Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
“A Tree Grows in Metropolis!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano
“Rock and Rose”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano
This is a bit of a weird one, folks. It has a solid enough cover, even if it is pretty gimmicky. Interestingly and unusually enough, the cover proves to be a pretty honest representation of what’s inside. We join the story with Superman scouting a dying planet, abandoned by an advanced race when they outgrew the world. The vegetation seems to dying now that the inhabitants are gone. Bizarrely, the Man of Steel has a vision of Lois wrapped in foliage, only to discover that it is actually a strange alien tree that has somehow survived. Deciding to save the plant, he brings it home…and then plants it in Metropolis Park. Planting an alien lifeform in the middle of a densely populated city? What could possibly go wrong?
Oddly, the men of the city are fascinated with this extraterrestrial arboreal artifact, but the women are repulsed. Reporting on the story, Lois finds herself uncomfortable around it, and her unease proves well-founded when, after their date that night, Superman detours to the park, where he stands entranced in front of the plant. Suddenly, the tree “speaks” telepathically, introducing itself as Rzalin and declaring its love for the Man of Tomorrow. Inexplicably, the Kryptonian hero becomes enslaved to its will and begins to carry out its commands, creating a moat of lava around the being to protect it (which would cool relatively quickly, but oh well). When Lois objects, Superman actually knocks her out with a nerve pinch!
The Metropolis Marvel begins to bring the tree materials from around the galaxy, carrying out some type of plan. The graceful girl reporter tries to intervene, poll vaulting (!) over the moat and confronting the alien. It is then that Rzalin reveals its plan, whereby it will convert its Kryptonian captive into another tree by an elixir made from the materials he is collecting, and together they will release spores that will convert all of humanity into more of their kind. Yet, the enterprising Lois came prepared, and she tries first to poison, then to burn, the tree. Unfortunately, Superman stops her and takes her home again.
Not to be daunted, the resourceful reporter thinks that she can destroy Rzalin with white kryptonite, which is deadly to all plants (which I didn’t know). Fortunately, there is a sample at the Superman Museum, but before she can put her plan into action, she’s attacked by her own houseplant! Apparently the heinous herb can control earthly plants. Lois launches into a deadly race to the museum, but she is attacked by trees, flowers, and even gigantic pollen!
Eventually, Rzalin brings her to the Park to watch its triumph, as Superman drinks the elixir and changes into another perfidious plant. Just as Lois gives into despair, we suddenly see her and Superman looking at the tree, apparently perfectly fine. The alien being dies, and the pair posit that it must have fed on mental energy, but the minds of earthlings weren’t strong enough to support it. Lois supposes that, since their minds were feeding it, they must have been in its fantasy…which doesn’t really follow. The end…I guess?
That’s right, it was all just a dream. For some reason. This is an odd choice for a twist, as the story that came before wasn’t really about the tree, which is supposed to be the dreamer (and thus perspective character) in this scenario. It’s incongruous and rather unsatisfying. There are some positive elements to this story, though. I enjoyed watching Lois play hero and take an active role in the plot. She is determined, capable, and resourceful, and it suits her nicely.
I’d rather have seen this played straight, with her able to rescue the Man of Steel. Roth’s art is good as usual, but he seems to struggle with some of the more fantastic elements once again. He really does a fantastic job on Lois’s expressions, however. As is, the yarn feels…unnecessary. So, this is a forgettable and awkward little tale that I’ll give 2 Minutemen.
“Rock and Rose”
Our Rose and Thorn backup this month, in contrast, is another solid adventure. We begin right where the last one left off, with Rose and her would-be executioner fleeing from the 100 gunmen sent to finish the job. The youthful assassin-in-training, Leo, confesses to the Thorn that his masters had kidnapped his mother and were holding her in their casino barge as insurance…which seems to rather sharply contradict his portrayal last issue. Leo seemed to need no extra motivation to go after the heroine in that story.
The pair face a running fight against the 100 goons, who all conveniently take the time to mouth partial threats before getting decked. You’d think they’d learn to shoot first and brag later. Finally the fleeing duo dive into the water and dodge gunfire beneath the waves. When they emerge, a police boat happens by, responding to the gunfire, and it turns out that Detective Stone is aboard. Thorn saves a drowning Leo and gives him to the police, but when the Detective touches her hand, there is a moment of almost-recognition for both of them. This prompts the Vixen of Vengeance to swim away on her own. Fascinatingly, we discover that, not only is Rose ignorant of the Thorn’s activities, the vigilante doesn’t quite understand her other half either.
The next day, Rose turns down a date with her boss, Mr. Adams, who is secretly the head of the 100, to go to a concert in the park (watch out for the alien tree!) with Detective Stone. With this useful piece of information, Adams orders a hit on Stone, but when the gunsels come to call, the Nymph of Night suddenly surges to the surface and takes control, easily disarming the two thugs. Rose shakily exclaims that she thought she had forgotten all of the karate and judo her father had taught her, and before the killers can recover, they are swarmed by dirty hippies (what a horribly humiliating defeat).
Slipping away in the chaos, Rose turns into the Thorn once more and heads to the barge where the 100 are holding Leo’s mother. Once aboard, the Wild Wraith is captured and, with Leo and his mother held at gunpoint, forced to surrender her utility bel…err, “Thorn Belt.” Suddenly, all of the flash bangs and bombs in the belt go off, stunning her foes, and the Baleful Beauty bashes into them, taking out the killers and rescuing their prisoners. Apparently, much like Batman (who she is totally not ripping off), the Thorn’s belt can’t be removed without setting off all of the ordinance, unless you press a hidden button. Clever! As the tale ends, she tells Leo to thank her by going straight.
This is another really, solidly good adventure in Kanigher’s run on this feature. Once again he packs a ton into just a few pages, giving us a fun dose of action, but also advancing the overall plot and squeezing in a bit of characterization. I find it very interesting that the Thorn was able to manifest during a moment of stress in the daytime (which is actually a more accurate portrayal of split personality, to my understanding). The vigilante’s moment of contact with Stone was also intriguing, and I’m curious what (if anything) will come of it.
The only real flaw is the sudden addition of Leo’s mother to the plot, which Kanigher absolutely didn’t setup properly in the previous tale, which makes that element feel like it comes out of left field. On the art front, while I miss Gray Morrow’s really neat and unique style from the previous issue, Dick Giordano does a wonderful job here. He draws an absolutely lovely Thorn, with a lot of nice detail, especially on her flowing hair, which whips around in combat and is always dramatically framing her face. His action sequences look lovely, and though there are some rough spots, the whole is of a high quality. I’ll give this brief but exciting backup 3.5 Minutemen.
Teen Titans #34
“The Demon of Dog Island”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy
So far, we have seen, to put it gently, a pretty uneven run on Teen Titans, with a lot of half-baked ideas and no clear direction. That doesn’t necessarily end here, but this issue did manage to surprise the heck out of me and rise above the material that came before. I expected another gimmicky, poorly thought-out and poorly executed adventure from the (admittedly fun) cover, but there is a lot more here than you might expect. This cover, with the dramatic image of Wonder Girl menacing her friends and with the foreboding house looming in the background, is beautifully rendered by Nick Cardy, and it sets a suitably creepy stage.
Inside, the eerie mood is not wasted, as we join the action with a cloaked figure fleeing from a pack of savage dogs on a barren island. She is then attacked by a hulking fellow named Jed Jukes. During the struggle, we see that the figure is none other than Donna Troy, Wonder Girl, who easily throws the threatening thug aside. Jukes is raving about witches and how the house she enters is cursed. The house in question is a massive old mansion of sinister aspect, but it is inhabited by a kindly old woman in a wheelchair. We discover that Donna is staying with this lady, Miss Wickersham, taking care of her. How she knows her is never explained.
After reading a ghost story of sorts to her elderly charge, Wonder Girl finds herself feeling odd and heads to bed, but the action of the night is not finished yet, as a little later the rest of the Titans make their way to the house. Lilith has had a vision of their teammate in trouble, and teen heroes have come to the rescue. Suddenly, the psychic sees a cloaked figure, but when the others look, there is nothing there. Then, Speedy is unexpectedly clotheslined from the car, and the group is beset by the Jukes brothers, who once again are carrying on about witches and warlocks. The team makes short work of them in a rather nice panel, with even Lilith pulling her weight. Recovering the Boy Bowman, the Titans make their way to the mansion, where they find Donna, seemingly safe and sound. Yet, despite her protestations that she went straight to bed, Lilith observes mud on her friend’s boots.
The next morning, the Titans are all charmed by Miss Wickersham and spend the day enjoying the beach, though Dick and Lilith both remain suspicious. Their suspicions prove well-founded after night falls. The muddled mystic sees Donna sneak out of her room, and when she goes to follow her friend, someone clocks her from behind! (Adding a new face to the Head-Blow Headcount!) The team awakes to a cry and finds Miss Wickersham’s poor cat strangled! I was really surprised to see this in a comic of this era….and just in general. Hurting animals is always a very dicey thing in storytelling.
The innocent kitty’s death proves there is something untoward going on, which is further confirmed by the scene playing out on the beach, where the sleepwalking Donna has wandered. The Jukes have surrounded her, and Jed prepares to set his vicious dogs on the defenseless girl, only for his dog whistle to suddenly sprout branches. The killer canines turn on their masters then, and only the timely arrival of the Titans saves the ruffians. Meanwhile, Lilith, looking for Wonder Girl, stumbles upon a strange scene on a cliffside. She sees a man in 17th Century garb conversing with a cloaked figure. The man declares that he has returned for his companion, but she declares that she is stronger and always was, causing him to dissipates in a ghostly mist.
Back in the mansion, Lilith finds her friend still sleeping, but she also discovers something more sinister, the small noose used to strangle the cat! This final piece enables the psychic to put the puzzle together. She declares that Donna has been…possessed! The mystic explains that such possessions are passed from one victim to another through secret rites, and the new vessel, as they are being made ready, will commit a ritual murder, which explains poor puss’s fate.
The Titans set out to solve the mystery, checking in on the wounded Jed Jukes, who they brought home after the dog attack, only to find him hanging upside down in the cellar! Lilith, going off on her own again (you’d think she’d have learned by now), checks in on Miss Wickersham (and, let’s face it, in a story involving witches, the old lady with the cat is a prime suspect), only to be garroted by the awakened ancient after making an important discovery!
Her teammates are attacked by a possessed Wonder Girl, who uses mystical powers to torment them. Just as all seems hopeless, the mysterious figure from the cliff returns, grappling with the old woman and saving Lilith. He declares that, this time, he is the stronger, because her time is running out. He tells his aged antagonist that he won’t give up, because he loved her once, and he is waiting for her innocence to return, before fading away once more. Intriguing! At the same time, Robin manages to shatter a window, and the weak dawn light temporarily breaks the spell and brings Donna back to herself.
The day breaks, and Miss Wickersham lies near death, but Lilith has solved the mystery. She is able to read the crone’s mind and sees that she is really over 300 years old and was once a girl named Magda Drachwyck, who loved a man named Gregori in a small European country. Unfortunately, there were dark powers abroad in that era, and just before her wedding day, she was possessed by a cult of “Demonids” (really?), murdering her beloved as the evil took hold of her. Eventually she was forced to flee to this island, and the spell-wrapped house has kept her alive for centuries. By day, she was a sweet old lady, by night, a vicious witch. Gregori, for his part, has haunted his former love ever since, waiting for the day that she will die, when the evil will be purged from her soul and they will be reunited.
