Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 4)

 

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Happy belated Halloween dear readers, almost in time for Thanksgiving!  I hope you all had a grand and spooky time!  We’ve got at least one tale in this batch that has a horror flavor that befits the season now behind us, and it’s in Lois Lane, of all books!  Honestly, all of our issues for this month have a suitably Halloween-ish flavor, with monsters, mayhem, and more.  They make for an interesting, if not electrifying set of stories.  Let’s check them out!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115


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“My Death … By Lois Lane”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“The Computer Crooks”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

We have an unusual cover for an unusual story this month, and once again, Dick Giordano turns in a lovely version of title character.  It’s a dramatic piece, with Lois’s apparent death, and Superman’s sudden entrance adds a bit of dynamism it would otherwise be lacking.  I can’t help but feel that the typewriter represents some wasted space, though.  Nonetheless, the tale within manages to deliver on the suspense promised by the cover.  It begins, strangely enough, with our titular heroine visiting Willie Walker, to help his sister care for him.  That’s right, Jack Kirby’s Black Racer makes an appearance in Lois Lane of all books!  Kanigher seems to be pretty interested in picking up on the threads that the King is weaving in his own titles, which adds a really neat and unexpected flavor of world-building to these stories.  Would that there was such attention in the other Superman books.  Interestingly, I think the Racer’s pretty terrible design actually looks a bit better when drawn by Roth, a little leaner and more graceful, which suits the character.  It still isn’t good per se, but it might be less hideous.

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Anyway, once Lois leaves, the paralyzed Willie becomes his perilously powered alter-ego, and sets out to bring death to denizens of Metropolis.  Later that night, Lois is entertaining her new boss, Morgan Edge, having invited him over because “he always seems so alone,” which seems uncharacteristically sweet for Lois and is also pleasantly ironic given Edge’s nefarious nature.  After the evil executive leaves, the ravishing reporter opens a newly arrived package and discovers a typewriter, supposedly a gift from a secret admirer.  However, she finds herself compelled to write on it, and she produces a prediction of death for a famous biochemist.  She rushes to the bridge where her premonition placed his perishing, only to arrive just in time to see him die, the first victim of the Black Racer!

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Returning home, she tries to dismiss the strange event, only to once again be compelled to foresee another fatality, this time a famous singer.  Calling the woman despite the late hour, the jinxed journalist has no luck, and when she tries to intercede directly, she once again arrives too late.  Lois finds the singer’s apartment full of gas and the woman herself quite dead, the Racer’s second victim.

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Once more returning to her apartment, the creeped-out columnist faces the demonic device in fear, and she begins to type out a final oracle, her own obituary, set for the distant dawn in that very apartment.  Her first thoughts are of Superman, but he’s on a mission to the arctic.  Finally, the witty writer decides she’ll just avoid her apartment until the appointed hour has passed, and she heads into an all-night movie theater (do they have those in big cities?).  Unfortunately, a fire breaks out in the cinema, and Lois is ironically trampled while trying to prevent a panic.  The Man of Steel had just gotten back home and puts out the blaze, but in the melee he missed his lady love.

 

Meanwhile, a ‘kind’ couple, claiming to be Lois’s neighbors, have brought her home and drugged her.  They are secretly Inter-gang agents reporting to Morgan Edge, and the mysterious typewriter is revealed to be an Apokaliptian artifact!  Shortly after they leave, Superman comes to check on his Pulitzer-winning paramour, only to find her almost unconscious.  Lois is able to warn him about the terrible typewriter.  Reading her notes, the Man of Steel finds himself forced to type his own death-notice.  Yet, just as he’s about to finish the note, he wrenches himself away from the macabre machine!

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He realizes that Lois’s notes used every letter…except J, and he was just about to be forced to write “Jewel Theater,” the location of the fire, which would trigger the trap.  The Man of Tomorrow puts the pieces together and throws the device into space, narrowly avoiding a powerful explosion, one that might have even killed a Kryptonian!  The story ends with Superman comforting a sleeping Lois, relieved at their escape but ruminating on the fact that his enemies killed two innocent people as part of their ploy and promising to bring the killers to justice.  I quite like that Superman, and thus the story, take these deaths seriously.  With the main characters safe, it would be easy for Kanigher to forget about the others, but it’s a nice note of character consistency that Superman doesn’t.

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This is a solid and effective little mystery.  Kanigher manages to create a little tension and suspense, with Lois’s perilous predictions and her increasing confusion and fear when facing the uncertainty of her situation.  Unfortunately, the Black Racer is a bit of a red herring, as he doesn’t actually contribute anything to the story in the end.  The final resolution, with the typewriter gimmicked to kill Superman is the least effective element of the tale, but it’s not bad.  An exploding typewriter just feels a bit pedestrian for the New Gods.  Nonetheless, the result is a pretty decent read.  Werner Roth’s art continues to be quite good, and he gets a chance to create a wider range of panels, including some action, while mostly avoiding the superheroic elements that aren’t his forte.  Still, his Superman continues to evince the occasional awkwardness.  I’ll give this solid story 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Computer Crooks”


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This month’s Rose and Thorn backup is another solid entry in this surprisingly good feature.  This one is mostly setup, a definite ‘part one,’ but Kanigher has the sense to give the story he wants to tell room to breathe.  It begins with the 100’s leader, Vince Adams, directing a group of his men dressed as hippies to hit the streets and start getting kids hooked on drugs.  The Thorn gets wind of this, and she is none too pleased.  In another of Giordano’s nice multi-moment / collage panels the Nymph of Night cleans house at a drive-in movie theater showing a Superman documentary, just in case you forgot whose town this is.

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Note the guy in the top right.  Who knew that the Thorn once decked Donald Trump?  Even the dialog is fitting!

 

As she’s finishing the job, Danny Stone arrives, and the two share a moment, only for the Vixen of Vengeance to pull away and drop a ‘smoke thorn.’  The dialog in the scene is downright painful, but the idea, of the vigilante being too driven by her mission to allow herself to get close to anyone, is a good one.

 

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And now we’ve got Robert Kennedy!  This book is a veritable who’s who.

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The next day, the Thorn’s unwitting alter-ego, Rose is at work with Adams when he is called in to a meeting of the gang.  In another example of Kanigher’s attention to continuity and his blending of Fourth World ideas into his own books, the 100 have stolen an advanced computer from Intergang.  The device is described as being similar to a Motherbox, but it’s design is too 50s sci-fi and not nearly Kirby enough to fit the bill.  Nonetheless, Adams has the machine tasked with creating a trap for the Thorn in the organization’s collective side, and after being pleased with the result, kills the scientist who got the thing working.

That evening, Detective Stone is ambushed by some disguised 100 thugs, only to be rescued, again, by the Baleful Beauty.  Meanwhile, we get a glimpse at the first stages of the 100’s plan, as no less a peerless personage than Poison Ivy is brought in to orchestrate the operation!  But sadly that waits for next month!

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Exciting!  This is the first Poison Ivy appearance, as near as I can tell, since 1966!  She won’t return to a Batman title for another six years, but she’ll show up in JLA pretty soon.  I’m looking forward to seeing this classic Batman villain in action, as she’s a favorite of mine.  She’s even more of a favorite of Lady Grey, who always insists on referring to her as a ‘hero’, but then again, the good lady tends to identify more with the villains than with the heroes!

