Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 5)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
Greetings dear readers!  Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a very unusual and memorable pair of books to cover in this batch, for better or worse.  We have the JLA guest starring in Lois Lane (sort of) and the beginning of the infamous Don Rickles appearance in Jimmy Olsen.  The Superman family books are rather bonkers this month, it seems.  Join me and see what you can make of the madness that follows!

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

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111


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“The Dark Side of the Justice League!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Ray Holloway
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artists: Dick Giordano and Gaspar Saldino

“Law of the 100!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gray Morrow
Inker: Gray Morrow
Letterer: Ray Holloway

This comic is just a delightful mess, from the cover onward.  I admit, I’ve been excitedly eyeing this image in my reading list.  It is just such a fun design, with (almost) the entire League in action and the unusual sight of Lois playing Gulliver to superheroic Lilliputians.  It’s the type of concept we’ve seen before, but not that often.  Unsurprisingly, Dick Giordano creates a lovely, energetic piece, and the cover gets bonus points for being an accurate representation of the tale within.  It’s an effective image, and I know I’d have been curious to know what was going on in this book!

What a tale that is!  Fascinatingly, Kanigher uses this issue to tie his work on the supporting Superman titles into the emergent Fourth World mythos that Kirby is currently creating, weaving in elements from the King’s Jimmy Olsen run.  It’s interesting to see creators embracing the New Gods this quickly.  It all starts innocently enough, with Lois arriving at the beach for a relaxing day off, only to be secretly observed by…the JLA!?  Well, not exactly.  As she dozes on the sand, tiny doppelgängers of the League rush out and, using their unique powers, bind her down and put a strange liquid on her lips.  As she begins to stir, they rush into hiding, leaving her none-the-wiser.  The sequence is great fun and really nicely done.

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The next day, Lois is out covering a story when she notices a passing armored truck and somehow realizes that it is stuffed with gangsters.  She calls out a warning to Superman, allowing him to bag the crooks, and the Man of Steel finds himself wondering if his lady love has developed some type of 6th sense that might protect her from danger.  If so, he muses, he would be able to marry her, but he brushes the thought aside and flies off.  In a charming little touch, the women Lois had been interviewing encourage her not to give up hope.

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Later on, the girl reporter is on location at Metropolis park, covering the arrival of a mysterious statue.  Once again, she has a flash of insight and realizes that the art is fake, really a set of dangerous robotic weapons, and she is able to warn the Metropolis Marvel once more.  Smashing the rampaging robots, Superman thinks that Lois must have developed a new ability, so he gives in and kisses her.  As soon as their lips meet, he goes insane, beginning his own destructive rampage!

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Lois rushes to her car and uses a carphone (!) to contact, of all people, the head of the D.N.A. Project!  That’s right, she appeals for help to the secret government DNA research base in the Wild Area, introduced in Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen.  Apparently Superman brought her there to give a genetic sample…for some reason.  The sober scientist quickly forms a plan and tells the rattled reporter to go to the Daily Planet and await instructions.

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Well, that’s not the reaction you want after a kiss!

Unfortunately, later that night, after dozing at her desk, the journalist awakens to a strange sight: the littlest Leaguers, who kindly explain their plot.  Apparently, they were created from stolen DNA by the Project’s evil opposite number, the Monster Factory, and are under orders from their Apokoliptian masters.  They were to plant a special poison on Lois’s lips and, by faking her new ability, convince Superman to kiss her, thus dooming himself.

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When the ravishing reporter tries to flee, they attack and mock her, but a package left by the Project opens in the struggle, revealing an octet of tiny Loises, each inexplicably armed with a device to counter the abilities of the heinous pint-sized heroes.  One has a chip of gold Kryptonite to rob the Miniature Man of Might of his powers (where in the world would they have gotten that?), while another has a yellow glove to get past the little Lantern’s ring.  Some of them are a bit less direct, like a laser pistol that cuts the straps of Hawkman’s wings as opposed to…you know…just shooting him.

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It’s an exceedingly silly scene, but it is capped when the fun-sized Flash kicks up a cloud of dust while trying to escape, causing Lois to sneeze him into defeat.  With the miniature minions beaten, the reporter finds another gift from the Project, an antidote lipstick, which she dons before running out to kiss Superman a second time, restoring his mind.  The tale ends with the two strolling away, the Man of Steel not remembering a thing.

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This is an insane issue, but it is also a lot of fun.  There’s some really neat elements, as Kanigher tries to bring the mythos Kirby is creating out into the wider DCU.  Of course, being Kanigher, he does it in a fairly goofy way.  On the other hand, it does actually mesh surprisingly well with what we saw in Kirby’s own book.  The tiny clones, the stolen DNA, the mysterious machinations of the malevolent Monster Factory: it all works, after a fashion.  Yet, the writing is more than a little sloppy, with a lot of the details coming completely out of left field and the whole thing lacking internal consistency.  Why in the world does the Project have tiny-anti JLA weapons on hand.  How do they know they’re facing an evil army of mini-mes in the first place?  Whose idea was the ridiculously elaborate plan to get Superman to kiss Lois?  If they can clone tiny Leaguers, why not just make full sized ones to take out the originals?  Kanigher doesn’t bother to answer any of those questions.

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Look at the individuality and personality on the faces of these background characters.

Once again, Roth’s art is simply lovely, and while he had previously seemed to struggle a bit with the superheroic elements of these comics, despite his success with the romantic and dramatic moments, he turns in a really nice looking Justice League, even if they are tiny.  Particularly impressive, as usual, is his face-work, like in the image above.  The art definitely helps this tale, even as goofy as the story is.  Taken all together, this is a very entertaining, if bonkers, story, but it goes to show that nobody can really stack up to Kirby except Kirby.  He actually made something mostly coherent out of the madness of the Project.  Kanigher?  Not so much.  Despite his efforts, this feels more like a new gimmick and less like a facet of a new mythology.  I’ll give this entertaining fit of silliness 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s fun, but it’s flawed.

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“Law of the 100”


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The real highlight of this issue is its Rose and Thorn backup, which is just plain excellent for the limited space it has to work with.  It features the art of Gray Morrow, which is a big departure from Ross Andru’s and a real treat.  The story itself really shows off its star.  It starts with a classic cheat image, as we see the tenacious Thorn shot down by a new figure.  Of course, this is revealed to simply be a test of the 100’s newest killer using a mannequin (although, that mannequin seems to be moving a whole lot for an inanimate object.  The fresh-faced fink in question is apparently Leo Lester, the son of one of the organization’s best gunmen.  They tell the boy that his father was betrayed to the cops but that he’s destined to take his place, and then they send him after the Thorn with his father’s gun.

On the street, the kid attempts to ambush the Nymph of Night, but she’s too good.  She manages to toss a smoke thorn (Batman’s going to sue!), and she easily takes him out.  The sequence is just beautiful, with Morrow delivering a wonderfully realistic sense of movement and presence to his figures.  Look at the motion in the Thorn’s body on this page.  Well, artwork aside, the vigilante is stunned to discover that her attacker is a youth, and she tries to reason with him.  This is actually one of the weaknesses of Morrow’s art, as the gunman doesn’t actually look that young.

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Unfortunately, just then another 100 hit squad opens up on the both of them, the kid having failed his job.  Strangely, the gunsles are hidden on a mobile merry-go-round.  It’s essentially a tiny carousel mounted on a truck.  Crazy!  I guess they really had these things, but I’d never seen one.  It’s an interesting and rather whimsical choice for a ruthless gang of murderers.  Criminals in the DCU have class!  Of course, no matter how charming their costuming, they are still trying to shoot the Vixen of Vengeance, and she doesn’t take that too kindly, so she tosses an explosive thorn, blowing the car/carousel away.

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Somehow this doesn’t kill the thugs, but it does attract the cops.  Not wanting to hand her young assassin over because she hopes she can reach him, the Thorn hauls him to a secluded spot on the waterfront.  As part of this scene, we get a really interesting moment where the Baleful Beauty’s two personalities are in conflict, with her Rose persona wanting to help the boy and the Thorn identity being much less sympathetic.  It’s a neat touch.

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After her internal debate, the Nymph of Night tries to persuade the captive kid that the 100 know no loyalty, but he refuses to believe her until he’s ambushed by another team of hitters from the gang.  Once again, the Thorn acts to save the punk’s life, tossing out a set of flash grenade-thorns and taking out the gunmen in a nice panel, this time aided by Leo.  As they run from gangster reinforcements, the boy promises to tell his savior why he really agreed to hunt her.

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This little backup is really quite good.  It’s a breezy but effective story, with a healthy dose of action.  The Thorn comes off really well throughout, seeming competent and dangerous and generally living up to her hype.  It’s great to see her using her gadgets, taking out her foes like Batman.  It makes for some exciting reading.  Meanwhile, the heart of the plot with the kid turned killer is fairly interesting.  I’m curious what else is going on with him.

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Yet, a big part of what makes this particular backup so great is Gray Morrow’s exceptional art.  He’s got got a very unusual style for DC at this time, and the realistic detail that he puts into things like the Thorn’s hair as she fights and runs, or the shift in fabric is really cool.  In general, this tale just looks lovely.  There’s not a whole lot here, but nonetheless, it is a really enjoyable read.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, about the highest score a backup can get.  Kanigher is continuing to do really solid work in these backups, however bonkers his feature scripts may be.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139


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“The Guardian Fights Again!!!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack KirbyE. and Nelson Bridwell

When you think of cosmic adventure and and mind-bending epics, what’s the first name that comes to mind?  Why, Don Rickles, of course!  What, it isn’t?  Well, join the club.  This issue and the next might just be the wackiest point in the Fourth World saga…and also perhaps the lowest, or at least the most nonsensical.  For some inexplicable reason, the King essentially takes a break from his myth-making, his larger than life story about the clash between superhuman forces of good and evil, to do a two issue arc featuring Don Rickles and his equally inexplicable doppelgänger.  Even the cover is a mess.  If you thought some of the previous covers were crowded with copy, you hadn’t seen anything yet!  Yikes!  There are more words in that image than in the entirety of any two modern comics.  The art itself is okay but it’s barely got any room to work with.

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Inside, it gets even stranger.  It begins with the Guardian being tested by Tommy’s father at the Project, run through a thorough examination before being allowed to go into action.  Though the tests show nothing wrong with the cloned hero, the doctor is still a bit hesitant to give him a clean bill of health because this copy of Jim Harper shares a mysterious abnormality in his brain with the rest of the clones produced at the Project.  Once again, I find something rather sinister in this scene that I doubt Kirby intended, but there is definitely something a little unsettling about the setup.  It seems to beg for development, but I don’t think it was ever really touched on again.  Despite this, the Guardian is given a chance to head back to Metropolis with Superman, and the Legion is super excited about teaming up with their fathers’ idol.

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jimmyolsen139-11Unfortunately, only Superman, Jimmy, and the Guardian make the trip in the Whiz Wagon, while the kids remain behind, quarantined and due to be tested because Gabby picked up a cold.  Isn’t that sort of closing the barn door after the cows have gotten out, especially if you let the others go?  Nonetheless, the scene is pretty funny, as Gabby’s fellows pelt him with newspapers for landing them in stir.  Note Flippa Dippa who, for reasons known only to himself and Kirby’s fevered imagination, is wearing his wetsuit under his hospital gown.  Their salvation comes in a strange but entertaining form, as Scrappy finds one of the tiny mini-Scrapper paratroopers has hitched a ride in his hair and agrees to help them break out.

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The Whiz Wagon wings its way back to Metropolis, and when they get back, Superman zooms off to resume his secret identity so that Clark can be ready to receive these visitors.  He and Jimmy realize that Morgan Edge is behind a lot of their troubles and plan to have it out with their new boss.  Yet, the evil Edge has more gimmicky problems at the moment, as, and stay with me here, he is trying to work out a contract with Don Rickles, but he somehow has to deal with ‘Goody’ Rickles, who is on his research staff and is inexplicably the entertainer’s spitting image.  Despite having the same last name, there’s no indication that these two are related either.

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For some reason, Goody barges in at that moment, unaccountably dressed in a cape and tights.  Apparently, some of the guys in his office told him to wear it in order to shoot a TV pilot.  I…I don’t even know where to begin.  His dialog is just nonsensical.  Sometimes almost funny, but mostly indistinct and unclear.  The malicious mogul instantly hates the wacko, and for once I can’t blame him, and sends him out on a fake assignment that is actually a trap.

