Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Come on in and enjoy some 4-colored adventures in a brighter, better world than ours.  I don’t know about you, but I can certainly use such a pleasant diversion.  We’ve got a very interesting pair of books to cover in this post, including the end of Denny O’Neil’s unusual but intriguing tenure on Superman.  Let’s get started!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Superman #242


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“The Ultimate Battle!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Girl Who Didn’t Believe in Superman!”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Stan Kaye

“The World’s Mightiest Weakling!”
Writer: Otto Binder
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Bernard Sachs

And here we are at last, the conclusion of Denny O’Neil’s attempt to update Superman.  This is the grand finale of the saga of the Sand Superman, and I have been looking forward to the read.  We start with a solid but not quite earth-shattering cover, which is a bit ironic given what it depicts.  It’s a dramatic piece, but the two fighting figures, carefully matched in their combat, look a bit awkward.  It looks more like they’re standing in mid-air than engaged in a frenetic flying fist-fight.  The blazing city below them is a nice touch, but the flat coloring renders it less powerful than it could have been.

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The story within is a similarly mixed bag.  It opens where the last issue left off, with the defeated Man of Steel grasped in the grip of the ghoulish “war demon,” which has been animated by another Quarrmite spirit.  The fight is taking place in a junkyard, and a pair of bums cheer the monster on, even going so far as to vent their frustrations on the formerly invulnerable hero. Seeing the Metropolis Marvel bleed, they realize that he is now a mere mortal and proceed to beat him savagely.  With Superman defeated, the two hobos, “Stewpot” and “Gemmi,” then take charge of the clueless creature, who is new to their world and has a childish innocence.  The vicious vagrants decide to use the demon to satisfy their own desires for chaos and destruction.

Conveniently, Jimmy Olsen happens to be at the junkyard on an assignment (one wonders what he did to tick Perry off), and the young reporter finds his fallen friend.  The injured hero is rushed to the hospital, where they discover his brain injury from last issue and begin a delicate operation while I-Ching, Diana Prince, and Jimmy Olsen waited with baited breath.

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Meanwhile, the demon, sporting his bum brain-trust on his shoulders, smashes through a museum and confronts the police.  Just then, the Sand Superman arrives, and he crashes into the monster with massive force!  After a quick battle, the creature proves too much for him, and the dusty duplicate flees, wondering what prompted him to intercede, despite his protestations that he cares nothing for humanity.  This is an intriguing moment, but it sadly doesn’t get much development.

The demon’s rampage continues, with him smashing through a police barricade, but as he becomes accustomed to his power and begins to enjoy the chaos he’s causing, he also grows tired of the bums who are bossing him around.  Finally, he decides to employ his lessons in destruction on his masters themselves, and he kills them, on panel!  Their deaths (in shadow, but visible nonetheless, which is quite unusual), are accompanied by a quote from Ecclesiastes, interestingly enough.  And with that, the villainous vagabonds leave the story, making their inclusion feel rather pointless.

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With his masters mashed, the monster heads after his original foe, smashing his way into Superman’s hospital and easily brushing aside Diana Prince’s puny efforts to oppose him.  This is not Wonder Woman’s best performance, as Jimmy puts up just about as much of a fight as she does.  When the creature reaches the Fallen Man of Steel, it finds him fully recovered, but the two are evenly matched, at least until the sudden and unexpected arrival of…the Sand Superman!  The Man of Grit smashes through the ceiling, and in a nice touch the Action Ace wonders for a moment whose side his double is on.  His question is answered a moment later, as his alluvial alternate crashes into the demon, and the pair of powerhouses push their foe towards the park, where the portal to Quarrm still rests.

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The spirit is sucked back into its formless realm, and the crisis seems to have passed…until the duplicitous dusty duplicate declares that he is determined to be Superman, and therefore the original must die!  The real Metropolis Marvel protests that they can coexist, but the Alluvial Ace declares that the hero is too proud of his own uniqueness to share his world with another, which is an interesting angle.  The two are squaring off for a final showdown, where their oppositely charged atoms will trigger an explosion that will destroy one of them when I-Ching suddenly shows up and offers to cancel their charges out and let them fight normally.

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After his mystic gesture is finished, the two super-foes begin a titanic combat that takes them through the very core of the Earth.  In a nice sequence, Superman lures his doppelganger into a trap and clocks him into orbit, but after he pursues his enemy into space, the pair look down to see the world consumed by a cataclysm triggered by their Earth-shattering brawl!  They gaze upon a world scoured of life, and Superman breaks down, only to be brought back to reality by I-Ching.

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The vision was just a mystical trick, to dissuade the two titans from beginning their cataclysmic combat.  The Sandy Superman is so moved that returns to Quarrm willingly, observing that there can only be one Man of Steel.  The mystic offers to transfer the double’s powers back to the original Superman, but he refuses, saying that he has power enough, and after seeing what it could do, he wants no more, which is an interesting character moment.

And on that somewhat bittersweet note, Denny O’Neil’s Sand Superman saga comes to a close.  As with the run as a whole, this final story is very uneven.  There is a lot here that is really excellent, but there are a number of incongruous elements as well, along with a general sense of missed opportunities.  Really, that’s the biggest problem with this issue and O’Neil’s tenure on the book at large.  The mythology of this story feels ad-hoc and unfinished, a random grab-bag of elements that don’t have a unifying theme and lack the power of, say, the world-building going on in Kirby’s Fourth World books.

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What’s here isn’t bad, but it just feels like it should be more than it is.  The war demon is the best example from this last arc, with its odd appearance and random nature.  His two hobo masters, who contribute almost nothing to the story during their brief tenure, are also signs of this trend.  They corrupt the simple spirit with their thirst for violence, though we had already seen the creature being plenty violent during the previous issue.  These two bums are given no development, no motivation for their evil attitudes, and thus their deaths have no power other than shock value.  This is even more of a shame because there’s plenty of potential for something worthwhile here, perhaps in the style of Frankenstein, with an innocent ruined by the evil of those around it.  Or, through these two bums, O’Neil could have explored how the morally weak react to the man of virtue, which is implicit in their hatred of the Metropolis Marvel but gets zero development.

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Then there’s the incongruous presence of the enigmatic and ill-defined I-Ching, who always felt out of place to me.  I can’t help feeling like the time spent with Diana Prince and I-Ching in these issues is wasted, and it’s time that could have been more profitably spent with Superman or his doppelganger.  As is, the Sandy Superman’s sudden sea-change is not entirely earned, though that is the element that has kept me hooked throughout this arc, the most intriguing piece of O’Neil’s plot.  That is probably the biggest disappointment.  The somewhat promising premise of Quarrm is also left unexplored and unexplained, fading out of the book with the finale of this story.

superman 242 p_017Still, there are some really excellent elements to this story.  The vision of a super-powered brawl destroying the Earth is really striking, and it reminds me of an Action Comics issue from a while back which evinced a similar realization of what such powers could do if not restrained.  This is an intriguing and thought-provoking premise, and one not seen that often in this era.  The fact that this dream then prompts Superman to willingly limit his power is a really fascinating twist.  I’m very curious if we’ll see that actually play out in the DCU at large or if it will be forgotten once O’Neil leaves.  I hope it will be the former!  The evidence of the Sand Superman’s internal conflict is also really interesting, though we don’t get to see much of it.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of O’Neil’s character work with the Man of Steel himself in this issue.  The idea that the hero so enjoys being The Last Son of Krypton that he’d be unwilling to share the limelight is an interesting one.  I don’t think that’s a good read of the character, but it could have led us to the Action Ace doing a little soul searching, which might have been promising if given a bit more space.  I think the fact that he doesn’t actually get the chance to reject that claim is a big weakness of the comic.

The classic “Swanderson” art is quite good throughout this issue.  Even though the war demon’s design is on the goofy side, they still make it look dynamic and frightening in action part of the time.  The depiction of the central super-fight is also nicely effective, as is their work on its cataclysmic consequences.  There are a number of great, dramatic moments beautifully depicted throughout the issue, especially the timely arrival of the Sand Superman.  The art is so good, in fact, that I wish the art team had been given a bit more powerful of a story to illustrate.  In the end, this is a flawed comic full of interesting ideas, an effective microcosm of the equally flawed but fascinating run that spawned it.  It’s an enjoyable read, but it really should be more than that, seeing as it serves as the end of a 10 issue plot.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as its strengths and weaknesses effectively break even, bringing Denny O’Neil’s landmark run on Superman to a less than earth-shattering conclusion.

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #114


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“The Foe of 100 Faces”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

The two feminine features of Lois Lane share a single story in this issue, and it is another surprisingly moving tale about race and equality.  Unfortunately, a solid comic is saddled with a pretty weak cover.  While Giordano’s Lois looks great, his Thorn is a bit misshapen, and the composition itself is not terribly captivating, full of yellow sky and not much else.  Notably, the ‘girl’ comic’s cover focuses on a non-existent love triangle instead of the much more interesting grist of the actual plot.

lois_lane_114_02The tale within starts in the office of Perry White, where he shows the lovely Lois Lane a copy of The Black Beacon, published in the city’s ‘Little Africa’ neighborhood, which was written by an anonymous columnist.  The pair admire the unknown author’s work, especially his stance against the nefarious 100, and Perry sends the girl reporter out to recruit the mystery man for the Planet (which really seems a bit outside of her job description: what kind of paper is Perry running?).  Interestingly, Morgan Edge shows up and backs White’s decision, thinking to himself that the 100 are competition to his own outfit, Intergang.  That’s a nice little bit of continuity, with Kanigher touching on what’s happening in other DC books.

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lois_lane_114_03Meanwhile, the Thorn’s alter-ego, Rose subconsciously eavesdrops on her boss, Vince Adams, as he meets with two 100 torpedoes and assigns them to get rid of the protestors blocking the construction of a new high-rise that the gang wants to use as a front.  While the innocent young Rose is unaware of these schemes, her vigilante identity takes note, perhaps implying a growth in the strength of that personality.

That evening, Lois approaches the small office of The Black Beacon, and inside she finds a familiar face.  That’s right, Dave Stevens, from the book’s excellent and groundbreaking first issue on race, is the anonymous author, and he’s obviously been changed by his encounter with the girl reporter.  While his assistant, Tina, is very cold and dismissive of Lois, Dave responds by saying that Lois is a “blood relation” of his, after a fashion, since her blood saved his life.  He tells the story of the journalist’s journey as a black woman, but Tina remains unconvinced.

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Yet, when Dave starts to bring Lois to the embattled Metropolis State building site to show her how he works, the 100 killers try to run them down, only to be stopped in dramatic fashion by the Thorn, who hits them like a whirlwind in a nice sequence.  Interestingly, Dave is a bit angry that a woman has fought his battle for him, but Lois points out that, just like minorities want to be treated equally, so do women, and he acknowledges her point with a smile.

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Once they reach the site of the protest, the young activist explains that the community is objecting to the building of the skyscraper because the city is pursuing it instead of addressing the needs of its people.  They demand affordable housing, schools, and infrastructure instead of another office building.  This fairly complex issue is massively simplified, but that’s to be expected in a comic like this, and the presentation is still effective.  Once again, a black woman objects to Lois’s presence, and once again, the reporter, herself changed by her previous experience, responds with patience and a plea for unity, which is well met.  It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s still heartwarming to see the characters bridging their gaps and the message is good.

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Yet, while the protestors are learning to look past surface differences, the idle construction workers are roused by 100 flunkies into attacking the marchers.  This is done with a surprisingly light touch.  The workers are a pretty diverse group themselves, including American Indians, and they don’t believe the rabble rouser’s speech at first, instead being willing to respond to the non-violence of the protest in kind.  It’s only after more 100 plants among the marchers start shooting and attacking the workers, backed by plants among the construction men as well, that a riot starts.  Kanigher avoids demonizing either group and, though not through realistic means, still manages to show how otherwise decent people can get swept up in violence and bigotry.

Lois gets knocked out (should I count supporting characters on the Headcount?), and Dave Stevens fights like a lion to protect her.  Tina tries to come to his aid, but they are both struck down as well.  Suddenly, the Thorn strikes, and she throws out explosive smoke bombs among the troublemakers.  The Baleful Beauty wades into them in another nice sequence, but she takes a hit as well, and it is only Superman’s timely arrival that saves the quartet.  The Man of Steel manages to use his super breath to disperses the crowd without hurting them.  The hero tries to talk with the Thorn, offering to sponsor her for League membership (!), but the Nymph of Night slips away, replying that she is a loner.

Lois begs the Metropolis Marvel to help the protesters, and he comes up with a solution.  He redesigns the building to use vertical space as well as horizontal and helps construct a new tower, which will serve both groups.  This makes everyone but the 100 happy.  Lois herself gets wistful, wishing she could have the type of relationship with Superman that Dave and Tina share.  Speaking of the two lovebirds, in the next few days, Lois visits them as they teach neighborhood children about black history, and the readers are treated to a cool double paged spread about the subject, and even I learned a bit (I had no idea that Dumas had African ancestry)!

Unfortunately, the peace does not last, and the 100 stages muggings and other disturbances at the new housing development to discredit the black citizens who moved in.  Lois goes to investigate, only to witness an explosion and see the fire department greeted by gunfire and thrown trash.  Dave helps her search for the culprits, but they vanish.  This scene has some fascinating racial overtones, with Perry White pointing out that the organization that has arisen to oppose the new housing development “America Awake,” is using the incidents as proof that “blacks create their own slums wherever they go,” an idea that I’ve unfortunately heard expressed much more recently than 1971.

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lois_lane_114_22That evening, as the black community celebrates their new home, someone throws a firebomb at a table full of children (would that this were more unrealistic), and Lois risks her life, scooping up the explosive and throwing it into the street, suffering severe burns in the process.  At the same time, she sees the Thorn sneaking around and follows her into the newly finished skyscraper.  There, the gallant girl reporter is captured as the Vixen of Vengeance attacks the 100 crew operating as the mysterious “America Awake.”  Dave Stevens comes charging to the rescue again, and with the aid of a smokescreen created by the Thorn’s thrown boot (seriously), she and the adventurous author clean up the crooks in yet another nice action sequence.  After the fight, while Lois’s burned hands are bandaged at a nearby hospital, Tina embraces the girl she had previously rejected, impressed by her willingness to sacrifice her own life for children of color.  Finally, the issue ends with Dave Stevens taking the job at the Planet so that his voice can reach a national audience.

This is another good, surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful story on race by Robert Kanigher.  He continues to amaze me with the varied quality of his work.  While this one is not as subtle and moving as his first try at the topic, that is, after all, a high mark to hit for a comic from the early 70s.  Nonetheless, there is a good story here about breaking through the walls that our perceptions of race build between us.  There is a focus on the plight of the urban poor that carries some weight and a good adventure story to boot, which is impressive because, as we’ve seen, writers can have a hard time balancing their plots and their messages. *cough*O’Neil*cough*

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Kanigher packs a ton into this issue, perhaps a bit too much, actually.  The story races from the initial protest to the attempts to discredit the black community to the capture of the barely introduced “America Awake” front.  I think we could have had a more compelling and intriguing story, plot-wise, if Kanigher had broken this into two issues and built a bit more tension and suspense with the second half of the plot.  The idea of the 100 playing on people’s biases by staging embarrassing incidents and what that says about our culture has some fascinating potential, and building up an actual mystery around what was happening could have been really rewarding.

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Nevertheless, what Kanigher does give us works pretty well, even if it does move at such a quick pace that the “America Awake” organization feels like an afterthought.  Of course, this comic provides a massively simplified take on the problems of the inner city, with the citizens being entirely innocent and the only negative influence coming from outside.  Obviously, that issue is a great deal more complicated, and attempts to address urban poverty have been fraught with many challenges.  Yet, Kanigher’s story, simplistic though it may be, serves a worthwhile purpose by challenging the popular perception of the urban poor, especially those in black communities, and does the same kind of narrative work as his stories about Native Americans, showing members of these groups as individuals, normal human beings with the same fears, problems, emotions, and desires as anyone else.

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This is, as I’ve mentioned before, a very worthy undertaking and part of the power of literature, which can build in us the capacity for compassion, the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  The racial tensions of the 1970s certainly made stories like this necessary, but the events of the last few years have shown how much such stories are still needed.  In this era of polarization and tribalism, we could all use a reminder that the fellow on the other side of the isle is human, even if we disagree with him.  This is even more important when that fellow happens not to look like us, as it is far too easy to demonize the Other.  When even people who want the same things are constantly dividing themselves into different camps, it’s nice to read a comic where a daring dame like Lois breaks through such barriers.  It’s also really great to see the friendship that exists between her and Dave, which I imagine was a little shocking in 1971.  I love that there is nothing romantic between them, that they’re just two friends and equals.  That’s a dynamic you don’t see that much in comics of this era.  Honestly, their interactions are some of my favorite parts of the issue.

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lois_lane_114_15 - Copy (2)On the art front, Werner Roth turns in some more beautiful work, filling his faces with personality and emotion but also managing to create some really dynamic fight scenes.  Yet, there are a few places where we end up with some awkward and ugly panels, where his figure work breaks down a bit, like the apparently drunk flying Superman to the left, here.  Still, on the whole, Roth continues to do a wonderful job on this book, really serving to capture the emotions of his cast.  I think that I’ll give this fun and thought-provoking comic a strong 4.5 Minutemen.  It’s a little rough in spots, with some heavy-handedness and its subject is radically simplified, but it is still an unusually good read and has a sweetness and earnestness that make such excesses a bit more forgivable than others we’ve seen.  I never expected to enjoy Lois Lane nearly this much!

