Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome, readers, to the Greylands and to the beginning of another month’s journey Into the Bronze Age!  We recently finished May, 1971, and with this post we start our voyage into June of that year.  We’re off to a really interesting start, with some intriguing Superman stories and the first appearance of a classic Batman villain which I have been eagerly awaiting since O’Neil began to plant the first seeds of his arrival several issues ago.  That’s right, this month is witness to the coming of the Demon’s Head, R’as Al Ghul!  That makes this a red-letter post.  Let’s see if the character lives up to his reputation in this first appearance!

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 Ed Sullivan Show aired its final episode, ending an era of entertainment
  • Soyuz 11 takes 3 cosmonauts to Salyut 1 space station, but crew found dead on return
  • Willie Mays hits 22nd and last extra inning home run
  • North Vietnam demands U.S. end aid to the South
  • US ends ban on China trade
  • The New York Times begin publishing excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, classified documents on the long history of the U.S. in Vietnam
  • An Orange Order march causes a riot in Londonderry in North Ireland
  • Various groups boycott the opening of the North Ireland Parliament
  • International Court of Justice asks South Africa to pull out of Namibia
  • Supreme Court overturns draft evasion conviction for Muhammad Ali
  • Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards sentenced on drug charges
  • Notable films: Le Mans and McCabe and Mrs. Miller

The ending of the Ed Sullivan Show seems to me to mark the ending of a certain element of innocence in American entertainment.  Can you imagine a TV host today that had so little screen presence?  Well, aside from Jimmy Fallon, but clearly that talentless personality black hole made a deal with the devil.  It’s the only way to explain his career.  At any rate, that event shares this month with a new tragedy in the Space Race, as several cosmonauts die during a mission.  Of course, tragedies are in no short supply on Earth itself, and Ireland continues to bleed, while tensions continue to rise.  It’s a shame that the turmoil on the planet was mirrored, in a fashion, in space.  On a lighter note, the ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll’ reputation of the genre is further cemented by the antics of the Stones.  I imagine this isn’t the last time such a thing would happen.  It’s an interesting month, all told.

The top song this month and into the next is Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” which I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever heard.  That’s unusual.  It’s rather melancholy song about the end of a relationship, which seems somehow fitting for this month.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #401
  • Adventure Comics #407
  • Batman #232
  • Detective Comics #412
  • The Flash #207
  • Justice League of America #90
  • Mr. Miracle #2
  • The Phantom Stranger #13
  • Superboy #174 (reprints)
  • Superboy #175
  • Superman #238
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #33
  • World’s Finest #203

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


Action Comics #401


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“Invaders Go Home”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Boy Who Begged to Die!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

It seems last month’s Lois Lane issue was not a fluke, but rather presaged something in the zeitgeist.  We start off this month with another comic story depicting the plight of Native Americans, and penned by Leo Dorfman of all people.  I have to say, I wasn’t expecting this.  The comic has a provocative cover, showing the Man of Steel defeated and helpless before a band of tribesmen. Interestingly enough, this image is not a cheat, but of course, it doesn’t tell the whole tale.

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The story begins with Clark Kent using his ‘mobile news room’ to cover the anniversary of of statehood for an unnamed region in the southwest where a train is carrying tourists to a celebration.  Suddenly Indians appear, armed with bows and arrows, braves on motorbikes!  Mr. Mild Mannered thinks its part of the show until they start firing arrows at the cars and he sees a fire on a bridge ahead.

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Shifting into Superman, he carries the locomotive to safety, only to discover that the flames were just a harmless slogan, part of some type of public stunt on behalf of the local tribespeople.  The motorized raiders take off, but the Man of Steel is able to trail them easily enough, smashing into the cliff in which they’re hiding and confronting them.  Yet, he finds that their leader is a man named Don Hawks, now going by Red Hawk, who was a leading astrophysicist.  The young man has come home to help his people, and he takes the Man of Tomorrow on a tour of their plight today, showing him the pitiful state of their tribe.  The fiery leader explains that all of the surrounding region used to be theirs, but the white settlers had stolen it all from them.

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In a scene evocative of Kanigher’s great racial story, we then visit an improvised Indian classroom where the children, and Superman, are given an education on proud heritage of the people to counteract the negative stereotypes to which they’ve been exposed.  Interestingly, the beautiful teacher, Moon Flower (sounds more hippie than Hopi), teaches her students about the technological achievements of native populations like agriculture and the Mayan calendar, but she also mentions their own mythical superman, Montezuma.  Now, I figured this was just Dorfman talking out of his hat, making up ‘Indian superstitions,’ but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is a legend surrounding Montezuma II.  He apparently became the focus for many southerly tribes’ legends about the ‘King in the Mountain’ archetype.  Most cultures have such a legend, regarding a famous king who will return at an appointed hour to save or to avenge, like King Arthur for Britain or Frederick I in Germany.  Apparently Dorfman actually did a bit of research for this story.  Color me impressed.

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Anyway, after his education and tour, the Man of Steel is, naturally, much more sympathetic to the native people’s troubles.  Finally, Red Hawk takes the hero to “Montezuma’s Castle,” a massive plateau that is sacred to his people but has been taken over as a rocket testing site for a major company (oh-so-cleverly bearing the acronym G.R.A.B.).  The Metropolis Marvel wants to help, but despite his efforts to mediate, the president of the company, Frank Haldane, refuses to budge, insisting that their weather studies have shown that this is the perfect location for their projects.

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Just then, Red Hawk’s uncle, Old Snake, the medicine man of the tribe, appears and promises to drive the white men away with magic, using mystic sand paintings.  The impatient young man will have none of his uncle’s superstitions, however, and when Superman flies away laughing, he is deeply shamed by what seems like contempt for his people’s ignorance.  Yet, it seems Old Snake is as clever as subtle as his namesake, and his painting of lightning brings a massive storm.  Only the Man of Steel’s timely arrival saves the base.  The hero repairs the damage, earning the ire of Red Hawk, who resents this apparent betrayal, though Moon Flower is more sympathetic, seeing that his is only doing his duty.

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Next, Old Snake apparently summons a tornado, but once again the Man of Tomorrow intervenes to prevent damage.  It is then that we learn that he and the medicine man have been in cahoots, with the Kryptonian actually creating the disasters in order to drive the rocket company away.  Of course, he also feels obligated to fix what he breaks, but he’s hoping that they will wear the stubborn Haldane down.  Their last gambit, creating an earthquake, might have been successful, but Old Snake is, after all, quite an old snake, and he dies of a heart attack during the excitement.  The GRAB folks are relieved, but Red Hawk unexpected declares that he has learned his uncle’s secrets and will carry on his work.  He invites Superman to come to their camp that night in order to show him.

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When the Action Ace arrives, he is confronted by another sand painting in the form of his shield and a strange red jewel.  Red Hawk declares that he has used his magic to sap the hero’s powers and his men jump the astonished Kryptonian who suddenly finds himself unable to resist.  They truss him up, and the story ends with the native leader declaring that they will trade Superman for their land!

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There is a lot going on in this comic.  On the one hand, Dorfman is engaging in the traditional, ‘all Indians are the same’ trope in some ways, as with the train attack, evoking as it does the classic cowboys and Indians stories that were about Plains tribes.  Still, since some of those elements were meant to be part of a publicity stunt, it isn’t as bad as it might be.  On the other hand, Dorfman is using a pastiche tribe, the Navarros, as opposed to a real people group, and thus he avoids misrepresenting a real tribe.  He also includes traits that are indicative of southwestern tribes, like the sandpainting.  But he blends those with mythology that has more to do with Mexican and Central American peoples, with the Montezuma legends.  It’s a bit of a mess, but it is clear that his heart is in the right place, and the result is certainly less sloppy than Kanigher’s recent effort.

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I like Superman’s wry self-assurance here.

Dorfman gives us a positive overview of native peoples, stressing their development and the fact that they weren’t just ‘savages.’  He also sympathetically portrays their modern plight and their extremely legitimate grievances with the folks who stole their land.  Notably, Superman is unable to simply resolve the conflict.  His powers, which he willingly uses to aid the righteous underdog here, at the expense of the rich and powerful, are still not sufficient to solve the problem.  This, as fantastical as his efforts are, results in a more mature, effective story.

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Quite a striking image, the native leader standing triumphantly over the symbol of the white status quo.

It’s a solid tale on its own merits, featuring common and enjoyable Superman plot devices, but given the social agenda that it promotes and the attempt, however uneven, at accuracy and respect, it is more than the sum of its parts.  Swan’s art is great, as usual, but he really does a great job with some of the unusual parts of the tale, like the poverty and despair evident in the Navarro village, and, to his great credit, he generally depicts the tribesmen wearing at least some modern clothing, which immediately sets this comic apart from the last Indian yarn.  All told, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as it is a moderately provocative, at least slightly challenging story, especially for 1971.  I’m quite surprised it came from ‘dopey Dorfman,’ who usually tells pretty silly stories.

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“The Boy Who Begged to Die”


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The backup tale for this issue is also quite provocative.  It presents our hero with an intriguing ethical quandary, which is the type of story device that I always enjoy.  It begins with the crash of a small meteorite in the center of a small town called Masonville.  Superman, flying over, happens to see the commotion and comes to investigate.  He waves the crowd back and does the natural thing for him, examining the hunk of space junk with his x-ray vision, but this turns out to be a fatal mistake!  The radiation from his vision (which contradicts at least one explanation for how those powers work, I’m sure) triggers a reaction in the rock, turning it into a drastically unstable bomb.  He can’t move without triggering a massive explosion, so he orders an evacuation of the town.

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The people flee, trusting in the Man of Steel, and soon they are outside a mile perimeter, and not a moment too soon, because the hero realizes that the reaction is increasing, and thus the yield of the explosion will increase as well.  Just then, a young man with a broken leg limps slowly up the Metropolis Marvel, wondering where everyone is.  After a quick explanation, the boy, who was in the basement of the orphanage and was forgotten in the hurried evacuation, realizes that, hobbled as he is, he could never escape from the blast in time.  What’s more, every moment Superman delays in detonating the meteorite–turned-bomb, the larger the radius will be and the more danger to the townsfolk.

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action-401-26-04 - CopyDisplaying incredible courage, the young man insists that Superman do what he must, choose the greater good over his single life, and detonate the bomb.  The Action Ace is paralyzed by indecision.  He can’t bring himself to willingly kill this boy, yet he knows that if he doesn’t, thousands more could die.  This is a great moral puzzle for the Man of Steel, but his motivations are a bit off.  Instead of focusing just on the boy’s life, he thinks about his vow to stop hero-ing if he takes a life and the consequences of that, which is a little immature reasoning.

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Nonetheless, the situation is one of great tension, and the youth decides to take matters into his own hands, taking responsibility for his death upon himself as he tries to set the rock off by hitting it.  Yet, his efforts are too little (which does rather make me think that Superman could perhaps have flown it away, but that’s neither here nor there).  Finally, in an effort to force the Kryptonian’s hand, the young man takes his cape to create a noose.  Just then, Superman drops the meteorite, creating a powerful explosion that just barely misses destroying the huddled townsfolk.

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After the debris clears, we discover that, as he always does, Superman found a third way.  Inspired by seeing the boy carrying his invulnerable cape, the Man of Tomorrow used his super breath to blow the cape around the youth, then detonated the bomb, trusting in the Kryptonian fabric to protect the young man.  It works, and the boy survives, though he is badly injured.  Superman rushes him to the hospital, and we get a happy ending.

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This is a pretty great story for only seven pages.  It puts Superman in a genuinely challenging situation, one which his powers cannot outright solve, which is always a good source of dramatic tension for the incredibly powerful character.  I really enjoyed the fact that the Man of Steel was unwilling to sacrifice even one life, even to save thousands.  That’s the core of the character right there.  There are only really three flaws.

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The kid is a bit too willing, even anxious to die.  I can certainly see a virtuous and courageous young man coming to that decision, but it should have brought with it at least a little turmoil.  This youth seemed positively chipper about annihilation.  In the same vein, Superman’s anguished reaction misses the emotional core of the moment, focusing on his future career rather than the guilt of taking a life.  Finally, the protective powers of the cape are really a bit ridiculous if they can survive the explosion we’re shown here.  No matter how invulnerable the cape is, the kid inside would be jelly!  Of course, Bates only had seven pages to work with, and he fit a lot in.  So, we’ve got a tale with impressive aspirations and a great concept, though it is a bit immature in execution.  It’s still a good read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #407


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“Suspicion Confirmed”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Henry Scarpelli
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

While this month’s Superman stories present us with engaging and challenging moral dilemmas, this week’s Supergirl tale attempts to follow suit…with rather less success.  This issue of Adventure is quite a convoluted journey.  Unfortunately, it’s continuing the rather pointless plotline from the last issue, with ‘Nasty’ Luthor still trying to find concrete proof of Supergirl’s secret identity, as if she is a cop instead of a supervillain.  Last I checked, due process just doesn’t mean that much to megalomaniacs bent on world domination.  The issue does have a fairly nice cover, the standard dramatic confrontation angle, with a hidden (though obvious) figure challenging our heroine with knowledge of her secret.  Though Linda’s figure is a tad awkward, it’s otherwise a nice looking cover, with the unusual angle of looking out from the closet.

