Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 5)

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Hello Internet travelers!  It’s been radio silence here on the Greylands for the last week.  Lady Grey and I traveled to Iceland over spring break, and we were busy taking the advice of Granger from Fahrenheit 451, who said “Stuff your eyes with wonder […] live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”  We spent some time out there in this gloriously beautiful world, reveling in the unsurpassed glory of creation, and we had a great time.

We visited waterfalls, hiked on glaciers, and even snorkeled in a glacial river between two tectonic plates (and that was intense, let me tell you!).  It was a really wonderful and necessary break, and sadly now we have to come back to the real world with all of its endless problems.  At least there are bright and hopeful comics to keep us company!  Today, I’ve got a pair of titles and a trio of stories.  I hope y’all enjoy my commentary as we travel farther 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 #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87 (AND Avengers #85-6)
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Phantom Stranger #11


Phantom_Stranger_Vol_2_11“Walk Not in the Desert’s Sun…”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo

Underneath this suitably creepy cover, we’ve got about two-thirds of a really awesome comic that takes a hard left turn right at the climax.  The resultant story is a bit odd, but it still ends up being an interesting read with surprisingly sophisticated handling of some rather unexpected themes.  Gerry Conway makes his return to scripting DC books, and he is already displaying impressive maturity and skill.  The growing seriousness of the Bronze Age is definitely on display in this issue as well.

It begins with the Phantom Stranger narrating a string of strange phenomena in the night sky over the western hemisphere, as people all over the world look up and see a sinister triangular shape of purple hanging framed against the stars.  Three nights later, the police in New York try to talk a desperate woman down from the Brooklyn Bridge.  She has just killed a man, and she screams that she will be her own master from now on.  As she rants, she slips off over the side and plunges into the fog, only to vanish before hitting the water.  Aparo gives us a wonderfully atmospheric two-page spread of the incident that adds to the mystery.  The police are baffled, and the sudden appearance and cryptic warning by the Phantom Stranger doesn’t do much to comfort them.

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Meanwhile, apparently the Weathermen have taken their bat-guano insanity inter-planetary, as a pair of dropouts have somehow managed to hijack an Apollo spacecraft and are planning to crash it into Washington D.C. in protest of the space program’s ‘waste’ of resources.  Really?  That’s what you’ve got a problem with?  Not the war in Vietnam, the race problems, or police brutality?  I’m glad you boys have your priorities right.  Despite the pleas of mission control, it seems like this inexplicably capable pair of nutjobs is going to make good on their threats, but the capsule suddenly goes off course and splashes harmlessly into the Atlantic, empty!

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the phantom stranger (1969) 11 - 05The Stranger has noticed all of these events, and after spotting a story about a glowing pyramid suddenly showing up in the Sudan, he decides to investigate.  How does he get there?  Why, by flying commercial, just like everyone else.  It’s a weird sight to see the Stranger just walking through the airport.  Does he even have a passport?  Or money?  Either way, on the flight, he meets a young woman named Lynn Berg (Lindbergh reference?) who wants to talk to him because she gets nervous on flights.  The Stranger’s slightly odd response is perfect, as he says “Feel free to speak.”  Not the most warm and welcoming, is the Phantom Stranger.

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You have to wonder if he uses his powers to skip the lines…

They arrive in Israel, and in a move that really surprised me, Lynn begins to talk about the current troubles in the Middle East, philosophizing about the conflict and war in general, wondering if there can ever be a right or wrong in such conflicts.  Just as the Stranger begins to share his own critique of warfare, Lynn’s brother arrives to pick her up, only to run right into a terrorist attack.  The Stranger foresees it moments before it occurs but too late to prevent it.  A pair of (presumably) Palestinians throw grenades, which kill Lynn’s brother, shouting “for my dead father!”

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In response, the young woman, consumed by grief and rage, chases after the pair, attacking them, wrestling a knife away from one of them and actually killing him with it!  The Stranger sort of ineffectually calls after her and watches helplessly (which doesn’t really make a ton of sense), as the dead terrorist drops the grenade he’d been holding, causing an explosion and apparently vaporizing Lynn.  This is an incredibly effective scene.  Just as the traveling companions are talking about war and the cycle of vengeance, that very cycle plays out before our eyes.  In revenge for some unknown act that cost them their father, two men kill an innocent.  In response, the dead man’s sister is herself blinded by vengeance and kills one of them, dooming all three.  It’s a powerful and surprisingly subtle demonstration of the endless nature of revenge.  The effect is rather arresting.

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But, this is a comic, and we’ve got other, stranger fish to fry, so the scene shifts to that mysterious glowing pyramid our enigmatic hero read about.  Inside, a masked figure in Egyptian regalia holds forth to a gathered crowd, explaining his evil plan, and evil it is.  In attendance are all of those people warped by hatred and selfishness who were snatched away from their deaths, including the girl from the bridge and the two pseudo-astronauts.  Evil-tut explains that he is the ‘Messiah of Evil,’ and has drawn all of them together in order to build ‘an army of evil’!  Strangely, Lynn Berg is in a cell there as well, drawn thither because her heart was filled with hate at the moment of her death.  Suddenly, the Stranger is there in her prison, and he comforts the girl.