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Well!  What a pair of issues!  This is a really significant set of stories, and they definitely illustrate how comics are evolving in this era.  We should have some fascinating trends to examine in the Final Thoughts for this month!  I hope you will join me again soon when we shall do just that!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 1)

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Hello friends and Internet travelers, and welcome to the start of a new month of Bronze Age comics!  We begin September 1971 with these two books, and once again the Super Family leads off, though the stories themselves might not quite live up to that moniker.  Let’s find out as we journey further Into the Bronze Age!

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


This month in history:

  • The Irish Republican Army set off a number of bombs, causing damage and injuries across Ireland
  • Qatar regains complete independence from Britain
  • Watergate team breaks into Daniel Ellsberg’s doctor’s office
  • A baby girl and several soldier are killed in separate shooting incidents in Northern Ireland
  • Alaskan 727 crashes into Chilkoot Mountain, kills 109
  • British Prime Minister Edward Heath meets with Irish Prime Minister/Taoiseach Jack Lynch at Chequers in England to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland
  • William Craig and Ian Paisley speak at a rally in Belfast before a crowd of approximately 20,000 people and call for the establishment of a ‘third force’ to defend ‘Ulster’
  • 1,000 convicts riot & seize Attica, NY prison, leading to the deaths of 11 guards & 31 prisoners
  • John Lennon releases his “Imagine” album
  • Two North Ireland Loyalists are mortally injured when the bomb they were preparing exploded prematurely in Belfast
  • 6 Ku Klux Klansmen arrested in connection with bombing of 10 school buses
  • Momofuku Ando markets the first Cup Noodle, packaging it in a waterproof polystyrene container
  • US performs nuclear tests at Nevada Test Site
  • 90 Russian diplomats expelled from Britain for spying
  • MP David Bleakley resigns in protest over the introduction of Internment and the lack of any new political initiatives by the Northern Ireland government

It looks like this was a tempestuous month in 1971, with the Troubles in Ireland escalating and the death-toll rising.  We also see the opening moves of the Watergate scandal taking place, though these events wouldn’t come to light until later.  This month also saw the infamous riot at Attica prison, which proved bloody and traumatic.  This is an event that would loom large in the memory of the decade.  Notably, it seems that the domestic terrorist group, The Weathermen, got involved in the action, launching a retaliatory bombing during the conflict, because there’s nothing like blowing up innocent people to accomplish your goals!  We’ve also got more domestic troubles on the list, with continuing racial conflict in the form of the activities of the KKK.  It’s a bleak, grim time, and that’s for sure.  I imagine that the adventures of some colorful superheroes were a welcome escape for some.  I know how they felt.

On top of the charts this month was Donny Osmond’s “Go Away Little Girl,” the sweet innocence of which stands in pretty stark contrast to the events of the day.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Action Comics #404


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“Kneel to Your Conqueror, Superman!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Specter of 3000-Moons Lake!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Coward and the Hero”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Day They Killed Clark Kent”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got rather exceptionally yellow cover on this month’s Action issue, and Neal Adams makes the Roman-esq figure in the center look rather like Superman, which makes the scene a tad confusing.  Still, it’s a solid if unimpressive representation of the tale within, though the yellow isn’t terribly attractive.  As for the story in question, it’s a fairly forgettable one, starting with Clark Kent getting an assignment to do a story on a government think tank.  On the way to the coastal facility, an earthquake strikes, and Superman goes into action, shoring up the cavern underneath the building.  Yet, when he arrives at the lab, instead of finding the scientists panicked, he finds that they were expecting him to arrive and save the day precisely when he did.  This was all predicted by a genius named Caesar, who plugs into a massive computer and runs calculations, forming the basis for much of their research.

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action-404-08-06 - CopyIt turns out that this fellow, Rufus Caesar, is a major fan of the Man of Steel, and he invites the hero back to his home to view some of his awards.  Once there, the Action Ace sees that the scientist has a big collection of Superman memorabilia.  Apparently, the fellow is not only a fan, he idolizes the hero.  Things take a turn for the creepy when Caesar has the Metropolis Marvel try on a piece of a salvaged Superman robot, only to reveal that it is a trap, which paralyzes the Kryptonian.

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Plugging the helpless hero into a strange machine, Caesar begins to siphon away his powers one by one, declaring that he has admired Superman for so long that he now wants to be him.  Unlike the Man of Tomorrow, this sinister scientist will use such powers to make himself the ruler of the world.

Despite his butler’s misgivings, Caesar carries on with the procedures, testing his newfound abilities as he gets them.  Yet, using stolen vision powers, Caesar discovers a cable-car nearby that is in danger of falling.  After trying to fly through the wall before getting invulnerability, he decides to finish the job before going to the rescue.

 

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Super Head-Trauma!

Donning a custom-made costume, he becomes “Super Caesar” (how creative), and plugs into his machine once more.  Yet, things don’t go as he planned, as Superman, who has been resisting the energy drain all this time, suddenly gives in, and the power flowing into Caesar’s body is far too much for his mortal frame to hold.  In a panic, the butler reverses the device, and the powers flow back into their rightful owner, who rushes off to save the cable-car.  When he returns, the Action Ace discovers that “Super Caesar” has become “Super Vegetable,” as the machine fried his brain!  In a rather macabre coda, this makes for a great story for Clark Kent, and Morgan Edge is pleased by the scoop.

So, this is a rather uninspiring rehash of the ‘someone steals Superman’s powers’ bit.  It’s fine and inoffensive, but it isn’t terribly compelling either.  There are some interesting elements here, like the fact that the fellow’s turn towards evil springs out of his obsessive hero-worship of the Man of Steel and the butler’s reticence, but Dorfman makes little of these highlights.  That’s a shame, because there is a good dramatic potential in a character who is as much a symbol as Superman dealing with the dangers of hero-worship.  We do get further evidence about the deplorable state of higher education in the DC Universe.  I know grad school tends to scar folks, but what must be going on at the universities in this setting where every third PhD decides they want to rule the world?  Maybe I’m being too hard on them.  After all, I know plenty of PhDs, and some of them are none too stable.  Perhaps the real difference is that in the DCU they actually have the technology to allow them to do it!  Either way, I suppose such ruminations have caused me to wander from the point.  I’ll give this story an average score of 3 Minutemen.

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“The Day They Killed Clark Kent”


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Our backup this month is another tale of the college Clark Kent, and this one is a fun and unusual offering.  The theme of this collegiate yarn?  Hazing, of all things!  It begins with Clark interrupting the rowdiest frat on campus hazing a kid he knows named Dave.  The poor schlub is tied to a chair having his face covered in shaving cream, and Clark decides to intervene while making it look like an accident, pretending to slip on the shaving cream and smacking each of the offending frat boys in the process.  It’s a funny little scene, though, I have to say, if this is the worst frat’s idea of hazing, Dave is getting off easy!  I’ve seen much worse in my time.

Dave is none too thankful for the rescue, and when the “brothers” approach him, wanting to prank the mild-mannered journalism student, he agrees.  Of course, privacy is nothing to Superboy, who eavesdrops on the conversation and is ready for their antics.  When the boys ask him to join the group and show up for some harmless initiation ceremonies, he is prepared.

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The punks put their victim in a movable platform and tell him he’s on a pirate ship (rather imaginative for frat boys, really).  They throw sand in his face and hit him with a fan, but Clark uses the confusion of the prank to use a bit of super breath to wreck their frat house and make them think it was their own fan.  Next, they try to make him walk the plank into a tub of water, but the Teen of Steel drives it right through the floor!  Finally, they get Dave to use a cattle prod on the blindfolded boy!  Now that’s definitely hazing!

Clark fakes being electrocuted by a short-circuit and stops his heart, causing the prank-happy punks to panic and leave him there, possibly dead.  Planning to capture them as Superboy and let them sweat about having killed someone (!), the Campus Marvel observes Dave rally the other morons and bring them back to help their victim.  Clark pretends to come to, and the little episode comes to a happy conclusion as the frat boys clean up their acts and convert their party pad into a study area to help struggling students.  That’s quite a switch, but I’m wondering if these knuckleheads are really the ones you’d want tutoring you!

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So, this fun little college adventure definitely has the feel of an adult trying to write about youthful antics, but it manages to be fun despite that, and it actually delivers a worthwhile if clunky moral about the problem of hazing.  Now, as someone who teaches undergraduates and has seen plenty in his day, I can tell you that this remains a problem, and a serious one, despite the fact American culture tends to think of it as harmless fun.  In fact, I imagine it has probably gotten worse, despite attempts by institutions to crack down on the practices, and let me tell you, the fairly innocuous pranks in this comic don’t hold a candle to the kind of insane and simply stupid stuff kids get up to these days.

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In general, I’ve found Greek Life to be an overall detriment to campuses and students, and hazing is just one part of that.  To my mind, the negatives of these groups far outweigh the positives.  I can’t tell you how many struggling students have confessed to prioritizing asinine fraternity or sorority activities over their coursework or who get wrapped up in the poisonous drinking culture centered on these groups.  Anyway, I seem to have wandered afield from the fairly innocent story at hand here.  I’ll give this silly but entertaining little tale 3 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #410


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“The Nature of the Beast!”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Joe Orlando

“The Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires”
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Penciler: John Forte
Inker: John Forte
Letterer: Milt Snapinn
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Ruler Without a Planet”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inker: Vince Colletta

We’ve got a couple of rather odd Supergirl yarns this month, and in an unusual switch, the cover story is not our lead feature.  It is a solid enough design, a surprising image, well rendered, and it represents its tale well.  Yet, our first adventure, strangely enough, would have made for a much better and more exciting image, as it features some really cool looking monsters.  Why pass up creepy creatures for a kid?  Either way, the story in question, begins with Linda Danvers visiting Nasty Luthor at her new apartment.  The scheming femme fatale is trying to convince Linda to be her roommate so that she can spy on her and prove that she is Supergirl.  *sigh*  This again?  I was hoping this incredibly stupid plot thread would be dropped when Sekowsky left the book!  Unfortunately, that’s not the only stupid moment this issue.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of why Linda would even begin to consider rooming with her nemesis, something much more interesting interrupts the conversation, as the Maid of Might observes the man next door being attacked by a pair of really nicely designed bird-men!  Making her excuses about having a hair appointment, the mild-mannered maiden dashes off, only to return as Supergirl and burst in to tackle the monsters.  She makes short work of them, but her superpowers fade out again just as she pursues them out the window.

adventurecomics410p08She notes that she’s not wearing her power devices, which were designed for just such a situation!  There’s no explanation, no editorial note, just a big dose of idiot-ball powered stupidity to create some drama as she desperately clings to the avian antagonists, only to fall helplessly before snagging a ledge at the last minute.  It’s a fine adventure sequence, but it’s catalyst is just moronic.  Anyway, back in the apartment, Nasty responds to the commotion and finds the victim of the attack, Mike Merrick, who is in full 70s sleaze mode from the first moment he wakes up.  Thinking Nasty has somehow chased away his attackers and seemingly completely unperturbed by being assaulted by six foot tall talking canaries, Mike asks Nasty out to dinner.  When Linda shows up, feeling a bit jealous about her nemesis getting the credit, he asks her too.  That can’t end badly.

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Mike takes the two ladies out dancing, but he ignores Nasty all night and just dances with Linda, which is sort of a jerk move in general but especially if he thinks the former saved his life!  On the way home, they are kidnapped by another pair of bird-men, who call Mike “the evil-one.”  They carry them far out to sea and deposit them on an island inhabited by more of their kind.  There the squawking chief of the tribe tells the story.  Apparently these monsters are no natural occurrence but poor natives, mutated by the cruel experiments of a scientist, who was helped by…Mike Merrick!  The chirping-chief also claims Merrick stole a sacred jewel from their idol and killed the scientist to keep it for himself.  Linda is horrified that her handsome date could be so cold-blooded.

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Mike refuses to return the gem, claiming innocence, but the atavistic avians are having none of it.  They strap Linda to a cross and tow her to the central volcano, threatening to throw her in unless her paramour cracks.  Finally, Mike gives in, and he tells them where to find the jewel.  Yet, the mutant natives lock the couple up nonetheless.  While imprisoned, the disguised Maid of Might confronts her date about the accusations against him, and he continues to claim innocence, saying he didn’t know about the experiments and that the professor’s death was an accident.  Suddenly, the treasure thief tosses a lit match into the hay in their cell, creating a blaze and luring a guard in where he can grab him.  Selflessly, Mike holds off their creepy captors, allowing Linda to escape.

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Fortunately for him, she changes to Supergirl and rescues him, only to run out of power and plunge into the ocean because she still isn’t wearing her devices.  Mike pulls her from the waves and reveals to her unconscious form that he knows her secret (which, realistically, he would almost have to after Supergirl’s arrival on this remote island, just as Linda disappeared), but that he lied about where he hid the treasure.  With a stolen kiss, he heads out on the lamb, knowing she’ll try to hunt him down.

The end…What?  You want to know what happened to the innocent natives who were turned into monsters after being subjected to inhuman experiments?  Well, too bad, there is star-crossed romance afoot!  Seriously, Joe Albano just completely drops that plot, ignoring the plight of the real victims of this story, which is a shame, because that is vastly more interesting than anything else happening in this book.  Despite that, and despite the stupidity of Supergirl just forgetting to wear her life-saving exo-frame and flight ring, this isn’t a bad read.  Mike Merrick is an interesting character in the little we see of him, a bad boy to whom Supergirl is obviously attracted in the way women are often attracted to jerks, but one who does have some scruples and who has a certain adventurous daring that is admirable.  Essentially, he’s Supergirl’s distaff (technically “spear”) version of Catwoman.  If we were introduced to him more as Indiana Jones and less as Casanova, this would be a stronger tale.

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And that is really the problem with this yarn.  The focus is consistently on the wrong notes, or at least, the right notes are dropped while trying to cram too much story into 14 pages.  If this had been a book-length tale, I imagine it would have been a good deal stronger.  There are still some fun and interesting ideas here, not least the dynamic between Supergirl and Mike.  The love triangle with them and Nasty is sort of funny, but the real highlight of the book is the reversal Albano pulls off with the monsters being the victims of the tale, while still remaining antagonists.  Those bird-men are wonderfully designed and drawn too, with great detail and a wonderful sense of reality by Bob Oskner, whose work I don’t really know.  He does a solid job with the rest of the book, but I really love these anthropomorphic avians.  They have an animalistic quality in movement and mannerism that is impressive and rather unusual.  They remind me a bit of the “monkey-birds” from The Pirates of Dark Water.  With art that is better than its writing, I’ll give this story 3 Minutemen, as it intrigued me, even as it frustrated me.

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“The Ruler Without a Planet”


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Our backup is, sadly, not a new Legion story.  Our dose of Legion legends this month is just a reprint.  Instead, we get another somewhat half-baked Supergirl adventure.  It begins in dynamic enough fashion, with a massive monkey (really an ape, but who’s counting bananas?) who is reenacting King Kong in downtown.  He smashes through a  wall, and, when Supergirl arrives, gives her a belt for her troubles.  She manages to knock out the big ape, notably thinking about not wanting to hurt him but reasoning that, while she can disable him without permanent damage, the police would have to kill him.  That is a small but pleasant piece of characterization.

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Suddenly a fire breaks out, and just as she goes to use her superbreath, the Maid of Might’s powers putter out.  Just then, a little girl steps in and uses her own dose of superbreath to extinguish the blaze.  The powerfully precocious little poppet tells Supergirl that she’s an alien with superpowers who accidentally took off in her step-father’s ship, landing on Earth shortly before the craft exploded.  The girl, Judy, demonstrates other powers when the Girl of Steel balks, and she requests to be the hero’s assistant, while revealing that she knows the Kryptonian’s secret identity.

Supergirl takes this all way too much in stride and happily inducts the flying five-year-old into superheroing.  I know there’s a tradition in comics of kid crime fighters, but this is just excessive!  Super powers or not, if a kid isn’t old enough to tie their shoe, they probably shouldn’t be capturing crooks!  The tone of this whole insane episode is just crazily casual, as the two go on to have various adventures.  Apparently Linda just sort of adopts Judy (one wonders how she explains having a flying, super recognizable child just show up living with her in her secret identity.

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“I guess I’m your mother now?”

adventurecomics410p45 - CopyThings change one night when Judy is contacted telepathically by her step-father, who reveals that this was all actually just a set-up, and he sent her to Earth to eliminate heroes like Supergirl.  He tells the child that kindness is weakness and only strength matters, brow-beating the little girl into carrying out his plan.  Yet, when Judy goes to murder the sleeping Supergirl, she can’t do it.  In response, her step-father removes her powers and tries to zap her from space.  Fortunately, the Maid of Might intervenes and takes off after his craft, only to watch helplessly as the Air Force jets shoot him down!  So as not to upset the child soldier, Linda tells her that her step-father got away, and together they watch his ship’s fiery death, pretending it is a falling star.

Whoa, heavy ending for a cute, silly little story.  Once again, Albano just doesn’t really develop his plot and leaves a major detail hanging.  This one, however, is a point that really can’t be ignored.  As of the end of this tale, Supergirl still has a little girl living with her.  What in the world is she going to do with her?  The wiki seems to imply that Judy returns at some point in time, but having looked ahead, it seems that she completely drops out of the strip.  This whole episode feels like a Silver Age comic or a particularly poorly thought-out Zaney Haney offering.  There’s not enough space given to the story for it to have much an impact, and while Judy’s choosing kindness over ruthlessness is sort of sweet, it all happens so quickly that it doesn’t have much weight.  I suppose I’ll give this silly little story 2 Minutemen.  It just doesn’t quite work.

