Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  In this post we’ve got old soldiers and new gods, plastic paradises and cosmic chaos.  It’s an interesting set of stories we have on tap today.  Join me as I work my way through them!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


G.I. Combat #148


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“The Gold-Plated General”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“Blind Bomber”
Writer: Hank Chapman
Penciler: Mort Drucker
Inker: Mort Drucker

“Cry Wolf Mission”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath

“Soften ‘Em Up”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Irv Novick

“Battle Window”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

This month’s Haunted Tank adventure is a fun one, featuring an unusual guest star, of sorts.  That figure standing astride the tank’s turret on the cover, six-guns gripped grimly in his hands, is probably a familiar one to history buffs.  The cover image itself is a pretty good one, though a bit crowded by copy.  It’s a nice, dramatic image, and beautifully rendered by Joe Kubert in his stark style.

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The crazily courageous general isn’t introduced right away inside.  Instead, we begin with our favorite Confederate ghost, who actually does something useful!  He spies Jeb and crew sleeping as danger approaches, and the general causes a chill wind to awaken them.  The tankers rush to the Stuart, only to have a German tank light up the night with explosive shells.  They’re almost wiped out, and burning debris falls onto the tank.  Crawling low, they manage to reach their vehicle, and they proceed to play possum in a burning coffin, waiting for the Panzer to get close enough to kill.  It’s a pretty great sequence.

 

They hold their nerves long enough and manage to scrag the enemy, but the next day, covered in soot and grime, they meet their new CEO, General Norton.  The tall, resplendent figure, with a gold helmet and gold-plated six-guns, is not impressed, and after calling the unit together, he tells them that they are facing professionals who fight, act, and look like soldiers.  Yet, he claims that the tankers look like amateurs, and he insists on spit and polish, saying they’ll fight better if they look better.  They’ll have more confidence and pride.  Jeb isn’t too sure, but his ghostly namesake agrees.  Of course, this General Norton is an ersatz version of George S. Patton, perhaps the most hard-charging American general in World War II.  He’s a fictionalized version of the great leader, but he has the twin six-guns and the hard-nosed demeanor.

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The affectionate note of the parody/tribute becomes clear as, just then, a flight of dive-bombers attack, sending all of the tankers scrambling for cover.  That is, they all seek cover except the general, who stands tall, firing his pistols defiantly.  Afterwards, still holding his smoking guns, he declares, “From now on we fight on our feet!  We don’t take it!  We dish it out!”  It’s a great moment.  The next day, shaved and cleaned up, the force moves out on a German position, taking heavy fire.  Suddenly, the barrage lightens up, and Jeb sees that General Norton has moved into the lead, drawing the fire of the defenders and leading from the front.

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His tank smashes through a building to flank the German anti-tank guns, and his men follow him in, routing the Nazi troops, another great sequence.  The position secured, one of the crew pipes up to ask if they can drop the spit and polish act now that the General himself is covered in the grime of battle.  Norton’s response is great: “No Corporal!  You see…I’m the general!”

 

This is a good, solid war yarn, with more of a sense of whimsy and fun than most of these.  The inclusion of a Patton parallel is a fun touch, and the character is fittingly larger than life, as was the man himself.  It’s also nice to see the ghostly general Stuart actually do something useful, though his contribution is very brief and very limited.  I’m still hoping we’ll see some stories that will take better advantage of the device he represents.  We are only a few issues away from a big change in the title, so we’ll see! Russ Heath continues to turn out really fantastic work on this book.  The sequence with the crew waiting it out in the burning tank is really fantastic.  If we can’t have Joe Kubert, then Russ Heath is definitely the next best thing.  I suppose this good all-around war yarn deserves 4 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Notably, with this issue, Joe Kubert started adding the famous “Make War no More” slogan on his war titles.  It’s possible it predates their appearance here, but this is the first time it showed up in this particular book.  This was Kubert’s and Kanigher’s effort to tell war stories without glorifying war, and it’s an interesting gesture.  The slogan is appended to every story within.  Obviously this change reflects the growing anti-war sentiments of the DC creators, which in turn reflects that of the nation itself., and we’re approaching the end of the Vietnam War, which was brought about in large part due to the loss of public support.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this move.  After all, you could see it as a bit disingenuous to keep telling the same stories but just slap a slogan on them and claim that squares things.  Many of the war tales DC published do, in fact, deal with the horrors of war rather than attempt to glorify it.  Yet, there are those that are a bit more ‘ra-ra,’ especially with the number of reprints in these books.  I suppose that the slogan was the team’s way of making the best of a difficult situation.  Their job was to tell war stories, but they themselves had become increasingly anti-war.  Either way, this new event rather nicely illustrates the cultural pressures coming to bear on the medium.

 


Green.Lantern/Green Arrow #84


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“Peril In Plastic”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Bernie Wrightson
Colourist: Cory Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got another issue of O’Neil’s Green Lantern, to which I was certainly not looking forward.  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by it!  It’s a very strange issue in a lot of ways, and yet, it manages to be much more enjoyable than most of his run.  The cover is not particularly great, however.  The use of the real image in the background rather clashes with Adams’ colorful art.  The plight of our heroes does look pretty dire, but the effect is not entirely successful.  Interestingly enough, the photograph is actually of DC legend Carmine Infantino.  I’m not quite sure what that says.

The story in question begins where the last issue left off, where Hal carried a still crippled Carol Ferris into the (non) sunset, having revealed his identity to her.  The two spend the following weeks reconnecting and rekindling their love.  Adams gives us a half page that has a really neat design to tell the tale of their romance.  Yet, when Carol decides to go visit another specialist in the hopes an experimental procedure will restore her legs, she tells Hal that she must do this alone….for plot reasons.

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At loose ends and a bachelor again, Hal saunters on over to Ollie’s new apartment, which is a far cry from his former rich digs.  As the two friends chat about love and music in a charming scene, they hear a radio broadcast about explosions at a dam protecting Piper’s Dell that threaten to flood the town.  Suddenly, Hal realizes that this was Carol’s destination, and he zooms off to stem the tide!

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Hard to envision Hal as a fan of Dixieland…

At first, the Emerald Gladiator tries to use his ring simply to smother individual explosions, but he realizes that he’s only playing damage control, so he creates a magnet and sucks the bombs directly out of the structure.  Finally, he patches the crumbling edifice with mud, creating an emergency fix.

 

Exhausted by the effort, the Emerald Knight is none too pleased when the town’s mayor approaches him and insists on honoring the hero.  Showing Hal the town, the Mayor, Wilbur Palm, presents cookie-cutter houses and a pollution-spewing factory.  When I read this, my first thought was, ‘oh no, not another environmental sermon!’  But O’Neil actually has a more subtle and humorous game to play here, to his credit.

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The Mayor tells his guest that the factory makes strange little pins called Kalutas, which, every few minutes, tickle their wearers and puff out a whiff of perfume.  Hal’s face as he’s given one of these things is priceless.  Suddenly, the entire town shakes and an odd sound fills the air, but the Mayor simply says it’s the machinery in the factory.

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In a funny sequence, Palm drags Hal up onto a plastic stage, which breaks as soon as the Lantern puts his foot on it, and presents him with a plastic key to the city, which also breaks immediately, all while the ceremony is taped, lacking a live audience.  Finally sick of this strange place, the Green Gladiator tries to take off, only to find that he can’t focus.  Suddenly an army of suits, the Mayor’s ‘Executive Board,’ descend on the shaken hero, beating him mercilessly.  Just before he passes out, Hal summons the last of his will power and sends his ring to Green Arrow.

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Unfortunately, just as the most powerful weapon in the universe arrives, so does Black Canary, and who is going to notice a world-shattering wishing-ring when she’s in the room?  Sadly for Hal, Dinah has gotten her head back together, and she’s come back to town to visit Ollie.  The two head out for dinner, the ring still lying undiscovered in the apartment.  It’s a fun piece of irony.

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Meanwhile, the Lantern awakens to meet an old foe.  It seems that he’s fallen into the hands of…Black Hand?!?  That’s right, O’Neil gives us an honest-to-goodness supervillain for only the second time in his run, and it’s an interesting choice.  Apparently, Hand was masquerading as the mayor, all part of a plan by his corporate masters, who sprang him from prison to run their program.  Essentially, Piper’s Dell is a test case, an experiment.  It’s the company town taken to it’s logical extreme, with the populace not merely beholden to their corporate overlords but literally controlled by them.

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The townspeople are rendered pliable and suggestible by the constant irritations and distractions of the Kalutas, the poisons in the air, and the mind-numbing sounds of the factory.  The villain demonstrates by showing his captive footage of a townswoman being convinced that the hero had tried to destroy the dam rather than save it.  This was, of course, all part of the plan, and Carol was lured to town in order to trap the Lantern himself.  The lovers are reunited, only to be turned loose into a town that has been programed to hate them.

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While one couple fights for their lives, another fights each other.  Dinah and Ollie are having a spat because the bow-slinger fought with a drunk who was hitting on the Canary.  After the lovely Ms. Lance takes her leave, the Arrow finally discovers the ring and quickly sets out to rescue its owner, stopping on the way to charge it.  Now, I’m not 100% positive, but am I wrong, or couldn’t Ollie just slip the ring on and use it?  Either way, we get another funny scene as the newly poverty stricken hero uses his last $20 to rent a dinghy, unable to afford a speedboat, and begins to row.

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Hal and Carol have their own problems, however, as they are being pelted with plastic bricks (!) and chased by crazed townsfolk.  Pinned against the edge of the dam, the Lantern prepares for his last stand when, suddenly, a familiar voice tells him to freeze.  Green Arrow has arrived in the nick of time, and he makes an incredible shot, threading the needle to send the power ring back to its owners, his arrow passing through Hal’s fingers!

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The newly empowered Emerald Crusader makes short work of the mob and smashes into Black Hand’s headquarters.  Despite the villain’s resistance, the Lantern easily disposes of him by melting the plastic roof and entombing his foe in artificial materials.  The tale ends with the gathered friends walking through town and wondering what could possess people to trade their freedom and independence for the type of life that those in Piper’s Dell embraced, only for Ollie to wryly gesture to the Christmas shoppers eagerly snapping up plastic Christmas trees at a nearby store.

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This is a surprisingly good issue.  It’s off-beat, unusual, and more than a little silly, but it is clever and rather whimsical as well, which makes up for a lot.  The lighter tone rather lowers the stakes for the comic, meaning it doesn’t have to work as hard to earn its keep and achieve its aims.  Importantly, the characters are all a lot more likeable than they have been throughout the run so far, with both Hal and Ollie coming off as heroic, intelligent, and capable, which has certainly not always been the case.  The character moments really make this story shine.  The romantic interlude with Hal and Carol is touching and sweet, while the interactions between Ollie and Dinah are pretty darn funny.

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It was also nice to see an actual supervillain show up, and I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Black Hand, despite the fact that he was (in the classic setting) a bit of a goofball.  Sadly, he doesn’t give that great of a showing here, easily defeated as he is and lacking his signature weapon, much like Sinestro in his previous story.  That’s a shame, and it feels like a waste, especially because, despite appearances, Hand is actually a really good choice for this scheme.  He was a grifter and a shill, a smarmy punk with intelligence and zero empathy.  He’s a great choice to head this corporate brainwashing program.  The scheme itself, despite being a bit silly, is at least of respectable dimensions.  The unnamed corporate overlords plan to effectively conquer the world with this technique.  That’s a threat that is worthy of Green Lantern, at least in theory.

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O’Neil’s message here is an interesting one, and it is delivered with a fair amount of wit and charm.  Essentially, this is a critique of the growing disposable, artificial nature of American lives, filled as they are with so much plastic stuff.  It’s interesting to see this concept show up here because it is a common sentiment for old timers today, and I know I’ve heard my father lament “cheap Chinese junk” more than a few times.  In addition, there’s the related theme of people allowing themselves to be distracted by all of these things to the point that they blithely trade away their freedoms and their identities.  This is similar to one of O’Neil’s earlier stories, interestingly enough, in a Superman backup.  Of course, Adams’ art is fantastic throughout, and he does a particularly good job with the satirical elements of the story, portraying Hal’s befuddlement in the town.  His quiet character moments really shine.  I suppose I’ll give this unusual issue 4 Minutemen, despite its silliness.  The character moments lift it up to a higher level, and the fact that is is more satiric than preachy renders its foibles engaging rather than off-putting.

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Green.Lantern/Green Arrow #84


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“Death is the Black Racer!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

More glorious Fourth World madness awaits us in this next issue!  It is a pretty interesting one, introducing another of the zillion and one concepts that Kirby packed into his new mythos, but unfortunately it is one that never quite worked, the Black Racer.  This character seems to be an obvious attempt by Kirby to recapture the magic that conjured the Silver Surfer into existence, but in circumstances that he could control, and who could blame him?  The concept of the Silver Surfer is a pretty silly one, but somehow, it works, probably because of the beautiful simplicity of Kirby’s design.  The Black Racer is not quite so fortunate.  His design is fairly awful, with the garish red, blue, and yellow, the incongruous armor, the skies, and the ski-poles.  Personally, I think it’s the poles that put it over the top, but you could really take your pick, as none of those elements work all that well.

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The cover, for its part, is better than many of those we’ve seen from this set of books.  The photo-background isn’t as distracting as most of the others, and the color of the sky makes it less flat and boring.  The central figure of the racer, however goofy his look, is nicely rendered, and there is some drama to the composition.  Unfortunately, the ski-riding figure doesn’t have the dramatic visual impact of, say, Orion or Mr. Miracle.