With the facts of the case revealed, the heroes hope they can solve it, but it seems that, once a possession begins, it cannot be broken unless a token taken from the victim is recovered. If the original host dies, it will be too late! Desperately, the kids split up and search the house, but their efforts are for naught. Finally, Robin discovers one of the stars from Wonder Girl’s uniform in Miss Wickersham’s locket, and Speedy fires it into the sea, breaking the spell. As the sunsets (and apparently, witches always die at sunset, as everyone knows), the old lady dies, but her freed spirit is greeted by her love, Gregori, and the two are reunited in eternity.
What an unusual story, but what a good one! Here we see one of those rare instances where Zaney Haney’s overactive imagination is reigned in enough to focus on a single plot and develop a story fully. It’s comics like this where we see how good a writer Haney could actually be, with his gift for unique characters and unusual situations married to a competently plotted script. In fact, this is one of the better mysteries we’ve encountered so far, and certainly one of the better supernatural adventures, with a very effective eerie feel, and an enigma that is properly setup before its reveal. The tale still moves a little too fast at times, and some of the specifics of Haney’s witch-lore are a bit goofy or fuzzy (Demonids?), as are some elements of the setting (how exactly does Wonder Girl know this random old woman?) but he successfully creates an engaging plot out of the broad strokes, even delivering some surprisingly compelling moments along the way.
The ghostly Gregori’s hopeless, dogged persistence in the face of his former love’s loathsome actions is touching, and their final reunion is quite moving because of that, especially considering how little time we spend with them. In fact, that final scene has a good deal of power for a comic like this. Lilith is probably the most useful and likeable here of any story we’ve seen so far, actually justifying her place on the team and not being unnecessarily cryptic. In terms of the art, Tuska does a solid job throughout, although he really (presumably with Cardy’s help on the inks) blows me away in a few key scenes, delivering wonderful emotional and character work on faces, like Gregori’s on the cliffside and Miss Wickersham’s as she garrotes Lilith. This is simply a surprisingly good read, and as such, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.
World’s Finest #204
We’ve got yet another odd one to cap off this post’s comics. This issue is a strange mixture of thoughtful, creative elements with a plot that doesn’t really take advantage of them. It has a relatively interesting cover, with the beautifully rendered central figures, courtesy of Neal Adams, plainly setting up the problem of the piece. It’s unusual and it’s also honest enough, and, notably, it was probably a very proactive visual in 1971. I can’t imagine there were many comics showing guns being pointed at protesting kids around that time. This is a statement on the times that must have been more shocking in that era than it is today. The tale within does turn on just this issue, after a fashion, and it begins at just such a protest, with Superman flying over a college campus, observing the tense standoff between students and guards. At the moment, the sides seem to be behaving themselves, so the Action Ace heads to the office, where Perry White hands him an assignment, a human interest piece wherein the reporter will get a date through a computer dating service. Strangely, after Clark has his marching orders, the editor wonders why he did this, noting that he hates computers. Odd!
At the same time, in nearby Greenwich Village (what is it with O’Neil and forcing Superman into New York?), the former Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, gets a similar assignment from her mentor, I-Ching. In a curious foreshadowing of the modern day, Clark and Diana find that the computers have matched them together. In a rather nice scene, they chat about how they do make a certain amount of sense together, but their talk is interrupted by a trio of toughs. These unwitting thus try to mug them, only to get their clocks cleaned by Diana. It’s fun seeing Clark sit back and let his date do the heavy lifting.
Smarting from their defeat, the punks decide that they must have revenge, and one of them draws a gun. Unaware they’re being chased, the couple stop by a radio studio, which is supposed to be the first part of their date (which seems like a weird choice), but when they open the elevator doors, they find, not the office they expected, but a bleak, blasted landscape! Suddenly, the not so wondrous woman is unable to breathe, and the Man of Steel realizes that there is very little oxygen in the atmosphere. At super speed, he finds a pocket of air underground and carries his date to safety. Building her a shelter, the Kryptonain, who doesn’t need air, sets out to see what is going on here.
Finding a bizarre, golden tower, the only sign of life on this desolate world, he charges in, smashing past defenses, only to find himself face to circuit with a robot, built into the structure itself. The machine explains that this is the future of the Earth, 2171, one hundred years in his future. Apparently, an event in Superman’s time lead to the destruction he has observed in this future. Notably, the android explains that this is just a possible future, and one which might be prevented if the catalyst event is altered. Realizing this, the mechanical man developed time travel capacity (how convenient!), allowing it to bring forward agents that could affect such change. To that end, it was the machine that manipulated events in the past to bring the two heroes together, which just seems unnecessarily complicated. It then shows Superman a clip of the defining moment, a college protest which turns into a riot, during which someone will be killed, someone who, otherwise, would prevent this future.
Just then, on the robot’s monitors, the Man of Steel observes that pack of punks from earlier, who have stumbled through the same time-slip as the heroes and who are now rushing towards Diana’s shelter. Inside, they menace the martial-arts mistress, until the Metropolis Marvel arrives and defeats them with ludicrous ease. One can only assume that criminals in the DC Universe are just amazingly stupid after these idiots attack the invulnerable, super strong demigod with their bare hands. After the thugs are disabled, Superman and Diana share a moment that threatens to turn romantic. Just before it does, Clark breaks away. It’s an interesting little scene, and I rather wonder if it ever gets followed up during this era.
After rescuing the former Wonder Woman, the Man of Tomorrow heads back to the robot’s citadel, only to find it running out of energy. Gathering the other three unwilling time travelers, Superman desperately races to get back through the time rift before it closes, just barely making it. Grabbing Diana, he races off once again to reach the site of the destined riot, and the two split up to try and calm things down. Their efforts are for naught, though, as one of the hot-headed students throws a Molotov cocktail, blowing up a car, and the guards open fire. In the aftermath, Diana finds a kid safe and sound who matches the description of the future-bot, only for Superman to discover a dead guard who also could be the one. Desperately, the heroine asks her partner which one is their target, only for him to respond hopelessly that they’ll never know until it’s too late!
That’s quite an ending! It’s a bold move from a writer known for bold moves, with the situation left unresolved and a reasonably subtle delivery (for O’Neil) of his message. There are some fascinating ideas at play here, as well as a really interesting reaction to contemporary events, but the plot really needed another pass to tighten the story up. It’s unnecessarily convoluted, and we spend way too much time with the random thugs who want to shoot Wonder Woman. They add nothing to the plot or to the development of the story’s themes. I think this would have worked much better if the heroes had been summoned to the future more directly (if the machine can manipulate people’s minds to arrange a date, it could have done the same thing to just get those two to show up in the same place) and then spent more time on campus for the final crisis.
As is, the resolution is really rushed, and the dramatic, weighty declarations of doom delivered by the future-bot are undercut by the random arrival of the three thieves. On the positive side, it’s really fascinating to see the more sophisticated treatment of time travel that this comic employs, with the concept of possible futures and alternate time-lines. That’s a relatively later development of the genre, and one not often found in lighter fare. I’m sure O’Neil wasn’t the first to use this device, but I don’t think it was particularly wide-spread by ’71, making his use of it here innovative and impressive. O’Neil also does a good job writing both Wonder Woman and Superman, which makes sense given his experience with both, and their interaction is really interesting. Dick Dillin’s art is a bit uneven at times, but once again, his work here proves superior to that on JLA, with some really dynamic and also some really subtle work in action scenes and character moments. He produces a few panels that are downright magnificent.
Perhaps most notably, this issue seems to be a clear commentary on the then recent shootings at Kent State, which loom large in the American zeitgeist of that era. It’s interesting to see such a major event echoing into comics this way, and O’Neil’s take on it is really quite impressive in the little space he devotes to it. He presents the perspective of both sides in the conflict, with the kids frustrated at their lack of reception by the powers that be and the guards on edge because of abuse they’ve taken from the kids. Yet, he also illustrates the overly aggressive attitude by some of the guards. The final thrust of the piece, focusing on the lost potential of young lives ended, even if doing so in the most dramatic way possible, is really rather thought-provoking.. I suppose in the final analysis, I’ll give this off-beat issue 3.5 Minutemen. It’s flawed, but it is really fascinating.
The Head-Blow Headcount:
After a quiet period, we got not one but two new additions to the Headcount this month. In this post, we have a brand new addition to our prestigious club, with Lilith of the Teen Titans making an appearance. That means that we have most of the Titans team on the wall. We’re only missing Speedy and Mal! I wonder if they’ll join the gang before the end of the era.
With these three issues, we wrap up August 1971, which proved to be an important and memorable time in the Bronze Age, featuring a number of stories that would go on to have major implications for the DC Universe. First we saw the reappearance of Two-Face after decades in obscurity, and even though his story wasn’t quite the triumphant return that will greet the Joker in a few years, it was a still a fun adventure and marked an important re-connection of Batman to his history and rogue’s gallery. Despite the issue’s weaknesses, it still displayed a sophistication of art and characterization that marks the continuing growth and evolution of the Bat-books, which in many ways seem to be ahead of the rest of the DC Universe.
Even more noteworthy, this month saw the debut of the landmark drug story arc of Green Lantern/Green Arrow. That comic, which was much better than I expected it to be, was an absolute bolt from the blue when it appeared. It’s hard to recapture it’s significance over 40 years later, but despite it’s awkwardness and the clumsiness of some of O’Neil’s writing, we can still admire his attempt to grapple with something so very troubling and perilous in his world. The popularity of the issue, despite its obvious flaws, is indicative of just how much it resonated with audiences at the time.
Of course, one of the major problems with that story are revealed in the fairly innocuous second appearance of Speedy this month, in Teen Titans, wherein he is his usual happy-go-lucky self, with no trace of a drug habit or the trauma that was supposed to have caused it. Denny O’Neil’s loose attention to continuity leads to some significant dissonance between the portrayals. Worse than that will be the ongoing portrayal, where Speedy, I imagine, will likely continue unaffected (not least because he’s under the pen of one of the least continuity sensitive writers working at the time, Bob Haney). This undermines oen of the great strengths of shared-universe storytelling.
In the wider DC Universe, it seems that signs of unrest are everywhere, even showing up in the background of The Flash. Once again, the pressures on campus and the continuing generational conflict is center stage in some of our stories. These themes take two very different forms that remain similar in some notable ways. While the Robin backup focuses on drop-out culture and the rebellion against authority and the World’s Finest issue focused on the unknowable cost that follows the loss of a young life, they both also put narrative effort into presenting a balanced portrayal of both sides of their pictured conflicts. The DC writers seem to be making efforts to create a reasoned approach to these themes, even while courting younger readers, which makes sense given the more conservative nature of the company. Still, it is an admirable effort at creating understanding, even if only in small ways.
This month also saw Mike Sekowsky depart Adventure Comics and DC Comics in general. While I’m not sorry to see him go from Supergirl, it is a shame that we never got to see Sekowsky really develop his own series, with both of his self-authored ideas falling flat. It’s especially lamentable that his excellent Manhunter 2070 concept didn’t take off. It’s a little bittersweet to see one of the defining architects of the DC Universe ride into the sunset.