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P.S.: This issue is notable for being the debut of Supergirl’s primary 70s costume, which, interestingly enough, was actually designed by a fan, which has been true of several of her costumes.  Fun!  The costume itself is incredibly 70s, almost as 70s as her 80s costume is 80s (one word: headband).  It’s not a bad look, really, being simple and recognizable, though it isn’t my favorite of her looks.  It’s also a bit too much of its time, and I generally prefer more timeless, iconic costumes.  I think such designs better capture the archetypal power of superheroes.

 


And with those issues finished, so is this post.  There are some interesting seeds planted with this month’s Supergirl tales, and I’ll be curious to see if anything comes of them.  I’m also curious if there was any particular instance of hazing in the zeitgeist at the time that might have lead to the college Clark story.  Whatever the case, I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentaries and that y’all will join me again soon for the next step in our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 4)

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“Ping! Ping! Ping!”  Mother Box says, “Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!”  Clearly New Genesis technology is so advanced as to have developed excellent taste.  As proof, I’ve got a smattering of classic comics for you, including the next chapter in Jack Kirby’s epic Fourth World Saga!  It’s an honestly intriguing trio of books on the docket in this bunch, so let’s jump right in!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


Mr. Miracle #3


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“The Paranoid Pill!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We start off on a great foot, with this Kirby classic where the King is starting to hit his stride with his unusual superhero.  Ironically, this is probably one of his Mr. Miracle run’s weakest covers, while also being one of his more memorable stories.  The crowd in the image looks suitably maddened, but the perspective is a bit wonky, and the coloring job lets it down, with the mixture of single color and full color characters being a bit distracting.  And why in the world is our hero completely white?  The composition feels unbalanced and crowded by the title, though it effectively captures the feel of the issue.

And the issue is definitely a good one, though it suffers from some of the Kirby-as-writer excesses we’ve been noting.  Having learned at the Stan Lee School of Exposition, where the only thing better than text is yet more text, the King overwrites throughout, starting with the first scene.  A number of silver androids, called “animates,” swarm through a Boom Tube into an empty room, where they set up an office, and the caption declares that “Sometimes, there are things that take place in empty rooms that defy belief, and so go unnoticed!”  Think about that for a moment, as written.  I don’t think that something taking place in an empty room is escaping notice because it “defies belief.”  It might just be because the room is…you know…empty.

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Nonetheless, we discover that these silver creatures are artificial constructs, all animated by a single mind, a creature that was once a man but has now become a being of pure energy.  This being is Dr. Bedlam, who slowly takes possession of one of his animates, molding it into the shape he wore in life.  Despite the overwritten dialog, this is a pretty cool scene, and there is a nice air of menace to the whole tableau.  What’s more, while this type of sci-fi concept is pretty common in the genre today, popping up in modern shows like Babylon 5 and the like, it strikes me that it must have been much more groundbreaking in 1971.  I can only think of one example in comics that predates it (though there may be more), and that is NoMan from the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and I can’t think of any well-known sci-fi novels before this point that explored the idea of beings of pure energy inhabiting temporary bodies.  The use of actual brain transplants and such parallels are much more common and date back to the beginning of the century, as early as the John Carter novels (1927).  Yet, this seems pretty original.  Once again, Kirby is just casually tossing out fascinating and innovative ideas that could easily support much larger works.

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The unique Dr. Bedlam, after taking possession of his body, dismisses the rest of his animates and, with super overly dramatic dialog, picks up the phone and calls Scott Free!  I quite like Bedlam’s design, in keeping with many of the other Apokoliptians we’ve seen so far, but bearing his own sinister identity.  His call finds Mr. Miracle in his usual position, strapped into an elaborate trap and preparing an escape.  It’s a great splash page of wonderful Kirby art.  Scott and Oberon have a fun back and forth as the escape artist asks his assistant to get the phone, completely unconcerned about the nearness of a rather messy death.  Poor Oberon.  This job can’t be good for his blood pressure.  Casually escaping the trap with a full second to spare, the hero answers the phone and receives a challenge, which he accepts.

 

After the call, Scott tries to explain what Bedlam is, offering that he is pure mental energy, making him very dangerous, but adding that Mother Box is fortunately able to guard against such psionic assaults.  What follows is a fairly cool sequence that doesn’t get enough explanation.  Mr. Miracle conducts a seance of sorts with Oberon in which he contacts Dr. Bedlam and experiences a mental attack, and using Mother Box, weathers the storm.  It’s a creepy and suitably imaginative scene, but the purpose and motivations behind it are really unclear.  Does Scott do this to head off an attack he expects, or is this just a way to show Oberon Bedlam’s power?  Kirby’s slightly muddy writing doesn’t clarify.  Yet, the scene does have the effect of establishing the power and threat of the bad Doctor, which is something.

 

After scaring poor Oberon half to death, Mr. Miracle takes to the sky and heads to a high-rise where he is to meet the Apokoliptian.  There, Bedlam offers the escape artist a choice, either surrender to his citizen’s arrest, or escape from a trap of his devising.  It’s never made clear why Scott would show up in the first place, but he is the kind of guy that likes to face danger head-on, so I can at least partially hand-wave that.

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Anyway, the Dr. tells the slippery superhero that all he has to do is descend through the 50 stories of the building and walk out through the front door, but to make things interesting, he shows his foe the substance of his trap, a concoction he calls the Paranoid Pill, which he drops into the building’s ventilation system.  Soon the drug does its work, turning the everyday inhabitants of the office building into madmen, and the tower is full of “an army of unreasoning, unpredictable, unstoppable enemies!”  Mr. Miracle lashes out, but Dr. Bedlam simply abandons his animate, which is a nice touch, a villain that cannot really be fought.

 

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A great page, absolutely full of menace.

 

Kirby provides a wonderful illustration of the Paranoia Pill taking hold, with people panicking and running wild throughout the building, and it isn’t long before a gang of maddened men burst into the office that traps our hero.  Sensibly, Scott tries the window, only to find it charged with “cosmi-current,” leaving him only one way out.  He flies along the ceiling in a great sequence, dodging the ad-hoc attacks of the panicked populace flooding the halls.  He narrowly escapes into the elevator, only to be attacked by a gun-totting citizen and forced to flee a host of ricocheting rounds on the 45th floor.

 

Unfortunately he leaps right into the arms of another crazed crowd, who, in their delusional state, mistake him for a demon.  The carry him along and lock him into a trunk, which they bind closed with rope and chains before deciding to dispose of this “demon” by chucking him down the central shaft of the building.  The comic ends on wonderful cliffhanger, with the trapped Mr. Miracle plummeting 45 floors to his doom!

 

This is a great issue, featuring a really unique and fitting challenge for the character.  The tower-turned-death-trap is a big enough threat to fill the comic (and then some), and the trope of innocents turned into threats is always a good twist to throw at a hero.  Kirby does a great job with the art throughout this issue, but his work on the crowds is just fantastic.  They’re individual and varied, as are their reactions to the gas itself.  Mr. Miracle’s desperate race through the high-rise makes for good action, and it’s nice to see him use his wits to escape rather than just plot devices and “Applied Phlebotinum.”   Bedlam makes for a good villain, and his gimmick is suitably creepy and outlandish.  Once again, I find myself in awe of Kirby’s creativity and the casual way in which he pours out innovative concepts.  Other than the overwritten sections and the lack of clear explanations, this is a good, solid adventure tale.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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Superman #241


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“The Shape of Fear!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Superman’s Neighbors”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Stan Kaye

“Superman’s Day of Truth!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein

Here we are at the penultimate issue of Denny O’Neil’s innovative but rather weird run on Superman.  This comic is no exception to that description either, featuring a strange mix of elements.  Beginning with the cover itself, which is, of course, beautifully illustrated by Neal Adams, the issue is full of rather odd choices.  I like the image of the monster dragging our defeated hero and his doppelganger away, but the design for the monster itself is a bit curious, with its tail coming out of the center of its back rather than out of its tailbone as you might expect.  Also note the sign referencing New York.  Randomly, this story seems to be set in New York rather than Metropolis, down to including several New York landmarks.  Strange settings aside, it’s a solid enough cover, if not exceptional.  You can’t help but wonder what could defeat two Supermen.

The story itself begins where last issue left off, with the former Man of Steel, now just the Man of Flesh, having defeated the Intergang assassins.  I-Ching offers to complete the ceremony to restore the hero’s powers, but Superman refuses!  In a surprising and rather moving twist, Clark has a crisis of doubt.  He’s tasted what it’s like to be a mortal man (ignoring for the nonce that he’s experienced that TONS of times over the course of his career), and he sees now a chance to be free of the loneliness and crushing responsibility of being Superman.  It’s a great moment, but O’Neil doesn’t give it enough space to breathe.  No sooner does it begin than it is already ending.  I-Ching emphasizes that “one does not choose responsibility!  It is often thrust upon one!” and “To refuse it is to commit the worst act of cowardice.”  Despairing, the Kryptonian relents, and tells the old mystic to work his magic.

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I-Ching draws Superman’s spirit out of his body and sends it soaring off to find his dusty duplicate.  When the hero’s soul-form encounters his double, it drains the creature of its stolen powers, leaving it weakened and helpless.  When his spirit returns to his body, the Man of Steel finds himself full powered once more and rushes off to test himself.  He smashes a meteoroid, races around the Earth, and then spots a purse snatcher upon whom he can test his powers.  Faster than a speeding bullet, or a running thief, for that matter, the Action Ace builds a complete jail cell around the startled man in the middle of the street.  The people of Metropolis aren’t too pleased, and thus begins a display of classic Super-dickery.

 

superman 241 p_015The hero has suddenly become overbearing, brash, and more than a little selfish, and he begins to handle even the most minor of crimes with outlandish responses, like when he picks up a speeding car and deposits it on top of the Empire State Building (like I said, we’re suddenly in New York).  He also meets I-Ching up there at the blind man’s request.  The mystic points out this strange behavior and tells Superman that he thinks the Man of Tomorrow suffered brain damage when he was mortal, which enrages the hero.  Unable to convince the Metropolis Marvel that something is wrong, I-Ching turns again to magic, all the while talking about how it is a really bad idea because he doesn’t really know what he’s doing.  I knew they should have contacted Dr. Fate!

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The martial arts master conjures a spell to track the Sand Superman, and when he and Diana Prince find the weakened creature, they learn its origins.  Apparently it’s a being from the “Realm of Quarrm,” which I-Ching helpfully describes as “a state of alternate possibilities!  A place where neither men nor things exist…only unformed, shapeless begins!”  Sure, why not?

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The explosion that destroyed the world’s kryptonite ripped a hole between dimensions between Earth and Quarrm, and the energy that leaked out mingled with that of Superman as he lay stunned in the sand, eventually giving form to the formless.  Each time the two got close to each other, the Sandman gathered more and more power from his opposite number.  In a desperate bid, I-Ching plans to use this creature to drain Superman once more, but unbeknownst to them, a new tear has opened, and more energy begins to leak into this world.

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Sneaking into Morgan Edge’s apartment (for some reason), Diana calls Superman to lure him into their trap.  When he arrives, his dusty duplicate drains some of his powers, but the headstrong hero manages to escape.  Meanwhile, a shadowy figure watches from a soundproofed room.  Mysterious!  Down on the street, fate takes a hand as nearby in Chinatown a parade is underway and the energy from Quarrm seeps into a statue of an “Oriental War Demon,” which suddenly comes to life and runs amuck.  The Man of Steel stops his flight in order to investigate, showing that he is still somewhat himself, only to be drained once more and fall from the sky, to collapse helplessly at the mercy of the Quarrm-demon.

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There’s a lot going on in this issue, and you have to give O’Neil credit for creativity.  He’s certainly telling new stories.  Whether or not they’re also good stories…well, that’s a different question.  In this case, there are definitely strengths that recommend this yarn, like the moment of mature emotion that grips Superman when he is faced with the prospect of a normal life.  It’s just a shame that this dilemma isn’t given more (or any) development because it has a lot of potential.  Also, despite how time-worn the Super-dickery trope is, at least it is given a fairly reasonable explanation here, as the Man of Steel took a blow to the head while he was vulnerable.  How do you force a demigod to get help if he doesn’t want it?  There are some weaknesses here too, though, including a general sense of disconnectedness between the different elements of the plot.  I-Ching’s vaguely defined abilities and general inscrutableness don’t help matters, really.  The sudden return of Superman’s powers once again illustrate how over-powered he is in the Silver Age.  I find myself hoping that, once this arc is finished, O’Neil will leave him at least a little weaker.

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Curt Swan’s art is largely great, as usual, but I’m noticing that in the current iteration of Superman, he tends to draw the character’s legs as too short and stumpy at times.  His work on the demon is alternately nicely rendered or a bit cartoonish.  The creature’s design in general and the sudden injection of Chinese elements into the tale seems a bit incongruous, despite the involvement of I-Ching, because these events seem to have nothing to do with him.  Thus, the fact that the Quarrm energy just happens to inhabit a Chinese demon statue ends up feeling rather random.  So, in the end, this is a solid continuation of the story, even if it doesn’t quite come together successfully.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Phantom Stranger #14


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“The Man with No Heart!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Spectre of the Stalking Swamp!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga

What a cover!  That is a wonderful composition, with the incredibly menacing swamp monster rising from the water, his shape only partially defined and gloriously creepy in its uncertainty and inhumanity.  Apparently muck monsters are just in the zeitgeist over at DC at this time!  It’s a great scene, very fitting for a monster story with the blissfully unaware couple in the foreground, though I’m not entirely certain what I think of the Phantom Stranger’s outline hanging out there in the background.  This is especially true because, unusually, this cover does not relate to our headline tale.  Instead, this is an image from the Dr. Thirteen backup.

Nonetheless, I think any kid with an interest in horror or the supernatural would be hard pressed to resist the lure of that image.  Inside, despite the disappointment of not finding the Phantom Stranger locked in combat with shambling swamp monster, we still find a gripping and arresting story.  It begins on a stormy night in New York (Again with New York!  What happened to Metropolis or Gotham?), where the Phantom Stranger pays a visit to a somewhat Lex Luthor-looking fellow named Broderick Rune.  Interestingly, Rune doesn’t react the way most do when they see the Stranger, instead seeming positively pleased to see him, and as the mysterious wanderer steps into the man’s penthouse apartment, we see why.  Suddenly, the Spectral Sleuth is caught in a glowing pentagram, and “sorcerous fumes” knock him out!

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A Hindu servant named Rashid arrives and we discover that this is all part of a plan, just as the wealthy rune topples over from what is described as “the final attack.”  Both the Stranger and his captor are rushed to a private hospital, where a hesitant doctor performs a bizarre transplant, stealing the Ghostly Gumshoe’s immortal heart and giving it to the ruthless Mr. Rune.  The procedure is a success, but while under, Rune dreams that he is confronted by the Stranger, who demands the return of what is his.  There’s a nice little back and forth about the importance of a soul above all else that is reminescent of Christ’s question, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” 

 

When Rune awakens, he is panicked, but things continue to get more bizarre!  Two thugs trying to dispose of the Spectral Sleuth’s body, only to discover their bag is empty when they try to dump it.  Just then, the Stranger appears behind them, and shock of the confrontation shatters their minds!  Meanwhile, Rune recovers, but he is plagued by visions of his mysterious adversary.  Finally, he decides to try and escape his guilt by heading to a castle in Europe.

 

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 15This gambit seems to have worked for a time, but on another stormy night, Rune once again sees the Stranger stalking out of the darkness.  In desperation, his servant, Rashid, who had originally trapped the mysterious hero, tries to conjure another spell to banish his spirit.  Unfortunately, his power is not up to the task, and in the midst of his incantations, the Stranger appears!  Despite the loyal Hindu’s desperate efforts, when Rune flees out into the storm, the Spectral Sleuth follows, and the stolen heart stops beating!  Finally, Rune’s allies find him, dead, and lacking a heart!

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This is a really good Phantom Stranger story, taking full advantage of the mysterious nature of the character and supernatural trappings of the setting.  You can ask questions about how the Stranger’s heart was able to be taken in the first place, but given the way things worked out, I’m rather inclined to think that this undertaking was always intended to end like this.  The story tackles rather similar themes of guilt and conscience as the Edgar Allen Poe classic, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with its protagonist who is slowly driven to desperation by the knowledge of his crime.

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Like Poe’s own brand of Gothic horror, this tale is wonderfully atmospheric, with menacing oozing from every panel, and the oppressive threat of outer night seeming to press against every scene.  Aparo’s art is fantastic, bringing Rune’s selfish self-confidence to life, as well as his growing terror.  The looming menace of the Stranger is wonderfully rendered as well, and our mysterious hero has rarely scarier.  It’s short, but tightly plotted and effective.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, an excellent supernatural thriller.

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“The Spectre of the Stalking Swamp”


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Our Dr. Thirteen backup sadly doesn’t live up to our wonderful cover either.  It presents a rather unusual tale for the Good Doctor, though it is also a pretty entertaining one.  It starts in the swamp, right enough, with a young couple out for a walk.  The youthful Romeo’s efforts are interrupted by a strange sight, a green monster arising out of the swamp! The creature scoops up the frightened girl and carries her off into the murk.  The next day, the local sheriff, Rufus Taylor, explains the mystery to Dr. Thirteen.