The tale inside begins where the last left off, with Linda Danvers in the hospital following her undercover heroics in the burning building.  With her super powers returning and her wounds healing, the girl knows she must escape before she is examined, and the arrival of a critically injured police officer provides her with the opportunity she needs.  Notably, the officer is black, which is a little detail that you wouldn’t have seen that long ago.  There’s also a funny little scene where Linda, clad only in a stolen sheet, hails a cab, and the unflappable cabbie doesn’t even bat an eye.

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Back at the office, Linda is greeted as a hero, but Nasty’s suspicions continue.  Yet, celebrations are short-lived, as there is a new story in the offing.  A man named Renard has come to them with a mystery he wants their help to solve.  He’s recently bought a reputedly haunted theater, and it has been plagued by strange occurrences, so he wants the news crew to bring their cameras down and find the culprit…which really seems less like a new crew’s job than a private detective’s job…or you know, the Ghostbusters!  “Who you gonna’ call?”  Random reporters, apparently.

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Sekowsky does give the fellow an interesting face…though he doesn’t have Geoff’s dynamite fashion sense.

Johnny, Nasty, and Linda head to the theater that night and set up different camera posts to cover the place with high-tech film gear in the hopes of snaring the would-be specter.  As the night rolls on, the silence of the place is split by a scream, as Nasty observes Johnny being carted off by a grisly-looking phantom.  Of course, the villainess is just waiting for such an opportunity to catch Supergirl in the act.  Just like her cousin, the Maid of Might is facing a terrible choice, intervene and reveal her secret or do nothing and leave her friend to an unknown fate.  So, she does what any hero worth their salt would do and finds a third way…ohh, wait…no she doesn’t.  She just sits there and watches her friend get abducted, possibly sacrificing his life to protect her secret.

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This is a huge problem.  The character rationalizes her choice, thinking about how much she would lose if she were exposed, and slightly more appropriately, how it would endanger her family, but she’s still utterly failing in her responsibilities as a hero.  These are realistic concerns, but there’s no emotional weight behind her struggle.  If she had good reason to believe that Johnny wouldn’t be harmed, that would be one thing, but she has no such guarantee, and her inaction could easily end in tragedy.  In fact, when the police arrive and search the place, they find nothing.  And then…she still doesn’t intervene.  Instead, she goes to Kandor for a fashion show.  Picking up her new, indestructible costumes, the Girl of Steel leaves her friend to his fate while she plays dress-up.  It’s not her finest moment.

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While there she sees the Professor, who is at work on creating an antidote for his anti-superpowers pill.  As she returns, she has the utterly silly thought that her new costume, which looks almost exactly like her OLD costume, will somehow give her an edge when she confronts her foes because it will confuse them.  Because apparently they aren’t capable of extrapolating minor changes.  She must think that getting a haircut really messes people up.

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My friend may be getting turned into clothing by a grisly monster as we speak, but yay! Fashion!

Back on Earth, her boss, Geoff, is fed up with the police’s lack of progress, so he decides to head a team going back to the theater…with more cameras.  Because that worked so well last time.  They do precisely the same thing, and, astonishingly, it works about as well the second time around.  This time, it is Nasty who is snatched, so Supergirl actually gets into action, but she misses the phantom.  In a particularly stupid detail, the police, seeing footage of the event, decide that the girl dressed almost exactly like Supergirl, who has a giant ‘S’ on her chest, must be a stranger in league with the monster.

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Geoff, feeling somehow responsible for sending two people to an unknown fate, takes a gun and goes down to the theater, which, had he done earlier, probably would have solved the problem.  Yet, Linda calls the police on him, defying his orders, and intervenes as Supergirl, another course of action that could have resolved this whole situation much earlier.

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Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen…

Using her conveniently working X-Ray vision, she locates a hidden passage and follows it down, just in time for her powers to very conveniently conk out again.  In the tunnels under the theater, she finds the two captured reporters as prisoners of a surprisingly well-spoken phantom, who reveals his boss…Starfire!

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The femme fatale seems not to have died in her plunge from the castle window after all…on which I’m definitely going to have to call shenanigans.  We didn’t see a body in that sequence, which I attributed to the era, but we did see what seemed to be a lifeless hand sticking out of the water in the last panel, which seemed pretty darn clear.  According to the villainess, she just swam under water and hid until the authorities left.  Pretty shoddy job on the part of the police.  ‘No body?  Ehh, she’s probably dead.  Let’s go get dinner!’

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The page in question

Covering the captives with a pistol, the spurious specter has Supergirl between a rock and a hard place, and the villains capture her, dropping her into a tank of acid.  Fortunately, the Maid of Might is still wearing her invulnerable uniform, so she flips her cape over her head, feigns agony, and endures the immersion until her bonds burn through.  Then she leaps out, breaking Starfire’s hand (!) to stop her drawing a gun, and capturing the villains with a flying tackle.  The story ends with Supergirl taking her prisoners to the police station and unmasking the phantom as Mr. Renard.  Finally, we see the gang joking about going to a show, while Nasty still plots to pin Supergirl down.

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It’s all very Scooby Doo, isn’t it?  That last scene especially is just a bit ridiculous and cartoonish.  The story is entertaining enough, though the book continues to suffer from Sekowsy’s dramatically uneven artwork.  There are some genuinely nice layouts, interesting angles, and nice panels…and then there are the usual bunch of downright ugly pages.  The bigger problems are Supergirl’s complete failure as a hero and the fact that the center of the book just feels like so much running around, with three different trips to the theater and the unnecessary side-trip to Kandor.  Starfire’s return and convoluted plot seem beneath her as well.  This is quite a ridiculous setup.

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“And we would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling Kyrptonains!”

She has her henchman pretend to haunt his theater in the hopes of attracting Supergirl’s attention?  I can’t help but think there must have been a simpler way to accomplish that.  The slippery master-villain also suffered a very ignominious defeat.  She plagued the Girl of Steel for multiple issues at a time previously, proving a suitable nemesis for our heroine.  And here, she gets taken down with fairly little fan-fare, just dumped in the local police station, and then forgotten about.  It’s a waste of a character that had a certain amount of villainous credibility built up.  In the end, I’ll give this silly story 2 Minutemen, though I’m inclined to give it less because of Supergirl’s unheroic performance.  It is particularly egregious in light of the much better told Superman story dealing with the same kind of dilemma that it shares space with this month.

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Batman #232


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“Daughter of the Demon”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

It’s finally here!  The debut of R’as Al Ghul, one of the greatest Batman villains created after the Golden Age, and arguably the most significant to the character in recent years, following his revitalization in Batman Begins.  I have been eagerly awaiting this issue, remembering it fondly from my previous read-through of the Bat-books, and, perhaps most significantly, from the wonderful adaptation from that best of Bat-worlds, Batman: The Animated Series.  The episode “The Demon’s Quest,” is an extremely faithful translation of this story, so much so that I was really struck by that when I first read the comic, having started my Bat-experience with the cartoon.  The episode in question is an excellent one, but that is no surprise considering the source.  Timm and Co. had an affinity for elevating their material, capturing the potential in every story and character and presenting them in all of their archetypal and dramatic power (though the recent release of Batman and Harley Quinn indicates that this is sadly no longer the case).  Yet, their task was an easy one in this case.

I loved R’as Al Ghul already from his appearances in B:TAS, and I was excited when I encountered him in this book and in his subsequent appearances.  I have been particularly looking forward to returning to his first appearance here, both to see if it lived up to my memory and to experience it in its original context among the DCU.  I’m very pleased to say that I was definitely not disappointed.

I supposed I’d better begin with the iconic cover, which is dramatic and nicely symbolic.  There are a few problems with it, but the biggest is the fact that it gives away the twist of the entire issue!  The thrust of the book’s mystery is the identity and agenda of the enigmatic Al Ghul…only that mystery is solved, in part, before you ever open it, as the villain is clearly orchestrating whatever is happening to Robin.  The other issue is the slightly distracting cover copy and the odd coloring of the ghostly Al Ghul.  I like his spectral image, but I think there is a little something missing from the execution.

Nonetheless, the tale within does not disappoint.  It begins with the Teen Wonder stealthily returning to his room one night at Hudson University, only to be ambushed within by a pair of gunman who shoot him down!  Now, having seen the cartoon episode first, I didn’t really appreciate how big a moment this, or that which comes later, really was.  I was just watching the familiar patterns of a well-known plot, but in context, I now realize that this is a really shocking event, with shadowy figures awaiting, not Robin, but Dick Grayson, in his home!  From the first page, the stakes are set as being extremely high, and we are given to understand that this is definitely not your normal adventure.

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A short time later, Bruce Wayne receives a most distressing envelope bearing a picture of his unconscious ward and a simple note, “Dear Batman, we have Robin!  Save him if you can!”  Once again, I read right past this the first time, but here is a note, sent to Bruce, but addressed to Batman.  The message is clear, and it is only made clearer by what will happen later.  First, Bruce swings into action, heading to Wayne Manor in order to use his mothballed crime lab to examine the note.  Now, this raises a bit of a question, as why would he not have the same type of facilities in his Penthouse headquarters, but it seems clear that O’Neil is taking a bit of a mini-tour of the Batman mythos in this book.

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The truly shocking moment comes when, upon reaching the Batcave, the Dark Knight is surprised to find that he has visitors!  An intense looking man in a cloak with a looming servant/bodyguard greet him, calling him by his real name!  This is R’as Al Ghul, who explains that he discovered the Dark Detective’s identity by deduction, reasoning he would need to be wealthy and meet certain criteria.  Bruce unmasks and accepts all of this with a truly surprising lack of reaction.  It seems quite out of character, and the mysterious man’s explanations seem far too simplistic, but these issues, while not given entirely adequate explanation by O’Neil in this issue, can be reconciled by what we learn by its end.

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Batman232-05The Caped Crusader does demand to know what the intruders want, though, and Al Ghul reveals that his daughter has been taken as well, and he wants Batman’s help in rescuing her.  The hero recognizes Talia, the girl he recently rescued from Dr. Darrk and, realizing that they have a common cause, the great detective gets to work.  A microscopic examination of the note reveals residue of an herb used by a far eastern cult of killers who have their headquarters in Calcutta, so the trio take off for the orient!  As they leave, Ubu, Al Ghul’s servant, makes a big deal of allowing his master to go first, and the Dark Knight quietly takes the man’s measure.

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On the flight, we see a Batman that has been developing in the last few years but has not, I think, been seen in such clarity before this point.  He sits in stoic, brooding silence, replying to his companion’s questions about his composure that he must control his emotions because he has a job to do.  The character’s portrayal throughout this issue is of the driven, collected, self-possessed Dark Knight Detective that came to define the best version of the concept, and this scene is a striking departure from the grinning, joking Batman that we’ve seen even recently in the rest of the DCU (Bob Haney doesn’t count, of course).  During the trip, we peer into the Masked Manhunter’s reverie and see him remembering his origin, that terrible night when a boy’s innocence died along with his parents and something hard and pure was born in its place.  We get a capsule version of the familiar origin story, complete with his adoption of Dick, with a focus on the self-sacrifice and dedication that his destiny demanded, further establishing this issue as a new beginning.

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In Calcutta, an old beggar is accosted by some street toughs, only to reveal himself as Batman, terrifying the low-lifes and forcing information out of them about the “Brotherhood of the Demon.”  Finding his way to their supposed headquarters, the Dark Knight enters first, only to be pounced upon by a leopard!  In a great sequence, the hero uses his strength and agility to grapple with the great cat and break its neck.  The danger passed, the detective notes that the animal was a trained guard, though the only thing in the room is a desk with a map of the Himalayan Mountains.  He claims there is a faint scratch tracing a route, and R’as offers to finance a mountain expedition.