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Just then, guards burst in, and when the Spectral Sleuth tries to fight them, he encounters a powerful force-field.  What’s more, they knock him out with just a touch, which also seems odd.  The Stranger is brought before the fiendish pharaoh, who reveals himself to be…Tannarak!  That’s right, the promising villain from the last  issue returns, and in grand fashion!  Apparently, at the moment of his death beneath the falling statue, he was snatched away by powerful beings who called themselves the ‘Gods of Hate,’ who chose him as their champion, as the Messiah of Evil and charged him to build an army of the like-minded with which to seize power.

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The Stranger shouts that such an agenda would “upset the very balance of the universe” and invokes the concepts of chaos and order, declaring “this must not be!”  He strikes down the guards, somehow now able to do so, despite the fact that a few pages before he couldn’t’ even touch them, and then charges Tannarak.  Yet, the sorcerer is not to be taken so easily, and he zaps the hero with a beam that turns his own hate and anger against him.  The mysterious one realizes that his rage is self-defeating, so he calms his mind and strikes out, not in anger and not for revenge, but for justice, and delivers a great blow.

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Yet, he and Lynn are still badly outnumbered, so they flee, and here is where things get weird.  Well…weirder, in context.  They race into a chamber filled with advanced machines, alien machines!  They trigger a defense mechanism and are bombarded by terrible rays, but each selflessly tries to shield the other.

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The apparently mechanical sentries of the machines note that they had thought Earth the perfect place to build an empire of evil, as they had found the planet’s inhabitants purely selfish beings, but this act of sacrifice makes them reconsider.  They decide that they must seek what they want elsewhere and decide to destroy their base, the pyramid, because their mission is a failure.  When the rays shut off, the Stranger and the girl flee, leaving Tannarak and his minions to face a cataclysmic explosion!  In a really surprisingly grim touch, Lynn is driven mad by the experience.  As the Stranger says, her “mind has escaped whither they cannot follow.”

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Wow.  Okay.  Where to even begin with a story like this?  It has some really fantastic elements, and the scene with the terrorist attack is unquestionably quite strong and touching.  There’s probably no clearer symbol of the endless cycle of vengeance in the modern imagination than the conflicts in the Holy Land, and that scene was handled with surprising maturity and subtlety.  I love seeing Tannarak return as well.  I think he’s got a ton of potential, and his being chosen as a champion of evil makes perfect sense.  After all, he was a completely selfish being, putting his own continued existence above every other concern, and what is evil but the ascension of selfishness, the triumph of will?  At the same time, that’s why the trappings of his ‘army of evil’ were slightly disappointing to me, as I’d have liked to see just a slightly more sophisticated treatment of their morality.  Evil very rarely owns the fact that it is evil; instead, it is much more common for that type of utter selfishness to hold itself up as the greatest good, as it so often does in our own society.

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Of course, then there’s the alien element which just comes out of left field.  Why not just have Tannarak’s backers be mysterious and sinister beings?  Making them some kind of aliens just doesn’t fit with the rest of the story, and it certainly doesn’t fit with the Egyptian motif without some type of explanation.  Tannarak was raised in Egypt, so we could have just hand-waved the pharaoh act if left to his own devices.  Add to this the different moments that just don’t quite make sense, like the invulnerable guards suddenly becoming conveniently vulnerable and the Stranger’s unexplained commercial flight, and you’ve got a very uneven story.  All of those rough edges could have been smoothed over with a bit of thought (perhaps the Stranger took a dive in the first fight, and perhaps he was on the flight to keep an eye on Lynn), but we don’t get any such attention in the comic.  In the end, it’s a story with a ton of potential, but the final result is just a bit too clumsy.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen on the strength of its treatment of its themes, but it loses plenty because of its oddities.

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108


Superman's_Girlfriend,_Lois_Lane_Vol_1_108“The Spectre Suitor”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

“Mourn for the Thorn!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

We’ve got a super gimmicky cover, once again focused on a troubled wedding for the Man of Steel and the glamorous girl reporter, which seems something of a tradition for this book.  While the story inside isn’t quite as gimmicky as its wrapping, it is more than a little weird.

lois_lane_108_03The strange tale opens at the home of Sir Noel Tate, a wealthy man who Lois is interviewing.  However, when we join them, they have put the question and answer session on hold in order to investigate sounds coming from the old fellow’s souvenir room.  They interrupt a trio of thieves in the process of robbing the join who knock Tate out and begin to threaten Lois.  The plucky girl reporter holds her own for a while, but just as one of the thieves is about to skewer her, mysterious things start to go wrong for him and his confederates.  They’re attacked by an unseen assailant and driven away.  When Tate comes to, he tells Lois that she’s in danger…from a ghost relative of his!  Interestingly, Lois scoffs at the idea of ghosts, as if that’s even slightly less believable than half of the ridiculous stuff she encounters on a daily basis.