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The boy who witnessed the abduction is now comatose from shock, but he and the girl are not the only victims of this monster.  Apparently people have been disappearing for weeks.  According to local legend, a hundred years ago a settler got separated from his family and wandered off into the swamp, where the essence of the bog infused his body, turning him into the specter that haunts the silent spaces.  Thirteen, of course, is having none of this, and he insists on going out into the wild to investigate.

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That night, the monster attacks his boat, and the Ghost Breaker disappears, apparently broken himself!  Despite his strict orders, his wife follows him, persuading the sheriff to help her, and they find the doctor’s boat.  Maria manages to convince Rufus to continue the search, even though he insists it’s hopeless, and they stumble upon a strange sight deep in the swamp, a gleaming domed city. Finding their way inside, the pair discover the populace moving like zombies, blank-eyed and listless.

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Upon a throne in the city’s center, the encounter the swamp monster, actually a man called Professor Zachary Nail, who is wearing a suit designed for “protection against the filth outside–the polution that infects your dying world!”  Nail has created his own Eden in the swamp and kidnapped the locals to populate it.  When the sheriff bravely tries to capture the madman, the Professor shots him with a bizarre ray, which converts the lawman into a plant!  Shades of Batman: TAS!

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Nail takes the terrified Mrs. Thirteen for a tour of his city, explaining that the place is powered by a nuclear reactor (!), and that he has hypnotically controlled the populace so that they are utterly subject to his will.  He then leads her to her husband, who is also under his power.  The Professor orders Dr. Thirteen to take his wife to the “Submission Room” (which doesn’t sound too pleasant), but the strong-willed Ghost Breaker resists his control.  In an overly written sequence, Thirteen throws off the brainwashing and attacks Nail.

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Just then, the foliage of the swamp starts growing exponentially and begins to smash the dome.  The Professor runs off in an attempt to save his Eden, but the Thirteens have better sense and begin to evacuate the place.  They get the placid populace out just in time, as the vegetation of the wilds reclaim the city, destroying it utterly.  Know-it-all Dr. Thirteen theorizes that the waste from nuclear reactor must have caused the plants to grow super fast, but Maria thinks maybe Mother Nature was exacting her revenge “for the crimes he committed in her name!”

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This is a solid and entertaining story, if quite rushed.  It is not, however, really a Dr. Thirteen-style story.  This character is best suited by relatively conventional mysteries with exceptional or sensational trappings, and this type of science fiction yarn is a little out of his wheelhouse.  He doesn’t even really solve the mystery here.  The villain just captures him and conveniently explains his plans.  The actual plot is an interesting one, and the eco-terrorist villain archetype is one that will emerge more often in the future, most notably when R’as Al Ghul is given his chance to shine in future issues.  Clearly the concept of radical action on environmental issues was in the zeitgeist, which is interesting.  I rather thought the spread of such characters was a more recent development.

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Poor Sheriff Rufus, despite looking the part, surprisingly didn’t conform to the usual trope of the small-town Southern sheriff.  These characters in fiction tend to fat, incompetent, and corrupt.  Rufus, on the other hand, was brave and apparently honest and dedicated, even losing his life trying to perform his duties.  I’m so used to the tropes that I was surprised by this.  We can give credit to DeZuniga and Wein for subverting expectations there.  Wein, for his part, is a bit overly purple in his prose, especially in his narration, throughout, but the writing isn’t bad.  On the art front, Tony DeZuniga does a solid job, and some of his character work is really quite good.  We don’t really get a good sense of the city, though, which might have more to do with the lack of space than anything else.  His design for the swamp monster is effective considering what we eventually learn of it, but it certainly isn’t as cool as Adams’ cover version, sadly.  On the whole, I feel like his style is a good fit for these types of horror/suspense comics.  So, all-in-all, I suppose I’ll give this rather cramped and odd tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s enjoyable but forgettable.

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P.S.: Notably, I think that this concept of a futuristic city hidden in the swamp will be recycled in the first Swamp Thing run, though I can’t remember which issue.  That run, of course, was begun by Len Wein, for a bit of synchronicity.

 


Eco-terrorists, Chinese demons, and energy beings, oh my!  A fun set of books, these, and I had a good time going through them.  There is certainly plenty creativity in this batch, whatever their quality.  I hope that y’all enjoyed reading my commentaries and that y’all will join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Next post, we close out August 1971!  Be there, or Mother Box will be disappointed!  Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a really famous comic on the docket for this post, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that it is infamous.  I’m speaking, of course, about the drug issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  I can’t say I’ve been looking forward to reading this one again, but it should certainly prove an interesting subject for study and reflection. First, a little background.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 is, without a doubt, the most famous issue of this famous run, and justifiably so.  Whatever it’s quality, this issue arrived like a thunderclap, and it became massively influential.  Interestingly, the origins of this tale lie, not in the offices of DC, but in the Marvel Bullpen.  You see, in 1970, the drug epidemic was a major concern, and the Nixon administration asked Stan Lee to publish an anti-drug story.  The Marvel editor chose to do so in The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 in 1971, leading to the first comic since the advent of the Comics Code Authority to depict drug use, which was not allowed, even in a negative light, under the Code.  This caused a minor furor, and the folks at the Code refused to sign off on the issues, so Lee published them anyway, removing the Code seals.  This was an important moment in comics and especially in the growth of maturity in the medium.  When Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams came to tackle their own treatment of the drug problem (because where one of the Big Two goes, the other inevitably follows), the powers that be at the Code reevaluated the matter and approved the issues.  The rest, as they say, is history and led to the gradual loosening of Code restrictions.  Thus, this issue had an impact on the superhero genre at large, as well as its immediate cultural influence.

Of course, we can’t let that comic completely overshadow our other classic books, which include a solid issue of the Flash and another of JLA/JSA crossover, which is always a blast.  So, we’ve got plenty to cover in this post!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


The Flash #208


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“A Kind of Miracle in Central City”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Malice in Wonderland”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Flash’s Sensational Risk”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a rather off-beat Flash tale this month,  though it has some similarities to the themes of an earlier issue in this run.  This comic has an equally unusual cover, with its scene of piety and the seemingly providential arrival of the Flash.  It’s not the most arresting of images, but it is unique enough to catch your attention if you actually take a moment to figure out the story it tells.  It’s not a particularly great piece, but it is certainly fitting for the tale within.  That particular yarn begins with a group of teens bearing an offering of stolen goods to an abandoned church, only to be greeted by an unlikely trio of gunmen.

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They’re dressed like refugees from the 19th Century, with one a Yankee soldier, one a Confederate cavalryman, and the leader an Indian brave.  I’ve always got a soft-spot for gangs in themed costumes, but I’m not really sure how this gimmick fits these small-time hoods.  At least it’s better than another appearance of the Generic Gang, I suppose.  Either way, as they gather their ill-gotten gains, a troop of nuns march into the crumbling edifice and confront them.  One of the sisters pleads with her actual brother, the leader of the teens, to stop the thieves, but he rejects her.  Fittingly when dealing with such unrepentant rogues, the sisters bow and begin to pray to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes (the concept of which appeals to my Romantic sensibilities).

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While the nuns can’t convince the thieves to change their ways, they at least drive them out of their hideout, but while meeting on the top of a building, the larcenous louses decide that someone must have tipped the sisters off to their location.  Who could be a better suspect than the brother of one of those sisters?  So, the thugs toss young Vic right off of the roof when he asks for his payment!  Meanwhile, the Flash is on his way back from Istanbul and makes a small but significant mistake.  He forgets that it is Saturday and heads to the office, only then realizing his error and heading home, which brings him by that building at the exact moment Vic makes his precipitous exit.  The Sultan of Speed whips up an updraft to break the kid’s fall, but inexplicably (and unnecessarily), “electromagnetic interference” somehow messes up his efforts…which consist of wind…somehow.  Nonetheless, the Scarlet Speedster saves the boy,  but the youth won’t tell him anything.

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This leads to a fun scene where Barry ponders how to help the kid, realizing that saving the world is important, but so is saving one misguided teenager.  As he thinks, he paces, unconsciously zipping from one end of the world to another, and we get a glimpse of how tumultuous the world was in 1971, with protests from Japan to Paris.  Having made his decision, the Flash zooms back home, only to find Vic having come to his senses and gone to his sister for help.

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Clearly these scenes represent some issues which don’t make our history recaps but were in the zeitgeist at the time.

The Fastest Man Alive overhears him confess and add that the kids want to give back the stolen goods, but they can’t find the gang’s new hiding place.  So the Monarch of Motion takes a hand.  He conducts a super speed grid search of the city, locates the loot, and then races past Vic and his girl, pulling them along in his slipstream right to the cave where the spoils lie.

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Unfortunately, they aren’t the only visitors.  Their anachronistic antagonists make an appearance as well, but the invisibly vibrating Flash jumps in again, swatting their bullets out of the air and lending an super-speed hand to Vic’s desperate fight against his foes.  I enjoy the touch of characterization this provides Barry, as he doesn’t need the glory from this deed, preferring to give the kid something to make him proud.  Later, the teens are granted leniency by a judge, and the nuns host a social at their renovated church.  Vic, for his part, is convinced that the strange events that led to this happy ending were a miracle.  Flash notes that it was the miracle of super speed, but we see a caption that quotes Dylan Thomas, saying that, to those who believe, “the moment of a miracle is like unending lightning.”

 

I like the light touch of religious themes in this story, with the whole tale having the appearance of a fairly straightforward superhero adventure, with the Flash as the usual arbiter of justice and redemption.  Yet, there is the admirably subtle twist of our hero’s wrong turn at the beginning of the story that brings him into contact with the lost soul in need of rescue, a wrong turn that is easily explained as just a random occurrence but which takes on greater meaning in the context of a story filled with prayer and faith.

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The yarn is nothing special, but Kanigher does a good job with suggesting the possibility of divine intervention.  The final quote makes that subtle connection stronger, but it is rather deeply and unintentionally ironic.  You see, that line comes from Dylan Thomas’s “On the Marriage of a Virgin,” which describes a sexual experience of a virgin, probably that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in contrast with her experience with the Holy Spirit.  That makes its use here an…odd choice.  The line, taken out of context, works pretty well, but its context certainly provides a weird perspective on the story!  Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining read, and Dick Giordano does a solid job on the art, really acing the secret super-speed confrontation with the villains at the end.  The thieving kids’ arc is probably the biggest weakness of this issue, as it feels like it is missing something.  With all of the costumed criminals constantly talking about “The big man,” the tale feels rather unfinished when it ends without some type of reveal or resolution involving this big time baddie that supposedly is running things.  I found myself wondering if I had missed a few pages when I got to the end. Nonetheless, I’ll give the whole thing an above average 3.5 Minutemen based on the strength of its themes.

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“Malice in Wonderland”


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Despite how much I enjoyed the religious themes of the cover story, I have to say that my favorite part of this book was this delightful Elongated Man backup.  Like many of Ralph Dibny’s adventures I’ve been able to read, this one is just plain fun.  It begins in rather unusual fashion, with our unhurried hero stopping off at a small town named Dodgson, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in a rather unique way
Apparently the festival is, oddly enough, Alice in Wonderland themed because the town’s founder was a descendant of Lewis Carroll, and a costumed ‘Alice’ gives the visiting detective a free copy of the children’s classic, which he decides to read in the pack.  As he relaxes in that idyllic setting, reliving his childhood and admiring the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, which provide the official aesthetic for the town’s celebration, he is startled to see a running rabbit, late for a very important date!
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Of course, no self-respecting detective could pass up such an odd occurrence, so Ralph hurries off after the harried hare.  Before he can catch up, the White Rabbit hops into a cab and speeds away.  Using his stretching powers, the Elongated Man is able to pursue the rogue rodent through the town for a while before losing him, but after an informative conversation with a helpful ‘Mad Hatter,’ the Ductile Detective follows a hint and heads to the library, where a first edition of Alice is on display.
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Flash208-22Sure enough, the hunch pays off, and the hare is there.  When the bold bunny sees the superhero arrive, he calls out to another costumed character, who tosses down a smoke bomb.  Together the two steal the valuable tome while Ralph and the townsfolk take an impromptu nap.  Upon awakening, the Ductile Detective deduces where the thieves will be hiding, from a scrap of paper he snatched from the rabbit.  The notes reads “Mushroom Float,” and the hero realizes that the crooks plan to make their escape in plain sight, by hiding out among the costumed cast of the town’s anniversary parade!
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Meanwhile, those same thieves are slowly winding through town aboard, you guessed it, a float of the hookah-smoking caterpillar atop his mushroom.  As they congratulate themselves on their cleverness, an arm suddenly stretches out of the caterpillar’s hookah and snatches their loot.  The criminals draw weapons, but the wildly stretching sleuth proves too hard to hit.
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There’s some really fun (and funny) action in this scene, as when the villains try to smother our hero by shoving his head into the smoke from the hookah, only to have him stretch his nose free of the cloud, all while stretching a foot around the float to give his opponents the boot!  With the criminals corralled, Ralph explains what originally tipped him off about the rogue rabbit.  The town’s celebration was based on Tenniel’s illustrations, but the ignorant thief had based his costume on the Disney movie, making him look out of place.  This set the detective’s ‘mystery loving nose’ to twitching.  There’s a lesson in there for you, kids: Don’t just see the movie; read the book!
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This is just a charming little adventure.  It’s a lot of fun, and Ralph is entertaining throughout, both in dialog and in his wacky stretching.  Dick Giordano’s art is great in this tale, really doing a wonderful job with the whimsical world that best suits Ralph and his exploits.  All of the colorful costumed characters look great, though they also don’t really look like people wearing costumes.  Still, Giordano does a really good job with the final fight, providing entertaining and creative uses of his hero’s powers, which is always important for a stretching character.  There’s not much to this story, but Len Wein manages to make it feel complete in just eight pages, which is always a challenge.  I’ll give this whimsical little visit to Wonderland a thoroughly entertaining 4 Minutemen.
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Green Lantern / Green Arrow #85


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“Snowbirds Don’t Fly”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Colourist: Cory Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Here we are at last.  I’ve been talking about this comic since we began the GL/GA series.  Of course, I’ve been dreading rereading this issue.  I  rather cordially disliked it upon my first read, finding it massively heavy-handed and generally goofy and melodramatic.  Imagine my surprise when, upon begrudgingly rereading the comic (the things I do for you, my beloved readers!), I found the story much better than I remembered.  It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s far from the worst issue of this run, and it is undeniably important and groundbreaking.  So, without further ado, let’s examine this landmark issue.

First, I’d be remiss not to talk about this justly famous cover.  It’s not exactly subtle (what in this run is?), but it is immediately arresting.  Can you imagine browsing through the newsstand, seeing the collection of fine and conventional covers of this month’s books arrayed in front of you, only to have this piece jump out.  It had to be an incredible shock to audiences back in 1971.  I’d say that this is one of the few cases where cover dialog or copy is absolutely necessary.  I think a little context, at least in 1971, was probably called for.  The central image, of Speedy strung out, shaking, hunched and ashamed, is really a powerful one, though Ollie’s reaction might be a bit exaggerated to the point of being comical.  The overall effect is certainly gripping, nonetheless.

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The legendary story this cover represents had to be even more shocking to fans.  It begins with the conventional scene of a mugging, but unusually, these muggers are uncertain and possessed of a strange desperation.  Unfortunately for them, they pick Oliver Queen as their pigeon, which goes about as well as you might imagine.  Apparently, Dinah has broken things off with Ollie (maybe that fight last issue was more serious than it seemed?), and he’s got a bit of aggression to work out.  Things take a turn for the serious, however, when one of the muggers pulls out a crossbow of all things!  Oddly, the guy who uses a bow and arrow as a superhero mocks the weapon and doesn’t take it seriously, which makes the quarrel that embeds itself in his chest all the more surprising!

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In a modern day reimagining of the beginning of the Good Samaritan parable, the badly wounded hero crawls through the streets in search of aid…and is promptly ignored by a well-dressed couple, a cop (!), a taxi, and even the nurse at the emergency room…at least until he keels over.  It’s an effective little commentary on the dehumanizing affect of urban life.  After all, we’re only six years after the murder of Kitty Genovese.  Once he’s patched up, Ollie checks out the quarrel and notices that it is rather familiar and, on a hunch, he calls up Hal Jordan for some backup.  When the Green Lantern arrives, Ollie suits up and admits to his friend that the quarrel has him worried because he hasn’t seen Speedy in a month, and it could have come from his wayward ward.

 

green lantern 085 011The heroes begin their investigation in the basement of Ollie’s own building, where he’d seen the kids who jumped him before.  Downstairs they find one of the punks begging a charming fellow named Browden for a fix.  It seems that Browden is a pusher!  He turns away the junkie with a savage kick, and the partners decide to ask the jerk some questions.  The guy proves suicidally brave, taking on two Justice Leaguers with a fire axe, but surprisingly this doesn’t prove to be the best idea.  After capturing both the drug dealer and his client, the heroes plan to interrogate their prisoners.

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Next, we get a scene that I found cringe-inducingly bad when I read it the first time.  I found it much more palatable this time, but there’s still plenty here that is on the silly side.  We join our other two would-be muggers in an apartment in China Town, and they are suffering from withdrawal.  To take their minds off their pain, they admire a wall of ancient weapons, the source of the nearly deadly crossbow.  One of the boys is an Asian American, and he mentions that the weapons are his fathers, who collects them as an outlet against the injustice that he has to deal with day in and day out as a minority.  This leads to their discussions about why they are using drugs, and the dialog is a bit goofy, but there is something worthwhile here as well, though I didn’t appreciate it on my first reading.