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jimmyolsen139-20Shortly thereafter, Clark and Jimmy arrive, demanding to see Edge, but they get sent out on the same assignment, arriving at the park in short order.  There they find a strange craft, and when Clark investigates, Goody moronically starts pressing buttons, suddenly causing the device to vanish!  The remaining protagonists are then attacked by Intergang thugs, and the Guardian goes into action while Goody says things that are ostensibly supposed to be funny.  The cloned champion gives a good showing, tearing through his assailants, and even Jimmy gives a good account of himself.  Kirby has him keep his foes busy through athleticism and cleverness rather than simply outbrawling them, which is fitting.  Goody does a comedy routine as he accidentally thwarts the bad guys.  Unfortunately, all their efforts are for naught, as one of Intergang’s bigwigs, the aptly named “Ugly” Mannheim, grabs Jimmy and holds him hostage until the others surrender.

Meanwhile, Clark is stuck in the strange craft, which has shifted into another dimension, nicely rendered by Kirby, who had a gift for alien vistas.  Back in Morgan Edge’s office, he orders Mannheim to dispose of his captives.  Instead, he feeds them.  Goody makes with more ‘humor,’ but the scene is salvaged by a pretty dramatic turn.  Ugly casually lights the entire table aflame with but a touch of his cigar, and then announces that the food was laced with a powerful accelerant, which is now in his captives’ systems.  He releases them, warning the three that in 24 hours they’ll all go up like Roman candles.

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That’s a wonderful villain image.

jimmyolsen139-28Goody’s indignation, not at the murder attempt, but at being dropped off out of his way is genuinely funny, but it’s one of the few moments in this comic that can actually be described that way.  He’s more grating and bizarre than humorous, with some of his dialog reminding you of a joke in the way that a badly hummed tune can remind you of a song.  There are elements in common, but the effect is rather different.  The story itself has a lot of good qualities.  However silly the setup, the Newsboy Legion making their escape and is pretty fun, as is their banter.  Ugly Mannheim is instantly memorable, and the sequence with his unusual methods of dealing with his prisoners is actually quite good.  It’s nice to see the Guardian in action again as well, but all of this is overshadowed for some reason by the utterly incongruous presence of Goody, who makes no real sense and just doesn’t fit in this story.  Kirby’s art is quite good in this issue, unlike the last New Gods, and he turns in a lot of lovely and energetic moments, as well as some great character work with the Legion.  In the end, it’s rather hard to rate this issue, as it is just so very strange and feels more like two separate stories mashed together than a coherent whole.  I suppose I’ll give this mad mess 2.5 Minutemen, as the good elements are strong enough to partially offset the perplexing presence of ‘Goody’ Rickles.  It’s still a fun read, and interesting in context, but boy is it strange.

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P.S.: So, how did this flight of insanity come into being?  Check out the article here for some nice background, but here’s the short version.  Apparently Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman, Kirby’s assistants, were huge fans of then popular insult-comedian Don Rickles, and they thought it would be fun to have him appear in a comic for a few panels and insult Superman.  They wrote up some dialog and showed it to Jack, who loved the idea.  He, in turn, took it to Carmine Infantino, who never met a gimmick he didn’t like.  The editor got permission from Rickles and decided that this needed to be promoted and made into a two-issue feature.  Then, out of the unfathomable, beautiful madness of Kirby’s mind came what followed.  Apparently, Rickles himself was none-too-pleased with the final result, and I can’t say I really blame him.

 


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Color me surprised, but this is the second month in a row without a single new head-blow to add to the tally.  I’m thinking August has got to break the streak.

 


Final Thoughts:


July was an unusual month, filled with books that were not necessarily good, but were certainly memorable and, at least in some ways, important.  There were some genuinely enjoyable yarns along the way as well, of course, but this month gave us several significant comics that, though they were flawed as stories, were important to the DCU or interesting reflections of concerns in the zeitgeist of their time.  Even some of the sillier stories like this issue of Lois Lane are worth noting because of how they are evidence of the growth of the setting or the genre.  In Lois’s case, her bizarre adventure introduces the King’s Fourth World to the DC Universe at large, for however awkward that meeting might be.

Kirby’s Fourth World itself continues to develop in intriguing ways.  This month we get to see Darkseid emerge a bit more into the foreground, and we see a little of his personality and the nature of his rule in the machinations of his servants in this Forever People.  We also see the notable creation of another black character, still very much a rare occurrence at this point, though it is a moment of dubious honor, considering that he is the Black Racer.  On the plus side, his creation does point to an awareness of DC’s lack of diversity and some of the early, if halting, steps to try and make the DC Universe a bit more reflective of the nation that spawned it.

Most strikingly for me, this month gives us the story of Glorious Godfrey and a fascinating tale about the dangers of surrendering your will and moral judgement to the strong man and the demagogue.  This lesson was well learned in the mid-20th Century with the rise of fascism and World War II, but the allure of having someone do your thinking for you is a strong and pervasive one.  Human beings don’t like to think, as Socrates knew to his sorrow, and they always look for ways to escape that onerous onus.  I see this constantly in my students, but unfortunately, this trend is very much in evidence in the modern world, far beyond the classroom.  The ever increasing tribalism of our politics in the U.S. are the clearest example of this tendency I can imagine.

Notably, the viciously divided culture of 1971 seems to have produced similar anxieties about such mindless adherence to those that promise easy answers, as last month’s JLA issue demonstrated.  The connection between these books point to more than just Jack Kirby’s memories of the War years as being the source for this story.  In the era of George Wallace and numerous other strong men on all sides of the political spectrum, I suppose this should be no surprise.

Fascinatingly, this month’s Green Lantern deals, in a way, with a similar theme, though it is not really the focus of the story.  O’Neil finally turned in an issue that I really enjoyed, however goofy it might be.  It helps that the book takes the tack of satire rather than direct (and, let’s face it, shrill and self-righteous) critique.  Most notably, with this issue the author moves away from racism, pollution, and the other crippling social issues of the time, and focuses instead on the growing disposable, artificial nature of modern life, with its pillorying of the plastic peril of the Black Hand.  This is another topic that certainly resonates in the modern day, though in a less dire fashion.

Also in the zeitgeist of the day, the plight of Native Americans remains in our comics for this month with the conclusion to Dorfman’s Superman tale in Action Comics #402.  This is another prime example of a bit of a disconnect between the significance and quality of some of this month’s books, as the story itself is more than a little messy and goofy, lacking the dignity and seriousness of the first chapter.  Nonetheless, Dorfman’s heart is in the right place, and his work points to a growing concern in the culture at large, a desire to see native peoples given justice and a fair break, something we certainly still haven’t mastered.

This comic illustrates one of the difficulties in tackling social issues in the superhero genre.  As Superman easily wraps up all of the problems in a few pages, captures the villain, and provides a safe, stable, and successful future for the downtrodden tribesmen, we can’t help but feel that the reality of the struggle of such peoples is given rather short shrift.  This was one of my complaints with the previous attempt at such a story by Robert Kanigher.  It is a difficult and tenuous thing to treat a real tragedy in a setting where sun gods can juggle planets, stop bullets, and reverse time.  How do you honor the suffering of such a situation with a character than can resolve any problem with the snap of his fingers?  It can be done, as Kanigher’s racial story proves, but it is a difficult proposition.

DC’s flagship character was not just involved in attempts at social relevance this month.  Denny O’Neil’s continuing efforts to revitalize Superman are also on display, giving us attempts to humanize the archetypally superhuman Man of Steel.  While the resultant story is uneven, it’s an interesting continuation of the author’s efforts over the last several months, as his weakened hero has had to struggle with newfound limitations and doubts.  While the changes seem fairly mild to a modern audience, saturated with ‘bold new directions’ to the point where every radical shift just blends into the background, I have to imagine that O’Neil’s efforts were pretty groundbreaking for the venerable and traditionally very stable Superman.  Judging from the letters pages in these issues, that seems to be borne out.  Contemporary readers were reacting, and quite strongly, to the stories O’Neil is slinging.

Finally, as one of my radical readers pointed out, the appearance this month of a General Patton analogue in G.I. Combat is very likely a result of the relatively recent release of the film, Patton, the previous year.  Glancing over the plot summary of the movie, I’m certain he was right, as there are some really striking similarities between it and the story in question.  So here we have another quite clear example of the culture influencing the comics directly.

All of these stories make for a memorable if uneven month.  There are some great yarns to be found here, though a surprising number of those I enjoyed most were the backups.  There was still plenty here worth reading, one way or another.  I hope that y’all enjoyed this stage of our journey and will join me again soon for the next chapter of our voyage Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive, and exercise your God-given mind and moral sense!

 

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 3)

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


G.I. Combat #148


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 


Green.Lantern/Green Arrow #84


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

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

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

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

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Hard to envision Hal as a fan of Dixieland…

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green.Lantern/Green Arrow #84


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello readers, and welcome to another step forward in our journey Into the Bronze Age!  We have a trio of comics here that are pretty widely varied in quality but all of them are quite interesting in one way or another.   In particular, we’ve got a really thought-provoking (at least for me) issue of Justice League in store for us!  I’m afraid I’ve got plenty to say about this one, and things get rather heavy, so consider yourselves warned!  To round things out, we’ve got some more Fourth World goodness and some Phantom Strange…well, strangeness!

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.


Justice League of America #90


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“Plague of the Pale People”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Carmine Infantino

This comic is one of the clearer signs I’ve encountered of the intermediary stage we’re in at this moment of our journey, here in 1971.  It’s a very mixed bag.  It features attempts at world-building, more mature characterization, social relevance, and emotional impact, which are all commendable goals and will come to define the better works of the Bronze Age.  However, each of those attempts is, at best, flawed, and Mike Friedrich makes a number of poor choices in order to accomplish his aims.  The result is a very uneven book with a lot of potential that manages to fall frustratingly short on most every front.  That really begins with the cover.  It’s a reasonably solid image, though the composition feels rather unbalanced.  It conveys its message, but there’s not a whole lot more I can say about it.

The story within begins, oddly, with a line from one of T.S. Eliot’s most famous poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  (More about this at the end of my commentary.)  Here we meet a conveniently named girl with the moniker ‘Shally,’ who, we’re told, “sells seashells by the seashore,” or did, because now she lies dying.  In a cool bit of world building, we see that she was attached to the “Atlantean Cultural Exchange,” whose existence makes perfect sense, though it gets exactly zero development.  The girl herself is discovered by a young couple on the beach, soon joined by Batman himself, who notes that she seems to have been poisoned.  He tries to contact Aquaman, but getting no response, he summons the rest of the JLA.

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We flashback one month in the interim, as Clark Kent covers the disposal of a deadly chemical weapon by the military, who plan to scuttle the ship bearing the gas at sea, where it can’t harm anyone.  Of course, this is the DC Universe, where every square inch of land, sea, and space is crawling with strange, undiscovered cultures, and the deadly substance happens to rain destruction upon the undersea city of Sareme, home of the Pale People, a somewhat simple submarine race that Atlantis had recently raised to a high technological level (originally appearing WAY back in Flash #109, another bit of world building).  They worship an ancient “wonder plant,” the “Proof Rock” (get it?) which can detect dishonesty and perfidy, but the miraculous growth is smashed by the falling canisters, and in one fell swoop, the foundation for their culture is destroyed as well.

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A charismatic leader, Prince Nebeur, arises among the Pale People and declares that he will be their new god and will lead them to conquest and glory.  Then, without any preamble and completely off-panel…they defeat Atlantis.  Just like that.  The Saremites harness the chemical weapons that were dumped on their heads and turn them against their former benefactors.  Apparently after a single skirmish, Aquaman, King of Atlantis, surrenders, saying that his people have no defense against the gas…though we will see in a few pages why this claim is ridiculous on the face of it.

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Well…that was easy.  And these sheep conquered Atlantis?

There are a few major problems with this scene and what it represents for our story.  First, in it Friedrich breaks one of the cardinal rules of writing, telling rather than showing, as the defining moment comes and goes without us seeing even a glimpse of it.  Second, and much more significantly, Aquaman simply…gives up.  Without a fight, without a desperate counterstrike, without so much as throwing a single punch.  He just gives up.  He doesn’t take the field like the warrior king he is.  He surrenders, and in so doing, he submits all of Atlantis to the reign of a tyrant and an alien people.

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Bad writing aside, check out Aquaman in that middle panel.  Time to lay off the crab cakes, Arthur!

This scene and much of what flows from it are wildly problematic because of the philosophy that drives it.  It is forged from a foolish, unworkable personal pacifism that was common in the Vietnam era, the type that can only exist in a free country that gives its citizens the leisure and convenience of such scruples (this is not all pacifism, of course, just impractical, irrationally demanding strains).  It becomes unworkable the moment there is a true struggle for survival in the offing, and it absolutely cannot function at the national level.  Even neutral nations like Switzerland will defend themselves at need, and in our fallen and fractious world, all nations sometimes face outside forces that want what they have.