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Back at the Daily Planet, Sir Noel’s efforts to warn the journalist are intercepted by an invisible presence.  It apparently possesses Jimmy to lure Lois out of her office, then poses as her on the phone to Tate.  Next, for some reason, it draws Lois into the slums of the city, where she observes an interesting scene.  A desperate young man holds a slum-lord at gunpoint, and despite the fat-cat’s pleas for mercy, the gunman insists that he’s preyed on his tenants too long and too viciously to be spared.  It’s a scene somewhat reminiscent of the infamous Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76.

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What makes this moment fascinating is the social commentary present in it.  There’s nothing really sympathetic about the slum-lord, despite the fact that he’s got the law on his side in this encounter, and it is implied that men like him are the reason for the deplorable conditions in the slums.  Before the would-be murderer can finish his grim deed, his landlord has a heart attack and dies, courtesy of the mysterious ghostly suitor, who is himself moved by the plight of this area.  Cryptically, he mentions how it reminds him of London’s East End from 83 years ago.

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Meanwhile, Superman arrives for a romantic dinner with Lois, and we get one of the strangest scenes in the book.  After the couple shares a kiss, the ghostly stalker realizes that he’s got some pretty powerful competition.  So, he uses the power of plot to conjure a vision of Kal-El’s mother, Lara, in Lois’s eyes.  The vision is super vague, but it’s presents the Kryptonian woman in horror at the approach of something, and this creeps the Man of Steel out.  When Lois starts laughing uncontrollably, he freaks out and almost hits her!  Horrified at his reaction, Superman flies away in disgust.  The whole scene is just odd.  It doesn’t really make sense, at least in part because the ghost’s powers are so vaguely defined that we’re not sure what is his doing and what is reaction (or overreaction).  The end result is just rather disjointed and seems like a clumsy excuse to get the Metropolis Marvel out of the picture.

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That night, Lois has a nightmare about her wedding with Superman being interrupted by her spectral suitor, only to awake and find a letter from his ghostly hand that declares he’s going to bring her to his spirit world soon.  Despite her best efforts, the ghost prevents the desperate reporter from revealing her plight by stealing her voice and freezing her hands, and the next night, he summons her to Sir Noel’s estate, where she steals the knight’s nefarious ancestor’s dirk.  A frightened Tate calls Clark Kent in search of Superman, but before the hero can arrive, Lois is transported back through time to London’s East End in the 19th Century, through the ill-defined power of the ghost and his dagger.

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She arrives and is confronted by a mysterious figure emerging from the mist, but just as he’s about to stab her, he declares that she’s “not like the others.”  Lois realizes that her spectral suitor is none other than the ghost of Jack the Ripper!  Just then, Superman arrives, having scoured time to find her (and I like the detail that he didn’t know exactly when to look), and takes her home, where Sir Noel fills in the blanks.  Apparently, his ancestor was driven mad by the deplorable conditions of London and set out to punish the women who represented those conditions, the prostitutes who walked the streets, which seems pretty monstrously unfair.  The ghost sent Lois back so that his living self could kill her, but the Ripper realized that she was an innocent and couldn’t bring himself to do it.  Confused yet?  Fortunately, the dirk was destroyed when Lois was sent back in time, so the spirit is now banished for good.

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This is just a weird, wandering tale.  It has some effectively creepy elements, and there is some definite menace as poor Lois is hounded by her invisible, unstoppable stalker.  The fact that a story featuring Superman manages to conjure up that sense of helplessness is actually fairly impressive, but the plot is just too random and too rushed to be entirely effective.  Even Werner Roth’s usually beautiful art isn’t quite up to the standards we’ve gotten used to in the last few issues.  There are several spots where his figures seem awkward and stiff, especially his Superman.  I’ll give this one 2.5 Minutemen.  It isn’t bad per se, just a little off.

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“Mourn for the Thorn”


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Unfortunately, this issue’s Rose and Thorn backup isn’t much better.  The usually impressive series suffers from some really goofy elements and an altogether rushed plot in this outing.  It begins, strangely enough, with the strip’s protagonist dead!  Lois and Superman look on as the valiant Thorn lies dead in her golden coffin, apparently finally having fallen prey to the 100.  We then get a flashback that tells us how the Nymph of Night met her fate.  She cornered #24 on her hit parade and took him out in an alley, only to…die…somehow…because of car exhaust?  It’s an exceedingly silly scene.

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Thorn is standing in an alley when the killer’s partner backs his car towards her.  Does he run her down?  Pin her against the wall?  No, don’t be silly.  He stops next to her and poisons her with carbon monoxide.  Now, I know that emissions standards were worse in the 70s, but I’m still thinking that simply running your car in an alley didn’t create the equivalent or mustard gas or anything.  It’s such a ludicrously impractical way to kill someone and so unnecessarily complicated that it takes you right out of the tale.

