Into the Bronze Age: December 1971 (Part 2)

Howdy folks, and welcome to our second Bronze Age blog post of 2021! I hope the year is treating y’all well so far. Unfortunately, madness continues to rule the day here in the U.S., but you know what is a pleasant distraction from the creeping death of civilization? Comics!

So, let’s continue in our journey Into the Bronze Age!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #407
  • Adventure Comics #413
  • Batman #237
  • Detective Comics #418
  • The Flash #211
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
  • Justice League of America #95
  • Mr. Miracle #5
  • Phantom Strange #16
  • Superboy #180
  • Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
  • Teen Titans #36
  • World’s Finest #208

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


Detective Comics #413


Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

Batman “… And Be a Villain!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Julius Schwartz

Batgirl: “The Kingpin Is Dead!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler and Inker: Don Heck

“The Case of the Careless Caretaker”
Penciler/Inker: George Papp
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

“The Case of the Terrified Tenderfoot!”
Writer: Joe Millard
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

Our first story for this set of books is a pretty darn good one, with an unusual guest star! It features the first appearance of the Creeper in our little journey, though we’re years on from his original debut in Showcase #73, 1968. The character was originally created by Steve Ditko and Don Segall, though he was most often written by Denny O’Neil in this era, as he is in this issue. I’ve always rather liked the Creeper, though he’s never been a favorite of mine. He’s such an oddball that he triggers my innate love of second stringers and z-listers. This yellow-skinned weirdo is a simple enough concept, a Question style reporter-turned superhero, with the twist of also being something of a color-blind Captain America, having been dosed with a super serum. Despite those classic elements, he’s never really caught on or hit the big leagues. Part of that is probably due to his design. While his visuals are certainly striking, they are also just plain weird. That is really rather fitting for the somewhat off-beat and wild personality of the Creeper persona, but it doesn’t necessarily work all that well in practice, especially the red boa. Anyway, perhaps in part because of his crimes against fashion, the solo series the character received in 1968 only lasted six issues, and he had been homeless since then, occasionally popping up as a guest star in other books. He’s a natural fit for a team-up with Batman, as the characters are of similar power levels, yet so diametrically different in style.

This particular appearance of our favorite proto-Freakazoid has a fairly good, effective cover. It’s a nice juxtaposition of the two characters that tells you a bit about them from the start, and I really enjoy the integration of the title into the billboard. It’s a nice composition, I think. The adventure within is similarly well-crafted, beginning with Batman staking out a drug firm, laying in wait for whoever has been hitting similar concerns around Gotham. Imagine the Dark Knight’s surprise when a shadowy figure gets the drop on him, landing several blows before being revealed as…the madly cackling Creeper! The Masked Manhunter certainly gets the worst of the fight, finding his former friend a fierce opponent, inhumanly fast and strong. In fact, Batman takes such a beating that he falls off the edge of the roof, only barely catching his bat-line and saving himself from a fatal fall! Wow! It’s not often you see the Caped Crusader get his head handed to him, especially these days, and by the Creeper, no less! This opening sequence is great, dark, moody, and mysterious, and you really feel the surprise and consternation of the Gotham Guardian as this strange, manically laughing figure overwhelms him!

Well, we rejoin our harried hero in his penthouse where he is licking his wounds and planning for a rematch with his amber-hued antagonist. Meanwhile, in a private facility outside of town, his erstwhile foe reports to an obviously evil scientist named….Dr. Yatz? If you’re familiar with the Creeper, you might recognize that name, as it was a Dr. Yatz who created the formula that gave the fellow his powers, but that redoubtable researcher died in the process. It turns out that this new Dr. Yatz is that worthy’s brother, and he’s promised to reverse the process and ‘cure’ the crazed hero, who has found himself trapped in his super-form, slowly losing his grip on reality!

The bad doctor reveals that he’s just using the poor unhinged fellow to help him recreate his brother’s serum to sell to the highest bidder, and he plans to kill the clown once he’s finished! Fortunately, the Dark Detective is on the case, and the next morning Batman’s research leads him to deduce part of the plot, and he sets out to investigate the facility of Dr. Yatz. He arrives disguised as an old farmer and tries to bluff his way inside, quickly taking out the guard when that fails. It’s a fun sequence that shows off the Masked Manhunter’s mastery of disguise, even if it doesn’t accomplish much.

Inside, the sinister scientist gives the Creeper “the cure,” only to reveal that it was really a deadly poison! When the golden goofball tries to get preemptive revenge, he discovers that the doctor has indeed finished his formula and used it on himself! Weakened, the hero finds himself outclassed, but Batman’s timely intervention turns the tables. Yatz escapes, pursued by his would-be victim. The Caped Crusader follows in turn, his old junker revealed as an undercover hot-rod, and all of them converge at an old bridge where the traitorous tech plans to sell his brother’s formula to foreign agents. The Creeper arrives and clobbers the doctor while the Gotham Guardian tackles the torpedoes.

Yet, the yellow yahoo is still not himself, and in his madness, he threatens to kill Yatz, despite Batman’s pleas. Desperate to keep his erstwhile ally from doing something he’ll always regret, the Dark Knight dives down upon the pair, knocking them both off of their high perch, and sending them into a battering landing below. This knocks both enhanced humans out, and suddenly, the Creeper turns back into Jack Ryder, none the worse for wear! The Masked Manhunter theorizes that the poison interacted with the super serum in his veins, and they cancelled each other out. What luck!

This is a good, entertaining story, with an engaging plot and a pretty interesting guest star in the crazed Creeper, fighting to hold on to his sanity. In fact, the Creeper comes off quite well in this adventure, as O’Neil really emphasizes his speed, agility, and strength, portraying him as a real force to be reckoned with. I quite enjoyed his portrayal here, and I think a more madcap, unhinged costumed identity suits the character better. I like the idea that he really does lose himself a bit when he transforms rather than it just being an act. There’s a lot more potential there.

This yarn moves at a brisk pace, but it never seems rushed, with Batman’s brief investigation a satisfying unraveling of the mystery elements. Each of the heroes gets plenty to do, and there’s lots of fun action. In fact, Novick’s art is really nice throughout the book, but he often brings a sense of dynamic motion and frenetic energy to the fight scenes. He also really captures the Creeper’s unbalanced state in his face work. There are a few places where his figures end up looking awkward, like a moment between the Creeper and Yatz that looks more like a dance-off than a fight, but on the whole, his work continues to be great, atmospheric, and action-packed. I’ll give this quite enjoyable adventure a strong 4.5 Minutemen!


“The Kingpin is Dead”


Our Batgirl backup this month is a solid mystery, perhaps a cut above the largely average adventures we’ve seen from her so far. We join our headline heroine in the company of her father and Jason Bard as the trio arrive to attend the opening screening of “The Stepfather,” a gangster film purportedly based on a real life (alleged) criminal kingpin, Floyd Marcus. Marcus himself is also coming to the screening, accompanied by his hulking bodyguard.

Suddenly, a classic car careens around the corner, and a hand pokes a tommygun out the window, apparently gunning down a member of the crowd! Yet, this is revealed to be nothing more than a publicity stunt, so when another car follows in its tracks a few moments later, the police don’t react until a glasses-wearing gunman repeats the earlier act, only with live ammunition this time! The kingpin is hit, and the car speeds away before anyone can react. In the chaos that follows, Barbara swipes her father’s car and takes off in search of the killers, having recognized the gunman as Marcus’s stepson, Mike, who presumably rubbed-out the real-life “Stepfather” in order to take over his mob. Thanks to her “photographic memory,” she recalls that the young Marcus collects antique cars like the one used in the drive-by.

The girl detective heads to the Marcus estate, getting there ahead of her quarry, and discovers one car missing from the garage. When Mike and his cohorts arrive, they spot Batgirl’s bootprints in the mud outside the garage and immediately and rather improbably deduce that they must belong to the Daredevil Dame. The tale ends with the trio bringing their car into the garage, with Mike enigmatically noting that “She may be the final coffin-nail we need to bury the “Kingpin’s” empire forever!” Strangely enough, once Batgirl sees them, she concludes that she was wrong and that the be-spectacled badman is not the one who killed his father. Dun dun DUN!

The story ends with one of those occasional editor boxes pointing out that they’ve given the readers all the clues and asking if their audience has figured out the mystery. I confess, I’m stumped, and I’m usually both pretty perceptive about stories, as well as being fairly genre-savvy. I’ve read back through this tale several times, but I’ll be darned if I can figure out the twist, so consider me interested! The story itself is a solid setup for a mystery, establishing the premise, setting, and characters with an impressive efficiency. There’s really not much to it, but Robbins makes good use of the space he’s got. On the art front, Don Heck’s work is better in this issue, perhaps because there isn’t much actual action, so we don’t see any of his oddly stiff or bizarrely contorted figures. Instead, it all looks pretty good, dark, atmospheric, and with a fair amount of personality in the faces of his characters. I’ll give this brief bat-yarn an above average 3.5 Minutemen, and will be looking forward to the resolution!


Flash #211


“Flashing Wheels”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Flash I: “The Rival Flash”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Frank Giacoia

Kid Flash: “Is This Poison Legal?”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Dick Giordano

Okay…this comic…it’s hard to know quite where to start. I suppose my first thought is: “why?” It’s such an odd, unnecessary tale, with such a forced, stretched premise, that it’s a bit hard for me to wrap my head around it. I can only assume that roller derbies must have been all the rage in the early 70s, because Bates is clearly trying to cash in on a fad. Now, I have to say, I didn’t expect much from this issue because of its cover, but the yarn within is definitely not what I expected. The cover itself offers us the usual ‘unexpected reversal,’ trope, but it just doesn’t pack that much of a punch. A woman on roller-skates outrunning the Flash? Why, I’m on the edge of my seat. That just doesn’t seem terribly interesting or threatening. This is our menace? A roller-skater? It’s nice enough looking, with Novik and Giordano rendering the figures well, but I can’t say what they’ve rendered piques my interest. And this cover doesn’t really do justice to what lies inside.

It begins on a fun note, with the Fastest Man Alive, Barry Allen, living up to his chronically late reputation, arriving 30 minutes late to a roller derby match his wife is covering. I’ve always enjoyed the ironic quirk that the Flash could do everything in a heartbeat in his superheroic identity, but he was just sort of pokey and slow in his civilian life. It’s a fun bit of characterization. Well, this time his tardiness has kept him from being able to talk his wife out of participating in the violent event herself in an effort to get the inside scoop. Iris does okay until a hulking amazon of a competitor named Kate Krasher sends her careening over the rail, knocking her out. Yet, just before Iris loses consciousness, she seems to see Krasher, not as a gung-ho gal, but as an alarmingly hideous alien!

Heading home, Barry assures his wounded wife that she must have just hit her head, but the next night, the city experiences an earthquake, despite the fact that it sits atop bedrock! As the tremors hit, Barry races around town helping the victims of the shaking in a couple of nice action pieces, though like Superman in our first adventure this month, his speed level is a little ridiculous. At least afterward he has to stop and catch his breath, as he’s run himself ragged with all of his rescues. I do like that touch.

After having done what he could, the Scarlet Speedster heads to the “Science Institute” (I guess Star Labs isn’t around yet), and figures out that the epicenter of the earthquake was…you guessed it, the roller derby rink! As our hero investigates the suspect structure, he discovers that all of the skates have strange devices in their soles. Yet, while he’s snooping about, he gets whanged on the head and knocked unconscious! That’s right, Barry gets added to our Head-blow Headcount! He awakens, bound in a “strangling sheath” that will grow tighter as he struggles, and the disguised alien conveniently explains that her world is dying, so her unnamed and generically evil race needs to build a new one. They plan to do that with the raw materials from the Earth, after they destroy it! How are they going to accomplish that feat?

Well, stay with me now, that’s what the roller derby rink is for. It hides a massive drill, which is burrowing down into the core of the planet. The unwitting skaters were secretly driving the device deeper with every turn around the course, and eventually it will shatter the planet. “Kate” begins what she says is the final skate (one wonders how she plans to escape the planet’s impending implosion), mocking the Flash’s helplessness. However, it’s never wise to count Barry Allen out, and though he can’t move, he cleverly vibrates his body, creating friction between his molecules, generating heat, thus causing the air inside the trap to expand, bursting it. Of course, one imagines that none of that could have been all that good for him either, but it makes sense in a comic book kind of way.

There’s just got to be an easier way to destroy a planet…

Freed, the Fastest Man alive decides to stop the alien plot by pummeling its pernicious perpetrator, thus stopping her from skating and solving the problem…naw, just kidding; he decides to unwind the drill by skating in the other direction. Unfortunately, that is just what “Kate” wanted, and Barry figures this out at the last moment, but calculating that he can’t undo his super-speed screw-up with one pair of skates, he….gets all of the skates. And skates in them. At the same time. Or maybe he just rolls them around the rink. I’m not entirely sure, and the art doesn’t make it clear. Either way, this silly story ends with the villain tripping on the spinning skates, and Barry bets that this probably isn’t the last he’s seen of “Kate Krasher” or her race.

So, who would like a piece of that action? If you’d bet against our hero’s overly hopeful prediction for the future of this particular mort of a menace, your money would be pretty safe. As far as I can tell, neither “Kate’ nor her nefarious but ill-defined race are ever mentioned again. And I can’t say that feels like much of a loss. This is a goofy little tale. I can’t help feeling that, even if you were this desperate to tell a roller-derby story, there had to be a better way to do it. I’m left where I started, wondering “why?” Why would the aliens hide their secret scheme right out in public. They could presumably have just had their own people drive their drill without the run-around of the skating. Just buy a warehouse and drill to your heart’s content, no muss, no fuss!

“Kate” looks somewhat menacing in her monster form, though that is undercut by the fact that she’s still wearing the same jersey. Yet, most of the comic, she’s just running around as a rather burly babe, (who sometimes has a man’s face!). She doesn’t make much of an impression, really, and other than conking the Speedster on the head, she really doesn’t do much, either. Despite the zany and overly complicated premise, there are some fun bits in this story, like Barry’s super speed antics during the earthquake, his escape from the trap, and his deduction of the alien plot. The art is quite good throughout, with Novick and Giordano making a great team. Of course, I’m gathering that Dick Giordano teams well with pretty much anyone. Novikc’s faces are full of detail and personality, even if “Kate” is a bit inconsistent. Barry’s expressions during the roller derby match are hilarious. Nonetheless, this particular adventure is just pretty forgettable, despite its wacky plot. Unless you’re an avid roller derby fan, I don’t think there’s really all that much here that’s worthwhile. I’ll give it 2 Minutemen. It’s not boring, and it’s not ugly, but it is plenty wacky.


Is This Poison Legal?


