Hello and welcome back my friends and readers! I hope and trust that y’all have all had a very merry Christmas and are enjoying the post celebration cheer. In any case, we have, after a two year hiatus (!), finally arrived at the end of November 1971! I’m very pleased to have gotten back to this little project, as it has always been something that I have loved. I have already been enjoying diving back into these classic comics, and even the duds have proven entertaining. Here at the end of this month we have two more tales to tell, and they are a mixed bag. I can safely say, however, that you won’t be bored reading these comics, even if one of them makes no freaking sense. So, without further ado (I feel like y’all have waited long enough as it is!), let’s continue our journey Into the Bronze Age!
(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.
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
“Jimmy Olsen: Genocide Spray!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell
“DNA Project: The Alien Thing!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell
“Newsboy Legion: The Rookie Takes the Rap!”
Writers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
Okay….where to begin? So, the last issue, which we covered way back when, was crazy enough. Yet, this one really takes the cake for gonzo madness. After I finished reading, I sat staring at my comic for a few minutes, just pondering, ‘how in the world am I going to summarize this?’ Do we get an explanation for why vampires and werewolves are hanging around former NASA facilities? Sort of? We do get explanations, but they don’t make a whole lot of sense! But before we get into the madness inside, let’s take a look at this cove. We get an interesting image of ghostly figures rising from the “mini-planet” our heroes discovered at the end of the last issue. It works pretty well, and it looks fairly dynamic and spooky. The story it represents is not quite so fortunate!
We do get a really lovely two-page splash revealing the mysterious planet, Transilvane, complete with comparatively giant ‘horns’ (Can a planet be evil?) and a brace of hovering movie cameras(!). With no warning, we’ve gone from investigating a scientific laboratory to the set of a Universal monster movie, as The Man of Tomorrow finds a secret passage that opens into a chamber where the pals discovers a pair of coffins, presumably belonging to the apparently vampiric ‘Count Dragorin’ and his hairy henchman. Inside, they do find their supposedly undead antagonist, but they also find hi-tech gadgetry, and this seems to confirm Superman’s theory that these beings are actually from the mini-world, tiny creatures that use machines to grow large enough to interact on a human scale, like reverse Atoms. Just then, more of the classic movie monsters arrive, and we get a regular Monster Mash, as the Action Ace and the cub reporter fight this macabre menace, only to be struck down by a “micro-bomb” triggered by the cunning Count.
Kirby cuts us away at that point, shifting the focus to the Newsboy Legion, who we last left in an underground bunker, having discovered the gangster who killed the original Guardian, Jim Harper. The kids listen in as the unwary gunman spills his guts on the phone with his Intergang contact. Having heard enough, they jump him, planning to bring him to justice, but the torpedo turns the tables on your youthful heroes, literally, in a panel that looks more like a bomb went off than a desk was kicked over. However, his escape proves short-lived, as Intergang triggers hidden explosives in the hideout, tying up the loose end he represented and leaving the kids empty-handed. Dispirited, they eventually make their way back to the surface at last.
Meanwhile, what about the assembled cast of our extraterrestrial Adams Family and their feud with the Man of Steel? Well, they tie the Kryptonian to a torture device and attempt to force him to reveal the location of the elusive Dabney Donovan, but when Superman casually breaks free and tells his ‘captors’ that he doesn’t know where to find the missing scientist, they start talking about some kind of prophecy about a “Demon Dog,” which will destroy their world when it flies, an evil event that is at hand! While the horror movie rejects lament their fate, the Metropolis Marvel leaps into action, tearing open the stone floor and finding another high tech facility below the planet cradling catacombs, finally discovering the very Demon Dog itself, just as it takes flight!