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As for the story itself, it is unexceptional but effective.  This issue did its job, setting up the second half, though it could probably have been a bit more tightly plotted given how little space it had to work with.  Still, Kanigher turns in another entertaining outing for the Thorn, giving us some action, teasing us with a glimpse of the larger plot, and even giving us a awkward but interesting piece of characterization.  Dick Giordano’s art is really good throughout.  I’ve been enjoying seeing his work in this book, as I’ve only ever known him as an editor.  So, I’ll give this solid first chapter 3.5 Minutemen.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142


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“The Man from Transilvane!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell

“Last Mile Alley”
Writers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth

Okay, we’ve got a strange one here.  I vaguely remember this arc from my original read-through, and not fondly, I’m afraid.  Judging from this first story, I don’t think it seems too promising.  One thing’s for sure…it’s weird.  Once again, it seems like the King’s imagination is running away with him.  As the cover announces, it’s vampires and werewolves, Kirby style, which means that, if nothing else, it certainly won’t be boring.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be good.  The cover itself is a decent composition, with the vampire figure fairly menacing and filling the space well, but I’ve got to say, seeing Superman and a Dracula knock-off sharing space is just a bit off-putting.  It looks almost like a poor photoshop job, which isn’t helped by the fact that DC is still redrawing Kirby’s Superman.  Jimmy getting mauled by the wolfman in the corner is more entertaining, though!

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The story itself is not Kirby’s finest work.  It begins with two refugees from the Late-Late Show, a vampire and a werewolf (sounds like the setup for a bad joke!), who are stalking around the outskirts of Metropolis.  The art is alternately strikingly creepy and awkward as the vampire uses extremely vaguely defined eye beams to make bite marks on a sleeping woman’s neck from miles away.  Sure, why not?

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jimmyolsen142-04That woman happens to be Laura Conway, assistant to Morgan Edge, and the next morning sees her stonewalling Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen as they try to see her boss and confront him about his shady doings.  Things take a turn from the strange when she suddenly goes full vampiress, complete with fangs, pale skin, and missing reflection.  She passes out, and before the newsmen can figure out what to do, a bat flies into the office, transforming into our friend the vampire, who helpfully announces that he is “Count Dragorin of Transilvane!”  Of course he is.

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The guys take this all rather remarkably well in stride, even considering their unusually high threshold for the unusual.  Still, the vampire zaps them with those same vague eyebeams, referring to them as “The Power.”  Clark recovers quickly enough to hear Dragorin ask the girl for the location of a man named Dabney Donovan, but before the disguised Man of Steel can manhandle the macabre un-man, he vanishes!  The girl recovers once he’s gone, and Mr. Mild-Mannered and Jimmy leave to chase down their clue.

 

They arrive at a defunct NASA research facility used to create synthetic alien environments for testing, the former home of ‘mad scientist’ Dabney Donovan.  However, they are greeted by a wolfman, a very Kirby wolfman, with a cool look and some very snazzy duds.  Fido tries to maul Clark, but Jimmy courageously and selflessly attacks the creature, leading it away from his fallen friend.  That gives the reporter the chance to change into Superman.

 

jimmyolsen142-17The Man of Tomorrow saves his beleaguered pal, making short work of the woflman, but he in turn is once more stunned by Dragorin’s eyebeams, allowing the villains to escape.  The reporters rally and search the facility, discovering a clue pointing to a cemetery and a “destruct date”, 1971 (incidentally dating this story, which tends to be rare in comics).

Meanwhile, the pugnacious youngsters of the Newsboy Legion have escaped from the Project and sailed down an underground river.  Flippa Dippa (sigh) is useful for  precisely second time in the series, as he opens an underwater door and allows the group access to an elevator.  They arrive in an old bunker, now serving as the hideout of a gangster.  More importantly, they overhear his phone conversation, which reveals that he is the man who killed the original Guardian, Jim Harper!  The kids are entertaining in their short appearance, but sadly this is all we see of them this issue.

 

Back in our ‘A’ plot, Superman and Jimmy arrive at the cemetery and investigate a tomb, with the Action Ace offering a theory that Dragorin and his furry friend don’t actually disappear but instead shrink rapidly.  Inside the tomb they find a miniature alien world, Transilvane, which I guess confirms the hypothesis..  Oookay.  Not sure what is going on?  Well, you’re not alone.  You see….he’s a vampire…but from…not space…but..mini-space?  I don’t know.

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So, like I said, this is a weird one, and it is a bit hard to assess.  There are some really fun elements to it here and there.  I love Jimmy’s desperate but heroic attempt to save Clark, and Kirby’s artwork captures the savagery of the wolfman attack.  I actually really like the King’s take on Jimmy in this series in general.  The kid is a young adventurer, hardened to danger by his association with Superman, quick on his feet, loyal, and a thoroughly likeable guy.  Yet, he’s still a kid and still trying to prove himself.  I wish that both Jimmy and the Legion were given more space to shine in recent issues .  Unfortunately, Kirby’s portrayal of Jimmy’s super-pal isn’t as successful, at least in this issue.  Perhaps this one’s biggest weakness is its dialog, which is just plain bad: awkward, stilted, unnatural, and sometimes just weird.  Despite that, Kirby turns the occasional nicely fitting phrase, which only highlights how rough the rest of it is.

The actual plot of this issue is pretty bonkers.  I think I see what Kirby is trying to do, but the whole thing just feels pretty far out there.  We’ve got space-vampires, space-werewolves, and a tiny planet.  This feels like a rejected Fantastic Four script.  In general, the sudden invasion of the monster mash cast just feels like a disorienting tonal shift, and the mixture of horror and sci-fi elements, which can certainly be done well, here just feels poorly conceived.  The fairly coherent (if outlandish) and focused approach to the first several issues of Jimmy Olsen, with the connecting elements of the D.N.A. Project and the mystery of the Wild Area, has been lost, and the book is starting to feel like it is floundering, lacking a clear direction.  Kirby’s art is mostly good, though a little bare-bones in some places.  He brings his trade-mark energy and drama to even the silliest scenes.  I’ll give this random tale of movie monsters and super-sleuthing 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s not terrible, but it just doesn’t work well.

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P.S.: This issue include a two-page spread on the “Haries” and their gadgets, which is interesting and adds to the world Kirby is creating.  It’s odd, though, as the Wild Area seems to have been abandoned and is already fading in the rear-view mirror as this series races off in a random direction.  Clearly, the King was still thinking about that seemingly abandoned setting, which makes me wonder what might have been.

 


Teen Titans #35


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“Intruders of the Forbidden Crypt”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy

“A Titan is Born”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Doom Hunters”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Jack Schiff

“Have Arrow — Will Travel!”
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Penciler/Inker: Lee Elias
Editor: Mort Weisinger

Well, you thought the combination of vampires and simulated alien worlds was odd?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  Zaney Haney has got a new one, a tale of possible reincarnation, star-crossed lovers, and Shakespeare…and oh yeah, the Teen Titans are there for some reason.  It’s a story only the rajah of randomness could tell.  Nick Cardy gives us another really nice cover for it, this one suitably suspenseful and creepy for our use so close to Halloween.  Cardy creates a nicely mysterious and tense scene, and it’s beautifully drawn as always.

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teentitans35-03The story inside begins with Lilith being vague, cryptic, and once more displaying the power of plot…so, pretty much business as usual for her.  I thought we had gotten past all of her esoterism, but apparently not.  In this instance, the team is randomly in Verona, Italy, and they are visiting the supposed house of Juliet, of “Romeo and…” fame, when she passes out after feeling like she is the young heroine reborn.  Wally mocks her, but the superfluous Mr. Jupiter, who is still hanging around the book for some reason, tells him to lay off.