This month’s Kid Flash story is an interesting one, notable in our cataloging of the influx of themes of social relevance. It is also yet another yarn that features a sympathetic portrayal of a commune, showing the continued influence of the counterculture movement. In fact, that’s where this adventure begins, in a positively idyllic version of a commune where the inhabitants “live with nature” and “are happy, carefree…the whole scene”, which Skeates and Dillin contrast to a squalid and ramshackle village where “there is much poverty, sickness and death”. Of course, at this point in time, the desperate state of the village probably had more in common with most American communes than the rosy setting in the comic. I’m not sure about my dates, but I think that a lot of the communal living experiments, built on half-baked ideals and not much else, were starting to fail by about this point, though I could certainly be wrong.

Nonetheless, as Kid Flash races through the struggling village of Greenvale (do all the settlements around him have color-coded names?), he is approached by two ragged children who say their mother is sick and ask him to help. Unfortunately, even the Fastest Boy Alive can’t outrun the reaper, and he arrives too late to save the ailing woman. Attending the funeral, Wally finds himself troubled, as the woman officially died from “malnutrition,” despite not looking underfed enough for that. In the graveyard, he encounters one of the hippies from the commune, Jeremy, who was the woman’s brother. He declares that the local fat-cat, Alex Sampson, is responsible for her death. According to the young man, Sampson owns almost everything in town, including a chicken farm, where he pumps his poultry full of poison in order to make the birds weigh more and thus sell for more.

With Jeremy swearing vengeance, Kid Flash decides that he better keep an eye on things, and that night he interrupts the angry beatnik as the latter tries to burn down Sampson’s farm. The Teen titans tears away, bringing Jeremy with him, just as Sampson sets out to shoot him down. Together, they hatch a plan to get a state inspect to the farm before the corrupt farmer can hide his crimes. The next morning, Jeremy brings a truck loaded with hippies and fresh food and parks it right in front of Sampson’s store, giving groceries away to the townsfolk. The infuriated industrialist rounds up the local law and has a stand-off with the long-haired set, only for Wally to zoom back into town towing the state inspector, having first taken him to the chicken farm, where he discovered the local tyrant’s toxic secret. The story ends with the inspector presenting Sampson with a warrant for his arrest!

This is a fine little story, hippie hijinks aside. It moves very rapidly, but despite its quick pace, it hits all the necessary notes, which is unsurprising given that Steve Skeates is the scribe. He establishes the conflict and gives us a clever resolution, with the hippies keeping Sampson occupied while Kid Flash fetched the inspector, including a few decent emotional moments. While the plot is solid, the story’s real interest lies in its very Bronze-Age themes. This is clearly another effort at social relevance, which seems to be becoming a focus of Skeates. Once more we’ve got the wealthy and powerful cast in the role of the villain, signalling the growing distrust of the powers and social structures that be. Notably, Sampson seems to own the local law and knows how to game the system, requiring our hero to do more than simply turn him over to the police.

What…is happening with Sampson’s legs in that first panel? Has he suddenly become a marionette?

Yet, in addition to the dominant themes of corruption and illicit wealth, there’s also a focus on nutrition, and Skeates raises questions about the super processed, preservative-filled diet of the average American. While the starving townsfolk of this tale are something of an exaggeration, this is a real and significant subject today, and I imagine that was even more true in the 1970s. Even in the 21st Century, the American diet is probably a good deal less healthy than that of other first world countries, who are a bit stricter about what can be added to their food. I’ve been particularly struck by the difference when I spent time abroad in the last few years.

Dillin and Giordano’s artwork is great, and they capture both emotion and action very well. The backup is full of visual interest, even though there really isn’t all that much action in it. We still get entertaining and humorous scenes like Flash bouncing Jeremy around like a ball in his slipstream. On the whole, this is an entertaining and interesting little story. I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.


Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87


Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Jack Adler

“Beware My Power!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“What Can One Man Do?”
Writer: Elliot S! Maggin
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza

“Earth’s First Green Lantern!”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino

We’ve got a landmark issue of Green Lantern this month, as Denny O’Neil continues to push the envelope, striving for social relevance and innovation in his run. From our cover, I imagine you can already guess what the big news is, as it introduces us to the first Black Green Lantern, John Stewart, who stands proud and defiant in the center of the page. It’s an iconic cover, but not necessarily a great one. Of course, Adams’ art is very good, and his figures are dynamic. The image is a fairly striking one, with John crouched protectively over a helpless Hal, though it doesn’t really have all that much in common with the comic inside. There’s just not much else to it, and so it feels a little empty. Yet, I imagine that is part of the idea, as this is such a big moment that Adams wants to make sure we can’t miss its significance. And make no mistake, this is indeed an important moment.

We’ve seen a few moves at this point towards greater diversity in DC’s Bronze Age books, with Jack Kirby’s introduction of several non-white characters in his Fourth World titles, however awkwardly some of them might be portrayed (I’m looking at you, Flippa Dippa!), and Mal Duncan having (for some reason) joined the Teen Titans. Change was clearly in the air, and with a surprising suddenness, DC Comics had become at least a little more diverse. I imagine this was a very welcome change for many readers. Notably, I remember reading a Green Lantern issue from the late 60s where a young Black reader had written to thank DC for just showing a Black face in a crowd. In other words, this fan had put pen to paper to praise DC for simply showing that folks like him existed. Moments like that really throw the significance of this issue into stark relief. After all, even with presence of characters like the Black Racer or Vykin (called the Black, in case we forget!), there is still a gap between such secondary characters and the true stars of the DC Universe. I can only imagine what that young reader must have thought to see a Black Green Lantern astride the cover of one of the company’s major titles.

Of course, as is usually the case with O’Neil’s run on this book, the premise is rather more promising than the execution. The John Stewart introduced in this issue has very, very little in common with the character who will become a fan favorite in later years. For someone like me, who knew him only from Justice League / Unlimited, the character’s portrayal here was something of a shock. John Stewart is a hero that I had never really heard of when I was reading comics as a boy. I grew up with Hal Jordan as my Green Lantern on Super Friends and the like, and he remains my favorite. In fact, when Bruce Timm was creating Justice League, I started grumbling about the fact that we were getting this other guy I’d never heard of, rather than my favorite GL. Little did I know what a treat I was in for when John Stewart joined that show’s cast. I imagine it was that show’s amazing portrayal of the tough, no-nonsense former Marine, voiced by the incomparable Phil LaMarr, that cemented John Stewart as a great character in the minds of many fans. It certainly won me over, and now he’s a character I would never want to see the DCU without.

Yet, the character we meet in these pages is unlikely to inspire any similar admiration. Our tale begins with Hal Jordan charging his ring “somewhere in Southern California” when an earthquake suddenly rips through the town. He flies out to lend a helping hand, only to discover his backup Green Lantern, Guy Gardner, in a dangerous situation. Gardner risks his life to save a child trapped on a bridge, but in the process he is badly injured and hospitalized. Discovering that he’ll be out of commission for at least six months (yikes!), the Guardians send Hal to look up their next choice for an alternate, John Stewart!

We find Stewart intervening as a pair of policemen hassle some folks on the street. Stewart gives an aggressive officer some attitude and stands his ground until the fellow’s partner pulls him away, pointing out that if he wants to get respect, he has to give it too. The Green Gladiator is unconvinced that this fellow is the right kind of man for the job, pointing out that he’s got a big chip on his shoulder. The Guardians, astonishingly, are unconcerned about his opinions. Obediently, Hal approaches Stewart and makes the offer for him to become his backup, which John accepts. When the Lantern demonstrates his oath, his understudy opines, “Man, that’s pretty corny…except for the part that says ‘Beware my power’!” Given the social struggles going on and the rhetoric of the Black Power movement at the time, that’s both understandable and a little worrisome for someone whom you are handing the most powerful weapon in the universe.

And once Stewart gets a taste of the ring’s power, he does indeed enjoy it, taking to ring-slinging like a natural, though he refuses to wear a mask, declaring that he has nothing to hide. Suddenly, the newcomer gets the chance to try out his skills for real, as they see a runaway fuel truck at the airport. The Emerald Crusader saves civilians while John stops the truck…mostly. He punctures the tank enough to spray an arriving politician with oil, a senator who happens to be a racist jerk. Hal chews his new partner out, and John responds in kind. The argument ends with the veteran GL assigning his protege to guard the senator as both a lesson and a test in putting his duty above his personal feelings.

That night, a gunman takes a shot at the politician, but John refuses to go after him. Yet, while Hal grabs the gunsel, Stewart prevents a second shooter from killing a policeman, eventually revealing that it was all a setup. The first gunman used blanks, faking an attack on the senator by a Black man to stir up racial unrest and support his racist platform, while a confederate outside would kill a cop to create a martyr for the cause. Hal finds himself eating crow as Stewart proves that he was right all along.

So, what are we to make of this important issue? Well, like most of O’Neil’s run, it is ham-handed and rough, but it has a good heart. The biggest problem with this tale is that we really don’t see much of Stewart that makes him an interesting character. He’s pretty two dimensional in this first appearance, and sadly, it’s going to be quite a while before we’re going to see more of him. Once again, O’Neil introduces a concept that really deserves and, in fact, demands more exploration, only to immediately abandon it. There are moments that show us some personality and charm in John, but they are few and far between. Honestly, I think they owe more to Adams’ art than to O’Neil’s writing, like the little moment where John talks about becoming a superhero with milkshake on his lip. It’s a great glimpse of Stewart’s simple, straight-forward, and unpretentious nature, but it’s also one of the only such moments we get.

Once again, we see poor Hal play ideological whipping boy, as he is justly schooled by the newcomer to the book who we eventually see was right all along. But that’s one of the other problems, as the themes of this issue are a little muddled. There’s no particular reason for Stewart to figure out the mystery when Jordan doesn’t, so it makes the other hero seem rather dim. Also, in isolation, Hal would have a good point about the duty of a Green Lantern to rise above their personal politics or preconceptions, but that is undercut by John’s share of the narrative and near prescient perceptiveness. Given that the message John’s role supplants is itself a positive one, rather than the negative ideas straw-manned in previous stories, the whole thing feels a bit uneven, as if there are competing themes and messages here that don’t mesh together well. I think what O’Neil is going for, especially in the last panel’s conversation about how style doesn’t matter, is the idea that the principles and goals of an ideology are more important than the ‘style’, or we might say the ‘tone’ of the group that supports it. I find myself thinking again of the Black Power movement, whose fiery rhetoric and “any means necessary” attitude made many white Americans uncomfortable or fearful, yet which had legitimate grievances and goals as well. Of course, many people at the time had similar fears about the Civil Rights movement as a whole.

In the end, I wish we had gotten to see more of John Stewart and learn more about who he was, beyond the ideology which crowds out all other smaller concerns in this issue. There’s really not narrative space for much else, which is a shame. Of course, Adams’ art is gorgeous throughout, and we get some great personality in the various faces of the main cast, as well as some cool page layouts and perspectives There’s not much to the story itself, and neither the senator nor the plot are really given enough space to be more than background dressing for Stewart’s day out as a Lantern. On the whole, it’s only an average story at best, but its significance and boldness shouldn’t be overlooked. I’ll give this one 3.5 Minutemen, with its historic nature edging it above average.

Wouldn’t it be nice if rhetoric like that of our snake-like senator from this issue had died out back in the Bronze Age? Sadly, instead we’re living in an era where emboldened white nationalists are among those who stormed the capitol. Where’s John Stewart when we need him?


Unusually, we’ve got a Green Arrow backup this issue, rather than the Emerald Archer sharing space with his partner in pigment. It tells an equally unusual tale with interesting implications. The yarn begins with a short recap of Ollie’s history, including his bankruptcy. In the ‘current’ day, the Battling Bowman is frustrated that he doesn’t have the resources to support good causes in Star City, so he sets out to patrol the town to blow off some steam. There’s a fun little moment where we get some ‘man on the street’ commentary about the hero and hear how he’s appreciated by the denizens of his town. Meanwhile, we discover that the current mayor has decided not to run again, and his political party (unnamed, but knowing our hero, we can probably guess!) is thinking about running….Oliver Queen!

What is happening? Where is the dog? How does shooting an arrow vaguely in that direction help? Wouldn’t you like to know?!

During his patrol, Ollie saves a boy’s dog from a speeding train in a panel that is really rather unclear about what exactly is happening, but he leaves the yard frustrated, realizing that the boy was only there because he had no safe place to play. When he gets home, the gets the call asking him to run for mayor, and in a fun sequence, he calls his Justice League pals for advice, and they all tell him the same thing, “don’t do it!” Personally, I think Clark’s got the most practical argument. Feeling like it is a silly idea, the Emerald Archer heads across town to visit Dinah (via rocket arrow!), but he runs into a riot along the way! We aren’t told what it’s about, and Ollie certainly doesn’t know, but in the midst of the violence and chaos, he discovers the boy from his earlier adventure, only to see the young man catch a stray bullet.

The boy dies, despite Green Arrow’s best efforts, leaving Ollie crushed. It’s honestly a pretty touching scene, counterbalanced by Maggin quoting from A Farewell to Arms. Finally, an exhausted and disheartened hero reach’s Dinah’s place and announces that he’s going to run for mayor in an attempt to do some good. Also, he apparently just walks right up to her front door in full costume. Forget being mayor, he is already endangering their secret identities!

This is a pretty good little backup, opening up a really interesting direction for the character. We have seen other DC heroes take on such public responsibilities, like Batman’s extremely short-lived congressional career, which consisted of a single vote. (You guessed it; that took place in a Zany Haney tale, guest starring Green Arrow, coincidentally enough.) Yet, the Dark Knight’s political dalliance is emblematic of such forerunners, in that they were usually brief and had little-to-no lasting impact. I’ll be curious to see if the team actually does anything with this new direction and how long it lasts. Personally, though I am curious to see what will come, I’m a bit wary of this type of tale. I feel like when you get into realistic questions about how much actual good a superhero could do compared to what they could accomplish if they put their resources to work on actual social problems, you are getting into the philosophical weeds and missing the point of the fantastical setting and archetypal power of such tales. There are plenty of ways to explore such themes, but I don’t really know if stories about a guy who dresses like Robin Hood and fights crime with gadget arrows is necessarily the best forum for doing so.

This is not to say that comics ‘shouldn’t be political’ in the terms of the current controversy, because, of course, they already are and always have been. Instead, I just mean that the superhero genre, and especially the major universes like DC and Marvel, don’t really lend themselves to stories that strain for this level of political realism, because it opens the doors to so many questions that the setting just isn’t geared to answer. When you bring in this level of realism, the fantasy of super-powered people throwing cars at each other, causing millions in damages over thousands in stolen goods, doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. This is, essentially, a wondrous setting, a world where a solar-powered sun god can turn into a paragon of virtue by being raised with good values, rather than succumbing to the classic temptation of absolute power, as would be infinitely more likely. It’s an inherently hopeful concept, and I think it works best with stories that take advantage of that hopeful (and, let’s face it, unrealistic on more than one level) tone.