Whatever else it was, this was certainly a memorable month of comics, and it gave us some unexpected gems, like this issue of Teen Titans. I hope that y’all have enjoyed this leg of the journey as much as I have! Please join me soon for the beginning of our next month. Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!
- 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.
Brave and the Bold #96
“The Striped Pants War!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Alright, what the heck is up with this title? Is this a reference to something? If so, I don’t get it. All I can think of is Homestar Runner and “his ridiculous stripe-ed pants.” Either way, there seem to be no striped pants actually in this comic. Leave it to Bob Haney to confuse his audience from word one! Head-scratching headlines aside, this is actually a pretty good issue. There are a few things that ‘ol Zaney Haney always did very well, and one of those is the tale of the aging hero, the world-weary veteran whose best days are behind him. It’s a story that he told many times, and always with verve. This particular comic is no exception, though it doesn’t have the most impressive of covers. It has a solid, if unexceptional, composition that sets up the central conflict of the comic, Sgt. Rock’s questionable loyalties.
The story within opens on a dark night in a South American city as a van crashes into a car, the attacking vehicle’s occupants then jumping the stunned passengers. The car’s driver fights back, only to get shot for his trouble, and his passenger is carted away. Back in the U.S., Bruce Wayne is called to Washington D.C. where he is ushered into a secret meeting with the Secretary of State and the P.O.T.O.U.S. himself (that used to be an honor). Nick Cardy does the usual dance, not showing the president’s face, which I enjoy. It turns out the victim from our first scene was Ambassador Adams, who is a friend of Bruce’s, and who was on an important assignment in South America.
He was kidnapped by the “Companeros de La Muerte,” the Companions of Death, and they are holding him for ransom. The President asks Wayne to fill in as a temporary ambassador to complete a delicate treaty, and he introduces Batman, who will travel along as protection. How can this be? Well, it’s Alfred covering for his master in a padded costume, of course, and before long the pair are headed south! This is an interesting setup, and it works surprisingly well considering the stories in the Bat-books relatively recently where Bruce got involved in politics. It’s unusually consistent for Haney…though I’m inclined to wonder if that’s just a coincidence!
When Bruce arrives at the U.S. embassy, he encounters another old friend, Sgt. Rock, who is head of security. It was he who was driving the ambassador when he was kidnapped, and the embassy staffer left in charge, Carlyle, makes some snide remarks about his failure. When left alone, the two old comrades catch up, but Rock is surprisingly bitter and angry about the service, raging that they won’t let him reenlist. He strips off his shirt and shows the scars he earned in service to his country, but he laments that that country doesn’t want his service anymore.
Bruce is struck by the old soldier’s rancor, but he gets on with his job, investigating the scene of the kidnapping as Batman. In search of witnesses, he enters a bull fighting arena and gets a description of the van from a plucky young bullfighter who, in Haney’s trademark flare for minor characters, is full of personality. Strangely, the Dark Knight notices Rock tailing him, just as he is attacked by an assassin! One of the Companeros tries to kill him with a bullfighter’s prop, but the hero’s reflexes prove superior, and the would-be-killer is hoisted by his own petard.
On his way back to the embassy, the Caped Crusader is attacked by another pair of killers, but he fights them off with difficulty, turning their weapons against them in a great sequence drawn by Cardy and moodily colored. When he returns, the Masked Manhunter discovers a warning note from the terrorists that declares they will kill their prisoner at noon if he is not ransomed. That’s not the only discovery, however, as Alfred finds a listening device in Wayne’s room, a device whose source is found to be Rock’s quarters! Things look bad for the old soldier, especially when he is placed under arrest only to knock out a sentry and slip away.
Nonetheless, Batman continues his investigation, finding the killers’ van and trailing it right back to the embassy itself! They are hiding the ambassador in a secret basement, and this seems to confirm Rock’s complicity. The Dark Knight jumps the gathered thugs, getting the ambassador to cover but getting dog-piled by his foes in recompense. Suddenly, Sgt. Rock comes charging into the room, firing a Thompson, coming to the Caped Crusader’s rescue! He had escaped just to have a chance to clear his name, which he now does in spades!
It was all a frame, of course, and the heroes manage to hold off the terrorists, but the desperadoes trigger an old trap from the building’s colonial days, turning heroes’ cover into a cruel cage. At the top-sergeant’s insistence, Batman reluctantly escapes with the ambassador, only to be confronted by the real traitor, Carlyle. Fortunately, while Bruce Wayne may hate guns, his faithful butler isn’t so squeamish, and Alfred flat-out shoots the rat!
Meanwhile, Rock is making his last stand, but in desperation he attaches a grenade to the swinging spikes above him, and when they move back towards his enemies, they explode! Batman finds his old friend still alive in the rubble! Later on, they bid a friendly farewell, as Bruce Wayne takes his leave and Rock tells his pal that the army took him back for another hitch.
This is a really solid story. It’s fun, exciting, and it has a pretty decent central conflict with the question of Rock’s loyalty. Of course, we all know that the top kick is as loyal and dependable as…well…as a rock, but Haney does a good job of making his defection seem plausible. He is making surprising use of continuity here, however, it is largely his own. I suppose that’s to be expected from the ruler of the ridiculous. In his stories Batman somehow fought in World War II and is still active in the modern day. What the rest of the DC Universe needed multiple Earths to accommodate, Haney just shoves into one story and calls it good. That’s the Zaney one for you!
Despite that bit of silliness, he does a great job with Rock’s frustration at his treatment, and even his explanation ‘hey, I may grumble, but I’m still loyal,’ rings true. While the old soldier doesn’t get as much characterization as Wildcat tended to, we still get a good sense of who the veteran is and what struggles he faces. Cardy’s artwork is lovely throughout, fitting this spy thriller tale quite well. I’ll give this fun adventure an enjoyable 4 Minutemen.
Detective Comics #413
“Freakout at Phantom Hollow!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inkers: Dick Giordano and Steve Englehart
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda
Another issue of Detective Comics this month, but the Batman tale within isn’t the amazing and groundbreaking tale of last month’s Batman. Still Robbins turns in his usual brand of solid mystery yarn. It’s got a serviceable but not fantastic cover. The witch’s twisted visage is suitably creepy, but the rest of the image just isn’t all that interesting. It also isn’t quite indicative of what is going on in the tale, even symbolically. It’s rather an odd choice in that regard.
The story itself begins with Batman returning from a case out of town, only to be flagged down by the constable of a small village, Phantom Hollow, who is also a former Gotham cop. The lawman begs the Dark Knight to come investigate a mystery in his town. We then cut to the quaint hamlet itself, which is clearly modeled on Salem, complete with its own witch trial. Supposedly the town is haunted by “Ol’ Nell,” who cursed the bell of the old church, declaring that it would never sound again until it tolled Phantom Hollow’s death-knell.
Yet, the place’s troubles are start with something rather more mundane, as a trio of local kids ambush a pair of long-haired hippie-types, giving them a compulsory haircut…and, let’s face it…if that’s the worst thing that happens to these two goofy looking losers, they are probably lucky! It seems like they’re supposed to be around 12-14, and they just look utterly ridiculous. I imagine that the kids at my school would have probably been crueler in my day!
The two hippies, Shecky and Jamie, are recovering their wits when suddenly the massive form of the town simpleton, ‘Big Lanny,’ looms into view. The boys take off and decide to get even with the town by playing some pranks. It starts with the church bell suddenly ringing ominously for the first time in a few hundred years, but it takes a turn for worse when their attempt to set off cherry bombs near the town jail somehow blows a wall in!
Batman arrives to investigate the matter and hears some conflicting claims by the local folks, some claiming it was the two weirdo kids, others claiming it was Nell’s ghost. The local teacher sticks up for the young punks. The Dark Knight has plenty of suspects, but few clews, so he searches the bell tower, finding that the bell is rusted solid, but a strong pair of hands tip him over the rail and send him plummeting to his death!
Fortunately, the Masked Manhunter is always prepared, and he tied a bat-rope to his foot when he climbed to the dizzy height of the steeple, which is a nice, reasonable precaution for the hero to have taken. Outside, he finds the teacher, who was attacked by someone moving fast. She still insists on the innocence of her students, but when the Caped Crusader finds a speaker that provided the eerie bell-toll and traces its cord to a nearby cave, it is indeed the two would be counterculture rebels that he uncovers.
While he is confronting the kids, the bell rings again, but their tape recorder is shut off! Racing back to the church, Batman finds that the bell has been broken free of its rust, a feat that he himself had failed to accomplish. Suddenly, another explosion rocks the town. Interrogating his two captives, who remain defiant, the Dark Knight realizes that someone has been using them as patsies, and by pretending to leave them in the care of the teacher in the cave, he lures out the real culprit…Big Lanny?!
That’s right, the huge handyman was actually a direct descendant of Ol’ Nell, and he faked his stupidity in order take revenge upon the town. Unfortunately, the massive man, once revealed, remains a frightful foe. He toss the Caped Crusader about like a rag doll, and only the desperate attack by the two hippie kids saves the hero, toppling the giant and allowing the Masked Manhunter to punch him out. The tale ends with the teacher pointing out that the two exceedingly poorly dressed boys are modern day victims of the same type of ignorance and superstition (ignorance yes, but how does she get superstition?) as Ol’ Nell was in her day.
This is a decent mystery yarn, and it is interesting to see Frank Robbins dealing with youth culture and the growing strains on American life, with the nonconformists of this little town playing both sympathetic victims and antagonistic troublemakers. There isn’t a lot made of the setup, but it is notable that the teacher continues to defend the two kids and that they prove instrumental in capturing the villain. There’s definitely a message of tolerance delivered through their plot. Brown’s art is as solid and attractive as usual, and he gives us a few particularly nice images, like Batman observing the explosion from the bell tower. His Batman isn’t quite as lovely as Neal Adams’, but he always looks good, powerful and dynamic. I don’t think Bob Brown gets a lot of credit, but he was a very reliably good artist, especially on these Bat-books. As for this issue, it’s an enjoyable if unexceptional read, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.
The wig saga continues! For some reason! The Batgirl backup from the last issue is concluded here, despite the fact that it really seemed to be just about finished already. This one starts right where the previous tale left off, with Batgirl locked in awkward combat with the malicious wig-makers, who have managed to get one of their skull-cracking hairdos onto her head. Vazly hits the switch, and the fighting female seems to writhe in agony, only to reveal that it is just an act. She had already deactivated the heinous headgear.
She manages to capture Vazly, but his assistant gets away. In an admittedly cool sequence, Babs uses her photographic memory to deduce that something is missing from the scene, working out that it is a wig-stand. She recalls the code that had been on the missing item and works out that it is an address for a would-be victim. Rushing to the scene of the next crime, Batgirl interrupts Wanda as she attempts to put the squeeze on another rich divorcee.
Jumping the weird wig-maker as she attempts to make her getaway, the heroine engages in another desperate fight, with the wig again being used as a weapon, this time as a really clumsy garrote. Fortunately, Batgirl uses her head (as a bludgeon) and captures the remaining villain. The story ends with her receiving her birthday gift, a wig, from her father. Both Gordon and his friend Bruce Wayne think she looks better as a redhead, which she does, so Babs decides to stick with the hair God gave her.