Then the industrialist shows the team why he’s come to Italy (though not why a group of superheroes are just be-bopping around Europe with him), a new lab complex he plans to build there.  Suddenly, an angry local business magnate, Donato Loggia, bursts into the office, ranting about stopping the project.  The Italian insists that his family runs Verona and that he won’t have an outsider upstaging him, even trying to get Jupiter to challenge him to a duel.

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teentitans35-09After the intruder leaves, the team heads to a costume ball, just straight-up wearing their costumes, wildly endangering their secret identities.  ‘Hey, I wonder if the group of kids traveling with the well known philanthropist could be the same as the superheroes who went to the party with him…’  Nonetheless, at the party, Loggia shows up with his son and nephew, and Lilith immediately falls for the son, reenacting “Romeo and Juliet,” as the kid is the son of her “father’s” enemy.  Kid Flash doesn’t take this too well and starts playing the part of Tibalt, starting a brawl with the Loggia family, with the rest of the male Titans joining in until the police show up.

 

If you’ve read the play, you can probably guess what’s coming next.  Both parties are warned to keep the peace by the local law (not quite a prince, but beggars can’t be choosers).  Things continue in this silly direction, with Lilith now convinced that she and the young Loggia, literally named Romeo, are the reincarnations of Shakespeare’s tragic lovers, and Wally flying off the handle at the whole situation.  That night, Lilith and Romeo 2.0 run off, while Kid Flash gets jumped by a couple of random Loggia thugs, who manage to stab the Fastest freaking Boy Alive, because plot.  Now Flasher is playing the part of Mercutio, down to even uttering some of the poor guy’s dialog….despite the fact that Mercutio was Romeo’s friend, not Juliet’s, but logical consistency isn’t really Haney’s strength at the best of times.

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“Oh no!  I’ve been stabbed!  If only I had super-humanly fast reflexes that let me dodge knives…and bullets….”

Meanwhile, Interpol has approached Jupiter, wanting his help getting evidence on Loggia, who they suspect of being dirty.  Jupiter wants to use Lilith’s relationship to spy on his rival, but Dick won’t hear of it.  It’s at this point that they figure out the girl in question is missing.  She’s run off with Romeo and discovered the ancient tomb of the Capulets, Juliet’s family, where they find two empty coffins.  Yet, when the Titans arrive to search for them, they find three empty coffins and are stalked by a shadowy figure.  Dun dun DUN!

 

Oookay.  This isn’t a bad story, really, but it is such a poor fit for the Titans that it is hard to assess it on its own merits.  I’m also so sick of this goofy direction for the team that Mr. Jupiter and their pointless meanderings just annoy me at this point.  This plot could work decently well for a romance comic, but the superheroic cast of this book just feels dreadfully out of place and underused.  We don’t even have anything approaching a credible threat.  Instead, a couple of random guys, not even with enough gravitas to join the Generic Gang, give a bunch of superpowered heroes a run for their money.  Essentially, this tale just emphasizes things that were already problematic about this book.  I’ll give this particularly ill-fated instance of Haney’s zaniness 2.5 star-crossed Minutemen.  A plague on both their houses!  I’m being generous because I feel my own bias quite strongly here.

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P.S.: Maybe the reason Speedy has such a poor showing in the brawl with the locals is that he’s still recovering from his addiction over in Green Lantern….


“A Titan is Born”


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Our backup continues the tradition of focusing on a single Titan, which is a nice way to develop the team a bit.  Unfortunately, the Titan they focus on is the pointless Mal Duncan.  I can’t wait for him to become the new Guardian and therefore justify his presence on the team!  Fittingly enough, when we join Mal, he is ruminating on the very fact of his own pointlessness.  Apparently the other Titans left the poor kid behind on monitor duty at Jupiter’s lab when they went to Italy, which hardly seems fair.  As the lonely youth roams the halls of the facility, he marvels at the processing power of Jupiter’s computer, which has a name that could only have come from Hepcat Haney, “Think Freak.”  In his wanderings, he encounters a stranger in the lab, who claims he is a scientist there at the invitation of Mr. Jupiter and produces a letter to prove it.

Mal is a little suspicious, but he accepts the fellows explanation at first.  After a while, he begins to notice things that don’t add up, like changed records on an experiment, the fellow’s coat not being wet, despite there being a rainstorm that night, and the guy’s odd reaction to the mention of the word “limbo”.  Feeding all of his data into, *sigh*, Think Freak, Mal discovers that the supposed scientist is actually the Gargoyle!

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So this guy is apparently an old foe of the Titans, having faced them a few times in their series.  He took on this current identity in issues 14, which I know I read, but I can’t remember this loser to save my life!  At the end of that story, this mystically powered mort was trapped in Limbo, but Mr. Jupiter’s experiment inadvertently freed him.  (Can scientists in the DCU do anything without endangering their world?)  Now the Gargoyle wants revenge, but since he can’t get at the Titans who actually defeated him, he’ll settle for Mal.

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Hey, a new head-blow for the Headcount!

The two have a running fight, with the young hero clearly outclassed, and the villain comes out on top.  In desperation, Mal tells Think Freak to fix the problem with the experiment that allowed the Gargoyle to reenter the real world, which severs the criminal’s connection and sends him back to Limbo.  The somewhat tenderized Titan decides that he’s worthy of staying on the team after all, which seems like something of a stretch to me, and welcomes the sun as it comes out after a stormy night.

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This is a decent little story, but there isn’t too much to it, nor does it have an inspiring villain.  The Gargoyle has a semi-cool look, though it doesn’t make sense that he’s just a dude in a costume, but the real problem with him is that he just doesn’t have much personality or a coherent concept.  All I could tell you from this issue would be that he wears a gargoyle costume, was trapped in Limbo, and hates the Titans.  Who is he?  What does he do?  No clue.  Mal’s soul searching is fitting, seeing as he really doesn’t belong on the team, but rather than use this opportunity to actually give him a raison d’etre, Haney leaves the character where he found him.  In general, this is a pretty forgettable story.  If you’re going to bring back a forgotten character, you might need more space to make it worthwhile, especially one as bland as this guy.  I’ll give this backup 2.5 Minutemen.  It isn’t bad, but it feels a bit lacking.  George Tuska’s art is quite good in both of these comics, and he does a good job on the Gargoyle, though once again, you really don’t see him as a man in a costume, and his work in the main story is nicely atmospheric.  His slightly exaggerated, cartoony style is not a bad fit for this era of Titans.

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P.S.: While the new stories in this issue weren’t all that great, this issue might still have been worth your money way back when, as it included two really fun and charming classic tales, featuring Aquaman and Aqualad and Green Arrow and Speedy.  The former features the peerless pencils of the ever awesome Ramona Fradon.  Having so often just read these stories in reprints and collections, it is really fascinating to see what else was actually included between the covers of these books.


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpg2f52ff2370b3a87769869427faeac69darrowheadAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgMister_Miracle_Scott_Free_00014aa6e3fed1467a75dcac3f9654a2c723glheadLilith_Clay_(New_Earth)_002malduncan

In all of our books this month, we only came up with one headblow for the headcount, but it brings a new face to the feature.  That’s right, the esteemed Mal Duncan, pointless member of the Teen Titans joins this august company.  Maybe he does have what it takes to be a superhero after all.  He may not have super powers or a costume, but he can take a blow to the back of the head like a champ!  I wonder who will be next!