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What…what is that kid doing in the last panel?  Interpretive dance?

The scene is ham-handed, and in it O’Neil commits a cardinal sin of writing, having his characters simply declare how they feel, rather than delivering that information organically.  Despite the clunky and, at times, ridiculous dialog where these characters just helpfully hold forth about their motivations and feelings, O’Neil links their drug use to the racial issues of the time.  While his connections are wildly overly simplistic, effectively equating to “I use drugs because people are racist,” there’s no denying that there was and is a disproportionate percentage of addiction in minority communities in the U.S..  This is tied into a host of other social ills, but it’s noteworthy that O’Neil makes the connection and gives us a sympathetic portrayal, not only of addicts, but of minorities as well, identifying the social pressures that play a role in their problems.

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green lantern 085 016Their group-therapy session is interrupted by the arrival of the Green Team, who fly in and capture the fleeing kids, only to be surprised to see that one of them is…Speedy?!  Ollie instantly assumes that his ward is there undercover, and when one of the junkies helpfully offers to take the heroes to their suppliers, Arrow tells his young friend to stay behind while they wrap things up.  On the way, the heroes talk with the kids, and in a notable inversion, it is the Emerald Archer who is the inflexible, judgemental one, while Hal takes a more thoughtful, moderate approach.  It seems that Ollie has no patience for the kind of weakness that leads to drug use.

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Another Headcount entry!

When they reach their destination, a private airport, the Emerald Gladiator quickly disarms the smugglers operating there, but then he falls prey to that perennial superhero foe…the headblow!  One of the junkies unsurprisingly turns on the heroes and clocks the Lantern with a wrench!  His green-clad partner does his best, but the wounded Archer is quickly beaten down, and instead of killing the helpless heroes, the smugglers decide to dope them up and leave them for the cops.  The addicts get a fix for their efforts, and as the cops arrive, it seem that the Green Team is doomed for disgrace and jail!  Just then,  Speedy arrives and manages to rouse Hal, who unsteadily tries to use his ring to escape.

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His efforts result in a monstrously distorted construct produced by his drug-addled imagination, but the Emerald Crusader wasn’t chosen to wield the most powerful weapon in the universe for nothing.  Hal summons all of his willpower and manages to focus enough to get them away.  It’s actually a really good sequence, and I love that Hal is portrayed as having enough iron willpower to overcome even the drugs in his system this way, however unrealistic it might be.

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Back at Green Arrow’s apartment, the heroes recover and discuss what would lead someone to put that kind of poison into their body.  Roy quietly offers a suspiciously specific example about a young boy ignored by a father figure and turning to drugs for comfort, but his mentor simply shrugs it off.  After Hal leaves, Ollie walks back into his rooms, only to discover Speedy in the process of shooting up!

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green lantern 085 029The reveal is, of course, not that surprising after the cover, but the twist of an honest-to-goodness superhero, not just a supporting character, becoming a drug-addict, must have been earth-shattering to fans in ’71, especially at DC.  We’re still not very far removed from the era where DC heroes were spotless, flawless paragons of all virtues, and this is a huge departure from the line’s conventions.  You simply didn’t see things like this in comics, especially DC Comics.  This makes the issue itself an important milestone, in many ways representing the high-water mark of social relevance for the era.

The portrayal of DC heroes as fallible was amped up by an order of magnitude with this story, for better or worse, and not just with Speedy’s succumbing to heroin.  No, the moral culpability of Oliver Queen shouldn’t be overlooked.  This is actually one of my biggest problems with this comic.  O’Neil does here what often happens with such “nothing will ever be the same” twists: he tells a massively disruptive story, revealing a huge change in the characters, but with no plans to follow it up or manage the fallout from it.  Thus, these two issues will go on to haunt poor Speedy for the rest of his comics career.  Hardly a story will be written about him that won’t be affected in some fashion by this choice, and while Ollie isn’t as marred by these comics as his poor ward, the character is marked by his cavalier irresponsibility towards the kid that was effectively his son, which helped lead to this moment.  These factors make this tale a pretty grave disservice to these characters.  As bad as the incredibly self-righteous, Godwin’s Law invoking Green Arrow of the earlier run might have been, this twist, which turns him into an incredibly selfish, irresponsible jerk is significantly worse.

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Translation: ‘I should not be allowed to care for a kid.’

Despite this, the story itself is significantly better than I remember, and there is a good tale to be found here, with the examination of drug use and the damage it causes, as well as the desperation of those caught in the claws of addiction.  Unfortunately, the dialog of the junkies is more than a little silly at times, and the characterization problems, with both Ollie’s selfishness and Speedy’s rather weak reasons for his drug use seriously impacting the overall effect.  Apparently Roy was abandoned by his father figure…while he was in college.  At that point, you’d think he’d be able to handle it.  A lot of kids go off to college and don’t see their parents for months at a time.  I certainly did.  So, his motivations seem a bit insufficient, and this portrayal also contrasts rather noticeably with the happy, well-adjusted kid concurrently appearing in Teen Titans.  A little more groundwork would have gone a long way to making this tale more successful.

Despite these weaknesses, seeing this comic in the context, both of its preceding run and of the rest of the DC line at the time, is really revelatory.  In that light, it becomes apparent that is the culmination of much of O’Neil’s work on this book.  In it, the major themes of O’Neil’s social relevance campaign come together in a surprisingly sophisticated (for its time and medium) combination that illustrates a compassionate understanding of the drug problem that is often still lacking today.  It is clumsy in places, clever in places, poorly thought-out, yet innovative and daring.  The issue is helped greatly by Neal Adams’ beautiful, realistic art.  It elevates the material and adds a touch of humanity to the characters whose suffering and struggles might otherwise not have nearly as much weight.  This flawed comic is definitely worth a read if you want to understand both its era and Bronze Age comics at large.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, certainly a higher score than I expected to award, but it is definitely hurt by O’Neil’s abuse of his characters.

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Justice League of America #91


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“Earth – The Monster-Maker!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Day the World Melted”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella

“The Hour Hourman Died!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Sid Greene

To round out our comics for this post, we’ve got a JLA issue that delivers another JLA/JSA crossover, which always provide for fun reading.  It starts with a really great cover.  That’s quite a dramatic tableau, the grim-faced Dark Knight carrying in the ravaged body of his comrade and the shocked looks of the other Leaguers, all beautifully drawn by Neal Adams.  It would certainly be tough to pass this issue up and forgo the chance to find out what happened!  I’d say that we could certainly do without the cover copy, but that’s a small complaint.  Of course, I always love the team line-ups that these classic issues provide.  Overall, it’s an all-around good cover.  Sadly, the comic inside doesn’t quite live up to the tantalizing promise of the piece.

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While the dialog is, of course, a cheat, the image itself is truth in advertising, as the tale begins with Batman’s arrival as depicted.  Superman, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and the Atom are holding a meeting on the Satellite, and they note that Aquaman is absent without leave, causing them to wonder if he’s still angry about the events of the previous issue.  Just then, the Caped Crusader arrives, carrying the Crimson Comet, not so speedy at the moment.  Apparently the Masked Manhunter recovered the mauled hero from near Gotham.

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I quite like this title image; it evokes the feel of those classic 50s sci-fi tales.

Before that mystery can be solved, we see a strange scene, in which some rather adorable aliens, traveling between dimensions in a spaceship, lose one of their passengers and his 80s-TV-show-cute pet.  The poor kid, the brother of the pilot, slips through the dimensional barrier, and he and his space-dog end up in separate worlds.  The other aliens frantically fret that, once separated, the boy and dog can only survive for 37.5 hours!  Apparently, this strange species has developed a symbiotic relationship with their pets, one in which the creatures are so dependent upon one another that each will die without the other.  On Earths 1 and 2, the castaway creatures are mutated by the dimensional energies they experienced, growing gigantic and becoming maddened.

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jla091-05On Earth 2, the Justice Society gathers, including their Superman, Hawkman, Flash, and Atom, as well as their Robin.  They get a distress signal from their Green Lantern, and when they arrive, they find him battered and bruised from a bout with the alien boy.  Apparently the yellow youth sensed that the Emerald Gladiator’s ring had the power to bridge dimensions, so he attacked the hero and stole the ring.  The team sends their fallen friend back to base while they set out in search of the kid.  Oddly, on the way, Hawkman talks down to Robin, telling him he “may as well fill in for Batman,” prompting the ADULT Wonder to remind the Winged One that he is a full-fledged member of the Society.  Robin thinks about the ‘generation gap,’ which seems a bit odd, given that he’s supposed to be, like in his 30s in these stories.

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jla091-07Forced friction aside, back on Earth 1, their Flash recovers long enough to give them a super-speed clue, which Superman decodes.  It’s a reference to “New Carthage,” where Robin attends Hudson U.  Just then, Aquaman sends in an alarm of his own, so the team splits, with Batman and the newly arrived Green Arrow heading to help the Sea King, while the rest of the team go to track down the mysterious threat.  At their destination they find their own Robin, who was already investigating the monster.  As they continue their search, the Earth-1 Hawkman gives the Teen Wonder his own dose of condescension.  Man, Friedrich has poor Hawkman playing the jerk…on two worlds!

Before the heroes find the problem pup, Green Lantern detects a signal emanating from Earth-2, leading to the two teams joining forces.  The Atom suggests the distribution of forces: (Earth-1: Both Supermen, both Atoms, and Flash 2 / Earth-2: Both Hawkmen, Green Lantern 1, both Robins), saying that it will be “more scientifically sound,” which Superman questions…but despite this the choice is never explained.  Weird.  On Earth-2, the baffled alien boy lashes out at his surroundings, but when the heroes arrive, he tries to communicate… but it doesn’t go too well.

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They can’t understand each other, and the young Robin loses patience and attacks!  See kid, this is why Hawkman talks down to you!  He takes a beating until his elder counterpart and the others rescue him.  The Emerald Crusader packs the two Robins off to safety at the Batcave so the Teen Wonder can get help, but he himself gets pummeled by the kid…rather unnecessarily, really.  He basically just lands and lets the alien belt him.  The youth is after the Lantern’s ring, but Hal manages to turn it invisible.  This prompts his frustrated foe to turn the Green Guardian into a human missile, taking out both Hawkmen in the process.  It’s not the best fight scene, really, as the heroes seem more than a little incompetent, and the kid really doesn’t seem like that much of a threat.

 

That problem is magnified even more for his adorable animal companion, which is rampaging through Earth-1.  Seriously, the thing looks like it should have shown up on The Snorks, Teddy Ruxpin, or some other brightly colored and whimsical kids’ cartoon.  Obviously this is intentional to a degree, with the creative team wanting to emphasize the juxtaposition of the innocence of these creatures with the threat they pose, but I think they went a tad overboard here, especially when the cute critter somehow knocks down two Supermen with a single swipe!  The heroes’ efforts seem futile, but finally, while Atom 1 distracts the dimension-lost dog, one of the Supermen digs a pit around it at super speed, trapping the creature.

 

Realizing that there might be a connection between their invader and that of Earth-2, Flash 2 and Superman 1 head there to investigate.  Meanwhile, the alien boy stumbles into Slaughter Swamp, where he encounters…Solomon Grundy!  The two bond in an unlikely friendship that is actually a little sweet, and when the heroes track the lost lad down, Grundy tries to protect him  This leads to a fairly nice brawl, which ends with Grundy triumphant, preparing to smash the alter-Earth version of his nemesis, Green Lantern, using Superman himself as a club!

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This is a fun and rather unusual issue.  I didn’t remember this one at all, but I have to say, the central conflict, the dangerous innocent facing his own imminent doom, is a creative and interesting concept.  It’s also always fun to see the League and Society team up, even if they aren’t exactly at their best in this story.  Notably, Friedrich’s attempts at characterization with his Robin/Hawkman pairings are interesting, even though they aren’t entirely successful.  Still, I have to give him credit for trying to inject some personality and personal drama into the book.  It’s intriguing to see him attempt to bring the generation gap conflicts into the superhero world in such a fashion.  We’ve seen it addressed in Robin’s backups and in Teen Titans, but we haven’t seen this tension explored between actual adult and teen heroes very much.

 

The introduction of Grundy is a nice way to add a bit more of a threat to the story, but he still seems a bit overmatched by the gathered heroes, so much so that Friedrich has to cheat a bit to neutralize Hal, having the Lantern sort of take a dive against the kid.  Dillin’s art is, unfortunately, evincing the usual stiffness and awkward patches that I’ve come to expect from his JLA work, but there are also the usual highlights.  (In this case, the fight with Grundy)  Despite its weaknesses, this is still a fun and admirably creative adventure tale.  I’ll give it a solid 3.5 Minutemen.  It loses a bit because of the plot induced stupidity of its protagonists.

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P.S.: Entertainingly, this issue includes a note from Mike Friedrich himself about writing the story wherein he laments the tortuous challenge of juggling the massive cast of a JLA/JSA crossover.  I sympathize!  That has to be quite the job.  I know I’ve found it tough in my own work with these characters in the DCUG.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We get a second appearance by Green Lantern on the Wall this month, and I have to say, I’m more than a little surprised that we haven’t seen a lot more of him.  Hal has something of a reputation, you see.


Well folks, that will do it for this post, but quite a post it is, featuring a landmark comic.  There’s plenty here to consider, and I hope that you’ve found the reading as entertaining and interesting as I did in the writing.  Please join me again soon for another leg of our journey Into the Bronze Age!  While our next set of books won’t be quite so groundbreaking, they promise to be fascinating in their own right, including the always-exciting Mr. Miracle and the penultimate issue of Denny O’Neil’s unusual but provocative run on Superman.  Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!  See you then!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 1)

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Hello dear readers!  As we near Thanksgiving here in the U.S., we should take some time to think about all of the blessings that we enjoy, to focus on being thankful for what we have.  That can be something of a challenge these days, with so much seeming to go wrong in the world, but that makes it all the more important.  I for one, am very thankful for bombastic Bronze Age adventures!  There is a lot of imaginative joy in these old books, and in addition to the many blessings for which I am thankful, I am also glad to have the opportunity to share some classic comics with you Internet travelers!  Welcome to the beginning of August 1971!

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:

  • George Harrison’s concert for Bangladesh takes place in NYC
  • Paul McCartney founds Wings
  • US launches 1st satellite into lunar orbit from manned spacecraft
  • 3rd San Diego Comic-Con International opens
  • Apollo 15 returns to Earth
  • A Catholic man is shot a British soldier in Belfast and a British soldier is killed by the IRA
  • France performs nuclear test at Mururoa atoll
  • Operation Demetrius (or Internment) is introduced in Northern Ireland allowing suspected terrorists to be indefinitely detained without trial; the security forces arrested 342 people suspected of supporting paramilitaries
  • Irish political parties announce civil disobedience in response to internments
  • During the internment round-up operation in west Belfast, the Parachute Regiment kill 11 unarmed civilians in what became known as the Ballymurphy massacre
  • Bahrain proclaims independence after 110 years of British rule
  • President Nixon announces a 90 day price freeze
  • FBI begins covert investigation of journalist Daniel Schorr
  • Bolivian military coup under col Hugo Banzer, pres Torres driven out
  • J. Edgar Hoover and John Mitchell announce the arrest of 20 of the “Camden 28”
  • Irish leaders present cases of British brutality to the U.N., leading to an investigation
  • The US dollar is allowed to float against the Japanese yen for the first time

Another very eventful month, and unfortunately most of those events are fairly tragic ones.  The Troubles in Ireland continue apace, and we are getting closer to some of the worst times of the conflict there.  We’re also getting closer to Nixon’s downfall with Watergate, though the events that lead up to that momentous occurrence were largely unknown at the time.  Looking back at history does help to put the problems of the present into perspective, at least.

The song at the top of the charts this month was “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” by the Bee Gees, which I’d never heard before.  It surprised the heck out of me, because it sounded nothing like the Bee Gees I knew.  What an interesting discovery!  I guess they probably had a ways to go before they became the band I know.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


Action Comics #403


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“Attack of the Micro-Murderer”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Man With the X-Ray Mind”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Impossible Legend”
Writer: Dick Wood
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Bob Brown

“When Krypto Was Superboy’s Master”
Writer: George Kashdan
Penciler: George Papp
Inker: George Papp
Editor: Mort Weisinger

 We’ve got a reasonably dramatic cover for this issue, though the image can’t convey its message alone, which always seems like a bit of a failure of visual storytelling to me.  The story it represents is an unusual one, goofy, but with a certain sweet earnestness that I enjoyed.  It begins with, of all things, cave men, an executioners, a firing squad, and a hanging, each one representing the ignoble ends, far separated in time, of the same being.  How can this be?  Well, we discover the answer to that in the modern day, when in a fair double-page spread, an airborne thief crashes his helicopter into a radio tower while being pursued by Superman.  The dying villain gasps out that he is a Zontt, who will be endlessly reincarnated, and promises he’ll be back in the future to get his revenge.

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Checking his computer at the Fortress of Solitude, the Man of Steel discovers that the criminal’s last threat was no idle boast, and that there really are such things as Zontts (though how he would have records of that fact is conveniently glossed over).  Apparently they’re spirits that occupy a new host each time their current one dies, but they only have 24 hours to find their next victim.  Continuing the convenient exposition, the Kryptonian’s computer also just happens to tell him that the only element the creatures can’t penetrate is sulfur.  I’m sure that won’t be relevant later.