The doctrine of Just War is an old and respected one (I ascribe to a fairly Augustinian version myself), but the spirit that leads us to seek out such philosophies is borne from the knowledge that some things are worth fighting, and indeed, dying for.  There is a long history of such thought, but I think John Stuart Mill may have said it best back in the era of the great struggles for liberty:

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is worse. […] The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertion of better men than himself.  As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”

And make no mistake, that is precisely what is at stake for the Atlanteans: freedom.  Yet, Aquaman, of all men, considers this too small of a stake for which to fight.  Now, the text tells us that the Atlanteans don’t stand a chance, so unconditional surrender is the only option, but that is simply not supported in the book.  Here is where Friedrich’s literary sin of ‘telling’ really hurts his tale, as the reader can’t help but say, “Really?  All of Atlantis and Aquaman can’t do ANYTHING against these random guys who we’ve never heard of before?”  It’s a drastically unsatisfying explanation, and it makes the Sea King look more than useless.

Back to our story, the power hungry Nebeur, unsurprisingly, isn’t satisfied with Atlantis, so he plans to conquer the surface world as well, with the help of the gas that the surfacemen themselves created.  That’s really all they’ve got going for them.  Nonetheless, the usurper king shames Aquaman and pushes him around as he takes control of Atlantis, but fortunately the apparently pathetic hero has allies that are more useful than he is in this story.  Batman tells his fellow heroes of his suspicions about the missing gas and the absent Marine Marvel, and they split into teams to investigate.  The Dark Knight goes in search of the missing Flash, while Hawkman and Superman go hunting for the chemical weapons and Green Lantern and the Atom try to contact Aquaman.

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I like Hawkman’s pressure suit; the white looks good with his costume.

In a nice bit of detail, the Winged Wonder dons a pressure suit so he can travel into the deep, but the searching duo are attacked by the Pale People near their city.  Superman saves a stunned Hawkman and returns to smash the Saremites’ weapons, with a little help from his airborne ally.  Having solved part of the mystery, the pair head to Atlantis to meet up with their teammates.

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Things are tense in the undersea city, with the Atlanteans feeling justifiably a trifle antsy about the whole ‘unconditional surrender’ thing.  Green Lantern and Atom are attacked as they approach by the occupiers, but Hal’s power ring proves up to the challenge and silences the Atlantean artillery.  When the heroes are attacked by gas shells (underwater, let’s remember), the Emerald Gladiator manages to bottle up the toxin while the Atom disables the launcher and captures the guard.

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Just then the other pair arrive, and the Saremites, in desperation, turn the water pumps of Atlantis into a weapon, which is actually a really clever idea and a great extrapolation of the extant material.  They expel all of the water from the domed city in a massive, crushing torrent, and the heroes are blown and battered by the flood, even Superman.  Now, that’s a tad problematic, as anything that could take out the Man of Steel would probably kill the others, but I’ll give Friedrich a pass because balancing these power levels has got to be tough.

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This is a cool sequence, and it includes a pretty clever idea, but it also reveals a huge problem for the whole ‘Atlantis is helpless against the gas’ angle.  The whole city is under a water-tight dome!  All the Atlanteans had to do was sit tight, and the Saremite’s weapons would have been completely useless.  In a story where Friedrich is clearly thinking through a lot of his choices, this is a pretty glaring oversight.  Nonetheless, the action doesn’t end there, as the Emerald Crusader uses his ring to shield the Man of Tomorrow, and the Kryptonian smashes his way into the Atlantean control center and knocks out the invaders manning it.  With the pressure released, the heroes storm the city and take out the Saremite troops in a decent, if not spectacular, splash page.

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The tyrant, Nebeur, tries to flee when he sees his troops defeated, but Aquaman finally does something useful and decks the would-be conqueror.  Finally, the crisis is over, and the heroes begin to celebrate, but the Sea King berates them, noting that a death toll of 43 makes this anything but a bloodless victory, and blames the surfacemen for instigating the tragedy in the first place by being irresponsible with their weapons.

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What the heck is going on with Aquaman’s face in panel #2?  The Sea King just can’t catch a break in this book!

This is an interesting scene, as it tries to deal with the realistic costs of conflict, which are always too high.  War is always a tragedy, even when it is a just necessity.  While Aquaman is rather unfair to his teammates, the real trouble is that the moment is somewhat undercut by the weaknesses of the story.  The tone is rather heavy handed as well, which is no surprise considering who our author is, but that is nothing compared to the overblown narration that follows.

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The League return the Saremites, including their dead, to their city, and the desperate, directionless people gasp in wonder as the ‘Proof Rock’ comes back to life when the heroes approach it.  They beg the Leaguers to rule them as their gods, but Hawkman steps forward and responds with an honestly intriguing speech.  He declares that they have placed their faith in external sources, which have failed them, so they must turn within in their search for meaning, a very existentialist sermon (“existence precedes essence”).  The comic ends with a distorted recreation of the Christian rite of the Eucharist, as the Thanagarian hero takes pieces of the ‘Proof Rock’ and administers them to the Pale People, saying “Take and eat of it, for this is the food of life.”  Afterwards, back aboard the Satellite, the assembled League are discussing the case when suddenly Batman appears bearing a gravely wounded Flash!  That’s quite a note to go out on!

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St. Hawkman of the wings

The Hawkman sermon is…well, a slightly sacrilegious ending, but that doesn’t bother me too much since the symbolism is clear and clever (internalizing a once external source of meaning).  It’s a really striking, provocative conclusion, and I am impressed that Friedrich is able to deliver it after the uneven story that precedes it.  Essentially, Hawkman attempts to give the Saremites a new belief structure to replace that which they lost, which is a pretty huge move on his part.  I suppose that the JLA doesn’t subscribe to the Prime Directive!  Honestly, the gesture is quite fitting coming from the Winged Wonder, given the type of advanced, science-based culture that the Thanagarians evince, but I find myself a little troubled by it, purely on philosophical/theological grounds.

While I have a deep affection for existentialism, and I think it is a useful response to the weak, unexamined Epicureanism of the modern world, it is an ultimately flawed philosophy unless joined with Christianity, as in Kierkegaard ‘s work.  When you remove external sources of objective morality, you’re eventually left with nothing more than enlightened self-interest as an ethics that can be rationally defended.  That is a pretty poor ethical standard, and the moral relativism of the modern world reflects the reality of such a stance (even when it masquerades under the guise of adhering to an objective morality).

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In terms of Friedrich’s references to Eliot’s “Prufrock,” I can’t decide if they are asinine or brilliant.  You see, the poem, like much of Eliot’s work, is about the disillusionment, frustration, and indecision of modern life.  The piece is one of the great standards of Modernism, capturing the ennui of the early 20th Century.  Given the condition of American culture in 1971, with many people frustrated about the state of things but unable to decide how to get involved or how to create change, it is possible that this is a very insightful framing device…except for the fact that the story doesn’t really capitalize on it, and the supplied line seems to be chosen because of its aquatic theme rather than any interpretative power.  The use of the “Proof Rock” in the alien city also confuses the issue.

It’s clearly a reference to ‘ol Prufrock, but its significance in the story seems to have little to do with poem, except insofar as the Pale People are lost and directionless with its destruction, as is ‘Prufrock’ himself.  One way or another, this is certainly not the clear and effective literary allusion we saw in the Avengers story from a while back.  It feels more like Friedrich showing off, but perhaps I’m being unfair.  The unmoored, directionless narrator of Eliot’s poem certainly shares his uncertainty with the Saremites.  Nonetheless, a much more effective allusion accompanies Hawkman’s sermon, as Friedrich includes a passage from William Carlos William’s “Spring and All.”  The line and the poem at large deal with the perennial regrowth of nature, the power of spring to transform even the ugliest and harshest landscapes, symbolizing the power of life to recover from even the worst shocks.  It’s a very fitting reference that adds to the scene.  I’m not much for William’s poetry, but this works.

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Justice_League_of_America_#090-22So, what do we make of this very unusual story?  It is an ambitious comic, and Friedrich is really striving to create something significant and provocative.  He falls short of most of his aims, but we have to give him credit for his aspirations.  Yet, in order to get the message he wants across, he wrenches characters and concepts out of shape, turning Aquaman into an appeaser and a z-list alien race into a major threat without proper development.  In the Vietnam era, where American forces were literally burning down and defoliating entire jungles in an attempt to pin down the Viet Cong, responsible use of weapons and accountability for them was a pretty pressing issue.  (It just so happens that it remains so in a world of robotic drones bringing comfortably distant death from the skies.)  Clearly, there is an attempt here to encourage the audience to grapple with this issue, and that is valuable.  Despite its glaring problems of structure, characterization, and logic, Friedrich delivers a very memorable and (relatively) thoughtful comic here.  Dick Dillin’s art is serviceable as usual.  He renders the Pale People pretty well, but there are some awkward panels scattered about.  There are a few places where the art doesn’t quite serve the story, but on the whole, he does a good job.  In the end, I suppose this issue deserves 3.5 Minutemen, as its flawed efforts raise it slightly above the average, though I’m inclined to be merciless because of what Friedrich does to my favorite hero, Aquaman.

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Mister Miracle #2


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“X-Pit!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Jack Kirby

After the heaviness of the previous comic, with its ambiguous literary allusions and downer elements, this next issue of Mr. Miracle’s rip-roaring adventures are a breath of fresh air.  I’ve been looking forward to reading more of the super escape artist’s escapades, and the King did not disappoint with this one.  I’ll save y’all the suspense: it’s a great comic, as are the bulk of this run.  Yet, this has what is probably one of the weaker Mr. Miracle covers.  Kirby has created a composition that hearkens back to his days at Marvel.  Just look at all that cover copy!  The central image, our hero facing the flying blades is great, and the peril is palpable, but there’s a lot of wasted space and cluttered text.  Still, it is properly exciting, and the story inside lives up to its promise.

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It begins the way this series often does, with Scott Free and his assistant Oberon working on a new escape for their show.  At the moment, the pair are constructing an android, which the escape artist refers to as a “Follower,” that can mimic his movements.  Interestingly, this entire scene is framed with the most Kirby panel dividers that have ever existed.  Some unseen foe watches the proceedings and reports to a superior with sinister intent.  The trick in the offing involves explosives, and Scott is using his duplicate to help him test it, but then their uninvited guest, a strange looking robot named Overlord, strikes, with devastating results.

Fortunately, the android takes the brunt of the blast, and Oberon comes to his friend’s rescue, fighting the resultant blaze.  I’ve given Vinnie Colletta a lot of flak for his rushed and lazy inks on Kirby’s books, but I’ll give him due credit for this sequences, as he does a masterful job capturing the light and shadow of the flame and smoke.  Amidst that obscuring smoke, Oberon discovers Scott, unharmed, thanks to the intervention of his Mother Box.  The mysterious Mr. Miracle tells his friend that the box was hurt while protecting him, and he must help it heal by pouring “my love–my belief” into it.  Okay?  The machine remains an enigma.

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What a fantastic page!  It’s great that Kirby gives Oberon a chance to shine, endearing this odd little guy to his readers.

mr miracle 02-08 x-pitMeanwhile, our scene changes to focus on a strange old woman surrounded by amazing machines and armored troops. When the soldiers question her about the mysterious machine, Overlord, she throws back her cloak to reveal battle armor and beats them viciously, declaring that the robot is precious to her.  She adds that she wants to kill Scott Free and orders her troops to bring him to her.  This is our first introduction to Granny Goodness, and it is fantastic.  It’s really striking and funny to see this old woman just wail on all these vicious looking warriors, and Kirby draws her as a grotesque, frightening in her ugly rage.

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mr miracle 02-11 x-pitScott, for his part, is testing another act, recreating the cover image as he is strapped to a board facing a trio of razor-sharp spears, narrowly avoiding their strike.  After his escape, Oberon begins to question him about his origins again, and I quite like his line: “Level with me, boy!  You’re not from anyplace I ever heard of–are you–?”  Their conversation gives us a nice touch of characterization for both of them, though it reveals little more about Scott, other than that he his on the run and arrived via ‘Boom Tube.’  Of course, folks reading the rest of Kirby’s books would recognize that term.  After their talk, Granny’s soldiers arrive and, mistaking the android for Mr. Miracle, capture it and Oberon.  Scott sees this and, recognizing the attackers, he takes off after them with flying devices called ‘Aero Disks.’  I’ve always loved this element of the character.  When I’m walking a long way, I’ll occasionally daydream about having a pair of these myself!