Final Thoughts:


This month has been drawn out because of my busy schedule, but we have finished it at last.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly memorable month in most respects, and we’ve got an unusually high number of turkeys in this batch of books, including our oddball Action Comics tale and several others.  The exception, of course, is the famous finale of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow drug story.

The conclusion to Denny O’Neil’s latest attempt at social relevance was surprisingly good, rising above its beginnings and its hokier elements to actually achieve a little power at times, all while still maintaining some classic comic fun, which is perhaps even more impressive.  This tale clearly illustrates the continuing attempt at relevance and more mature storytelling, and it is once again not alone on the stands.  Our Supergirl yarn in Adventure Comics features a classic morality tale about prejudice and fear of the Other, while Batgirl’s Batman backup includes mentions of radical political groups and the tension between Americans and their government.

Interestingly, in the Batgirl story, these elements are almost purely set dressing, not really being the focus of the narrative.  This indicates how thoroughly these ideas have made it into the zeitgeist of the DC Universe.  The Phantom Stranger’s story also has a focus on realistic issues, zombie robots not withstanding, as it both provides a positive portrayal of native Africans and exposes the evils of the exploitation of the continent by foreign corporations.  That’s a surprisingly sophisticated topic for a comic in 1971, where the traditional ‘darkest Africa’ stereotypes are often still in play.

Other highlights and points of interest this month included a return of the Macabre Man-Bat, with the unusual but engaging art of Frank Robbins, which I quite enjoyed.  I also really enjoyed Mr. Miracle’s latest adventure and the introduction of Big Barda, though the story had its flaws.  I’m excited to see the role she’ll play in the series going forward!

There seem to be a number of series that are floundering at the moment, including Supergirl, Jimmy Olsen, Teen Titans, and the Superman books.  These are all proving uneven and inconsistent.  I hope we’ll see more definite directions for them in the coming months.

Well, there’s not too much to say about this month of comics, but I hope y’all enjoyed the journey!  I am looking forward to our next month of Bronze Age exploration, and I hope you’ll join me soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ll start the new month.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 2)

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I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Bronze Age awesomeness!  Welcome, Internet travelers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ve got a set of Bat-comics on the docket.  We’ve got the whole Bat-Family in attendance, as well as some friends of the cowl, so let’s we what they’re up to!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Batman #234


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“Swamp Sinister”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“The Outcast Society”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Castle With Wall-to-Wall Danger!”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino

This month, our headline tale is another episode in the growing saga Ra’s Al Ghul, but this time it doesn’t have Neal Adams’ peerless pencils to help it.  According to our credits, he was involved in the cover, but it looks much more like Dick Giordano to me.  Either way, it’s a solid composition, capturing a nicely dramatic scene, though something of a cheat.  The story within is not quite as good as the earlier entries in the set, but the last one makes an especially hard act to follow.  It begins, dramatically enough, with a body delivered to Bruce Wayne’s penthouse apartment!  As the great detective begins trying to piece together where his deceased guest might have come from, the mysterious Ra’s Al Ghul arrives and helpfully explains.

It seems that the head of the League of Shadows himself sent the body, by way of a calling card.  The horribly disfigured corpse was once one of his men, a researcher named Pollard, who, together with another named Striss, was working on a chemical compound for him, a compound that “renders molybdenum as weak as tinfoil.”  Yet, instead of delivering the formula once it was prepared, they planned to steal it.  Interrupting the theft, Al Ghul was struck down, and the thieves escaped.

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Talia discovered her father and set out after the traitors, while their doctors managed to revive the Demon’s Head.  Notably, for the first time we begin to get a sense of Al Ghul’s immortality angle, as he mentions having been revived often before, but there is no sign yet of the Lazarus Pits.  As for the corpse, it seems that the chemical the thieves stole has an unexpected side effect.  If left exposed to the air, it becomes a deadly plague.  The horrible disfigurement of Pollard is the result.  Having been exposed during his attack on Al Ghul, Pollard died shortly thereafter, but Striss escaped, ignorant of the danger of what he carried.  Now Al Ghul must locate the fugitive before his daughter, who is ignorant of these facts, does, and he needs the World’s Greatest Detective to do so in time.

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The Dark Knight agrees, as if he has any choice, and takes off.  He theorizes that Striss will want to test his chemical, and he goes to the closest supply of molybdenum, which is held by an eccentric billionaire.  At the fellow’s mansion, Batman discovers an attack already underway.  The gate has been gassed, and masked men stalk the grounds.  Taking out the marauders in a nicely drawn sequence, the Caped Crusader makes his way into the mansion itself, where he finds a frightened French housekeeper who tells him that the invaders took the master of the house to “the small stream.”

The hero is momentarily stumped, knowing there are innumerable smalls streams around, but then he realizes that, in French, the word for “small stream” is “bayou,” and he makes an important connection.  He realizes that Striss has taken his billionaire captive to the eccentric fellow’s private fallout shelter, which is located in the Louisiana bayou.

Tracking them with the help of Ra’s, Batman bails out of a plane over the swamp and begins his search, finally interrupting an confrontation between the villainous doctor and Talia.  During the ensuing struggle, the chemical vial is shattered, and Striss falls into the lethal liquid.  The others escape, and Al Ghul’s doctors manage to treat them for the plague.  The tale ends with Batman noting that the grateful kiss he receives from Talia would be much more enjoyable if he hadn’t just witnessed her cold willingness to kill.

This is a fair enough little adventure, and we get a few interesting moments with Al Ghul, including the hints about his unnatural resiliency.  Yet, there isn’t a lot to it, and the final result feels a little lackluster, especially in comparison to the rather breathtaking chapter that preceded it.  Al Ghul isn’t quite as mysterious or fascinating  a figure, and although Batman and Talia share an intriguing moment at the end, she doesn’t really have much to do either.  In the end, the tale feels a bit cramped, and Novick’s art, though solid as usual, isn’t quite as striking as Adams’, especially when it comes to R’as himself.    I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s fine, but it isn’t exceptional.

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“The Outcast Society”


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Our Robin backup continues the hippie commune-centered adventure of the previous issue.  Robin is fairly appalled at the poor conditions in which the commune inhabitants live, with rickety shacks for shelter, no power, and carrying their water from the nearby stream.  The leader of the dirty hippies, Jonathan, tells the young hero that they don’t want his “plastic world.”  There’s an interesting connection there to a recent Green Lantern issue about the growing artificialness of the world.  Despite the protestations of the hippie head-man, Robin insists that he must arrest Pat Whalon, as the bullet that his girlfriend wears around her neck, the same that was dug out of his leg, matches the gun of her policeman father, who was shot down in the previous issue.

The ‘Outcast Society’ refuses to let the Teen Wonder take the punk, saying they have to vote about whether or not to allow this.  Funny, but I don’t think the cops would see it that way.  Robin agrees to be patient and gets the grand tour.  He sees the hippies building, working, and farming, and the portrayal of the place is full of starry-eyed optimism.  Dick takes part and pitches in, while Pat makes a nuisance of himself, bragging about his radical exploits and generally being a real jerk.  Finally, the Community votes to let the Teen Detective arrest the rabble-rouser, but Pat sets a nearby field ablaze and escapes!