The strange winged hound, it turns out, is a mechanical delivery system for a poison spray which was designed to eliminate life on the artificial planetoid….for….reasons? Whatever lunatic logic was behind its creation, Superman smashes the poisonous pooch and saves the day for Transilvane and its movie-monster denizens. At this point, Jimmy finally recovers from the explosion that knocked them out, and he joins his heroic pal to observe a fleet of flying coffins shrinking back into the mini-world, their mission accomplished, I suppose? At this point, Superman explains the situation….or at least, it’s as close to an explanation as we get. As we had already discovered, Dabney Donovan apparently somehow created this miniature world, along with an entire race of sentient life, and for some reason, he played classic horror films on the clouds as that life evolved, so they copied what they saw, becoming a race of B-picture players.
It’s basically the plot of the famous ‘gangster planet’ episode of Star Trek, “A Piece of the Action”, except even wackier and not nearly as charming. On top of all of that, apparently Donovan, completely unconcerned with the fact that he had created life had planned on cleaning the slate, for more ‘reasons’, presumably, and had cruelly declared this fact to the inhabitants of Transilvane, once more through cloud-movies. Superman and Jimmy decide to try to undo the weird, warping effects of Donovan’s choice of sky-entertainment (skyertainment?) by playing a different genre. Of all things, they choose a musical, Oklahoma!, and pull up chairs to watch the sky-screening. One can only wonder what kind of society would evolve from that choice…
So…that was certainly an interesting ride. It’s certainly not boring, but this tale is just so out there and disjointed, with so many different concepts pulling in so many different directions, that it just leaves you scratching your head and asking “why”? Why did Donovan hide his planetoid below a graveyard? Is he just a nutjob obsessed with horror movies? Why did he just abandon the experiment? Why bother killing the planet’s inhabitants if he abandoned it? What is the point of any of this? Well, we never learn any of the answers to those questions, and we never even meet Donovan. It’s a rather unsatisfying conclusion to an already weird adventure.
I do sort of enjoy the ending, with Superman and Jimmy sitting down to try to provide the Transilvaneites with something more wholesome to copy, though I rather question their choice. Kirby’s artwork is fun and dynamic, as usual, though I noticed several scenes that seemed stripped-down and unfinished, and I would wager that the infamous Vince Colletta is to blame for that. The Newsboys’ subplot was interesting, but it wrapped up rather quickly and dramatically, and I find myself wondering about its point as well. All-in-all, this issue just confirms the sense I had with the last one that this book is in need of a focus and a direction. Here’s hoping the next one will bring something more coherent from the mind of the King! I’ll give this one a disappointing and disjointed 2 Minutemen.
World’s Finest #207
Executive Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson
“A Matter of Light and Death!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell
Writer: M.W. Wellman
Penciler/Inker: Edwin J. Smalle, Jr.
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
“The Cosmic Idiots!”
Writer: Sid Gerson
Penciler: Gene Colan
Inker: Joe Giella
While this month brought us an issue of Jimmy Olsen with a cool cover but a weird, unsatisfying story, it also brings us this rather pleasant surprise of a comic, which is the exact opposite. Take a look at that cover. Despite the jeopardy of our heroes, it just about couldn’t be more boring. Oh no, Superman and Batman, the greatest super hero pair in the world, the eponymous “World’s Finest,” are being menaced by….a couple of guys? It doesn’t exactly fire the imagination. They have slightly more personality than the usual foot soldiers of the Generic Gang, but not by all that much, and the cover is largely blank, other than these four figures. And yet, the tale inside, which I fully expected to be a slog, held my attention and even kept me guessing, though the title sort of gives away the secret villain of the piece.
Our tale begins with a clandestine meeting, where three random guys, whose names I can’t be bothered to remember, are being contracted for a hit by a shadowy figure. The splash page reveals that the target is….Superman! That’s right, these random gunsels are being hired to whack the freaking Man of Steel. Even more surprising, the mysterious malefactor behind these mercenary machinations is none other than….Clark Kent himself! Well, as you might imagine, the hoods, not being complete morons, balk at being asked to kill the invulnerable alien sun god, but the not so mild-mannered reporter convinces them that he can provide them with magical means to complete the hit, and vanishes as proof (using super speed, of course).