The story itself is solid, even a little touching, and it asks some interesting questions about the role of superheroes in problems that don’t involve garishly-clad madmen or invading aliens. It’s fast-paced, but there is just enough time for each of the elements to work, with Maggin letting us meet the unfortunate kid before he croaks, allowing that moment to have some more significant weight. It’s brief, but effective, and while I prefer a more light-hearted take on Green Arrow to the relentlessly down-beat portrayal in this run, Ollie himself is becoming well-drawn and interesting, having grown much more likable since we started.

The art, of course, is great, with Adams succeeding in giving a lot of the more melodramatic moments appropriate emotional weight. Seeing this tale in context of the previous one, I’m reminded again of how much more suited Adams is to stories of this scale. His city-scapes and realistic action fit Green Arrow and Batman so much better than the much more fantastical characters like Green Lantern, who just feels completely wasted when dealing with random gunmen and petty crooks on the scale Adams does best. On the whole, I’ll give this effective little morality play 4.5 Minutemen. It is, perhaps, particularly poignant today, at least for those of us in a country whose leaders refuse to take responsibility for their actions or wield their power with principle.


Well friends, that will do it for this set of comics, and a very interesting set it is! We’ve experienced the fun, the forgettable, and the fascinating. In a sense, our socially conscious tales from Green Lantern feel quite timely, a I am reading them during our own time of unrest and in light of our own social crises. I can’t help but wish that the political leaders of our day were as concerned about using their power responsibly and effectively as the fictional fellow who wears a Robin-hood hat and regularly fight gun-toting bad guys while armed with nothing more than a bow and arrow. The comparison, however silly, is not flattering to many of the folks in charge these days. But despite the pressure of our current problems, I found these comics a very pleasant escape, especially the Batman adventure with the Creeper. I hope that y’all have enjoyed this part of the journey as well and will join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: December 1971 (Part 1)

Happy New Year! I imagine we’re all very happy to greet 2021. I know that I’ve never been quite so happy to say goodbye to year, at least! And what better way to start the new year than with Bronze Age comics? Well folks, welcome back to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age! I’m excited to get into the December cover-dated books of 1971. Glancing at the cover gallery, it looks like we’ve got some fun stories in store of us! In fact, we’ve got a pretty darn good set of comics in this batch. There are some fun surprises and some real winners in this set. So, without further ado, let’s get started with what was going on in the world in December of 1971!

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


This month in history:

  • The Cambodian Civil War intensifies, with conflicts between government forces and Khmer Rouge rebels.
  • Soviet space probe Mars 3 is first to soft land on Mars
  • Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujeira, Sharjah, and Umm ak Qiwain form United Arab Emirates and declare independence from the UK
  • President Nixon commutes Jimmy Hoffa’s jail term
  • The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 begins after Pakistani strikes in Northern India, which connected to the Bangladesh Liberation War
  • West German Chancellor Willy Brandt receives the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Multiple bombings and clashes in Ireland that claim several lives, including several IRA members being caught in the blasts of their own bombs
  • The Pakistani Army executes over 1,000 people in a genocidal ethnic and ideological purge of East Pakistan
  • India and Bangladesh win their wars, and Bangladesh achieves independence
  • Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) formed by Jesse Jackson
  • USA and Russia continue nuclear tests
  • Important films released this month included the horrifying A Clockwork Orange, which says something about the zeitgeist of the age, though I hesitate to say precisely what

The Troubles in Ireland escalate a great deal this month, with bombing after bombing and violence abounding. What a terrifying time that must have been for those who lived through it, never knowing if a simple visit to a pub might end in injury or death. On a more positive note, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan this month, thanks in part to the support of India. In the US, things seem to have been fairly quiet as the nation approached Christmas. I wonder what that was like!

This month’s top song is the funky “Family Affair” by Sly and the Family Stone, which is apparently beloved but didn’t really grab me.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #407
  • Adventure Comics #413
  • Batman #237
  • Detective Comics #418
  • The Flash #211
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
  • Justice League of America #95
  • Mr. Miracle #5
  • Phantom Strange #16
  • Superboy #180
  • Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
  • Teen Titans #36
  • World’s Finest #208

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


Action Comics #407


Executive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artists: Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson

Superman: “The Fiend in the Fortress of Solitude”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Atom: “The Challenge of the Expanding World (II)”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler and Inker: Alex Toth
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Superman: “The Planet of Prey!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We begin the month with a rather typical Superman yarn, replete with secret identity drama and over the top super-feats, though Bates manages to make it a readable enough tale out of these conventional ingredients. The cover is pretty much faithful to what we find inside, though the device of having Supes spying the characters outside the fortress and the attendant rock wall makes it a bit muddy. It’s a solid if unremarkable cover, which is fitting for the story within.

The adventure begins with a small plane in peril, as its pilot struggles to bring it in for an emergency landing in the frozen north. In fact, as it noses in for a crash landing, we discover that the misplaced plane has actually touched down at the foot of the Fortress of Solitude! Fortunately for the pilot, Superman happens to be at home and rushes the fellow to an Alaskan hospital (one imagines Iceland would be closer to the North Pole). However, it turns out that this seemingly innocent airman is actually a notorious criminal the Metropolis Marvel once put away. The hero remembers his face, but too late, as the scofflaw had already stolen a plane and escaped.

Unbeknownst to Superman, the flying fugitive, Michael “King” Andrews has gotten away with the knowledge of the location of the Fortress of Solitude, and he proceeds to plot to rob the place as his revenge, recruiting his son, Mike Jr., who is living at a reform school. In a relatively effective bit of characterization, we discover that the boy is actually starting to turn his life around, enjoying the trust he’s earned at the school, but he feels like he can’t let his father down. Of course, the kid’s possible redemption doesn’t seem to have sunk in all that well, as he happily kidnaps Clark Kent at gunpoint for his father. I guess his qualms aren’t all that serious after all. Kent, playing possum to protect his secret identity and thus establishing the pattern for this story, is brought to an abandoned airfield, where they meet the third member of this criminal conspiracy, a mysterious electronics expert that Mr. Mild-Mannered realizes is wearing a disguise!

The quartet fly to the Fortress of Solitude, with “King” putting all the others to sleep, even his own son, remarking that a criminal can’t trust anyone. Once there, the electronics expert, Slesar, disables Superman’s security, and they break in (somehow without the gigantic key). Apparently the man-sized keyhole passes entirely through the door, which rather seems to defeat the purpose! Once inside, they lock Clark up and leave the boy to guard him, but a series of emergencies popping up around the globe force the undercover hero to create various distractions, allowing him to slip out and save the world, flying all the way around the globe, putting out fires and saving submarines (poaching in Aquaman’s domain there!), all in a matter of seconds, which is just plain ridiculous.

The power level of the Silver Age Superman certainly seems to be back to its full extent, and it is just plot-breaking. If the Man of Steel can zoom around the entire Earth and carry out various incredibly complex tasks, all in under ten seconds, than he certainly could have just zoomed away and captured the intruders without giving away his identity. This kind of thing rather bothers me. I’m fine with Superman using his super speed to zoom across a room and back faster than the eye can see, but when he does that on a planetary scale, it’s just too much!

Anyway, overblown power levels aside, the adventure comes to a head when “King” tells his son, worried about an apparently trapped Clark Kent, that he was just going to kill the reporter anyway, as ruthlessness is also required of a successful crook, a sentiment that “Slesar” shares, unfortunately for his partners in perfidy. The electronics expert reveals himself to be…Lex Luthor! It isn’t all that much of a surprise, but the revelation is still fun, and Luthor is truly nasty here, as he’s planted a bomb in the Fortress and plans on killing both the Andrews pair in cold blood to keep them from warning the Man of Tomorrow! “King” isn’t one to take such things meekly, however, and the two shoot it out, with Luthor”s lethal laser laying his foe low. That gives us another on-panel murder! The Comics Code Authority folks must have been asleep at the switch.

Just then, Superman returns and captures his nemesis (with a tap!), disposes of the bomb, and comforts the young Mike, who now sees the error of his ways and wants to avoid his father’s fate. Interestingly, the tale ends with the Action Ace asking Luthor if he truly hated him enough to sacrifice his own life to kill him, and Luthor’s sullen reply, “You know the answer to that, Superman” shows a surprisingly vicious portrayal of the character, which is striking.

Well, this was a solid, if unremarkable, story. The plot was pretty simple, with the secret identity antics, though fun to see thanks to Curt Swan’s lovely pencils, not terribly interesting to read. Yet, the different unique elements help it to stay entertaining. The understated arc of the young hoodlum, Mike Jr., and his discovery of his rotten father’s true character leading to his transformation is actually quite effective. Bates does a lot with those characters with very little “screen time”. Luthor’s plot and his cold ruthlessness are also an interesting addition, really marking him as an effective and threatening villain. It helps that he straight-up kills “King”, which is still a rarity in this era. Swan’s art is good throughout, and Superman’s side trips are quite striking. The ultimate result is a fine read that I enjoyed better than I expected. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as it is a little above average thanks to the subplots.


The Planet of Prey


This month’s backup is a lot more creative than our headline tale, resulting in a clever and interesting little sci-fi superhero adventure. It begins with the Action Ace returning home from a mission in space when he encounters a strange planetoid that veers into his path. When he approaches it, he finds himself besieged by the telepathic ‘squawking’ of a flock of alien avians. They swarm about the Man of Steel, but he easily and relatively gently dispatches them. Heading down to the surface, he discovers that the seemingly barren world has suddenly transformed into a miniature copy of Krypton, complete with micro-sized versions of his birth parents, Jor-El and Lara! They beckon him down, but Kal-El realizes they obviously can’t be his parents and heads back into orbit, feeling strangely drained from the effort.

And this brings me to the small but crucial detail that really made me appreciate this yarn. Bates throws something strange and intriguing at his hero, but he still has Superman behave like a rational, intelligent person rather than a gullible idiot. In the typical version of this type of plot, characters who have seen illusions masquerading as loved ones hundreds of times seem to instantly and foolishly believe the evidence of their eyes and ignore the impossibility of the situation, doing intensely stupid things as a result. I really enjoyed that Bates didn’t go the way I expected when I saw fun-sized Jor-El. Instead, our Kryptonian traveler is confused and suspicious, which is the rational response to such a sight, and I appreciate that type of logical consistency.

What gorgeous work Swan did on the faces of Kal’s parents! He really packed a lot of personality into these two.

Anyway, once back in space, the Metropolis Marvel looks down to see that the world has now turned into a scale version of the Earth, complete with a tiny crumbling Metropolis and bite-sized Jimmy and Lois trapped within. Even then Superman doesn’t just rush in like a moron, but perplexed, he lands nearby, and then the trap springs! The illusion vanishes and the very soil seems to reach out to swallow him as the gravitic pull of the world suddenly increases a thousandfold!

In another clever moment, the Man of Steel tries to emulate the Fastest Man Alive, trying out his friend The Flash’s vibrating trick to escape. It isn’t enough, but just then he begins to hear telepathic messages of hope, and the alien birds from the beginning of the story arrive and break him free. They explain that he is now vibrating at their wavelength, enabling them to communicate with him. They tried to warn him off earlier, but he thought it was an attack. Apparently they live in a symbiotic relationship with this strange, predatory planetoid, which uses psychic illusions to lure in unwary spacefarers in order to consume them. Superman wonders why they would deprive themselves of sustenance, but surprisingly, they inform him that it was a purely mercenary action, as they have learned that the world becomes unhealthy for them when it consumes sentient life!

What a fun, creative, and unusual story! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I love that Bates told a story that maintained psychological realism and logical consistency, creating actual. reasonable motivations for his protagonist instead of having things just happen ‘because of plot.’ Even better, the central concept, although not completely unique, is interesting, and he really does keep you guessing as the adventure unfolds. I also love that last touch, that the alien creatures saved our hero, not because of altruistic motivations, but simply out of self-preservation! It’s a simple story, but it’s quite well crafted with a lot of small but significant creative touches. The art, of course, is lovely, and Swan gets to stretch his creative muscles with the alien creatures, doing a good job of rendering the different scales of his hero and the illusions. I’ll give this brief but high quality little outing 4.5 Minutemen!


Adventure Comics #413


Supergirl: “The Walking Bombs!”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Bob Oksner
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editors: Joe Orlando and Mark Hanerfeld
Cover Artist: Bob Oksner

Hawkman: “Earth’s Impossible Day!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Zatanna: “Zatanna the Magician!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler/Inker: Gray Morrow
Editor: Joe Orlando

Robotman: “The Robot Ghost!”
Penciler/Inker: Frank Bolle
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

Our Adventure Comics headline tale this month is an odd collection of elements that don’t quite fit together. It has some really charming touches, though, and Albano manages to give this Supergirl adventure some unique personality for the Maid of Might. All of this lies underneath a striking but strange cover. Our central image is pretty arresting, but it also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We’ve got a four-armed robotic walking bomb dressed up in a suit, apparently robbing a bank. If you were to take way the extra appendages, this would work reasonably well, capturing a moment of shocking discovery. However, if you think about the image for a minute, it make so no real sense. If you’re trying to pass off your android as a person, why in the world would you give him an extra set of arms? Other than that detail, which continues to bother me in the story itself, it is a nice-looking cover, which communicates the peril reasonably effectively.

The story begins with Linda Danvers rushing through town on some vital errand…specifically, she’s trying to get to a sale at a department store! In a fun detail, she thinks to herself that she can’t use her super speed to beat the rush because it wouldn’t be fair to the other shoppers. We join the disguised Girl of Steel as she tries on some different outfits, and the fashion themes of this book continue as Art Saaf indulges his inner fashion designer. Unfortunately, our young heroine indulges in a bit too much bargain hunting and has to head to the bank, only to discover that the place is being robbed! What’s more, the thief is a four-armed robot of all things! The Girl of Tomorrow ducks into a convenient alley and begins to change, only to discover that she’s got an audience in the form of a resident bum, who is quite happy to extend her hospitality. She is in too much of a hurry to find a handy telephone booth like her cousin, so she shoves the voyeur’s hat down over his eyes and completes her transformation into Supergirl. This whole exchange cracked me up. This is a hilarious and fun little scene that adds a sense of whimsy to the tale.

Once inside the bank, the Maid of Might is confronted with the towering android, who announces that if she interferes with his heist, he will blow the surrounding city blocks to smithereens! Just then, a young boy attacks the bank-robbing bot for stealing his mother’s deposit, and when the machine is about to strike the kid, it suddenly hesitates, and instead returns the money. How odd! Having no real choice, Supergirl lets the android escape in a flying sphere. She trails the fleeing felon to a secret underground lab, smashing in to find a turtleneck-wearing mad scientist who traps her in an electrical cage. The mastermind warns the Girl of Steel that if she breaks out, it will set off bombs in San Fransisco! As an aside, I hate it when writers mix real American cities with the usual DC geography. It blurs the lines of the setting, in my mind.