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Speaking of later, the next morning, Clark is sitting at his desk when it suddenly explodes, uncovering his costume and revealing a small cylinder which plays a prerecorded message…from the future!  It’s from the Zontt, who tells him that he’s in the future and will kill many innocents unless the Man of Tomorrow lives up to his name and joins him in the year 3486.  Not one to let an obvious trap stop him, the Metropolis Marvel speeds off to that date, only to uncover a woman of the future who had died moments ago, clearly the Zontt’s previous host.  Suddenly, the hero is gripped with pain, and he realizes that the creature is trying to get its revenge.  Thankfully, the Zontt can’t help boasting retroactively, so a video plays that explains the situation, revealing that the woman was a microbiologist and the spirit used her to create a super microbe to infect the Man of Steel, a microbe that is now its new host, making it even more powerful.

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Growing sicker by the moment, Superman returns to the present and tries to seek help from Kryptonian science in Kandor, only to realize that the bug won’t shrink when he does, a discovery that nearly kills him.  Trying another desperate plan, the Metropolis Marvel takes to television, pleading to the people of his own city to help him beat the bug.  He asks them to donate a huge amount of blood so that he can flush his system and, hopefully, flush out the microbe.  Now, this almost makes sense, if you don’t think about it too hard.  When you do, it becomes pretty silly.

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What follows is really the heart of the story, as Metropolis turns out in record numbers to help their hero, with even the weak and the elderly insisting on doing their part to help.  Lois herself gives until the doctors won’t let her give anymore.  Finally, the Man of Steel is hooked up to a massive transfusion device and has all of that blood pumped through him, but it fails to flush out the intelligent microbe!  Growing weaker by the moment, Superman takes his leave and begins to put his affairs in order.  Notably, there is a continuity gaffe here, as Bates places Supergirl as still at college, rather than having graduated.

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In another nice little moment, the U.S. creates a tribute to the defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, with an S-Shield created from the lights of different towns that night.  The art doesn’t really succeed in capturing the scene, but it’s still a nice idea.  Finally, Superman heads out into space to a tomb he’s chosen on an asteroid.  Thus, as Superman is dying and the spirit emerges from the microbe to find another host, it instead finds itself marooned in space, millions of miles away from any other life form.

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In a bit of irony, the Zontt is then surprised by a per-recorded message of its own, this one from Superman.  The recording declares that the being will die unless it returns to the Kryptonian’s body and saves his life.  With no choice, the Zontt rushes back to the stricken form, only for it to be revealed that, while it watched the video, the Man of Steel’s body was replaced by a duplicate with a synthetic heart coated with sulfur, which acts as a trap for the spirit.  His super-powered immune system having wiped out the now much less dangerous microbe, the Action Ace takes his prisoner and returns home.

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Quite a weird story, isn’t it?  On one hand, this yarn certainly fits the standard formula of Superman facing a seemingly inescapable fate, only to outwit it with an outlandish plan, which has certainly been done often enough before.  On the other hand, an intelligent illness is actually an interesting angle and a unique threat for Superman.  The outwitting of the villainous virus is clever, if rather ridiculous and convenient, but the real highlight of the story is the demonstration of Metropolis’s love of its hero.  I’ll give this odd little tale 3 Minutemen.  The creative concept helps to make up for the clumsy execution, but it is still a pretty silly story.

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“The Man with the X-Ray Mind”


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This backup introduces the beginning, as far as I know, of a promising new feature, “A Secret Chapter in the Life of Clark Kent.”  I’ve mentioned before how Clark doesn’t have much characterization in the comics of this era, and I’m looking forward to seeing Superman in general develop into a more rounded character.  Clark Kent is obviously an important part of that.  Unfortunately, this tale is not particularly groundbreaking on that front.  It begins with Superman, still in college at the time, returning to his school after a space mission.  Here we see a rare sight, a weakness in Swan’s art, as he renders the college age Clark in pretty much the exact same way as his adult self.

Once back in his secret identity, Clark encounters Mr. Lundgren, the janitor, and observes a strange sight.  When a psychology professor, Dr. Borwin, comes down into the basement looking for exam papers he accidentally threw away (yikes!  That’s a pretty massive mistake!), the janitor is able to predict exactly where they will be by staring into his pail of water.  Astonished, the professor insists on studying Lundgren’s abilities.  The simple janitor agrees, explaining that he has the ability to skry, or “read secretes and mysteries from reflections in a reflective surface,” like his mother before him.

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In a scene straight out of Ghostbusters, Prof. Borwin conducts the standard ESP tests, using a set of pictorial cards, and amazingly, the other man matches all of the images, even going on to predict upcoming cards.  After the test, the kindly janitor reveals that he’s always known who Clark really was and warns him of an imminent disaster, a train crash, which the Man of Tomorrow is able to prevent just in time.

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action-403-24-04Unfortunately, the greedy professor wants to use the psychic’s abilities for his own benefit, so Borwin convinces Mr. Lundgren to predict the correct combination for a physics department vault that contains a radioactive formula.  Yet, when the avaricious academic tries to steal it, he drops the vial, causing a terrible explosion.  Superman arrives in time to shield Lundgren, but the poor guy is still wounded, becoming brain damaged!  The kindly man is reduced to doing odd jobs at the school, essentially a charity case because he can’t concentrate or remember anything well enough to do any steady job.

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And that is a rather terribly sad ending for this poor, good-hearted fellow who didn’t do anyone any harm.  He just tried to do the right thing, and he gets brain damaged for his efforts.  It’s a surprisingly bitter ending with no real justification or reason.  The story itself is fine, nothing exceptional, though it does add more evidence to the claim that the institutions of higher learning in the DC Universe really need to do a better job of vetting the people to whom they hand out advanced degrees.  It seems like every other guy with a doctorate is trying to take over the world or, at least, rob banks!  Anyway, I’ll give this tale 2.5 Minutemen, knocking off a little for the weirdly melancholy ending that seems out of sync with the light-hearted tone of the story.  It doesn’t have enough space to really take advantage of such a conclusion, which is unsurprising for a Dorfman penned tale.

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Adventure Comics #409


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“Invasion of the Mer-Men (Part II)”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Mike Sekowsky and Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Fight With Fire Drake”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Condemned Legionnaires”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inkers: George Klein and Sheldon Moldoff
Letterer: Milt Snapinn

This issue marks the end of Mike Sekowsky’s run on Supergirl, and, unfortunately, I really can’t say I’m sad to see him go, despite the great credentials he brought to the book.  Oddly, we’ve got two different Supergirl tales here, and the Legion backup is just a reprint, which is a shame.  I wonder if the powers that be were trying to ease into the new creative team by splitting the book between the old and new guards.  Either way, we get a nice cover out of the deal.  It’s by Dick Giordano, who does a lovely job on both Supergirl and the monstrous invaders.  It’s a solid, horror-style image, with the creatures coming over the edge and looking nicely menacing.

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The cover feature is our second story, but unfortunately our first one isn’t quite as pretty as it is.  Sekowsky’s rather Silver Age-ish aquatic aliens from the last issue are still planning on stealing Earth’s water, and despite the best efforts of Earth’s military, it seems that there is nothing that can stop them.  In the meantime, the Girl of Steel is still looking for her missing friend, Johnny, and lamenting that her efforts to protect her identity may have doomed him, which is a nice touch continuing on from the previous issue.  During her submarine search, Supergirl discovers a series of massive spheres hidden under the sea that are actually interstellar tankers.  When the military discovers them in turn, their attacks are stopped by a forcefield, but just when all hope seems lost, the Maid of Might discovers that Johnny is still alive, and he fills her in on the aliens’ plan.

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A nicely dramatic panel

adventurecomics409p14Attacked by the invaders, Supergirl allows herself to be captured so she can get into their ship.  In a good example of attention to detail, the aliens are surprised to find a being that can survive both above and below the waves, which makes sense if they’ve studied humans.  In a cute little scene, Supergirl escapes with Johnny, but in order to keep him alive and yet surface slowly enough to protect him from the bends, she kisses him in order to share oxygen…only for him to get fresh once the danger is passed!  It’s a funny sequence, and it illustrates that Johnny apparently has more chutzpah than brains.  Trying to get some sugar from a superbeing that is all that stands between you and a watery grave is certainly bold, but it probably isn’t all that bright!

With the water-logged lothario safely stashed, Supergirl heads for space, where she discovers the aliens’ ships and smashes their tanks, releasing the water back onto the Earth.  What follows is really rather surprising and a nice touch that raises the quality of the story a bit.  The alien commander, realizing that he’s beaten, gives up.  His enterprise was both enormous and desperate, and with his ships disabled, there is no longer time for a second attempt.  By the time they could repair the damage and recollect the necessary water, their planet would be dry and dead.  It’s a melancholy moment.  Notably, these aliens were actually sincere about feeling superior to humanity.

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They weren’t actually out to do the Earth harm, they just considered their own world more important.  So when the heroine’s actions doom their planet, their commander just resignedly follows Supergirl to Earth and bids farewell to a worthy foe before heading back to die with the rest of his species.  Yet, the story doesn’t end with this weighty moment, but with Johnny home safe and sound, pining away for Supergirl.

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So, this yarn came to an unexpected conclusion.  The aliens’ nobility in defeat is quite nice, though it really comes out of nowhere.  They seem just like generic sci-fi villains, the likes of which populated practically every other issue of DC in the Silver Age, right up until the last two pages.  If Sekowsky had spent more time on these guys, he might have really had something with the bittersweetness of their defeat.  As it is, it feels like an abrupt tonal shift that isn’t necessarily earned, nor fitting.  The rest of the comic is a good adventure tale, and Supergirl’s introspection about her priorities when she thinks Johnny is dead is actually an interesting character moment.

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adventurecomics409p14 - CopyIn the end, this issue is indicative of Sekowsky’s run on this book.  It has some real potential, with honestly interesting and thoughtful takes on the lead character that, unfortunately, receive no real development or followup, as well as the occasional mature and impressive story moment that is out of step with the rest of the comic.  There is an intermittent spark of excellence to these stories that is never really capitalized on or integrated into the issues at large.  Sadly, Sekowsky’s art also continues to be wildly inconsistent, with some really cool, creative panels here and there and some occassional good facework, all right alongside some absolutely ugly pages and general roughness and sloppiness in everything else.  I’ll give this issue 3 Minutemen, as it is a decent read, despite the rough art, but its weaknesses are very noticeable.  This is an inauspicious ending to Sekowsky’s run on the book, especially considering the greatness of his career before this point.

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“Fight with Fire Drake”


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The difference between Sekowsky’s story and the one that follows it is just night and day.  Art Saaf, who I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before, turns in a nice, clean looking comic, and the contrast really illustrates just how bad Sekowsky’s art has gotten.  The tale itself is just as good, featuring another aquatic adventure that begins with a party aboard the yacht of Linda Danvers’ boss, the owner of KGF-TV.  Despite having been chasing around with Johnny last issue, it seems that the Maid of Might has remembered her crush on Geoff, who still looks like he’s in his 30s or 40s, which remains creepy.  Fortunately for her, a handsome party-crasher approaches, and his attentions makes Geoff quite jealous.

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The newcomer claims to be a freelance writer named Freddy Nero, but shortly after he leaves, the party receives much more dangerous crashers, as a group of divers in rather nice looking monster costumes that can shoot flames (!) appear to rob the guests.  While their leader, Fire Drake, threatens the boss, Linda slips away and dons a new costume, which has a fun little notice about which fan designed it.  The costume is a bit much and I’m pretty sure it defies the laws of physics.  It’s not bad looking, though, but it does look like something a fan designed.  Weirdly, Supergirl notes that she can’t wear her exoskeleton with these threads, which seems like a really unnecessary sacrifice for the sake of fashion.  She confronts the divers and manages to drive them off the ship, but her plot devices, err…I mean her powers, conk out on her during the submarine pursuit, and she has to give it up.

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That night, she’s visited by her mother, which surprised the heck out of me.  I had always been familiar with her origin as an orphan of the Kryptonian city of Argo, but apparently in the Silver Age they eventually revealed that her parents were still alive.  Who knew?  I can sort of see why DC eventually wanted to clean up all of these excess Kryptonians, because they’re apparently just all over the place!  Well, anyway, her mother brings her back to Kandor, where she lives, in order to provider her with miniaturized versions of her equipment so she can wear whatever outlandish costume she fancies.  Convenient!

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The next morning, the yacht is again attacked by the costumed divers, but Supergirl is on hand once more, and she saves Geoff, who is braver than he is bright, much like Johnny.  When Firedrake tries to escape into the water again, he suddenly starts to drown, and after capturing him, the Maid of Might reveals that she severed his air hoses with her heat vision, which is clever.  When he is unmasked, the submarine thief is revealed to be Fred Nero, who had crashed the party in order to case the place.

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This is a fun little story, other than the silly element of Supergirl wearing a costume that can’t accommodate her very much necessary exoskeleton, just for for the sake of fashion.  It’s interesting that Bridwell pretty much immediately sets about refining the setup that Sekowsky created.  Of course, I’m always happy to see some costumed crooks, and the design of the divers’ outfits is pretty cool.  They look nice and intimidating, but they are occasionally drawn without gloves, which rather undercuts the menace of their look.  Nonetheless, this is a fine start to a new direction for the book.  Unfortunately, Bridwell won’t be continuing on the title, which is a shame as I tend to like his work, but I’m still excited to see what will come next.  I do hope that the new team on this book will find a way to challenge the character that reeks a bit less of deus ex machina, but this particular story is fun despite that weakness.  There are some decent character moments, and Saaf’s Supergirl looks great in action.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Like Supergirl, my adventures here are done for the moment.  This was an interesting pair of books, if not terribly captivating.  This final issue of Adventure seems to mark Mike Sekowsky’s departure from DC for many a year.  It’s a shame that he left DC on such a sour note after so many years of great work.  It’s hard to believe that the clumsy, ugly art in Adventure was by the same hand that had turned in the riotously creative and generally high-quality work on Manhunter 2070 in Showcase or his classic work on JLA.  Well, we will bid him a fond adieu and not hold these last years against him.  If you enjoyed my commentaries, please join me again soon for another step in our Journey into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 5)

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Greetings dear readers!  Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a very unusual and memorable pair of books to cover in this batch, for better or worse.  We have the JLA guest starring in Lois Lane (sort of) and the beginning of the infamous Don Rickles appearance in Jimmy Olsen.  The Superman family books are rather bonkers this month, it seems.  Join me and see what you can make of the madness that follows!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111


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“The Dark Side of the Justice League!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Ray Holloway
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artists: Dick Giordano and Gaspar Saldino

“Law of the 100!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gray Morrow
Inker: Gray Morrow
Letterer: Ray Holloway

This comic is just a delightful mess, from the cover onward.  I admit, I’ve been excitedly eyeing this image in my reading list.  It is just such a fun design, with (almost) the entire League in action and the unusual sight of Lois playing Gulliver to superheroic Lilliputians.  It’s the type of concept we’ve seen before, but not that often.  Unsurprisingly, Dick Giordano creates a lovely, energetic piece, and the cover gets bonus points for being an accurate representation of the tale within.  It’s an effective image, and I know I’d have been curious to know what was going on in this book!

What a tale that is!  Fascinatingly, Kanigher uses this issue to tie his work on the supporting Superman titles into the emergent Fourth World mythos that Kirby is currently creating, weaving in elements from the King’s Jimmy Olsen run.  It’s interesting to see creators embracing the New Gods this quickly.  It all starts innocently enough, with Lois arriving at the beach for a relaxing day off, only to be secretly observed by…the JLA!?  Well, not exactly.  As she dozes on the sand, tiny doppelgängers of the League rush out and, using their unique powers, bind her down and put a strange liquid on her lips.  As she begins to stir, they rush into hiding, leaving her none-the-wiser.  The sequence is great fun and really nicely done.

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The next day, Lois is out covering a story when she notices a passing armored truck and somehow realizes that it is stuffed with gangsters.  She calls out a warning to Superman, allowing him to bag the crooks, and the Man of Steel finds himself wondering if his lady love has developed some type of 6th sense that might protect her from danger.  If so, he muses, he would be able to marry her, but he brushes the thought aside and flies off.  In a charming little touch, the women Lois had been interviewing encourage her not to give up hope.

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Later on, the girl reporter is on location at Metropolis park, covering the arrival of a mysterious statue.  Once again, she has a flash of insight and realizes that the art is fake, really a set of dangerous robotic weapons, and she is able to warn the Metropolis Marvel once more.  Smashing the rampaging robots, Superman thinks that Lois must have developed a new ability, so he gives in and kisses her.  As soon as their lips meet, he goes insane, beginning his own destructive rampage!

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Lois rushes to her car and uses a carphone (!) to contact, of all people, the head of the D.N.A. Project!  That’s right, she appeals for help to the secret government DNA research base in the Wild Area, introduced in Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen.  Apparently Superman brought her there to give a genetic sample…for some reason.  The sober scientist quickly forms a plan and tells the rattled reporter to go to the Daily Planet and await instructions.

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Well, that’s not the reaction you want after a kiss!