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Later, on Mount Nanda Devi, the trio continue their search, following a clear trail, and Neal Adams includes what I have to think is Deadman’s face in the mountainside.  I wonder if this is near Nanda Parbat!  To continue their search, the travelers must scale the mountain, and Batman leads the way, though R’as takes a moment to admire the beauty of their surroundings, admitting to a love of desolate places that is positively Romantic, a nice character moment.  Suddenly, a shot rings out, and the mystery man seems to be hit.  Batman launches a desperate swing from the cliff-face to elude the gunman, and when the attacker follows, the hero springs from the snow in which he had secreted himself to take the assassin out.

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Interestingly, the Caped Crusader’s knows something we don’t, and he approaches the hidden camp of his enemies brazenly, walking boldly through their armed sentries and telling them that he knows they won’t fire.  As he strides into an inner chamber, he sees Robin and, ignoring the guards, secretly slips his partner a knife.  Just then, a masked figure enters, but the Dark Knight has had enough and declares that he knows the whole score.  From the very beginning, he knew that the entire quest was all a show, recognizing that R’as Al Ghul’s convenient appearance was all-too transparent, and his suspicions were confirmed when Ubu, always solicitous of his master’s honor, let the hero walk ahead of him when danger awaited.  Batman also fooled them with the map, lying about the scratch, but they took him to this mountain nonetheless.

Batman232-21Having vamped long enough, the Masked Manhunter asks the Teen Wonder if he’s ready, and they clean house, taking out the gathered assassins in a nice sequence that only suffers from having no backgrounds.  Then, the Dark Knight snatches the mask from the robbed figure to reveal Ubu, who decides to try his luck.  But Batman isn’t impressed by the man’s size or strength, and he flattens the hulking bodyguard in another great sequence.  Finally, R’as and Talia Al Ghul are revealed, and the Dark Detective confronts them, demanding an explanation for the dangerous game that the enigmatic man has been playing.  Al Ghul responds simply that his daughter loves the hero and, being inclined to retire, he wanted to see if Batman were worthy of being his successor and….son in law!

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What an ending!  The look of complete surprise on Batman’s face in the final panel had to be mirrored in that of many a fan as they read this book.  Of course, I knew it was coming, but trying to put myself in their shoes, I really felt the impact of this twist.  Readers must have been on the edge of their seats waiting for the next issue!  Reading this book in context really emphasizes how important and innovative it was.  This issue is the culmination, or at least a culmination, of all of the reworking and renovating that O’Neil had been doing in his Batman stories, and this is, in many ways, a new beginning, a line drawn in the four-colored sand, declaring that ‘what comes next is to be something new, yet classic,’ something that returns to the core of the character and positions him in a world worthy of him.

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This is the Batman I love.  This is the Batman that was translated so wonderfully into the Animated Series.  This is the Batman that realizes the character’s potential and takes advantage of the archetypal power of the concept.  He is dark, driven, intimidating, hyper-capable but believable, marked by the sadness of his origin, yet capable of enjoying his adventures, especially when joined by his adoptive son.  He is serious, but not joyless, and that’s an important distinction, often lost these days.  It isn’t perfect, not yet.  O’Neil is still a little clumsy with some of his dialog, but it is close, the character is close.

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I am also very impressed with R’as Al Ghul in this first appearance.  He is mostly just busy being mysterious, but there is a dignity and a certain Romantic air about him that is appealing.  Already you can see the Byronic anti-heroic quality that will define the character (though he will usually lack the self-critical element of that archetype).  Throughout there are hints that there is more to this enigmatic figure than meets the eye, like the ability of the older man to keep up with the powerful Caped Crusader during his quest and his calm self-assurance in every situation.

This issue is beloved for a reason.  It is a great declaration of a new (and old) vision for the Dark Knight, and it presents an exciting, world-trotting adventure that both honors and challenges many of the important elements of the Batman mythos, reuniting the Dynamic Duo in the end and introducing an intriguing new villain with a very unusual agenda.  Adams art is beautiful throughout, of course, but he too is coming into his own here.  His Batman is powerful yet agile, dynamic yet mysterious, full of untapped depths yet in complete control.  The art is alternately moody, intense, exotic, and exciting.  O’Neil, for his part, turns in some of his best writing here, focusing on character and story and really creating something special.  I’ll happily give this landmark issue 4.5 Minutemen.  It isn’t perfect, but it is darn close.

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P.S.: The letter’s page of this issue included a short note about the Futurians, the villainous secret society of several issues back, about which I had wondered.  It turns out that the name was a reference to a group of science fiction fans from the 30s, many of whom would go on to be major influences in the genre.  How neat!


And that’s it for this post, though I don’t know what else y’all could ask for!  We’ve got a great selection of stories in this batch, even with the Supergirl clunker.  This is definitely an exciting time in comics, and change is in the air!  DC is growing, and there are exciting things on the horizon.  On that note, I hope you’ll join me again soon for the next installment of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  With the world apparently either burning or drowning, this seems like a perfect time to read stories about super beings and heroes.  In desperate times, some light-hearted adventure is often just what the doctor ordered!  We certainly have some interesting titles in this batch.  We’ve got one of the weirder Justice League issues I’ve ever read, but we also have some more epic Kirby goodness to cleanse the palate, as well as more of O’Neil’s interesting Superman run.

Hi-ho Bronze Age!  Away!

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 #400
  • Adventure Comics #406
  • Batman #231
  • Brave and Bold #95
  • Detective Comics #411
  • The Flash #206
  • Forever People #2
  • G.I. Combat #147
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
  • Justice League of America #89
  • New Gods #2
  • Superman #237
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Justice League of America #89


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“The Most Dangerous Dreams of All!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Okay guys.  Brace yourselves.  This is a weird one.  In fact, that doesn’t do it justice.  It’s just plain bizarre and…well…I’m afraid it is also just plain bad.  I love the JLA, and I can appreciate an experimental story, but what we have here is a failed experiment.  We start with an unusual cover, nicely drawn by Neal Adams, but rather uninspiring.  It claims the reader will have a chance to inhabit the role of Batman or Superman…what about Aquaman?  Anyway, inside, we begin with a JLA meeting, with Aquaman acting as chairman, which is mildly fun.  Sadly, this is the last semi-useful thing he will do in this issue.  The gathered Leaguers break up and head back out among the populace, dressed in some really swinging 70s fashions.

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Bruce Wayne thinks he’s cool with his ascot, but check out Aquaman’s duds!  That takes confidence!

Oddly, we suddenly cut to Mike Friedrich, a character in his own comic, who tells us that sometimes stories exert their own pressure and insist on being told.  O-okay?  We cut to LA, where Black Canary is apparently just walking around the street in costume for no particular reason, when she runs into the cleverly named ‘Harlequin Ellis.’  Those of you with a taste for science fiction and some background in its luminaries may well recognize both name and figure.

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That’s right, this guy is an homage to Harlan Ellison, famed fiery sci-fi writer for TV, movies, and print.  The comic character also happens to be a TV writer with a fiery personality, and he sets his sights on the Blonde Bombshell.  Another strange note here is that the narration is second person, inviting the reader to identify with Dinah, though that doesn’t last.

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They meet and there is an instant connection, as in, love at first sight, which is hokey enough on its own, but an established trope.  Add to that ‘ol ‘Touchy-Feely’ Friedrich’s narration, and the scene is rather cringe-inducing in saccharine tone.  The pair grab a cup of coffee and stare longingly into each other’s eyes until Green Arrow shows up and reacts about as well as you’d expect when he finds Ellis making time with his girl.  The writer laughs the situation off, but he offers a chance for Dinah to meet him if she wants to “dump this crude bozo.”  Here the narration switches to the standard omniscient third person.

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He’s really lucky the Ace Archer doesn’t turn him into a pin cushion…

Afterwards, we follow ‘Harlequin,’ back to his…home?  Office?  It’s unclear, but his secretary and some other guy are there, presumably people actually connected to the real Ellison, but they add pretty much nothing to the story.  The writer is deaf to their pleas, sitting at his typewriter, dreaming up stories concerning the JLA.

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Suddenly, Green Arrow and Black Canary find themselves transported to Mexico, where they find a curio store with a strange artifact.  When they touch it, they fade to black, and we cut to Superman, or, maybe Ellis imagining Superman?  Either way, at this point the narrative perspective shifts again, and suddenly we’re supposed to identify with Ellis, who is apparently creating real events with his imagination, fueled by his broken heart…somehow.  It is…confusing to say the least, and this artifact is never explained.

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Superman, guided by Ellis, spies Canary, who is no longer in Mexico, I guess, and swoops down to carry her away, speaking romantically, which confuses the heroine.  Then the Man of Steel spots the JLA, trapped in a cave by a cyclops, and he says he’s somehow responsible, presumably because Ellis has imagined all of this.  What’s worse, Aquaman is dying!  Super-Ellis charges the Cyclops, and, in a sequence with really heavy narration that drowns out the art, he overcomes the monster, only to arrive too late.  Aquaman is dead!

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Except, not really, of course.  The Metropolis Marvel suddenly turns into Harlequin, and the League vanishes, leaving the Emerald Archer and the Dynamic Dame back at the restaurant where they started.  Black Canary once again displays her ‘woman’s intuition’ powers and gets a sense of what’s happening, with a weird visualization of the ‘pit’ of despair that threatens to swallow Ellis, who is heartbroken over the rejection by the girl who he just met.

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Heading to club where he offered to meet Black Canary, his mind drifts again, and suddenly he is Batman, observing Green Arrow facing a ‘Minotaur,’ which is clearly a centaur, while the lovely Mrs. Lance looks on.  The unfortunate archer’s arrows are ineffective, and when Black Canary moves to intervene, Bat-Ellis jumps in to save her, using his cape to blind and defeat the beast.  Once again, he is revealed to be the writer, and the scene fades, but the Emerald Archer is still hurt.

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Summoning help, Dinah leaves Ollie to go meet Ellis, and we get another weird visualization of despair as she explains that her heart belongs to someone else…and apparently doesn’t bother to follow up on how this guy has incredibly potent reality warping powers.  She just lets him walk away, and the comic ends with another appearance by Friedrich, who builds on his earlier statement, talking about how he identifies with all of his characters.  It is a weird and not terribly clear or satisfying ending.

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Yikes!  This dialog!

So, this is one weird issue.  It’s got a strange, dream-like structure that is confusing and disjointed.  It’s trying so desperately for pathos and emotional weight, and it is just failing spectacularly in that regard.  This is clearly a personal project for Friedrich, a fan letter to Harlan Ellison, which is fine, but it just doesn’t work for the rest of us.  It is badly conceived, badly executed, and badly written.

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Friedrich tries several interesting tactics here, but none of them really work.  His structure, meant to evoke a certain stream-of-consciousness storytelling, leaves the readers unable to follow the plot (I’m still trying to figure out the magic artifact thing).  The narration is another failed idea.  Second person narration is traditionally used to place the reader in the story after a fashion, but he breaks whatever success that move could have had by switching characters multiple times.  While I’m sure it would have been neat to see the wink at Harlan Ellison during this era, whose name was showing up all over the place in the 60s and 70s, including on some story credits at Marvel around this time, the story is just a mess.  I’ll give it a sad 1.5 Minutemen.

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New Gods #2


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“O’Deadly Darkseid”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

Fortunately, we have another issue of Jack Kirby’s epic New Gods saga to make it up to us!  It has another photo-collage cover, though you can hardly tell, as the image is dominated by Orion’s tortured form.  That part of the composition is pretty great, but I think the three floating heads would have been better as just one figure, whether of Darkseid or his minions.  Either way, it’s something of a mixed bag.  When you open the book, however, the splash page more than makes up for it.  It’s a great image of the opposed worlds of Apokolips and New Genesis with a nicely written bit of narration that catches new readers up on the mythic origins of our tale.  I particularly like the description of Apokolips, with “its stark and functional temples–in which creatures of fury worship a creed of destruction!”  Not half bad!

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The story really begins with Highfather, who is communing once more with the Source, which tells him that it is time for more inhabitants of New Genesis to follow Orion to war.  The young Lightray begs to make the journey, but he is refused, while on Earth, the man in question makes a disturbing discovery, as he finds Darkseid waiting for him at the home of one of his new human allies.  The great villain sits impassively in a chair, and when Orion hesitates in his instinctive attack, the master of Apokolips taunts him with secret knowledge.  Then, from behind the door springs one of his minions, who attacks the Dog of War with a “shock-prod.”  Orion pushes through the pain and grapples his foe, eventually knocking him through the wall and sending him plummeting into the air, only for both Darkseid and his dance partner to disappear.