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The story itself begins in grand fashion, with a high-stakes race through the cosmos, as Lightray flees from a mysterious figure on skis, the Black Racer.  The young New God tries everything he can think of to shake his implacable pursuer, but nothing works.  He filters his light powers through a giant, crystalline meteor to generate a beam of incredible heat, but his antagonist easily dodges it, matching the youth’s every move.

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ng03-10Meanwhile, on Earth Orion and his rescued human friends make plans to combat Darkseid’s terrestrial forces.  The various mortals each get a little characterization, and Kirby does a good job of developing them in a small space, but they remain largely unused.  As the Dog of War steps aside to put on some native clothes, he ponders his handsome visage, and we learn that Mother Box has reshaped his features to help him blend in on New Genesis and that his actual face is far more brutal and ugly than the one he shows to the world.  Orion, like his readers, wonders what this means about his origins.  It’s an intriguing scene.  His disguises, both guise and garments, in place, he rejoins his friends.

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Lightray, for his part, continues his desperate race, igniting a nascent star in his wake, but his pursuer still hangs grimly to his trail.  Finally, exhausted and distracted, the fiery youth smashes into a meteor and is trapped…until the mysterious Metron suddenly arrives, just in the nick of time, teleporting the Black Racer far away…to Earth!

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On that benighted globe, the Racer is quick to pick up new quarry, and he flies to the ghetto of Metropolis where he finds two gangsters involved in a shoot-out.  After one of the low-lives, Sugar-Man, kills his opponent, he notices that there was a witness to his crime.  An ex soldier, Sgt. Willie Walker, wounded in action in Vietnam and now paralyzed and speechless, lies helplessly in his bed while the thug prepares to kill him, just for good measure.  Suddenly, a gauntleted hand reaches out and blocks the gun, which explodes in Sugar-Man’s face.

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What follows is really striking, as the Racer steps casually through the wall, noting that he’s heard the wounded man’s silent pleas.  The strange figure offers Walker freedom and power, if he’ll just take his hand.  Unbelievably, the paralytic suddenly stands and speaks, and he finds his mysterious visitor’s armor empty on the floor.  When he dons it, he becomes the Black Racer and soars into the sky in search of new quarry.

 

Across town, Lincoln and Orion smash their way into an Intergang hideout, where the gangsters are preparing to plant a bomb for their Apokoliptian masters.  Sugar-Man is one of their hired killers, and the wounded criminal is dispatched with the device while his fellows try to hold off the heroes with their alien weaponry.  Yet, while Orion may be temporarily stymied, nothing stops the Black Racer, who follows the fleeing felon, triggering the bomb and sent it towards space (though a page later we’re told this was Orion with his Mother Box, which is a bit confusing; perhaps we’re meant to understand that the Racer just carries out what is already happening?).  Sugar-Man meets a rather noisy end in low orbit as the bomb goes off.

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The tale ends with Orion and his ally calling the police to take care of their captured gangsters while the Black Racer returns to Willie Walker’s room, becoming the paralyzed soldier once more just before his caretakers, his sister and her husband, come back.  They lament that they left the helpless man alone while a killer was on the loose, not knowing that he himself has become an embodiment of death.

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This is really a fascinating issue, despite the fact that it doesn’t entirely work, and some of its faults are pretty glaring.  Nonetheless, there is something special here.  The idea of introducing a cosmic personification of Death is certainly a fitting one for this setting, and in his way, the Racer fits well into the story Kirby is telling.  After all, the old pantheons always had their death gods, Anubis, Hades, Hela, and the rest.  It makes sense for the New Gods to be the same.  Still, in execution, the Black Racer is flawed as well as promising.  On the one hand, Kirby is adding some diversity to his new mythology, which, inspired by the Norse pantheon as it is, can certainly use it.  On the other hand, just like with Vykin, we’ve got yet another black character with ‘black’ in their name, as if we’d miss the subtle distinction otherwise.  We’re really past the point where creators should know better.  It is noteworthy that Kirby begins to introduce ghetto-based black characters at this point, right as the ‘blaxploitation‘ genre is taking off.’  Remember, it was this very month that saw the release of Shaft, which defined the genre.  Clearly, not only were racial issues in the zeitgeist, but so were stories of minority protagonists in their own settings.

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Silly sobriquets aside, Kirby is doing more than just introducing another celestial champion here, and it is the Racer’s other half that really resonates in this story.  The plight of Willie Walker brings a truly engaging human element to this cosmic drama.  His story is heartbreaking, yet like Daredevil before him, his disability is revealed not to be a bar to his freedom, but in this case the price is a strange and perilous one.  The setup is rich for development and story possibilities, though, if I recall correctly, that potential goes unrealized in the short life of this book.  Time will tell on that score.

On the art front, Kirby’s not at his best in this issue.  His work is often rough and uneven, and some of the big moments are a actually rather unattractive.  This is also true of his designs.  While the gangster character have some of that classic Kirby panache, the Racer is just a mess.  It is fun to see Orion playing Phillip Marlowe, complete with fedora and dark suit, though.  This is just a flawed treatment of a flawed concept, but both the issue and character it introduces have a certain amount of charm despite their failings.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as despite rough art and a poor design, there is something worthwhile in the Black Racer and his debut issue.

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Interestingly, according to the Kirby Museum’s great article on New Gods #3, apparently DC was eager for characters that could be spun out of the King’s Fourth World should it prove a hit, so part of the insane productivity and fertility of these books is probably in response to pressure from the powers that be, as well as Kirby’s own desire to populate his own comic book universe.  He certainly had enough different concepts introduced in these books to furnish an entire comic line, from the Black Racer to Lonar the Wanderer (who we’ll meet eventually).  That certainly sheds a new light on some of the unusual narrative choices Kirby made in his Fourth World titles.

Well, whatever the case, we have run out of post!  Three more issues down, and entertaining reads all!  I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and will join me again soon for the next batch of books.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive, and try to stay ahead of the Black Racer!

 

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 4)

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Welcome back Internet travelers!  In belated honor of Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday last week, I’ve got a new post featuring some comic goodness, courtesy of the King!  As you might imagine, there are also plenty of features celebrating this event out there in the vast Internet ocean.  Check out a nice set of tributes on Kirby-Visions, a lovely biography of the King on The Kirby Effect, an affectionate tribute from the Fire and Water Podcast (Gallery), and a great cover gallery of the Master’s 70s work on Diversions of the Groovy Kind!  If you happen to be in New York, be sure to swing by the Kirby Museum for a celebration of the man, the myth, the legend, and his life and works.

So, let’s see what these books have in store for us!

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.


Forever People #2


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“Super War!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

We start this post off with the second issue of The Forever People, which has a rather uninspiring cover.  We’ve got a nice, dynamic Kirby figure on the front, as Mantis leaps out at us, but I really rather dislike photo-collages on covers.  They just look drab and ugly.  The black and white image, fuzzy from 70s printing limitations, just seems a mess, contrasting unpleasantly with the clean-lined characters.  The story inside, however, is more successful, giving us a more thorough introduction to our young heroes, and with no Superman to steal the spotlight this time.  The tale begins with the kids having apparently arrived right in the middle of a major intersection in a city, and their arrival provides quite a stir and quite a traffic jam.  The gang are all amused at the quaint ways of the humans and their slang, and after some hijinks where the youths are mistaken for hippies, they hop on the Super Cycle and ‘phase out,’ arriving in a nearly abandoned section of town.

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Meanwhile, we meet the villain of our piece, and not in the most impressive fashion.  Apokaliptian soldiers drag the Mighty Mantis from a cocoon and throw him before Darkseid.  For his part, Darkseid has suddenly snapped into focus, much more the character that would come to shake the very foundations of the DC Universe than the one we met last issue.  From his craggy features to his imperious manner and grand plans, this is our villain fully realized, which is nice to see.  I rather imagined it might take more time for Kirby to find his feet with him, and there may still be some adjusting.

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Yet, Darkseid is ever in charge, and he berates his cringing subject for his attempt to usurp power for himself.  It seems Mantis wanted to conquer Earth for himself, and, surprisingly, Darkseid agrees, just reminding his minion that he still answers to the master of Apokolips, who plays a more subtle game.  Mantis returns to his ‘power pod’ to continue gathering his strength.

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Meet one of the greatest villains in the history of comics.

Amidst the derelict buildings of their destination, the Forever People encounter a crippled young boy on crutches named Donnie, who is really excited to meet super beings like them.  His uncle, Willie, the watchman of the area, is somewhat less thrilled, however.  He threatens the group with a gun until Beautiful Dreamer uses her illusion powers to make him see them as clean-cut, normal kids.  There’s actually sort of an interesting note of social commentary as she says, “You used to know lots of kids like us!  Remember?  We never passed without saying ‘hello’!”  I imagine that there’s a note of wistfulness, a sad acknowledgement of the growing generation gap, and a wish for its healing, in that little statement.  One can easily see Kirby himself having known such kids and missing the world they inhabited, yet also still acknowledging that young folks weren’t bad just because they didn’t fit that mold.

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I don’t think naming yourself ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ is going to help your case, girl.

At any rate, as Willie invites the youths to stay with him, night falls over the city (we haven’t been told which city), and Mantis emerges from his pod in a very vampire-esque sequence.  His powers at their zenith, he blasts his way out of the tunnels that have sheltered him and begins an attack on the city.

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Our young heroes are busy scouring the abandoned apartments for furniture to furnish their new pads, and young Donnie is introduced to Serafin’s ‘Cosmic Cartridges,’ which lead to a pretty cool psychedelic scene when the boy touches one.  It’s a nice moment of Kirby Cosmic, and it is really a dose of something new at DC, with lots of potential imaginative power.  Their tete-a-tete is interrupted when they see a news broadcast of Mantis’s rampage, and the Forever People quickly rush to summon the Infinity Man!

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The mysterious champion from beyond the realm of the natural laws confronts Mantis, who is fighting with the city’s police, lobbing charged objects at them like a more garishly garbed Gambit.

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Infinity Man belts the perilously powered villain, but Mantis responds by encasing his foe in a block of ice “which can hold giant worlds in the grip of icy death!”  Meanwhile, Darkseid and Desaad observe the situation, with the sinister scientist measuring the rising fear within the city in the hopes that it will stimulate the mind of the one who possesses the Anti-Life Equation!

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Mantis continues to run amuck, creating flowing streams of magma and reveling in destruction, but the Infinity Man doesn’t play by the normal rules of physics.  He uses his strange powers to molecularly disassemble his icy tomb in a scene with a cool concept but rather poor execution, for which I’m fairly certain we can at least partially blame the inks.

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Freed, the hero attacks the Apokalyptian would-be conqueror once more, striking him with a beam that destabilizes Mantis’s powers, causing him to vent his stored energies uncontrollably.  The defeated felon flees into hiding once more, and the Infinity Man summons the Forever People back to Earth and disappears into the ether.  The comic ends with Darkseid dispassionately regarding Mantis’s failure and making his inscrutable plans.

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This is a pretty solid second issue.  We get to learn a bit more about all of our young heroes, and once more I’m struck with how good a job the King is doing with their characterization in relatively small space.  There is a lot of personality on display in their pages, from the boisterous good humor of Big Bear to Serafan’s wide-eyed fascination with human culture.  Yet, we still don’t see the kids do much of anything.  even the Planeteers tended to be more useful than these five.  They summon the Infinity Man right away, and he provides a fairly impressive showing.  The fight with Mantis is pretty exciting, and Kirby makes it fairly creative and entertaining.

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fp02-26Sadly, one of the real weaknesses of the issue is the art, which I really didn’t expect.  I’m fairly certain we’re seeing the consequences of having Vinnie Colleta inking all of Kirby’s books.  There is a lot of heavy inking, lost detail, and empty backgrounds.  There are some muddy, ugly panels as well.  Of course, the King’s pencils are not at their best here either, and the really striking moments often share space with some slightly awkward panels, like Mantis’s strange flight pattern during the fight.  When the art is good, it’s great, but when it’s bad, the contrast is quite telling.  Still, there are some wonderful moments throughout.

Notably, Kirby’s attempt at creating unique speech patterns for his New Gods is on full display here, and it is partially successful.  The kids strike a mostly enjoyable balance, providing an ‘outsider’ perspective on human culture with almost-hip dialog that isn’t quite recognizable, but Infinity Man and Mantis are a little odder, overly-written and a bit off-putting at times.  The final result is a fun, enjoyable issue that continues to unfold the mysteries of the cosmic epic Kirby is weaving, and it’s certainly worth a read.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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G.I. Combat #147


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“Rebel Tank”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“Sniper’s Roost”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Mort Drucker
Inker: Mort Drucker
Editor: Robert Kanigher

“Tin Pot Listening Post!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Jerry Grandenetti
Inker: Jerry Grandenetti

“Broomstick Pilot”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: John Severin
Inker: John Severin

“Battle Window”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“Target for an Ammo Boy”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

You sure got a lot of story for your quarter in these old books.  Just look at all of those war yarns packed into this comic!  Anyway, they all lie under a decently dramatic cover, the classic perilous situation cliffhanger, and the Haunted Tank tale it represents is a fair one, though it has some elements that sit somewhat uneasily with me in light of recent events in the U.S.  It starts with Jeb and his crew being left behind by their C.O., who gets knocked out defending a bridge.  The Haunted Tank rides to the rescue in a wonderfully dramatic sequence full of action and explosions, two important ingredients in awesomeness.  Jeb brings his tank in through cover, and they manage to knock out the remaining enemy armor, destroying the bridge in the process.

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Mortally wounded, their C.O. dies in Jeb’s arms, and once again, the art proves the power of the comic format, as Heath packs a lot of emotion into a single panel.  Afterwards, the ghostly General Stuart visits his namesake to provide yet more enigmatic advice.  He tells his charge that the tank will soon be fighting on his side, which is strange, seeing as the Civil War (which J.E.B. points out the Confederates called ‘The War Between the States’) ended a hundred years before.  He warns that some Southerners are still fighting it.