Unfortunately, later that night, after dozing at her desk, the journalist awakens to a strange sight: the littlest Leaguers, who kindly explain their plot.  Apparently, they were created from stolen DNA by the Project’s evil opposite number, the Monster Factory, and are under orders from their Apokoliptian masters.  They were to plant a special poison on Lois’s lips and, by faking her new ability, convince Superman to kiss her, thus dooming himself.

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When the ravishing reporter tries to flee, they attack and mock her, but a package left by the Project opens in the struggle, revealing an octet of tiny Loises, each inexplicably armed with a device to counter the abilities of the heinous pint-sized heroes.  One has a chip of gold Kryptonite to rob the Miniature Man of Might of his powers (where in the world would they have gotten that?), while another has a yellow glove to get past the little Lantern’s ring.  Some of them are a bit less direct, like a laser pistol that cuts the straps of Hawkman’s wings as opposed to…you know…just shooting him.

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It’s an exceedingly silly scene, but it is capped when the fun-sized Flash kicks up a cloud of dust while trying to escape, causing Lois to sneeze him into defeat.  With the miniature minions beaten, the reporter finds another gift from the Project, an antidote lipstick, which she dons before running out to kiss Superman a second time, restoring his mind.  The tale ends with the two strolling away, the Man of Steel not remembering a thing.

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This is an insane issue, but it is also a lot of fun.  There’s some really neat elements, as Kanigher tries to bring the mythos Kirby is creating out into the wider DCU.  Of course, being Kanigher, he does it in a fairly goofy way.  On the other hand, it does actually mesh surprisingly well with what we saw in Kirby’s own book.  The tiny clones, the stolen DNA, the mysterious machinations of the malevolent Monster Factory: it all works, after a fashion.  Yet, the writing is more than a little sloppy, with a lot of the details coming completely out of left field and the whole thing lacking internal consistency.  Why in the world does the Project have tiny-anti JLA weapons on hand.  How do they know they’re facing an evil army of mini-mes in the first place?  Whose idea was the ridiculously elaborate plan to get Superman to kiss Lois?  If they can clone tiny Leaguers, why not just make full sized ones to take out the originals?  Kanigher doesn’t bother to answer any of those questions.

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Look at the individuality and personality on the faces of these background characters.

Once again, Roth’s art is simply lovely, and while he had previously seemed to struggle a bit with the superheroic elements of these comics, despite his success with the romantic and dramatic moments, he turns in a really nice looking Justice League, even if they are tiny.  Particularly impressive, as usual, is his face-work, like in the image above.  The art definitely helps this tale, even as goofy as the story is.  Taken all together, this is a very entertaining, if bonkers, story, but it goes to show that nobody can really stack up to Kirby except Kirby.  He actually made something mostly coherent out of the madness of the Project.  Kanigher?  Not so much.  Despite his efforts, this feels more like a new gimmick and less like a facet of a new mythology.  I’ll give this entertaining fit of silliness 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s fun, but it’s flawed.

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“Law of the 100”


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The real highlight of this issue is its Rose and Thorn backup, which is just plain excellent for the limited space it has to work with.  It features the art of Gray Morrow, which is a big departure from Ross Andru’s and a real treat.  The story itself really shows off its star.  It starts with a classic cheat image, as we see the tenacious Thorn shot down by a new figure.  Of course, this is revealed to simply be a test of the 100’s newest killer using a mannequin (although, that mannequin seems to be moving a whole lot for an inanimate object.  The fresh-faced fink in question is apparently Leo Lester, the son of one of the organization’s best gunmen.  They tell the boy that his father was betrayed to the cops but that he’s destined to take his place, and then they send him after the Thorn with his father’s gun.

On the street, the kid attempts to ambush the Nymph of Night, but she’s too good.  She manages to toss a smoke thorn (Batman’s going to sue!), and she easily takes him out.  The sequence is just beautiful, with Morrow delivering a wonderfully realistic sense of movement and presence to his figures.  Look at the motion in the Thorn’s body on this page.  Well, artwork aside, the vigilante is stunned to discover that her attacker is a youth, and she tries to reason with him.  This is actually one of the weaknesses of Morrow’s art, as the gunman doesn’t actually look that young.

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Unfortunately, just then another 100 hit squad opens up on the both of them, the kid having failed his job.  Strangely, the gunsles are hidden on a mobile merry-go-round.  It’s essentially a tiny carousel mounted on a truck.  Crazy!  I guess they really had these things, but I’d never seen one.  It’s an interesting and rather whimsical choice for a ruthless gang of murderers.  Criminals in the DCU have class!  Of course, no matter how charming their costuming, they are still trying to shoot the Vixen of Vengeance, and she doesn’t take that too kindly, so she tosses an explosive thorn, blowing the car/carousel away.

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Somehow this doesn’t kill the thugs, but it does attract the cops.  Not wanting to hand her young assassin over because she hopes she can reach him, the Thorn hauls him to a secluded spot on the waterfront.  As part of this scene, we get a really interesting moment where the Baleful Beauty’s two personalities are in conflict, with her Rose persona wanting to help the boy and the Thorn identity being much less sympathetic.  It’s a neat touch.

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After her internal debate, the Nymph of Night tries to persuade the captive kid that the 100 know no loyalty, but he refuses to believe her until he’s ambushed by another team of hitters from the gang.  Once again, the Thorn acts to save the punk’s life, tossing out a set of flash grenade-thorns and taking out the gunmen in a nice panel, this time aided by Leo.  As they run from gangster reinforcements, the boy promises to tell his savior why he really agreed to hunt her.

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This little backup is really quite good.  It’s a breezy but effective story, with a healthy dose of action.  The Thorn comes off really well throughout, seeming competent and dangerous and generally living up to her hype.  It’s great to see her using her gadgets, taking out her foes like Batman.  It makes for some exciting reading.  Meanwhile, the heart of the plot with the kid turned killer is fairly interesting.  I’m curious what else is going on with him.

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Yet, a big part of what makes this particular backup so great is Gray Morrow’s exceptional art.  He’s got got a very unusual style for DC at this time, and the realistic detail that he puts into things like the Thorn’s hair as she fights and runs, or the shift in fabric is really cool.  In general, this tale just looks lovely.  There’s not a whole lot here, but nonetheless, it is a really enjoyable read.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, about the highest score a backup can get.  Kanigher is continuing to do really solid work in these backups, however bonkers his feature scripts may be.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139


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“The Guardian Fights Again!!!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack KirbyE. and Nelson Bridwell

When you think of cosmic adventure and mind-bending epics, what’s the first name that comes to mind?  Why, Don Rickles, of course!  What, it isn’t?  Well, join the club.  This issue and the next might just be the wackiest point in the Fourth World saga…and also perhaps the lowest, or at least the most nonsensical.  For some inexplicable reason, the King essentially takes a break from his myth-making, his larger than life story about the clash between superhuman forces of good and evil, to do a two issue arc featuring Don Rickles and his equally inexplicable doppelgänger.  Even the cover is a mess.  If you thought some of the previous covers were crowded with copy, you hadn’t seen anything yet!  Yikes!  There are more words in that image than in the entirety of any two modern comics.  The art itself is okay but it’s barely got any room to work with.

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Inside, it gets even stranger.  It begins with the Guardian being tested by Tommy’s father at the Project, run through a thorough examination before being allowed to go into action.  Though the tests show nothing wrong with the cloned hero, the doctor is still a bit hesitant to give him a clean bill of health because this copy of Jim Harper shares a mysterious abnormality in his brain with the rest of the clones produced at the Project.  Once again, I find something rather sinister in this scene that I doubt Kirby intended, but there is definitely something a little unsettling about the setup.  It seems to beg for development, but I don’t think it was ever really touched on again.  Despite this, the Guardian is given a chance to head back to Metropolis with Superman, and the Legion is super excited about teaming up with their fathers’ idol.

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jimmyolsen139-11Unfortunately, only Superman, Jimmy, and the Guardian make the trip in the Whiz Wagon, while the kids remain behind, quarantined and due to be tested because Gabby picked up a cold.  Isn’t that sort of closing the barn door after the cows have gotten out, especially if you let the others go?  Nonetheless, the scene is pretty funny, as Gabby’s fellows pelt him with newspapers for landing them in stir.  Note Flippa Dippa who, for reasons known only to himself and Kirby’s fevered imagination, is wearing his wetsuit under his hospital gown.  Their salvation comes in a strange but entertaining form, as Scrappy finds one of the tiny mini-Scrapper paratroopers has hitched a ride in his hair and agrees to help them break out.

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The Whiz Wagon wings its way back to Metropolis, and when they get back, Superman zooms off to resume his secret identity so that Clark can be ready to receive these visitors.  He and Jimmy realize that Morgan Edge is behind a lot of their troubles and plan to have it out with their new boss.  Yet, the evil Edge has more gimmicky problems at the moment, as, and stay with me here, he is trying to work out a contract with Don Rickles, but he somehow has to deal with ‘Goody’ Rickles, who is on his research staff and is inexplicably the entertainer’s spitting image.  Despite having the same last name, there’s no indication that these two are related either.

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For some reason, Goody barges in at that moment, unaccountably dressed in a cape and tights.  Apparently, some of the guys in his office told him to wear it in order to shoot a TV pilot.  I…I don’t even know where to begin.  His dialog is just nonsensical.  Sometimes almost funny, but mostly indistinct and unclear.  The malicious mogul instantly hates the wacko, and for once I can’t blame him, and sends him out on a fake assignment that is actually a trap.

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jimmyolsen139-20Shortly thereafter, Clark and Jimmy arrive, demanding to see Edge, but they get sent out on the same assignment, arriving at the park in short order.  There they find a strange craft, and when Clark investigates, Goody moronically starts pressing buttons, suddenly causing the device to vanish!  The remaining protagonists are then attacked by Intergang thugs, and the Guardian goes into action while Goody says things that are ostensibly supposed to be funny.  The cloned champion gives a good showing, tearing through his assailants, and even Jimmy gives a good account of himself.  Kirby has him keep his foes busy through athleticism and cleverness rather than simply outbrawling them, which is fitting.  Goody does a comedy routine as he accidentally thwarts the bad guys.  Unfortunately, all their efforts are for naught, as one of Intergang’s bigwigs, the aptly named “Ugly” Mannheim, grabs Jimmy and holds him hostage until the others surrender.

Meanwhile, Clark is stuck in the strange craft, which has shifted into another dimension, nicely rendered by Kirby, who had a gift for alien vistas.  Back in Morgan Edge’s office, he orders Mannheim to dispose of his captives.  Instead, he feeds them.  Goody makes with more ‘humor,’ but the scene is salvaged by a pretty dramatic turn.  Ugly casually lights the entire table aflame with but a touch of his cigar, and then announces that the food was laced with a powerful accelerant, which is now in his captives’ systems.  He releases them, warning the three that in 24 hours they’ll all go up like Roman candles.

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That’s a wonderful villain image.

jimmyolsen139-28Goody’s indignation, not at the murder attempt, but at being dropped off out of his way is genuinely funny, but it’s one of the few moments in this comic that can actually be described that way.  He’s more grating and bizarre than humorous, with some of his dialog reminding you of a joke in the way that a badly hummed tune can remind you of a song.  There are elements in common, but the effect is rather different.  The story itself has a lot of good qualities.  However silly the setup, the Newsboy Legion making their escape is pretty fun, as is their banter.  Ugly Mannheim is instantly memorable, and the sequence with his unusual methods of dealing with his prisoners is actually quite good.  It’s nice to see the Guardian in action again as well, but all of this is overshadowed for some reason by the utterly incongruous presence of Goody, who makes no real sense and just doesn’t fit in this story.  Kirby’s art is quite good in this issue, unlike the last New Gods, and he turns in a lot of lovely and energetic moments, as well as some great character work with the Legion.  In the end, it’s rather hard to rate this issue, as it is just so very strange and feels more like two separate stories mashed together than a coherent whole.  I suppose I’ll give this mad mess 2.5 Minutemen, as the good elements are strong enough to partially offset the perplexing presence of ‘Goody’ Rickles.  It’s still a fun read, and interesting in context, but boy is it strange.

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P.S.: So, how did this flight of insanity come into being?  Check out the article here for some nice background, but here’s the short version.  Apparently Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman, Kirby’s assistants, were huge fans of then popular insult-comedian Don Rickles, and they thought it would be fun to have him appear in a comic for a few panels and insult Superman.  They wrote up some dialog and showed it to Jack, who loved the idea.  He, in turn, took it to Carmine Infantino, who never met a gimmick he didn’t like.  The editor got permission from Rickles and decided that this needed to be promoted and made into a two-issue feature.  Then, out of the unfathomable, beautiful madness of Kirby’s mind came what followed.  Apparently, Rickles himself was none-too-pleased with the final result, and I can’t say I really blame him.

 


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Color me surprised, but this is the second month in a row without a single new head-blow to add to the tally.  I’m thinking August has got to break the streak.

 


Final Thoughts:


July was an unusual month, filled with books that were not necessarily good, but were certainly memorable and, at least in some ways, important.  There were some genuinely enjoyable yarns along the way as well, of course, but this month gave us several significant comics that, though they were flawed as stories, were important to the DCU or interesting reflections of concerns in the zeitgeist of their time.  Even some of the sillier stories like this issue of Lois Lane are worth noting because of how they are evidence of the growth of the setting or the genre.  In Lois’s case, her bizarre adventure introduces the King’s Fourth World to the DC Universe at large, for however awkward that meeting might be.

Kirby’s Fourth World itself continues to develop in intriguing ways.  This month we get to see Darkseid emerge a bit more into the foreground, and we see a little of his personality and the nature of his rule in the machinations of his servants in this Forever People.  We also see the notable creation of another black character, still very much a rare occurrence at this point, though it is a moment of dubious honor, considering that he is the Black Racer.  On the plus side, his creation does point to an awareness of DC’s lack of diversity and some of the early, if halting, steps to try and make the DC Universe a bit more reflective of the nation that spawned it.

Most strikingly for me, this month gives us the story of Glorious Godfrey and a fascinating tale about the dangers of surrendering your will and moral judgement to the strong man and the demagogue.  This lesson was well learned in the mid-20th Century with the rise of fascism and World War II, but the allure of having someone do your thinking for you is a strong and pervasive one.  Human beings don’t like to think, as Socrates knew to his sorrow, and they always look for ways to escape that onerous onus.  I see this constantly in my students, but unfortunately, this trend is very much in evidence in the modern world, far beyond the classroom.  The ever increasing tribalism of our politics in the U.S. is the clearest example of this tendency I can imagine.

Notably, the viciously divided culture of 1971 seems to have produced similar anxieties about such mindless adherence to those that promise easy answers, as last month’s JLA issue demonstrated.  The connection between these books point to more than just Jack Kirby’s memories of the War years as being the source for this story.  In the era of George Wallace and numerous other strong men on all sides of the political spectrum, I suppose this should be no surprise.

Fascinatingly, this month’s Green Lantern deals, in a way, with a similar theme, though it is not really the focus of the story.  O’Neil finally turned in an issue that I really enjoyed, however goofy it might be.  It helps that the book takes the tack of satire rather than direct (and, let’s face it, shrill and self-righteous) critique.  Most notably, with this issue the author moves away from racism, pollution, and the other crippling social issues of the time, and focuses instead on the growing disposable, artificial nature of modern life, with its pillorying of the plastic peril of the Black Hand.  This is another topic that certainly resonates in the modern day, though in a less dire fashion.

Also in the zeitgeist of the day, the plight of Native Americans remains in our comics for this month with the conclusion to Dorfman’s Superman tale in Action Comics #402.  This is another prime example of a bit of a disconnect between the significance and quality of some of this month’s books, as the story itself is more than a little messy and goofy, lacking the dignity and seriousness of the first chapter.  Nonetheless, Dorfman’s heart is in the right place, and his work points to a growing concern in the culture at large, a desire to see native peoples given justice and a fair break, something we certainly still haven’t mastered.

This comic illustrates one of the difficulties in tackling social issues in the superhero genre.  As Superman easily wraps up all of the problems in a few pages, captures the villain, and provides a safe, stable, and successful future for the downtrodden tribesmen, we can’t help but feel that the reality of the struggle of such peoples is given rather short shrift.  This was one of my complaints with the previous attempt at such a story by Robert Kanigher.  It is a difficult and tenuous thing to treat a real tragedy in a setting where sun gods can juggle planets, stop bullets, and reverse time.  How do you honor the suffering of such a situation with a character than can resolve any problem with the snap of his fingers?  It can be done, as Kanigher’s racial story proves, but it is a difficult proposition.

DC’s flagship character was not just involved in attempts at social relevance this month.  Denny O’Neil’s continuing efforts to revitalize Superman are also on display, giving us attempts to humanize the archetypally superhuman Man of Steel.  While the resultant story is uneven, it’s an interesting continuation of the author’s efforts over the last several months, as his weakened hero has had to struggle with newfound limitations and doubts.  While the changes seem fairly mild to a modern audience, saturated with ‘bold new directions’ to the point where every radical shift just blends into the background, I have to imagine that O’Neil’s efforts were pretty groundbreaking for the venerable and traditionally very stable Superman.  Judging from the letters pages in these issues, that seems to be borne out.  Contemporary readers were reacting, and quite strongly, to the stories O’Neil is slinging.

Finally, as one of my radical readers pointed out, the appearance this month of a General Patton analogue in G.I. Combat is very likely a result of the relatively recent release of the film, Patton, the previous year.  Glancing over the plot summary of the movie, I’m certain he was right, as there are some really striking similarities between it and the story in question.  So here we have another quite clear example of the culture influencing the comics directly.