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The scene seems slightly…beneath Darkseid.  It isn’t quite grand enough, fitting more with a gangster film than a cosmic epic, with the single heavy hiding behind the door.  I think Kirby is still finding the right tone for the character, as I suspected might be the case.  After the fight, Orion’s five rescued companions introduce themselves, giving him an instant supporting cast.

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Now, as I remember, these five contribute almost nothing to this book, but we’ll see if my memory has been unkind to them.  They certainly don’t’ evince an excess of personality in this issue.  I assume the King wanted to provide a human perspective on the grand cosmic tale he’s telling, but I think a single human sidekick could have filled that function more easily than five of them.

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At any rate, the next scene follows the escaping Darkseid, who goes back to his hidden base and quickly displays his displeasure with his flunky’s failure.  There he finds Desaad, who is working on a device to trigger abject panic in its targets in the hopes of triggering the brainwaves for which they are searching.  After a successful test on the hapless workers nearby, Darkseid orders the device into action.

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That’s some glorious Kirby-tech!

Meanwhile, Orion uses his Mother Box to fill his newfound friends in on the conflict into which they’ve stumbled, and we get previews of some of the Apokoliptian threats that face the Earth, including Mantis and the Deep Six.  The fact that Kirby never had Aquaman encounter those aquatic aliens is a massively missed opportunity.  This section serves as a bit of a catchup, bringing readers up to speed on the current state of affairs across the 4th World books, including a glance at the Wild Area from Jimmy Olsen.

Show and Tell time is interrupted by the unleashing of the fear ray, which sends the city into a panic.  Orion dons his Astro Harness and rides to the rescue, and once again, I can’t help but feel like we’re probably missing some detail in some of these panels, thanks to Coletta.  Either way, our ferocious hero arrives at the source of the ray, a giant billboard, but it has defenses of its own.  He is blown out of the sky, but not before he blows it away in turn.  Orion manages to stop his careening fall with a blast of his ‘Astro-Force,’ saving himself and returning to his friends.  Darkseid, for his part, is disappointed at the lack of results, and in his dialog with Desaad we get yet more hints about Orion’s origins.

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This is a pretty good issue, though it is largely setup and catchup.  Still, it manages to provide us with a solid adventure tale and several moments of plot and character development.  In terms of the art, it is absolutely beautiful for the most part, and if Kirby’s work got a bit too cramped and rushed in this month’s Forever People, that is absolutely not the case in this book, where he gives us not one, not two, not three, but FIVE lovely full-page splashes, not counting a gorgeous double-page image of New Genesis.

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All of this eye candy robs us of some plot and action, leaving this issue feeling a bit thin, but it admirably serves its purpose of setting the stage for the adventures to follow.  There are still a few spots where Kirby’s pencils are a bit off, notably with Orion looking a bit funky in a few panels, but his dialog is, thankfully, missing that occasional clunkiness we’ve noticed in these books.  Taken on its own, this story is flawed but fun.  I’ll give this issue 3.5 Minutemen, with the art making up for the paucity of plot.

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Superman #237


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“Enemy of Earth”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Our final book for this post is another issue of Denny O’Neil’s Superman run.  So far, these comics have proven to be pretty solid, if a bit strange at times.  Let’s see how this one stacks up!  First off, we’ve got a really striking and unusual cover.  Adams has certainly rendered the bizarre mutations of the crowd well…but I’m not sure that the effect isn’t more comical than dramatic.  Either way, the cover certainly piques a reader’s interest.  The tale inside is a pretty solid adventure story, and there’s a certain amount of personality and wit that raise it above the average.  It begins in standard Superman fashion, with the Man of Steel racing to save a crashing plane.  Yet, the aircraft in question is an experimental device that has been up into space, and when the Kryptonian sets it down and rescues the pilot, he finds him hideously mutated!

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superman 237 0005After taking the unfortunate flyer to a hospital, where the doctors are completely stumped, the Man of Tomorrow reasons that the illness could be the result of an alien disease.  To ensure that he isn’t contaminated, Superman just takes a quick jaunt to the radiation belt to take a bath in deadly rays, as only Superman can.  This is a fun little scene, though there is a rare failure in Swan’s art as he can’t quite pull off an interesting illustration of the phenomena.  I would rather have liked to see what Kirby would have done with that!

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Returned to Earth, our hero changes into Clark, after which he is ambushed by Morgan Edge, who tries to give him a tongue lashing for not getting the story on the experimental ship, only to have Mr. Mild Mannered very politely but firmly let him know that the reporter was on the way to deliver that very scoop on the air.  It’s a brief but nice scene, giving Clark a chance to show some personality, which is too rare in these older stories.

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Yet, during the broadcast, the Kryptonian begins to feel weak, only to discover that the Sand creature that has been following him is nearby.  Turning back into the Metropolis Marvel, Superman confronts his dusty double, but his efforts to communicate are met with silence while an attempted touch is met with a burst of energy so powerful it knocks him through the roof!  Even worse, when the Action Ace regains his feet, he finds the Daily Planet staff have been affected by the same strange alien disease as the pilot!  It seems clear that the radiation bath was insufficient and Superman has infected them.  This leads us to a nice dilemma.

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Superman realizes that he’s responsible for this and that he’s a danger to everyone he’s around, but just then he hears a mayday from Lois, who is on assignment in South America.  Her plane is going down in an area being overrun by a horde of army ants that are consuming everything in their path.  O’Neil displays a bit of personality and cleverness in Superman’s exasperated reaction as he observes “that girl just can’t lead a normal life!”  It’s another small but enjoyable moment.

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After alerting the hospital, the Man of Tomorrow takes off for South America, still trailed by the Sand-man (no, not that one!).  Meanwhile, Lois’s plane has crashed, apparently because her moronic pilot forgot to put fuel in it!  This is a weird little detail.  What’s the point of it?  There’s no real payoff, and it just seems too stupid to be believable.  Nonetheless, that’s the explanation we’re given, and things get worse when bandits arrive!

Superman arrives to help, but when he lands amidst the marching army ants, two of them that touch him immediately grow to massive size and attack him.  After disposing of them, the hero discovers that one of them grew even further after he hit it, and he wonders why.  Disposing of the ants by throwing them into space, the Man of Steel faces a terrible choice.

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He’s seen first hand how dangerous his mere presence can be, infected as he is with the strange disease.  He wonders if he should head out into space, never to return, thus leaving Lois to her fate, or intervening and risking who knows what effects on Lois and perhaps even the microbes in the air itself.  Now, this is, even in context, a bit extreme given the existence of sources of help like the Green Lantern Corps., but we’ll give it a pass for the dramatic weight it achieves.

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Meanwhile, an ill-conceived bit of heroism leads to the pilot being knocked out and the bandits abandoning them both.  Lois tries to lug this albatross around her neck to safety, but he’s too heavy and the ants are too swift.  This leads to another really good moment, as the reporter contemplates just leaving the idiot, especially because this is his fault in the first place, but she decides she has to do the right thing, no matter the cost.  That’s a great character moment for her, and it reveals the type of woman Lois should be.

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Elsewhere, the doctors have cracked the case and cured the disease.  They send out broadcasts to let Superman know, but in some good dramatic irony, he is sitting in space, unable to hear.  Just then, the sand creature arrives, now somewhat colored after their contact.  Realizing that the energy explosion after their encounter was the reason one of his hands didn’t infect one of the ants, the Man of Steel takes a desperate chance, embracing the creature and triggering a tremendous blast that sends him hurtling earthward like a meteorite.

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superman 237 0029 - CopyHe lands with a tremendous impact near Lois, and though he is weakened, he is stills strong enough to carry her and her burden to safety, handily capturing the bandits in the process.  Just when it seems like everything is going to be alright, the sandy stranger arrives, finally able to talk after their latest contact, and the dusty doppelganger tells Superman that he is the Kryptonian’s exact equal, and he fears that they cannot both survive!  Dun dun DUN!!  That’s a pretty solid cliffhanger.

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This is a pretty good story, even if it isn’t outright fantastic.  We get a pretty great problem for our hero to solve, and it’s one for which all of his great strength is useless, and there are several small but entertaining moments that demonstrate a surprising amount of personality and even provide some character development.  One of the strengths of O’Neil’s run is his tendency to provide Superman with interesting moral dilemmas, where his abilities are secondary to the problem at hand.  It’s a good way to provide drama to a character as powerful as he is.  I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen.

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And that wraps us up for this post.  It’s certainly an interesting trio of books, and the JLA issue especially is something of a time-capsule, both for fashion and for culture.  Thank you for joining me in my journey through these classic comics!  I hope y’all will join me again soon for the last issues of the month.  In the meantime, stay dry and safe out there in the real world!  Here in the Grey household, our prayers are with those affected by the hurricanes, fires, and floods.  Until next time, keep the heroic spirit alive, and as part of that, try to find some way to help those that need it!

 

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome to another installment of Into the Bronze Age!  We begin our journey through May of 1971, marching ever further into the last great age of comics!  Our books for this post aren’t the best we’ve ever had, but I can honestly say they aren’t the worst, either.  I’m looking at you, super baby.  Join me as we see what was going on many years ago!

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:

  • Amtrack railroad begins operation
  • National Public Radio begins programming
  • Nixon administration arrests 13,000 anti-war protesters in 3 days
  • Race riots in Brownsville section of Brooklyn
  • Friends of Earth return 1500 non-returnable bottles to Schweppes
  • Multiple killings and bombings continue to occur in Ireland
  • USSR launches Mars 2, 1st spacecraft to crash land on Mars
  • USSR Mars 3 launched, 1st spacecraft to soft land on Mars
  • US Mariner 9 1st satellite to orbit Mars launched
  • 36 hospitalized during Grateful Dead concert; drunk LSD apple juice

Well, it wasn’t quite as crazy as some of the previous months have been, but there was certainly plenty going on.  I’m slightly surprised that NPR only started this late in the Century.  I had sort of imagined them being around much longer.  We can see the tensions continuing to escalate both in the U.S. and abroad, with arrests of protesters here and the Troubles continuing to grow in Ireland, taking a toll on both sides.  We also see the space race proceeding apace, with both superpowers rushing to examine the Red Planet.  It’s clearly a strange, worrisome, but also fascinating time.  I wonder how the contemporary comics reflect it.

It seems that Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” remained at the top of the charts through May, but at the tail end of the month, the Rolling Stones snuck into #1 with “Brown Sugar,” a fun, carefree song plenty at odds with the turbulent headlines of the time.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #400
  • Adventure Comics #406
  • Batman #231
  • Brave and Bold #95
  • Detective Comics #411
  • The Flash #206
  • Forever People #2
  • G.I. Combat #147
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
  • Justice League of America #89
  • New Gods #2
  • Superman #237
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Action Comics #400


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“My Son… Is He Man or Beast?”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“Duel of Doom!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

It’s the landmark 400th issue of Action Comics…unfortunately, there’s not really anything particularly noteworthy to mark the occasion.  But hey, look at that, another monkey on a cover!  That’s right, this month Superman gets the ape allotment at DC, and it is certainly an unusual image.  In fact, it represents a very unusual story as well.  The cover probably primes you to expect another Saga of the Super Sons, but no, Dorfman has even weirder plans.  And when you’ve got weirder plans than Bob Haney, watch out!

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So our strange story begins with Superman attending the funeral of yet another old friend who we’ve never heard of, in this case, a scientist named Jan Nagy.  The Man of Steel attempts to comfort the late scientist’s son, who Swan draws to look like he’s an adult but is presumably still a teenager.  Unfortunately for the hero’s efforts, the kid reacts with hatred, saying he wants nothing to do with the Metropolis Marvel.  Oddly, the scientist’s will appoints Superman as the boy’s guardian, which is just really strange in multiple ways, if you think about it.  The bereaved boy, Gregor, storms off, saying he wishes he could kill the Kryptonian, and his family lawyer comments that he’d have to be some kind of “super gorilla” to do that.  What an unimaginably odd thing to say.  It can’t possibly be foreshadowing.

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Well, Supes chases after the angry young man but sees him phase right through a door!  Inside, the Action Ace spots Gregor transforming into…you guessed it, a gorilla.  Superman confronts the irate ape, only to have the creature tell him that the hero himself is to blame for the transformation.  Gregor turns back to normal and reminds the Man of Tomorrow of a yesterday not that long ago when he saved the boy’s father from an experiment gone wrong.  The scientist had created a new element, metamorphon, in an atomic furnace, but it threatened to explode and mutate everyone nearby (and here’s another threat to civilization thanks to a DC scientist).  The hero disposed of the furnace in a swimming pool to drown the reaction, but the nearby Gregor was affected by the fumes, despite his efforts.