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When the crew returns to base, they encounter their new commanding officer, who is named Major Bragg, a rather ill-tempered Southerner who gives my folks a bad name.  The Major wears a Confederate forage cap, and he is very upset to learn that Jeb shares the name of the famous rebel general.  Essentially, this whole story is a reprise of #141, with Jeb being given grief for his name, but under combat conditions instead of training.  Bragg, who is still bitter about the whole Appomattox thing, relegates Jeb and his men to courier duty, refusing to let them fight unless the lieutenant backs down about his name.  Things get tense, and Jeb’s crew find themselves slugging it out with hecklers to defend their honor.

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One day, a supply run for the armored column (and using a light tank to carry ammo seems a bit…odd) leads the Stuart to a mountaintop fortress which has knocked out the rest of their tanks.  Even the Major was stopped cold in his assault, but, despite his orders to pull back and not engage, Jeb takes his tank into the teeth of the enemy position.  He uses his lighter vehicle to flank the fortress, and they manage to destroy the edifice.

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Finally, they have earned Major Bragg’s respect, and he admits that Jeb is worthy of the name, saying “You’re a rebel at heart [..] a Johnny Reb in a Damn-Yankee uniform!”  That made me chuckle.  There’s an old joke where I come from about people growing up and realizing that ‘Damn-Yankee’ happens to be two words, just some light-hearted regionalism.

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So, this is a fine little story, with some really nice looking action, especially in the first part, but it is a bit repetitive in its theme. Bragg isn’t really that much of a character, having only one real note, so he isn’t all that interesting.  Incidentally, I wonder if his name is a reference to the famously prickly and unlikeable Confederate general Braxton Bragg, whose name is significantly more awesome than he was.  Either way, the comic Bragg, like his possible namesake, is not exactly an electrifying presence.  On the positive side, I do enjoy the camaraderie of the tank crew that we see, with them standing up for each other, even against their fellows.  I suppose, all things considered, I’ll give this one a solid 3 Minutemen.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83


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“And A Child Shall Destroy Them!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Time for another dose of naval-gazing ‘adventure’ with the Green Team.  Yay?  I’ll admit, I’m really not enjoying this series.  I’m rather dreading that some of the darkest days are still before us.  I’m afraid this particular issue is not a high point, though it does reintroduce a character who is very important to the Lantern’s mythos, which is worth something.  The book has a standard ‘looming shadow’ cover, and as is often the case, this one is something of a cheat.  It’s not a particularly exciting image, and it’s got cover dialog, of which I’m rarely a fan.  I’d say the biggest weakness is the presence of the rather unintimidating looking character, Grandy.  While his being there fits the story, it takes away from the menace of the scene.

The tale inside begins with a scene from a month ago, where that same fellow from the cover is walking with a young girl when he bumps into a dark haired woman.  The man asks the girl to punish the woman for not apologizing, and the child’s eyes glow.  Suddenly the woman drops to the ground in agony.  Creepy!

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In the ‘present,’ our hard traveling heroes have showed up at the ‘Meadowhill School,’ escorting Dinah Lance to her new job as a P.E. teacher at the girl’s school.  One wonders what kinds of credentials she could have produced for such a job in her secret identity.  Also, what happened to the flower shop?  O’Neil gives us some attempts at character development, with the lovely Mrs. Lance talking about how she’s felt useless and lost and hopes to do something productive by working with children.  What?  Saving the world with the JLA isn’t fulfilling enough?  I think you might have issues, lady!

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It fits in vaguely with the uncertain direction O’Neil has taken the character down in this book, but it’s still obvious that this is we’re moving at the speed of plot.  As they approach the school, O’Neil takes a page from Stan Lee, and he has Dinah employ that very special superpower that all females have in such stories, woman’s intuition.  She gets a sense of dread, and suddenly they are attacked by a mad flock of birds.

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The Green Team shifts into fighting togs, and the Emerald Archer uses a sonic arrow to scatter the foul fowl.  Just then, a tree branch falls right on top of Ollie, but he is saved at the last minute by Hal’s quick action.  Then, once again illustrating the ridiculous missmatch in power between the two, as the Emerald Crusader gathers the birds up and sends them ten miles away with a thought.  Yep, good thing you and your bow were here, Green Arrow.

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Then, continuing to display the brilliant and exacting attention to detail that we’ve been observing in this run, the heroes just stroll up to the school in full costume, with Dinah still in civies.  That won’t endanger the ‘ol secret identities at all.  ‘Hey, I wonder if that woman hanging out with Green Lantern and Green Arrow might have something in common with that superheroine who also hangs out with them?  Nah!’  In a mildly clever touch, they hang a lantern on the inspiration for this story, with the characters referencing Alfred Hitchcock and The Birds.

At the school, they meet the owner and headmaster, Jason Belmore, who, long-time readers of the series may remember was the fiance of Carol Ferris, the excuse for putting her on a bus in the book.  Of course, it makes no real sense for him to be running a girl’s school, but add that to the list of plot conveniences in this tale.  Belmore immediately insists the heroes leave, without expressing the slightest curiosity about why Dinah is palling around with Justice Leaguers.  Strangely, after this is done, the nervous headmaster turns to the cook and seeks his approval.  The cook, the same fellow from the opening scene, sics the same little girl on our heroes.

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Meanwhile, the Lantern spots a figure by their car, only to discover that it is Carol Ferris, though she is bound to a wheelchair.  She asks to be taken away with them, and the trio drive off, with Hal’s former flame asking for help for her current fiance, who is living in fear (awkward!).  Yet, as they drive, the car begins to come apart, and it careens off of a cliff, with only the Emerald Gladiator’s ring saving them.  It’s a nice looking sequence, especially when the Lantern summons a power-ringed Pegasus to carry the trio.  It’s a wonderful image, beautifully rendered by Adams.  Sadly, it’s the only magnificent moment in the book.

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When they land in an abandoned barn to seek shelter from a sudden rainstorm, Carol wonders about the Lantern’s new limitations, and he begins to talk about his loss of confidence.  Taken on its own terms, its’ a touching scene, and Adams does a heck of a job rendering the care and weariness on Hal’s face as he talks.  In the context of the series, it is undercut by the problems with the earlier stories that brought him to this point.  Continuity is a double-edged sword, after all.

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Back at the school, Dinah dismisses her class a bit early, which angers Grandy, who threatens her in really creepy fashion.  The canny Canary realizes something is up, so she slips into costume, once again again flagrantly endangering her identity.  ‘I wonder if the tall statuesque blonde has anything in common with the tall, statuesque brunette who is the only other woman here?’

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green lantern 083 015Prowling the halls, she is discovered by Belmore and Grandy, who attack her, but she easily handles them until the little girl, Sybil, uses her powers to cripple the Canary.  Then, unsurprisingly, Grandy removes her wig and discovers her identity.  Wow.  Who could have ever seen that coming?  Notably, O’Neil includes a moment where the Blonde Bombshell reflects that she’s enjoying the violence and notes that she needs to be careful about that, which is interesting, but it’s still presented in the nonsensical context of Dinah ‘hating violence.’

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The cruel cook orders the frightened children to haul her to the basement, where he explains that he found Sybil wandering in the woods, and now she enforces his will.  He plans to murder Dinah by proxy, so he stirs up a wasps nest and locks her in.  She claims the door is too sturdy to break down, but she apparently conveniently forgets about the fact that she has a super powerful ‘Canary Cry.’  Add it to the list.  Unable to think of anything better, the heroine hunkers down and hopes to survive.

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The Green Team returns to the school, but when they encounter Grandy, he sics Sibyl on them again, crippling them both with pain.  Ollie hears Dinah’s scream from below and struggles to his knees, fighting against the agony and loosing a flash-bang-like arrow that disables the creepy kid.  They race to the basement and rescue Dinah, though she is hurt.  The Emerald Archer wants to tear the cook apart, but the Lantern insists that, because he was responsible for crippling Carol, the fight was his.

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It sort of is at that, Ollie…

When Grandy is confronted, he demands that Sibyl punish Green Lantern, only for her to speak for the first time and refuse.  She is tired of hurting people, but the vicious fellow slaps her and tells her to “obey.”  With tears in her eyes, she agrees, only to bring the roof down on them.  And Hal apparently just watches.

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Seriously, the whole building collapses, and they get everyone else out, but Green Lantern seems to just let that little girl die.  Ollie asks his friend if he could have saved her, and his response, “I’ll live with that question the rest of my life” isn’t much of an answer at all.  It’s a weird, unhappy moment.  Yet, the story ends on a different note.  Hal approaches Carol and tells her that he was foolish and prideful, insisting that she love him on his own terms.

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He removes his mask (in public, let’s not forget, with lots of other people standing around), and reveals his identity, telling her he’s realized what really matters.  She apparently completely forgets about poor Jason Belmore and declares her love for the Lantern, who scoops her up in his arms and heads off into the rain.  Once again, it would be a sweet scene on its own terms, and the team really pack some emotional punch into it, but the context hurts it.  The last image of the book is of a little girl standing over the Lantern’s mask.  Dun dun DUN!

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Interestingly, I have zero memory of Carol being crippled from when I read through these books the first time.  I wonder how long that is going to last.  Well, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with this issue.  To be honest, it really isn’t a bad story as such, and it certainly achieves what it sets out to do.  It strikes a very effectively creepy tone, evoking Hitchcock movies and The Twilight Zone.  I’m almost certain that there is a particular story being referenced in this setup, with the creepy kid with powers, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Nonetheless, the authorial gymnastics that O’Neil has to go through in order to place his characters in this situation are more suited to Scooby Doo than Green Lantern.  Once again, he’s forcing the characters into the plot rather than letting the plot adapt to the characters.

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The tale also has a really grim ending, with the unhappy little girl apparently killing both herself and her tormentor.  Compare this with another of our recent stories featuring an unhappy child with powers and its happy ending, and you’ll see quite a contrast.  The art, as always, is beautiful, and Adams really gets a few chances to shine with some dramatic moments, but he still gets few opportunities to really take advantage of the fact that he’s drawing Green Lantern, other than the winged horse.  Interestingly, Adams apparently had some fun with his faces in this issue, as, according to Dick Giordano, he based the faces of Sibyl and Grandy on then current President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew, who he disliked.  Weird, you’d think, given the power dynamics, it would be the other way around.  For my part, I rather think that Grandy looks much more like horror legend Vincent Price, who certainly fits the tone of the tale.  Art origins aside, this is a rather uneven story.  Taken all together, with the significant flaws and the significant successes, I’d give this tale of horror 2.5 Minutemen, though I really am inclined to give it less thanks to the plot induced stupidity of the heroes.

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P.S.: On a broader note, I think I have finally put my finger on precisely what I dislike about this series.  It is the element of dreariness that characterizes it.  Green Lantern stories have the limitless wonders of the universe as their playground, and yet this run has its eyes firmly on the muddy earth, almost never looking to the heavens.  I understand O’Neil’s reasons for that, as I discussed with the first issue, but even with such earthbound tales, there is room for a glance at the stars now and then.  Yet, that is not all.  No, there is just no sense of joy, of revelry, of real adventure to be found in this book!  This issue displays these qualities perhaps the most clearly of any we’ve seen.

Their stories are small, but not just with the necessary intimacy of character drama.  They are small with a pettiness, a smallness of soul, and not just of setting.  What O’Neil is trying to do is admirable, and there are times when the comic shakes off its shackles and stretches to the stars, and I don’t just mean the issues set off planet.  There are moments when there is hope and joy and wonder to balance the dreary slog of his preaching or torturing of his characters, but they are, unfortunately, in the minority.  If there is one thing that comics are about, it’s hope, though that is true of Art in general, the Art that gropes its way towards the divine.  Despite the very heavy-handed invocations of hope from time to time, it seems largely absent from this series.  There is just too much misery, too much ugliness, and not nearly enough wonder.


 

Well, that does it for these comics.  We didn’t exactly have an inspiring set of books in this batch, but they certainly weren’t boring!  I hope y’all enjoyed my coverage and commentary on these comics, and I also hope you’ll join me again soon for more Bronze Age goodness!  We’ve got a JLA issue in the next batch, which is usually something I look forward too, but this is certainly an unusual one!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome back to Into the Bronze Age!  After the rather sad event commemorated by my last post chronicling the lamentable cancellation of Aquaman, we’ve got a much more cheerful feature today!  We’ve got a memorable Batman tale, an unusual Batgirl backup, and the premiere of the superhero escape artist, Mr. Miracle!  The result is an enjoyable pair of books.  Check them out below!

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.


Detective Comics #410


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“A Vow From the Grave!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Battle of the Three M’s”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Here’s a bit of trivia for you readers: this issue would later go on to form the basis for the Batman: TAS episode, “Sideshow.”  Strangely, while that episode has always left a bad taste in my mouth, I find this book rather inoffensive.  Both stories revolve around an escaped criminal meeting up with a band of former carnival sideshow performers, but the cartoon replaces the comic’s generic thug with the appropriately freakish Killer Croc.  In the show, I always found Croc’s betrayal of this lonely group of misfits quite heartrending, and I also found myself too repulsed by those same misfits.  I’m afraid I have a fairly low tolerance for the grotesque, and things like this creep me right out (Lady Grey, on the other hand, loves this kind of material).  Both of those elements are much less central in this issue, though, notably, that marks the difference between moderate and exceptional stories.  Despite my personal distaste for the Timmverse version, it is, objectively, a very good story.