After the Thorn is killed, the 100 apparently take her body back to their funeral parlor front, not bothering with the authorities or anything, and nobody notices that there’s a murdered woman just sitting in the front window.  Later, a woman with the “Friends of the Friendless” comes to claim the body.  She’s a member of the 100 who is playing a part, despite the fact that the funeral parlor’s owner is their leader, which doesn’t make much sense.  The whole sequence feels unnecessary, as the killers could have just taken her body and done whatever they wanted with it, skipping this whole dog and pony show.

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The criminals bring the boxed Baleful Beauty to a sinister looking old house called ‘The Mansion of Mourning,’ which is an admittedly cool name.  It’s a front for the 100 as well, providing a hideout for their wanted members.  As they prepare to plant the Thorn in a grave, her perfidious pallbearers drop the casket, and rain splashes on her face.  Suddenly, the Vixen of Vengeance revives!  She rises from the grave in a pretty fantastic panel that, if the story had more space, would have made a great splash page.  Apparently, the vigilante took some medicine to fake her death when she realized she was trapped, and she claims she always wears nose filters which prevented her from asphyxiating.  Ooookay.

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Well, the Thorn makes swift work of the gathered hoods in a nice full-page action sequence and then drops another set of numbers on her newest catch.  Returning home, she awakens as Rose, who finds herself weeping at the news of the vigilante’s death, despite the fact that she doesn’t know her.

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This story has some great elements.  In fact, the big reveal of the Thorn’s return from the grave and the last moment with Rose’s unexplained connection to her alter ego are both quite good.  Yet, the story overall is a bit on the weak side.  It’s clear that Kanigher is really struggling with his page count in this one.  While he’s done a great job at creating condensed, simplified plots that worked remarkably well in only 8 pages, this issue’s effort is just too convoluted.  The silly method of the heroine’s “death” combined with the unnecessary complications involving her burial and the funeral parlor break too much with verisimilitude without explanation or excuse and they take away from an interesting story idea.  The resulting yarn is worth only a substandard 2 Minutemen.

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I hope you enjoyed my coverage of these two comics.  We’re almost done with February, just three more comics to go!  In the next post, we’ll see what Denny O’Neil’s got in store for his Superman revamp, which I’m excited about.  I hope you’ll join me again soon for my coverage of that and more!  Until then, keep the heroic spirit alive!

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello my dear readers, and welcome to my penultimate post about January 1971!  Today, we’ve got my first coverage of a Superboy issue, as well as some Superman’s Girlfriend, so we’ve got tons of super-action.  We’ve also got G.I. Combat, for a more serious story, and the trio are a good set of books.  Please 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 #396
  • Adventure Comics #401
  • Batman #228 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and Bold #93
  • Detective Comics #407
  • G.I. Combat #145
  • Superboy #171
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135
  • Superman #232 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #233

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


G.I. Combat #145


gi_combat_145“Sand, Sun and Death”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“A Hatful of War”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Mort Drucker
Inker: Mort Drucker
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

“The Iron Punch”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Arthur F. Peddy
Inker: Arthur F. Peddy

gicombat145-03“Hot Corner”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

“Mile Long Step”
Writer: John Reed
Penciler: Jerry Grandenetti
Inker: Jerry Grandenetti

“Glory Drive”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

“Missing: 320 Men”
Writer: Sam Glanzman
Penciler: Sam Glanzman
Inker: Sam Glanzman

The Haunted Tank crew rides again, and it seems we’re back in North Africa.  Once more, the ghostly guardian of the tank is singularly unhelpful, appearing in precisely one panel.  I’m beginning to grow frustrated with this book, despite the fact that most of its stories are fairly entertaining.  As I’ve said before, it just feels like a waste of a great concept when the ghost has no impact on the plot.

In this particular comic, J.E.B. tells Jeb that “there is more than one ghost in this battlefield,” which proves as pointlessly prophetic as usual.  Just as the tank commander begins to ask for something actually useful, the desert sands around them begin to erupt with tank fire, and the Stuart finds itself in the crosshairs of not one, not two, not three, but FIVE panthers!  It’s a wonderfully dynamic double-page spread, but it also seems ridiculously improbable that a light tank could last for five seconds in such a situation, much less actually get away.  The crew conducts a running fight as they flee, but eventually run out of ammo and escape into a dust storm.

The German commander pursues but loses them in the swirling sand.  Once the dust settles, the Tank is confronted with a strange sight, a battle damaged but intact B-25, just sitting in the middle of the desert.  Out of ammo and low on fuel and, more than anything else, just plain curious, the crew investigates.  They find the bomber’s co-pilot and gunners all dead, but the pilot is missing.  Suddenly, that very pilot appears, looking quite the worse for wear.  He holds them at gunpoint, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s been driven mad by his experiences.

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The pilot, a lieutenant, was on a bombing mission with his crew, their very first combat mission, and they ran into an absolute forest of flak and fighter power.  Everyone onboard was killed but the pilot, and he turned back, limping the plane down into the desert.  He can’t face the reality that all of his men are dead.  Just then, the German armor shows up, and the Lieutenant agrees to help the tank crew hold them off, swearing he won’t fail his men a second time.  Arch, Slim, and Rick man the turret positions on the bomber, and Jeb himself, with the Lieutenants help, cooks up a surprise for the tanks.