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The boy soon found himself transforming uncontrollably at his slightest whim, becoming intangible or taking on the shapes of animals.  Instead of being thrilled to have developed some honest-to-goodness superpowers, donning a costume and taking to the streets to fight crime, which seems to be the dominate way of dealing with such trauma in the DCU, the boy just becomes bitter and blames his new guardian.  He even spurns the woman he loves because he feels like a freak.  Superman encourages the youth to learn to control his powers and use them for good, and the boy agrees, but demands that the Man of Steel teach him, still full of venom.

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Helping the Man of Tomorrow open locked and booby-trapped doors and scaring poachers, Gregor begins to control his powers, but he also uses them to spy on Superman, discovering his secret identity.  In an attempt to reach the little punk, Clark takes him to the Fortress of Solitude, where the boy carelessly damages a satellite by pushing random buttons, causing the Action Ace to run off to try and save it.

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Meanwhile, a distress call comes in about a sub trapped in the Sea of Japan, and Gregor, finally displaying some character, realizes that he’s been acting like a jerk and sets out to help them by taking Superman’s place.  He recreates the Kryptonian’s powers temporarily, but his own abilities don’t last long enough to finish the job.  He is injured by the pressure before the real Man of Steel arrives to save him, and the two have a supposedly touching farewell reconciling as Gregor dies, his metamorphic form turning to dust at the end.

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As I said, this is a weird one.  There’s a slightly clever reference in the boy’s name.  A character who metamophosizes and is named Gregor.  Hmm!  We get the standard device of a close friend we’ve never heard of, and Superman suddenly finds himself a parent to a surly and sullen teenager, with super powers to boot, as if regular teenagers aren’t hard enough to manage!  The story, at only 14 pages, is way too rushed for any real emotional attachment to Gregor, especially as he comes off more like a jerk than a victim.  His powers don’t really seem like that much of a burden.  If he wants to complain about metamorphic powers, he should probably compare notes with Metamorpho first.  I can’t help feeling like Rex got the worse deal, there!  The story feels fairly Silver Age-ish, with the melodrama cranked up to 11 without any real justification in the story itself.  It’s an okay tale for what it is, but it is certainly nothing special for the 400th issue.  It feels like a bit of a let-down in that context.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen because it just fails to achieve the pathos for which it’s clearly aiming.

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“Duel of Doom”


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As often seems to be the case with these books, the backup tale is significantly more fun than the headliner.  It offers an enjoyable jaunt into the miniaturized world of Kandor, where two young students idolize Superman and Supergirl.  They argue about which hero is the best, like all good comic fans.  Arvor, an electronics student thinks the Man of Steel is the best, while the archeology student, Yllura, supports the Maid of Might.  There’s a charming ‘battle of the sexes’ element to their interactions, which results in their deciding to compete with one another in their final exams, where each student has to achieve something impressive.

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Gota’ say, I think I agree with Arvor here.  Is there really that much future for an archeologist in a bottle city?

Yllura heads to the outskirts of the city to explore ruins located in some caverns and discovers a hidden temple.  Meanwhile, Arvor tests an experimental visor of his own design that simulates Superman’s X-ray vision.  His belt jets short out during his flight and send him plunging into a lake, accidentally finding his way into an underground river.

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While he wanders through the cavern after his embarrassment, the lady scholar triggers an ancient defense mechanism, producing a grotesque floating head.  Her frightened scream leads the electrical whiz to her, and he smashes the source of the projection with a rock.

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Unfortunately, this shorts out the power in the tomb, plunging the pair into darkness.  Yllura realizes that Arvor’s visor could lead them out, and with his invention lighting the way, they escape from the caverns.  The couple realizes that, no matter who is the best, they are still better as a team.  The plucky pair both ace their exam and are awarded a joint trophy by Superman and Supergirl who arrive to officiate their graduation.

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This is a simple but fun little science fiction story.  The two Kandorians have a charming dynamic, with some good back and forth in the small amount of ‘screen time’ they have.  I like the proxy battle of the sexes they play out, which is a neat reflection of the growing concern over gender equality at the time.  I enjoy how both of the kids make mistakes but both also have moments of triumph.  It’s a very brief little story, but it’s an enjoyable one with a decent amount of personality.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #406


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“Suspicion”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Editor: Mike Sekowsky
Cover Artists: Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano

This is an issue that is a bit hard to pin down.  One moment it is hilarious and surprisingly witty, the next it is so goofy and poorly thought-out it almost seems surreal.  The overall effect leaves me wondering if maybe I’m missing some clever parodic elements, but I’m fairly certain it’s just Sekowsky being inconsistent and employing lazy writing shortcuts.  The crux of the issue is the discovery of Supergirl’s most closely guarded secret by her nemesis, but the manner in which this happens is dramatically unworthy of the event.  Sekowsky also seems to have forgotten what happened in the previous issue, as this comic opens with a recap of the recently concluded ongoing Starfire saga, but whereas the last issue ended with the Maid of Might capturing the villainous professor and assured that a cure for her stop-and-go superpowers would be forthcoming, her powers are still unreliable in this one with no explanation.

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The story proper opens with Linda Danvers preparing to go to her college graduation, at which she has, for some reason, agreed to speak as her own alter-ego, Supergirl.  That couldn’t possibly go wrong.  Oddly, the graduation is disrupted by a crowd of pushy protesters, and the demonstration quickly turns into a riot when the football team takes on the demonstrators.  Supergirl just up and leaves, heading back to her room to change, and here is where Nasthalia “Nasty” Luthor enters the picture and enacts her brilliant master plan to discover the superheroine’s secret identity.  What, you may ask, is this staggering work of genius that manages to outwit the wily Kryptonian?

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adventure406-04 - CopyWell, Nasty follows her and watches whose room she enters.  That’s it.  That’s the discovery.  It’s so blazingly stupid that I had to read the sequence twice to be sure I hadn’t missed something.  This is an example of plot induced stupidity if ever there was one, as the being with about a zillion different super senses doesn’t notice that she’s being followed and walks through her front door instead of using the roof entrance that we’ve seen her use before.  Wow.

Back out among the mob as plain old Linda Danvers, our protagonist meets up with her adoptive parents amid the protest, which has descended from carrying standard slogans to parody signs that make fun of the mindlessness of such crowds, which is pretty funny.  Linda and her parents are weirdly unaffected by all of the chaos surrounding them, and Linda herself seems entirely unruffled that her graduation, a rather major milestone, has been completely ruined by these protesting morons.  The page has several little jokes, making it one of the funniest pieces of the book.

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Note the irony of the image and caption in the last panel.

Having graduated, despite the lack of a ceremony, the young Kryptonian says goodbye to her family (about whom I know absolutely nothing for this version) and heads to Metropolis in search of a job.  However, she finds that no-one is hiring, though there is a surprisingly mature reference (for the time) to sexual harrasment as one guy tries to use the prospect of a job to get her to go out with him.  I was surprised to see that kind of thing get a mention in a comic like this.

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Check out the fourth panel.  That image looks familiar, but I can’t quite place it.

Finally endangers Superman’s secret identity as well, calling him while he’s at work in the guise of Clark, with Nasty secretly stalking her.  Cousin Clark comes through, arranging a job for her in San Francisco.  Hooray for nepotism!  I’m actually slightly bothered by the use of Frisco rather than, say, Coast City.  I dislike it when DC mixes real cities in with their imaginary geography.  It ruins the effect of the alternate world with its own internal consistency.  That’s the reason I’ve never cared for things like Firestorm being based in New York instead of his own fictional town or sharing space with another hero.

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At any rate, Linda flies cross-country to take the job at a TV station, K-SFTV, where she meets two groovy guys dressed in the height of early 70s fashion, drawn by Sekowsky to look like they’re in their 30s, which makes their immediate flirtation with the disguised Supergirl even more inappropriate than it would be normally.  Linda also discovers that her old college cohort, Nasty, has taken a job at the station as well.  These two girls are made camerawomen, with apparently no training or experience, and for some reason, they travel in a trio, since apparently one camera isn’t enough.

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Multiple camera angels don’t do a whole lot of good when they are all right next to each other…

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After covering a bunch of stories where Nasty has stuck to Linda like glue, making it impossible for her to do any hero-ing, they respond to reports of a fire, where they find people trapped inside a building.  Supergirl slips away in the crowd, changes into her costume, and flies into the building to rescue a woman and her child.  Then, instead of, ohh, I don’t know, using those same powers to fly OUT of the building with the pair, she slowly walks through the inferno, risking their lives.  Almost at the exit, the rescued woman comes to and tells her savior that there is another victim trapped within, a baby she had been watching.

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Finally employing her x-ray vision (why exactly didn’t she do that before?), the Maid of Might rescues the baby, while Nasty notices her absence and tries to get footage of her, only to be foiled when the heroine switches back to Linda to emerge with the infant before collapsing, her powers having faded and left her vulnerable.  She awakens in an ambulance, wondering how she’ll escape before the doctors notice that her wounds have miraculously healed.

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This story is so silly in places, yet the moments with the protesters are genuinely funny and clever.  It’s really a surprisingly inconsistency.  Whatsmore, Sekowsky is doing really interesting and unusual things with his character.  In the scope of one issue, he dramatically transformed the status quo for Supergirl.  He not only has her graduate college but get a job and start a new life in a new city.  That is a pretty huge change for an era that is still largely about stability.  The renovation of characters is clearly having an impact, even in unexpected quarters.  Of course, Supergirl herself remains pretty flat and unchanged, despite the shift in her setting.

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The whole bit with Nasty discovering the Girl of Steel’s secret identity was just so stupid I hardly have words to describe it, and her inaction throughout the story is inexplicable.  She’s got excellent reasons to believe that Linda Danvers is Supergirl, so why in the world doesn’t she act on that information.  Instead, she’s following her around waiting for proof.  Nasty, baby, proof is for the cops.  You’re a Luthor.  You don’t need proof to do something violent and unpleasant.

In the end, this is just a clunky story with lazy writing and everything serving the plot.  That’s a shame, because there are elements of it that are really promising and interesting, as well as quite funny.  It doesn’t help that the issue continues to feature Sekowsky’s wildly inconsistent art.  It’s quite good in some panels and just plain hideous in others.  This one doesn’t have as many standout mistakes as some previous outings, but it just might be uglier overall than most of the previous run.  I’ll give the issue as a whole 2 Minutemen, rating that high because it made me chuckle despite its foolishness.

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Well, that will do it for the opening act of May 1971.  It isn’t exactly an impressive first showing, but I am sure that the rest of the month will give us some better books, though, perhaps I shouldn’t get my hopes up for the next batch.  Or perhaps I should.  After all, the next issue of Batman features the return of the the most dramatic, the most dynamic, the most dynamite villain ever to grace the pages of one of the Dark Knight’s books.  Who could this wondrous one be?  Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.  Please join me again soon for a story staring an incredibly charismatic character as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 6)

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Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap long-boxes in a single bound, it’s Into the Bronze Age!  I’ve certainly got an interesting pair of books in this post as we finish out the end of the April, 1971.  All of these stories are unusual in one way or another, so it shouldn’t be a boring batch, if nothing else.

I want to thank all of my readers for your patience as I’ve been moving slowly on this feature lately.  I’m rushing to finish a great deal of my professional work here at the end of the summer, which sadly leaves me little time for this pleasant diversion.  Anyway, thanks for sticking with me, and I promise to keep limping along steadily, if not rapidly.  Well, without further ado, let’s see what awaits us at the end of the month!

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 #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32

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


Superman #236


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“Planet of the Angels”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Doomsayer!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

Say what you will about Denny O’Neil, he was unquestionably an innovator, always trying something different, though it didn’t always succeed.  Today’s cover story is just such an experiment.  It’s interesting and unusual, but not entirely effective.  The cover is certainly striking, picturing the Man of Steel facing off against demons at the very gates of Hell, a very unlikely image for a Superman comic.  O’Neil has been trying to shake up the status quo, to bring new life and energy to the rather staid hero, and he’s been succeeding so far.  This comic isn’t quite as successful as some of his previous efforts, though.

It begins with a fun little scene where the World’s Finest team of Superman and Batman bust some safe-crackers.  O’Neil and Swan manage to make them both seem useful, despite the fact that the invulnerable, super-fast sun god could easily have handled these two ordinary crooks before Batman so much as put on his cowl.  Swan really does a great job with this team.  The effect is enjoyable, despite their incongruity.  Superman offers to buy his partner a cup of coffee, and I’m deeply disappointed that we don’t get to see a HISHE style scene with the two heroes sipping java in a cafe.