This may seem quite silly; after all, what threat can three random guys pose to the Metropolis Marvel, but Len Wein actually does have a reason for this setup. In any case, as Clark flies away, we follow him to the arctic, where he uncovers a strange device that he calls the “Satan Staff,” which supposedly can kill his alter-ego. I rather expected that this was an artifact from an earlier story, so I was confused by the lack of an editor box, but once again, I was to discover that there was a reason for that. After stashing the device in a Metropolis park, Clark “wakes up” and realizes that had suffered from a blackout, apparently the third such episode! Afraid of what he’s doing with his lost time and unsure of how to solve the mystery enshrouding him, the Action Ace turns to the world’s greatest detective, the Batman!
Our scene shifts, and we join Batman taking out a gang. and doing a bit of bantering that would be rather out of place for the character these days but which is fun enough in context. Superman arrives just in time to help him clean up the captured crooks, and then shares his trouble with his friend. In response, the Dark Detective sets out to shadow the Metropolis Marvel in a series of disguises (which is a fun touch and gives us a nice montage), but discovers nothing through his trailing.
At the end of the day, Clark returns to his apartment to meet his ally, only to once again fall under strange influence and swat the Caped Crusader aside! Not to be deterred, the Dark Knight of course prepared for such an eventuality and preemptively planted a tracker on his pal. He trails the mind-controlled Man of Steel to another meeting with the assassin trio, where the reporter delivers the “Satan Staff”, and attacks after Clark leaves, smashing through a skylight in a wonderfully dramatic panel. After defeating two of the thugs in a skirmish, Batman is blitzed by the last one, who uses the magic device to trap the Masked Manhunter in a net summoned from thin air. The trio decide that, since they are businessmen, they won’t simply kill the Gotham Guardian for free; instead, they’ll auction off his death after they’ve taken care of his partner.
The Random Gang attempts to ambush Superman at the Metropolis Planetarium, where he’s setting up an exhibit on Krypton, which is a fun little touch, but his super hearing tips the hero off to their heinous plans. After a fun little fight, they manage to take him out by using the magic wand to bring a Kryptonian exhibit to life, which seemingly kills the Man of Might! The assassins trap his body in amber and return to finish Batman off, wondering when their contact will arrive with their fee.
It is then that our true antagonist makes his appearance, and it is none other than Dr. Light! This is the latest outing in his attempts to destroy the members of the Justice League by attacking them one at a time. He eventually reveals that he was the prime mover in this enterprise; having tapped into Superman’s brainwaves in a previous attack, he used that experience to hypnotically program his foe to arrange his own destruction with the Satan Staff, a weapon of his own devising. Dr. Light later explains that he developed the Staff after studying the magic of Zatanna, seeking to use such magic, Superman’s one remaining weakness, against his Kryptonian opponent. But why this elaborate charade? Well, it’s actually a rather funny reason. The Luminary Lunatic realized that, although he possesses the power to destroy the Justice League, he blows it every time he tires to defeat them, thus, he decided to work through intermediaries and to turn hes enemy’s own strength against him. That is both hilarious and reasonably clever.
At any rate, Dr. Light’s sudden arrival doesn’t have the effect on his contracted killers that he had hoped, as they want to keep the Satan Staff because of its power, so he straight up disintegrates them! That’s a great moment, and also stunningly brutal for a comic of this age. Yet, just as the bad Doctor is about to reclaim his weapon, a gloved hand beats him to the punch: the Dark Knight has freed himself! The two maneuver around, trying to get in position for a shot, but when the Caped Crusader fires the Staff, it passes harmlessly through the Lord of Luminescence, who then snatches the device and teleports away!
Is all lost? Not quite, as Superman suddenly bursts free from the amber, and Batman reveals that he foresaw Light’s avoidance of his attack, so he had maneuvered him in front of the Man of Steel’s yellow tomb so that the beam would strike it instead, breaking the spell and reviving his fallen friend. The Action Ace is steaming mad, so he leaves his partner in peril behind to settle the score with Light by his lonesome. The Kryptonian hero discovers his foe in a floating solid light fortress hidden in the Aurora Borealis, which is a really cool concept that Dillin’s art doesn’t quite capture.