This a decent little tale, though not terribly compelling.  Novick and Giordano do a really good job with the art, though, bringing energy and personality to the various characters inhabiting this world that helps to make this story where not much happens still feel somewhat worthwhile.  Robin in particular looks great, with his cape always whipping about dramatically.  It’s rather funny to see the sympathetic treatment of hippie communes here from a modern perspective.  Old ‘Touchy-Feely’ Friedrich is in full swing.  Notably, most communes didn’t fare too well or last too long.  Unsurprisingly, taking a bunch of ignorant kids who don’t know how to do anything and don’t have any kind of solid moral code and sticking them in a field to make their own way didn’t generally turn out all that well.  I’ll give this particular Outcast tale an average 3 Minutemen.  It isn’t bad, but it isn’t particularly great, either.

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The Brave and the Bold #97


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“The Smile of Choclotan!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Nick Cardy
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“Who Has Been Lying in My Grave?”
Writer: Arnold Drake
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Jack Miller

Our bi-monthly dose of Zaney Haney comes with another helping of Wildcat this month, which is always welcome.  As I’ve said before, the character that Haney really had the best handle on was ‘ol Ted Grant.  Yet, this issue doesn’t really take advantage of that familiarity.  Our heroes are partnered up on the cover, but that isn’t quite the case in the comic itself.  The cover has nice Nick Cardy art, and it makes for a striking image, though it is a fairly massive cheat, in terms of the story it represents.  There’s not even that much of a defense of the image as symbolic.

That story begins in fine fashion, with Bruce Wayne, vacationing in Acapulco, watching a young man preparing for a demanding cliff-dive.  Suddenly, the bold billionaire sees a rifleman, preparing to kill the kid.  When the native makes his dive, so does Bruce, as Batman!  Using his cape as a parachute (which we haven’t seen too often at this point, I think, but will eventually become a staple of the character), the Dark Knight manages to ruin the would-be killer’s shot.

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Later on, Bruce, back in-mufti, follows the assassin’s target, a young native named Luis.  He spots a poster of his old friend, Wild Cat, apparently boxing in the local arena under the name El Tigre.  Strange!  Just then, the hapless kid is jumped by a trio of knife-wielding thugs.  Batman intervenes once more, but by the time he dispatches the desperadoes, Luis has vanished.

That night, Bruce attends the fight, only to see the former champ get drugged and knocked out.  When the hoods try to get to him under cover of the ensuing riot, the Masked Manhunter takes a hand once more.  Rescuing Ted and his assistant, who turns out to be Luis, the Dark Detective takes them to their shack, where he learns their story.  It seems that Ted had once fought Luis’s father, and after the Mexican boxer refused to take advantage when Ted got resin in his eyes during a match, the pair became great friends.

brave and the bold 097 011Years later, when Luis’s father began to search for a lost cultural treasure of Mexico, an idol of the ‘smiling god,’ Choclotan (which is, of course, fictional), the old champ came to help.  Yet, when the pair were searching the mountains for the lost treasure, Luis’s father was killed and Ted’s head was creased by a bullet, leaving him amnesiac.  Apparently there is a sinister band of smugglers after the treasure as well, headed by a shadowy figure known as El Grande.  They are the ones behind the attacks on the duo.

brave and the bold 097 014Luis found his costume and has been helping him make a living by fighting as ‘El Tigre,’ while the youth cliff-dived for tourists.  Yep, sounds like a great plan.  Have the man with brain damage fight in boxing matches!  Anyway, poor judgement aside, Batman agrees to help, and they set out to search for Choclotan.  They encounter an old friend of Luis’s family on the way, a rancher named El Sordo, who owns a massive stead in they area they are traveling.  Apparently he was Luis’s father’s manager, and he offers to guide the group in their search.

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On the way, Ted suddenly snaps out of his fugue for a moment, telling the group they need to climb a nearby cliff.  When the agile Luis does so, he sees massive jaguar prints carved in the valley, leading the way to the treasure, and tells Batman that jaguars were the sacred animal of Choclotan.  As they push on, the group realizes they’re being followed, and that night, while El Sordo is on watch, the Dark Knight makes his own patrol, only to be attacked by machete-armed muchachos.  Suddenly, Wildcat appears and lends a hand, and the pair manage to fight off the fiends and discover an apparently wounded El Sordo.

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Yet, when they finally reach the end of the trail, a flooded volcano crater, and Luis dives in to locate the treasure, his reemergence reveals treachery!  El Sordo is, in fact, El Grande, and he has captured the heroes.  Insisting that Ted is merely faking his memory loss, Grande/Sordo has his beastly henchman, called ‘The Ox,’ attempt to beat the truth out of the boxer.  Despite the champ’s best efforts, he takes a beating and finally tells their captors that he remembers.

The treasure, he claims, is in a nearby cave, and his confession is taken as a terrible betrayal by young Luis.  Yet, when the smugglers enter the cave, Wildcat suddenly stops Luis from following, and moments later, a massive jet of water shoots out of the cavern, washing the would-be thieves away!  The treasure chamber was booby-trapped, and Ted’s memory had come back, allowing him to recall this and trick their enemies.  Finally, the trio discover the grinning god, and Choclotan can return to his people.

This is a fun yarn, and it is honestly rather tame for a Zaney Haney offering.  The plot is relatively unified by his standards, and while the exotic Mexican setting provides plenty of flavor, there aren’t any particularly insane flourishes to speak of.  Sadly, Wildcat isn’t really present for much of this story, instead he’s present in name only, as his amnesiac self lacks any real personality.

There are some nice elements to the adventure, like the surprisingly subtle hint about El Sordo, when we learn that this wealthy rancher was formerly just a fight manager, which should make an attentive reader suspicious.  Of course, such a reader would also notice that Wildcat effectively killed several men in the finale, a fact that is barely acknowledged.  Yes, it’s mostly an example of a ‘hoisted by your own petard‘ trope, but Ted’s role is a bit more direct than those usually are, as he willfully sends them into a situation he knows will probably kill them.  That’s problematic, but such concerns never slowed Zaney Haney down one bit.

On the art front, I can’t say I’m fond of the combination of Bob Brown and Nick Cardy.  Brown seems to be trying to ape Cardy, or Cardy is overwhelming Brown, but the final result is less somewhat than the sum of its parts, seeming like a poor compromise between their two styles.  I suppose I’ll give this fine, Indiana Jones-style adventure 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s an entertaining read.

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Detective Comics #415


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“Challenge of the Consumer Crusader”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“Death Shares the Spotlight!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda

“The Forbidden Trick”
Writer: William Woolfolk
Penciler: Leonard Starr
Inker: Leonard Starr
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

“The Case of the Finders Keepers”
Penciler/Inker: John Prentice

Our issue of Detective Comics this month is notable, not so much for its story, which is fair enough, but for the real-life people it is based on, which provide another of those intriguing glimpses into the zeitgeist of the era that I love.  We’ve got a solid enough cover, a dramatic image of the hanging Batman, though it is, unsurprisingly, something of a cheat.  The tale within begins with the Dark Knight following, of all things, a garbage truck!  He’s trailing two trashmen when they jump a man in a suit and prepare to throw him into the compactor in the back of their truck.  The Caped Crusader intervenes, and with the help of the would-be victim, he manages to chase the thugs off.

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After the action, the Masked Manhunter discovers that their target was none-other than Tom Carson, famed “consumer crusader” and “leader of ‘Carson’s Consumer Commandos.'”  That’s right, there’s a Ralph Nader in the DC Universe!  This fascinates me.  Ralph Nader is a champion of consumer rights and has been a huge factor in holding government and industry accountable for their deeds in the U.S. in the last half century.  He also created “Nader’s Raiders” and “Public Citizen,” a pair of watchdog groups that advocated for public interests.  Nader was in the headlines in the early 70s, and it is fun to see him and his work referenced in such a way in comics.  What an unusual topic for a superhero story!