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Missed opportunities aside, after the Dark Knight begs off because he’s bushed, the Man of Tomorrow heads to his Fortress of Solitude where he tries out a ‘brainwave project’ that he’s been working on, a device that will compare his brainwaves to those of a normal human.  Envying humans and their need for sleep and dreams, he tries out the gadget and suddenly finds himself on a strange world!  What’s going on?

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He’s on a fiery plane where he is suddenly attacked by a gang of demons straight out of pop-cultural portrayals, right down to the goat-feet and pitchforks.  Their polearms glance off him harmlessly, and the Kryptonian easily repulses their attack.

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Just then, he is greeted by a trio of angelic looking figures who introduce themselves as Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, Christian archangels who tell the Man of Steel that he’s in the afterlife.  They stand amid beautiful green hills, and below them burns a sulfurous pit.  They display the popular misunderstanding of theology that Hell is for “those who follow not the paths of virtue,” and tell Superman that he has died and must prove himself worthy of Heaven by slaying the demons below.  Something about this seems off to him, but the Action Ace heads into the flames nonetheless.

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In the pit he discovers a massive gate and is haunted by twisted images of his friends appearing in the flames.  Realizing that something is off, Superman decides to use his head, and he tunnels underneath the gate, easily disarming the ‘demonic’ guards on the other side, where he tries to get some straight answers out of one of their number.

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The ‘fiend’ tells the Metropolis Marvel that what he sees is an illusion caused by the ‘angel’s’ hypnotic powers.  With concentration, the Man of Steel sees, not a demon, but a uniformed alien, who tells the hero that he and his fellows are law officers who were chasing criminals, those same ‘angels,’ who lured them to this planet and trapped them.  The criminals telepathically summoned Superman to destroy their enemies for them.

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Confronting the false heavenly host, the Man of Steel sees through their illusions, including phantoms of his friends being threatened, and charges through their weapon blasts to knock two of them out.  The third escapes, however, carrying a powerful bomb (through deep space!), with which to destroy the Earth!  The Man of Tomorrow catches up just in the nick of time and stops the antagonistic archangel, returning him and his fellows to the lawmen (err…law-aliens?), and repairing their ship.  The tale ends with Superman back in the Fortress of Solitude, where he reflects that he had a living dream, even though he didn’t sleep.

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This is a weird issue.  I like how Superman picks up on the incongruous elements of the ‘angel’s’ stories and setting, and I like his willingness to question figures of even the ultimate authority.  It shows a greater maturity for his character than we’ve seen in the past, and these are obviously elements that O’Neil has been trying to develop.  Yet, precisely what is happening in the story is rather unclear.  Does Superman’s device cause him to dream?  Is this a real and random encounter that has nothing to do with the device?  It’s really ambiguous, and unintentionally so, I think.

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Neither possibility lines up perfectly with the story as told, and there doesn’t seem to be any overriding point to either possibility either.  Add to that the fact that Superman just absolutely breezes through all of his challenges in this story, despite the fact that O’Neil has been trying to present him as less all-powerful and the presence of alien weapons that could reasonably have presented a threat to him, and you’ve got an uneven tale that feels a bit sloppy.  I’m also a little disappointed that the ersatz angel’s appearances weren’t illusions, as it seems incongruous for aliens to be flying through space in robes and without any protective gear.  I understand what O’Neil was going for with his little ‘evil can be beautiful’ touch at the end, but it still doesn’t quite work.  In the end, I’ll give this off-beat issue 2 Minutemen, with the dip below average primarily because of its unnecessary ambiguity.  It’s strange but ultimately forgettable.

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“The Doomsayer!”


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While the first story was something new, this backup is something old.  This is another ‘Fabulous World of Krypton’ backup feature, though, honestly it feels like a bit of a gyp.  The frame-tale guest stars Green Arrow and Black Canary, so take a wild guess what the theme is.  If you guessed ‘yet another preachy environmental yarn,’ you win the cigar!  This story just doesn’t fit the tone of Kryptonian tales, and it’s a good example of what happens when you shoe-horn in a message, prioritizing that over story.  It all begins with Superman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary having a picnic, which is a fun idea, but a rather odd set of characters.  Predictably, Ollie starts bellyaching about a nearby factory that’s spewing out pollution.  At this point, why does anyone even hang out with this annoying archer?  Well, this reminds Kal-El of a story from the glory days of Krypton, the story of a city called Surrus.  In this city there grew special flowers, the Surrus blossoms, that sang a beautiful, calming song that had an almost soporific effect on the populace.  Shades of the “Lotus Eaters!”

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This city was also home to a scientist named Mo-De, who discovered the fate of Krypton twenty whole years ahead of Jor-El!  After he made his discovery, he rushed out into the city streets and started playing Jeremiah, telling the citizens that there was still time to act.  The people didn’t want anything to do with him, just wanting to be left alone to listen to their flowers.  In desperation, Mo-De rushed into the fields and cut down the blossoms, but the enraged citizens, finally shaken out of their lethargy, beat him mercilessly and locked him in a greenhouse with more of the singing sprouts.

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Eventually, the sounds break his will, and he emerges another zombie-fied lotus eater, err…flower listener.  He passed the remaining years in peace, but died with the rest of Krypton.  After Supes finishes his story, Canary is horrified, and she rushes off to have a word with the factory’s owner, having been shaken out of her lethargy.  “Message for you, sir!”  It’s a shame it was so subtle.  I almost missed it.

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This isn’t a bad story, really.  It just doesn’t really belong here, and the entire thing feels forced, from the odd picnic with these characters that don’t really seem to have much in common (all in costume, no less), to the rather Twilight Zone-esq plot, which just really doesn’t seem to fit the utopian, highly organized Krypton that we’ve seen before.  O’Neil does a good job of economical storytelling, packing his preachy message into seven short pages pretty efficiently.  The message itself, though feeling a bit repetitive because of its environmental theme, is actually a slightly unusual one and not half bad.  Focusing, not on the pollution itself, but on the populace’s apathy, their greater interest in their entertainments, their distractions, than on their future, is a good angle.  The execution of the plot itself isn’t half bad, with the crowd’s reactions and the scientist’s fate all fairly creepy and menacing.  The fact that O’Neil did use Krypton allowed him a certain amount of shorthand with the fate of the planet, which helps his efficiency in storytelling.  There is also significance in the continued push towards social relevance, even in such an unlikely place as the Krypton backups.  Taken all together, this little yarn is worth 3 Minutemen, with the incongruous elements limiting it to an average score.

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P.S.: There’s also a somewhat clever joke in the name of the town, as “SUSsurrus” is a word meaning a soft murmuring or whispering, something of an indistinct, gentle noise.


Teen Titans #32


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“A Mystical Realm – A World Gone Mad”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Joe Letterese
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Steve Skeates’ tenure on the Titans book continues this month, and we get a rather weird story under a fairly awesome cover.  The peril of the two Titans in the image is pretty dramatic, and the dragon is quite impressive looking.  The whole composition has a dream-like (or perhaps, nightmare-like) quality that smacks of the twisted fairy tale we find within. The story it represents begins with a scene that takes in media res too far, with Kid Flash and Mal traveling through time and referencing events that the reader hasn’t seen.  It seriously made me go back and check the last issue to see if I had forgotten something.  It’s a clever scene given the use of time travel, as it begins ‘in the present,’ but it’s probably too clever for its own good.

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They think they are back in 1971, but instead of finding familiar surroundings, they discover medieval-looking peasants and, of all things, a dragon!  Kid Flash’s speed manages to get them to safety, and only then do we get the flashback we’ve been needing.  It seems that Mr. Jupiter, the vague and largely pointless patron of the Titans team, is apparently a scientist as well as a millionaire.

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One day he was experimenting with a time-travel device, just casually running incredibly dangerous and unstable tests in his building with a bunch of teenagers around.  Something went catastrophically wrong (shocking, I know), and Mal was flung back in time.  Cardy’s rendering of the page is really cool, but the scene is rather dumb.  It’s pretty clear that we’re moving at the speed of plot, here.  Also, here is yet another experiment that could conceivably destroy the world as we know it.  I’m thinking that the safest course of action in the DCU would be to ban science in general.

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Mal finds himself back in the Stone Age, facing a tribe of cavemen who begin to worship him because they saw him appear out of thin air.  Apparently the young man listened to the Ghostbuster’s good advice, as he plays along.  Meanwhile, back in the present, Jupiter feels bad for about half a second for how his irresponsibility and complete lack of safety standards hurled an innocent kid through time.  The other Titans encourage him for some reason, and Kid Flash makes plans to take a jaunt through time to try and find his friend.

Back in the past, Mal finds trouble by stealing a caveman’s cavegirl and finds himself in a club duel.  Cardy renders the fight beautifully, and Skeates doesn’t spoil it with dialog.  Mal holds his own, but a misstep leaves him hanging onto a cliff, just as Kid Flash arrives.  As the caveman prepares for a death-blow, the Fastest Boy alive knocks the club out of his hand, but he manages to bean himself in the process and earns a spot on the Head-Blow Headcount, as well as sending the neanderthal plummeting to his death.  With the hero knocked out, there’s no way to save the savage, which doesn’t seem to bother the boys much.  They take manslaughter awfully casually.

In the altered present, Kid Flash realizes that they’ve unintentionally changed history with the death of that caveman.  The young speedster knows they must go back and save the neanderthal, but he needs a cosmic treadmill to do it and doesn’t know where to find one in this medieval world.  The peasants from earlier mentioned sorcerers, so they set out to try to find someone with the power or knowledge to help them.  Discovering a castle, the pair are greeted by illusory monsters in the moat, but they manage to get past them by pole-vaulting onto the battlements, despite a mysterious hooded figure’s interference.

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It’s a nice sequence, but it gives us one of the stranger dialog exchanges I’ve seen in a while.  Mal says to Wally, “Love your white soul, brother Titan!” and his partner responds “Love your black one, Mal–and if I’ve got any soul–you taught me how!”  It’s a pretty goofy exchange by today’s standards.  I understand what Skeates was aiming for, and it makes more sense in the context of the racial tensions of the day.  In addition, there’s some decent character development in this passage and the story as a whole, as Kid Flash was the most antagonistic to Mal in their earlier encounters.  This emphasis on racial unity, however silly the setting and clumsy the effort, is an interesting and thoughtful move on Skeates’ part.  Nonetheless, I can’t help laughing when I read it.

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When the pair reach the castle’s walls, they discover that the wizard is none other than Mr. Jupiter, who here is known as Jupiterius, and he has a quartet of super-powered knights who are ersatz counterparts to the Justice League, including Batman, Superman, the Flash, and Green Arrow, which is a fun little touch for this alternate reality.  The boys ask the sorcerer for help, but he and his champions insist they pass a test to prove their worth first.

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Their first challenge is a test of bowmanship.  Weirdly, they are confronted with Lilith and Speedy, who look like their modern counterparts with no good explanation.  It’s supposed to be some type of trick, but I don’t really see the point of it.  Nonetheless, things seem pretty hopeless.  How can Kid Flash compete with Speedy in his element?  Well, despite the boy bowman making a perfect shot at a keyhole, Kid Flash manages to pull a Robin Hood and split his arrow.  Even more, his shaft manages to slice through the other and unlock the door.  The tale ends with the time-tossed Titans facing whatever mysterious menace awaits on the other side!

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This is certainly an entertaining and unusual story, but it feels very uneven.  What Skeates is trying here is creative and promising, (I always like an imaginative alternate reality) but his execution is just rather off.  It’s fun to see the medieval Justice League, a concept that will be revisited a few times over the years, but they don’t really do anything, and the addition of Mr. Jupiter feels a bit shoe-horned.  Sure, he’s important to the Titans, but his presence with the League implies a more important role in the DCU than really seems warranted.  Of course, I may just be letting my dislike for the pointless character color my reading.  As for the death of the caveman, I think I would be much more bothered by that if it wasn’t pretty clear that the heroes will reverse it.  Nonetheless, I would have liked to see Wally deal with that at least a little bit, rather than immediately shrugging it off.  Honestly, after reading this story, I had to double check to make sure it wasn’t ‘ol Zany Haney.  I was certain that this was one of his half-baked yarns, as the wild world the characters visit just feels more random than thought–out.  Needless to say, the art is gorgeous, and Cardy does a great job with all of the medieval and fantasy elements.  His soft, sketchy work really sells the illusions and mystery of the book.  In the end, it’s a fun if flawed and strange story, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We’ve got a bunch of new additions to the Wall of Shame this month.  Poor Aquaman makes yet another return, but he is in good company as Batgirl, Mr. Miracle, and Kid Flash all join him.  This puts Batgirl back ahead of Robin, sadly for her.  The Headcount certainly drives home just how much of a trope this is, with so many of our stars showing up on it.  I wonder if we’ll ever see the Last Son of Krypton gracing this feature.