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The original version at hand lies inside of a suitably dramatic if not terribly lovely cover.  The image effectively portrays the peril of the situation, but within the tale opens with an even more arresting splash page.  It’s a beautiful, moody image of the Dark Knight’s dogged pursuit of his quarry across a rope bridge and through a stormy night.  His prey, escaped killer Kano Wiggins, reaches solid ground first and cuts down the bridge, leaving the Dark Knight to make a desperate leap to safety.  Despite his opponent holding the high ground, the Grim Avenger still manages to get the upper hand until a massive fist slams into him out of nowhere!

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A titanic figure looms out of the rain, and despite the Caped Crusader’s attempts to reason with him, the giant seems intent on attacking.  In a really nice sequence, Batman uses his agility to reach his opponent’s shoulders and put him in a sleeper hold.  When the fellow finally collapses, a strange, mismatched trio arrives and explanations are made.  It seems that this quartet are former sideshow stars whose show folded, leaving them stranded there in the middle of nowhere.  They include a strongman, if not a bright one, man named Goliath, a very thin fellow named Charley Bones, a fat woman named Maud, and a deformed little boy with seal-like appendages, named ‘Flippy.’

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Detective410-10The Dark Knight goes to track Wiggins, but his search eventually brings him back to the sideshow gang in the abandoned town where they have set up camp.  When he arrives, he discovers that poor Charlie Bones has been murdered, hung from the bell-cord in the empty town hall.  Interviewing the other carnies, Batman finds that no-one seems to have seen anything, but Flippy, who is mute, draws a design in the dust, two circles linked by a line.  Note the almost parallel images of Batman below.  That’s some excellent visual storytelling.  You’ll see why soon.

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Before the Masked Manhunter can investigate further, he hears a car starting up and rushes off to capture Wiggins, which he does by punching the convict through the window of the van he tried to steal.  Clearly, we’re moving away from campy Batman at full speed!

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Returning to the sideshow stars, the Darknight Detective has solved the murder, but he announces to Maud that Kano didn’t do it.  Just then, Goliath tries to kill the hero by hurling a chunk of wood from the rafters of the building, and the Caped Crusader sets off to rescue the last member of the trio, poor Flippy, who tried to warn him that the culprit was the strongman with his drawing of a barbell.  As he confronts the giant, Batman explains that he knew Wiggins wasn’t the killer because the rope was cut too high up, and only Goliath could have reached it.  Now we can appreciate the cleverness of Adams’ illustrations on that page above.

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The strongman declares that he loved Maud and killed Charlie so that she would turn to him, and when the hero approaches, the killer threatens to throw Flippy from the bell tower unless the Dark Knight throws himself off!  The Dark Avenger subtly loops his rope over a beam on the outside of the tower and then seems to comply, swearing that he will get Goliath, even from the grave.

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Despite not really wanting to kill the boy, the strongman still drops him so he can’t reveal the murderer’s guilt, but Batman snatches the kid from midair in a great looking page.  Finally, he confronts the hulking giant, who almost kills him before Maud intervenes.  The story ends with the Caped Crusader noting that “courage–and love–come in strange shapes,” which is not a bad moral for this little yarn.

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This is a solid, if brief, little murder mystery with a memorable cast of characters.  O’Neil provides some interesting twists and turns that make it stand out from the standard fare.  Obviously he created a story that sticks with you, as its return years later in the classic Batman cartoon demonstrates.  Neal Adams, for his part is in fine form this issue.  His action is dramatic and full of explosive excitement, but even more impressively, he captures the perfect Gothic tone for the setting and characters he’s dealing with.  Everything is dark and dreary, and a nearly palpable feeling of dread hangs over the little drama of this story as tragedy strikes these lonely souls.  That atmosphere is only broken with the rising dawn at the comic’s end, with all the figures in silhouette, which adds a touch of hope to the tale as well.  The Batman of this book is well on his way to becoming the grim avenger of the night, the driven crimefighter who still has a deep love for humanity.  It’s a good little Batman comic, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.  O’Neil and Adams are well on their way to their legendary run on this character.

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“Battle of the Three M’s”


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The Batgirl backup this month is a fun, if a tad sexist, adventure involving the nefarious doings surrounding the fashion industry!  You can almost hear the conversation that spawned this tale: ‘Batgirl is a girl, so her readers are probably girls.  What do girls like?  Fashion!’  I’ve written before about the linking of female superheroes with fashion themes, as with the focus on costumes and the like in Supergirl’s stories, and, in general, I imagine it was an creative way to inject something uniquely feminine into these comics, something quite absent in the male dominated books.  However, there is, of course, a rather silly assumption that all girls are interested in fashion inherent in this treatment, but as long as the comics are still fun, I suppose no harm is done.

This particular instance of this phenomenon centers around the age-old dilemma, mini, midi, or maxi?  I am, of course, talking about skirt-lengths, as if my fashion forward readers didn’t know!  Seriously, I suppose this whole thing started in the 60s with the advent of the mini-skirt, and I rather wonder if it is still a going concern these days.  This subject is a bit out of my areas of expertise!  You only seem to see stories concerning the phenomenon from this era and earlier.  In this version, a major fashion icon breaks her leg skiing and so is out of circulation for a time.  Meanwhile, industry big-wigs go mad trying to figure out which length of skirt she’ll wear when she is healed, and a particularly unsavory group of designers in Gotham decide to do more than wait.

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Detective410-25As Barbara Gordon heads to work in the library, a newsman asks her what her opinion on the mystery is, and she reveals that she’s playing it safe by wearing a pants-suit, which is a mildly clever bit.  Things start happening once she’s inside, however, as one of the designers tries to bribe her to get access to another patron’s research books.  She refuses, but out of curiosity, she looks herself, to see that the patron in question is Jules Thayer, the fashion icon’s personal couturier, or designer.  Deciding that the crooked costumers might not give up so easily, Babs dons her on fashionable threads and heads to Thayer’s home to check on matters.  Now, this is a pretty thin excuse to get her involved, all things considered.  There’s no real reason to think that these clothiers would go as far as they do, at least not from that one interaction, but Robbins only has a few pages to work with, so it’s understandable.

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Arriving at the apartment, the girl detective discovers the same fashion flunky snapping pictures, but when she confronts him, he smacks her with the camera, sending her reeling off the roof.  She manages to catcher herself at the last minute, providing a bit of a common element with our headline tale.  When she recovers, Babs trails the skulking spy, and when he meets up with his partner and examines the photos, they realize that Thayer has decided on maxi-skirts, leaving them dead in the water.

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It’s nice of DC to give Howard Stark a chance at a second career after Marvel killed him off.

However, their investor, a gangster named Serpy (interesting name) arrives and is not willing to lose his investment.  He decides to kill the problematic fashionista, but at that point, Batgirl intervenes.  She makes a good showing until, oh no!  She joins Aquaman in this month’s additions to the Head-Blow Headcount, getting conked on the bean by the gangster.  The issue ends with Batgirl about to have a blouse carved out of her lovely hide!

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That’s a very stylish cliffhanger!

This is a fun if somewhat off-beat little backup.  It’s a bit hard to take the bespectacled  fashion designer seriously as a villain, so it’s nice that we get the addition of the gangster to the rogue’s gallery.  Still, it makes one wonder what kind of a hardened criminal lends money to lady’s clothing designers.  I suppose anybody can get desperate and go to the mob for a loan.  Either way, it’s an unusual and entertaining setup, though poor Batgirl doesn’t turn in her best performance, getting taken out twice in just a few pages!  Don Heck, however, puts together a nice looking feature, with each of the characters having a lot of personality.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Mr. Miracle #1


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“Murder Missile Trap!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Colourist: Jack Kirby
Editor: Jack Kirby

The last of the new Fourth World books premiered this month, introducing one of my favorite DC characters, the inimitably marvelous Mr. Miracle!  He’s a hero I only encountered when I got back into comics in college, never really having known him as a kid, but his concept and especially his design really grabbed me.  When I read through his first two volumes, I really fell in love with the character and the hopeful view of the power of the human spirit that he represents.

Interestingly, the inspiration for the spectacular Scott Free actually came from one of Kirby’s former colleagues at Marvel, the master illustrator of the classic Nick Fury strip, Jim Steranko.  Earlier in his life, Steranko had been a magician and escape artist, and Kirby based Mr. Miracle on this fascinating Renaissance man.

Whatever its origins, this first issue of Mr. Miracle’s adventures certainly comes on like Gangbusters, with a great cover only partially marred by distracting dialog.  The original Mr. Miracle run is blessed by a profusion of excellent covers, each one featuring a pulse-pounding peril from which the  peerless super-escape-artist must liberate himself.  This first cover is downright iconic, and it sets the tenor for the series that follows.  The issue within opens with a Mr. Miracle, though, not our Mr. Miracle, preparing for a death-defying deed with the help of his little person assistant, Oberon, whose name always makes me smile.  Oberon is the name of the king of the faeries in medieval literature, you see.

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Anyway, a young man watches as these two prepare an act, Oberon chaining his boss up and locking him in a shed.  When the little assistant sets the shack on fire (!), the observer rushes forward and tries to intervene, despite the dwarf’s objections.  Suddenly, the costumed figure bursts out of the flames, and the amazed onlooker is introduced to Thaddeus Brown, known as Mr. Miracle, the escape artist!  The young man’s name is Scott Free, which, to my delight, is pointed out as a funny coincidence within the book itself, with Brown laughing merrily. We learn that Scott is a foundling who was given that name in the orphanage, but he remains mysterious.

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Just then, a carful of hoods arrives, apparently working for Intergang!  They threaten Brown, and when Scott objects, they turn their attentions to him.  Not the type to take such things lightly, the young stranger jumps the armed antagonists, making short work of the whole gang and demonstrating an admirable spirit of fair play.  Mr. Terrific would have liked this kid!

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With the gangsters defeated, we get a partial explanation, as we learn that there is some type of trouble between the aged Mr. Miracle and an Intergang division chief aptly named Steel Hand, probably because he has a powerful steel hand.  Sometimes criminals aren’t too creative.  In a good example of comic book science, this metal appendage has somehow been strengthened by “radiation treatments,” which the garrulous gangster demonstrates by shattering a “great bar of solid titanium.”  Sure.  I’m willing to give this a pass because it works in the kind of world that DC has established.  It’s a more fantastic place, after all, and radiation is magic.  Anyway, the alloy-armed criminal is not happy that his gunsels failed, so he decides to take care of the escape artist himself!

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Meet the Mole Man…err…I mean Steel Hand!

Meanwhile, Scott Free has been invited to stay with that very marked man, who tells his guest a bit about his history.  It seems that he’s alone now, with his wife and son dead, but he is planning to come out of retirement by performing a big escape.  Scott is very interested in Brown’s methods, and Oberon convinces the showman to give the young man a test.  After being locked up in an impressive set of chains, the stranger shatters them, seemingly without a twitch.  He claims that he just used a gadget to do it, and he’s rather cagey about where it, and he, came from.

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mr miracle 01-13 murder missle trapThe next day, Thaddeus dons his costume again to try another escape, but after Oberon sets a great boulder in motion, Steel Hand has a sniper shoot the old man, which happens on panel, something of a rarity.  Scott leaps into action and somehow manages to deflect the massive missile with an energy bolt from his hand, revealing Kirby-tech winding up his arm.  He removes what sharp-eyed readers of The Forever People will recognize as a ‘Mother Box,’ and uses it to comfort the mortally wounded Mr. Miracle, who passes away peacefully moments later.  Honestly, it’s a fairly moving scene.  Kirby has successfully made us care about this old man, at least a bit, and his death has an impact despite his brief screen time.

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With his friend dead, Oberon fills Scott in on the rest of the setup.  It seemed that Brown and Steel Hand had met in the hospital years before, and they passed the time in talking, eventually making a bet that the gangster could design a trap that not even Mr. Miracle could escape.  Desperate to fund his return, Brown had approached the now successful crime boss, who, for his part, was unwilling to risk losing the bet.  We then check in with that extremely poor sport, who is testing his metal mitt against an expensive android designed by one of his flunkies for just that purpose, which is one of the most Jack Kirby sentences ever written.

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mr miracle 01-18 murder missle trapAfter Steel Hand smashes the bot, Mr. Miracle suddenly leaps through the window and challenges the villain to complete his bargain.  Unfortunately, the gangster’s goons arrive, and Mr. Miracle falls prey to an old enemy of the superhero set, the classic headblow!  That’s right, in his first appearance, poor Mr. Miracle joins the Headblow Head-Count.  When he awakens, Steel Hand’s minions have chained him to a rocket at a secret Intergang missile site (!), where the gangster has prepared his escape-proof trap.

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We see the hero begin to work his escape, but then the rocket blasts off and explodes!  Yet, when Steel Hand returns to his office, he finds Mr. Miracle, alive and well, sitting at his desk.  Infuriated, the alloy-armed goon attacks, smashing through desk, chair, and more.  Mr. Miracle evades his attacks and calmly explains his incredible escape, using the very gimmicks he used on the rocket to disable his opponent, including sonic projectors, jets, and more!  Just as he wraps up the rat, Oberon arrives with the police, who happily haul him away.

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This is a great first issue, a delightful debut for a dramatic and intriguing new character, and Mr. Miracle really is just that.  He’s a unique concept, something never before really seen in comics, the superhero escape artist.  Once again, we can see just how groundbreaking and original Jack Kirby is, introducing an entirely new wrinkle into the superhero setting, something that was already, in 1971, pretty rare.  The issue itself could actually serve as a good example of proper comic writing.  It’s a self-contained issue, with a complete plot found within its covers, a real rarity these days.  Yet, it also contains all the setup and threads necessary to provide the grounding for ongoing adventures.  Notably, with this more realistic (as far as Kirby goes) gangster type of story, the odd note to the King’s dialog is absent, and his writing is fairly strong throughout.