This isn’t a bad story, but it isn’t a particularly good one, either. Batgirl’s peril feels a bit weak at times, and, as I said, this second half doesn’t feel entirely necessary. If Robbins hadn’t wrapped so much up in the first half, there would have been more to this story. As is, it feels largely perfunctory, though Babs’ feat of deduction is pretty cool, taking advantage of a character trait that isn’t always acknowledged, her eidetic memory. Don Heck’s art is serviceable, but it isn’t very pretty. He’s just not my favorite superhero artist. His figures tend to be stiff in action, and the whole thing lacks the smoothness of Bob Brown’s work on the headline tale. This is a mediocre offering, but there isn’t really anything in particular to fault it for, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.
Forever People #3
“Life vs. Anti-Life!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby
The King’s Fourth World wonders continue to unfurl, and it is certain a fascinating journey! Here with issue 3 of the the Forever People, the concept still hasn’t entirely gelled, yet Kirby is nonetheless constantly adding memorably to his mythos. This particular issue is a very uneven affair, but it is also really striking. We begin with another very lackluster cover. Other than the Mr. Miracle books, the Fourth World titles just don’t really benefit from good covers. I wonder if that contributed to their eventual failure. Either way, with this one we get a rather unbalanced image, against another dim and ugly photo-collage background. This one is so fuzzy that it’s little more than light and shadow. The image of the Justifier’s helmet in the background isn’t really all that intimidating, and while the cosmic kids are well drawn, the effect is just not very captivating. It isn’t helped by that glut of cover copy either declaring but never explaining Kirby’s wild concepts.
Inside, however, it’s another matter. From the first page the King gives us a clue as to what he’s about, starting with a quote from Adolph Hitler (!) about how his followers not only dressed alike but even began to mimic one another in facial expressions. Below is a sea of faces, faces that are eerily similar in their blank, dead-eyed expression, despite the riot of variety among them (though, notably, they are all white). This is a ‘revelation’, something of an evil version of a revival, headed by Darkseid’s newest flunky, Glorious Godfrey.
With a fittingly glorious double page splash, Kirby introduces the evil evangelist, who is hawking a heinous set of wares called ‘Anti-Life!’ The trappings and the language are all twisted versions of what you’d see at an old time tent revival, but rather than calling people to a knowledge of their sins and a God who will forgive them and save them from it, Godfrey promises freedom from such self-knowledge, freedom from doubt and uncertainty, the freedom of surrendering your will to Darkseid! There’s something really fascinating and powerful in all of this.
Godfrey converts his crowd into ‘Justifiers,’ whose adherence to the external reality of Darkseid’s will allows them to ‘justify’ any actions, enabling these miserable souls to indulge in violence, hatred, and more, all while feeling a sense of belonging in the foul fold. One of these helmeted hooligans arrives at the abandoned apartment acting as home for the Forever People and threatens their young friend, Donnie in order to find the quintet. Fortunately for the kid, the team has just walked in, hidden by Mother Box. Beautiful Dreamer casts an illusion to confuse their antagonist, while Vykin rescues Donnie. Then, all six youths beat a hasty retreat because the fanatical follower of Darkseid is a walking bomb! He detonates himself, but the Forever People are able to get out of range.
Realizing that Godfrey is on Earth by recognizing his handiwork, the team leaves a protective barrier around Donnie’s home and takes their leave, bidding the kid adieu. This is a bit surprising after the efforts Kirby went to in establishing the kid and the neighborhood as part of what seemed an ongoing setting in the last issue. Nonetheless, the Forever People load up in the Super Cycle and use Mother Box to home in on the Glorious one.
Meanwhile, in a scene that is an honestly haunting sci-fi version of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass), the Justifiers spread out through the city in flying transports, smash open doors, haul away ‘undesirables,’ burn libraries, and break windows. The parallels to real history are pretty unmistakable, and Kirby’s depiction of these events is really striking and efficient, only taking two pages to do its work. Monitoring his minions’ malicious work, Godfrey is primping, preparing for his next show. He gets a report about the approach of the Forever People and prepares a warm welcome.
The kids, for their part, see the guards around the tent and decide to summon the Infinity Man. He then bends and breaks the laws of physics as he wades through the solid earth to avoid the gods and warps the paths of bullets when he confronts Godfrey. He also abuses the rules of good writing, over-explaining everything he’s doing in odd, stilted prose. No rules can stand against the Infinity Man! Not even the laws of composition! The enigmatic hero destroys the mind-controlling organ Godfrey is using to control his converts, but he is stopped in his tracks by being brought face to face with…Darkseid! Once again, Kirby’s depiction of the villain hasn’t quite solidified yet, and he varies quite a bit from panel to panel.
Still, what the evil one lacks in visual continuity he makes up for in power, as he uses his eye-beams to split the Infinity Man back into the Forever people, who are easily captured by Desaad. The unconscious kids are herded into a transport and sent off to a new facility of the cruel scientist’s design. After their departure, Godfrey and Desaad spar, each seeking to cement his position with Darkseid, and we learn a little bit more about the Anti-Life equation, though it doesn’t make matters much clearer. Apparently Godfrey believes it doesn’t exist, and that Anti-Life can only be created through his type of direct mental manipulation. Apparently the Equation would allow its possessor to control the wills of all beings in the universe with a word, essentially destroying free will, the great gift.
This is a fascinating issue, but it isn’t necessarily a good one. It is a dramatically uneven book. When it is bad, it is really bad, but when it is good, it is really good. It’s strange, because it’s not even always good or bad in the same ways. Sometimes Kirby’s dialog is extremely overwritten and awkward, and other times its almost poetic. Darkseid’s declaration at the end that “when you cry out in your dreams-it is Darkseid that you see!” is darn good dialog, but almost everything the Infinity Man and the Forever People say is awkward and unnecessary. It’s clear that Kirby learned his comic scripting from the school of Stan. Stan Lee’s style of unnecessary expository dialog is very much in evidence here, but often times without the charm for characterization and cleverness that marked even Lee’s more egregious examples.
The Forever People themselves are once again largley useless in this issue. Pretty much the only thing they do is to run away from the first assassin, but they contribute basically nothing to the plot. If my vague memories of my first read-through are correct, we might see them get more of a chance to shine in the next issue, but we shall see. Despite these flaws, what Kirby is doing with Godfrey and the Justifies is really intriguing. The fact that the villains are evil insofar as they surrender their will and judgement for belonging and comfort is very striking, especially in light of the Jewish author and the not-too-distant cultural memories of the Holocaust. The parallels to the Nazi’s horrific campaign, as I said, are inescapable, but this story still resonates today.
It is, sadly, not an isolated incident that sees men surrender their moral judgement and their will to unworthy causes. It is frighteningly common. It is a difficult and wearying thing to think, to judge, and to strive for a consistently just moral life and philosophy, and people are always anxious to escape the burden of responsibility that we bear by being human. It is happening in our world today, as people blindly support causes and leaders that blatantly contradict their own stated values, having given up their moral judgement to that of the party, so the only decision they have to make is whether ‘they’ are ‘with us or against us.’ In this way, Kirby’s story works wonderfully well on an archetypal level, for whatever flaws it has as an adventure tale. In the end, this flawed but provocative comic is still a really interesting read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, despite its uneven quality.
P.S.: This issue sees the first appearance of the letter column, and the response is quite positive. Notably, sci-fi luminary and the subject of a JLA story I recently covered, Harlan Ellison wrote a glowing missive for the Master.
And with the Forever People, we round out our comics for this post. Thank you for joining me for this stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age! I hope that you enjoyed my commentary and will join me again soon for the next stage of my investigations. Please come back soon, and until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Teen Titans #33
“Less Than Human?”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
First up is a new Teen Titans adventure, and it’s a weird one, which is to be expected from Zaney Haney. The stranger thing is that it follows in the similarly weird footsteps of Steve Skeates from last month. The comic has a Nick Cardy cover, but it isn’t as fantastic as his usual work. The image is a solid ‘scary discovery’ type of composition, but Cardy can’t seem to make up his mind on whether the menacing figure is a zombie or a skeleton (look at those arm bones!), so it just looks a bit confused. Otherwise, it is pretty solid. Inside, this comic picks up directly from the last issue, in the poorly conceived and developed fantasy world that was created by the Butterfly Effect of Mal and Kid Flash’s journey into the past.
The young heroes face a test in the form of an archery competition, a-la Robin Hood, and somehow Kid Flash duplicates the forester’s famous shot. I expected this to be revealed to be a super speed trick, especially when the arrow begins to drill into the lock on its own, but it’s never actually explained. So, we could just assume that Wally is somehow an expert archer. It’s a bit clumsy, but Haney has no time for explanations or logic! Instead, a hulking skeleton, the animated remains of the caveman they killed, comes charging out of the door, and the Titans are terrified, so terrified, that Mal actually breaks and runs.
However, he doesn’t run too far, as he grabs the ‘Duke of Galaxy’s’ helmet and dons it before charging back towards the apparition. And a specter it proves to be, vanishing into thin air. ‘Jupiterius’ explains to the youths that ‘Cerebella’ (get it?), Lilith’s alternate future counterpart, used her mental powers to fill Mal with fear. Since they successfully passed their trial, he will show them how to travel back in time ‘to put right what once went wrong!‘
The wizard takes them to “The Well of Time,” where they take a piece of its crystallized water and find themselves back in the Stone Age, facing their anachronistic antagonist. This time Flash knocks the club away without sending the caveman crashing over the cliff, but the marauding Cro-Magnon (who looks much more like a neanderthal) manages to grab him…somehow. The crystals that hold them in the past fade during the fight, and the young friends find themselves back home…but they have picked up a chronological hitchhiker!
The caveman, grappling with Kid Flash at the moment of their return, went with them, and suddenly the entire team find themselves in a desperate struggle with the powerful savage. When they manage to incapacitate him, Mr. Jupiter oh-so-helpfully proclaims that he is not going to send their visitor back home because it turns out time travel is a tad dangerous. Gee, ya’ think? It’s a shame you didn’t figure that out before you lost two teenagers in time!
So, instead Jupiter instructs the team to tame the caveman, turn him into a modern man…which is problematic in multiple ways. Most importantly, this scene points to a major plot hole. Killing this caveman really messed up the timeline and caused a whole alternate future, right? But removing him from his era entirely doesn’t have any impact on the present? That’s just ridiculously sloppy writing, even for the Zaney one.
Nonetheless, in the present the caveman, who they dub “Gnarrk,” after his only vocalization, must stay. The Titans bring Robin in to help them with their new pupil, and after devising a curriculum, they start with the first and most important step…appearance! The first thing the team does is sedate their savage student and give him a shave and a hair cut, which doesn’t please the fellow too much when he awakens. He grabs Lilith through the bars, but fortunately she is able to communicate telepathically with him, and they make friends.
After a poor start with subliminal education while he sleeps, the Titans take the caveman out on the town pretty much immediately, which seems wildly irresponsible and unnecessary. Predictably, it goes poorly, and Gnarrk attacks a car, thinking it is some type of monstrous animal. Then he gets spooked by a train, and the team has to split up and search for their charge. When they recover the kooky Cro-Magnon, they discover that he has observed a local city councilman involved in a payoff, and they realize that Gnarrk has just become a damning witness against a major crime figure…but a witness who can’t testify!