Despite Superman getting the drop on him, Dr. Light is not without resources, and he hits the Man of Tomorrow with a red sunlight beam, weakening him, only for the hero to turn the tables on him by smashing through the floor and striking from an unexpected direction. It’s a great little action piece, and a satisfying conclusion to the conflict. Finally, the issue ends with Superman and Batman taking in one of Zatanna’s shows, where Batman laments the bruises he suffered through the contortions necessary to escape his bonds.
What a fun, enjoyable issue! I really had a good time reading it, especially considering that I thought I was in for a chore because of that clunker of a cover. The whole thing hangs together surprisingly well, with all of its different elements making sense once the mysteries are revealed. I really enjoy the interaction between Batman and Superman, and this tale accomplishes a feat that remains rare today, properly balancing the two character with their vastly different power levels. Both the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight get a chance to shine and be useful. And speaking of the Masked Manhunter, his portrayal here is fun, though a little too light in context of where the character is going in his own books. Still, I enjoyed this Batman, who doesn’t take himself entirely seriously, though he’s still mysterious and calculating.
On the villain front, it’s worth noting that, although Wein tries to give the trio of assassins a little personality, they are ultimately forgettable cats-paws, so much so that I really can’t remember any of their names as I write this, having read the issue just last night! On the other hand, Dr. Light is a great antagonist for this tale, and his portrayal is interesting and entertaining. Despite awful things done with the character in later days, I’ve always liked this classic version of Dr. Light. He’s got cool powers and a cool look. He’s generally a great ‘generic’ villain to throw at your heroes for a straightforward superhero adventure, as his motivations are pretty prosaic and simple. Dillin’s art was quite good as well, energetic, dynamic, and full of life, and we got a lot of lovely, creative panels throughout. Yet, there were a few missteps in there as well, like Zatanna’s horribly distorted legs in the panel to the left (she looks like she’s being viewed through a fun-house mirror!). All told, this is exactly the kind of superhero yarn I enjoy, creative, fun, action-packed, some mystery and surprises, and a touch of continuity and world-building to top it all off. I’ll give this entertaining issue a strong 4 Minutemen.
Well dear readers, with these two books we at long last wrap up our trek through November 1971! I hope that y’all have found these tales worth the wait, though I don’t think even the best of them quite justifies the delay, ha! Nonetheless, I am pleased that we at least end on a positive note. Years between my posts has, I’m sure, tried your patience, and I appreciate all of those of you who have rejoined me now that I’ve emerged from the wild realms of a PhD program, busy semesters, and the general chaos of 2020!
It’s been an interesting month of comics, featuring more of the themes we’ve come to expect, with a little bit of environmental consciousness in one of our Superman stories, some more witches and occult outings, and the usual dash of counter-culture chaos. Interestingly, we are seeing both positive and negative portrayals of the counter-culture trends, with Robin’s ‘illuminating’ contact with a commune on one hand and Batgirl’s conflict with some truly heinous hippies on the other. We’ve had some unexpected gems, like Supergirl’s super-fun alien adventure, as well as some disappointing duds, like Jimmy Olsen’s visit to the planet of the Late-Late Show. We’ve also had more than our fair share of the wacky and the weird, with robo-Lincolns battling robo-Booths, and superfluous melting androids. It’s certainly been an interesting month, and I hope that y’all enjoyed joining me on our little trek.
I know that my wrap-up section here is shorter than normal, but there’s so much distance between me and the bulk of these stories now, since I read most of them ages ago, that I don’t have as much to say as usual. Nonetheless, I hope things will get back to normal in the months to come. I’ve also had to cut the “Headblow Headcount” for the moment, as I can’t figure out who to format it in the new WordPress editor. I’ll keep experimenting with it, and hopefully I’ll have that figured out by the next time a hero takes a crack to the cranium. So, until we begin our next month’s coverage, I hope that y’all will enjoy the final days of 2020, at least as much as possible. Here’s hoping that the next year will bring better fortunes and brighter skies for all of us! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive, and join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!