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Detective415-07Anyway, this pseudo-Nader, Tom Carson, tells Batman that he has a lot of enemies because of all of the big companies he’s ticked off by exposing their malfeasance.  Yet, the most recent case is Magna Industries, who were preparing to introduce a “microwave anti-pollution device.”  Carson’s group was testing their product, and he notes that a poor result could be disastrous for the company.  The Caped Crusader drops Carson off with Barbara Gordon for safekeeping, which is a fun little detail, and then he heads to check out Ben Ames, president of the company in question.  He notes that, as Bruce Wayne, he knows Ames personally, and can’t believe he’s behind the hit.

Detective415-09At the Ames estate, the Dark Knight sees a light on and reasons that the corporate bigwig might be waiting for a certain call.  Disguising his voice, Batman fakes the call from the Carson’s car, which he borrowed, and proves Ames’ guilt.  In order to figure out his motive, the hero tries a more theatrical approach.  He uses some of Carson’s spare clothes and some phosphorescent paint to stage a ghostly visitation.  Suddenly, Ames is confronted by the “ghost” of the man he tried to have killed!  During the confrontation, Ames declares that Carson drove him to it because he tried to blackmail his company, threatening to release a damning report, despite the fact that the device was perfectly safe.

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One mystery solved, the Masked Manhunter sets out to find who is in back of the blackmail scheme.  Heading to Carson’s headquarters, he interrupts his assistant, Joan Wilde, in the middle of a call to Ames.  Unfortunately, she has confederates.  In a neat sequence, they attack Batman, using the various testing devices in the consumer products laboratory.  After a desperate and colorful battle, the Dark Knight manages to turn the tables on his antagonists, who get caught in their own trap as the machines turn on them.

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You’ve heard of jungle Batman and snow Batman, but how about disco Batman!  Staying alive, staying alive!

Pursuing the femme fatale behind the caper, the hero leaps into a convenient car to give chase to her, only to realize it is hooked to a crane for crash testing.  Before he can react, the Dark Detective finds himself hurled high into the air, only moments from a cataclysmic collision with the ground.

When the car comes crashing down, Miss Wilde is certain she has disposed of her foe, only for Batman to emerge, a little worse for the wear but uninjured, from the smoke.  He tells her that he threw himself into teh air to avoid contact with the car, and that, plus the airbags, allowed him to survive.  I’m not sure that would actually work, but it makes comic sense, so I’ll give it a pass.  The issue ends with Carson discovering the corruption in his organization and being cleared of any involvement.

This is a solid little mystery, and the fight in the testing laboratory is pretty fun and creative.  It’s a really clever setting for a superhero fight, filled with lots of bizarre gadgets and silly contraptions that make for good superheroic fodder, all of which could realistically exist in such a place.  It’s also really quite interesting to see the consumer rights revolution make its way into comics, albeit obliquely.  Who knew the DC Universe had their own Ralph Nader?  You keep up the good work, Tom Carson!  So, I’ll give this tale 3.5 Minutemen.

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“Death Shares the Spotlight”


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Detective415-21Our Batgirl backup picks up where the last left off, with Babs dashing off to ‘call the police,’ an excuse she uses to go into action.  She contacts the agent who had been in charge of auctioning off the props from the Mesa movie studio, one of which was used in that night’s assassination attempt.  The girl detective learns that a hundred of the prop guns are still in Gotham, being used in a wild west show featuring a former Mesa movie star.  At the same time, Jason makes his own connection and sets off as well.

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Counting on the powder-burns on would-be killer’s hand to identify him, Babs is disappointed when all the show’s players begin using prop guns.  That doesn’t stop the star of the show, Chuck Walla, from letting his guilt and self-consciousness drive him to flee the spotlight in an attempt to destroy the evidence, his gloves, before anyone notices.

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When Batgirl confronts him, the actor catches her at gunpoint.  He admits that he tried to kill Tiz, who was once his girl, before joining up with her new husband.  Just then, Jason jumps in, having followed his own trail to the assassin.  The Daredevil Dame pitches in, taking out Walla but making her beau think it was his blow that did it, which is rather cute.

This is a brief and rapid-paced tale, feeling even shorter than normal, but it is reasonably complete.  I did feel a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more to it, and Walla’s panicked display of guilt was a bit much.  Unfortunately, this also features some of Don Heck’s worst work we’ve seen so far.  It’s very rough and awkward in several scenes.  I’ll give this lackluster offering an average 3 Minutemen.  It’s not bad, but it isn’t particularly good either.

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And that does it for this iteration of Into the Bronze Age!  Bat-books galore!  I hope y’all enjoyed the post and that y’all will join me again soon for another dose of classic comics.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 5)

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Hello Internet travelers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Strange sights await you in this post, my dear readers, like Lois Lane being jealous of a tree, a Titan becoming a teenage witch, or time-traveling 70s thugs!  It’s an unusual batch of books we have on the docket.  So, let’s check out some classic comics!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112


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“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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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Teen Titans #34


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“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.

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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!

 

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Look at the magnificently malefic aspect Tuska gave the old woman.

 

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


“Journey to the End of Hope!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

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.

World's Finest 204-06Smarting 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.

World's Finest 204-11Finding 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.

World's Finest 204-22 - CopyAfter 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.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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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.


Final Thoughts:


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!

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome Internet travelers and dear readers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got three books to cover in this post, and they are a rather diverse bunch.  We go from Zaney Haney to the Fourth World, and from spy thriller to cosmic quest in an earthbound setting.  Let’s see what lies in store for us!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #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


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.

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brave and the bold 096 004The 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.

brave and the bold 096 005He 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.

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brave and the bold 096 013Bruce 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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Detective Comics #413


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“Freakout at Phantom Hollow!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inkers: Dick Giordano and Steve Englehart
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Squeeze-Play!”
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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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DETECTIVE COMICS 413 010Fortunately, 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.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 413 015While 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?!

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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.

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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.

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“Squeeze-Play!”


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Forever People #3


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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome back for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, dear readers and Internet travelers!  Come right in and prepare for our final pair of pulse-pounding adventures!  They’re a mixed bag, as Zaney Haney takes Teen Titans back from our favorite Aquaman author, Steve Skeates, but never fear, stylin’ Steve is also back in this batch, and penning an old favorite, the Sea King himself, in an issue of World’s Finest!  I’ve been eagerly anticipating that particular book, seeing it in my reading list.  Time to find out how both of these comics stack up!

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

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Teen Titans #33


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“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.

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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.

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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!‘ 

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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!

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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!

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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.

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The most amazing part of this comic isn’t the time travel or the magic but the fact that Lilith does something useful!

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!

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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.

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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.

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TeenTitans_v1_033-20-1-19 - CopyThis 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.

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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.

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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.

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World’s Finest #203


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“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.

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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!

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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.

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Dillin really knocks it out of the park on Aquaman in this issue.

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.

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Clark, rockin’ the paisley ascot.  I wonder why Lois won’t go out with him?

 

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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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!

 


Final Thoughts:


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!