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Now, here we get to an even more ridiculous moment, as the crew manages to take out two German tanks…with machine guns!  A B-25 is armed with a mixture of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns which MIGHT be able to mess up a lightly armored vehicle but would be about as useful against an actual battle tank as a spitball.  What’s more, the German armor apparently has a hard time hitting the gigantic, stationary plane.  It’s a cool scene, but it makes no sense!

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Well, improbable firepower aside, Jeb and the pilot sneak behind the tanks and hit them with Molotov cocktails, which is actually much more believable, especially because the loony Lieutenant gets gunned down while doing so.  The battle won, the pilot asks to be put back in the cockpit, and he passes away, determined to see his crew back home at last.

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This is an okay story, so far as it goes, though it’s got several really unbelievable bits, and I’m not even talking about the Confederate ghost!  It’s one thing to show your light tank, crewed by a heroic quartet and guided by a ghostly guardian, able to take out heavier opponents.  That is, technically speaking, possible, though it is wildly unlikely.  If you hit it just right, it’s within the realm of possibility that a Stuart’s main gun could knock out even a tiger tank if the stars were aligned properly.  On the other hand, a machine gun isn’t going to do more than scratch the paint of a medium or heavy tank.  At most, you might get lucky and put some rounds through the view ports. This kind of thing bothers me, especially in a setting like this that aims, to a certain degree, at verisimilitude.

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The pilot’s pitiful break from reality caused by his horrific first mission and the deaths of his crew is moderately affecting, and his delusional death manages to strike that melancholy note that so many of these stories strive for.  It’s also interesting that his decision to turn back is treated with sympathy and made justifiable in context.  That said, I don’t think he gets quite enough space to be entirely effective.  Of course, Russ Heath’s art is as beautiful and striking as usual.  He’s really a fantastic fit for this book.  In the end, this story is just so-so.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Superboy #171


superboy_vol_1_171“Dark Strangler of the Seas!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

This was a surprisingly enjoyable issue.  I had braced for some hokey silliness, though I had some hope because AquaBOY had a cameo, which seemed like fun.  I was surprised to find this comic very much a fitting offering for 1971.  Teaming Superboy and Aquaboy is a great idea, and I’m rather surprised that it took this long for DC to come up with it.  After all, what other DC hero could easily have been active at the same time as Superboy?  Batman was out traveling the world and getting his education, and everyone else was still living their regular lives for the most part.  Aquaman, however, was wandering the seas as a young man, and he could definitely have shared some adventures with the Boy of Steel.

The plot of this yarn centers around something that surprised me, namely, oceanic oil spills.  I didn’t expect to see this issue getting attention way back in 1971.  I thought that the focus on oil pollution was a bit more recent, centering around some of the big spills of the 80s and 90s.  Looking at a list of oil spills, though, I see that there were a few major ones around this time, so the issue would definitely have been in the zeitgeist.  The story itself begins in striking fashion, with a pair of fishermen struggling to pull in a strange catch, and when Superboy happens by and gives them a hand, a dark, humanoid shape is pulled up out of the surf.

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The Boy of Steel realizes that this is a human being covered in crude oil, and he rushes him to an industrial detergent factory, where, with the help of the workmen, he manages to clean the oil off and reveal…Aquaboy!  Holding his head above the tank to prevent the strange youth from drowning, Superboy unwittingly nearly dooms the young Marine Marvel.  In desperation, the Prince of the Sea slips out of his hands and catches his ‘breath’ underwater, taking the opportunity to explain to his super-powered savior what happened.

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In a surprisingly touching scene, Aquaboy relates how he encountered a dolphin covered in oil and drowning because of it.  Despite his best efforts to clean the oil off, the creature died before his eyes, and the Marine Monarch set out to seek revenge for the needless death.  He found an oil tanker, leaking a constant stream of crude, and they ignored his orders to heave-to.  Not to be deterred, he launched a one-man boarding action and started cracking heads, but he sliped in some oil and….oh no!  That’s right, it’s Head-Blow Headcount time, as he took a belaying pin to the back of the head and got knocked out.  The crew threw him overboard and then attempted to drown him in oil.  Fortunately, his finny friends towed him to shore, hoping humans could help their prince.

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superboy-171-0011Superboy is aghast at this callous disregard for life, and he agrees to help the young Sea Sleuth seek justice.  They fly to the offices of the tanker’s owners, Trans-East Oil Company, and they let them know that they’d better fix their fleet of tankers or face the consequences.  In a further sign of the shift in values going on in comics and in the culture, the company’s owners are classic industrialist villains, much more concerned with their bottom lines than any cost to the environment.  Shades of Captain Planet!

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Not to be denied, the youthful heroes decide to take matters into their own hands.  Aquaboy begins locating leaking tankers, and Superboy begins rounding them up, taking them to the middle of the desert, dumping out their oily cargo, and then dropping them into dry-dock to be fixed at their owner’s expense.  It’s a rather delightfully chaotic scheme, ignoring laws in pursuit of what is right.