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Kirby manages to introduce several characters and even get us invested in poor Thaddeus Brown before his tragic death, no mean feat in a single issue, as the late, unlamented Crusader demonstrated.   Taken just as a story, this comic is quite good, with some mystery, plenty of action and peril, and a lot of personality.  The only real weakness is the lack of explanation for HOW Scott is able to step into the gloriously colorful shoes of his mentor so easily.  That’s part of the mystery Kirby is setting up, but it still could have used just a bit more establishment to make the changeover smoother.  Still, this is a great beginning for Mr. Miracle’s adventures.  While it lacks the visual wonder of some of the King’s other Fourth World comics, it still looks pretty good.  In fact, the whole comic feels a bit more grounded than the other Fourth World books so far, and it contains some of Kirby’s better writing.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, a strong start.

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And that does it for this post.  I hope you enjoyed my commentary as much as I enjoyed providing it!  Thank you for reading, and please come back soon for more comic goodness as we trek further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal Alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Two more heroes join Aquaman this month, and the Headcount continues to grow!  This is shaping up to be a busy month!  Now Batgirl is ahead of the rest of the Bat Family.  I bet Dick would never let her live that down.  We also have the first Jack Kirby creation to grace the Wall of Shame, making this a red-letter day!


 

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 4)

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Hello my dear readers, and happy Memorial Day if you’re in the U.S.!  Today we honor those who have served so that we may enjoy our freedoms, those who have gone into danger so that the rest of us may be safe.  This post about make-believe heroes has nothing to do with those real heroes, but a similar ethos of selflessness defines both.  The former are a lot more important, but there are more eloquent voices than mine singing their praises today, so I’ll stick to my humble purpose.

I’m afraid I have been long absent from the Greylands, but never fear, I have returned!  There were numerous calls upon my time and attention at the end of the semester, and they brought me far afield.  There were papers to write in preparation for conferences, conferences themselves to attend, and of course the usual hustle and bustle of the semester’s close.  We also had a weekend of volunteer work with the churches in our town, doing needful work in the community.  To top matters off, we in the Grey household also had various personal challenges, but the clouds seem (hopefully) to be parting at last, and I think it may be time to return…to the Bronze Age!

Once more I find myself quite willing to seek solace from the dreariness and bleakness of the modern day in the four-color glories of yesteryear.  This particular post is all the more exciting as we’re finally getting into the other Fourth World books with today’s Forever People #1!  Please join me for a new dose of Bronze Age goodness, and hopefully this will mark a return to a more regular posting schedule.  Thank you all for your patience!

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.


Forever People #1


Forever_People_Vol_1_1“In Search of a Dream!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

With the thunder of a boom tube and the roaring of the Super-Cycle, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World arrives in earnest!  It is in these three new books, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle, completely his own creations, that the King’s long-awaited vision, his long cultivated ideas, really come into their own.  Jimmy Olsen has been teasing something vast and wondrous beyond the horizons of the known reaches of the DC Universe, but The Forever People dives in more directly, while the other books will go further still.

And it all begins with the very Kirby set of characters on this cover, the Forever People, a group of free-spirited teenagers and part of the vast tapestry of stories and characters Kirby wove around the concept of the New Gods.  Curiously. these particular characters haven’t amounted to much over the years.  They’re probably the element of the Fourth World that has found the least traction in the wider DC Universe.  While the saga of Darkseid and Orion has provided the backdrop for many an epic adventure and the daring Mr. Miracle has found his place with the Justice League, these kids never quite found their niche.  I remember that being at least somewhat the case from the very beginning, so I’m curious to see how these issues will hold up to my memories.

The cover itself is more interesting than compelling.  It sets up a bit of a mystery, and it’s a mystery that the story within does develop to a degree, but I think its strongest feature are the incredibly Kirby-ish characters front and center.  They’re a wonderfully colorful and lively looking group, and they fit the very distinctive aesthetic that the King was developing for the New Gods, sort of a shiny, sci-fi take on his classic Asgardian designs.  Their individual designs aren’t all successful.  Mark Moonrider in particular has a bit too much going on, what with the superfluous loincloth worn over his pants.  Nonetheless, they’re certainly striking.

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Their first tale begins with the introduction of that constant feature of Fourth World stories, the boom tube, a glowing trans-dimensional portal accompanied by an otherworldly sound, and, in this case, by rhyming verse, which is an interesting and unusual way to start a comic.  From the portal emerge the Forever People, a colorful quartet riding an amazing vehicle, the Super-Cycle, in a two-page spread that I have to imagine was more impressive before Vinnie Colletta got his hands on it.  I’ve searched for a picture of the original pencils, but no luck.  Still, it’s a nice first look at our young heroes as they come careening onto the Earth.  As we will discover in a few pages, these are the Forever People, Mark Moonrider, Big Bear, their hippy-looking pilot, Vykin, and Serifan, whose costume I’ve always rather liked.

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They’re headed for a collision with a teenage couple in a conventional car, but they phase through the automobile, saving themselves, but seemingly dooming the other kids.  Just as their car flies over a cliff, those startled youths are rescued by Vykin the Black, (or Vykin, the inappropriately named), and his Mother Box.  We then get the first of our evocative but incredibly vague and contradictory Jack Kirby descriptions of his crazy Fourth World concepts, as the Forever People argue over exactly what a Mother Box is.

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While Mark Moonrider tells the rescued couple that it’s like a computer, Vykin strenuously objects that Mother Box lives and talks to them.  At this point, I can only assume the human kids have become convinced they’ve meet a group of madmen.  The young New Gods tell their newfound friends that they’ve arrived on Earth from a place called ‘Supertown’ to rescue someone called ‘Beautiful Dreamer,’ a vital mission, but they pleasantly agree to let the kids take some pictures for their friend, Jimmy Olsen.

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As the couple departs, Serifan falls into a trance, and his friends note that he’s made contact with Beautiful Dreamer, but they are being watched by malevolent eyes!  A group of hi-tech thugs has spied the team’s arrival, and we discover that they are members of Intergang who report to none other than Darkseid!  Our still mysterious menace tells his flunkies to follow but not to engage and warns them that the kids are more than they appear.

fp01-13Meanwhile, at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is just finishing up an interview with the heavyweight champ, who confesses to the reporter that he feels like his accomplishments are insignificant when a being like Superman is around who can do pretty much anything.  He and Lex Luthor should form a support group!  The dialog is a bit over the top and goofy, but the sentiment is actually an interesting one, and the theme of the Man of Steel’s presence having unintended sociological consequences has, of course, become much more common these days.  Once again, Jack Kirby was ahead of his time.

The encounter leaves the Last Son of Krypton introspective and lonely, feeling like he doesn’t really fit in on Earth, something that is becoming a recurring theme in the last few months.  His reverie is interrupted by the arrival of Jimmy Olsen, who has brought his friends’ bizarre pictures to show off.  With his telescopic vision, Clark spots an alien city at the center of the picture of the boom tube.  There’s a rather hokey bit as Superman gets hung-up on the idea that there is a place called ‘Supertown,’ but the upshot is he decides to investigate these strange travelers.

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Man, that must be one heck of a camera to capture microscopic detail…

fp01-18On his way to intercept the Forever People, the Man of Steel is spotted by Intergang, traveling the same route in a helicopter, and, on orders from Darkseid, they turn their fancy new weapons on the Kryptonian.  Their ray guns hurt him, but he is Superman after all.  In a nice looking sequence, the Metropolis Marvel rips up a tree and hurls it through the helicopter.  Seeing this, the Forever People assume that the new arrival must be another volunteer from Supertown, but before he can explain, they declare that Mother Box has located Beautiful Dreamer nearby.  The kids can’t fix her location, but Superman’s x-ray vision spots an underground entrance.

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Unfortunately, the hatch is booby-trapped, and it releases a “toxi-cloud,” which the Man of Tomorrow blows away by whipping up a whirlwind.  Just as he finishes his spin, he’s snatched out of the air by a brutish pair of purple paws!  A group of Darkseid’s minions called ‘Gravi-Guards’ attack, and one of them pins the hero to the ground by transmitting “gravity waves from heavy mass galaxies,” which almost actually makes sense.

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Realizing that they’re outclassed, the Forever People all put their hands to Mother Box and call out “Tarru!”  They switch places with a strange new champion named ‘The Infinity Man,’ who seems to have reality warping powers, declaring that he comes from the place “where all of natural law shifts and bends and changes,” allowing him to reverse the effects of the Gravi-Guards powers and send them flying.  With a casually tremendous blow, Infinity Man sends Superman’s antagonist crashing cross-country.

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fp01-24Declaring to the recovering hero that he’s an ally of the Forever People, the Infinity Man offers the vague and sinister pronouncement that Darkseid has kidnapped Beautiful Dreamer in his search for something ominously called “The Anti-Life Equation!”  Dun-dun-DUN!  With a name like that, it seems unlikely that this is a good thing.  The strange alien champion calls out a challenge to Darkseid, demanding that he show himself, and just then the man-god himself appears, looking very 80s cartoon villain-ish in his cape.  Declaring that the girl is of no use to him as her mind refuses to give him what he seeks, the Apokoliptian ruler raises her from underground but promises that sooner or later he will find what he’s looking for, and then he will us it to “snuff out all life on Earth–with a word!”

fp01-26At that, the villain vanishes, and the two heroes discover that the girl is rigged to a bomb.  Trusting in being faster than a speeding explosion, Superman scoops up Infinity Man and Beautiful Dreamer, and he kicks it into high gear to escape the blast.  When they land, the Man of Steel’s questions are interrupted by the return of the Forever People as the Infinity Man disappears, leaving them in his place.  When they ask how they can thank him for his help, Superman replies that he wants to see Supertown.  The kids argue that the Kryptonian’s powers are needed there on Earth in light of the threat posed by Darkseid, but he insists that he has to investigate this place.  They open a boom tube for him, but consumed by guilt, he turns back at the last moment.  Superman hopes he’ll have the chance to visit Supertown someday, but realizes he can’t go yet….which is a bit silly.  His obsession with the place, just because it’s called ‘Supertown,’ is goofy, as he has no other real reason to think there is anything there for him.  What’s more, presumably he could have jumped through the portal, checked things out, and come back right away.  There’s no immediate danger, so the guilt-trip was a bit much.

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Aside from the slightly silly ending, how does this issue stack up?  Well, it’s good fun from beginning to end, packed full of new concepts and the products of Kirby’s ever-expansive imagination.  The Forever People themselves had a lot more personality right from the beginning than I remembered.  They bicker and argue in friendly fashion, and their characters have some shape already.  However, they don’t really do too much for this to be their book.  Other than using the Mother Box to save the runaway car, all they do is switch into Infinity Man, who is certainly cool in action but far too vague in that very Kirby fashion to be fully grasped yet.  It’s also worth noting that Vykin’s sobriquet is pretty tone-deaf, though of course this is only 1971.  Still, we’re getting to the point where folks are realizing that naming a Black character ‘black,’ is maybe a bit much.  Nonetheless, there’s something to be said for Kirby with his inclusion of a black character with this team in an era where almost every hero was still white.

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There’s plenty here to catch a reader’s interest and make them want to find out what is going on, but sharing space with Superman means that the Forever People get a bit short-shrift in their own first issue.  Darkseid’s appearance is also a bit strange and surprising.  This is our first real meeting with him, and the fact that he gives in, even though he double-crosses the heroes, doesn’t seem quite in character with the supreme villain he will grow into.  It’s not the most impressive first showing for great and powerful Darkseid.

It’s really interesting to see the Forever People’s gestalt setup with the Infinity Man.  It’s very Captain Planet, (“With our powers combined!”) and one can’t help but wonder if they didn’t inspire that later-day character in some fashion.  Fortunately, the Forever People don’t have that annoying ‘Heart’ kid that was shoehorned into being the ‘real’ hero every freaking episode.  *Ahem*  Where was I?  Ohh, right!  The art is good throughout, of course, but it isn’t quite as spectacular as what will eventually populate these pages.  Of course, the Superman issue remains, as I discussed previously, and the resulting changes to Kirby’s art leave the Man of Steel looking a bit awkward from time to time.  The story itself is a good read, with some exciting action and several hooks for further development.  The silly elements and the vagueness of some of the concepts hold it back from being great, but it’s still a solid comic.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: We’ve got another text piece in this issue, but this time it isn’t by Kirby himself.  It’s actually a reflection by Marv Wolfman on a meeting with the King just before the younger creator had broken into comics.  It’s a charming read and a neat peak behind the curtain.

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G.I. Combat #146


G.I._Combat_146“Move the World”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler/Inker: Russ Heath
Editors: Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher

“Hickory-Foot Soldier”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert

“A Flower for the Front”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Secret Battle Eye”
Writer: Hank Chapman
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert

“The Bug That Won an Island”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“Battle Tags for Easy Co.”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert

We’ve got a standard type of cover for Haunted Tank stories, promising a deadly surprise for the crew.  It’s decent enough, but not the best of its type that we’ve seen.  The same could be said of what’s inside.  This was a solid if unspectacular Haunted Tank tale.  Most notably, the titular haunting spirit’s customary cryptic advice is actually almost useful, which is a nice change of pace.  As usual for this book, I’ll only cover that feature and not the various backups.

This story opens with a bang as the Haunted Tank and two other armored units are traveling through a dark desert night, only to have it suddenly lit up by explosions as they are cut to pieces by Nazi anti-armor half-tracks.  Jeb manages to get the Tank down into a ravine where they have cover, but the vehicles gets stuck.  Just then, their own gray ghost appears and tells Jeb “if you put your back into it […] you can move the world!”  While this sounds like his usual enigmatic nonsense, there is actually practical advice in his proclamation.