At any rate, our villain starts to monologue, and it is at this point that the major discordant note of the story enters the equation. The machine-making mad scientist tells his superheroic guest his tale of woe. His name is Robert Meekly, and he was a banker whose son suffered an accident that left him blind. The boy’s only hope was an operation that would cost $25,000, an astronomical amount for his hapless father. Meekly tries everything to raise the money, but his last hope, the president of his bank, refuses his loan, despite the fact that he’s served faithfully for 15 years. So, the desperate father does what he has to do and steals the money, going to prison as a result, but not before he gets his son the operation. To make things worse, while he was imprisoned, his wife took his son and disappeared.

Okay, now just hold on a minute…apparently our mad scientist learned robot building and bomb making…while working in a bank? Really? I know that super-science is easily accessible in the DC Universe, but come on! This is just ridiculous! Well, balmy bona-fides aside, the unfortunately named Meekly has come to deserve a less harmless name, as he now plans to get his revenge by robbing and blowing up banks across the country. He leaves our hobbled heroine to carry out his sinister scheme, and she prepares to escape, only to discover that her on-again-off-again powers are conveniently off again. Despite this limitation, the resourceful Supergirl manages to short out the electrical cage with a hair pin, which is another fun touch.

She interrupts Meekly’s machinations, only for him to try to strangle the powerless powerhouse! Even without powers, Linda is no pushover, and she breaks free. Then her powers return just as conveniently, and she smashes through the robotic roughnecks, but not before the mad Meekly manages to release some of his death machines, targeting two banks. The Maid of Might tells the irate inventor that his son is actually the teller at one of those banks! Meekly suddenly realizes his terrible mistake and agrees to help Supergirl stop the walking bombs. They split up, and he does indeed manage to capture his robotic bomber, but it blows up before he can dismantle it. While searching the wreckage, the authorities find the medal that Meekly was constantly playing with, and they realize that it was a little league award for his son.

Well, on that cheerful note, our tale ends, and we find ourselves with a discordant mixture of elements that just don’t really add up to a coherent whole. We’ve got a charming, off-beat opening, a tragic origin for our villain that doesn’t match his eventual M.O. at all, and then that downbeat ending. The banker-turned-supervillain mad scientist just doesn’t make any sense, but the basic plot is pretty straight-forward and works reasonably well. I find the little details of Supergirl’s shopping spree and changing challenges quite charming, and Albano seems to have a solid handle on her characterization. It seems that some of the themes that we’ve seen in this run of the series are continuing, with an ongoing emphasis on fashion and a uniquely feminine touch to some of the plots. That’s interesting, and I still find myself wondering just how much of the book’s contemporary audience was female and how well this focus worked. Despite those positive elements, I am already getting tired of the disappearing superpowers gimmick. I’d like to see more made of this or it wrapped up already. On the art front, Saaf’s pencils are quite pretty throughout, and he injects a ton of personality into his characters. I suppose this more or less all evens out, and I’ll give the whole kit and caboodle an average 3 Minutemen.


Zatanna the Magician


The highlight of the book and, quite possibly, the month, is this brief backup tale with Zatanna. It’s great fun, and boy is it gorgeous with Gray Morrow doing the art chores! It begins with our heroine’s retired father, Zatarra, researching “the realm of the supernatural” when he is ambushed by some spectral spooks who creep out of the woodwork in his study. Meanwhile, the Maid of Magic herself is in the basement talking to her manager, Jeff, trying to convince him that she should use legerdemain instead of her actual magical powers in her stage show. In a fun little sequence, Zatanna explains that, while real magic is very easy for her, almost like cheating, illusion takes skill and practice.

The pair head upstairs to get some coffee, only to be ambushed by her mind-controlled father, who banishes them into another dimension! The Mistress of Mysticism finds her powers outclassed and unable to transport them back, so they go in search of a natural “dimensional juncture” or meeting place between dimensions. She whips up a flying carpet, and away they go. Unfortunately, they suddenly find themselves under fire by a gang of barbarians. They land, and Zatanna whips up a sword and shield for Jeff, who objects that he doesn’t know how to use them. In a great sequence, the pair manage to hold their own for a few minutes but eventually get overwhelmed. Our tale ends with both dimensional exiles unconscious and in the hands of the barbarians, who remark that “the Master” will be pleased with them.

This is a great little story, just full of interest and color. It gives us an intriguing, all-too brief glimpse of the daily life of the magical pair and sets up an equally intriguing adventure, with Zatanna swept away into strange environs by her bewitched father. There’s some good action, some creative designs, and some nice character touches, with some good banter between The Maid of Magic and her manager, all packed into only 7 pages. Also, I’m tickled that the manager apparently gets his wardrobe from the same place as the ever-fashionable Geoff from Supergirl’s supporting cast, as he is dressed in the height of groovy 70s fashion. Of course, bringing all of this to life in inimitable style is Gray Morrow, who’s work is just plain lovely, while also being dynamic and full of energy. There’s never a panel where the characters are simply still and static; someone is always moving or interacting, with hair waving about or clothing in motion. It’s pretty impressive. The whole makes for a great story, and the only real problem with it is that there should be more of it, which is a great problem to have! I’ll give this delightful little adventure 4.5 Minutemen. I feel like Zatanna is a character with a lot of potential, but I’ve never really read a solo story with her, so I am quite looking forward to seeing more of her adventures!


Batman #237


Executive Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

“Night of the Reaper!”
Writers: Dennis O’Neil, Bernie Wrightson, Harlan Ellison
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Screaming House”
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencilers: Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson
Inker: Bob Kane
Letterer: Jerry Robinson
Editor: Vincent Sullivan

Our Batman issue this month is, as usual, a cut above the average stories we’re seeing. It’s a pretty cool tale, with a fun setting and a surprising subject, though it has a bit of a tone problem, bouncing between spooky and funny, light hearted and heavy. We’ve got a pretty good cover, which is not much of a surprise from Neal Adams. It features a nice, menacing figure threatening Robin, creating good tension and interest, though the red background is a bit overpowering, I think.

The comic itself begins with a really striking splash page, featuring Batman pinned to a tree with a stake! How could this be? Well, it will be a little while before we get an answer, as we jump to a delightful two-page spread featuring Robin and three of his friends (who never get named, oddly enough), visiting the comic-famous Rutland Halloween Parade, which provided an opportunity for backdoor crossovers between DC and Marvel Comics in the Bronze Age. This real world phenomenon was a superhero themed event in Rutland, Vermont, which local writer and comic fan Tom Fagan, promoted in both DC and Marvel comics, featuring many attendees dressed as their favorite comic heroes, including comic book professionals. In the 70s, beginning with Avengers #83, both DC and Marvel creative teams began to use the event as a setting for unofficial crossovers between their characters. This Batman yarn is the second such and the first from DC.

Robin and his friends, who are apparently subtle cameos by comic creators (left to right, I think) Bernie Wrightson, Gerry Conway, and Alan Weiss, which is a really fun detail that I didn’t know until I started researching these “crossovers”. One of these friends, Alan, if my identification is correct, is a bit wacked-out because he’s been up for three days cramming for exams (and maybe taking stimulants more powerful than coffee!), and he’s obsessed with the floats. Also in attendance are costumed revelers dressed as such mixed Marvel and DC stars as Captain America, Hawkman, Havok, a bespectacled Aquaman, and a portly Man of Steel, among others. Unfortunately the festivities are interrupted by a fight, as three men jump a parade-goer dressed as….Robin! Dick and his buddies (minus the distracted Alan) charge over to even the odds, a concept that I always appreciate in fiction. Mr. Terrific would be proud!

Though the good Samaritans’ hearts are in the right place, they’re a bit outclassed, and soon Dick’s buddies get bashed, and he’s left to handle the situation by himself. He’s also got to do it without giving away his secret identity by fighting too well. He gets two of the toughs, but then Alan stumbles into him, giving the third an opening. Suddenly the Teen Wonder finds himself kissing pavement as the punks escape (I’m going to say that this doesn’t count as a Headblow for the Headcount, as Dick maintains consciousness). The roughed-up Robin replacement reveals that he doesn’t know what caused the attack, leading the real Robin to conclude that someone may have actually meant to target him, as the gunsels seemed like professionals. Slipping away, he dons his costume and starts to investigate, soon stumbling upon the transfixed Caped Crusader from our opening scene.

Tremblingly, the horrified hero approaches the tree, only to discover that the hanging form is not his pierced partner but a pegged party-goer in a Batman costume. As the Teen Titan tries to gather his wits, he’s attacked by the grim reaper, or at least a reasonable facsimile! Robin dodges a blow but trips on a rock and plunges over the cliff-side, striking his head on the rocks below (Man, Dick is really not coming off too well in this story, is he?). Fortunately, Batman arrives in the nick of time and pulls his imperiled partner from the drink before he drowns. The Dark Knight takes his sore sidekick to Tom Fagan’s house, where there is a Halloween party in full swing.

There Dick is treated by an aged German physicians, Dr. Gruener, who helps the Masked Manunter explain what he’s doing in Rutland. Apparently the doctor is a survivor of a concentration camp, a camp run by an escaped Nazi war criminal nicknamed “The Butcher.” They suspect that he’s hiding nearby, as the doctor having learned his former tormentor was in town. They hope that, since the Nazi was obsessed with masquerade parties, the superhero shindig of Rutland might lure him into the open. However, to complicate matters, Schloss, “The Butcher”, stole some gold from his fellow Nazis when he fled the sinking ship that was the Reich, and his former friends have found him as well and have dispatched a hit-squad to handle him.

That’s Tom Fagan in the top panel, who apparently always stayed in character during the parade

Leaving Robin to recover, Batman heads out into the party to search for his quarry, and here we get some more fun cameos. Not only do we see a rather homemade Thor costume, but we also see Spider-Man, or rather, “Webslinger Lad.” In addition to the mighty Marvelites, Denny O’Neil himself is chatting with Thor, while Len Wein, looking like Cain from House of Mystery, provides snide commentary nearby. This is another great little meta touch. However, if you notice it, it does detract a bit from the search for a Nazi war criminal. On that subject, the Dark Knight heads outside, and finds the reaper’s latest victim with the help of the still dazed and confused Alan. While continuing his search, the Caped Crusader notices a light in the tower of Fagan’s house, a light being used as a signal. The Masked Manhunter ambushes a few of the Nazis hunting his target in a sequence that is a bit cooler in premise than in practice, as Adams’ art doesn’t quite capture the action like you’d expect, but he makes up for it in the following pages. Batman hauls one of the assassins out a window and dangles him off a roof to interrogate him. The fellow confesses that they planted a bomb in the traitor’s car, which explodes, killing “The Butcher”, despite Batman’s best efforts. It’s a really rather spectacular sequence.

The Dark Knight is angry and frustrated, and when Robin tries to comfort him, he lashes out, telling his partner that the case isn’t over, as the Nazis don’t account for all of the killings. But he knows who does. The Gotham Guardian sets out on a grim business, tracking down the Reaper, who he finally confronts, calling him by name….Dr. Gruener! The Holocaust survivor acknowledges the truth of Batman’s declaration, explaining that he simply couldn’t let “The Butcher” get away without getting his revenge, revenge for his entire family who died in the camps. He reported his discovery of the Nazi to the authorities, but then he thought better of it and tried to kill anyone who he thought might get in the way of his exacting his own revenge, like the Dynamic Duo. The Masked Manhunter struggles with his sympathy for the Doctor and his quest, but he ultimately rejects the sentiment, proclaiming that no man has a right to play judge and jury by himself (which is a nice character moment and a key component of who Batman is).

The pair struggle, but their fight comes to an unexpected and tragic conclusion when Alan wanders back into the scene, still dazed and confused. He bumps into Gruener as the older man is running across a dam, prompting the desperate doctor to prepare to kill him, only to see the Star of David the young man is wearing and finally realize that he was himself becoming a monster like the one who destroyed his family. Staggering blindly backwards, the doctor falls to this doom on the ground below as Batman looks helplessly on. It’s a really well-executed moment, and Adams’ art is superb.

This is a good story, though it is a bit uneven in tone, with moments of comedy, clever cameos, horror, and tragedy all fighting for space and balance. You can certainly have comedic beats in a story that tackles serious themes (the Marvel movies have turned that into an art form), but it feels incongruous here, especially because the transitions between those moments are a little too sharp and because O’Neil is dealing with just about the heaviest of heaviest themes, the Holocaust. Once again, he deserves some credit for tackling a pretty dark and serious topic for this era of comics, and he does some good work with it, making the camp survivor, Dr. Gruener sympathetic and tragic in fairly little space. Apparently it was Harlan Ellison’s idea to write a story on that subject, which is why he gets the credit at the beginning of the issue.

On the lighter side, all of the cameos and the Rutland setting itself are really fun. I can only imagine what a thrill it was as a young fan to see Thor sharing the page with Batman, even if only as a joke. It would be several years before there would be any official crossovers between DC and Marvel, so this would have been an exciting and almost unprecedented experience. Of course, Adams’ art is quite good, moody and dynamic, really delivering on the tension and action in many scenes, but there are also a few places where his figures or poses end up looking a tad odd, which is unusual for him. All-in-all, this is a good and entertaining read, even if it doesn’t quite come together. I’ll give it a solid 4 Minutemen.


That will do it for this set of stories, and a fine set it was! I hope that y’all enjoyed my coverage as much as I enjoyed writing it! Please join me again soon for the next batch of books as we continue our voyage Into the Bronze Age!


Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 4)

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Hello Internet travelers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  It’s time to explore some more classic, Bronze Age DC comics, and we’ve got a pretty interesting trio of titles to talk about this time.  We have a significant issue of The Haunted Tank’s harrowing adventures, a cool and unusual issue of JLA, and finally another frantic feature of the Fourth World!  Let’s dive right in, shall we?

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 #406
  • Adventure Comics #412
  • Batman #236
  • Brave and the Bold #98
  • Detective Comics #417
  • The Flash #210
  • Forever People #5
  • G.I. Combat #150
  • Justice League of America #94
  • New Gods #5
  • Superboy #179
  • Superman #244
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
  • World’s Finest #207

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


G.I. Combat #150


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“The Death of the Haunted Tank”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor/Cover Artist: Joe Kubert

“The Two-Legged Mine”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Robert Kanigher

“Hip Shot”
Writer: Sam Glanzman
Penciler: Sam Glanzman
Inker: Sam Glanzman
Editor: Robert Kanigher

“Ice Cream Soldier”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
Editor: Robert Kanigher

We’ve got a landmark issue of the Haunted Tank this month!  For once, the cover doesn’t lie, and when it promises the “Death of the Haunted Tank,” it is being quite literal!  After roughly 60 issues, the plucky little M-3 Stuart tank will meet its demise in this issue.  And that cover is a pretty good one, in addition to being honest.  It’s dramatic, catching a moment, not before disaster strikes, but just as it is striking, which creates a pretty dynamic effect.  Of course, Kubert’s stark work adds to the drama of the moment rather nicely.