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Unfortunately, the Oil Company execs are not about to take this threat to their bank accounts lying down, so they plan a trap.  After the next tanker roundup, they track Aquaboy and lure him in to an ambush with a look-a-like for his girlfriend, Marita, who looks just like Mera.  I half suspect that Frank Robbins didn’t know what Mera’s name was or when she showed up.  Either way, it seems that Arthur definitely has a type!  The crew of a tanker filled with nitroglycerin(!) hang “Marita” from their rigging, and in a pretty cool sequence, Aquaboy jumps from one leaping dolphin to another dolphin to board the ship in great, swashbuckling fashion.  Yet, as he’s about to free the fire-tressed femme fatale, she frees herself and he is trapped in a net instead!

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I hear some classic, Errol Flynn-esq swashbuckling music in my head when I see this scene…

When Superboy arrives, the corrupt captain orders him to swear to leave the company alone, or they’ll drop Aquaboy into the nitro and blow him to kingdom come (no, not that one).  The young Marine Marvel is adamant that his partner can’t give in, no matter what happens to him, but the Boy of Steel has plans of his own.  He races away, seeming to give in, only to turn back and grab the Prince of the Sea, shielding him in his cape, and hurling the pair through the ship’s hull at super speed, so fast that they pierce the nitro before it can react.  They’re deep underwater by the time the ship blows, and all that is left is to do is haul the would-be blackmailers back to their employers to let them know who’s really boss.

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This is a fun adventure with an environmental focus that is just tailor-made for its guest-star.  Aquaman is a character who is perfect for tackling environmental themes such as pollution and man’s impact on this planet.  It’s fascinating to see that connection made this early on.  It’s also really fun to see the young heroes acting as champions of justice, rather than upholders of law.  It looks like there is some effort to create a more mature sense of morality in these characters, getting beyond the law=good paradigm that dominated portrayals in the Silver Age.  It’s also rather fitting for this to happen with a couple of fiery teen heroes who might naturally be a bit more rebellious and impetuous.

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Here we’ve got our two protagonists breaking laws, violating international borders, and generally carrying on a personal crusade without the slightest shred of justification other than their sense of right and wrong.  Superboy, for his part, is much closer in line with the early portrayals of the character during the Golden Age, where he was a champion of the oppressed against the rich and powerful, an interpretation that I understand has made a comeback in recent years.

I would have liked to see more of the two teens’ personalities, as there isn’t much to differentiate them as Super and Aqua BOYs rather than their full-grown counterparts, but that’s a minor complaint.  I’m also not crazy about the rather unequal partnership between our two heroes.  Aquaboy doesn’t get a whole lot to do, and he’s rather overshadowed by his super-partner.  That’s a constant problem for Superman, though.  Despite those minor criticisms, this is an enjoyable, entertaining read with some really intriguing trappings.  I’ll give this story a good score of 4 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Interestingly, this issue also came with a one-page brief on Superboy’s chronological setting, an acknowledgement of the sliding time-scale of DC Comics, which I found curious.  The editor notes that, because Superman hasn’t aged, his youth has to keep moving forward, so they’ve updated the setting fro his adventures as Superboy.  Notably, they did so inside a story, where the Boy of Tomorrow time-traveled, returning to a different year than he left, which is a clever, if problematic way to handle the issue.  I bet this is one of the first times something like this has been addressed directly.


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107


lois_lane_107“The Snow-Woman Wept!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta

“My Executioner Loves Me”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

Our Lois Lane story today isn’t quite as gobsmackingly profound and compelling as our last one, (how could it be?) but it’s a fun, charming, and imaginative read.  I continue to think I may have misjudged Robert Kanigher.  He wrote a lot of clunkers that I suffered through, but I’m starting to suspect that he’s coming into his own now.  I suppose time will tell.  At any rate, let’s check out this story, and y’all can judge for yourselves.

We begin at the office of the Daily Planet, where our old friends Clark Kent and Lois Lane are getting their assignments from Perry White, assignments that aren’t sitting too well with the girl reporter.  While Clark has been tasked with ferreting out the secret behind a Nobel Prize winner’s new research, Lois has been given a story on Superman being made the king of Raleigh College’s ‘Winter Carnival.’  Fun fact: apparently Lois graduated from Raleigh College.  Well, alma mater or not, Lois isn’t having any of this, and she yells discrimination at Perry.

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The exchange is a bit surprising and rather entertaining.  Perry’s unperturbed response, “don’t wave the women’s lib flag at me,” cracked me up.  There’s a touch of social concern in that scene, downplayed because the lady journalist’s main motivation is her professional pride.  She’s driven by the desire to get the biggest and best story, a classic example of the intrepid reporter archetype, and a nice return to her roots as a character.  It’s interesting to see Lois display some of the fire and independence that I’ve always loved about the character, traits she carries throughout the issue but which have been absent in other portrayals.