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today I bring you a special treat.  This post features the return of Batman’s greatest villain.  His most magnificent foe.  A felon more felonious than all of the many and storied members of the Dark Knight’s rogue’s gallery.  He is more colossal than Calendar Man, more outrageous than the Outsider, more catastrophic than Condiment King, more dangerous than Dr. Double X, more cataclysmic than Crazy Quilt, more sensational than Signalman, and even more crazily kinetic than Killer Moth or Kite Man!  I am, of course, speaking of the raw star power that is….the Ten-Eyed Man!

That’s right, my favorite utterly ridiculous Mort of a villain returns in this month’s issue of Batman, and his presence overshadows everything else in these books in its epic import.

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Batman #231


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“Blind Rage of the Ten-Eyed Man!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

“Wiped Out!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza

Brace yourself for the awful majesty of that emperor of the oculus, that vizier of the visual, that sultan of sight, the Ten-Eyed Man!  Be still your beating hearts, my frantic fellow Batman fans, and enjoy the literary masterpiece presented here for your edification.

Batman_231_05We’ve got a cool concept in this cover, as it tries to play with perspective, but the weird representations of the finger-eyes (feyes?) with little pictures of Batman don’t quite work, and the whole thing has to contend with the silliness of the basic concept, putting it at an immediate disadvantage.  The result is a cover that ultimately suits the content within, a mixture of bad ideas executed relatively well.  And the story inside is certainly something else, though not as over the top and silly as you might expect for a tale featuring such a ridiculous villain.  Instead, Robbins plays it pretty much straight, adding realism and internal consistency, such as the Ten-Eyed Man, Reardon, having to wear gloves to sleep since he can’t close the ‘eyes’ on his fingers.  That attention to detail doesn’t make up for the fact that he has eyes on his fingers, however.  The seriousness of the yarn really makes it all the more hilarious, with the splash page positively screaming that Batman and the Ten-Eyed Man are “The deadliest enemies that fate ever brought together!”  Forget that Joker guy!  He’s old news!  The new nemesis of the Masked Manhunter is the Prince of Perception (you thought I had run out of them, didn’t you!).

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Trying so desperately to be cool and failing so tremendously…

The plot begins after the events of Reardon’s previous appearance, with the blinded former soldier obsessed with revenge on the man he blames for his condition, Batman!  In order to accomplish that goal, he sets out on a rather convoluted plan to lure the Dark Detective to the Vietnam jungle so that the fight can be on Ten-Eye’s ‘home’ ground   The Oligarch of Optics begins his operation by getting a job as an air marshal (another sign of this being the Golden Age of Skyjacking), using his ‘feyes’ to spot a threat and pass the test.  On his first flight, Reardon pulls his gun and hijacks the plane himself!  Ohh the irony!  He routes the aircraft to Vietnam and issues a challenge to Batman, demanding that the Dark Knight meet him in the jungle.

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When the Caped Crusader lands, Reardon toys with him before leading his foe into the bush, which the hero quickly discovers is full of booby traps.  Batman barely avoids some punji stakes, but he manages to trail Ten-Eye through the trees (though one thinks swinging from vines would probably blind that buffon).  Unfortunately, his foe is one step ahead of him and has prepared a trap involving a blinding flash grenade.  When it goes off, the Dark Knight seems to be stunned, but when Reardon drops his guard, Batman drops him!  The hero revealed that he was watching the villain’s hands, and when the ten-digited-doofus hid his ‘feyes,’ the hero protected his own eyes, allowing him to capture his “deadliest foe.”

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You just have to wonder why in the world Frank Robbins looked at all of the great stories he had written, at the characters he had created, including the honestly great concept of the macabre Man-Bat, and decided that this guy, this ridiculous, goofy, and utterly worthless Z-lister was the one that deserved a return engagement.  Robbins clearly isn’t a bad writer, and he also is heavily involved in the growing maturity and style of the Batman books, but for some reason, he told not one, but two different stories about a guy with eyes in his fingers.  The fact that they were so clearly meant to be taken seriously separates these comics from even the zanier efforts of Bob Haney and the like.

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Aside for the silliness of the antagonist, this story is just a bit lackluster on its own merits.  I suppose that so much time is spent on catchup and setup that the actual confrontation in the jungle, which could have been pretty exciting (with a different villain), is given short shrift.  Essentially Batman dodges one trap and then just utterly owns the loser who drew him halfway around the world.  It’s certainly a fitting ending given how worthless the villain is, but it isn’t supposed to be that way in context.  So, I’ll give this strange story  1.5 Minutemen.  It’s not boring, and it’s not just downright annoying like others, but it certainly is goofy.  Novick draws the heck out of the tale, but he can’t rescue it.  Apparently this will sadly be the last appearance of the Emperor of Eyes (last one, I promise!) until 1975, but I’m astonished that he’s going to be coming back that soon!

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“Wiped Out”


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Batman_231_23The Robin backup strip continues to entertain me, in contrast to this month’s headline tale.  Mike Friedrich also continues to demonstrate his skill at cramming a lot of plot and even some character development into seven pages at a time, which is pretty impressive.  We pick up with Robin after the apparent death of campus radical Hank Osher in the previous issue.  I have to say, I’m surprised that Hank really seems to be dead and that the bombing plot actually was resolved with the explosion that claimed his life.  I really expected there to be more to that, and I’m slightly disappointed.  The way it stands, that arc ended a bit too abruptly.  We’re left with the dangling thread of the orange shoed yahoos who jumped Robin, giving him the once-over.  The story begins with Dick ruminating on his failure to save Hank and feeling rather down about the job he’s been doing as Robin.  Suddenly, a knock at the door heralds the arrival of a pretty young girl named Terri Bergstrom, who apparently just ‘sensed’ that she and Dick had been matched by a computer dating service.

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Batman_231_28This girl could give Lilith lessons in being cryptic, as she seems to have a 6th sense about everything, but seeing as this is the first real inkling of anything unusual with her, I’ll give it time to develop before I make a judgement about how this works.  The two set out for a date, swinging by her place to check movie listings, only to find her room has been ransacked.  They check back at Dick’s room and find the same, with his valuables stolen.  The young hero begs off the date and sets out to catch the thieves, reasoning that if anyone were spying on the computer dating service (common theme in these years, it seems), they could have known he and Terri were out of their rooms on a date.  So, he heads to another member of the service who he knows is out on a date and finds a thief making his get away.

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The Teen Wonder puts an end to that escape and threatens a lead out of the punk kid.  He discovers that the “Bronco” frat, the orange shoed punks from the previous story, are behind the thefts, so he goes to confront them at the gym.  Feeling like he’s got something to make up for after the beating they gave him (and he really does), Robin throws it into high gear and utterly annihilates the three thugs he finds there with some nice acrobatic attacks.  It’s a reasonably good payoff for the uncharacteristic trouncing the hero took previously, and Novick makes it look great.  The tale ends with Terri and Dick making up their date, as he explains how Robin captured the thieves and had Batman take down their Gotham-based fence.

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Check out dapper young Dick’s fabulous pink ascot.

This is a good little story, building on what came before to maximize narrative space.  It’s cool to see Robin get his revenge on the Bronco buffoons who flattened him the first time, and we discover that their attack actually tied way back to the political scandal several issues ago.  We also get a sense that Terri has more going on than at first appears, and have a love interest officially introduced in their date, about which I find myself ambivalent.  As I’ve said before, I’ve always got a soft spot for the Robin/Batgirl romance.  Nonetheless, I continue to find myself enjoying these college adventures of the Teen Wonder significantly more than I expected to.  I’m still a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more to the bombing plot, but I’m looking forward to what comes next for my favorite sidekick!  I’ll give this one 3.5 Minutemen.  It moves away from the heavier themes of the previous stories but still delivers a solid, small-scale adventure, and the ease with which Robin handles these teenage toughs seems fitting for Batman’s partner.