 

The tank commander hustles the crew outside, and with all of them straining mightily, they manage to free the Stuart.  Just as the Nazi infantry is approaching the ravine to finish them off, the Haunted Tank bursts out, guns blazing, and cuts a path through them.  Moving at top speed, they manage to avoid the fire of the halftracks.  They manage to knock one of them out, but that leaves three to chase them, any one of which has a gun big enough to punch through the hide of the light tank.  Jeb and co. lose their company in the desert night and head towards Fort Solitary, which they are ordered to hold at all costs.

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On the way, they encounter a lone G.I. holed up in a ruined house and trading fire with a German unit.  Just as the tank pulls up, he manages to finish off his opponents by kindly returning one of their grenades to them.  The young man introduces himself as Ulysses, named for the “Greek G.I. who was kicked around for seven years…after his war ended,” which is an interesting way of looking at the epic, rather fitting for a fellow in a warzone.  Just like his namesake, this young man is the only survivor of his own crew, a patrol from Fort Solitary.

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Ulysses boards the metal ship, and they arrive to find Fort Solitary has been wiped out by the Luftwaffe.  Jeb knows that the Nazi halftracks are on his trail, so the troops dig in and prepare for the inevitable attack.  They pile up rubble around the Tank’s turret to provide cover.

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When the Germans attack, their commander thinks Jeb has made a tactical blunder by digging in, but as his other two vehicles move to flank the entrenched position, the body of the Haunted Tank suddenly roars out from behind a hill and shreds one of them, while two of the crew pop out of the smoke on the other flank, hitting their halftrack with Molotov cocktails, sending it up in flames.

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Meanwhile, just as the German officer begins to think that he’s attacking a decoy, the turret fires and smashes his vehicle.  It turns out that Stuarts are made so that the turret can be detached, and by putting their backs into it, the crew were able to take all three of their enemies.

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This is a fairly good story, and the tactics at the end are actually quite clever and a nice solution to the difficult odds the Tank faces.  Interestingly, this is probably one of the more realistic Haunted Tank stories, in some ways, as they aren’t running around knocking out Tigers left and right.  Instead, they’re up against a set of halftracks with anti-tank guns, which really aren’t good in a stand-up fight.  A Stuart might actually be able to win in such an engagement, which is sort of neat to see, even if they go about it in very unorthodox fashion.  The inclusion of Ulysses seems a bit unnecessary, as he doesn’t really contribute anything to the plot, so he feels a bit like a dropped thread.  Still, the end result is reasonably entertaining.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82


Green_Lantern_Vol_2_82“How Do You Fight a Nightmare?”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inkers: Dick Giordano and Bernie Wrightson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ohh Green Lantern / Green Arrow, what am I going to do with you?  There’s a roughness to many of these stories, a feeling of potential present but unrealized, and that is certainly the case for this month’s issue of the book.  We’ve got a lot of creative concepts tossed out in these pages, but they are both wildly underdeveloped and in direct contrast to established canon to boot!  I’ve heard that O’Neil started to get into mythological threats in his Superman stories, and this issue perhaps heralds the beginning of his interest in that vein of storytelling.

This mythological mash-up of a tale begins with Green Arrow showing up, in full costume no less, at Black Canary’s front door.  So much for that secret identity, Dinah!  The stupidity of such a move is completely unremarked in the comic, and it is treated as perfectly natural that Ollie would stroll up to Canary’s home in costume.  The resultant scene is actually a little charming, as the Emerald Archer announces that, despite the fact that they had agreed to keep their distances until the beautiful bird ‘got her head together,’ he just happened to find himself in the neighborhood with a box of roses.  We’re actually getting a bit of character development as their relationship progresses, albeit slowly, in the background of these stories.

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However, when Dinah opens the box, she finds, not roses, but monsters!  A pair of winged creatures, half women, half birds, burst from the box and attack the heroic couple.  They look like the harpies of Greek mythology, but whatever they are, they seem to mean our heroes no good.  In what will become a running theme in the issue, Green Arrow attempts to protect Canary, and she resents his interference, pointing out that she’s a big girl and quite capable of looking out for herself.  Yet, Ollie’s solution of a tear gas arrow indoors proves to be a rather poor decision, and moments later he hauls the still protesting Canary outside.  Dinah let’s her would-be suitor know just what she thinks of his strategy, and then they realize that their avian antagonists have vanished!

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green lantern 082 006Realizing that mythical monsters are a bit out of their line, the heroes decide to reach out to one of their allies who is more experienced in such matters, so naturally, they call…Green Lantern?!?  That’s right!  After all, who knows more about magic and myth than the science fiction space cop?  Surely you wouldn’t turn to Wonder Woman,  Aquaman, or even Hawkman, all of whom have a decent amount of experience with myth and mysticism.  Nope, Green Lantern, all the way.  It’s at this point that we start to realize this story is moving at the speed of plot.

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green lantern 082 011Well, one telegram later, and the Green Gladiator is on his way, only to encounter the harpies himself!  He chases them through the sky to a discotheque where he is faced with a strange red-skinned femme fatale who calls herself “The Witch Queen.”  She declares her intention to destroy him, and then with a burst of yellow energy, she pulls the hero into the jewel atop her wand.  Then, the imprisoned Hal sees the woman’s shadowy ally, who he recognizes with a dramatic “YOU!”

In the meantime, Arrow and Canary get antsy with the Lantern’s long absence, and they decide to investigate on their own.  The Emerald Archer finds a strange jewel in the flower box, and he decides to investigate the florist from which he purchased the roses…which really seems like it would have been a good place to start in the beginning, what with the monsters jumping out of the rose box and all.  The dynamic dame drives them on her motorcycle, but when they reach the shop, a massive hand smashes Green Arrow’s face through a window, leaving Canary to face the new threat alone.

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She finds herself facing three massive women in Greco-Roman style armor, and they speak about destroying the man but not hurting their ‘sister.’  Think you know who these large ladies are?  Think again.  O’Neil has stranger plans!  No shrinking violet, Canary refuses to let these giant girls make a ghost out of Green Arrow, and when one of them moves to ‘chastise’ their wayward ‘sister,’ Dinah takes her out in a nice action sequence.  The leader of the women pleads with Canary to join them in their cause, the punishment of mankind, and she tells the fighting female their story.

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Fragile?  Delicate?  These are not words that I would use to describe Black Canary!

They are, in fact, Amazons, but not so fast!  They aren’t the Amazons you know…the Amazons that are already part of the DC Universe.  Instead, they are somehow a different set of Amazons, and O’Neil shows no awareness that DC already has that particular mythic group covered.  The tale they tell is that they were champions and defenders of mankind, along with the harpies and their powerful high priestess, but when their leader spurned the advances of a mighty sorcerer, he banished them all to a different dimension, from which they can only escape for short periods at a time with the help of jewels like that which Arrow discovered.  Speaking of the Emerald Archer, he finds the entire story dubious and refuses to believe in Amazons and the like, despite the fact that he was on a team with an Amazon for years!  There’s a Bob Haney-like disregard for continuity and context at play in this story!

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green lantern 082 017The Amazons promise to prove their claims by bringing the heroes to the Witch Queen, and in the interim, we check in with that very femme fatale, who is going over plans with a familiar figure.  Sinestro, the renegade Green Lantern, is her mysterious partner, and he is also apparently her brother, though I’m pretty sure this random sibling never appeared again.  The rogue ring-slinger had somehow discovered the dimension of Amazons “by chance” and used his sister to manipulate them, planning to have them help him trap and destroy his nemesis.  Being unable to locate Green Lantern, Sinestro decided that his friends were easy to find, so he planned to use them as bait.  They were easy to find?  Well, I suppose I would take more issue with that if Green Arrow wasn’t waltzing around Dinah’s suburban house in full costume.  I suppose he wouldn’t have been too hard to find at that!  To complete the trap, Sinestro gave his sister his power ring so she could pretend to have magic powers to throw Hal off-guard.  It’s…an odd plan, overly complicated and very random, not exactly Sinestro’s finest work.

Just as he’s finished his helpful exposition, Sinestro’s evil family reunion is interrupted by Green Arrow’s dramatic entrance.  As the villain rushes to retrieve his ring, the Emerald Archer draws his bow and lets fly an arrow, pinning the power ring to the wall in a really nice sequence.  Claiming he doesn’t need the ring to take on an Earthling, Sinestro charges the Battling Bowman, only to be met with an uppercut and laid low.

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When his sister tries her luck, Black Canary pitches in, and we get a really great moment.  Ollie thanks the blonde bombshell for saving his life twice that night, and her reply is wonderful, “I’d do it for anyone…astray cat, a politician–just anyone at all!”  O’Neil is getting a better handle on these characters, and their banter has become quite charming.  There’s a great, rather unusual (for 1971) quality to their relationship that is rather special.

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green lantern 082 027With Sinestro captured, Green Arrow tries to get him to return Hal, but the villain claims the Lantern is trapped in the dimensional prison, which only one man can inhabit at a time.  The Amazon leader, realizing they had been duped by a man, offers to lead Canary inside to rescue their friend, and despite Ollie’s protests, in she goes.  The dimension is a surreal, utterly alien place, and within Hal fears that the very strangeness of his surroundings might drive him mad.  He is scooped up by the harpies and is too stunned to use his ring.  The Emerald Crusader is brought to face the high priestess, who is revealed to be Medusa, and her snakeish-hair snares the hero.  She looks suitably frightening in Adams’ pencils, though the strange dimension she inhabits doesn’t quite get enough attention to be effective.  Just before Green Lantern is crushed by her serpentine hair from hell, Black Canary arrives, and she and the Amazon manage to persuade Medusa to release him, arguing that unjustly slaying a man would stain their honor forever.  With the Amazon’s aid, Hal is able to return them to the real world, where they are reunited with a still skeptical Green Arrow who has certainly never traveled to other dimensions or seen other craziness as part of the Justice League and thus has every right to scoff.

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This is a weird issue.  It’s a fun read, but the treatment of all of its different elements just feels very half-hearted.  There’s an imaginative energy here that is interesting, but it’s put to poor use.  Basically any one of the concepts that O’Neil tosses out in this tale could provide the fodder for a solid plot, but with all of them falling all over one another and competing for narrative space, the result is a mess of half-baked ideas.  We’ve got open contradictions to pretty basic DC continuity in the presence of these ersatz Amazons, who themselves have a really poorly defined ethos.  They hate all men because ONE guy betrayed them?  That seems a bit much.  At least the regular DC Amazons have a pretty legitimate beef with mankind, what with all the murder and mayhem to which they’ve been subject.  The idea of creatures of myth having been locked away is an intriguing one, and it has been given much more thorough development in other instances.  In this case, the whole setup is just far too vague to really work.  All of these elements could really have benefited from stretching the story out over two issues.

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We also have a very uninspiring return of a classic villain, the only actual supervillain we’ve seen in all of O’Neil’s issues so far.  It’s something of a disappointing showing for Hal’s greatest enemy, with his rather ridiculous plan and Ollie dropping him with one punch.  What exactly was the point of having the harpies attack Arrow and Canary?  Just to make them call in the Lantern?  That seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a fairly simple goal.  All of that being said, this issue does have some strengths.  Obviously, Adams’ art is beautiful and dynamic, as usual, but he is really firing on all cylinders with this issue.  I think the more fantastical elements of this tale really brought out his best.  O’Neil, for his part, is doing a much better job with characterization at this point.  Ollie is quite charming rather than being insufferable, Hal is hardly doing any naval-gazing at all, and Dinah is growing into the no-nonsense firebrand that she’s meant to be.  These qualities help rescue the issue from being a complete failure, and I’ll give the confused muddle of half-baked but fun ideas 2 Minutemen.

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That will do it for this batch of books.  I hope you enjoyed the read!  Please join me again soon (I promise!) for the next set of books in March 1971, as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpg2f52ff2370b3a87769869427faeac69darrowhead

I can’t believe this, but I actually missed Green Arrow’s second appearance on the Headcount this month!  That sock to the skull definitely counts, and he joins the august company once more, giving us our only addition so far this month!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello readers and Internet travelers!  This is another iteration of Into the Bronze Age, where I’ll be examining a few books cover dated from February 1971.  Lady Grey and I are bound for Iceland next week for a vacation, so I’m going to try to squeeze in a few more posts before we go, as I imagine I won’t have time while we’re traveling.  So, how about we check out some classic comics?

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 #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Detective Comics #408


Detective_Comics_408“The House that Haunted Batman”
Writers: Len Wein and Marv Wolfman
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Phantom Bullfighter!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Now that is a heck of a cover!  How could you not pick this comic up?  It’s got a haunting image, a provocative mystery, and it just begs to be read.  Sadly, the story inside isn’t quiet as compelling, though it certainly looks lovely with Neal Adams handling the art chores.  It includes the return of a villain that I’ve never heard of before, which surprised me because I thought I knew even the more obscure Batman rogues pretty well.  This adds another little discovery to my Bronze Age journey.

This strange, surreal story begins with Batman, on the trail of his young ward, Dick Grayson, who had disappeared from college 24 hours before.  The Dark Knight has tracked Robin to a creepy old mansion that, strangely enough, wasn’t there the day before!  Inside, he prowls through darkened rooms until he spots the Teen Wonder, who collapses into his arms and then…dissolves into dust!  We get the exact scene from the cover, which is a bit of a rarity.  I tend to enjoy seeing that kind of payoff, but considering how detailed the cover image was, it actually feels like a bit of a cheat in this instance, as seeing the image in the comic doesn’t actually add anything, which it should.