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Inside, our tale begins in what has become normal fashion, with the spectral J.E.B. Stuart offering one of his habitual vague warnings that could really mean anything, as Kanigher continues to not really take advantage of his awesome premise.  In this case, the General’s super helpful warning that “things aren’t what they seem” applies to a seemingly crashed German bomber that is actually a trap for the tank.  Jeb and company knock it out in a nice two-page splash, but then their ghostly guardian informs them that this was the last time he could “help” them, and bids them farewell.

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As Jeb ruminates on this startling turn of events, his crew continue to contemplate his apparent insanity as he seems to speak to empty air.  They roll past a depot where other crews are cannibalizing knocked out tanks for parts.  There are two things of note in this scene.  First, the other crew actually asks how Jeb’s tiny little Stuart constantly knocks out tanks much heavier than it, joking that it must be because it is haunted.  Second, we get a shot of this crew, who include Joe, Russ, and Steve, who are given very detailed faces.  I feel like this has got to be a reference to particular folks.  I’m guessing, and this is just a guess, that the fellow in the middle is Joe Kubert and the one on the right is Russ Heath.  I would love to hear from any readers who actually know!

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Anyway, possible creator cameos aside, the ghostly guys next run into trouble when they encounter a Jeep full of wounded troops fleeing a fighter.  The crew manages to knock the perilous plane out of the sky (more unbelievable feats!), encouraging the team.  Yet, their continued faith in the old Stuart meets a much tougher test later on, when they are sent into a hot zone to aid Dog Company.

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The infantry is getting cut to pieces on the banks of a river by a tank and artillery in the woods on the other side.  Jeb charges the Stuart into the teeth of the enemy guns, and they get the enemy tank.  However, the AT gun tears their little tin box apart piece by piece, and in surprisingly short order, the Haunted Tank dies, though the crew manage to make a frantic escape.

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When Jeb and company realize that no more backup is forthcoming, they race to the depot and assemble a new, “Jigsaw Tank” out of cannibalized parts.  They take their new makeshift metal monster into combat, just in time to stop two new Nazi tanks charging across the river, and they even manage to clean up the AT gun that killed their previous ride.  The story ends with General Stuart returning, and explaining that the tank didn’t matter, only the dedication of the men inside, so the grateful crew christen their new vehicle The Haunted Tank once more.

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I actually expected rather more form this tale.  It’s a fine, fun story, however unrealistic it is for the guys to assemble a new tank so quickly and easily.  Still, I’ve been seeing this cover approaching for some time, and I just expected the death of the tank that had been through so much with the crew to be given a little more weight.  Instead, Jeb and co. basically joke about it for a minute, then immediately replace the faithful old girl.  Of course, there’s only so much you can do in a 14 page story, but I found myself a bit surprised that Kanigher didn’t make more of the moment.  The actual adventures here could have been condensed, with more focus on the central conflict at the river and the loss of the Stuart, which I think would have been more effective.

As is, the story is really rather forgettable.  Of course, Russ Heath’s art remains excellent, perfect for the title.  He’s a master of both the dynamic battle scenes and even the quiet, character-centric moments.  On a broader note, I continue to be disappointed by the lack of development of the premise.  General Stuart leaves the crew for most of the issue, but functionally, it doesn’t actually play out any differently than 90% of the stories we’ve read, as he plays no active part in most plots after his traditional enigmatic warning anyway.  Well, missed opportunities aside, I’ll give this solid armored adventure 3.5 Mintuemen.  At least Jeb and crew now have a tank that might stand a ghost of a chance against German armor in real life!

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Justice League of America #94


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“Where Strikes Demonfang?”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Pencilers: Neal Adams and Dick Dillin
Inkers: Neal Adams and Joe Giella
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Tarantula Strikes”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Bert Christman
Inker: Bert Christman
Editors: Vincent Sullivan and Julius Schwartz

“The Amazing Starman”
Writer: Jack Burnley
Penciler: Jack Burnley
Inkers: Jack Burnley and Ray Burnley
Colourist: Raymond Perry
Letterer: Betty Bentley
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth and Julius Schwartz

Alright!  Time for another issue of my favorite comic team’s book!  Despite the fact that this title has been so uneven since we’ve started, I still find myself excited about it each month, and this issue features my favorite character….sort of!  Sadly, we’ve got a pretty lackluster cover, really.  It’s got Deadman’s dramatic pronouncement, but the blank blue background and compressed, box-out cover-space don’t do it any favors, and all the pointless occult paraphernalia in the foreground can’t change that.  Of course, the actual art is lovely, as Neal Adams contributes the image, as well as several pages inside!  Yet, the biggest trouble with this cover is that it spoils a significant part of the story, which is a shame.

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As for that story, it is actually a pretty darn good one.  We begin with a wonderfully detailed splash page of the League of Assassins’ leader, the enigmatic Sensei, who is plotting revenge against an unknown JLA member for a previous slight.  We join the trio of characters who disappeared from the last arc, Batman, Green Arrow, and the Sea King himself, Aquaman, as they prowl about the waterfront, hunting for an assassin who hunts them in turn.  The Bold Bowman spots a flash from the killer’s scope, and the heroes leap into action, quickly corralling the gunman.  Yet, the assassin refuses to talk, and the Leaguers are left in the dark about who is the target of the “Demon’s Fang,” the League of Assassins.  That’s right, it’s League vs. League!

Back at the Demon Fang’s headquarters, the Sensei is not pleased that his man has missed his mark, and he summons one of his best, Merlyn, the archer.  We get an interesting note of continuity and world-building here, as the League of Assassins are part of Ra’s Al Ghul’s set-up and have been introduced in the Batman books, so it is exciting and surprising to see them here.  What’s more, the Demon’s Head, Al Ghul himself, gets name-dropped, as Merlyn mentions that their master has a special interest in their target.  Nonetheless, the ancient Sensei is adamant, and the archer is sent on the attack.

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Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite sleaze, Morgan Edge, makes another universe-building appearance, and sends Clark Kent out on assignment.  There are hints of Intergang’s involvement, and the under-cover Kryptonian brings along a little action figure-sized ace -in-the-hole, the Atom, as the assignment brings him near the last known location of the missing Leaguers.  Yet, before they can arrive, their news van is ambushed with arrows!  Superman attacks, only to be taken out of the fight by special gadgets prepared by the Demonfang techs, including a gravitational arrow which increases the pull of gravity on the Man of Steel exponentially.

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The Atom, after delivering a great pint-sized punch, is also put out of commission by a sonic arrow.  Now, if you had told me that Merlyn was taking on a significant subset of the League on his own, I would have said that was silly, but Friedrich actually manages to write his way around the problem of a vastly under-powered villain with some reasonable gadgets.  It’s nice to see Superman treated as something other than completely unstoppable, and without recourse to Kryptonite or something completely silly.  Is it convenient that Merlyn has trick arrows that can take out these heroes?  Yes, but I’ll buy it for the purposes of this story.

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Unfortunately, our other heroes don’t have much better luck than their fellows, as our original trio finds their captive assassin killed almost as soon as they turn him over to the police.  On the arrow that killed him is a note, which declares that “The price of failure in the League of Assassins is death!”  It is signed by the mysterious Merlyn, and it is here that we discover that Green Arrow knows our enigmatic assassin.  Merlyn was a master archer, and he was Ollie’s first great rival, who embarrassed him in a competition before disappearing, only to emerge now, as a master of a decidedly more deadly discipline.

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The titanic trio set out on Merlyn’s trail, but we have an odd little moment where Batman asks Aquaman if he has enough time, and the apparently confused Sea King responds, ‘sure…uh…why not?”  I saw what was coming, and I was a bit annoyed by it, and sure enough, as soon as they reach their destination, a creepy old house that is definitely not a trap, the Marine Marvel passes out.  He’s been out of water too long (that darn 1 hour limit can’t go away soon enough!), and I just couldn’t believe Friedrich had put the character in the book just to have him act this stupidly.  But, when the Caped Crusader finds a fountain inside and submerges the submarine superhero, things take a much more interesting turn, as the Dark Knight puts Aquaman in a headlock and demands to know….who he is!  Just then, the trap springs, and Green Arrow is locked in a vacuum tube!

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While the hunted heroes investigate the house, the agonized Atom manages to smash the sonic arrow and free himself, and he comes up with a novel way to free the Metropolis Marvel too.  He can’t budge the gravity device, but he wraps his belt around it and enlarges the machine until it becomes unstable and explodes! That’s actually a really clever solution, and fitting for the brilliant Ray Palmer.  The haggard heroes aren’t yet back at a hundred percent, however, and they must hitchhike towards their allies!

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I love the hilarious banality of Superman having to listen to some schmo blather on as he hitches a ride! “Really, I have more important things on my mind, man!”

Back in the villain-haunted house, the Masked Manhunter can’t break his Emerald ally out of his glass prison, but Superman, recovering enough to take flight and escape their blabbermouth chauffeur, is able to spot the predicament with his super vision and hurl the Atom hard enough to free Ollie.  It’s really a nice sequence.  Yet, at the same time, Batman has become stuck on the fence that separated him from his fallen friend, a perfect target for Merlyn, who has emerged at last to kill his true target…the Dark Knight, of course!  He lets fly, but the stunned Green Arrow recovers rapidly enough to string and fire an arrow just in time to deflect Merlyn’s killing shot!  His nemesis salutes such a fine shot, and his carefully calculated chance gone, the magician uses a jetpack built into his quiver to escape.  Merlyn himself is now a hunted man, as he reminds the heroes that “the price of failure in the League of Assassins is death!”

jla094-(avalon)-18

It is then that the “mystery” of Aquaman’s identity is solved in another pair of Adams-penned pages, as the Sea King and the Dark Detective discuss the case.  It turns out that Deadman took over the Marine Marvel’s body because the being he serves, Rama Kushna, warned him of an attempt to kill a Justice Leaguer which would upset the balance of the world.  He didn’t know who the target was, and the Sea Sleuth was just the first hero to hand, effectively.  That’s why he ran himself out of gas (or water, as the case may be), and made various other mistakes.  All of this was in revenge for Batman interfering with the Sensei’s attack on Nanda Parbat back in Brave and the Bold #86, apparently, which I must have read but have forgotten.

Of course, this would be a lot more impressive if we didn’t know Deadman was possessing Aquaman from the cover (even if I did get swept up in the story enough to forget!).  Yet, the tale doesn’t end there.  It ends with a return to the JLA Satellite, where something is wrong with the teleporter, something that we won’t discover until next issue!  Meanwhile, the Sensei has learned his lesson, and the next time he strikes, he shall isolate and destroy his enemy!

Well, the non-reveal aside, I really enjoyed this issue, despite some trademark overwriting and generally deplorable dialog from Friedrich.  It’s a lot of fun, and it is really great to see the universe-building happening in other books filter into the flagship title like this.  How interesting must it have been to be reading the Bat-books and JLA, and to see these characters and concepts jump from one title to another?  Of course, this makes perfect sense, but it isn’t the kind of thing that you see that much in DC from earlier eras.  I imagine it will become more common as we get further into the Bronze Age.

In addition, the story is pretty solidly plotted, with events having a decent logic to them, with characters acting with clear motivations.  As I was reading, several story beats seemed off to me, only to be revealed to work perfectly in Friedrich’s plot, which was a pleasant surprise.  On another note, the removal of Kryptonite seems to already be paying story dividends, as it has forced Friedrich to come up with a clever way of taking the Man of Tomorrow out of the fight, rather than relying on the formerly ubiquitous mineral.  One of the only real downsides to this tale is that Aquaman doesn’t actually get anything to do, which seems like a real waste when he features so prominently in the comic, especially since he isn’t actually Aquaman.

The art is solid throughout, though evincing the standard weaknesses I’ve come to associate with Dillin’s JLA work, though the interpolated Adams pages are beautiful.  They are also a bit distracting, as the clash of styles is very noticeable.  Nonetheless, this is a fun, interesting issue, with some fascinating world building happening that still manages to include a solid adventure.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

minute4


New Gods #5


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“Spawn!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Mike Royer
Letterer: Mike Royer
Editor: Jack Kirby

“Introducing Fastbak”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We finally return to the centerpiece of Kirby’s Fourth World epic, and it is a definite improvement over the somewhat understated and disappointing last issue, as the operatic action that suits this book best is back in spades.  Our dramatic tale lies beneath a solid, if flawed cover.  It’s got a nice, dynamic image in the central brawling characters, though their poses are a bit odd.  Yet, their size rather downplays the significance of the massive monster symbolically squeezed into the corner.  The orange background doesn’t really help either, especially with Orion’s red costume.  Kirby just isn’t producing his best covers for this run, which is a real shame, as the stories really beg for ‘kapow’ images.

This particular issue begins with Metron, who is traveling through dimensions once more.  This time his wanderings take him to one of the most memorable and dramatic settings from Kirby’s Fourth World, the Promethean Galaxy, the last barrier of the Source, where float for all eternity the Promethean Giants who give the place its name.  Kirby gives us an amazing, dramatic two-page splash, depicting the size and scope of this strange sight as only the King could.  It’s a really striking image.  We discover that these giants were beings who tried to force their way to the source, and in return for their hubris, they are bound forever in suspended animation, just short of their goal.  I love this concept, wonderfully archetypal, reflecting all of the myths of giants and titans, who have traditionally been associated with the sin of pride and destroyed by the deities they opposed.  What a wonderfully Kirby-cosmic treatment of the theme.

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Star-sized super-beings aside, once his contemplation is finished, Metron returns to New Genesis, but our story is much more concerned with a humbler sphere, the Earth, where a detective named Terrible Turpin is interrogating Dave Lincoln after the events of the last issue.  Turpin has discovered the war between gods that is brewing in his city, and he’s determined to put a stop to it, before the place is leveled in the process.  When Lincoln returns to Orion’s human allies, we check in with them, but the Useless Crew continues to contribute little to the plot, other than some exposition and general fretting.

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Fortunately, we don’t waste too much time with them, and we soon rejoin Orion, who was captured by the Deep Six last issue.  He’s pinned by a giant clam, where he is taunted by Slig, who also demonstrates the Six’s sinister powers, the ability to mutate living beings with just a touch from his right hand, and to kill instantly with his left!  Fortunately for the Dog of War, he is able to free himself with a hidden device after his captor has finished his gloating, though he discovers that the clam is more than meets the eye.

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What follows is a cool sequence as Orion battles his way through various mutated menaces, who all have wonderfully cool Kirby designs (the man just constantly produced awesome creations, even for these little creatures which we’ll never see again!).  Finally, the hunted hero discovers a massive, battleship sized cradle, which once held some gargantuan beast created by the Six, but now lies ominously empty.