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Brave and the Bold #95


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“C.O.D. Corpse on Delivery”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Zany Haney returns, and he’s as zany as ever!  We’ve got a mystery guest star this month, and a gimmicky cover to capitalize on that.  It’s an okay image, pretty much solely designed to take advantage of the unknown guest, which the tale inside lives up to remarkably well, with the resolution to the mystery being a fairly dramatic reveal.  This issue is a heck of a fun and entertaining ride, but it is definitely not a Batman story.  The whole thing has the feel of a film noir flick dressed up in superhero garb, with schemes, betrayals, and classic adventure beats filling it.  The characters involved are pretty much superfluous.  The whole thing would work much better with Humphrey Bogart than Bruce Wayne.

brave and the bold 095 003The crazy tale opens with Batman waltzing into the lobby of the “Big Double R,” the skyscraper headquarters of the richest women in the world, ruthless industrialist Ruby Ryder.  The Dark Knight passes through security, emphasizing just how far this portrayal is from the still developing hero of the other Bat-books who broods in the shadows.  After being approved (like he doesn’t have weapons in his utility belt?  I’m thinking that guard should be fired), Bats strolls into Ryder’s office, where she tries to buy his services with a five million dollar donation to the charity of his choice.  That’s already a bit odd, especially for the super-rich Bruce Wayne, but his dialog is even more out of place, as he tells her “That’s a lot of bubble-gum wrappers!”  The lovely lady begs the hero to seek out her fiance, who has gone missing in South America, and despite the fact that the Caped Crusader tells her, “hunting criminals is my bag-not missing bridegrooms,” he agrees when she begs him on her knees.

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Living up to his name, the Masked Manhunter heads down to South America, where he finds a low-life pilot who supposedly flew the missing man, Kyle Morgan, out into the bush.  The pilot refuses to talk, so Batman gives him some ‘gentle’ encouragement.  The fight scene is beautifully rendered by Cardy, of course, and we get a nice action beat.

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The furious flyer, Jake Angel, relents and gives the hero a lift to the remote village to which he supposedly delivered Morgan.  After dropping his passenger off amidst a crowd of headhunters, the perfidious pilot takes off again, abandoning him.  Batman whips out a smoke bomb and disappears, scattering pictures of his quarry among the natives, and this overawes them enough that they point him to a hut in their village.  Inside, he sees a shrunken head!

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Yet, it turns out to be a fake, and after a dangerous journey back, Batman squeezes the truth out of Angel, finally being led to a deliriously feverish Kyle Morgan.  This is just page eight!  Despite the pilot’s efforts to stop him, the Dark Knight takes his plane and his charge and flies back, though when the missing man awakens, he attacks his rescuer.  Batman spins the plane, and we get a clever upside down panel, with dialog to match, and he disables Morgan.

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brave and the bold 095 016brave and the bold 095 015Unfortunately, the reunion of the lost lovers isn’t quite what the Caped Crusader imagined.  Ruby Ryder pulls out a pistol and shoots Morgan in cold blood, framing Batman for the murder…which seems like more than a little bit of a stretch.  He’s found with the body, the gun, and the check, but he’s also inside her building.  Either way, the Dark Knight escapes by diving through a high-rise window!  Later, and quite ridiculously, Batman, dressed in a hat and trenchcoat, OVER his costume, waylays the fiery femme fatale’s lawyer at Morgan’s funeral to try to get some information.  It’s a really silly image.  Not so silly, however, is the fact that, unseen, the casket opens and something emerges!  Dun dun DUNNN!

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Batman sets out to track Ruby Ryder down, as she’s gone into hiding outside the country, but as he pursues his investigation, people try to kill him, but he is saved by a mysterious figure that he never quite sees.  Ohh, and the bad guys totally discover his secret identity because he’s sloppy and gets observed going and coming from Bruce Wayne’s window, but they are too stupid to put the pieces together and assume he’s just using the millionaire’s identity.  Finally, the Dark Detective finds a mysterious note left in his locked room that point him towards Marrakech (spelled Marakeech).

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Crossing the desert towards Ryder’s hideout, Batman is once again rescued by his mysterious ally, who rises out of the sand in strange, undulating shapes and, apparently, kills the hero’s traitorous guide.  Keep that in mind when we get to the reveal.  The Dark Knight finally captures the vicious vixen, taking out her guard and avoiding a trap, and brings her back for trial.  After she is sentenced to death, we jump to the date of her execution.  Fortunately for her, the Masked Manhunter has finally put the pieces together, and he rushes into the chamber and unmasks her would-be executioner as her still very much alive former fiance…Plastic Man?!?!

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Yep, that’s right, the goofy, humorous, devil-may-care Ductile Detective, Plastic Man, was Kyle Morgan.  Apparently he got tired of living as a “freak,” and decided he wanted to settle down and get married, so he took on a desirable identity and appearance, and fell in love with Ruby Ryder.  However, when he discovered how cruel and vicious she was, he faked his death to leave her.  Of course, when she shot him, it didn’t do a whole lot of good, and he wanted her to face her death and see how it felt, though he swears he wouldn’t have flipped the switch.  Given the fact that he’s apparently killed at least one person already, that seems a tad dubious!  After this revelation, the dangerous dame goes free, and Plastic Man is left trying to decide what to do with his life.

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This is such a wild story, and, as usual with Haney, it is utterly packed to the gills with plot.  It moves at a rapid pace, and yet there is even a little time for characterization with Ruby Ryder and (mis)characterization with Batman and Plastic Man.  Yet, Batman is really and unquestionably miscast here.  He’s just way too casual and chatty, and even the ‘Policeman’s Friend’ Batman of the Silver Age wasn’t usually quite so trendy in his speech as is the slang-slinging version that Haney pens.  The story doesn’t really fit the character either, and the role could have honestly been more fittingly filled by a hardboiled character like Slam Bradley, Jason Bard, or Johnny Double.

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The Plastic Man reveal is actually quite well done, and if you don’t happen to know it’s coming, there is a good chance that it will surprise you.  Of course, Haney applies his usual filter to the character, and ‘down on his luck has-been’ was his favorite angle to take with a B&B co-star.  Despite the incongruous character elements, this is actually a pretty solid story, and a very enjoyable adventure yarn that is remarkably efficient in its storytelling.  Haney could really tell a tale when he was of a mind, even if he could rarely be bothered to make it fit in with anything else.  Ruby Ryder herself is a really impressively drawn character.  She is just bursting with personality, as are so many of Haney’s supporting characters, but she is something special.  Brought to beautiful life by Nick Cardy, not only is she a femme fatale, she is also a powerful and capable business tycoon.  This is a very independent woman, one who is cold and calculating, yet with the viciousness of a woman scorned.  This character is pretty significant, standing out from the crowd in 1971 by treating a woman as quite the equal in a man’s world.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, and though I really enjoyed it, I can’t quite justify giving it 4 because of its mischaracterizations.

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And thus we bid adieu to a new character who is really quite interesting in Ruby Ryder and a recent character who is only worthwhile for his complete goofiness!  Our next set of books sees the introduction of another femme fatale, one who would go on to play a fairly major role in the DC mythos in years to come.  Tune in soon for another addition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 6)

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

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superman #236


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Doomsayer!”


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

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

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

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

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


Teen Titans #32


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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


Final Thoughts:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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