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mr miracle 02-13 x-pitBack at Granny’s base, her troops return with their catch, and you can imagine how well she takes it when she realizes they have been suckered.  Just then, Mr. Miracle arrives in grand fashion and snags his assistant.  Yet, their escape is short-lived, as Granny triggers a device, and the pair drop into something called….the X-Pit!  The Pit involves a clear, glass-like cage bearing a number of buttons, which Mr. Miracle calls “a torment-circuit.”  Sounds lovely!  Kirby gives us a bit of awkward, fuzzy dialog here, but the heart of the trap is a series of tortures corresponding to each button, including flames, electricity, and choking mud.  It’s a great sequence, and Kirby draws the heck out of it.  The trap itself is pretty clever, as, each press of a button brings relief from one peril, only to replace it with another.  That’s an insidious type of torture, giving you control over your own fate.

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As Scott and Oberon face their desperate struggle for survival, Granny celebrates by having ‘Overlord’ brought out of her vault.  We discover that the strange device is actually some type of “fabber,” or nano-fabricator, that can create nearly anything out of thin air.  Think of the replicators from Star Trek.  Of course, Kirby doesn’t describe it in those terms, as the idea was much less common and established in science fiction back in 1971.  It does highlight the incredibly advanced technology of the New Gods.  I mention all of this, because the King often likes to make such imaginative concepts central elements of his stories, even when they don’t have a major impact on the plot, and such is the case here.

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Another fantastic page, capturing what is great about Mr. Miracle.

Granny’s enjoyment of Overlord is rudely interrupted as Mr. Miracle makes another dramatic entrance, destroying the device.  He explains that he kept trying different settings for the torment-circuit until he found a radiation attack, which he was able to channel into Mother Box to restore her power, and then he use her to send an energy spike into Overlord, who was hooked into everything in the X-Pit, frying him.  Essentially thumbing his nose at the vicious old woman, the super-escape-artist takes off, admitting to Oberon that it was difficult for him to stand up to her…but we don’t yet entirely understand why!

This issue is just a blast.  It establishes the pattern that most of the Mr. Miracle comics will follow, where we begin with our hero practicing an outlandish escape, have him be challenged by some of Darkseid’s minions and put into some type of fiendish trap, only to live up to his name and thwart their plans by escaping.  It could get repetitive, but Kirby is endlessly creative and manages to throw so many strange and wondrous ideas at his readers that the formula doesn’t get boring, if memory serves.  This particular story is just a lot of fun, with all kinds of outrageous threats facing our hero, some nice character work, and a really bizarre and memorable villain.

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Granny Goodness really is a great addition to Kirby’s growing Fourth World.  She’s a reversal of the archetypal motherly/grandmotherly figure, with her deceptive saccharine sweetness and her vicious cruelty.  She fits perfectly into Darkseid’s world, and the fact that she is the model of how Apokolips interacts with the innocence and helplessness of childhood speaks volumes.  The King’s art is, of course, great throughout, full of energy and bursting with imagination.  Other than some clunky dialog and the fact that what exactly is going on with Overlord is left quite fuzzy, the issue has no real flaws, so I’m going to give it a boisterous and exciting 4.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: We have another text piece in this comic, this one about Mr. Miracle himself and Kirby’s prophetic imagination.  It’s an interesting read!

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The Phantom Stranger #13


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“A Child of Death!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Devil’s Timepiece”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga
Editor: Joe Orlando

Brace yourselves, guys.  This promising mystery tale takes a really bizarre left turn, with Kanigher pulling a crazy third act reveal.  It actually starts out a really strong, promising Twilight Zone-esq tale, but that doesn’t last.  Nonetheless, we’ve got a great cover for this one, creepy, mysterious, and intriguing.  You’ve just got to pick this issue up and see what’s going on with this weird little kid!

The story inside starts well enough, with a scene straight off of the cover, wherein a scientist working in a remote facility is burning the midnight oil when he is startled by his grandson’s sudden arrival.  The child points his toy pistol at the old man, says “Bang! Bang!” and suddenly the gramps crumples to the floor, dead!  The narration is a bit heavy-handed, but the scene is pretty chilling, especially given the demonic cast Aparo brings to the boy’s cherubic features.

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the phantom stranger (1969) 13 - 03The next morning, the boy’s mother finds her stricken father dead, seemingly from heart failure, and we observe the fallout from his loss.  He was the head of Project Thunderhead, some sort of nuclear weapons undertaking, and the team must choose a new director.  There’s a bit of politicking, as an aged German scientist named Heinrich makes a play for the position buts get shot down, starting a plot thread that goes absolutely nowhere.  At the slain scientist’s funeral, the Phantom Stranger appears, ruminating that there is a terrible secret in the grave.  How mysterious!

A week later, the incident repeats itself, as the new head of the project, Dr. Kurasawa, meets the same fate when he visits the young boy, Freddy.  Once more, Freddy points his toy gun and shouts “Bang! Bang!”, and once more, a man dies!  The kid then continues to just carry on with his playing, violently, and his unconcern is really quite unnerving.

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Meanwhile, Dr. Heinrich, who seems to be losing his mind, ranting about how he should be the director and clutching a pistol, has a dramatic confrontation with the Phantom Stranger that results in a fight.  The struggle brings the rest of the crew running, and they think Heinrich is hallucinating because, of course, the Stranger is nowhere to be seen when they arrive.  The aged German is sedated, and we get a strange scene where a female scientist named Dr. Clair has an encounter with Freddy but seems immune to his “shots.”

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Three nights later, the boy creeps out of his bed once more, this time targeting his own father, the latest head of the project, but the Phantom Stranger intervenes, throwing his cloak over the child and pretending to be a newly arrived scientist.  For some reason, the father doesn’t freak out because this strange man has his son wrapped up in his cloak…and also, wears a cloak.  We learn that Freddy is adopted and unusually intelligent, and the Spectral Sleuth gives the scientist a clue about the strange deaths, noting that a set of computer banks shorted out when the other scientists were killed and that Freddy was in the room for each death.

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Suddenly, the boy runs off into the night, and his father chases after him.  Out in the stormy desert, Freddy turns on his adoptive father, and invisible energy flashes from his eyes.  Only the Phantom Stranger’s intervening again saves the man’s life.  And, this is where things just get weird.  “Freddy” begins to explain his origins, claiming that his people were an Adamic race, living in an Edeninc world, free from strife or suffering, living in peace with all.

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When the Ice Age came, they were driven underground, and after millennia in a subterranean world, their physiology changed, causing them to cease maturing around 4 years old.  The creepy child is actually an adult, a mutant of this society, who developed the ability to kill with a glance.  When subterranean nuclear tests began, this underground race was imperiled, and they dispatched their mutated members to infiltrate the various nuclear nations and sabotage their efforts in order to protect themselves.  The story is absurd, but Aparo’s art is so lovely I almost want to see him draw a full comic about this craziness.  Why didn’t anyone ever put him to work adapting some Edgar Rice Burroughs stories?

the phantom stranger (1969) 13 - 22But let’s think about this plot for a moment.  So…this guy somehow made his way to the surface, somehow ended up in an orphanage where the scientist and his wife just happened to come looking for a child, and somehow just happened to be adopted.  It’s…a bit of stretch, even without getting into the gonzo antediluvian child-culture that Kanigher pulled out of left field.  Regardless of how silly or strange the setup is, the story doesn’t end there.  After his explanation, “Freddy” flees from the recovered Stranger, who meets Dr. Clair in his pursuit, only to have her revealed as Tala!  She gives her usual ‘join me and we shall rule the galaxy together’ spiel, but he brushes her off.  The Stranger chases his quarry back to the caverns from which he emerged, but the kid…err…guy, runs straight into a nuclear test!  Despite the scientist’s protestations that “we don’t mean to kill,” our mysterious hero responds with a weird, heavy-handed ‘ye who are without sin, cast the first stone,’ bit about pollution and such that doesn’t entirely makes sense in context.

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This is a weird one, and not in the usual and positive style of macabre mystery that suits the Phantom Stranger.  There’s just too much going on here.  The bizarre, fun-sized subterranean race is just an odd concept that doesn’t really work, at least without more space to breath, aside from how incongruous the whole thing is with the story actually being told.  The slowly unfolding mystery of the kid’s powers is really fairly exciting.  It’s just a shame it doesn’t have a better payoff.  The whole story just feels messy, with the random, dropped plot thread of the jealous German and Tala’s equally random appearance.  I’m also becoming fairly certain that the DC writers had never actually met a human child.  The little boy in this story speaks in the same type of bizarre third person pidgin as ‘Superbaby’ from his ridiculous adventure in Action Comics #399, except that this is even worse, because this kid is supposed to be four years old!  I don’t think any child has ever actually spoken this way, but by four, I would hope that a kid would be a bit more clear-spoken than this!

Of course, the adventure isn’t all bad, and it is notable for the fact that it contains a fairly decent, if oddly delivered, critique of nuclear proliferation.  I was really surprised to see this type of social issue show up here, especially in 1971.  I thought it would probably take a bit longer for the nuclear issue to really reach the zeitgeist the way it had when I was a boy.  The whole M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) concept was everywhere in the 80s, so it’s interesting to see it showing up this early, at least in some fashion.  The message here is as messy as the yarn that carries it, but it does manage to make its central premise clear.  ‘If we have enough bombs to destroy the world, why do we need more?’  Of course, it makes that point in a random aside with a minor character, so take that for what it’s worth.  This is certainly an unusual subject for a comic, so that’s worth noting.  Unfortunately, on its own merits, there isn’t much to recommend this confused jumble of a story, even with Aparo’s always-lovely art.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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“The Devil’s Time-Piece”


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Dr. Thirteen continues to hold down the backup slot here, and he gets another solo adventure.  I prefer these, on the whole, as using him too often in the Phantom Stranger’s stories just tends to make him annoying and repetitive.  On his own, he gets a chance to actually win a few rounds instead of constantly losing to and being embarrassed by his otherworldly opposite number.  Kanigher’s short adventures often prove better than his longer efforts in headline-tale, but this one isn’t as clear cut a winner as some.  It begins with Dr. Thirteen attending a secret occult auction, apparently just to mock all of the superstitious fools gathered to bid.  One of his friends, Bentley, buys an antique clock with a Satanic theme, and the auctioneer offers some cryptic warnings about the object.  Oddly, he also says that the clock needs to be wound every hour.  What kind of a clock needs winding every hour?  That would be maddening!

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Nonetheless, upon winding the clock for the first time at home, Thirteen’s friend sees a devilish figure leap out of the artifact and proceeds to plunge its trident into his chest!  Later, the good Doctor arrives to find his friend dead.  He investigates the scene, and in a nice piece of detective work, he reconstructs the setup, reasoning that Bentley wound the clock before he died.  Doing so himself, Terry gets quite a surprise, as the same Satanic figure leaps out of the object and attacks him!

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Disoriented, Dr. Thirteen realizes that the clock released some sort of gas, but he still manages to defend himself.  Finally, his attacker falls upon his own weapon, dying, and the Doctor puts the pieces together.  He realizes that this man was the auctioneer and that his father was sentenced to death on the strength of Bentley’s testimony, so he was out for revenge.  The murderer hid in the clock (which seems rather small for that) and rigged it to release a gas when wound.  Wearing nose filters, he sprang out and killed his victim…and then, apparently got back in the clock, rather than making his escape…for some reason.

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It’s a bit of a stretch, this whole setup.  Watching Dr. Thirteen solve the mystery is entertaining, and his fight with the demon-dressed villain is pretty good, but the murderer’s plot is a bit out there.  Apparently he posses as an auctioneer when his victim just happens to go to this random occult auction, or he actually is an auctioneer and takes advantage of the very unlikely coincidence of this fellow coming to his secret auction.  Either way, it’s a rather elaborate plan.  Of course, to a certain extent, you can excuse that because this is a comic story, but Kanigher doesn’t quite manage the great backup pacing he often pulls off.  This one is just too rushed, with the fight and the explanation literally happening simultaneously.  It must be easy to solve crimes when the criminals scream their confessions at you as soon as they see you.  “I DID IT WITH THE CANDLESTICK IN THE LIBRARY!  ARREST MEEEEE!”  I suppose this is a moderately entertaining read, despite its problems, and the gas-induced devil hallucinations are rather cool, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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With Dr. Thirteen’s capture of the crimson cloaked killer, we reach the end of this post.  I found this trio of comics a particularly fascinating read, and I hope that y’all enjoy my commentary!  We’ve got rather a lot of awkward social consciousness on display here, though it isn’t as well done as that we saw earlier this month.  I’m curious if the rest of the month will hold any more.  Thank you for joining me, and please come back soon for another stop along our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 6)

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Hello Internet travelers, and welcome to the final edition of Into the Bronze Age for May, 1971!  We’ve got three tales to finish out the month, and though quality varies, there’s plenty here to enjoy.  I hope that all of my readers are safe and sound, having escaped from the various disasters plaguing us at the moment.  Speaking of escapes, let’s do just that, find our way to a world full of heroes and find solace in the fantastic and the wondrous!