This is actually a rather original and entertaining situation, all other concerns aside. You can say this for Haney, he certainly was creative! Well, the Titans immediately redouble their efforts. After two weeks of intensive training, they take their time-tossed guest to the D.A., for some reason in a major hurry, despite the fact that there seems to be no real external pressure. Nonetheless, Lilith, having grown close to Gnarrk, tries to shield him from the frantic efforts of the others, but when she takes him out for a walk, the pair are attacked by gangsters and narrowly avoid a bomb. Fearing for her new friend, the enigmatic lady slips away with him, planning to hide Gnarrk until after the hearing so he won’t be in danger.
Of course, this works about as well as you might imagine, and for some strange reason, the young caveman proves to be slightly less safe hiding out in a van in the woods than surrounded by superheroes. Gnarrk tries to confess his feelings for Lilith, who is apparently quite the ridiculous hippie, given her psychedelic surroundings, but she shoots him down.
This is followed quickly by being shot down herself in a more literal fashion as bullets riddle the van and the vaguely-powered vixen is hit. The Caveman goes crazy and tears into the attackers. The rest of the Titans arrive just in time to talk him down from killing his captives, but the Cro-Magnon chooses to do the right thing, sparing the would-be killer. The next day, Gnarrk appears in court and haltingly gives his testimony, bringing down the crime boss, and the comic ends with Lilith and her newfound friend walking off together, arm-in-arm.
Once again, Haney packs enough into a single issue of a comic to fill three normal books. He seems to pretty immediately lose interest in the time travel tale, instead settling on the weird and reasonably original angle of a caveman in the modern world. That story is fairly entertaining, and the character’s growing fondness for Lilith is actually rather touching. The scene where he tries to tell her how he feels, only to have her shut him down makes you feel for the guy. For her part, Lilith continues to be super vague and undeveloped, which annoys me, and her plot-fortunate powers seem rather convenient. That’s not terribly surprising with the Zaney one doing the writing, as character personalities and powers change at his whim.
This is a common problem with his work, but it is magnified here because even the questionable unity provided by Haney is lacking in this Titans book, with the authorial duties shifting every other issue. The inconsistency and uncertainty of direction is really clear with this issue, which clashes with the story started by Steve Skeates, whose plotlines are almost immediately abandoned. George Tuska’s art is lovely as always, and he does some really great work with Gnarrk’s face, which is particularly important considering how little dialog the character has. I think Nick Cardy inking Tuska also adds a bit of continuity to the visual side of the book, which is nice. The most intriguing part of this issue was the introduction of Gnarrk, who, despite being the focus of the story, receives relatively little development. Apparently he goes on to play a role in the Titans mythos in the future, but tellingly, none of the references I could find about him make any mention of this story. I’m curious to see what will become of him. (I wonder if he went on to become a lawyer). In the end, this is a comic with a lot of imagination that has some flaws but is still a fun read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, with its creativity raising it above the average.
World’s Finest #203
“Who’s Minding the Earth?”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
I have been really looking forward to this one, especially after Aquaman’s own book met its unfortunate demise. I have been excited to see my favorite character team up with the Man of Steel, and written by submarine scribe supreme, Steve Skeates, no less! Fortunately, this issue doesn’t disappoint, though it doesn’t have the most gripping of covers. It’s not bad, but it is rather excessively yellow, and the scene is rather more suggestive than exciting. Nonetheless, the monstrous creatures walking away from our heroes hold a bit of menace and the figures are well drawn, which is no surprise from Neal Adams. Nonetheless, the story inside delivers something pretty enjoyable.
It starts with everyone’s favorite Sea King discovering a strange phenomenon, an underwater rainbow, and when he investigates, he hears a strange, high-pitched buzzing which leads him to a ruined research station on a seemingly abandoned island. In the wreckage, the Marine Marvel discovers a torn journal page with a cryptic message about ‘raising him’ and a warning that ‘they plan to drown the world.’ That doesn’t sound good!
As he continues to search the island, Aquaman encounters a quartet of strange looking creatures, seemingly humanoid dolphins, and he can’t help but laugh at their awkward, waddling walk. Real sensitive Arthur! The creatures take this none-too-kindly, and the Sea Sleuth suddenly is hit with a mental attack and passes out! I’m not crazy about this scene as Aquaman, of all people, should probably be both a bit more accepting of and a bit more used to strange aquatic beings, but I suppose we’re meant to take it as harmless mirth.
Meanwhile, a very snappily dressed Clark Kent encounters a frantic stranger on the streets of Metropolis who is desperately searching for Superman. Before the reporter can calm him down and enjoy the irony, the disguised figure mentions something about ‘the change’ coming over him and somehow renders everyone nearby blind, even affecting the Man of Steel’s superior eyesight! It seems to the Action Ace’s blurry vision as if the figure splits in two and then races off, but after his vision clears, he manages to pick up their trail on the coast.
The Man of Tomorrow follows these odd aquatic beings across the sea and discovers Aquaman’s still form, managing to return him to the water just as the Atlantean’s hour was running out. Quickly catching each other up, they return to the isle and encounter the creature that had been seeking Superman in the first place. This alien-looking being fills the two heroes in on the situation. Apparently he was born a mutant, but a mutant dolphin, which is sort of a fun twist.
He was a humanoid being, and his marine mother abandoned him. Fortunately, a team of scientists working on the island rescued and reared the young mutant, who grew rapidly and proved to be brilliant, quickly learning English. He also developed strange sonic (or perhaps psionic) abilities, which he often used to summon displays of light, creating submarine rainbows for his own amusement.
Still, he was lonely, as well as clumsy and awkward on the land, which earned him the laughter of his adoptive family, embittering the young creature. He longed for a companion, someone like him, and suddenly one day, in response to his desire, he split in two, reproducing asexually. His new brother possessed all of his knowledge, but none of his compassion. There’s something of a similarity here to the Sand Superman of O’Neil’s.
The strange sibling inherited only the original’s anger, and the process proved continual, with more twins born every few days. Soon they drove the scientists away and began plotting to destroy the human race which had mocked them. The original dolphin-being warns the heroes that his freakish family plans to drown the Earth by using their sonic powers to melt the ice caps!
Together, the trio take off for the North pole, where the dolphin-men have gathered. However, the malevolent mutants sense the heroes approaching and launch a sonic attack that affects Superman’s brain (and we get an educational little map of the human brain to illustrate the point, which is a nice touch). Suddenly the Man of Steel streaks into the sky, charging a massive creature seemingly composed of sonic energy, yet he can never seem to make contact with it. Strange!
Under the waves, the Marine Marvel presses the attack, and while he and his flippered friend hold their own, the weight of numbers soon threatens to swamp them, so the Sea King calls in an army of fish to cover his retreat. As the mutants search for him, they fail to notice a seemingly harmless whale as it gets close, but suddenly Aquaman bursts from the creature’s mouth and slams into his aquatic antagonists! It’s a great sequence, and Dillin does a really nice job with it, other than one slightly awkward pose.
As the Marine Marvel tears through his foes, he manages to disrupt their attack on Superman, who suddenly realizes that the monster was an illusion and dives back into the undersea brawl. The two heroes make short work of the creatures. Once they have been captured, Superman gives them a fiery speech, lambasting the mutants for their violent response to human ridicule, arguing that they should have worked to earn respect instead.
Oddly, this prompts Aquaman thinks to himself that his friend “has that unbearable establishment ‘twang’ in his voice!” That’s…a weird choice for the King of Atlantis, and it really just doesn’t fit the character, a grating sour note, way more suited to the current, obnoxious characterization of Green Arrow, made all the more surprising because it was written by Skeates, who has previously shown such a great grasp of the character. Maybe Aquaman has been spending too much time with Ollie!
Despite that, there is a certain interesting element to this scene, as there is some buried social commentary in an authority figure telling an abused minority that they just needed to prove themselves to the powers that be. Given the racial issues of the day, I wonder if this was a subtle jibe or just a coincidence. Whatever the case, after his speech, the Metropolis Marvel gathers the mutants up and flies them to an unpeopled inhabitable planet where they can create their own world, free from humanity and no threat to anyone. On Earth, Aquaman ponders the case, and the married mariner thinks that it makes a certain amount of sense that this species that developed without love was also one that lacked an opposite sex. Arthur, you romantic, you!
This is a great little adventure story, and for the first time in far too long, it’s one in which Aquaman actually gets to be useful. Yet, he isn’t just useful, he positively steals the show, which isn’t easy to do when sharing space with Superman! The Sea King puts on a great showing in this comic, which I expected from a story by Skeates. The threat that the heroes face is an interesting one, and the tale of the original dolphin-creature (who Skeates really should have given a name) is rather touching in its own way. His loneliness, being the only one of his kind, is fairly poignant, and I quite like the little scene of him hanging out underwater, ‘singing colors’ to himself.
The one real problem with the issue is that the motivation for the mutants’ hatred of mankind is a bit weak. I’d have liked to see a bit more development to that part of the tale, but Skeates is moving pretty quickly in the space he has to work with and packs a lot in here, including a great action sequence. It’s a shame the original dolphin-man got exiled to another world with the others, as he seemed like a decent sort and an interesting character. If there were still an Aquaman title, he’d have made a fun addition to the supporting cast.
In terms of the art, Dillin is in particularly rare form on this book. His work is great, and he creates some really striking panels, like the gathering of dolphin-men, Aquaman’s fish army, and the drowning city. The creatures themselves have a pretty good design, strange enough to be a little creepy but anthropomorphic enough to be sympathetic as well. This is just a lovely, imaginative, and well-realized issue. I thoroughly enjoyed this comic, and it was great to see Aquaman back in action (in a good light). While the story could have been expanded, it was great fun as is. I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.
The Head-Blow Headcount:
Another month without any new visitors to the Wall of Shame. I wonder if anyone will succumb to the siren song of the headblow in the comics to come!
June has proven to be quite a month! There were a lot of really enjoyable comics in the line-up this time, including some very pleasant surprises, like Flash tangling with an honest-to-goodness super-powered opponent, and in a good issue, to boot! We also had a lot of stories that illustrated the transitional nature of this era, comics with more ambition than accomplishment that nevertheless illustrated the growing maturity of the medium. This month’s JLA certainly fits that description!
In general, the trends we’ve been observing continue this month, with a definite presence of socially conscious stories and a push towards darker themes. Even in light-hearted series, like Superboy, we find a story about witches and warlocks. It’s a silly tale, but it still evinces a growing interest in the supernatural in comics. Considering we’re only a year away from the premiere of Kirby’s Demon series and soon to see the return of the Specter, I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising. These are only the first steps of the mystical revival of the Bronze Age, and there’s much more to come!
Interestingly, among the socially conscious comics on the stands this month, we find another dealing with the plight of the Native Americans. Considering that last month also featured such a tale, this is decent evidence that the topic was in the zeitgeist. Fortunately, one of my awesome readers mentioned that this was certainly the case, and pointed to the publication of books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and the release of films like Little Big Man in 1970, both of which dealt with the subject and helped to begin transforming the public’s perception of Native Americans and the history of the West. I’ll be interested to see if this trend continues and if we find more stories from DC on the topic in the months and years to come.