Back in the city, Turpin continues his investigation and the Useless Crew continue their fretting, but they are all interrupted by the coming of….Kalibak!  Darkseid’s scion arrives with a smash, prepared to spread fear and devastation on Earth!  However, Orion is busy elsewhere, so the Cruel one will have to keep for the moment.  Back in the undersea caverns, Slig finally finds his quarry amid a pile of smashed guards.  Unfortunately for him, the warrior has also found something, his Astro-Harness, and he blasts his foe in the face before proceeding to pummel him pitilessly.

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It’s another great sequence, and Kirby shows us the savage joy Orion takes in the terrible thrashing he administers, as well as showing us Slig’s beaten face.  The King actually manages to make this malicious monster a little pitiful in that moment.  Interestingly, Orion’s brutal visage is revealed by the violence of his attack, and he is forced to have Mother Box replace his fallen features, another hint about his origins.  Finally, the Dog of War disposes of his fallen foe by tossing him into a pit and sets out in search of the monster the Six have unleashed.  We get a glimpse of the beast in a nice splash page, but lacking anything to establish its scale, it’s not as effective as it might be.

So this is a great, action-packed issue, setting up a lot of what’s to come with Terrible Turpin and Kalibak’s chaotic arrival, as well as the monster unleashed on the seas.  There is a lot going on here, and Kirby handles it quite well.  While the time spent with Orion’s supporting cast feels wasted, every moment with the warrior’s quest is exciting and dramatic, and the glimpses of the wider mythology with Metron are fascinating.  The whole thing feels operatic and earth-shaking in the best ways, like a particularly good issue of the classic Fantastic Four, but elevated by the cosmic overtones and archetypal underpinnings of the Fourth World.

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It’s also fun to see Detective Dan Turpin introduced, as he will later be recast as a tribute to Kirby himself in Superman: TAS, where his bulldog attitude and heroic perseverance make him a fitting match for his creator.  On the art front, this issue looks quite good, and it is immediately noticeable that Colletta is gone from the book.  Mike Royer’s inks aren’t perfect, but they seem to pick up more detail and generally drown out Kirby’s pencils less.  At least so it seems to my inexpert eye.  As I said, I love the creativity of the Deep Six’s monster minions.  Why no-one has brought the Six back as recurring Aquaman villains, complete with a Kirby-esq monstrous menagerie of mutants is quite beyond me.  Missed opportunities aside, I’ll give this exciting adventure 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Introducing Fastbak”


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We get another brief Young Gods backup strip in this issue, this one featuring Fastbak, a free-spirited New Genesis youth with a need for speed.  Once again, there are only four pages to the strip, so there isn’t really time for Kirby to do much with the character, but we see him lead the New Genesis equivalent of cops, the Monitors (no, not those Monitors) a merry chase as he flies around Supertown at reckless speed.

The aptly named Fastbak is joined by more restless young gods, and when he finally comes to ground, he is given a quick wardrobe change by his friends just in time to sing before Highfather.  It turns out that our rebellious friend has the voice of an angel when he’s not busy raising Cain. This was a fun little strip, full of exuberance, energy, and the boundless enthusiasm of youth.  With Fastbak and his fellows, Kirby immediately humanizes the New Gods by showing us a fitting parallel to our own youthful foolishness even in their hallowed halls, yet this youthfulness is presented in an inimitable Fourth World fashion.  Of course, the King also gives us more great designs both in characters and wild Kirby-tech.  I’ve decided I’m not going to rate these backups, as they are really too brief to be judged as full stories.


Well, I will close out this post with Fastbak’s flying feats and bid you all a fond farewell until next time!  I hope you enjoyed my coverage of these exciting adventures and that you will join me again soon, for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  The world seems quite intent on falling to pieces around us, but let’s take a little time to look back at a simpler era and a better class of comic.  The big news in this edition is the finale of the (in)famous GL/GA drug story, but we’ve got a couple of other interesting books to keep that one company.

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 #405
  • Adventure Comics #411
  • Detective Comics #416
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
  • Mr. Miracle #4
  • Phantom Strange #15
  • Superboy #178
  • Superman #243
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
  • Teen Titans #35

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


Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86


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“They Say It’ll Kill Me… But They Won’t Say When”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

That’s right, at long last (longer because of my travels and distractions!) we come to the end of the GA/GL drug two-parter.  It’s a famous issue, and we examined why with the first one.  As we saw, these issues certainly deserve their iconic status, whatever flaws they may have, and I was surprised by how much better the first issue was than I remembered.  I was in for a similar shock with this story, which is a much more even-keeled offering than its predecessor.  We don’t have as many heavy-handed and goofy moments here as we did in the last one.  Even the cover has a touch more dignity…which is not to say it isn’t a bit over the top as well.  In fact, it is wonderfully, ridiculously melodramatic, especially with its bold tag-line.  I love Green Lantern’s ‘curse the heavens’ pose as well.  Still, it is effective, striking, and memorable, especially with the faces of the various drug victims making up the background.

Unfortunately, the touching image of Green Arrow carrying the fallen form of his ward isn’t quite what greets us inside, where things start off with a bang…or more accurately, a backhand.  Ollie follows up Roy’s dramatic confession from last issue with a smack to the face and a heavy dose of vitriol.  It’s a really stunning moment, and O’Neil hits us with it right out of the gate.  To see a hero, in his right mind, treat a faltering friend like this in 1971 was practically unprecedented.  It serve’s O’Neil’s purpose, immediately casting the Emerald Archer’s merciless dismissal of his surrogate son’s suffering in the worst light.  Unfortunately, he overplays his hand once more, and the result is a further stain on Ollie’s already fairly blackened character, though it is consistent with the strong views he evinced in the last issue.  It’s just an ugly moment, not helped by the fact that Roy isn’t at his most sympathetic after his weak story last issue.

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Speedy mocks his mentor for his violent response, hitting him with a major guilt trip, and Arrow throws the kid out.  Then we get a moment which ALMOST addresses some of the flaws of the previous story, as the Battling Bowman ponders the situation and points out that, even though he hadn’t paid his ward much attention lately, the kid shouldn’t have needed much at his age, being in college and all.  Then O’Neil once again turns Ollie’s jerk dial to 11, as, from that, he concludes that he is completely “innocent of blame,” which is a self-righteousness and self-deception that is breathtaking, even for O’Neil’s Green Arrow.  Still, in all of this melodrama, there is some realism.

After concluding that he’s father of the year after all, the Emerald Archer sets out to take revenge on the pushers who he blames instead, heading to the airfield where he previously traced their supply to pick the investigation back up.  Meanwhile the two junkies who betrayed our heroes last issue come to Ollie’s place looking for Speedy and, not finding him, decide to shoot up their reward.  The drugs are pure, and one of them overdoses in what is, admittedly, a pretty good scene, though Adams perhaps overdoes the revelation a bit.

Later, we find Hal Jordan still running through previous events, unable to shake the feeling that there is something wrong with Speedy, and when he heads to GA’s to check on the kid, he finds the junkie and begins his own investigation.  Ollie, for his part, turns the table on a guard at the airport who gets the drop on him and is sent into a trap for his troubles.  It’s a nice scene, emphasizing both his anger and his skill, that he’s still dangerous, even with a busted wing.

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In the meantime, the Emerald Gladiator finds Speedy passed out in an alley and discovers the truth.  They have an almost decent conversation, though O’Neil overdoes the youth’s rhetoric a bit.  The generation gap stuff he spouts is a little problematic given the fact that most of the members of the previous generation Roy knows are freaking paragons of virtue.  Nonetheless, Hal’s measured response and kindness is a very pleasant departure from his stupidity and naivete from early in the run.  The ring-slinger takes the kid to Dinah’s house for sanctuary.

On the docks, where the Battling Bowman has followed the guard’s tip into trouble, he finds the thugs he tangled with at the airport last issue.  We get a nice fight scene, with Arrow still holding his own, but it ends with him getting knocked out.  When he comes to, we meet the man behind the drug operation, a wealthy socialite named Saloman, whose massive yacht, stuffed full of important people, is just leaving.  He tells his men to dump the antagonistic archer into the drink as soon as he’s away.

green lantern 086 018Adams gives us a fantastic image of Ollie’s plight, as he’s tossed overboard tied to an anchor, but the hero manages to grab an acetylene arrow and cut through the chains, making a desperate and dramatic escape.  Just then, the Lantern arrives and disposes of the thugs with some green gorillas.  As they pursue the head honcho, Speedy is busy going through withdrawals, aided by Black Canary’s quiet compassion in another good sequence, improved by a lack of dialog.

In the Caribbean, Saloman Hooper visits his pharmaceutical lab, where he picks up a suitcase worth of dope (which doesn’t seem like enough to justify the scope of his operation), only to be caught in the act by the Green Team.  While Ollie takes out the mogul’s minion with a one-armed arrow shot (shades of Dark Knight Returns!), Hal tosses his friend his ring in order to deal with Hooper with his own two hands.  This is actually a pretty believable, satisfying moment, unlike the book’s tendency to have the Lantern just decide that he needs to use his fists to feel like a man.  He’s angry, and he takes it out on this privileged punk, but he has enough self control to do it ‘unofficially,’ so to speak, like a cop putting aside his badge to do something that needs doing but which falls outside of the law.  Notably, Arrow calls him on this afterward.

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The issue ends with the funeral of the junkie who overdosed, where Hal and Ollie are joined by Dinah and a recovered Roy.  Unfortunately, the newly clean Titan is in no mood to mend fences, and he lashes out at his former guardian, giving a speech about how people like him, who lack compassion, are contributing to the crisis that so many young people face.  As Speedy walks away from the closest thing to family that he has, Green Arrow finds himself proud that the boy has become a man.

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That final scene isn’t as heavy-handed as I remember, though the melodrama still sets my teeth on edge a bit.  What’s worse, it leaves the situation between our hero and his surrogate son unresolved and embittered.  That’s a shame, and this story’s consequences will be deep and long-felt.  On the whole though, this is actually quite a good issue, sensitive and perceptive, but also an engaging and exciting adventure, with some real, if sometimes discordant, character development to go with it.  Once again, the message of compassion and understanding towards drug addicts is powerful, and the theme of empathy, learning to see things from someone else’s perspective, is effective and an interesting continuation of O’Neil’s better efforts in this run.  I think the story itself would have been a bit more effective if we had met our villain a bit earlier, as he’s mostly just a convenient and morally acceptable punching bag, an outlet for outrage and despair.  Still, O’Neil manages to make the guy loathsome in very little space.  Roy’s sudden and complete recovery is more than a little silly, in regards to the reality of addiction, but I suppose allowances can be made for the medium.

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Adams’ art continues to be beautiful and compelling, really capturing the emotion and the power of the moments he portrays.  And yet, even with that focus on drama, he manages to give us some fun and funny moments, like with Ollie’s expression during his impromptu dive.  Once again, we see Adams’ power with a more intimate, personal story.  I just love his portrayal of Ollie.  Characters of that scale are really what he excels at, which is part of why his Batman run is so legendary.  All in all, this is a very good story, only slightly damaged by O’Neil’s excesses and his lack of forethought.  It is an important comic, culturally, and its themes and subject were incredibly groundbreaking in its time.  Heck, we’re still fighting some of these battles, and a story that reminds us of the humanity of those who are suffering is still relevant, perhaps moreso these days than in recent years.  I’ll give this milestone issue 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.  It isn’t perfect, but it really is a good one.

P.S.: To mark just how important his comic book was, it carries a copy of a letter from the Mayor of New York, commending the creative team for their work and pointing out the seriousness of the drug crisis.

 


Mister Miracle #4


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“The Closing Jaws of Death!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Jack Kirby

“The Romance of Rip Carter”
Writers: Jack Kirby and Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon

“Jean Lafitte: ‘Pirate or Patriot?'”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Jack Kirby

We’ve got another marvel-packed issue of Mister Miracle here, and, as always, I was excited to read it, especially after the pulse-pounding excitement of last issue’s Paranoid-packed pandemonium.  Sadly, this one doesn’t quite live up to the thrill of the first half, though it does introduce us to a wonderful character and an important part of Scott Free’s supporting cast.  It’s got another great cover, like most of this series, though one wonders how our escape-artist hero gets from being locked in a trunk to tortured in a medieval dungeon.  The answer is, of course, Kirby madness.  Nonetheless, we get another death-defying scene in this cover, memorable and exciting, beautifully rendered by the King.

Inside, we don’t start with the miraculous one plummeting to his death, still locked in that suitcase, but back at his home, where a fretting Oberon finds himself with an uninvited guest.  A fierce and outlandishly armored warrior woman appears behind him, jarring the loyal fellow from his reverie rather violently.  She declares herself a friend of Scott Free and demands to know where he is, mentioning they both come from Apokolips.  When Oberon mentions Doctor Bedlam, the newly introduced Barda suddenly teleports after her friend, fearing for his life.

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Now we pick up where we left off, and Scott’s situation looks hopeless, but Barda appears in a flash of light and catches his suitcase in a feat of strength, casually ripping it apart, ropes and all, only to reveal that it is…empty!  Wonderfully, we don’t see how the eminent escape artist pulled off this trick just yet; instead, we see him perched on a balcony several floors up, where he is quickly swarmed by more crazed civilians.  They think he is a vampire and attempt to stake him, but Mr. Miracle is too slick for them, and eludes his pursuers in several fun pages, even sliding down the banister of the staircase like Errol Flynn.

mrmiracle-12Suddenly, he’s attacked by refugees from a Robin Hood picture, as a bunch of guys in medieval costumes capture the hero.  They drag him into a dungeon, which turns out to be a set in the Galaxy Broadcasting TV studio, conveniently located on this level.  Inside is a director, even nuttier than most, who directs his men to kill the interloper so that his death-throes can make for good television!  Despite his struggles, Scott is forced into an iron maiden, and all seems lost as the lid slams shut.  The whole scene is fun but utterly crazy.  It reads like a Fantastic Four issue from the era where Stan and Jack weren’t talking to each other and Stan was thrown into narrative gymnastics in an attempt to explain the bizarre and unrelated images Jack created as his imagination ran away with him.  However, this time, there’s nobody to blame for the sudden shift and strange explanation other than Kirby himself.  I guess he just wanted to draw an iron maiden, so he shoe-horned the setting in, logic be darned!

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Back in our original office-building setting, Barda is getting attacked herself.  She casually rips a stone column out of the lobby and tosses it onto a half dozen men, almost certainly crushing them all to death.  Despite Mr. Miracle’s insistence that she stay out of this so that his deal with Bedlam could be honored, she is worried, so she pursues her friend, smashing her way through the overly-excited extras in the process in a really nice panel.  Yet, when she pries open the torture device, it is empty, and Scott casually strolls up and greets her.  Once again, we don’t find out how he accomplished this yet, establishing a running joke in the issue.