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.


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110


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“Indian Death Charge!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“The Face of Fate”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

Well, we’ve got quite a cover on this month’s Lois Lane issue.  I…hardly know where to begin.  It’s beautifully drawn by Dick Giordano, but it certainly is unusual.  Lois protecting a Native American baby is one thing, that getup is something else.  It really is a pretty striking image, with a crowd of angry white faces threatening in the background, even throwing rocks.  Given the attitudes about racial mixing that still exist today, you can imagine what it might have been like in 1971, seeing a white woman with an Indian baby, claiming it as her own.  The ridiculous elements of the image aside, it still probably created something of a stir.

The story within seems an obvious attempt by Kanigher to capitalize on his success with his previous excellent racial story.  Sadly, this one isn’t nearly as good. It begins in a similar way, with Lois pursuing a feature in the ghetto of Metropolis, where she is interviewing candidates for the Daily Planet’s “Mother of the Year” contest.  Yet, just as in the previous book, she is rebuffed by the natives of the place, though this time not because of her race.  Instead, a mother rather unkindly attacks the reporter because she is not a mother and so is unfit to pick one.

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The career-minded Lois replies with biting sarcasm and flippant wit…oh wait, no, she is immediately consumed by an existential crisis because a stranger pointed out she doesn’t have children, and she weakly tells Clark that she would have a family, if only Superman would marry her.  This little scene bothered me a bit, though I suppose I should have expected it.  I want Lois to be the confident, self-assured woman we’ve been getting glimpses of lately, and this seemed a bit weak for her.  Nonetheless, she begs off the story with Perry and is sent to cover a Pueblo Indians rain dance on a reservation in the west, with Clark along to cover the same story for TV.

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ll110_07While there, we get a cross-section of the tourists, all saying various terrible things, which sets the tone for the encounter.  The Pueblo tribesmen declare that they won’t hold the dance, as it is a religious ceremony and not a circus.  The crowd gets ugly, and Superman has to intervene to prevent a riot.  He whips up a dust storm to blind and separate the crowds, and while he is working, Lois tries to help a young Indian mother get her child to safety, but the girl declares “My baby must learn to expect hurt from the white man!”  Wow!  Yeah, no-one in this country has gotten a worse deal than the Native Americans, but I’d still say that doesn’t exactly make her mother of the year material, what with the willful endangerment of her infant and all!

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As the crowds break up, Lois follows the Pueblo people, offering to help.  They refuse her aid, but let her accompany them, telling their story.  It is a sadly familiar tale of exploitation and corruption, the eradication of the buffalo herds and the theft of land, but it has a particular wrinkle.  The Indian leader, Johnny Lone Eagle, shows the reporter a dam being constructed that threatens to flood their village.  What’s worse, the dam isn’t fated to provide power to a city or anything so useful or productive.  No, it’s only going to create a lake for a rich man’s fishing preserve.

The Pueblo tribesmen plan to attack and dynamite the dam, risking their lives, women and children too, to protect their homes.  Lois observes their war dance the night before the attack, but convinces their leader to let her report the story….with smoke signals.  Oookay.  That’s a bit much, and it rather undercuts the seriousness of the story.  A little later on, the young Indian mother, Singing Rain, is discovered laying on the ground, apparently badly injured, though she looks more like she just can’t be bothered to get up.

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Deathly ill or just mildly annoyed?

On the morning of the showdown, the Indians and the construction workers face off, about to come to blows, when Superman scoops up the entire dam, angry crowds in tow, and drops it into a mountain valley, quickly shaping the place into a replacement pond with super strength, and thus solving the problem.

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Yet, Singing Rain has apparently worsened, and she dies, but not before giving her baby son to Lois to raise as her own.  Lois is touched and promises to care for ‘Little Moon,’ though no-one, white or red, is happy about it.  We see her happily taking care of the little tyke, but things take a turn when a sleazy publisher who would give even J. Jonah Jameson pause tries to get her to sell the rights of her story.  When she refuses, the fellow twists the facts, claiming she approached him, and soon the foster mother finds herself the center of competing protests.

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Shortly thereafter, Lois is driving when she is forced off of a bridge!  In other words, it’s a Tuesday.  She and the baby plunge into a river, and though the reporter finds herself trapped, she desperately pushes the child to the surface, only to be rescued at the last moment by a Native American soldier.  She awakens in the hospital to find Joseph Bright Wing, Little Moon’s father, who was missing in Vietnam.  He was in the truck which sent her careening off the bridge, on his way home, having escaped from a V.C. prisoner of war camp.

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He thanks the girl reporter for caring for his son and notes that she almost gave her life for the boy.  She bids Little Moon a tearful farewell, and the story ends with an unexpected ceremony, wherein Lois Lane is surprisingly selected as the Daily Planet’s (foster) mother of the year.  Yet, one moron in the crowd can’t keep his mouth shut, and he calls out that she’s color-blind, caring for an Indian baby.  We get a real clunker in  her reply, as Lois answers back that: “It’s you who are blind!  My heart and Little Moon’s are the same color!”

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It’s…an unsatisfying conclusion, really.  Superman snaps his super fingers and solves the racial conflict, giving both sides what they want, despite the fact that the sides were not equal in merit.  The trouble is that the rich jerk who was willing to flood an entire village so he could take a private fishing holiday didn’t deserve to get what he wanted.  I’d have rather seen some of the social justice-oriented Superman we glimpsed in O’Neil’s run, smashing the dam and changing hearts, not just placating the bullies pushing around the little guys.  The ending to Lois’s plot is okay, but just packed full of convenience.  It’s positively deus ex machina.  She happens to run off the road right in front of the child’s father, who just happened to be coming home from Vietnam at that exact moment.  Kanigher is clearly trying to recreate the magic of the previous story’s powerful ending with their hospital room meeting, but this one just doesn’t come together naturally or effectively.

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This issue has a great message about the humanity and dignity of America’s abused native population and about the insignificance of racial difference, but they are rather lost in the shuffle of competing elements.  This comic ups the drama and the stakes compared to the previous tale of this type, but it moves too far too quickly.  There was something remarkably realistic, despite the fantastic trappings, in the previous yarn.  This one tries to cram a bit too much into the plot, leaving too little room for pathos.  Instead, it descends to bathos.  Yet, Kanigher’s heart is certainly in the right place, and it is interesting to see him focus on native peoples and the continuing themes of racial divisions.  Perhaps the most striking thing about this issue is the blatant racism on display in many of the background characters, an ugliness that is treated pretty straight-forwardly.  It’s surprising and arresting.

As for Roth’s art, for the most part it is beautiful and detailed, as it usually is.  I’m still really enjoying his tenure on this book, but there are a few moments where his work fails in its storytelling duties, as when the supposedly injured Singing Rain looks more like she’s mildly perturbed rather than desperately hurt.  Still, Roth fills the book with interesting and detailed faces and delivers some solid emotional work throughout.  All things considered, I’ll give this ambitious but rather flawed issue 2.5 Minutemen.  It just doesn’t manage to capture either the quiet dignity or the gentle impact of Kanigher’s previous effort.

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“The Face of Fate”


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Topping off this issue is another Kanigher-penned tale, the continuation of his Rose and Thorn feature.  This one picks up where the last left off, with the titular Thorn haunted by the spirit of a wronged woman that wants vengeance in order to find its peace.  The plea for revenge has found the right type of audience, and the next night, the Thorn sets out to find the girl’s killer, Albert Talbot, and bring him to justice!  On her nightly prowl, the female fury finds her boyfriend, Detective Danny Stone, getting his head handed to him by a pack of 100 thugs.  It’s just possible that Stone is really bad at his job given how often she has to rescue him!

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The Baleful Beauty comes on like Gang Busters and takes out the gunsels, only to discover that Stone’s sister may be following in her ghostly guide’s footsteps, falling for the charms and hollow promises of her target!  This is…a bit convenient and an unnecessary complication.  However, because the supernatural is involved, you could hand-wave it as the workings of fate.  A bit of dialog drawing attention to this fact would have gone a long way, however.

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Following the slightly dented detective’s lead, the Nymph of Night manages to locate Talbot’s estate/hideout, and she scales the fence, taking out a pack of dogs and then a passel of guards with various trick thorns in a rather nice looking set of sequences.  Finally, the Vixen of Vengeance earns her name by facing down the felonious fiend who murdered poor Selena.

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Talbot has taken Detective Stone’s sister hostage, but as he threatens her with a candelabra, he unwittingly sets the drapes alight in his panic, setting the whole house ablaze in no-time.  The Thorn saves the foolish girl, but she is unwilling to let even such a despicable lout as Talbot meet his fate in a fire, so she rushes in to save him as well.  She succeeds, pulling him from the flames, but he is horribly burned, meeting a similar fate as his victim.  To add ironic salt to his wounds, the Baleful Beauty leaves him the same mask worn by Selena years ago.  When she returns home that morning, the Thorn sees Selena’s spirit fade away, finally able to find peace.

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This is a brief and absolutely packed story!  It’s actually pretty good, which adds to my growing impression that Kanigher was actually best in small doses.  He really crams plot into these few pages, and though he over does it a bit, the end result is a pretty solid tale of vengeance. The final showdown is rapid-fire but quite dramatic, and the irony of the ending is pretty effective.  The villain meets a fairly grisly fate, and this type of approach to justice continues to set this feature apart from the rest of the DCU.  It’s rather refreshing to find a tale like this as the exception, rather than the rule in a superhero universe!  There are some slightly clunky elements, as with the random element of Stone’s sister and history repeating itself, but she does add to the tension in the final scene and add a bit more urgency to the plot.  I’m actually a bit surprised that Kanigher wrapped this arc up in just two issues.  I rather expected it to have a bit more buildup, and it may have benefited from such.  Nonetheless, the final effect was pretty solid, and Rose and Thorn continues to be a strong feature.  I’ll give this outing 3.5 Minutemen.

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World’s Finest #202


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“Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

Rounding out the month of May, we’ve got another adventure of the world’s finest team, and it’s a fairly solid one.  We’ve got a wonderfully dynamic cover with the two super-friends locked in deadly combat.  The strange enthroned figure behind them looks suitably alien, though the featureless orb isn’t as menacing as it might be.  I’m reminded a bit of the titular Robot Monster.  The cover text boldly proclaims that this image is not a cheat, which is certainly intriguing.  It’s a beautifully illustrated composition, which makes the opening splash page of the book, which largely recreates it, a tad disappointing.  Dick Dillin is a fine artist, but comparing his work to Neal Adams’ is a losing proposition in my book.

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The actual tale begins with a stormy night over a distant Middle Eastern desert, where a familiar flying red and blue form is struck by lightning, and, strangely, knocked out of the sky by the bolt!  A gang of desert bandits hear the impact and are soon astounded when Superman walks out of the rain and into their camp.  Even more amazing, the Man of Steel seems to have lost his memory, and the bandit leader, ‘Bedouin Brakh,’ decides to use the confused hero to forward his own nefarious goals.

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The next day finds Lois Lane (of course) covering a nearby archeological dig of the tomb of ‘King Malis,’ (I bet he was a real nice guy) when they are suddenly attacked by bandits.  The archeologists take a page from Dr. Jones and prove that any well stocked expedition is a well armed one, opening fire on the raiders.  Yet, one of them proves bullet-proof, and he smashes through the guards.  Lois, displaying rather insane levels of courage, bare-handedly attacks the man she just saw shrug off rifle bullets, revealing him as Superman!  Unfortunately, it’s an amnesiac Man of Tomorrow who doesn’t recognize her, and the girl reporter finds herself taken prisoner.  The bandits use the confused champion, dressed up as a ghost, to scare away other visitors and take over the dig in order to loot it.

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Back in the states, a certain millionaire playboy hears about the mystery surrounding these events on the news and decides that Batman should investigate, which is a tad random.  O’Neil gives us a few touches of realism as Bruce complains about the heat and closes his eyes to prepare to enter the tomb without being blinded by the change in light.  Such little details are welcome. and add to the slightly higher tone of the tale

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As the Dark Knight springs into the supposedly haunted tomb, he surprises the Bedouin guards and acquits himself well until Superman suddenly appears.  The Masked Manhunter thinks his friend is playing a part, so he goes along with what he expects to be a staged fight, but only too late does he realize that the conflict is in deadly earnest.  The Man of Steel chokes his friend out, and the bandits take the Gotham Guardian prisoner!