All of these stories make for a memorable if uneven month.  There are some great yarns to be found here, though a surprising number of those I enjoyed most were the backups.  There was still plenty here worth reading, one way or another.  I hope that y’all enjoyed this stage of our journey and will join me again soon for the next chapter of our voyage Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive, and exercise your God-given mind and moral sense!

 

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 4)

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Hello Internet travelers, come on in and enjoy some classic comic goodness!  Today we’ve got a double dose of Superman titles with some good stories and some better backups.  Let’s see what the the Last Son of Krypton is up to as Man and Boy!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Superboy #176


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“The Secret of Superboy’s Sister”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Invisible Invader!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska

We’ve got what looks like a super gimmicky story for our Superboy comic today, but it isn’t as bad as it seems.  The cover is just okay, one of those ‘what in the world is happening’ pieces, and the sight of a little girl on a flying carpet made of junk is pretty unusual, admittedly.  The design definitely feels a bit archaic at this point, though, right down to the softer coloring in this particular image and the Silver Age-ish setup of the composition.

Fortunately, the story inside isn’t quite as gimmicky as the cover might lead you to believe.  it begins during a powerful thunderstorm, with the Kents awaiting a visit from an old friend and her daughter.  Notably, the ages of these guests don’t actually make sense with the recently established actual ages of the Kents, which sort of illustrates how unnecessary and unhelpful that retcon was.  Nonetheless, the tempest is bad enough that Clark goes out as Superboy to keep an eye on things, arriving just in time to see the visitors, the Warrens, skidding over a cliff in their car!  The Boy of Steel manages to save the daughter when she is thrown from the vehicle, but he can’t stop the car before it crashes.  The mother is badly injured, and he rushes her to the hospital.

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Mrs. Warren asks the Kents to care for her daughter, Kathy, until Mr. Warren can arrive from South America.  Clark is concerned about having this little girl around the house, worried about the pressure this puts on his secret identity, but he makes the best of it, zooming around the world and collecting toys for his short-term sibling.  It’s a sweet response and his parents are proud of this display of character.

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superboy176 0006Later on, the Smallville superstar detects something approaching the Earth from space and zooms into orbit to find a strange, octopus like machine which attacks him.  Easily shrugging off its weapons, he deactivates the device and experiments with it, trying to solve its mysteries over the next few days.  He finds that its heart is an intelligence-gathering machine, essentially a massive electronic brain that absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge about Earth from the machine’s instruments.

Unfortunately, while the Boy of Steel is distracted, the device activates and leaves his lab.  When Kathy touches it, the globe explodes.  She is unharmed, but it is quickly revealed that she has become super intelligent, as she turns the Kent’s black and white TV into a color set and starts correcting her teaches in school.  Her young mind is stuffed with a planet’s worth of knowledge.  She should hang out with the Hawks!

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The young genius even picks the lock on Superboy’s lab and drops hints that she knows who Clark is.  That afternoon, Kathy accompanies Clark to a scrap yard, and when he is distracted by a an emergency at a nearby missile test (why is the army testing weapons in Kansas?!?), the grade-school Einstein takes the opportunity to whip up a makeshift flying carpet out of spare parts.  The Boy of Steel barely manages to save her from a collision with a set of powerlines, and she helpfully reveals that she knows his secret identity!

superboy176 0015Just then, a set of inter-dimensional aliens, the Truhls, arrive to complicate matters.  Apparently Superboy had tangled with them before, even leading a slave revolt on their homeworld.  Apparently, the octopoid device was theirs, and they intend to drain the knowledge it gathered out of Kathy to aid them in conquering the world.  They hit the Boy of Steel with a cool looking weapon and threaten the girl, but she was ready for them!  Having learned of their nefarious motives when she absorbed the machine’s memory, the pint-sized prodigy turned her doll into a weapon!  She zaps the invaders, but her device explodes from the strain, knocking her out as well.

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When Clark recovers, he returns the would-be world-breakers to their own dimension and discovers that the weapon erased all of the super-knowledge from Kathy’s mind.  I rather like to think that she did this on purpose, having been smart enough to realize that she would never be happy with such vast intelligence and preferring just to be a regular kid.  There is, of course, nothing to establish that in the story itself.  The tale ends with her father coming to claim her and the Kents bidding the little girl a fond farewell.

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This is a decent if not terribly outstanding little yarn.  It throws some unusual curves into Superboy’s life without making too much of them, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like some similar stories we’ve seen.  It is guilty of the old device of over-emphasizing Superman’s invulnerability, where nothing even phases him, with even hi-tech weapons that would be a good source of peril for him simply shrugged off.  At least the aliens’ final attack does some good, adding a little tension.  Speaking of the Truhl, this story really makes it seem like they hail from an earlier issue, but I can’t find any mention of them.  That’s a shame, because the two panels we get about Superboy’s previous adventure with them sounds way more interesting than this comic!  In terms of the art, I’ve noticed that Bob Brown seems to take on a slightly more cartoony style for this book, which works well for the lighter tone of Superboy.  Perhaps that has something to do with Anderson’s inks.  Either way, his work is quite good throughout, and I’m enjoying his tenure on the title.  As for this issue, I’ll give this readable if forgettable tale 3 Minutemen.

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“Invisible Invader”


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I was excited to see that we’ve got anther Legion backup in this issue.  I’m always happy to see those fine future fellows return.  Their stories tend to be a lot of fun, and this one is no exception.  It begins with Chemical King (who apparently has to be a rebel and not conform to the kid, boy/girl, or lad/lass formula that works for the rest of the Legion) attending the unveiling of the first commercial time-travel service, which is a fun idea.  The Legionnaire is on hand to act as security, but he gets shown up when a masked figure suddenly appears out of nowhere, steals the fares, and then vanishes into the thin air.

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When Chemical King reports to his comrades, the assembled Legionnaires try to sort out how the thief accomplished this feat.  It is the Invisible Boy that comes up with the answer when he deduces that the culprit must have discovered the same invisibility serum that the young hero did.  We get a brief flashback to Lyle’s efforts to work out the formula, along with some really great, thoughtful touches of realism, like the youthful inventor realizing that, if his eyes are transparent, light won’t be able to register on them, rendering him blind.  That’s a great bit of detail, and it makes the hand-waving of the explanation a few panels later easier to swallow.

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The crux of this issue is that the team has to find some way to counter the Invisible Kid’s powers, despite the fact that, once they do, others will be able to do the same thing as well.  Lyle selflessly stresses that there is more at stake than his career, and they get to work.  Unfortunately, nothing they try is effective, but after countless tries, the Invisible Kid suddenly has a revelation and figures it out.  With a solution in hand, the team plans to ambush their unseen assailant during a likely heist, and he obligingly shows up.  The Invisible Invader materializes to steal a jeweled cup from a hovercar race.

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However, when he tires to vanish again, he stays visible, leading the team right to his accomplice and allowing the real Invisible Kid to take him out.  What Lyle realized was, since he had complete knowledge of the serum, he could tell Chemical King what chemical reactions it caused, allowing the chemistry master to simply cancel those in their target.  Thus, the Legion captures the villain, and using a tactic only available to themselves.

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This is a fun little story, brief as it is.  In only seven pages we get a good setup for a crime and a great resolution to the challenge by our heroes.  We even get a tiny bit of worldbuilding and characterization, and all of the assembled Legionnaires get a little bit to do.  These Legion backups are really some of the most consistently enjoyable yarns I read.  They always seem to be fun, and much of their material is new to me, seeing as I’m generally not too familiar with the Legion.  I’ve been enjoying George Tuska’s art on this feature too, though it isn’t as strong on this outing as it has been.  I’ll give this one 3.5 Minutemen, once again, a strong score for a seven page story.

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Superman #240


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“To Save a Superman”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Dick Giordano
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Man Who Cheated Time”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Michael W. Kaluta

This issue of Superman continues to develop the ongoing plots that Denny O’Neil has been cultivating, and it takes the seminal superhero in some interesting directions.  It’s rather more intriguing than it is successful, but O’Neil’s innovation deserves credit as he actually does shake up Superman’s status quo.  The cover this month isn’t particularly great.  We’re effectively just told that Superman failed without any real visual representation of the event.  It’s not the most electrifying of compositions, though it certainly delivers some melodrama.  The image is well crafted, of course, which is only what I expect from Neal Adams.

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The actual story begins with Superman arriving at the site of a blazing inferno as the fire department tries to put out a burning building.  Discovering that there is still a family trapped within, the Man of Steel flies to the rescue, but he is strangely hesitant.  We learn that his powers are still greatly diminished after his previous adventure, and he’s worried that he won’t be strong enough to pull off a rescue.  Despite his reduced power, the Metropolis Marvel still manages to rescue the family, but once he gets them out, the building’s owner approaches and demands to know if the hero is going to try to save it in turn.

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I love the sweetness of this sequence, as the worried Superman takes time to comfort the kids.

superman 240 0005Once again displaying unusual trepidation, the Action Ace takes to the sky, but his lessened powers prove unequal to the challenge.  In a really nicely rendered sequence, the building collapses, despite his efforts.  When the shaken hero steps abashedly out of the rubble, a photographer snaps a picture, and we get the headline from the cover.  Meanwhile, the Generic Gang has decided to narrow their focus to Superman (shoot for the stars, boys).  Calling themselves the “Anti-Superman Gang,” they meet to discuss whether or not the Man of Might has really become the Man of Milquetoast, finally deciding to risk a test to try to take him out.

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For his part, the Metropolis Marvel finds his town turning against him, meeting mockery in the streets and becoming embittered by the lack of respect for his years of sacrifice and service, which is a pretty natural reaction.  Suddenly, he sees smoke rising nearby and realizes someone is robbing a bank.  For a moment he debates whether he should leave Metropolis to its own devices, which is a nice touch, but the better one is that he shakes off his self pity and does the right thing.  His reasoning here doesn’t quite hit the right tone, though, as he thinks to himself “I’ve got to be what I am,” making his heroics a function of habit rather than a product of principle, which rather misses the mark.

At the scene of the crime, the Man of Steel finds a freaking artillery piece in the street (nobody noticed this thing being driven through town?), and the gang fires on him as he approaches slowly, thanks to his diminished powers, and they actually shoot him out of the sky.  Unable to get close, Superman decides to hit them from range, and in another great sequence, he rips the bank vault off of its massive hinges and hurls it at the artillery piece!  At least the hoods got into the spirit of crime in the DCU, dressing up in matching outfits, though they aren’t terribly interesting.  It doesn’t quite make them a themed gang, but it’s something.

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Back at the Daily Planet, Clark gets a visit from, of all people, Wonder Woman’s mentor and walking cliche, I-Ching, the blind Asian martial arts master and mystic.  Apparently the old man has learned of Superman’s plight, somehow, and, somehow, knows his secret identity…for plot reasons.  He claims he can help, so Clark doesn’t just vaporize him with heat vision and instead agrees to meet him later that night for an attempt to restore his powers.  Yet, a young punk in the office secretly observes this meeting and, being in the employ of the gang and set to spy on Superman’s friends, calls in a report, which eventually leads the criminals to I-Ching’s apartment, just as he begins working on the Man of Steel.

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The martial artist attempts to us his mystic powers to draw the Metropolis Marvel’s spirit out in order to cure it, leaving him temporarily powerless, but in the middle of the ritual, three gunsels barge in and knock him out.  Isn’t he supposed to be sort of awesome, despite being blind, what with the martial arts mastery and all?  Like Zatoichi?  Either way, he goes down like a punk, and the emboldened thugs beat on the immobile Man of Steel, only to find out that he’s more the man of Flesh now, as they manage to bruise him!

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Coming to his senses, Superman leaps up and attacks the trio.  His invulnerable costume stops a bullet, though he is still badly hurt by the impact (which is a nice touch of logic).  In a desperate fight, the suddenly completely mortal Action Ace manages to take out all three gangsters, and the book ends with him standing proudly, having proven himself despite the loss of his powers.

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This is only really a decent story taken all together, but it has elements that are really rather exceptional.  The first sequence, with Superman striving to do what he can, despite his lessened powers is pretty striking, and seeing the Man of Steel fail is definitely surprising in this era.  As is often the case, O’Neil’s treatment of the emotional dimension of the story is just slightly off key, close, but falling a little short of what it should be.  He hits the right note in the the final scene, however, with Superman fighting without his powers.  The desperation of that moment is captured fairly well.

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It’s interesting that O’Neil uses I-Ching for this role.  I suppose it makes sense, seeing as he created the character, but it definitely feels like it comes out of left field.  It would have made much more sense for Superman to contact Dr. Fate or Zatanna.  I’m not even sure these two had ever met before this issue.  I know almost nothing about this character, and he doesn’t really interest me.  I can’t say his showing in this issue is terribly impressive.  His role here, presumably to provide a way to restore our hero’s powers, points to the interesting fact that O’Neil has done something pretty unusual, having kept the Man of Steel at a reduced level for several issues now as his plot unfolded.  In previous stories, when Superman lost his powers, he almost always had them back at the end of the issue.  This arc highlights the changes O’Neil was bringing to the character.  This tale is another solid step forward in that arc, and I’m curious to see what O’Neil will make of the seeds he’s planted here.  I’ll give it a good 4 Minutemen.  The incongruous and unheralded presence of I-Ching and the uninteresting antagonists are the only real problems here.

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“The Man Who Cheated Time”


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The backup this month is another “Fabulous World of Krypton” tale, and it’s a good one.  It begins with a janitor (a SPACE janitor!) checking out the hidden devices in a secret depot of forbidden weapons hidden beneath a cool looking jungle.  The man marvels at a time machine and wonders how it got there, which leads us a flashback where we meet a brilliant scientist, Mal-Va, and his nefarious assistant (scientific assistants seem to be a bad bunch in the DCU), Zol-Mar.  Mal-Va is building a time machine that is set to be demonstrated the next day, but his assistant plans to steal the device and use it to set himself up in the past and live like a king.

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Interestingly, as he leaves, Zol-Mar observes protestors tearing down a statue of ‘Krypton’s most famous military leader,” Dar-Nx, and wishing that the authoritarian leader was still around to keep people in line.  This is a subtle piece of social commentary, and it has surprising resonance today, given the conversation in the U.S. about statues and cultural history.

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Anyway, to put his plan into action, the ambitious assistant meets with one of his master’s colleagues and, distracting the old man by planting an explosive in his lab, he steals an invention that creates hard light illusions.  Next, disguised as Mal-Va, the thief ‘borrows’ a ‘weather-regulator’ from another scientist before paying a visit to his last target.  However, when Zol-Mar meets the last scientist, the fellow pulls a gun on him, knowing that the masquerading miscreant can’t be be Mal-Va because he was just talking to him.  Desperately, the abominable assistant strikes out, grabbing the gun, and vaporizing his opponent.  Stealing a final device from his victim, Zol-Mar is ready.

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The next day, he takes his place in the time machine, having disabled the recall controls, planning to set up in the past and become Dar-Nx’s right hand man with the technology he has stolen.  Yet, as he travels, he realizes that if he just materializes out of thin air, the natives of that time might kill him out of fear, so he uses his image device to make himself look like Dar-Nx himself, reasoning that no-one would oppose him.  Unfortunately, this creates an energy pulse, reversing his course through time, and sending him into the future.  With the return circuit disabled, his master can’t bring him back, and Zol-Mar materializes fifty years in the future, only to find that Krypton is no longer there!  He meets his fate alone in the cold vacuum of space.

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That’s a great ending to a fairly tight little crime story with science fiction trappings.  It’s a great example of the classic ‘villain hoisted by his own petard‘ trope, and it works quite well, with a fitting end for the selfish would-be tyrant.  This wouldn’t feel out of place in one of the more horror/Twilight Zone-esq titles.  At the same time, the tone and setting fit Krypton quite well.  In terms of the art, I’m not that impressed with Kaluta’s work on this backup.  While it is nicely detailed and really imaginative in some ways, especially in terms of devices and technology, it is a bit rough and unattractive in terms of figures and faces.  He does have a nice gift for realizing spaces, though.  Seeing as this was some of his earlier work, I imagine he improved over time.  I’ve seen some of his later work, and it is much nicer.  Either way, his art here is still perfectly serviceable, and the final effect of the story is quite memorable.  I’ll give it a full 4 Minutemen, though I wonder about Bates wasting a page on the unnecessary framing device.

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P.S.: Notably, this tale introduces an artist named Mike W. Kaluta to the DCU.  You might recognize his name from a long and distinguished career, though little of it was in superhero comics, or, if you’re like me, you might recognize it from this month’s Green Lantern issue!  That’s right, the name of the little pins, the strange sound in the backgrounds?  Kaluta.  Presumably, this was in honor of the new talent arriving at the company.  B. Smith kindly pointed this connection out in the comments of that post.  I don’t know what the connection was between Adams and Kaluta, but what a neat little discovery!


This month’s Superman illustrates how far DC Comics have come in one year in terms of continuing storylines.  When we started this little journey, continuing plots were the exception, rare enough to elicit comment and debate in Aquaman, but they are becoming much more prevalent, with ongoing arcs in several titles, including some of the company’s flagship comics.

That brings us to the end of this post, but not the end of the fun for this month.  Come back soon for some more Bronze Age goodness, but in the meantime, be sure to check back on Tuesday for a special Halloween edition of Into the Bronze Age!  If you noticed something missing from the roll call of titles, you might be able to figure out what is waiting for you in a few days.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!