Of course, Kirby’s Fourth World continues to develop in his various books, and we got two slam-bang issues to enjoy this month. The King keeps tossing out concepts and telling exciting stories, and even his action-heavy issues have unique elements like this month’s Mr. Miracle and the proto-fabber it contained. There’s not a ton of development of the larger mythos in these two books, though we do see the debut of Granny Goodness and get some more hints of just where Scott Free comes from. It’s really impressive that Kirby as able to keep so many titles moving forward and rolling out his nascent mythology across these different books. They really all do work together very well, creating a greater whole. Reading them in collection, I didn’t really appreciate what a complex dance he was doing.
Of course, Kirby’s titles are not the only books that are growing and evolving. Denny O’Neil is continuing his renovation of Superman, spinning a thoroughly enjoyable yarn this month, but more importantly and more memorably, he also delivered one of the greatest Batman villains of all time in a comic that was an instant classic. The deservedly beloved Batman #232 gives us R’as Al Ghul and brings the Dark Knight solidly into the Bronze Age with a mystery and adventure tale that highlights everything that makes the character who he is, from his detective skills, to his courage, to his brilliance and physical ability. This is the Batman I love, and it’s great to see him in action.
So, all in all, it was a really solid month, with a few clunkers but plenty of fun, readable comics. What’s more, it demonstrates the growing character of the age in some really interesting ways. I hope that y’all enjoyed this portion of our trip, because we now bid adieu to June 1971! Please join me again soon as we begin our trek into the next month and see what awaits us there! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!
- Action Comics #399
- Adventure Comics #405
- Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
- Detective Comics #410
- The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
- Mr Miracle #1
- The Phantom Stranger #12
- Superboy #173
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
- Superman #236
- Teen Titans #32
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“Planet of the Angels”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano
Say what you will about Denny O’Neil, he was unquestionably an innovator, always trying something different, though it didn’t always succeed. Today’s cover story is just such an experiment. It’s interesting and unusual, but not entirely effective. The cover is certainly striking, picturing the Man of Steel facing off against demons at the very gates of Hell, a very unlikely image for a Superman comic. O’Neil has been trying to shake up the status quo, to bring new life and energy to the rather staid hero, and he’s been succeeding so far. This comic isn’t quite as successful as some of his previous efforts, though.
It begins with a fun little scene where the World’s Finest team of Superman and Batman bust some safe-crackers. O’Neil and Swan manage to make them both seem useful, despite the fact that the invulnerable, super-fast sun god could easily have handled these two ordinary crooks before Batman so much as put on his cowl. Swan really does a great job with this team. The effect is enjoyable, despite their incongruity. Superman offers to buy his partner a cup of coffee, and I’m deeply disappointed that we don’t get to see a HISHE style scene with the two heroes sipping java in a cafe.
Missed opportunities aside, after the Dark Knight begs off because he’s bushed, the Man of Tomorrow heads to his Fortress of Solitude where he tries out a ‘brainwave project’ that he’s been working on, a device that will compare his brainwaves to those of a normal human. Envying humans and their need for sleep and dreams, he tries out the gadget and suddenly finds himself on a strange world! What’s going on?
He’s on a fiery plane where he is suddenly attacked by a gang of demons straight out of pop-cultural portrayals, right down to the goat-feet and pitchforks. Their polearms glance off him harmlessly, and the Kryptonian easily repulses their attack.
Just then, he is greeted by a trio of angelic looking figures who introduce themselves as Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, Christian archangels who tell the Man of Steel that he’s in the afterlife. They stand amid beautiful green hills, and below them burns a sulfurous pit. They display the popular misunderstanding of theology that Hell is for “those who follow not the paths of virtue,” and tell Superman that he has died and must prove himself worthy of Heaven by slaying the demons below. Something about this seems off to him, but the Action Ace heads into the flames nonetheless.
In the pit he discovers a massive gate and is haunted by twisted images of his friends appearing in the flames. Realizing that something is off, Superman decides to use his head, and he tunnels underneath the gate, easily disarming the ‘demonic’ guards on the other side, where he tries to get some straight answers out of one of their number.
The ‘fiend’ tells the Metropolis Marvel that what he sees is an illusion caused by the ‘angel’s’ hypnotic powers. With concentration, the Man of Steel sees, not a demon, but a uniformed alien, who tells the hero that he and his fellows are law officers who were chasing criminals, those same ‘angels,’ who lured them to this planet and trapped them. The criminals telepathically summoned Superman to destroy their enemies for them.
Confronting the false heavenly host, the Man of Steel sees through their illusions, including phantoms of his friends being threatened, and charges through their weapon blasts to knock two of them out. The third escapes, however, carrying a powerful bomb (through deep space!), with which to destroy the Earth! The Man of Tomorrow catches up just in the nick of time and stops the antagonistic archangel, returning him and his fellows to the lawmen (err…law-aliens?), and repairing their ship. The tale ends with Superman back in the Fortress of Solitude, where he reflects that he had a living dream, even though he didn’t sleep.
This is a weird issue. I like how Superman picks up on the incongruous elements of the ‘angel’s’ stories and setting, and I like his willingness to question figures of even the ultimate authority. It shows a greater maturity for his character than we’ve seen in the past, and these are obviously elements that O’Neil has been trying to develop. Yet, precisely what is happening in the story is rather unclear. Does Superman’s device cause him to dream? Is this a real and random encounter that has nothing to do with the device? It’s really ambiguous, and unintentionally so, I think.
Neither possibility lines up perfectly with the story as told, and there doesn’t seem to be any overriding point to either possibility either. Add to that the fact that Superman just absolutely breezes through all of his challenges in this story, despite the fact that O’Neil has been trying to present him as less all-powerful and the presence of alien weapons that could reasonably have presented a threat to him, and you’ve got an uneven tale that feels a bit sloppy. I’m also a little disappointed that the ersatz angel’s appearances weren’t illusions, as it seems incongruous for aliens to be flying through space in robes and without any protective gear. I understand what O’Neil was going for with his little ‘evil can be beautiful’ touch at the end, but it still doesn’t quite work. In the end, I’ll give this off-beat issue 2 Minutemen, with the dip below average primarily because of its unnecessary ambiguity. It’s strange but ultimately forgettable.
While the first story was something new, this backup is something old. This is another ‘Fabulous World of Krypton’ backup feature, though, honestly it feels like a bit of a gyp. The frame-tale guest stars Green Arrow and Black Canary, so take a wild guess what the theme is. If you guessed ‘yet another preachy environmental yarn,’ you win the cigar! This story just doesn’t fit the tone of Kryptonian tales, and it’s a good example of what happens when you shoe-horn in a message, prioritizing that over story. It all begins with Superman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary having a picnic, which is a fun idea, but a rather odd set of characters. Predictably, Ollie starts bellyaching about a nearby factory that’s spewing out pollution. At this point, why does anyone even hang out with this annoying archer? Well, this reminds Kal-El of a story from the glory days of Krypton, the story of a city called Surrus. In this city there grew special flowers, the Surrus blossoms, that sang a beautiful, calming song that had an almost soporific effect on the populace. Shades of the “Lotus Eaters!”
This city was also home to a scientist named Mo-De, who discovered the fate of Krypton twenty whole years ahead of Jor-El! After he made his discovery, he rushed out into the city streets and started playing Jeremiah, telling the citizens that there was still time to act. The people didn’t want anything to do with him, just wanting to be left alone to listen to their flowers. In desperation, Mo-De rushed into the fields and cut down the blossoms, but the enraged citizens, finally shaken out of their lethargy, beat him mercilessly and locked him in a greenhouse with more of the singing sprouts.
Eventually, the sounds break his will, and he emerges another zombie-fied lotus eater, err…flower listener. He passed the remaining years in peace, but died with the rest of Krypton. After Supes finishes his story, Canary is horrified, and she rushes off to have a word with the factory’s owner, having been shaken out of her lethargy. “Message for you, sir!” It’s a shame it was so subtle. I almost missed it.
This isn’t a bad story, really. It just doesn’t really belong here, and the entire thing feels forced, from the odd picnic with these characters that don’t really seem to have much in common (all in costume, no less), to the rather Twilight Zone-esq plot, which just really doesn’t seem to fit the utopian, highly organized Krypton that we’ve seen before. O’Neil does a good job of economical storytelling, packing his preachy message into seven short pages pretty efficiently. The message itself, though feeling a bit repetitive because of its environmental theme, is actually a slightly unusual one and not half bad. Focusing, not on the pollution itself, but on the populace’s apathy, their greater interest in their entertainments, their distractions, than on their future, is a good angle. The execution of the plot itself isn’t half bad, with the crowd’s reactions and the scientist’s fate all fairly creepy and menacing. The fact that O’Neil did use Krypton allowed him a certain amount of shorthand with the fate of the planet, which helps his efficiency in storytelling. There is also significance in the continued push towards social relevance, even in such an unlikely place as the Krypton backups. Taken all together, this little yarn is worth 3 Minutemen, with the incongruous elements limiting it to an average score.
P.S.: There’s also a somewhat clever joke in the name of the town, as “SUSsurrus” is a word meaning a soft murmuring or whispering, something of an indistinct, gentle noise.
Teen Titans #32
“A Mystical Realm – A World Gone Mad”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Joe Letterese
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Steve Skeates’ tenure on the Titans book continues this month, and we get a rather weird story under a fairly awesome cover. The peril of the two Titans in the image is pretty dramatic, and the dragon is quite impressive looking. The whole composition has a dream-like (or perhaps, nightmare-like) quality that smacks of the twisted fairy tale we find within. The story it represents begins with a scene that takes in media res too far, with Kid Flash and Mal traveling through time and referencing events that the reader hasn’t seen. It seriously made me go back and check the last issue to see if I had forgotten something. It’s a clever scene given the use of time travel, as it begins ‘in the present,’ but it’s probably too clever for its own good.
They think they are back in 1971, but instead of finding familiar surroundings, they discover medieval-looking peasants and, of all things, a dragon! Kid Flash’s speed manages to get them to safety, and only then do we get the flashback we’ve been needing. It seems that Mr. Jupiter, the vague and largely pointless patron of the Titans team, is apparently a scientist as well as a millionaire.
One day he was experimenting with a time-travel device, just casually running incredibly dangerous and unstable tests in his building with a bunch of teenagers around. Something went catastrophically wrong (shocking, I know), and Mal was flung back in time. Cardy’s rendering of the page is really cool, but the scene is rather dumb. It’s pretty clear that we’re moving at the speed of plot, here. Also, here is yet another experiment that could conceivably destroy the world as we know it. I’m thinking that the safest course of action in the DCU would be to ban science in general.
Mal finds himself back in the Stone Age, facing a tribe of cavemen who begin to worship him because they saw him appear out of thin air. Apparently the young man listened to the Ghostbuster’s good advice, as he plays along. Meanwhile, back in the present, Jupiter feels bad for about half a second for how his irresponsibility and complete lack of safety standards hurled an innocent kid through time. The other Titans encourage him for some reason, and Kid Flash makes plans to take a jaunt through time to try and find his friend.