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Meanwhile, we see Superman…or rather, SuperMEN, smashing into icy cliffs in the arctic.  What is this?!  It seems that the real Metropolis Marvel has been at this Fortress of Solitude working on his Superman robots, trying to get them functioning properly.  O’Neil hits his one of his favorite notes as we’re told that the trouble is too much pollution in the air, which is making the bots go haywire.  That bugged me a bit, because it felt a tad forced.  An increase in radiation affecting the machines would make a certain amount of sense, but this just seems a bit silly, an excuse for mentioning the author’s pet subject.  Nonetheless, the Kryptonian decides that he can’t trust his doppelgangers any longer, despite his best efforts, and he discovers that one of his robots is missing.  Heading back home, he hears about Lois’s disappearance and streaks off to the rescue.

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Arriving at the tomb, he confronts the bandits, who have enslaved their prisoners, forcing them to excavate the site.  Of course the sinister Superman is, in fact, the renegade robot.  Interestingly, when the real Man of Steel orders his artificial android back home, it refuses for an intriguing reason.  While its master has never treated it as anything but a machine, Brakh has treated it as a friend, and so it chooses to stand with him.  That’s…actually almost touching if you think about it.  Superman is entirely unmoved by this and doesn’t bother to ask if androids dream of electric sheep, just smashing the apparently sentient super-bot without a qualm!

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Batman gets in on the action, dropping the bandit, but the tomb is opened in the struggle, and a strange red light escapes from it, weakening the Metropolis Marvel.  Suddenly he is no match for the renegade robot, who lays a vicious beating on him in revenge for his mistreatment.  The Dark Knight tries to intercede, but the machine easily cleans his clock.  Just then, a glowing figure emerges from the darkness of the sepulcher in a nicely dramatic appearance.  It’s a mummy with a glowing red globe for a head, and it starts smashing everyone nearby.  This could look rather goofy, but I find it a surprisingly effective design.

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Taking a gamble, the Caped Crusader comes to his senses just in time to rescue Superman, tossing his cape over the creature’s glowing gourd.  His hunch was right, the creature’s head is some kind of device that gives off radiation similar to that of a red sun, weakening the Kryptonian.  When the antagonistic android tries to intercede, Batman gets some revenge, smashing the machine, and when the recovered mummy attacks again, Superman returns the favor, knocking the shinning sphere off of its shoulders with a boulder and then smashing what is revealed to be its robotic body.

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The exhausted champions theorize that the legendary King Malis was actually some type of advanced android created by an alien race and imprisoned on Earth centuries ago.  Sure.  That makes sense in a comic book-y kind of way.  The heroes suspect they’ll never learn the details of this weird case, but the Man of Steel notes that, whoever those beings were, “they had problems very like ours!”

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Ohh!  Batman with the bad-A one liner!  Nice!

That’s a droll ending to a fun adventure.  O’Neil gives us a solid romp here, full of dramatic peril and heroic efforts.  While Batman’s ignominious defeat by the Superman robot the first time is a bit disappointing, for the most part we see the wit and energy here that characterizes O’Neil’s better stories, as when Superman casually notes that he’d have to be foolish to make his own robots stronger than he is.  Strangely, despite the fact that O’Neil is doing such a bang-up job on the Batman books at this time, he doesn’t quite seem to capture the Dark Knight’s voice in this yarn.  Other than that, there are only two real flaws here, one being that the Masked Manhunter is captured, but not turned into the Maskless Manhunter, which makes no sense.  Why in the world wouldn’t the villains want to unmask Batman?  It’s a common trope, but not a good one.

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Perhaps more significantly, nobody at all seems even mildly concerned that this robot has suddenly developed sentience and free will, perhaps making it, in C.S. Lewis’s terminology, hnau.  Instead, his creator seems just mildly miffed that his walking toaster is talking back to him.  Frankenstein this ain’t, is what I’m saying, but as has often been the case with the stories we’ve encountered so far, this tale raises the specter of themes that it doesn’t have the interest to pursue, and that’s a shame.  Still, despite that oversight, O’Neil delivers a fun read here.  It might have benefited from being a two-parter and developing Malis and this strange alien race some more, but we’re left with the impression of depth.  Dillin’s art is really quite good throughout as well, and we’re not seeing some of that stiffness that often accompanies his JLA work.  There are several really nice sequences in this story.  I suppose I’ll give this adventure 3.5 Minutemen, as it is fun, but not quite living up to its potential.  On an unrelated note, it looks like the next issue features Aquaman.  Yay!

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We’ve got no additions to the Wall of Shame this month, but we’ve still collected quite a list of characters.  Who knows how many head-blows the future holds?


Final Thoughts:


Well, it took me a while, but I’ve gotten through another month in our journey!  Quite a month it was, featuring the return of legendary (and legendarily bad) Bat-villain, the Ten-Eyed Man…for some reason!  The ridiculousness of that story alone made this month of comics worth the read for me!  Still, there was a lot more here than just the Emperor of the Occulus.  We’ve also got Batgirl’s fashion adventures, an (almost) guest appearance by Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon, and a cameo by Alfred Hitchcock.  You don’t see that every day in comics!

We encountered my least favorite JLA issue to date, thought it was certainly fascinating as a cultural artifact, providing a brief glimpse of the pop-culture production of the early 70s, as well as some biographical elements of a famed sci-fi writer.  Perhaps most notably, it pointed to Harlan Ellison’s involvement with comics in this era and the overlap and cross-pollination between mediums that is always the case.  The Flash continues to be a real, real drag, ironically enough, though the inclusion of an Elongated Man backup should help to lighten the blow.  O’Neil’s Superman, on the other hand, is staying surprisingly strong, delivering fun, even somewhat thoughtful, comics.  Now that he’s got full-length books to work with, it is paying off well.  It’s a shame that his Green Lantern/Green Arrow work can’t evince the same sense of adventure and wit.  I suppose he is trying too hard in that book.

On an even more exciting note, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga continues to develop, and with second issues, we’re starting to get into the meat of his stories.  Having read through his Fantastic Four run since the last time I read these books, I have a new perspective on how he is developing as an artist and storyteller, and it is fascinating to see.  Of course, it continues to be really interesting to see the context of his efforts in the Fourth World, and what is going on in the rest of the DCU really illustrates just how innovative and different his work was.  This month’s brief glimpse of cosmic, psychedelic elements in the Forever People is just a hint of such difference, but it is a telling one.

In terms of cultural significance, we saw a continued interest in the turmoil on campuses in both the Robin backup and our weird Supergirl tale this month, though it isn’t given as much focus as it has been.  Lois had another racially charged adventure this month, and despite its lack of success as a story, it points to the increasing social awareness in the DCU and, in particular, a focus on Native American issues.

Notably, we also saw the creation of a character by the ever unpredictable Bob Haney that really defied expectations for this era in the form of the feminine yet entirely independent and self-possessed Ruby Ryder.  Strangely, this was actually one of the elements of the month’s books that I found most interesting.  When even heroic women like Black Canary are still occasionally depicted as shrinking violets, it’s interesting to see Haney’s femme fatale hold her own in a man’s world, a businesswoman in an era when that type of thing was exceptionally rare.

Well, that will do it for the month of May, 1971!  I hope that y’all enjoyed the ride as much as I enjoyed the reads.  Stay safe out there in the real world!  For those of you in the paths of hurricanes, fires, floods, or earthquakes, I wish you all the best, and you’re in our prayers in the Grey household.  Remember folks, do what you can to help out, as there is a lot of need.  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 4)

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

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Forever People #2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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G.I. Combat #147


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It sort of is at that, Ollie…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  While I know nothing can live up to the incredible extravaganza that was the Ten-Eyed Man’s return, I think we’ve got an interesting pair of books on tap today, including a fascinating first appearance.  So, check out more of what May 1971 has in store for us!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Detective Comics #411


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“Into the Den of the Death-Dealers!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Cut… and run!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano

This month we’ve got an uneven cover.  It’s a bit oddly designed, with some wonky perspective, and the sword of the fellow in purple is misshapen.  The concept is cool, however, and seeing Batman facing ninjas is always exciting.  Inside is an important issue in the the Dark Knight’s history, introducing a significant character and advancing the League of Assassins plot that continues to develop across these books.  Yet, as is so often the case, the significance of this story isn’t immediately apparent.  It will take a little time for the groundwork laid here to bear fruit.

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Our story starts with a nicely dramatic splash page, courtesy of Bob Brown.  We see Batman perched atop the “Statue of Freedom,” which is totally not the Statue of Liberty, with Gotham spread out in the distance.  I enjoyed this little touch of ersatz world building, though the Statue of Liberty is a bit too iconic for this to work.  Their world is not our world, and I prefer it that way.  Within the edifice, the Masked Manhunter has planned to meet an informant with information about the League of Assassins, but those same killers find the fellow first!  The Caped Crusader fights off their followup attack, and we see some more of the ‘martial arts master’ Batman that would become the standard in following years, though the art doesn’t quite sell it.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 411 008Before he dies, the informant manages to give the hero a lead.  With his last breath, he whispers that the nefarious Dr. Darrk will be on the Soom Express (totally not the Orient Express), and soon we watch as Dr. Darrk and a beautiful young woman board the train, followed by a mysterious old lady.  As the train slows for a hill, Darrk and his companion leap off, and once more they are followed by the old woman, who throws off a disguise to reveal the Batman…who somehow hid his pointy-eared cowl under a mask and wig.  It’s still a rather cool moment, despite its silliness. DETECTIVE COMICS 411 007 Yet, Darrk was waiting for him, and his assassins overwhelm the Dark Knight, beating him unconscious with bo-staffs.

When the Masked Manhunter awakens, he discovers that he is the un-masked Manhunter!  The girl, who introduces herself as Talia, daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul (that’s right!), has taken off his mask to treat his injuries.  She declares that Darrk had fallen out with her father, and he had taken her prisoner as part of their feud.  Their conversation is cut short when Darrk leads them to what he intends to be their doom!

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Talia is tied to a stake in the middle of an arena, while Batman is left free, free to face an enraged bull!  The Crusader uses his cape to confuse and distract the animal before leading it into Darrk’s minions.  Then, in an exciting display of resourcefulness and power, he rips Talia’s poll out of the ground and uses it to pole-vault into Darrk, where the villain watched from a balcony.  With the bad Doctor in tow, the Dark Knight heads to meet the train, only to be blinded by a hidden weapon of Darrk’s.  As the assassin master prepares to finish off his foe, Talia shoots him, and the villain falls into the path of the train, meeting a grisly end.  The story ends with Batman comforting the traumatized girl, who was forced to take a life.

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This is a good, solid adventure story, continuing to develop the threat of the League of Assassins.  It seems like a fairly straightforward resolution to that arc, with a suitably dramatic and treacherous ending for the demonic Dr. Darrk, but there is, of course, much more going on here.  O’Neil layers in some pretty good plot hooks for new stories, introducing Talia, casually mentioning her father, and the significance of these things is easy to miss.

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Yet, the seeds of something great are already here.  While the girl claims she cannot recognize Bruce Wayne’s face, she has seen it, which will open up possibilities in the future, and the way she speaks of her father makes it clear that he is a powerful and dangerous man.  There isn’t much chemistry between our hero and this new lady in his life yet, but then again this is only their first meeting, a meeting under adverse conditions.

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I imagine that O’Neil realized that he had something promising with the League of Assassins, but at the same time understood that Darrk, was not nearly an interesting enough head honcho for such an outfit.  With this tale, he disposes of one functional if uninspiring villain and makes the way for a much, much better one.  Next month, we’re going to meet on of the greatest Bat-villains of all time, and one who defines the Bronze Age of Batman!  This story, however, is not quite so impressive as I remember that one being.  It’s an exciting adventure tale, and Brown’s art is strong if not spectacular.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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P.S.: I realized after the fact that this story was actually loosely adapated into the Batman: The Animated Series episode, “Off Balance.”  Thus, Timm and Co. actually adpated both parts of the introduction of R’as Al Ghul!


“Cut…and Run!”


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Our backup this month is the continuation of last issue’s Batgirl yarn, and it’s a fun one.  The Dynamic Dame was captured by the mod mobsters, the felonious fashionistas who were backing a clothier invested in the skir-craze.  It was…an odd but entertaining plot.  We join the gangster, ‘Serpy,’ as he straps Batgirl into an automated cloth cutter, and abiding by villain union rules, he leaves her to her fate.  Things look grim for the girl detective, but she uses her head, or more specifically, her mouth!  She rotates the pattern plate to stay ahead of the cutting blade, and when it reaches the end, it shuts off.  This is a nicely clever escape, showing her resourcefulness.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 411 027Suddenly, Milt, one of the designers and fashion spies shows up, but he has had a change of heart, not being up for murder, and lets her go.  The Masked Maiden tries to warn the gangster’s target, stylista Mamie Acheson, but the girl doesn’t believe her, so the heroine rushes to catch a plane in hopes of beating the assassins to the punch.  On the Rivera, Serpy and his right-hand thug toss a helpless Ms. Acheson overboard, only to have the fashionplate rescued by Batgirl!