The two press on, confronting the disembodied energy-form of their antagonist in another nice sequence.  Bedlam promises to unleash the entire fury of the building’s trapped inhabitants upon the pair, but the next thing we see is them teleport back home, greeting a worried Oberon and catching up.  The dialog in this section is pretty rough and stilted, especially when Scott awkwardly declares: “Maximum is the word for you, Barda!  I could never think of you without deep and genuine fondness.”  I know that line just makes the ladies swoon!  From the start, Barda and Oberon are sparring verbally which, despite the dull dialog, is still fun.  We learn that Barda helped her friend escape, but she didn’t go with him, and now she’s an officer in Darkseid’s Female Furies, as everyone helpfully spouts exposition.

In a fun little scene, Scott takes the domestic roll, preparing dinner for Barda, which is really striking in a comic from 1971.  That’s honestly somewhat groundbreaking.  I doubt you’d ever see Superman making dinner for Lois Lane!  It also establishes the unusual dynamic between these two characters.  As he works, the heroic homemaker reluctantly explains to his assistant how he escaped from the various traps he faced.  We’re introduced to the ‘multi-cube’, Scott’s multi-purpose escape tool, which will become a common feature of his stories, if I remember correctly.  Mr. Miracle used it to cut his way out of the trunk as it twisted in mid-air, which works pretty well as an explanation.

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Unfortunately, the other stories aren’t nearly as good.  He used a fast-acting acid on the back of the iron maiden and literally just stepped through it, which apparently no-body noticed.  Even more problematic, he literally presses the ‘off’ button on all of the panicked people in the tower, putting them to sleep with his multi-cube and just waltzing out the front door.  Okay……why not just do that in the first place?  That’s a pretty massively unsatisfying conclusion, which is a shame, because this is otherwise a really fun issue.  The yarn ends with Barda showing up for dinner, having changed out of her armor into something a tad more revealing, leaving Oberon picking his jaw up off the floor.

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This is a solid adventure, despite its glaring deus ex machina, though it is primarily worthwhile for introducing Big Barda, who will eventually become Scott’s partner and wife, creating one of the great comic relationships and partnerships.  Mr. Miracle without Barda is like Nick without Nora, and she is, even from this first appearance, a unique and interesting character, further credit to Kirby’s boundless creativity.  In addition, I absolutely love Scott’s laughing, devil-may-care attitude throughout the story, the extra element of flair and style to his antics, which really capture his personality and are part of why I love the character.  I also quite like the running gag of not explaining his escapes right away, however flawed the execution is here.  Hopefully Kirby will make better use of it in the future.

Art-wise, we’re seeing some rough panels again with this issue, and I think Colletta’s impact is still being felt.  On the plus side, it seems we get a new inker next issue!  Despite some weaknesses, especially with inking and coloring, there are some wonderful panels and some fun, dynamic sequences throughout.  Ultimately, I’m quite torn on the score.  This issue’s flaws are significant, especially the dialog and weak conclusion, but it is also a lot of fun.  I suppose I’ll be generous and go with 3.5 Minutemen, as the comic is carried along by the interest of Barda and the fun of Scott.

minute3.5


The Phantom Stranger #15


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“The Iron Messiah”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler/Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist/Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“I Battled for the Doom Stone”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Alex Toth

“Satan’s Sextet”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga

“I Scout Earth’s Strangest Secrets”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Mort Meskin
Inker: Mort Meskin

What a wildly, wonderfully ridiculous cover image.  It’s gloriously strange and unusual and so very, very much something that could only happen in comics.  We’ve got an African witch doctor raising a zombie…but not just any zombie, a ROBO-zombie, complete with stainless-steel robo-zombie Afro, all while the shadow of the Phantom Stranger looms in the background.  It’s a thing of mad beauty, and I love it.  It’s beautifully illustrated by Adams, and it absolutely grabs your attention.  Could you honestly say you could see that image on the newsstand and NOT want to figure out what in the blue blazes is happening inside?  If so, I can only assume you’re an imagination-less wreck of a human being.

The story within doesn’t quite live up to the glory of the robo-zombie cover, but then, how could it?  It is an interesting and unusual one, though, and it begins, not with necromantic robotics (more’s the pity), but with a young African scientist named John Kweli, who is returning to his native country after having been educated in the West.  Suddenly, the train on which he’s traveling derails in a fiery crash, and the brilliant man would have died, if not for a Stranger pulling him from the wreckage.  Kewli awakens in the home of an old friend, Ororo (no, not that one).  She has treated his injuries, but she also bears bad news, his father, the tribal chief, has died.

John is prepared to come home and take over his responsibilities as chief, but he’s met with resentment for having gone away to be educated and built a life overseas.  His people feel like he abandoned them, including the lovely Ororo.  He also finds things greatly changed, with signs of unrest and oppression everywhere, barbed-wire and troops abound.  Ngumi, the village shaman also rejects John, promising that Chuma, the Warrior God, will free his people without the young man’s help.

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Ororo tells her friend about what has happened in his absence, that though their country has been liberated, they are now enslaved to the interests of big foreign business.  Driving away, John and Ororo encounter a lion and wreck their jeep.  The young scientist bravely prepares to sacrifice his life to lure the beast away, only to have the Phantom Stranger leap out of nowhere to tackle the feline fiend in magical fashion.

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The next day, Kewli goes to visit Amos Trent, the oil company’s man on the ground, but Trent isn’t interested in his pleas or his threats, so the young scientist decides to take matters into his own hands, so of course he builds a robot.  Some time later, a group of soldiers who are abusing the villagers are scattered, not by John, but by “Chuma”, the Iron Messiah, the android John has used his scientific skill to build in order to rally his people.  Over the next weeks, Chuma trains the villagers in the ways of war, and Ngumi, the shaman is revealed as an agent of the oil company.

Unfortunately, even iron will can be bent by such a burden, and Chuma begins to develop human feelings…and human frailties.  He declares his love for Ororo, and when she rejects him, saying she loves his creator instead, the Iron Messiah rejects his role as savior and leaves the people to the fate.  It is here that the Phantom Stranger intervenes once again, convincing the automaton that the only way to prove he is a being with a soul is to choose to help his people, to be better than jealousy and spite.  Back at the village, the government troops have attacked, and John has rallied the people, but they are losing without the power of Chuma to inspire and aid them.

Chuma charges into the battle, turning the tide, but his help comes at a terrible cost, as he shoots his creator in the back in a fit of jealousy, only to be witnessed and called out by Ororo.  The people reject their Iron Messiah and destroy him, thanks again to the Phantom Stranger, who leaves, pondering the enigma that is life and giving a speech about not “tampering in God’s domain.

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It’s…a little abrupt, really, and rather grim.  These 14 pages pack a whole lot in, and Len Wein has a very interesting story to tell…I’m just not entirely sure he’s finished telling it.  We get a robot who develops human feelings, including hatred who turns on his creator, a full on Frankenstein, but it is also sharing space with a story about the exploitation of Africa.  There’s just too much in too little space.  Chuma literally goes from his creation to his renunciation of his purpose in three pages, and John, who has until then been our protagonist, almost drops out of the story at that point.  The Stranger’s attempt at a moral just feels extremely tacked on, though it certainly has potential.  In the end, what exactly was the point of the Stranger’s intervention?  Was it to free the natives from both the outsiders and from their superstitions?  Whatever it is, it needs more development.  The whole thing is cramped, but it is also intriguing in a number of ways.

It is really noteworthy that we have a story set in ‘darkest Africa’ where the natives are not portrayed as ignorant savages, despite their belief and hope in Chuma.  Even more, the natives are not rescued by a white outsider.  Instead, the hero is a black man, and a black scientist at that, who succeeds, not through brute force, but through intelligence and cleverness.  That’s still very much a rarity in any media in 1971, much more so in comics.  We also have another example of the depredations of faceless corporations, as the oil company is pretty unambiguously evil here.  That is a sign of things to come, I’d wager.

The whole tale is beautifully illustrated by Aparo, who is handling all of the art chores.  He gives us some really striking panels and pages, and the art has a nice sense of drama, especially with Chuma.  I’ll give this rushed, slightly muddled story 3 Minutemen, as its strengths and weaknesses somewhat even out.

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“Satan’s Sextet”


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If you thought robo-messiahs were strange, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Our Dr. Thirteen backup this month is in the style that I think works best, with the good Doctor doing his ghost-breaking on his own, without tangling with the Stranger.  Nonetheless, this particular outing isn’t exactly a home run.  It begins promisingly and strangely enough, with a group of seemingly sinister musicians leading a line of dancers into the sea, where they presumably drown, only for the band to emerge later, still playing.  Later that night, Dr. Thirteen happens to be driving along the beach when he sees a ragged, raving figure stumble out of the surf.

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The man claims to be the wealthy Willard Wentworth, who has a home on the beach.  He hired “Satan’s Sextet” for a house party because he was lonely, but they hypnotized all of the guests and led them to a watery grave.  Wentworth isn’t sure how he escaped, but he stumbled out of the water sometime later, shaken and terrified.  Thirteen agrees to investigate, but when they return to the beach house, they find it packed with people, a party in full swing.  The owner claims not to know any of them and accuses the band of murder.  Dr. Thirteen insists they stay and continue their investigation (Maybe he just wants to party!), and the pair are given love-beads.

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Suddenly, the band’s music becomes hypnotic, and they once more lead the party goers into the waves.  Thirteen is forced to follow, but his mind is working all the while, and he deduces that the beads are responsible, and he removes his and Wentworth’s necklaces.  Returning to the house, he overhears the convenient exposition by the bandleader, whose motives are…well, as prosaic as his methods are insane.

Apparently, he’s the millionaire’s disowned son, who got plastic surgery and planned this whole thing to kill his father so he could get his inheritance.  The beads had hallucinogens in them which were activated by the vibrations of the band’s music.  Ooookaaaay.  That’s pretty out there, even for comics.  Entertainingly, Thirteen overcomes the band with a massive mounted fish, and the police arrive to tidy things up.  Dr. Thirteen rides off into the sunrise, but not before laying some major guilt on Wentworth, pointing out that he must have really screwed up to raise a murderer!  Ouch!

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This is a fun concept that sadly doesn’t really deliver a good story.  The image of the Pied-Piper-esq murder is really neat and creepy, but the explanation and the motivations don’t live up to the cleverness of the gimmick.  I think this might have worked better as a Phantom Stranger story, with an actual supernatural explanation.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent enough read.  The sequence where Dr. Thirteen reasons his way to the solution to the mystery is quite solid, and it has a nice sense of suspense and stakes as he slowly drowns.  Tony DeZuninga’s art isn’t particularly impressive, but it does the job, though the inking is a bit overdone in some sections.  He tries to create a somewhat psychedelic feel to the band’s sections, and that is partially successful.  I’ll give the whole thing 2.5 Minutemen.

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And with those maudlin mysteries, this episode of Into the Bronze Age comes to a close!  It was a really interesting trio of books, flaws and all.  Thank you for joining me on this journey, and please come back soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 3)

DC-Style-Guide-1

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

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

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


The Flash #208


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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“Malice in Wonderland”


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


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Another Headcount entry!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Justice League of America #91


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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.jpg2f52ff2370b3a87769869427faeac69darrowheadAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgMister_Miracle_Scott_Free_00014aa6e3fed1467a75dcac3f9654a2c723glhead

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


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

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I know I’ve been quite remiss in delivering you some more Bronze Age goodness, but I’m getting back in the swing of things, so I hope you can look forward to some more frequent posts.  Thank you all for your patience and your continued support!

As for this post, we’ve got a double dose of the Dark Knight on tap, including a Bronze Age first, the return of one of the great Batman villains!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Batman #234


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“Half an Evil”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Vengeance for a Cop!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Trail of the Talking Mask”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino

We’ve got an important milestone here, as this issue features the return of a classic Batman villain, the first of many due in the coming years.  As you can probably tell from the cover, our mystery guest is that bifurcated badman, that champion of chance, Two-Face!  I knew that he had been long absent from the Bat books, but when I looked him up, I was astonished to discover that he last appeared way back in 1956, in Detective Comics #228.

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It’s hard to believe that a character now considered to be one of the major Batman villains could be absent from these books for over a decade and a half, but so it is.  Notably, DC seems to realize the significance of this story, as the cover copy touts the return of the villain.  The cover itself is okay, but it isn’t really all that impressive.  We’ve got a nice depiction of Batman’s plight, and Two-Face’s laughing visage is fairly striking, but the whole tableau is more confusing than evocative.  What exactly is going on here?  Has Two-Face turned uglier than average pirate?  We are left to ponder the question.

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The book opens with a lovely, moody splash page presaging the showdown that will eventually take place in the swamp at the end of the story, but the action actually begins during the “Gotham City Merchants’ Parade,” which bears a striking resemblance to the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  This particular festival is interrupted by a strange theft, as two clowns break character to hijack a giant hotdog balloon, which floats up to be received by a waiting helicopter.  Note the label on the float.

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This crime, unusual as it is, attracts the attention of Batman, and we get a funny scene in Commissioner Gordon’s office, as resident anti-Batman loudmouth, Councilman Arthur Reeves, is busy boasting about how he’s going to put the vigilante in his place, only to flee in terror when the Dark Knight, having silently arrived behind him, says “boo.”  It’s a great little humor beat that provides some levity while not detracting from Batman’s brooding presence or serious attitude, striking a balance that isn’t easy to achieve.  The annoying Reeves having been removed, Batman and the Commissioner compare notes, but their conference is interrupted by an alarm at the Nautical Museum.

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Batman234-09Arriving there ahead of the police, the Masked Manhunter sees a car take off, but realizes that it is a diversion.  Continuing his search inside, he encounters the two criminal clowns from the first robbery, and he captures one, though the other escapes with the loot, a diary of an old sea captain named Bye.  Interrogating his captive, the Caped Crusader receives a shock.  The mastermind behind these thefts is always flipping a coin and keeps his face in shadow.  Sadly, the cover rather spoiled the reveal, but I imagine the next scene still had to be exciting for long-time Batman fans, as Two-Face is slowly revealed, first with a focus on his scarred coin, and then his equally scarred visage.  It’s a nice, dramatic scene, and it ends with the evil side of the coin winning out, setting the stage for more mischief.

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Having sussed out the identity of his foe, Batman reminisces over Two-Faces history, and I was surprised to discover that the Pre-Crisis villain actually had his face repaired and was healed at one point in time, only to have another disaster scar him once more and drive him back into madness.  Poor Harv can’t catch a break!  Back in the present, the world’s greatest detective begins to put the pieces together, realizing that Captain Bye’s former ship is still preserved in a marina nearby.  When he arrives to investigate, the Batmobile is met by a pair of gunsels, but Batman isn’t in it!  Using an automatic pilot to control the car, the Dark Knight gets the drop on the gunmen and takes them out, only to arrive on the dock just as the schooner explodes and sinks!  The Masked Manhunter realizes that he’s missed something and tries to examine his assumptions.