When she and Clark arrive at Raleigh, she meets a snow sculptor, a college romeo who tries to put the moves on her (bold kid!), but Lois lets the boy down easy, posing for a sculpture for him and telling him that he’ll meet a nice girl his own age before too long.  Meanwhile, Clark manages to get an interview with Professor Bridnell and his assistant, Dr. Tort.  We learn that the assistant is actually a defector from behind the Iron Curtain, and then the good professor explains his research.

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Apparently he’s invented a serum that can turn an air-breathing creature into a water-breathing one, and he explains how his invention will allow humanity to colonize the seas and escape the damage done to the surface world, giving a new lease on life to society’s cast-offs.  Wow, I bet Aquaman would have something to say about that!  In a surprising concession both to the stability of the setting and to realism, the Professor notes that there are years of testing ahead of the usability of his invention, which I enjoyed.

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Pictures: An Atlantean nightmare

Bridnell shows Clark a pistol-like device that can administer his serum and explains that he’s built an antidote into it as well, just in case.  However, when the reporter leaves, Dr. Tort suddenly attacks his employer, revealing himself to be a communist spy!  He meets with a team sent to retrieve him and the professor’s research, and he explains the potential of truly aquatic soldiers who could stealthily disable America’s nuclear subs, destroying our retaliatory ability and enabling a successful Soviet first strike!

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Just then, Lois happens to come snooping, hoping to scoop Clark.  She overhears Tort’s plans, and he uses the invention on her.  Unfortunately, the untested device has an unexpected effect, turning her into a statue of snow!  They hide her with the other snow sculptures on the quad, thinking that the sun will dispose of the evidence for them, but when Superman arrives for the carnival, he notices her ‘melting’ in a strange way that almost looks like…tears!  He touches the liquid and realizes it is salty, deducing that something bizarre had happened to Lois.  That would be a bigger leap if Lois didn’t end up in crazy situations on a daily basis.

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Seeking to get help for her, the Metropolis Marvel rushes the frozen female to Prof. Bridnell’s lab, only to interrupt Tort and the commies (sound like a 50s rock band!) preparing to sneak out in costumes among the carnival crowd.  They hit him with the same device, and the Man of Steel turns into the Man of Snow!  Apparently, he’s suffering from a mysterious occasional weakness which began in the “Kryptonite Nevermore” story we’ll encounter in the next post.  Frozen solid, the hero can’t do much to help his situation.  In a desperate maneuver, he uses his heat vision on the lab’s lead door, hoping that it will reflect enough heat to set his molecules back in motion.  This succeeds, but Lois is still trapped in an icy prison.  The Man of Tomorrow captures the commie crooks and uses the Prof.’s invention to restore his lady love in another gamble, as he’s uncertain if it will work.  Fortunately, the device cures her, and Lois and Superman play king and queen of the Winter Carnival.

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I have to say, I’m enjoying these Lois Lane issues much more than I expected.  I’m liking the portrayal of Lois herself, and the more sedate pace of these yarns allows an opportunity for character development and the chance to meet some interesting secondary characters.  This one is just a mostly straightforward adventure, but the story comes with a good deal of personality and charm, with the addition of little touches like Lois’s frustration at her assignment and the festivities of the Winter Carnival, not to mention the Cold War paranoia of the nefarious Soviet operatives and their apocalyptic dreams.  Speaking of which, it’s interesting to see the Cold War tensions raise their heads, as we really haven’t seen much of that in recent comics.

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Werner Roth returns to the art chores on this story, and I am impressed once more.  His work is just lovely and detailed, full of individual personality and distinctive faces.  He does a great job on the people, but he also turns out fine work on the very different scenes featuring the destruction of the commie plans.  In terms of the plot, the techno-babble is just a tad stretched between the initial concept and the snow-statue effects of the ray, but I’m willing to give it a pass because it mostly works in the usual comic book sense.  I don’t see why a ray designed to make someone a water-breather would turn them into snow, but I suppose unexpected side-effects are a thing.  I liked the range of imaginative ideas in this book, from underwater colonies to Soviet schemes.  There’s a healthy dose of wonder in it.  So, all in all, I’ll give this enjoyable little tale 4 Minutemen.

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“My Executioner Loves Me”


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The saga of Rose and Thorn continues, and it also continues to fascinate me, perhaps a tad more than the stories themselves entirely merit.  The concept is just so innovative that it transcends the material to a certain extent.  Yet, despite the fact that these stories are crammed into eight page backups, they have the advantage of a rolling continuity, one tale leading directly into the next.  We’re definitely not seeing an established status quo, rather a constantly evolving, even if in short hops, narrative.  That’s pretty unusual for this period.

This particular offering opens in media res, with the Thorn being chased by a trio of the 100’s gunmen, and it seems that she has a few more tricks up her nonexistent sleeves!  She has developed a Batman-esq utility belt, which she calls her ‘Thorn Arsenal Belt,’ containing various small ‘thorns’ that carry different gimmicks.  One might ask where she would get such things, especially since she couldn’t do any of her vigilante shopping in her other pesonality, but it is fun enough that I’m willing to let that slide for the moment.  In this instance, she throws some concussion grenades at her pursuers’ car, putting it out of commission.  She then handles the thugs themselves with her fits after tossing a smoke grenade for cover.  I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of Ross Andru’s art on this feature, but this action scene looks great.