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Then, the Masked Maiden tackles both killers and puts them on ice.  Don Heck does a pretty nice job with most of the action, but there are some rough spots too.  After her rescue, Mamie is feeling the weight of her decision, and after a comment from Batgirl about her beautiful legs (really Babs?), she comes up with a way out of the conundrum.  She shows up on stage in a Batgirl inspired pants-suit, and surely fashion designers the world over started jumping out of windows.

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It’s a cute ending to an off-beat story.  I enjoyed the repentance of the felonious fashion designer, as it makes sense he would balk at murder, whatever lengths he might be willing to go to for his business.  Batgirl’s dynamic rescue is good, but her escape from the deathtrap is my favorite part of the issue.  It’s nice to see her recover from the bumbling bombshell she was last issue.  The setup is still a bit odd, but the result is an enjoyable little story, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #206


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“24 Hours of Immortality”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Showdown in Elongated Town”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

I’m not entirely sure why, but I really dislike this cover.  For one, the frozen, blank-eyed expression on the girl’s face says less ‘absence of fear’ and more ‘presence of lobotomy.’  It just doesn’t really work for me.  Other than the girl’s plunge, there’s nothing else to it, and the image just doesn’t quite capture her fall, nor the significance thereof.  The same is true of the story within, another product of the unequaled master of the uneven, Bob Kanigher.

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It begins with aerial daredevil Susan Logan and her son flying to the ‘Sky Devils Circus,’ while at the same time Neurosurgeon William Kandel and his wife are racing towards an operation on a famous scientist.  Suddenly, Logan loses control over her plane, and she just happens to crash right into the doctor’s car.  The son and wife are killed in the crack-up, but as the two heart-broken humans are left lamenting their lost loved ones, two strange, glowing figures appear out of the ether.  They claim to be “aliens countless light-years advanced over” Earth, which doesn’t entirely make sense, and in their weird robes, they look more like bug-eyed spirits than advanced aliens.  Nonetheless, they are apparently studying Earth, so in the interest of gathering data, they restore the two lost loved ones back to life in exchange for their relatives surrendering their lives in 24 hours.  Until that time, the aliens declare that each of their future victims will be immortal.

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Each pair rushes off to finish their business and spend their remaining time together, and each runs into trouble on the way.  The doctor is caught in the crossfire between the Generic Gang and the Flash during a car chase, only to find that the rounds passed right through him.  The surgeon begs the Monarch of Motion to help him get to his appointment, and then the hero chips in as his assistant to make the multi-hour procedure go faster and give the man more time to spend with his wife.

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Afterwards, the pilot, Susan Logan, finds the location of the aerial circus aflame.  The Flash is able to put the blaze out, but she still manages to get into trouble and nearly crash for a second time.  I’ve got to say, at this point, I’m not sure this woman should be flying.  We also get a really weird and random diatribe about forestry and forest fires, as the Flash has a page-long harangue against people whose carelessness starts fires, including a pointed visual reference to dead animals.  I sympathize, having grown up in the ‘Smokey the Bear’ era, but this is just absolutely shoe-horned into this issue.

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Get it?  GET IT?!

Thanks to the Fastest Man Alive, Logan is still able to perform in the show, but she is on the verge of being beaten by the favorite, so she puts her immortality to the test, diving all the way to the ground instead of opening her chute.  This seems like something of a cheat to me, but she’s doing it to provide for her soon to be orphaned son, so I guess we’re supposed to say it’s okay.

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Finally, the two on borrowed time are taken back to their fateful appointment by the Flash, as he has decided not to let them give up their lives without a fight.  He pleads with the two aliens in some rather painfully badly sentimental dialog, the usual ‘we have emotions and minds!’ routine.  In response, the robed ones pretty much say, ‘eh, we’ll kill you too.’  They try a few different weapons, with the Flash escaping from each one, and then they literally disintegrate him.  And that’s the end of the Flash.  This is the book’s last issue! Next month we’ll put the Adventures of Kid Flash in this slot…

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Ohh wait, no.  Instead, Barry pulls a Doctor Manhattan, and literally reconstructs his body, molecule by molecule, with limbs, mind, that have already been disintegrated.  Yet, while the insanely powerful, godlike Dr. Manhattan took months to do so, Flash does it in seconds.  Because that’s a thing that he can do.  Because that makes a lick of sense with this powers.  At this point, the aliens essentially just give up with the murder and mouth some meaningless platitudes about how mankind is clearly more noble than they thought, possessing higher characteristics like selfless love.  Except, they already saw that when A) the first two willingly offered their lives for their loved ones and again, B) when the Flash did the same for two strangers before they tried to melt him.  It’s really stupid in context.  Clearly Kanigher is hitting the conventional notes without bothering to tell a story that gets there naturally.

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‘Farewell and a good life!  Sorry about trying to murder you!’

So the end result here is a weird attempt at moralizing in multiple ways that bungles its payoff.  The aliens are really random and don’t solidify as a concept, and the two different pairs of marked people mean that you don’t spend enough time with either one to really get invested in their story.  Susan Logan just seems downright incompetent, and the doctor and his wife are given no real time to display any personality.  Barry gets literally one panel of introspection with Iris as he tries to decide what to do, and the reintegration resolution is so ridiculous, that I had to read it twice to make sure I got it.  I’ll give this half-hearted tale a weak 2Minutemen.  It’s been done before, and done much better.  Even the poorly developed Phantom Stranger tale with the needlessly Egyptian aliens (or needlessly alien Egyptians, depending on your point of view) was more dramatically successful.

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“Showdown in Elongated Town!”


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Yet again, the backup feature saves the day!  This time, we get a really exciting event stuffed into the back pages of the Flash, the return of the Stretchable Sleuth, the Ductile Detective, the Rubberized Roustabout, the Elongated Man!  Now, I’ve got a solid affection for this hard-luck hero, though I’ve read few of his stories.  He’s just such a likeable character, and I love the ‘Nick and Nora’ vibe that he and his wife embody.  It’s a charming concept, and it really sets him apart from the competition.  I suppose this once again reveals my love of the underdogs.

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This particular tale reintroduces the Elongated Man to the DC Universe and the pages of Flash in strange but memorable fashion.  He the Stretchable Sleuth suddenly finds himself in a bizarre, fun-house version of a western town, hauling a wagon like a packhorse.  Suddenly, his mystery-scenting noes starts twitching, and Ralph knows that something odd is afoot.  A distorted gunfighter appears, and bizarrely, he fires a solar-powered six-shooter at the hero.  With everything strangely distorted, the Ductile Detective has a hard time operating, and his efforts to capture his antagonist only net him a dummy!

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Just then, he is beset by a stampede and a massive rattlesnake.  Fleeing upwards, Ralph discovers a loudspeaker, revealing that these threats aren’t real.  He makes his way inside one of the buildings, dodging more solar blasts, and, in a panel that I find a bit creepy, he pops a pair of contact lenses out of his eyes!  Elongated Man has deduced that he’s been setup, and someone planned to cripple him by distorting his vision.  Snatching up an old lever-action rifle, Ralph stalks into the street to confront the only man who could accomplish all of this, and he calls him out…the Mirror Master!

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As the villain fires his mirror gun, the Stretchable Sleuth crams himself into the gun barrel, then springs out, surprising his foe and capturing him!  It’s a nice resolution, an unexpected attack that makes a certain amount of sense as a way to take out the much more powerful opponent.  The tale ends with the Elongated Man figuring out the mystery of his predicament and putting the pieces together.  The Mirror Master hypnotized him and drew him to this ghost town in order to train himself for a clash with the Flash.  To handicap the hero, the Reflective Rogue used special contacts to distort his vision.  Apparently, ‘ol Mirror Master was a big western fan, and the trappings of the story were his way of living out a classic showdown fantasy.

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This is a fun story and a decent reintroduction of the Elongated Man.  He captures a much more powerful villain, taking advantage of the fact that he was underestimated, which is pretty well in character.  I like the way he puts things together, and it is all relatively believable in context for the Ductile Detective.  It’s cool to see Dick Giordano handling the art chores as well, and he does a fine job, capturing the distorted, bizarre landscape fairly well, and also doing a good job with Ralph’s stretching powers.  I’ll give this enjoyable little backup tale 3.5 Minutemen.  There’s nothing really wrong with it other than the slightly awkward device of the contacts.  It seems like the master of mirrors could probably have come up with a simpler, more easily controlled way of doing the same thing.

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That finishes up our books for this post, and all-in-all, a nice pair of comics they were!  We’ve got some exciting events in the offing her, with the famous next stages of the League of Assassins story arc just on the horizon and the return of the Elongated Man to the pages of Flash offering some relief from the mediocrity of the main tales in that book.  I am really looking forward to a change in pace for the Flash magazine.  These are routinely among the weakest comics I read in each batch.  These weird random stories have outstayed their welcome.  I would really like to see a return to classic super-heroics.  We’re still three issues away from the return of supervillains to an actual Flash story, and even then it is looks like it will be only a temporary revival.  Whatever awaits us in the Fastest Man Alive’s adventures, we have two exciting new comics awaiting us next time.  So, please join me again soon for another league in our Journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 5)

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Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  No!  It’s….Into the Bronze Age!  And I’ve got quite a suite of stories for y’all today, mostly starring Superman!  We’ve got everything from emotional epics to spooky specters to menacing monsters, and with Jack Kirby thrown in to make it extra special!  The features below vary in quality, but they were all at least interesting reads, so see what awaits you as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #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’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109


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“I’ll Never Fall in Love Again!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

“The Mask of Death!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

Look at this cover.  Dick Giordano gets to ply his pencil and does a fine job (especially on Supes’ stunned expression), though the whole is a bit on the boring side.  The real significance of the design, however, is how it just screams drama.  I was all set for a silly, soap opera-ish story, but what I found was surprising in quality and content.  It’s over the top at moments, but not nearly to the extent I expected.

The tale begins with Lois receiving a note at the Daily Planet that is straight out of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  It invites those with painful memories to come to the ‘Denison Clinic,’ where a ‘laser surgery’ will allow them to leave with “a trouble-free mind.”  Having someone cut into your brain with a laser?  What could go wrong!

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Now, I expected for Lois to uncritically to just go right on in and volunteer for this insane-sounding procedure, but Bates impressed me by having the girl reporter just go to investigate this place, hoping for a story.  Once there, the elderly Dr. Denison suddenly traps her inquisitive guest in a chair with a “magnetic force” (is Stan Lee writing this?), and begins to harangue her.

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ll109_05 - CopyApparently this woman was once a professor at Hudson University, where she became a mentor to Lana Lang.  Learning of her love for Superman and her heartbreak when the Man of Steel started chasing Lois, Denison decided that she must do something to protect her young protegee.

Interestingly, she herself has a similar story, as the man she loved became an actor and eventually married a starlet, a woman whom Denison has already “punished.”  Clearly, this lady’s got issues!

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She subjects Lois to a procedure that she claims will give her an “emotional lobotomy,” and destroy her capacity for love.  The girl reporter passes out, only to awaken to see Superman and the police have come to her rescue.  The cops were looking for Denison because she stole her equipment, which, incidentally, has been fitted with a self-destruct device to keep anyone from learning how to undo her handiwork.

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Roth does great work with Lois’s ‘hazy’ vision.

Lois is shaken to realize that she can feel nothing for the Man of Steel, even when he carries her home and is forced to perform some dazzling heroics by destroying rogue meteors (radioactive meteors, of course).  When he brings her back to her apartment, the nervous newshawk snaps, screaming at the Metropolis Marvel to get out and that she doesn’t want “a costumed freak” meddling in her life.  The Action Ace takes this with remarkable patience, leaving graciously and reasoning that she’s just still reeling from her close call.

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The next day, Lois researches Denison’s previous victim and discovers that the actress had been institutionalized!  At work, Clark keeps an eye on her and begins to notice that something is off with his lady love.  Meanwhile, Lana Lang has heard about what has happened and has gone to Dr. Denison in jail to plead with her to reverse her procedure, telling her former teacher that she has moved on.