Final Thoughts:


And that finishes up April 1971!  This is a month of endings and beginnings, a month of specters and spooks, and a month of innovation as well as repetition.  The books of this month reflect the paradoxical nature of this era in DC Comics, with the extremely conventional sharing space with the experimental.  At the same time Leo Dorfman is turning out standard Silver Age fare, Denny O’Neil is working to revamp Superman, all while Jack Kirby is busy pushing the boundaries of the medium.  Notably, while O’Neil fails to challenge the Man of Steel, Kirby finds great success with both physical and dramatic obstacles worthy of Last Son of Krypton.

Comics also seem to be edging further into the long forbidden realms of horror and the supernatural, with two different tales this month featuring hauntings and wandering spirits.  This is to be expected in the Phantom Stranger, though his story once again proves mature and impressive, but the theme is surprising in the Rose and Thorn backup.  I am also surprised by my continuing enjoyment of the Lois Lane book as a whole.  It remains an interesting and off-beat change of pace in my monthly readings.

This month saw the end of Aquaman and the birth of Mr. Miracle, the death of something special and the advent of something unique.  One group of creators was denied the chance to finish what they started, while the King is finally given the chance to give form to the gathered inspirations of his unsatisfying final years at Marvel.

Social relevance continues to be a force, with even the last Aquaman title dealing with themes of pollution and human environmental impact in an oblique fashion.  Denny O’Neil, of course, continues to hit environmental themes, but even his prime Superman story this month has a touch of social commentary in its subtle encouragement about questioning appearances.

We’ve also got superheroes accidentally killing people left and right this month, with both Supergirl and Kid Flash unintentionally taking a life.  We’re still in an immature enough era that these deaths are mostly unremarked and their moral dimensions almost completely ignored.  Hopefully we’ll see a more intentional approach to the moral responsibility of these characters grow up in the succeeding months and years.

In terms of form, we’re seeing more and more continued stories, with Supergirl wrapping up a several month long arc that actually did affect the character during its progression.  Rose and Thorn continues its episodic format, and Jimmy Olsen and the Titans books are doing the same.  This is providing the opportunity for more expansive plots and greater development.  I wonder if we’ll see that become the dominant form for most of DC’s titles.

Well, it was certainly an eventful month in comics, and there is still plenty more to come!  I hope y’all enjoyed this month’s books and commentary, and I also hope you’ll return soon as we begin another month of reading.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 1)

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

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


This month in history:

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

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

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

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


Roll Call


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

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

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


Action Comics #399


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Superbaby’s Lost World”


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

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

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

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

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

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Adventure Comics #405


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pictured: A glimpse of why comics are awesome.

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

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You just took a human life…oh well!

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

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

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 6)

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Hello Internet travelers, you’ve just encountered the final post in this portion of my coverage of DC Bronze Age comics!  Here at the end of this month of mags, we’ve got all Superman, all the time!  They’re a pretty fun set of comics, and they certainly have some interesting qualities, both positive and negative.  They make a pretty fitting set of titles to consider as a cap to this set of features.  Enjoy!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superman #235


Superman_v.1_235“Sinister Scream of the Devil’s Harp!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Denny O’Neil’s tenure on Superman continues, and, quite frankly, I continue to be impressed.  I’m very pleasantly surprised that, under this goofy looking cover with what looks like a hairy brown version of Satan slugging it out with the Man of Steel, there is a good, solid Superman story.  The cover is actually dynamic and interesting enough, though like roughly half of the Metropolis Marvel’s comics from this era, it depicts him being bested by someone inexplicably more “super” than he is.  Somewhat hackneyed concept aside, the real problem is the goofy-looking opponent he faces.  The character, who turns out to be attempting to evoke the goat-footed Greek god Pan rather than the cloven hoofed Devil of medieval imagination and popular culture (one inspired the other, after all), just doesn’t quite fit with the tight-wearing superhero.  Nonetheless, the comic really is a good read.

We join Mr. Mild Mannered himself, Clark Kent, on a rare date with Lois Lane, as the two of them prepare to attend a special concert of a new piano virtuoso, the improbably named Ferlin Nyxly.  There’s some fun bantering between the two, and we actually see Lois displaying some of the pluck and personality we’ve been seeing in her own book, but which seems to have been missing in Superman’s own books since the 50s.

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Fitting, as I don’t see Lois as the classical music type…

Poor Clark, for his part, is still playing second fiddle to his alter ego, but as the pair take their seats, he spots helicopter-borne assassins preparing to bomb the crowd in order to kill a visiting dignitary!  That’s pretty cold blooded!  The Man of Steel does his quick-change routine, stops the bomb with his body, and then yanks the copter down, all the while being hosed down with machinegun fire.  His casual handling of the situation is entertaining, as with last issue, and the complete helplessness of these would-be killers against him makes for a nice contrast with what comes later in our tale.  As he leaves, Supes gives Lois a wave, a simple gesture that will have unintended consequences.

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Yeah, just keep trying.  Maybe you’ll get lucky!

Meanwhile, his antics have attracted the attention of the crowd, and no-one is taking any notice of Nyxly’s playing, causing the musician to berate himself and think back on the strange start to his music career.  It seems that not long ago he was the curator at the Music Museum, where he was cataloging new acquisitions.  He noticed a strange, devilish harp and he played it, an eerie tune resulting, as he lamented that he had never amounted to anything.  Nyxly had always wished to be a musician, and after playing the harp and considering his wish, he suddenly found himself able to play beautifully!

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That night at the concert, the excited susurrus of the crowd is suddenly silenced by the surprising outcry of an old man in the audience, who chastises the concertgoers for their rudeness.  Clark and Lois notice that the man is a former pianist whose skill mysteriously disappeared a few months ago.  What a coincidence!

The next day, Clark narrowly manages to avoid having to read a blistering editorial against himself!  Mr. Corporate Evil himself, Morgan Edge, orders Kent to deliver the message after misinterpreting a picture of the hero waving to Lois and accusing him of grandstanding.  Fortunately, the reporter is saved by the bell, or more accurately, a breaking story, when reports come in of an unidentified flying object over the Atlantic.

The Man of Steel takes the opportunity to get into costume and investigate the matter.  Flying over the watery wastes, he encounters the sand creature created a few issues back, and try as he might to catch up to it, he can’t close in on the strange being.  Meanwhile, the bitter musician broods over his perceived slights, and he strums upon his harp and wishes that he could fly as the Kryptonian does.  Suddenly, Superman plummets out of the sky, no longer able to soar!  The rest of his powers remain, but back in Metropolis, Ferlin Nyxly finds himself floating.  Racing along the waves like the Flash, the Metropolis Marvel finds himself being paced by the sand creature, but he’s unable to communicate with it.

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superman 235 0017Now we hit the one real weakness of the issue.  For some reason, Nyxly feels the need to dress up in a Pan costume from his museum and take to the streets to steal the wealth he’s always coveted.  O-okay?  The story of this weak fellow’s corruption through power is actually pretty good, but the random choice of Pan as his costumed (sort of) identity is a really odd one, especially considering the fact that the Greek deity is associated with Pan pipes (which he’s credited with inventing) rather than harps!  Logic aside, the flying soon-to-be felon zooms around the city before snatching some money bags from an armored car, only to be shot by one of the guards in a rather funny panel.  As he falls to the Earth, Nyxly wishes for invulnerability, and when he hits, he smashes a hole in the pavement but emerges unscathed, flying away and happily ignoring the guards’ bullets.

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Back at the paper as Clark, our hero has coffee spilled on him and is stunned when it actually scalds him.  Before he can investigate this strange occurrence, he’s summoned to observe a broadcast of a challenge by none other than Nyxly, now calling himself “Pan.”  The nascent villain calls Superman a coward and a braggart and dares the hero to meet him for a duel, which thrills Morgan Edge, of course.  Despite his mysteriously flagging powers, Superman refuses to back down from a challenge, and speeds to face ‘Pan.’

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Counting on his remaining abilities, the hero attacks, but Nyxly plays his harp and steals first his speed and then his strength, leaving the former Man of Steel to bruise his knuckles on the villain’s chin.  Suddenly, as Pan toys with his helpless victim, the sand creature races into the stadium and, at Superman’s urging, smashes the harp, breaking the spell.  Having helped his double and despite the Man of Tomorrow’s attempts to communicate, the sand creature leaves as mysteriously as it arrived, leaving Clark to wonder just how they are connected and what this motivates this strange being.

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So, Pan is a weird choice for a supervillain’s nom de guerre, (Freedom Force did it better!) but despite that incongruous element, this is actually a really solid story.  You’ve got some nice action, some good characterization for everyone involved, including the villain, who is given a surprising amount of depth for a one-shot character, and an intriguing resolution.  The ongoing mystery of the Sand-Superman is really a fascinating one, and I’m quite enjoying O’Neil’s treatment of that plot thread.  O’Neil is making the most of the ongoing storytelling in this book, and it is a promising move in general, highlighting the growing complexity of the writing in this era.

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‘Pan,’ despite his silly aesthetic, provides an interesting departure from the usual two dimensional villains we’ve been encountering, as he’s driven to evil much more by his desire for self-realization than by greed or a thirst for power.  I also quite enjoyed the focus on Superman’s ‘never say die’ attitude, despite how hopeless his situation was, but man, would he have been embarrassed if he survived all the brilliant madmen, alien warlords, and rampaging monsters, only to be taken out by this loser!  This was a fun, interesting comic, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, taking away some points for Pan’s goofy appearance.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136


Jimmy_Olsen_136“The Saga of the DNAliens”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Time for some more Fourth World madness!  While all of Kirby’s New Gods books are creative in the extreme, I think there’s little doubt that his Jimmy Olsen series houses his craziest, most ‘out there’ ideas.  All this title’s zany concepts like the Wild Area, the Project, and everything that goes with them, are really unique and unusual, whether they soar or sink.  This issue contains some of both types in the exploration of the mysterious government ‘Project,’ and the attempts of the rival Monster Factory to destroy it.  We get a nice looking Neal Adams cover image, though that yellow background is rather ugly.  Unfortunately, the Hulk…err…I mean the green Jimmy clone, is a bit goofy looking.

This issue we join events already in progress as the Jolly Green Jimmy engages in a massive battle with the newly emerged Guardian clone, while Superman has already been knocked out by his Kryptonite covered fists.  Kirby captures this titanic struggle in a glorious double-page spread.  For a time, Guardian holds his own, relying on his superior agility to counter the monster’s strength, but eventually it lands a devastating blow, stunning the hero.  Jimmy tries to revive Superman, and the creature is momentarily distracted when it notices that the youth shares its face.

 

jimmy olsen 136-06 the saga of the dnaliensSuperman cleverly frees the young reporter from…well…himself, by collapsing the floor beneath them with subtle pressure from his foot, snatching his pal from the crashing creature.  The conflict seems about to renew when suddenly a cloud of smoke explodes from the Incredible Olsen’s own head, and he collapses.  The Legion and their allies are all befuddled by this sudden turn until the Man of Steel reveals a tiny antagonist hidden in the monster’s hair, a miniature paratrooper armed with gas grenades.  Moments later, an entire company of teeny troopers float down around them and assemble a Lilliputian device that covers the creature in liquid nitrogen, freezing him.  To top off the weirdness of this twist, these minuscule military men are all clones of Scrapper!

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jimmy olsen 136-11 the saga of the dnaliensSo, the Project created tiny paratroopers from Scrapper’s DNA?  Were they trying to put the Atom out of a job?  It’s so insane that I hardly know what to say about it, yet, in a certain sense, the idea works.  It’s another of these utterly crazy concepts that Kirby tosses out left and right in this series.  Such crumb-sized commandos would actually be pretty useful, and their role in defeating the monster is certainly an interesting twist in the story.  Still, the choice of Scrapper, as with all of the Newsboy-derived clones, is baffling, though he himself seems thrilled by it, missing out on the existential angst of being cloned without his consent, just like Jimmy did last issue.

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With their unintentional attack having failed, the two Monster Factory scientists find themselves on Darkseid’s bad side, and you really don’t want to be there.  In classic Kirby fashion, the two Apokoliptian’s study a massive, room-sized model of their target, just so the King can provide some visuals of the place, and they ponder their next move.  They decide to use a new and unknown creation and travel down into a special chamber to witness the creatures hatching.