Back in the past, Mal finds trouble by stealing a caveman’s cavegirl and finds himself in a club duel. Cardy renders the fight beautifully, and Skeates doesn’t spoil it with dialog. Mal holds his own, but a misstep leaves him hanging onto a cliff, just as Kid Flash arrives. As the caveman prepares for a death-blow, the Fastest Boy alive knocks the club out of his hand, but he manages to bean himself in the process and earns a spot on the Head-Blow Headcount, as well as sending the neanderthal plummeting to his death. With the hero knocked out, there’s no way to save the savage, which doesn’t seem to bother the boys much. They take manslaughter awfully casually.
In the altered present, Kid Flash realizes that they’ve unintentionally changed history with the death of that caveman. The young speedster knows they must go back and save the neanderthal, but he needs a cosmic treadmill to do it and doesn’t know where to find one in this medieval world. The peasants from earlier mentioned sorcerers, so they set out to try to find someone with the power or knowledge to help them. Discovering a castle, the pair are greeted by illusory monsters in the moat, but they manage to get past them by pole-vaulting onto the battlements, despite a mysterious hooded figure’s interference.
It’s a nice sequence, but it gives us one of the stranger dialog exchanges I’ve seen in a while. Mal says to Wally, “Love your white soul, brother Titan!” and his partner responds “Love your black one, Mal–and if I’ve got any soul–you taught me how!” It’s a pretty goofy exchange by today’s standards. I understand what Skeates was aiming for, and it makes more sense in the context of the racial tensions of the day. In addition, there’s some decent character development in this passage and the story as a whole, as Kid Flash was the most antagonistic to Mal in their earlier encounters. This emphasis on racial unity, however silly the setting and clumsy the effort, is an interesting and thoughtful move on Skeates’ part. Nonetheless, I can’t help laughing when I read it.
When the pair reach the castle’s walls, they discover that the wizard is none other than Mr. Jupiter, who here is known as Jupiterius, and he has a quartet of super-powered knights who are ersatz counterparts to the Justice League, including Batman, Superman, the Flash, and Green Arrow, which is a fun little touch for this alternate reality. The boys ask the sorcerer for help, but he and his champions insist they pass a test to prove their worth first.
Their first challenge is a test of bowmanship. Weirdly, they are confronted with Lilith and Speedy, who look like their modern counterparts with no good explanation. It’s supposed to be some type of trick, but I don’t really see the point of it. Nonetheless, things seem pretty hopeless. How can Kid Flash compete with Speedy in his element? Well, despite the boy bowman making a perfect shot at a keyhole, Kid Flash manages to pull a Robin Hood and split his arrow. Even more, his shaft manages to slice through the other and unlock the door. The tale ends with the time-tossed Titans facing whatever mysterious menace awaits on the other side!
This is certainly an entertaining and unusual story, but it feels very uneven. What Skeates is trying here is creative and promising, (I always like an imaginative alternate reality) but his execution is just rather off. It’s fun to see the medieval Justice League, a concept that will be revisited a few times over the years, but they don’t really do anything, and the addition of Mr. Jupiter feels a bit shoe-horned. Sure, he’s important to the Titans, but his presence with the League implies a more important role in the DCU than really seems warranted. Of course, I may just be letting my dislike for the pointless character color my reading. As for the death of the caveman, I think I would be much more bothered by that if it wasn’t pretty clear that the heroes will reverse it. Nonetheless, I would have liked to see Wally deal with that at least a little bit, rather than immediately shrugging it off. Honestly, after reading this story, I had to double check to make sure it wasn’t ‘ol Zany Haney. I was certain that this was one of his half-baked yarns, as the wild world the characters visit just feels more random than thought–out. Needless to say, the art is gorgeous, and Cardy does a great job with all of the medieval and fantasy elements. His soft, sketchy work really sells the illusions and mystery of the book. In the end, it’s a fun if flawed and strange story, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.
The Head-Blow Headcount:
We’ve got a bunch of new additions to the Wall of Shame this month. Poor Aquaman makes yet another return, but he is in good company as Batgirl, Mr. Miracle, and Kid Flash all join him. This puts Batgirl back ahead of Robin, sadly for her. The Headcount certainly drives home just how much of a trope this is, with so many of our stars showing up on it. I wonder if we’ll ever see the Last Son of Krypton gracing this feature.
And that finishes up April 1971! This is a month of endings and beginnings, a month of specters and spooks, and a month of innovation as well as repetition. The books of this month reflect the paradoxical nature of this era in DC Comics, with the extremely conventional sharing space with the experimental. At the same time Leo Dorfman is turning out standard Silver Age fare, Denny O’Neil is working to revamp Superman, all while Jack Kirby is busy pushing the boundaries of the medium. Notably, while O’Neil fails to challenge the Man of Steel, Kirby finds great success with both physical and dramatic obstacles worthy of Last Son of Krypton.
Comics also seem to be edging further into the long forbidden realms of horror and the supernatural, with two different tales this month featuring hauntings and wandering spirits. This is to be expected in the Phantom Stranger, though his story once again proves mature and impressive, but the theme is surprising in the Rose and Thorn backup. I am also surprised by my continuing enjoyment of the Lois Lane book as a whole. It remains an interesting and off-beat change of pace in my monthly readings.
This month saw the end of Aquaman and the birth of Mr. Miracle, the death of something special and the advent of something unique. One group of creators was denied the chance to finish what they started, while the King is finally given the chance to give form to the gathered inspirations of his unsatisfying final years at Marvel.
Social relevance continues to be a force, with even the last Aquaman title dealing with themes of pollution and human environmental impact in an oblique fashion. Denny O’Neil, of course, continues to hit environmental themes, but even his prime Superman story this month has a touch of social commentary in its subtle encouragement about questioning appearances.
We’ve also got superheroes accidentally killing people left and right this month, with both Supergirl and Kid Flash unintentionally taking a life. We’re still in an immature enough era that these deaths are mostly unremarked and their moral dimensions almost completely ignored. Hopefully we’ll see a more intentional approach to the moral responsibility of these characters grow up in the succeeding months and years.
In terms of form, we’re seeing more and more continued stories, with Supergirl wrapping up a several month long arc that actually did affect the character during its progression. Rose and Thorn continues its episodic format, and Jimmy Olsen and the Titans books are doing the same. This is providing the opportunity for more expansive plots and greater development. I wonder if we’ll see that become the dominant form for most of DC’s titles.
Well, it was certainly an eventful month in comics, and there is still plenty more to come! I hope y’all enjoyed this month’s books and commentary, and I also hope you’ll return soon as we begin another month of reading. Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!
- Action Comics #398
- Adventure Comics #404
- Batman #230
- Brave and Bold #94
- Detective Comics #409
- The Flash #204
- Forever People #1
- G.I. Combat #146
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
- Justice League of America #88
- New Gods #1
- Superboy #172
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
- Superman #235
- World’s Finest #201
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“Take-Over of Paradise!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
“Danger Comes A-Looking!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz
This cover looks very Black Panther-ish, but the story inside features a different type of gang. The headline tale continues to engage themes of youth involvement and demonstration, though Robbins’ handling of these ideas is a bit strange. It begins with Batman intervening in a gang fight between two groups of young punks. When he shows up, both of them turn against him, which doesn’t work out too well for their leaders. I rather enjoy how little patience the Dark Knight has for their nonsense throughout this issue. He gives them a speech about how, if they really care about their ‘turf,’ they should try to make it better, not tear it apart, and he reforges the kids into a singular community action group called ‘the Brave Barons.’ They channel their anger into productive avenues, cleaning up their neighborhoods and trying to make a difference.
It seems like Batman has helped them find their way until a year later when Alfred draws his master’s attention to a news story featuring the Barons themselves. They have taken over a new luxury apartment building in order to demand the city build affordable housing for its poor inhabitants. They surrounded the building with a chain of explosives and are holding the structure hostage until their demands are met.
The Masked Manhunter is furious at them and declares that they’ve made their beds, so they can lie in them. He refuses to take a hand. Now, I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, Batman is a hard fellow, so he might just let people too stupid to learn from their mistakes learn how much they can cost. On the other hand, with Gotham in danger, he’s not one to sit on the sidelines, regardless of his personal feelings. I guess you could say that he didn’t consider these kids any real threat, but it still strikes me as a bit off.
Yet, as the siege wears on, the Barons two leaders, Shades and Rap demand to talk to the Bat himself, hoping he can negotiate for them. Tensions begin to show between these two as they wait, however. While the Dark Knight reluctantly agrees to deal with the gang, Rap and Shades begin to fight. Shades wants to demolish the building to make a statement, but Rap isn’t willing to go that far. They struggle, and we cut away before we see what happens.
Meanwhile, the Caped Crusader arrives and meets two more of the gang, Mouse and Kitten, who let him through. Mouse leads the hero to the headquarters where the leaders had holed-up, but when they arrive, they find Rap dead! The young man fills Batman in, then bolts as they begin searching the building. Shades uses a megaphone to tell the Barons to clear out, and the Dark Knight zeroes in on his location, finding him in a closet with the detonator. They fight a desperate battle, but Batman is able to put the kid down and disable the device.
Strangely enough, when Shades tells Batman to take him in because he’s guilty of killing Rap, the Masked Manhunter is preoccupied, waiting for someone else to arrive. He tells Shades that he didn’t actually kill Rap. When the Baron’s leader blacked out, the real murderer finished Rap off! Just then, the killer, anxious about the distinct lack of explosions in the building, comes to investigate, and the hero and the gang member capture the shadowy figure. Only then do they realize that it is actually Kitten!
Apparently this cat has some wicked claws, and she murdered Rap and framed shades so that she could take over and “show them what a femme leader could do”! Yikes, that’s taking women’s lib rather far. Batman suspected the truth when Mouse recognized the body even though he could only see its legs. Yet, the hero didn’t suspect that it was Mouses’s girlfriend, rather than he himself, who had done the deed. The story ends with Shades declaring that, even if things turned out badly, at least they got their ‘message’ across and that they’re willing to pay the price, which is a strange note to end on. It almost seems to justify the Barons’ terrorist tactics.
This is a story with potential but not enough space to actually accomplish its aims. There are too many characters in too cramped of a plot to be effective. We barely meet the two leaders before they are at each other’s throats, and we don’t really meet Kitten at all until she’s revealed as the killer. The social themes at play here don’t have enough room to breathe either, though they add an interesting dimension to the story. With the talk of “their people” and the cover design, I rather wonder if these kids were supposed to be black in the original concept. That would likely have made this comic a bit too controversial at the time, though.
The central mystery of the murder is reasonably engaging, and I enjoyed both Batman’s deduction and his miscalculation about the killer’s identity. It simultaneously showed his skill and his humanity. That section worked well, however weak the motivations involved were. Novick’s art was quite strong in this whole comic, but particularly in this first chpater where it is heavily atmospheric and nicely dramatic. In general, the tale is just a bit too rushed and a bit too underdeveloped. I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it’s a fairly mediocre story, but not an unpleasant read.
“Danger Comes A-Looking”
The robin backup that follows, however, is actually quite good, doing more with less. It helps that Friedrich builds on what came before in surprising detail. He’s really crafting an interesting ongoing saga for the Teen Wonder. Not only does this story pick up threads from previous Robin backups, it also ties right in with last month’s World’s Finest, making the bombing and unrest on campus part of the young hero’s setting, which is a neat touch. Once Superman drops him off, Dick decides to start investigating that bombing.