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Anyway, horrified by this sight, Batman recoils, and then he races up the grand staircase to discover the source of a horrible cry that fills the house.  He encounters a room full of bats and a gramophone, but disconnecting it doesn’t stop the sounds.  Suddenly, a gunshot rings out, and the Masked Manhunter takes off after the shooter, only to discover that he’s a phantom figure of Dick Grayson!  The apparition’s shots drive the hero through a trap door and into a darkened room, a room inhabited by his friends in the Justice League, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon, who are all gathered around…his coffin!

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That is a legitimately creepy image.

The Caped Crusader’s friends take turns bashing him, cursing his memory, and suddenly the hero finds himself in a tiny room with the walls closing in.  Just before he’s crushed, the world resolves itself into a very different vision, a high-tech facility, with both Batman and Robin trapped in glass tubes, being bounced up and down.  It is then that the villain of the piece reveals himself to be, Dr. Tzin-Tzin, the Master of Illusion…who I’ve never heard of.  Apparently, he only has a half dozen or so appearances in the Bat books, though he first showed up some fifty issues ago.

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Ironically, the unbelievable, nighrmarish motivations for Dick’s departure expressed here will go on to become the primary characterization of his relationship to his surrogate father.  Yay for modern comics!

He kindly explains that the League of Assassins had hired him to dispose of Batman after the Dark Knight defeated their first operatives.  It’s great to see the League storyline surface again, but Tzin-Tzin isn’t terribly interesting, though he’s plenty dramatic in this tale.  He informs the Caped Crusader that the up and down movement in their tubes will trigger a bomb as soon as either he or Robin hits 100 repetitions.  At the moment, the Teen Wonder is way ahead, so the villain demands that Batman beg and plead with him to spare the young man.  Instead, without a second thought, the hero begins to accelerate his own movement, surpassing Robin and triggering the explosion!

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Instead of being destroyed, however, he stuck to the top of his tube and dropped his belt down to trigger the bomb, then escaped in the smoke.  Yet, Tzin-Tzin won’t allow him to get away that easily, and the Dark Knight is confronted by the villain’s ‘Deadly Dozen,’ which precipitates a really great looking fight where Batman really shows the physical expertise that marks the definitive interpretation of the character.  Once again, Batman plays Captain America, employing a shield to good effect.  Better watch out; Bruce, Cap may sue!

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Adam’s action looks great as the Maksed Manhunter massacres the minions, and just when the remaining members of the Dozen manage to grab the hero, causing Tzin-Tzin to reveal himself in order to deliver the death blow, Robin makes his move!  The Teen Wonder takes the villain out and allows Batman to finish off the last two killers.  The whole scene makes for a good sequence.

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Yet, when the Dynamic Duo escort their captive out to the Batmobile, he suddenly vanishes, revealing himself to still be in the house…which then explodes in spectacular fashion!  Thus, Tzin-Tzin escapes to trouble our heroes another day.

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This is a fine story, with some really nicely disconcerting action in the first, nightmarish portion of the tale.  That bizarre, dream-like sequence is perhaps the strongest element of the story.  While Batman’s escape from Tzin-Tzin’s trap is nicely handled, as is the fight, what is going on with the villain is just not quite established well enough.  He’s a master of illusions, okay, but the final trap doesn’t really jive with that.  I didn’t really get a great sense of what he’s about, other than being a Fu Manchu clone.  That said, the whole is still a fun read, and it’s nice to see Batman and Robin in action together, if only briefly.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Phantom Bullfighter!”


Detective408-21

This was a pretty intriguing setup for a mystery featuring the Danger Dame in an exotic setting, which is something you don’t see too often.  We join the fire-tressed female in Spain, where she has traveled to collect a rare manuscript for her library.  She’s has joined the fellow donating the text, Don Alvarado, who is a rancher involved with the bullfighting tradition.  They are watching a legendary matador who is now in his twilight, El Granados, when he is suddenly knocked down by a bovine belligerent.  The man’s servant, an aged former bullfighter himself, tries to rescue him, but a young upstart leaps out of the stands and begins to distract the bull.  It is a service for which neither the prideful El Granados or the aged Manolo are grateful.

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Later the bullfighter joins Don Alvarado’s party as they head to the ranch in order to pick out some bulls for his next fights.  That night, someone steals El Granado’s sword, and Batgirl spots the shadowy figure creeping about the house, so she flagrantly endangers her secret identity and changes into Batgirl.  She pursues the thief, but he whips his ‘stiff-brimmed hat’ at her, knocking the fighting female out cold!  That’s right, Batgirl gets another slot on the Headcount courtesy of Oddjob!  It is pretty goofy that a hat, however stiff it’s brim, could knock someone out, but we’ll give it a partial pass as there is a precedent.

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Batgirl awakens an hour later and heads back to her room, defeated.  The next morning, they discover that El Granados’ first choice of bulls was killed with his sword!  The strange slaying sets up quite a mystery, as there are endless questions of motives.  Who would kill the animal and why?  The servant, Manolo, promises to guard the sword with his life, so that night Babs thinks there isn’t much chance of a repeat performance, that is, until she spots a sword missing from the wall of the old house.

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This short little tale manages to set up a pleasantly puzzling mystery, and while it is short on action, Robins uses his time wisely by introducing an interesting cast of characters and giving us lots of suspects to choose from.  I’ve got my suspensions about who and why, and I’ll let y’all know if I’m right when we hit the next issue.  Batgirl’s performance is pretty poor, which, as we’ve seen, is unfortunately often the pattern of these Bat-Family backups.  Despite that, this is a good little story, and it emphasizes the ‘detective’ in Detective Comics.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #203


The_Flash_Vol_1_203“The Flash’s Wife Is A Two-Timer!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

KANNNNIGHER!  You made me believe in you!  You made me think that maybe there was more to you than the hack behind those earlier stories, but it was you!  All along, it was you!

What am I raving about, my curious readers?  Well, we’ve reached the notorious issue of the Flash where Iris’s bat-guano insane retcon occurs.  I knew this was coming, but I had forgotten that it was written by Robert Kanigher.  It’s odd enough that a retcon should show up at this early date in the first place, but what lies inside is even stranger, and one can’t help but wonder how it came about.

The story begins with the Flash taking a trip up to the JLA satellite headquarters where he meets an unusually sullen Superman.  When the Scarlet Speedster explains that he came up early because Iris was out of town and he was a bit lonely, Super-grump replies by saying that he’s an alien alone on Earth and questions what Flash would know about loneliness.  Sheesh!  Of course, Superman grew up on his adopted world from a very young age, so the existential angst seems a bit overblown in context.

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Oddly, the Flash answers that he knows more than the Man of Steel thinks, and proceeds to tell a tale about the strange discovery of his wife’s origins.  Apparently, a few days before, Barry had returned home to find the house deserted and a weird note from his wife.  It read, bizarrely enough, “Darling-can’t stop myself–irresistible force–pulling me–1000 years–future-help me…”  In response, the Fastest Man alive rushes to the basement and hops on his Cosmic Treadmill, racing through time  to the year 2970.

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Once there, he sees a hi-tech aqueduct and decides to get a drink, only to be attacked by jetpack wearing guards firing futuristic (but not 1000 years worth of futuristic) weapons.  Dodging their fusillade, the Flash phases through a mountain to escape.  He emerges in what is described as a “self-contained city,” and notes that it had been “atom-bombed,” which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, seeing as its mostly still there and not, you know, just a radioactive wasteland.  I know that folks had a lot of goofy ideas about what atomic war would be like, but for Heaven’s sake, the Atomic Knights tales were more accurate, and those stories were published over a decade before this one!

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Inside the city, the Crimson Comet discovers ragged survivors of a nuclear war…somehow, and finds that conditions are very grim.  As a siren sounds and the place empties, he also encounters Iris, who begs him to leave her and return home!  When he refuses, she tells him her story, which began that morning when she was cleaning up her father’s lab.  She discovered an amulet she had as a baby, and when she picked it up, it began speaking to her!  It’s the record of Jor-El…er…I mean Eric Russel, who was a scientist of Krypton..er…’Earth West’ in 2970.  Earth East had pretty much defeated his hemisphere-nation, and a nuclear attack was eminent, so he and his wife sent their baby Kal-El…err…that is, Iris, back in time to save her.  The Kents…err…I mean, the Wests, had been praying for a child, and she just materialized out of thin air (good thing she didn’t show up inside a wall or something!), so they adopted her.

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After confronting her father about hiding the truth from her, Iris went home, melodramatically wondering if Barry could still love her even though she’s from the future, which is one of the dumbest sentences I’ve ever read, and I teach freshmen composition….in the Trump era.  Anyway, Iris suddenly felt herself sucked through time and just managed to scrawl that note.  Back in the future, her real parents spot her amulet and realize their daughter has returned.  They tell her about the current state of the world, which is really rather unintentionally funny.  Apparently, all the big nations wiped each other out, so the world is now ruled by…Laos.  That’s right!  It’s a hilariously random choice, though I suppose Laos was much more on the American mind in 1970 than in 2017.

Shortly after being reunited, the family is forced to part again when their Earth-East ruler spots Iris through a spy satellite and claims her as his own, announcing that he’ll wipe out the entire city if she doesn’t come with him.  Of course, the Flash isn’t about to let some futuristic fascist carry off his wife without a fight, so he challenges this fellow, Sirik, to a duel when he arrives.  We get some moments between Barry and Iris which are supposed to be sweet, but the context is just so ludicrous that even this old softie didn’t get misty eyed.

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Ming the Merciless…err…I mean Sirik, tells the Scarlet Speedster that he has to get past his men in order to earn the right to face him.  Barry moves at normal speed until he’s out of sight, then proceeds to blitz baldy’s boys.  The action looks okay, but Novick misses the opportunity to make the setting of the city-tower interesting and unique, filling most of his panels with blank backgrounds.

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Finally reaching Sirik, the Flash finds the fiend holding Iris hostage.  Instead of just shooting his antagonist, the dictator tells him to stand behind a wall, for some reason, and then starts to fire.  The Scarlet Speedster slips through the wall and belts the villain.  However, he’s the world’s worst loser and triggers a nuclear holocaust to kill them all in response.  The Flash zips across the world, somehow knowing  where the missiles are launching from, and destroys them all, as well as their missile sites.  This puts both hemispheres on equal footing, and the hero lectures the gathered East and West folks, telling them that they have to learn to live together or risk completely destroying the world.  Finally, the happy couple returns home, promising to visit the future-in-laws from time to time.  The story ends with Super-buzzkill continuing to whine about being all alone (despite the fact that he has a mother, a father, and an adopted sister, not to mention a bunch of bullet-proof, presumably nearly immortal pets).

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Interestingly, the issue includes a note acknowledging that Kanigher just swiped Superman’s origin for Iris, so at least he’s honest about that.  Nonetheless, this is just a silly issue.  The story is just so colossally unnecessary, adding a completely useless complication to Iris’s origins that contributes nothing to her characterization or her relationship, and I’m pretty sure it’s one that rarely if ever produces anything worthwhile in future comics.  If you’re going to create intentional parallels to another story, especially one in your own universe, you really need to do it for a reason.  The ring structure in Beowulf, with mirrored encounters recurring throughout the poem, serves important narrative purposes.  To use a comics example, the origin for Earth-3’s Alexander Luthor Jr. intentionally mirrors that of Superman to interesting effect in Crisis on Infinite Earths, completing the inversion of hero/villain and stretching it all the way back to the beginning/ending in a very clever piece of writing.

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Thanks, Super-Sourpuss!

On its own terms, the tale is just weak, not focusing on the ‘possible future’ angle enough for the parable of East and West destroying one another to have much impact.  There is actually interesting work to be done there, and the fact that the story ends, not exactly with a defeat of the villainous East, though that’s there, but with a plea for peace, could be worthwhile.  Yet, it’s shoe-horned into one panel, and the real consequences of the war are glossed over throughout.  The character moments between Iris and Barry that were supposed to be sweet just come off as silly and saccharine as well.  It feels much more like a story from the 50s or early 60s than it does a comic from 1971, and the final resolution with the Flash just casually jaunting across the entire planet in a heartbeat to destroy the nukes just smacks of Silver Age excess.  The story isn’t terrible, just mediocre and goofy.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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And that does it for today!  We had a solid set of Bat-tales and a ridiculous Flash issue.  I really just can’t figure Kanigher out.  There are several lesser lights working at DC during this period, though there is plenty of amazing talent.  I find myself groaning a bit whenever I see Dorfman’s name in the credits, as he tends to produce pretty silly stories, but Kanigher is a bit different.  He writes goofy comics like this one, yet he can also turn out some solid, even great work.  It’s something of a mystery.  Anyway, I hope you’ll join me again soon for another step in my journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

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Batgirl finally helps Aquaman break his streak as the sole new addition to the Wall of Shame and gets her second spot on the Headcount.  I’m actually a little surprised that the Bat-family hasn’t featured on this list more often, as I remembered the ‘ol noggin’ knock being a common device in these stories.  At least Aquaman has some company at the end of the list now!

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 2)

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Hello folks, and welcome to the next iteration of my investigation of Bronze Age DC comics!  It’s another beautiful day here at Grey Manor, the birds are singing, the sky is cloudlessly blue, and there are comics to be read!  We’ve got a double-dose of Batman today, with a side of something sinister, as well as the sensational Batgirl.  Please join me for a trip through these two books!

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

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


The Brave and the Bold #93


brave_and_the_bold_93“Red Water Crimson Death”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Colourist: Jack Adler
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Within this comic there is a solid and pleasantly subtle ghost story and mystery, but it’s framed by a device that seems more like Bob Haney than Denny O’Neil.  In fact, I had to double check the credits as I was reading.  This issue really drives home the fact that, although we’re getting closer and closer to the iconic portrayal of Batman that will come to define the character for decades to come, we are not quite there yet.  Even O’Neil, who will largely create the Dark Knight that I know and love, has not quite got the character sorted out at this point, and thus this story begins with a really off-beat moment that colored the rest of the book for me.

