and literally reconstructs his body, molecule by molecule, with limbs, mind, that have already been disintegrated. Yet, while the insanely powerful, godlike Dr. Manhattan took months to do so, Flash does it in seconds. Because that’s a thing that he can do. Because that makes a lick of sense with this powers. At this point, the aliens essentially just give up with the murder and mouth some meaningless platitudes about how mankind is clearly more noble than they thought, possessing higher characteristics like selfless love. Except, they already saw that when A) the first two willingly offered their lives for their loved ones and again, B) when the Flash did the same for two strangers before they tried to melt him. It’s really stupid in context. Clearly Kanigher is hitting the conventional notes without bothering to tell a story that gets there naturally.
‘Farewell and a good life! Sorry about trying to murder you!’
So the end result here is a weird attempt at moralizing in multiple ways that bungles its payoff. The aliens are really random and don’t solidify as a concept, and the two different pairs of marked people mean that you don’t spend enough time with either one to really get invested in their story. Susan Logan just seems downright incompetent, and the doctor and his wife are given no real time to display any personality. Barry gets literally one panel of introspection with Iris as he tries to decide what to do, and the reintegration resolution is so ridiculous, that I had to read it twice to make sure I got it. I’ll give this half-hearted tale a weak 2Minutemen. It’s been done before, and done much better. Even the poorly developed Phantom Stranger tale with the needlessly Egyptian aliens (or needlessly alien Egyptians, depending on your point of view) was more dramatically successful.
“Showdown in Elongated Town!”
Yet again, the backup feature saves the day! This time, we get a really exciting event stuffed into the back pages of the Flash, the return of the Stretchable Sleuth, the Ductile Detective, the Rubberized Roustabout, the Elongated Man! Now, I’ve got a solid affection for this hard-luck hero, though I’ve read few of his stories. He’s just such a likeable character, and I love the ‘Nick and Nora’ vibe that he and his wife embody. It’s a charming concept, and it really sets him apart from the competition. I suppose this once again reveals my love of the underdogs.
This particular tale reintroduces the Elongated Man to the DC Universe and the pages of Flash in strange but memorable fashion. He the Stretchable Sleuth suddenly finds himself in a bizarre, fun-house version of a western town, hauling a wagon like a packhorse. Suddenly, his mystery-scenting noes starts twitching, and Ralph knows that something odd is afoot. A distorted gunfighter appears, and bizarrely, he fires a solar-powered six-shooter at the hero. With everything strangely distorted, the Ductile Detective has a hard time operating, and his efforts to capture his antagonist only net him a dummy!
Just then, he is beset by a stampede and a massive rattlesnake. Fleeing upwards, Ralph discovers a loudspeaker, revealing that these threats aren’t real. He makes his way inside one of the buildings, dodging more solar blasts, and, in a panel that I find a bit creepy, he pops a pair of contact lenses out of his eyes! Elongated Man has deduced that he’s been setup, and someone planned to cripple him by distorting his vision. Snatching up an old lever-action rifle, Ralph stalks into the street to confront the only man who could accomplish all of this, and he calls him out…the Mirror Master!
As the villain fires his mirror gun, the Stretchable Sleuth crams himself into the gun barrel, then springs out, surprising his foe and capturing him! It’s a nice resolution, an unexpected attack that makes a certain amount of sense as a way to take out the much more powerful opponent. The tale ends with the Elongated Man figuring out the mystery of his predicament and putting the pieces together. The Mirror Master hypnotized him and drew him to this ghost town in order to train himself for a clash with the Flash. To handicap the hero, the Reflective Rogue used special contacts to distort his vision. Apparently, ‘ol Mirror Master was a big western fan, and the trappings of the story were his way of living out a classic showdown fantasy.
This is a fun story and a decent reintroduction of the Elongated Man. He captures a much more powerful villain, taking advantage of the fact that he was underestimated, which is pretty well in character. I like the way he puts things together, and it is all relatively believable in context for the Ductile Detective. It’s cool to see Dick Giordano handling the art chores as well, and he does a fine job, capturing the distorted, bizarre landscape fairly well, and also doing a good job with Ralph’s stretching powers. I’ll give this enjoyable little backup tale 3.5 Minutemen. There’s nothing really wrong with it other than the slightly awkward device of the contacts. It seems like the master of mirrors could probably have come up with a simpler, more easily controlled way of doing the same thing.
That finishes up our books for this post, and all-in-all, a nice pair of comics they were! We’ve got some exciting events in the offing her, with the famous next stages of the League of Assassins story arc just on the horizon and the return of the Elongated Man to the pages of Flash offering some relief from the mediocrity of the main tales in that book. I am really looking forward to a change in pace for the Flash magazine. These are routinely among the weakest comics I read in each batch. These weird random stories have outstayed their welcome. I would really like to see a return to classic super-heroics. We’re still three issues away from the return of supervillains to an actual Flash story, and even then it is looks like it will be only a temporary revival. Whatever awaits us in the Fastest Man Alive’s adventures, we have two exciting new comics awaiting us next time. So, please join me again soon for another league in our Journey Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!