Before he can even get started Robin is jumped by three college toughs. They bite off a bit more than they can chew, however, and the young Action Ace gives a good account of himself. Well…almost. He sends two of the three flying, and then one of them gets in a lucky gut punch. Apparently this one punch leaves Robin too stunned to follow the trio as they run off. Now, if you’ve ever taken a real punch to the gut, you know that it can take a lot out of you, especially if you’re not ready for it. Yet, Dick was in the middle of a fight and he’s a trained fighter, so I’m not quite sure how things would shake out this way. This scene bugged me, as it really only happens because of plot and it once more makes the character seem incompetent for the sake of a story.
Whatever the case, poor Dick takes a licking, unable to spot anything of his assailants but their orange tennis-shoes. The next day he has to wander around campus bruised and battered, which means he has some explaining to do. He runs into Phil Real, our photographer friend from a few issues back, and a new girl named Terri Bergstrom, who catches our young hero’s eye. They’re apparently part of a computer club that is working on a computer dating service, which must have been in the zeitgeist around this time. After all, we got a mention of it in a Batgirl arc in the last year. I touch on this short scene as I suspect it will prove important in a future issue, though it doesn’t figure into this story.
Where our plot does pick back up is when Dick observes a notice in the school paper from Marty and Davy, his friends from the last World’s Finest adventure. They ask Robin to meet them, and when he does, they tell him that they think they’ve figured out who the bomber is, but before they can explain their suspicions, the Teen Detectives spots orange shoes like those of his attackers and discovers that they are part of the initiation ritual of members of the Kappa Zeta fraternity (never trust a frat boy!), known as the Broncos. The Titan pursues the boys and discovers them attacking a protest by the radical ‘Students for Democratic Action’ organization.
Emulating his mentor in the main title, Robin flings himself into the middle of the melee, and he finds the two sides turning against him. The Teen Wonder makes short work out of the first two attackers, which lets him calm the situation down. Interestingly, the young hot-head, Hank Osher, who we met a while back, is heading up the protest, and he storms off, bad-mouthing the young hero. Suddenly, his car explodes, seemingly confirming the theory that Marty and Davy had that the angry radical was the bomber.
This issue ends rather differently than the Batman tale, as Robin notes that Frank caused his own demise as “playing with violence is like playing with fire! Sometimes you get burned–permanently!” The Teen Wonder is hard on himself for not having seen Hank’s role in the crime, but he’s also rather introspective about how he keeps finding himself in the middle, with both sides against him in these conflicts. (I feel ya’, kid!) I imagine it had to be tough to be a level-headed person during this era (though, I suppose a rational person is always on the outs with our world), someone aware enough to see the problems with the culture but reasonable enough to know that change has to be incremental to be sustainable and successful.
This brief story is really fairly good. You’ve got a lot of moving parts, and Friedrich is successfully fleshing out Robin’s supporting cast over the course of these backups. He’s doing a good job of cramming a ton into these stories, and the payoff is exponential, as each new story builds on what came before. Curiously, his writing is much less melodramatic and touchy-feely here. The protagonist is faced with interesting challenges, and his stories being set in one of the most volatile and controversial areas of American culture during this period provides lots of plot and character possibilities. This particular setup is intriguing, though I’m hoping there’s more to the mystery than meets the eye. At the least, the issue of the orange shoes remains to be resolved, but I imagine there will be more going on with Hank Osher as well. Taken in isolation, this little story is way too brief and incomplete to be successful, but in context, it makes for a solid step along the way for this arc. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as it loses a bit for making Robin take a dive in the opening pages.
Brave and the Bold #94
“Rebels in the Streets”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Ohh Bob Haney. Crazy, zaney Bob Haney. This story is definitely a product of the Zaney one, and its contrast with this month’s issue of Batman is really telling of Haney’s disregard for continuity or characterization. He is definitely in a world all his own. This tale also deals with youth involvement, protest, and radicalism, but in Haney’s own inimitable style, upping the ante to a ludicrous degree.
The crazy is evident right from the start, as Commissioner Gordon and the army have the Gotham ghetto cordoned off because they’ve received a threat that the youth of the area have acquired an atomic bomb. Yep, you read that right. While the Brave Barons just got some regular old explosives, these enterprising youngsters went out and bought themselves some radioactive materials and built their very own weapon of mass destruction! They want to negotiate, and The Bomb is their bargaining chip. Batman is heading into the slums to meet with the kids of STOPP (Society to Outlaw Parent Power, a Bob Haney name if ever there were one).
On the way in, a punk with a switchblade jumps him, but the Dark Knight easily disarms the kid, and offers to go with him peacefully. It’s a nice little moment. The revolutionaries blindfold the Masked Manhunter and bring him to their leaders, Mark, Chino, and Linda, who fill him in on the situation. From the beginning, the tensions between this trio are evident, and the atmosphere is thick with animosity for anything and everything.
They’ve got that late 60s ‘rebelling against the whole world’ vibe in spades. The trio tell the hero that ‘The Genius Dropout’ built their a-bomb, which is a pretty impressive feat for someone who didn’t finish high school. They give Bats a copy of the plans as evidence and send him back to the powers that be. Once convinced, the city has the Caped Crusader contact Mark once more to get their demands.
In the meantime, Batman is desperate to keep the peace, even begging for the President not to send in the National Guard and to give him time to resolve things peacefully. Yet, Commissioner Gordon is not so patient, and he’s starts rounding up protestors and cracking down on the city. It’s almost like being held for ransom by an atomic weapon is serious or something! Friction develops between the old friends, and the Dark Knight keeps defending the kids, who, once they start playing with atomic weapons, seem to me to have graduated from youths to terrorists rather definitively. Caught between the two groups, the hero calls in backup, young backup, and the Teen Titans come to help.
Robin and Lilith show up ‘in mufti’ (civilian garb), while Kid Flash and Wonder Girl come in costume. The first pair infiltrates STOPP to try and find the bomb while the others act as backup. The kids are well organized and paranoid, but fortunately the Titans have laid their plans well, so they are accepted, provisionally. As the two costumed kids search the town, Dick and Lilith join Chino to deliver their demands, which they do, with a bomb for some reason. As Batman is trying to calm the powers that be, there’s an explosion outside city hall, and when the smoke clears, STOPP’s demands are on the door, like a set of theses. On the way back, the undercover pair get spotted by the cops, so they knock Chino out and have their backup rescue them.
The kid’s demands are actually pretty reasonable for the most part, though there are some glaring exceptions. They want slumlords prosecuted, pushers arrested, and their garbage picked up. Basically, they want the laws enforced, but they also want ghetto schools closed and all of their agitating fellows released. Most outrageous of all, they want several public figures, including Gordon and Batman himself, locked up as a sign of good faith. Keep in mind, all of this is being enforced by threat of atomic annihilation. I can’t emphasize that enough. While people very reasonably insist on rational actions, like evacuating the city, Batman insists that they kowtow to the terrorists’…er…I mean kids’ demands.
Meanwhile, the search goes on with no luck, until the Dark Detective reasons that he might be able to find this Dropout Genius if he checks school records. He tracks the underage Unabomber down, but discovers that he’s been arrested at the protests and has lost his memory. Sure! Why not! With no time left because of Batman’s insistence on not evacuating, the city caves and agrees to all demands. Yet, even that doesn’t stop the madness. It’s almost like folks crazy enough to threaten to blow themselves sky-high shouldn’t be trusted to make rational choices!
Linda, one of the three leaders, refuses to surrender the bomb, swearing that the powers that be will never keep their word. Yikes, and we thought Kitten was a crazy chick! She only planed to blow up a single building. This girl makes her look like an amateur as she plans to murder a town! Linda steals the weapon and hides it somewhere else, so the Titans track her down. Lilith uses her powers to invade the girl’s mind, but for some reason, she doesn’t just find the bomb’s location. Instead, there’s a whole song and dance about what made the young harpy what she is as the psychic explores her past. Apparently, Linda’s mother left her with relatives when she was young, and she had major abandonment issues. She ran away when her mother was going to return seven years later, so the Titans figure that the mother is the key to the girl’s psyche…or something.
The revolutionaries agree to help the team find the woman, and we eventually get a big, emotional reunion, as the hurt daughter lashes out at her mother before finally making up in tears. Ohh, and she also gives up the bomb. Sheesh. Maybe I’m being a little unreasonable, but I sorta’ don’t think that someone who is willing to nuke an entire city for no reason really deserves a happy ending. Either way, the story ends with Gordon and Batman strolling off into the sunrise talking about making a better world.
Man, summarizing Zaney Haney ain’t easy! This story is just plain nuts. It’s an entertaining read, (when is Haney NOT entertaining?) but the central premise is just so insane that I can’t get past it. In addition, the reactions of both Batman and Gordon really drive me nuts, as they are completely out of sync with what is happening in the story. After discovering that STOPP had hidden a freaking atomic bomb in a statue of the Dark Knight, the Commissioner treats it like a delightful prank by a precocious child. He actually laughs about their antics. The tone is wildly out of measure with the situation. ‘Those darn kids and their atomic weapons! Haha! What rascals!’ That’s just a completely bonkers response to attempted mass-murder.
In addition, look at the difference between Batman’s portrayal in this story and in his own title. In his own book, the Caped Crusader is completely unwilling to negotiate with the gang when they cross the line from activism to terrorism, which seems rather fitting for his character. In this one, he goes to incredible extremes to make sure that everybody complies with the little terrorists. He’s completely sympathetic with their goals and even excuses their methods. That’s about as big a difference as you’re going to see. Now, I’m not a huge fan of Haney’s personal demesnes of character portrayals, but I generally don’t find it to be the worst thing ever. Yet, even if your version of a character is different, it should still make some kind of sense! Haney’s treatment of the themes that are clearly very powerfully present in the zeitgeist of youth involvement and the nature of social activism is about as out of touch and ridiculous as his stories usually are, and its weaknesses really show when read concurrently with what other authors were doing with the same ideas at the time.
I know this is a comic, and comics use broad strokes and larger than life characters and situations. Nonetheless, this setup is just too ludicrous and too all over the place to work. As usual, Haney throws in everything including the kitchen sink, with a homemade atom bomb, a trained youth terrorist army that can’t decide if they’re protesting or blowing things up, emotionally damaged women, Batman at odds with the authorities, and undercover teen heroes, and that doesn’t even cover everything!
On the plus side, we get some more of Nick Cardy’s lovely, soft pencils, but unfortunately, it’s a Batman story. Though I love his work, I’m not crazy about his rendition of the Dark Knight. Fortunately, we get some wonderfully atmospheric work on Gotham City and on the revolutionaries and the Titans. Nobody draws the Titans like Cardy! Yet, his art can’t save this tale. I can’t get past the bat-guano premise and the fact that Haney wants us to empathize with terrorists who threaten to nuke their own city, so I’m going to give this one 2 Minutemen. It’s still readable, but rather maddening.
Clearly the state of America’s youth was on the zeitgeist, at least over at DC, at this time. Just in today’s two books we see three different examinations (admittedly of varying quality and thoughtfulness) of the situation. It’s fascinating to see such different perspectives on the issues of the day manifested so clearly in our comics. Let’s see what interesting material our next books hold. Please join me soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, and until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!