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jimmy olsen 136-21 the saga of the dnaliensMeanwhile, back in the Project, the Legion is thrilled to meet the Guardian and ply him with questions, only to have their fathers reveal that this is not the original hero, but a clone created to replace him.  Sadly, this doesn’t really get explored, but as Superman takes Jimmy on his promised tour of the facility, the young man at least voices some concerns over the dangers of playing God.  I’m glad Kirby at least nodded at the moral and practical issues involved with these concepts, but the story still remains entirely too matter of fact about such things.

During the tour, the pair see the wonders of the Project, including where the young clones are raised (lots of issues there that don’t get explored), and the ‘step-ups,’ advanced clones like the Hairies with incredible intelligence.  Kirby also includes a fairly neat photo-collage, which has a bunch of ‘science-y’ stuff on it.  I think this works better for me than most of such images because what you’re looking at is not supposed to be the same type of 3D object as that portrayed by the regular art.

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Yet, the highlight of their trip is when the Man of Tomorrow introduces his young protege to a rather different kind of tomorrow man, a home-grown alien, the product of radical tweaking of human DNA.  The strange looking fellow named ‘Dubbilex’ bears Jimmy’s slack-jawed amazement with dignity and undeserved good humor.  There’s a certain undercurrent of sadness in this being who had no say in his creation and who now serves as a conversation piece for every big-wig visitor to the place.  The tale ends with the hatching of the mysterious monsters of Simian and Mokkari, four armed creatures that bode ill for our heroes.

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‘Hey, do I come to your job and stare at your horrible fashion sense?’

This is a fun story, despite (or perhaps because) of the Kirby’s trademark imaginative insanity. The fight with the Jade-jawed Jimmy clone was dynamic, and its ending was certainly entertaining.  The strange facility itself proves the real star of the issue, and Jimmy’s tour is a fascinating look at the place.  The King is moving quickly, but he’s working to establish an interesting and exciting setting in the Project and its evil opposite.  There’s no question that the concepts he’s introducing are both fascinating and groundbreaking for comics.  It’s just a shame that he’s not making more out of what he’s creating.

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It’s likely that some of the nonchalant attitude surrounding the genetic tinkering and flat-out Frankensteining of the Project results from Kirby’s own hopeful scientific optimism about the power and destiny of the human race.  He seems never to entirely have lost the cheerful outlook and faith in science of 50s science fiction, despite the real world’s failure to deliver on the promise of the shiny utopian visions of earlier fiction.  He sees these things as intrinsically positive, and we’re still a year away from Watergate, so America hasn’t entirely lost faith in the government yet either.  What to modern readers seems incredibly sinister may have been, to a certain extent, quite straight forward to contemporary audiences.  So, despite its shortcomings, this is still an entertaining and intriguing issue, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Notably, the letter column for this issue includes a missive from a sharp eyed fan who spotted the touch-ups of Kirby’s art in the previous issues, as well as DC’s rather weak explanation that Kirby was just not used to the characters, so his versions didn’t look right.  The column is otherwise filled with almost universal praise for the King’s new efforts on the book, including letters from several readers who had followed Joltin’ Jack from Marvel, which is pretty neat.


World’s Finest #201


World's_Finest_Comics_201A Prize of Peril!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Our final book this month is something of a mixed bag.  There’s an enjoyable superhero story here, but there are also some rather odd moments as O’Neil makes some strange choices.  Nevertheless, we’re presented with a nicely dynamic cover by Neal Adams (how did he find time to actually draw any books with all the covers he was doing ?).  All of the figures look good, and the framing, with them literally battling over Earth, is rather nice.  Yet, Dr. fate looks a bit odd, just sort of standing in space.  The cover promises some more star-spanning adventure, like some of our previous issues in this series, and we definitely get a fairly non-terrestrial tale, which plays into the strengths of both the protagonists.

It begins with a meteor shower heading towards Earth and being noticed by both Superman and Green Lantern independently.  Each hero sets out to divert the menace, but they end up unwittingly cancelling out each other’s efforts, exacerbating the situation, and the Man of Steel has to race to save a airliner from a rogue meteoroid.  This incident is actually a neat idea, as it is entirely possible that the two heroes most concerned with space might foul one another’s lines as they responded to the same emergency.

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Afterwards, the two heroes investigate why their efforts failed and, finding one another, an argument breaks out.  This is one of the weaknesses of the issue, as their fight is a bit silly.  They immediately blame each other, taking rather mean-spirited shots ant one another.  Superman even tells Lantern that his attitude for the last several months has been lousy.  It all feels just a bit too petty, and while we’ve seen this kind of thing from Hal lately, it seems out of character for Clark.

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Suddenly, the glowing visage of a Guardian appears and berates the two heroes, telling them that this exchange is beneath them, which is actually quite true.  He proposes a contest to help them sort out their differences, saying that the winner will have dominion over atmospheric perils and demands that they meet back in space in 24 hours.

The next day, the contentious champions rendezvous to find that Dr. Fate has seemingly been summoned to create their contest.  They wonder at his being there rather than home on Earth-2, but he waves away their question and shows them a purple dragon, an enchanted object from his universe, that will be the goal of their competition.  Next he conjures two vast, parallel race courses and tells each hero that they must face their gravest fears in order to reach the finish line.

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The race starts, with Green Lantern pondering what awaits him, as he is, after all, fearless.  That’s why his ring chose him.  Along his way, the Emerald Gladiator is suddenly seized by sticky yellow strands.  His ring is helpless against the golden bonds, and he soon finds himself faced with an immense yellow spider.  He is also consumed with fear, despite the fact that he had never really been afraid of bugs before.

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He realizes that, though his ring can’t free him, his own strength can, and he manages to snap his bonds and escape from the trap.  Now, this whole scene works reasonably well.  Obviously, Hal is not really afraid of spiders, but he is afraid of becoming too dependent on his ring and it failing him in his need.  The sequence is effective and exciting, and at least a little insightful on O’Neil’s part.

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wfc20117Superman’s encounter with his greatest fear is not quite so successful.  Suddenly the Man of Steel finds himself confronted by the towering figure of his birth father, Jor-El, and the Kryptonian scientist tells his Earth-raised son that he is terribly disappointed in him because he’s wasted his gifts and not become a man of science.  Okay, that’s rather odd.  Superman’s greatest fear should really have involved either his abusing his powers or his not being able to save someone despite his powers.  Those are really the things that worry the Man of Tomorrow.  But he hangs his head and is ashamed of all the world-saving he’s done, because a father he never really knew yells at him.  Yet, what really makes the whole situation go from strange to creepy is when Jor-El starts spanking his super-son, and the Metropolis Marvel begs him to continue, saying he deserves it.  Yikes!  I feel like we’ve stumbled into something that maybe O’Neil should have kept private!

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I’ve…got nothing.

Well, the Action Ace finally wakes up to what’s going on and, by exerting his willpower, dispels the illusion and continues on his way.  The two heroes arrive at the same time, and, in order to keep the speedier Superman from reaching his goal first, Green Lantern tries a risky gambit.  He notices that the creature has a strange aura about it and reasons that it may be more than an inanimate object, so he uses his ring to cancel out its effect, bringing the beast to life and causing the Man of Steel to fall back.  Yet, when he himself tries to cage the creature, the Emerald Crusader finds his ring helpless, as the monster rips through his constructs.

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The dragon repulses both heroes and tears out into space, racing straight towards the Justice League Satellite.  Finding their individual efforts inadequate, the two Leaguers join forces, with Green Lantern using his ring to shield Superman from the creature’s magic, while the Kryptonian champion belts the beast, tearing it asunder.  They celebrate their combined victory, but Superman realizes that they’ve been duped, so they rush off to confront “Dr. Fate.”

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Sneaking up on him in a power-ringed comet, which is actually a fairly clever tactic, the heroes leap upon their ersatz ally, revealing him to be Felix Faust, the Justice League’s old foe.  Faust’s thoughts explain that he needed the Lantern’s ring to activate his spell and the whole thing was an elaborate ruse to destroy the League.  With their enemy captured, Superman and Green Lantern realize that their rivalry bred nothing but ill-fortune, and we get something of a sappy O’Neil moment as Hal wishes the people of Earth would realize the same thing.

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This is, taken as a whole, a pretty decent superhero adventure.  You’ve got some nice action, an interesting setup, and an honest-to-goodness supervillain behind it all.  You’ve also got some attempts at characterization with the two protagonists, though the end result isn’t the best fit.  There are some definite weaknesses in this issue, though.  For one, Faust’s plan is just a touch too complicated to really make sense.  He needs the Lantern’s power ring to activate his spell, which is reasonable enough as such things go, but this is the best way the wizard can come up with to accomplish that goal?  Why not just present the Lantern with the big, scary looking dragon and let nature take its course?  Why bring Superman into this in the first place?  O’Neil just needed a little more thought and another line of exposition to solve that problem.  Something along the lines of ‘I needed Superman’s strength to breach the dimensional pocket that had trapped this creature’ or the like would do the trick.

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Rather more significant is the *ahem* odd episode delving into the Man of Steel’s daddy issues.  The embarrassing panel aside, the scene still just doesn’t really fit with the character, though O’Neil tries to justify it by saying that this fixation is a result of Kal-El being an orphan.  There’s just one problem with that.  He’s not really an orphan.  He was adopted as a baby and raised by the Kents.  He’s got a father who is proud of him, and while there’s still some room for angst and ennui in that setup, it just doesn’t track for this to be the defining issue in his life.  Despite these weaknesses, this is a fun adventure and an enjoyable read.  I particularly liked the resolution, with the heroes combining their powers to defeat the threat, as well as the reveal that Felix Faust had been behind it all.  It’s just nice to see an actual villain show up in one of these books.  Dillin’s artwork is serviceable, though he really does some good work on the larger, more cosmic moments of action.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen, though I’m a little tempted to dock it a bit more for the spanking.

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Final Thoughts:


What a month!  All-in-all, it was a fairly positive set of titles and there were several quite enjoyable reads scattered throughout.  Obviously, the most notable feature of this set of books was the appearance of two new Jack Kirby created comics, bringing our total of Kirby books up to three.  The debut of these two books marks the true beginning of his Fourth World saga, and these are also the first books in his career that he’s had near total control over.  What a huge shift that was, the realization of a dream the King had long been chasing.  It was also a pretty unheard of event in the comic industry at large, as it was rare for a single creator to be given that much control over their work.  For the first time in his career, the King was free to really let his imagination run wild, and the end results are certainly fascinating.  While The Forever People is a limited success, the first issue of New Gods is extremely striking.  There’s no doubt that Jarrin’ Jack is blazing new trails.  It really is a unique experience to read these books in context, and I’m fascinated to see how these titles will develop together against the backdrop of the wider DC Universe.

This month also highlights just how uneven Denny O’Neil was as a writer.  He created a very solid, completely realized Superman adventure on the one hand and yet turned in the muddled mess of this month’s Green Lantern book on the other.  That doesn’t even take into account the…odd choices made in our World’s Finest tale.  I’m becoming convinced that one of the defining traits of his work during this period is a tendency towards great ideas and poor execution.  There’s no doubt that he was extremely imaginative and that he could occasionally do a great job with characterization.  Yet, at this stage, his work is more often marked by aspiration than accomplishment.  I have a feeling that will change in time.  After all, he is still innovating and testing what the genre can do at the moment.

In terms of major themes this month, we see that youth culture continues to be a significant concern.  Both this month’s Batman and Brave and the Bold titles feature stories concerned with both teen involvement and its dangers.  Notably, each has a story that details disenfranchised groups turning to violence to achieve their ends, with very different receptions from the protagonists in the two books.  These were not this month’s only attempts at relevance, however, with even Superboy getting into the act for the second month in a row.  Of course, the message in that book was lost in the shuffle, but it is still a sign of the times and features an unexpected theme, one we haven’t really seen before, in its treatment of poaching.

Well, I believe that wraps up March 1971.  I hope that y’all enjoyed the journey, and what’s more, I hope you’ll join me again soon as I start looking into April!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Believe it or not, I actually almost closed this month out without acknowledging Green Arrow’s second appearance on the wall.  This month’s turn on his shared title saw the Emerald Archer get his goateed face shoved through a plate-glass window.  The booming blow landed on the back of his head and knocked him right out, earning him another coveted spot on the Headcount!  He’s our only new addition this month, making it a pretty quiet period, but I’m sure there’s more head-blows on the horizon!

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 5)

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Justice League of America #88


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yay!  They’re all dead!

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

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

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New Gods #1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Superboy #172


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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