Curiously, the “guest star” for this issue of B&B is ‘The House of Mystery.’  Bit of a stretch there, DC.  I’m going to have to call shenanigans.  It is to this very house that a desperate criminal runs, pursued by none other than the Batman!  Inside, the House of Mystery host, Cain, plays narrator, a role he’ll continue by tagging along throughout our adventure.  Just as the Masked Manhunter is about to get his man, he trips, falling at the thug’s feet.  The would-be killer pulls the trigger of his pistol, but it jams, and the Caped Crusader lays him out.

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When Commissioner Gordon arrives, he insists that the Dark Knight has run himself ragged in recent weeks, and he argues that even the great Batman can’t keep going nonstop.  Gordon insists, quite pointedly, that the hero take a vacation, even giving him tickets for a cruise to Ireland and insisting he be on it.  The Masked Manhunter finally agrees and sets out on vacation…and the scene is just plain weird to me.  Can you imagine the modern version of Batman taking a vacation?

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Now, far be it for me to speak well of the modern, sociopathic version of the character, but this does seem a bit much.  Just up and taking a cruise and planning to be gone from Gotham for a month doesn’t really seem to fit the character of a man who is driven to pursue justice because of the murder of his parents.  brave_and_bold_v1_093_08It just seems a bit off.  Part of the trouble is the fact that it is Gordon playing the role of caregiver, which doesn’t suit him well either.  If this exchange had happened between Bruce and Alfred, I’d have been much more okay with it.  That could have actually been charming.  In this case, not so much.  What’s more, apparently the Commissioner hands Batman a ticket for a cruise ship, but Bruce Wayne shows up and climbs on board.  Real good work there, Brucie.  Say goodbye to that secret identity!

Anyway, on the cruise itself, the vacationing hero meets a boy named Sean, who is swept overboard during a storm one night.  Bruce dives in to rescue the child, who seems to call out to a face in the storm.  The pair are pulled back onboard, and Bruce discovers his costume in his luggage, despite the fact he told Alfred not to pack it.  Here we have another uncharacteristic moment, as he tosses it overboard, which just doesn’t jive with his motivations.

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More convinced than ever that he needs a rest, Bruce decides to get off the liner at a peaceful, isolated island that also happens to be the home of the boy he rescued.  They go ashore together, and the youth’s family welcomes their visitor very warmly.  Bruce learns that Sean’s parents died mysteriously years ago during an inexplicable red tide that doesn’t fit the usual patterns of the phenomenon.  That night, the billionaire awakens to the touch of a spectral hand, only to discover that he’s somehow dressed in his costume!  What’s more, he sees young Sean walking out of the house, apparently in a trance.  Fearing he’s losing his mind but unwilling to let the boy get hurt, Batman heads out into the night, only to be ambushed by the villagers!

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He quickly disarms them in a solid sequence, and after telling them he’s no threat in the most awkward way possible, (“I dress as I do for…personal reasons!”) they explain that the castle of King Hugh, a king from centuries ago, has become a source of terror for them, and they fear that spirits and worse may be abroad, originating from that ancient pile.  Strangely enough, that is where Sean was headed, and despite bizarre apparitions, the Dark Knight will not be deterred.  He smashes a giant screen which was the source of the visions and rushes into the castle, narrowly avoid the dropping portcullis.  Interestingly, he has a moment of doubt as he’s pursuing the boy, trying to talk himself out of getting involved, which once again seems off for the character.

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That’s some tortuous logic there, Cain.

The Caped Crusader begins to search the medieval fortress, receiving enigmatic, ghostly hints as he goes about it, which eventually lead him to a pair of thugs who helpfully provide exposition.  Apparently, their boss has bought the castle and is trying to drive the islanders out of the village so that he can control the fishing rights in the area.  It’s a bit Scooby-Doo, but they escalate things as well.  They are planning to poison the boy and leave his body for the natives to find in order to seal the deal.  Batman takes the pair out but receives a cut on his arm in the process.

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brave_and_bold_v1_093_24Finally, the Dark knight confronts the big boss himself, though as he saves the boy and takes out the hired help, some poison gets into his wound, and Aloysius Cabot, the somewhat unintimidatingly named villain, plays it cool, waiting for the venom to do its work.  Because this is O’Neil writing, the guy isn’t just a murderer and a crook, he’s also planning to pollute the environment.  The fiend!  Batman’s diatribe about these nefarious doings is super dramatic.  I wonder if he’s been hanging out with Green Arrow too much.  As the hero grows weaker, Adams tries an intriguing experiment, rendering the panels of the villain, representing Batman’s view, in a strange, unfinished fashion to portray the effects of the toxin.  I like, but it took me a moment to suss out.

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Cabot, toying with his victim, tells him that there are two beakers on the desk, one containing an antidote and the other water and offers to let the Masked Manhunter choose.  Losing his battle with the poison, Bats notices the portrait of King Hugh hanging behind the evil industrialist seems to be pointing, not to the beakers, but to a test tube.  Taking a desperate gamble, he drinks the liquid in the tube, and Cabot is incensed that he somehow figured out the trap, as both beakers contained more poisons.  He plans to shoot the still recovering hero, but that same heavy portrait just happens to fall off of the wall, killing him.  Batman is very confused by the events of the night, so many inexplicable, and when Sean awakens on the way home and asks what happened, all he can answer in reply is “I don’t think I’ll ever know!”

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This is a pretty good ghost story, told with a surprisingly subtle touch, other than the apparition in Batman’s room.  It makes for an interesting plot, and I enjoy that much of what happened and why is left unexplained.  The reader can piece some of it together from context, but O’Neil never spells it out.  The third act in the castle is suitably atmospheric and spooky, and of course, Adams’ art is lovely.  Cain’s wry, macabre narration throughout is a fun addition to the story, and I enjoyed his presence more than I expected.

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The only real problem with the story is that incongruous triggering event and the discordant moments of mischaractetrization.  Now, you can argue that they fit in perfectly with the version of Batman that Bob Haney has been writing in this book, but that’s not much of a defense in my opinion, as Haney is just in a world of his own.  At any rate, it isn’t enough to make this a bad story, just enough to keep it from being a particularly great one.  I’ll give this off-beat tale 3.5 Minutemen, as it is a fun read despite its missteps.

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Detective Comics #407


detective_comics_407“Marriage: Impossible”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“One of Our Landmarks Is Missing!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

The return of the macabre Man-Bat finally arrives!  It’s been a while since we last saw Man-Bat, way back in issue #402, which, interestingly enough, ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, as Batman prepared an antidote for his monstrous double that could cure him or turn him into a vegetable.  That cliffhanger has been left…well…hanging all this time.  The human-chiroptera hybrid makes his triumphant return in this issue, which really amps up the insanity of his concept in interesting and surprisingly effective ways.  This is a weird one, yet somehow it works.

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We don’t pick up where we left off.  Instead, the story opens with Batman reading the paper on what we can only assume is an exceedingly slow news day, as the headline proclaims “Bat Exhibit Opens at Museum of Natural History Today!”  It’s bad enough that the bat exhibit at the local museum is your front page story, but is it really worthy of the exclamation point, newspaper?  Anyway, the story catches his attention because the noted bat-expert Kirk Langstrom, a.k.a. Man-Bat, will be hosting the event, which will be followed by…his wedding!  Horrified by this news, the Dark Knight races to the church, desperate to stop this union.  Why?  Is Batman secretly in love with Francie Lee, Langstrom’s fiancee?  No, it’s because he fears she’s being duped.  The Masked Manhunter rushes into the cathedral and, in a great splash page, unmasks Langstrom, revealing the monstrous features of the Man-Bat beneath one of those incredibly life-like masks that are just everywhere in fiction.

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Man-Bat curses his human counterpart’s continued interference, and he takes off for the dark recesses of the Cathedral ceiling, a very fitting setting for this little drama.  The Caped Crusader then turns to the stunned Francie and declares that he couldn’t let her go through with the marriage, but she protests that she loves Kirk no matter what,and  still wants to marry him!  What is going on?!

Fortunately, just as we’re beginning to feel like we’ve missed an issue, Robbins provides us with a flashback.  Just as Batman was about to administer the antidote back in the Batcave, where we left things in #402, the mutated man recovered and escaped, hiding in the dark recesses of the cavern.  The hero brought Francie to the cave in order to try and reach Langstrom’s remaining humanity, but he was too late, as Man-Bat had already fled.

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The Dark Knight gave her a number at which to contact him if her former fiancee returned to her, and that very night, he did.  Yet, when Francie suggested contacting the hero,  her macabre man grew enraged, refusing to give up his powers and questioning her love for him.  He ripped up the number and persuaded her to do things his way.

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With her help, Langstrom disguised himself and completed his work, but that wasn’t the only goal he had in mind.  With another dramatic unmasking, Francie herself reveals that she and Kirk are now two of a kind!  That’s right, she has been changed as well, and with that, she flies up to join her freakish fiancee.

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Realizing that these two are definitely not in their right minds and more than a little concerned about having super-powered mutant bats just hanging around Gotham City (I mean, the place has enough problems already!), the Dark Knight sets out to cure them against their will.  Racing to the bell-tower, the Masked Manhunter is confronted by the flying freaks, and a desperate struggle ensues.  As the hero is being mauled by Man-Bat, he just manages to inject his opponent with the antidote.

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When Woman-Bat presses her attack, he manages to jab her too, and both of them transform back into their human forms.  Batman leaves them together, trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and recover from their horrific experiences.  The story ends on an interesting note, as Bats observes that the love which held them together had been corrupted as much as their bodies, transforming into “an evil obsession.”

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This is a crazy story, yet the Bat-Jekyll and Hyde angle, mixed with twisted love story actually makes for a fairly compelling read.  It moves a bit too quickly, and I would have liked to see how Langstrom managed to mutate Francie.  That would have really helped to establish just how far gone the Man-Bat was into his monstrous nature.   I think giving a page or two to that process would have strengthened the story, but the plot still works.  I find Francie’s devotion touching and more than a little creepy, and Batman’s willingness to put his life on the line to save their humanity is suitably heroic.

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The whole thing has the high-drama feel of one of those old, classic Universal horror films.  Adams’ art, as always, is great, but it is really effective here, evoking an appropriately Gothic and atmospheric feel to the story.  The horror elements come through well, with the grotesque visages of the Man/Woman-Bats and their uncanny revelations.  It’s a good story, even if it doesn’t quite have time to reach its full potential.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.  I’m definitely enjoying these Man-Bat appearances.

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“One of Our Landmarks Is Missing!”


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Our Batgirl backup for today picks up right where we left off last issue.  The hippy terrorist, Mal, as well as the hapless and stupid Shelley Simms, have trapped the Daring Dame in a mined basement.  The resolution to this story is pretty good, definitely a bit stronger than the first inning.  In particular, Babs’ escape from the sepulchral basement is quite impressive, as is her cool-headed planning leading up to it.

She realizes that Mal activated the bombs with the room’s light switch, and she refuses to panic, keeping a clear head and fixing her eyes on the spot where the switch was after the lights go out.  She memorizes its location even though she can’t see, and then she takes off her cape and tries to trip it, hoping that the fabric won’t be heavy enough to trigger the mines.  She comes close, but the cape is so light that it can’t flip the switch!

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Thinking quickly, the Girl Detective takes off her boot and uses it as a weight, which provides enough heft to successfully lift the switch.  It’s a nice sequence, and it emphasizes her intelligence and resourcefulness.  I do have to wonder why she didn’t use a batarang or the like from her utility belt, but that’s neither here nor there.

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Meanwhile, Edward G. Robinson apparently decides to make a cameo in this comic, as a fat-cat building owner in league with the maleficent Mal.  Apparently the heinous hippy has made a deal with this guy, Slavin, to destroy a Gotham landmark that is on the historic building registry so that the developer can build apartments there and turn a tidy profit.

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In exchange, Slavin pays Mal $10,000.  The domestic terrorist argues that he’s just using the bourgeois badnick to fund their activities and ‘the cause.’  Shelley objects, and when Batgirl arrives to break up the bomb bash, the girl actually intercedes to save the heroine.  She gets shot in a fairly striking panel for her troubles!

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In return, Batgirl utterly devastates Mal with a flying blow and a really lovely panel, dispatching the rest of the gang with ease.  Edward G….errr, I mean Slavin runs right into the arms of the arriving police, and despite his attempts to talk his way out of things, the Girl Detective is able to give the cops the whole story.  Fortunately, stupid Shelley survives, and the tale ends on an interesting note, as she doesn’t change her politics, in spite of her ordeal, but does gains a new respect for Batgirl.

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This is a fun story, the highlight being Batgirl’s very resourceful and steel-nerved escape, as well as her take-down of Mal.  The punk was quite hate-able, and it was satisfying seeing him get decked.  I’m intrigued by the story’s ending, which pulls back from condemning youth involvement and walks a finer line than I expected.  We’ve got Shelley perhaps a little less stupid and a little more realistic continuing to pursue her ideals, but in a more constructive way.

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Also, it struck me that Shelley indicated that she and Batgirl were from different generations, which seemed odd to me.  I know Batgirl is out of college, supposedly, since she’s already a librarian, but I would have though that she was JUST out of college, only a few years older than Dick Grayson, which would probably make her part of the same generation.  Anyway, it’s a good little adventure, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, which is about as high as a seven page story is apt to climb.

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And there you have it.  Thanks for joining me today, and I hope you’ll come back soon to see what the next batch of books bears for us.  My next post will include my first foray into Superboy, so…here’s hoping it’s not going to be as bad as I expect!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!