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In another funny scene, a drunk is floating elsewhere in the river on an inner tube, only to be slowly hoisted out of the drink by a mast emerging from the water.  The schooner slowly floats to the surface, and Batman is there to see it.  When the ship is fully afloat, he climbs aboard to await the arrival of his foe, but even the great detective is stunned to see the drunk hanging obliviously from the mast, and he’s distracted enough for Two-Face, who had stowed away with a SCUBA rig, to sneak up and knock him out.  It seems that the mastermind stole the parade balloon to help him raise the ship after he sank it, having chosen that particular balloon because it belonged to the Janus (two-faced god) hot dog company, labelled “Doubly Delicious,” thus making it doubly appealing for Two-Face!

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The scarred scalawag discovered that Captain Bye had hidden a treasure of gold doubloons on his ship, and he had sunk it in order for the tide to deposit it in a secluded cove, then he raised it with the balloon so he could recover the hidden fortune in secret.  Lashing Batman to the mast, Two-Face plans to sink the ship once more, but the Dark Knight points out that this will kill the tramp on the mast.  A flip of his coin forces the villain to save the drunk, and this gives the Caped Crusader time to free himself, and with a single blow, he knocks his foe out, bringing the adventure to an end.

This is a fun story, with a lot of entertaining moments and a nice mix between humor and drama.  It isn’t necessarily the most impressive return for Two-Face, though it’s nice that his convoluted plan almost works, only to be thwarted by his own fixation on his coin, in the custom of all the classic Two-Face tales.  This feels like a Two-Face story in that way.  It’s a tradition that Batman’s foes tend to defeat themselves thanks to their own particular shades of madness, and this story is right in line with that history as well.  Yet, I was a bit disappointed that the Dark Knight defeated Two-Face so easily.  It seems like Harvey should have been more of a physical threat, ‘strength of a madman’ and all that, as the old stories had it.  On the art front, Dick Giordano’s heavy inks bring a certain darker atmosphere to this tale, and for once the difference is striking enough that even I can notice it.  This works well for Batman, though it brings a rougher look to Adams’ pencils.  The artwork is excellent and very effective throughout, with Adams doing a particularly nice job on the reveal of Two-Face’s scarred visage.  So, taken all together, this is a solid if not spectacular return for a great villain.  It lacks just enough in Two-Face’s portrayal and the development of the mystery to keep it from being great to match.  The coin dictates that I give Two-Face’s reappearance 4 Minutemen, a pretty good score, and I’m not one to argue with the coin.

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“Vengeance for  a Cop”


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The Robin backup features an odd but thoughtful little yarn.  It begins, oddly, with a police officer named Robert Beeker apparently breaking the fourth wall.  He seems to be talking directly to the reader, as he talks about how his beat, on the edge of Hudson U’s campus, places him between angry and frustrated portions of society, the townsfolk who think he’s too soft on the “long-haired anarchist law-breakers,” and the kids, who think he’s just “a head-busting establishment pig.”  It’s an interesting monologue, and it highlights the divide afflicting the culture and his own difficult, delicate role as a peace officer.  Yet, as he talks, a shadowy figure shoots him down, though he gets off a shot in return.  This seems to be in response to his speech, so what exactly is going on is a bit uncertain.

Either way, who shoot Officer Beeker is a mystery that attracts Robin’s attention, as he thinks to himself that “too many cops are getting the short end of the stick these days,” which is an interesting perspective given the enduring national anger following events like the Kent State Shootings in 1970.  The Teen Detective investigates, but finding nothing, he visits the wounded officer.  Beeker, recovering well, asks the young hero to bring his daughter home.  The silly girl has bought into the counter-culture promises of the day and run off to a commune, hating her father for defending a corrupt society.

 

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Charming girl…

 

When the Teen Wonder heads to the commune, he finds the girl, Nanci, headstrong and passionately convinced of her own righteousness, as is often the case for the young and foolish.  She condemns her father and shows Robin a police bullet she wears, taken from the leg of one of the ‘family.’  Just then, Terri Bergstrom arrives with a note from Batman that warns his ward that the shooter may actually be at the commune as well.  When asked how she found him, Terri is vague once more, continuing to imply that she knows more than she’s letting on.  I suppose the he should really be used to this by now from his time around that master of vague nonsense, Lilith.  Nonetheless, it’s then that Dick meets Pat Whalon, Nanci’s boyfriend, who has a wounded leg and who admits to having been at Hudson U.  Curious.

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Aiming to investigate the commune, Robin approaches a bridge, only to be confronted with a towering hippie who speaks in a strange, archaic fashion, and who declares that the Titan must best him with a staff to gain entrance.  Shades of Little John!  Dick loses the fight, but he loses with humility, and this is apparently the real test, but it doesn’t explain the weird put on Shakespearean act (nor how the young superhero gets his head handed to him by this hippie Merry Man).  Nonetheless, in addition to a dunking, the fight also provided Robin with a clue to the culprit, and he points out the perfidious one.  Yet, the hippies declare they won’t let him take the gunman back to town.  The identity of the villain is kept a mystery for the moment, but I’m guessing it is pretty clear.

Batman234-28This is a story with some really worthwhile elements and some really strange touches as well.  The odd opening and the random anachronistic dialog that doesn’t get explained are rather off-putting, but the central mystery and, more importantly, the attempts to address current social concerns, are really decent.  Friedrich does a solid job setting up the mystery in a small space, but there just aren’t many characters to work with.  It might have been better to go to the commune immediately and filled in the backstory briefly.  Nonetheless, his attempts to address the anti-police sentiments abroad at the time are worthwhile and surprisingly effective, humanizing Beeker, briefly but well, with his lament about being stuck in the middle, and touching obliquely on the dangers of returning violence for violence and hatred for hatred.  It’s all rushed, but it’s fascinating to see these themes being addressed, especially in the Robin feature, which seems aimed specifically at the college crowd.  So, I’ll give this ambitious but uneven tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s worthwhile, but clumsy.

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Detective Comics #414


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“Legend of the Key Hook Light House”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Invitation to Murder!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Australian Code Mystery”
Writer: David Vern Reed
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Sy Barry
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editors: Mort Weisinger and George Kashdan

“Private Eye of Venus”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler/Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a lot of backup material in this issue, with two very different mystery stories rounding out the Bat-tales, which is always neat to see.  We’ve got a military-style spy story, complete with code breakers and double dealing, as well as a classic 50s-style sci-fi yarn.  Yet, our cover story is definitely the highlight.  It’s a surprisingly touching story where the action and adventure take a distant backseat to the human drama of one unexpectedly sympathetic and well drawn supporting character.  As for the cover itself, it is just okay.  It’s got that soft, ghostly effect that we’ve seen often lately, and it actually rather inverts the events of the actual story.  Still, it is nicely menacing and dynamic.

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It begins with an unusual tale of love and betrayal set forty years in the past.  A lighthouse keeper lets himself be distracted from his duties by his young love, and a ship wrecks in a stormy sea (Tom Curry would be disgusted!).  Unable to live with what he’d done, the keeper killed both his lover and himself, leaving the tower…haunted!

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Detective414-04In the ‘present,’ Batman is poised in the rafters of a Florida bar, spying on a meeting of arms smugglers.  Notably, the narration focuses on the humidity and heat of the night (and if you’ve ever been to the Gulf Coast, that will be no surprise to you), and I can’t help but think, ‘man, Bats must be DYING under that cape and cowl!’  Anyway, the Dark Knight’s comfort aside,once the guns are revealed, the Caped Crusader descends on the hoods, taking out the muscle in a nice fight scene.

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Detective414-06Yet, among this motley band of mercenaries are a mismatched pair, a tall, Amazonian blonde named Lucy and a little fellow named Arnie, who has brought the guns down from Gotham.  When the Masked Manhunter confronts the Lilliputian driver, Lucy attacks the hero.  This leads to a fun little exchange where Batman tells this fiery femme that “I don’t want to hit a member of the fair sex–but if the need arises…”  That feels very fitting.  In order to save the diminutive driver, Lucy offers to make the Dark Detective a deal.  She offers to bring the Caped Crusader to the head of the gang, if only he’ll let Arnie go.

Detective414-07Batman agrees, and as he and Lucy board a boat and head for the abandoned lighthouse for which the guns were originally destined, we learn why this brassy belle was willing to make this trade.  Beautifully illustrated by Novick, who perfectly captures Lucy’s care-worn face, we learn a bit of her backstory.  With a lovely, rough-hewn charm, she describes how she was once an up-and-coming singer in Jersey, and Arnie was her manager who wanted to marry her.  She wanted nothing to do with the little fellow, and instead lived a fast, flashy, and ultimately hard life, losing her beauty and her voice chasing the wrong type of men and the wrong types of thrills.  Only then did she realize her love for the sweet-natured Arnie, but then he wouldn’t have her.  It’s sweet, and sadly beautiful, and it’s delivered in just one great panel and a few word balloons.  It’s a real feat of storytelling to create something touching in so brief a space, and another example of the power of this medium for narrative economy.

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Once on the island, Batman lays in wait for the buyers, a thoroughly vicious South American general named Ruizo.  Lucy leads his men into a trap in the lighthouse, and the Dark Knight takes them out swiftly, taking advantage of the darkness.  But Lucy is left outside with Ruizo, who shoots her in revenge!  This old dame is tougher than she looks, though, and thinking that the General will go after Arnie, she drags herself across the beach and into the surf in order to wrap a cable around the getaway boat’s propeller.

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Detective414-15The Caped Crusader takes advantage of the situation to confront Ruizo, but the rough seas knock him off his feet, and he strikes head!  The General draws his sword and prepares for the deathblow, only to be surrounded by a corona of blinding light and an unearthly voice speaking of redemption.  Desperate to escape the ghostly blaze, the would-be dictator leaps into the sea and swims towards another phantom glow that he thinks is the lighthouse, only to sink into the depths.  Batman rescues Lucy, and they have a nice moment.  Then, he climbs into the lighthouse and, realizing that it has been deserted for years, he realizes there must be a spiritual explanation for the strange occurrences and he says…’thanks,’ as the restless spirit finds redemption.

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Detective414-17 - CopyThis is an odd little tale, with the haunted lighthouse not quite fitting in smoothly, but it really becomes worthwhile with the brief but touching story of Lucy, her wasted life, and her heroic struggle to save the only man who had treated her with love.  She’s wonderfully sympathetic, and I wish O’Neil had cut out the ghost angle and just spent more time with her.  Novick’s art is serviceable throughout, occasionally rising to be excellent, but one of the only flaws of this story is that he struggles to consistently portray the age and wear on Lucy’s face.  She’s as gorgeous as Black Canary most of the time, with only a few panels really capturing the older, more world-weary face she’s supposed to have.  It makes it a little hard to take her tale of faded glory seriously.  This is, of course, a common problem in superhero art, as artists tend to only be skilled at drawing heroic types.  Despite its weaknesses and the ill-fitting element of the haunted lighthouse, this story is nonetheless memorable because of the charming portrayal of this single random minor character.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen in honor of “Loosy’s” hard-knock life.

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“Invitation to Murder!”


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This month’s Batgirl backup features a night at the theater, as Jason Bard, the poor man’s Dick Grayson, takes Babs to see a new show, only to arrive to find the place seemingly deserted!  The only other showgoers are a couple in one of the private balconies.  Nonetheless, the show goes on, only to be suddenly interrupted when Jason notices a rifle pointing at the other guests from nearby their nosebleed seats.  He tries to intervene, only to receive a buttstroke for his troubles.

Babs strains credulity for her secret identity, switching into Batgirl and tackling the gunman.  She stops his next shot, but the fellow tosses her over the edge of the balcony.  Fortunately, she manages to grab onto the rail, and she sees her dear detective try to tackle the gunman again, only to get his head handed to him…again.  Switching back to Babs in the interim (are we sure she doesn’t have super speed powers?), she picks up her battered beau, who in turn picks up the sniper’s weapon.  It’s a lever-action rifle, a prop from “Mesa Productions,” which recently went bankrupt.

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Wondering who their rogue rifleman was shooting at, the couple goes to investigate, only to find that the targets were Hollywood royalty, “Tiz and Robbie Marlow,” clear analogs for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who were THE Hollywood couple of the mid-century, which is a fun little detail.  Incidentally, America’s celebrity obsessed paparazzi culture really took off with those two, which is a sad memorial to their relationship.  While you’re pondering that anecdote, our heroes are pondering who would want to take a shot at these beloved figures.  It seems that one of the bullets at least managed to find its mark, and Richard, err…Robbie, got hit in the arm.

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After “Tiz” sobbingly wonders why anyone would do such a thing, especially on their anniversary, Jason begins to put some of the pieces together.  He deduces that the Hollywood couple had booked the entire theater for their anniversary, and the ticketseller had misheard the sleuth and given him tickets for the seventh instead of the second, tickets which he didn’t bother checking…and apparently neither did the ticket taker, who they just rushed past.  Odd.  Yet, even odder, the Marlows didn’t buy out the house, the tickets were a gift from “an anonymous admirer.”  Clearly a setup.  It seems only their manager, Joe Ryan, knew of their plans, but Jason’s playmate didn’t seem to be him.  The tale ends with Babs stepping out, ostensibly to call the police, but really to pursue a hunch of her own!

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This is a fun little story, and it has the makings of a good two-parter, but there’s not quite enough here to make for a substantive mystery.  We don’t even meet a single suspect.  Nonetheless, Robbins gives us a colorful and interesting setup, and the playful reference to the real-life stars is fun.  There’s also a nice dynamic between Jason and Babs, with Batgirl’s paramour being a detective in his own right, which gives their adventures a rather different flavor than those of most heroes in their secret identities.  It’s also beginning to get a bit comical that Jason can’t seem to win a fight to save his life.  Unfortunately, Don Heck’s art continues to be a poor fit for this feature, still producing a number of awkward, stiff figures and rough compositions.  Yet, there are also some really nice panels, and some of his facework is quite good.  The overall effect is serviceable, if not exactly good.  So, I suppose I’ll give this crazy curtain call an above average 3.5 Minutemen, as it has just enough of interest to raise it above the crowd.

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This was an enjoyable pair of Bat-books, with the long deferred return of the bifurcated badman, Two-Face.  I’m hoping that this heralds a return of supervillains to the book in general, though I know we’re still a little while away from the Joker’s triumphant and legendary return.  We also get an intriguing glimpse of 70s popculture, with the appearance of an ersatz Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, who I imagine were easily still in the headlines here in the early 70s, even if their heyday had passed with the 60s.  In fact, each of our stories in this bunch have something to recommend them, from the socially relevant Robin tale to the surprisingly touching Detective yarn.  I’d call this a memorable pair of comics.

 

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 worke