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That night, Lois and Superman go out on the town, which is a little weird, really, especially when they go to a disco!  Yet, after a passionless kiss ends the night, the Man of Steel realizes decides to check up on the reporter, realizing something is still off.  He spies on her diary entry, which isn’t as creepy as it would normally be in this instance.  Lois confesses to her journal that she is just continuing to date Superman because she enjoys the attention, despite the fact that she feels nothing for him.  In a surprising moment, the Man of Tomorrow smashes the spire of a building in anger over this discovery, though he still has the good manners to fix it immediately afterwards.  It’s a believable moment of weakness, though it’s a pretty huge lapse, when you think about just how powerful he is.  That’s why Superman will later have nightmares about just such a lose of control.

Finally, Lana convinces Dr. Denison to tell them how to restore Lois, but it seems that this can only happen when Lois decides she wants to be able to love once more.  In the following days, Lois stays relentless, cold, and unfeeling, which honestly just might make her a better reporter.  Nonetheless, when she sees a child fall into the path of an oncoming car, she instinctively leaps to her rescue, and with a little unseen assist from Clark, she saves the girl.  The deed triggers, just for a moment, a flicker of emotion, and loveless lovely decides she wants to remember what it feels like to be human.

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Superman flies her out into the country where they meet a minstrel with a magical harp that supposedly can cure her.  Lois is skeptical but listens, and is eventually lulled to sleep.  After she drifts off, the minstrel is revealed to be Roland Kirk, the actor and former lover of the bitter Dr. Denison, who played a part to hypnotize Lois in the guise of a believable fiction.  It turns out that the original procedure was really a form of hypnosis itself, and the cure required a counter-spell of sorts strong enough to break the mental block.  When Lois awakens, she is back to normal, and the two sweethearts are reunited.  Lana, for her part, decides to seek her fortunes elsewhere, heading to a job in Europe.

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This was a curious and unusual little story.  The concept is over the top in standard comic fashion, yet, it works reasonably well.  The emotional core of this tale is surprisingly sincere and effective.  Essentially, what Dr. Denison takes from Lois is not love, per se, or at least, not specifically romantic love, or eros, but what we used to call ‘charity.’  What she robs her of is empathy and the capacity for selfless love that comes with it, the capacity that links us with God.  It is through the ability to love, not acquisitively, but selflessly, ‘charitably,’ that we access the best of human life, the joy that echoes of heaven, and the coldness and emptiness of life without the ability to experience that emotion is really quite a chilling prospect.

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Bates doesn’t realize the full potential of his setup, but neither does he do too bad of a job.  He clearly does understand the significance of charity, and it is to his credit that he doesn’t just limit Lois’s loss to romantic love.  Dr. Denison’s bitter reasoning for targeting Lois is believable (in comic terms), and Lois’s moment of revelation is fairly striking.  Throughout, Werner Roth continues to turn out beautiful art, and his wonderfully detailed faces help to deliver the emotional impact of the story.  Throughout the comic, what could be silly and simplistic is actually treated with some level of thoughtfulness.  The last scene with the random minstrel set up is a bit odd, but I suppose that, in the DC Universe, a dude with a magic instrument is really one of the more believable possibilities for such a situation, especially if you travel in the same kinds of crazy circles as Lois Lane.  So, all told, I think I’ll surprise myself by giving this odd little emotional drama 4 Minutemen.

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“The Mask of Death”


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We continue the ongoing adventures of Rose and Thorn in this backup feature, and today’s adventure is certainly different!  Instead of cops and robbers, this issue plays ghouls and ghosts!  It begins in the normal way, with our favorite vicious vixen trashing some 100 goons.  She jumps a truckfull of hijackers and tears through them, crashing the vehicle.  Once more, Danny Stone is left to pick up the pieces, but this time we are joining the Nymph of Night at the end of her sojourn.

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When she returns to her home base, she discovers a weeping specter in a mask in the secret hallway!  What vision is this?  The figure transforms into a beautiful young woman who says she is the ghost of Selena Mason, an aspiring actress from years ago, and she proceeds to tell her story.

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In some senses, it’s a familiar tale.  A beautiful young woman who would be a star falls in with a controlling man that helps her career, at a cost.  In this case, the controlling fellow is not a director or the like, but a costumer, which is odd.  In fact, he owns the very costume shop that lies adjacent to Rose’s home, forming her base.  Still, he’s every inch the sleeze, and Selena sees him consorting with gangsters, using the Thorn’s secret passage to smuggle them in and out of his shop.

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The tailor, Albert Talbot, thinks he possesses Selena, and when the young starlet falls in love with her co-star, the maddened man throws acid in her face in a classic ‘if I can’t have you, no one will’ move.  It’s a brutal act, and the acid-splashed actress grabs a mask to cover her marred visage, running into the secret passage, where she died from her wounds.  Dark!  The ghost begs the Vixen of Vengeance to live up to her sobriquet so that her restless spirit can find peace, but before the Baleful Beauty can respond, she realizes that the sun is coming up, so she rushes to turn back into Rose and falls asleep.

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This is an interesting change of pace.  There’s no reason why pretty much any character in the DCU couldn’t encounter the supernatural, as ghosts and ghoulies are pretty well established as part of this setting, but it does rather come out of nowhere here.  It is neat to see an explanation for the super convenient abandoned costume shop and secret passage, though.  The spirit’s story is suitably tragic, and it is certainly something that is right up Thorn’s alley, a woman wronged.  Once again, Kanigher manages to split his story effectively, delivering enough to intrigue and entertain, but not so much that it really hurts for space.  I think, in many ways, the compressed backups in Lois Lane are pulling out some of his better work.  On the whole, it’s a good read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.  I’m curious to see where it will go next issue.

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P.S.: The letter column for this issue, dealing with the surprising (and surprisingly touching) issue #106, is really noteworthy.  It’s full of praise for that story, including several letters from readers who are themselves part of a minority.  There’s one particularly arresting letter from a 15 year old black boy.  What must it have been like to be a minority comic reader in this era and suddenly see a story filled with black faces and focused on the subject of race amidst a medium that was almost 100% white?  This is pretty cool, and though stories focusing on race seem to be popping out of the woodwork in 1971 (Captain America and the Falcon shared a story arc focused on the theme the same year), the issue is still a special one.  The editor also helpfully informed us that the comic in question was inspired by the movie, Black Like Me, which sounds like a pretty powerful look at race relations in the Civil Rights era South.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137


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“The Four-Armed Terror!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

For our second comic of the day, we’ve got more Jack Kirby goodness!  We return to Jimmy Olsen’s antics, and the King continues to deliver on the imaginative and wildly creative work he’s been doing on this book.  In fact, it seems that, with much of his setup work done over the last few issues, there is more time for him to play with what he’s created, and pretty much every facet of the strange Wild Area gets a check-in with this tale.  We begin by discovering what was in the enigmatic egg in the previous issue.  It’s a nicely hideous monster that looks a bit like Etrigan the Demon’s uglier cousin.  Etrigan is still a year away from his debut, but I have to imagine that Kirby liked this design, the yellow skin and the red eyes, and decided to do more with it.  Either way, this strange four-armed creature smashes through the forest of the Wild Area, driven by a mysterious hunger.

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It’s headlong hurry brings it into contact with the remnants of the Outsiders biker gang, who futilely try to fight it.  The monster shrugs off their weapons and wrecks their bikes.  Meanwhile, back in the Mountain of Judgement Jimmy Olsen is seated behind the controls of one of the most Kirby of Kirbytech devices I’ve ever seen.  It turns out to be a fancy instrument that converts “radio-signals from the stars and convert[s] them into mental musical images.”

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It’s the kind of far-out concept that can almost be grasped but stretches the imagination in the attempt, which is pretty cool.  This is an invention of the ‘Hairies,’ who are gathered with the Newsboy Legion for a performance.  The scene is only marred by Flippa-Dippa’s existence and incessant narcissism: “It’s like a movie musical-and everybody’s in it!  Includin’ me, Flippa-Dippa!”  Urg…it’s bad enough to shoe-horn yourself into every conversation, but it’s even worse when you do so in third person!

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What in the world is wrong with Superman’s hand?!

What follows, sadly, is not Flippa-Dippa’s grisly demise, but another beautiful set of Kirby-collages.  I’ve had very mixed feelings about this device in the past, but I have to say, I think it works very well in this instance, successfully capturing something abstract and unimaginable, and in this instance, because the images are not supposed to be phsyically real, the contrast between the character art and background isn’t problematic.  It’s a psychedelic scene, and another example of Kirby’s continued innovation.

 

Anyway, the sonic sojourn is interrupted by a sudden jarring tremor, and the crew learn that the base is under attack from an unknown source!  Superman rushes off to investigate, but he orders the Legion to stay behind, which they don’t take too well.  There’s a fun full-page scene where the Newsboys elect Jimmy their leader and decide to follow the Man of Steel in the hopes of adventure and a good story.  It’s just their heads gathered together in a huddle, and it’s a fun image, full of personality.  Meanwhile, our four-armed friend from the beginning is tearing his way through the earth in search of sustenance.  We discover that he’s after nuclear energy, which he seeks in the main power plant of the Wild Area.  Kirby’s narration is actually rather evocative and helps to crank up the tension.  I would say his writing is getting better, but I seem to recall some rough patches in the future.  We’ll see, I suppose.

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His efforts release a wave of atomic energy that rocks the entire wild world, wrecking the Habitat from a few issues back.  In a curious little touch, Kirby gives us a glimpse of the brutish Yango, one of the bikers, who surprisingly steps up selflessly during the crisis and directs the evacuation.  I wonder if we’ll see him again at some point in time and if we’re supposed to take his change of heart as inspired by our heroes.

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Either way, we quickly move back to Superman as the kids try to follow him in the Whiz Wagon, but the Action Ace has raced the Flash, and the Legion just can’t keep up with him!  The Metropolis Marvel finds the wreckage marking the monster’s passage, and soon confronts the creature.   Yet, even the Man of Tomorrow finds himself challenged by his atomic antagonist’s nuclear strength!  Superman takes a beating, though he manages to throw the beast off of him in time for the Legion to arrive.  Their efforts prove useless, despite a weapon the Hairies gave Jimmy, and the four-armed fiend uses his newly absorbed energy to trap the team in a cocoon of strange energy.

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The immediate threat dealt with, he continues to make his way towards the central atomic pile, while sinister eyes look on.  The guardians of the Evil Factory, Mokkari and Simyan who have unleashed this mutant D.N.Alien on our heroes admire their handiwork.  Their plan is for the monster to destroy the reactor, causing a nuclear explosion that will destroy everything in the area.  The last image of the book is of our two Apokaliptian antagonists looking on as a horde of other monstrous minions hatch from their eggs!

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jimmyolsen137-28Interestingly, we get a map of the whole place, and it doesn’t quite make sense.  We see the layout of everything, but we learn that the Project, Zoomway, Wild Area and the rest are all in a massive cavern under Metropolis…which doesn’t work at all with the first issue where the Legion traveled a long way overland to reach the place.  Kirby was constantly changing things as new ideas struck him, and this certainly seems like an example of that tendency.

This was certainly a fun issue, and the bizarre, imaginative musical journey at its start was a notable feature.  I admire Kirby’s attempt to give the adventure story more purpose than just fighting.  He’s bringing the same sense of exploration, of wide-eyed wonder at what might be, to this book that he brought to the classic Fantastic Four.  That’s important.  Such efforts are not to be discounted because adventure is about more than just punching bad guys; it’s about meeting marvels and seeing things you’ve never seen before.  There is value in wonder for wonder’s sake.  I think that’s something that Kirby understood. 

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That’s a heck of a cliffhanger…

The central conflict of the tale, the monster’s rampage, is suitably gripping, and the stakes are plenty high as an atomic explosion would destroy, not just the Wild Area, but Metropolis as well!  There are also some (perhaps unintentional) interesting thematic elements in the concept of a man-made monster powered by atomic energy threatening to destroy humanity.  There’s some good irony inherent in that setup.  In general, other than Flippa-Dippa’s grating presence, this is a great comic.  Of course Kirby’s art is great, and that three-page musical journey is particularly cool.  It’s a fun read, and the feature creature posses a believable threat to Superman.  That being said, the Man of Steel’s presence in the book really leaves the Legion starved for space.  It’s a shame that the King wasn’t allowed to tell the story he really wanted with them, but he certainly made the best of it!  I’ll give this inventive comic 4.5 Minutemen.

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And with that dramatic conclusion, I also end this post.  It’s really astonishing how much variety DC had back then, with earth-shattering, otherworldly plots in one book and emotion-driven drama (of a sort) in another.  It’s a testament to the versatility of the medium that such disparate stories can be told i it.  Well, I’m racing to get actual work done this summer, but I’m still trying to carve time out for this feature.  Even if it takes me a little while, I hope you will all join me again for another step in our journey into The Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!