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The Thorn has developed another new gimmick, as she is marking the 100’s killers off, one by one, leaving numbered calling cards with her victims when she leaves them for the police.  It’s a cool and different idea that helps to highlight how the Thorn differs from other heroes.  She’s not out for abstracts like justice; she’s out for revenge, plain and simple, a visceral, primitive motivation, one that drives her peculiar madness.

The next day, we once again check in with the secret head of the 100, Vince Adams, who also happens to be Rose’s boss.  The docile half of this particular dynamic duo accidentally walks in on a meeting between Adams and the latest killer to be assigned to the Thorn’s contract, and then Kanigher briefly checks in on the other subplots, Rose’s ironic burgeoning romance with Adams, the golden coffin, and her complicated relationship with her father’s partner, Danny.

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Then, night falls, and we’re back to the Thorn!  She heads out on patrol, only to be ambushed on the docks by the new assassin, a gentlemanly gunman whose scruples allow her to get the drop on him, dumping him overboard.  He strikes his head and begins to drown, and Thorn has a nice moment of indecision where she debates whether or not to let him die.  What finally makes up her mind is the thought that her father wouldn’t want her to become a murderer, which seems very fitting.

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The Baleful Beauty dives in and saves the guy, which blows him away.  The girl realizes that she saw him meeting with Adams, and she wonders what he was doing at the funeral parlor.  As for the waterlogged gunman, he is moved by her risking her life for him right after he tried to kill her, and the fellow, Beau, falls for her.  He asks the Thorn to run away with him, promising he’ll protect her.  Just then, more assassins attack, and now Beau’s neck is on the block as well for failing in his mission.  The pair rush to his car, and they engage in a running fight, finally eluding their pursuers with the help of some ‘thorn-nails’ that shred their antagonists’ tires.

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Beau is making plans all the while, and promises to smuggle the pair of them out of the country.  They share a kiss, and then the Vengeful Vixen leaps out of the car, leaving her hitman turned hunk to realize that she’s dumped him in front of the police station!  She tells him that he’ll be safe from the 100 in jail, and that “I forgot myself for the moment!  But I’m the Thorn!  And you’re number 22!”  Man, that is cold!  It also happens to be extremely awesome.  I love that touch, and really, that whole little episode, condensed though it is.  Finally, the Thorn heads back home and changes back to Rose.  Yet, her hand was grazed by a bullet in the fight, and Rose wakes up wondering how she scratched her hand.  That’s an intriguing development, and I am looking forward to see what Kanigher does with these seeds he’s planting!

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These eight pages are just packed with story and with action.  Kanigher is stuffing plot and development in hand-over-fist, and its’ a bit strained at times, but it works surprisingly well on the whole.  The story is just so darn enjoyable, and the beats are so interesting, that you can’t help but forgive it for its limitations.  I found this little tale very readable, and I’m intrigued by the setup Kanigher has established.  I’m definitely in to see where this goes.  This series is just good, clean adventure fiction, but with a really fascinating twist.  I’ll give this chapter of the Rose and Thorn saga a solid 4 Minutemen, and if it had more room to breathe, I’d have to think it would climb even higher.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Sadly, Aquaman adds ANOTHER appearance on the wall of shame, making two in a row!  The Sea King is not off to a great start in 1971.  Of course, things are going to get worse for him soon, when his book gets cancelled, but I suppose there’s no sense borrowing trouble.  I wonder who the next star of the Headcount will be!


That does it for these books.  I hope you’ll join me again soon for the last two books of January 1971.  Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share you thoughts and insights in a comment!  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today we’re covering the first appearance of the unique heroine, Rose and Thorn, which is pretty cool, but much more excitingly, we’re also going to encounter the triumphant return of Jack “the King” Kirby to DC Comics in his inaugural issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen!  We’ve finally reached the event that DC had been plugging for months.  I’m definitely looking forward to covering the unfolding saga of the Fourth World in all of its bizarre, insanely creative glory.  I’ve included some general reflections on Kirby and his career, so this post is a bit longer than normal.  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 its all about.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #393
  • Adventure Comics #398
  • Aquaman #52
  • Detective Comics #404
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
  • Phantom Stranger #9
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 (Jack Kirby’s debut!)
  • Superman #230
  • Teen Titans #29

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105


lois_lane_105Death House Honeymoon!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“Night of the Thorn”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

I was quite uncertain as to how this book was going to go, but I have to say that I was pretty pleasantly surprised.  First off, it was a Robert Kanigher script, which hasn’t worked out too well so far in my experience.  Second, it was Lois Lane, which I didn’t really expect to be reading to begin with.  Yet, the inclusion of Rose and Thorn intrigued me enough to pick it up, and I’m glad I did.  The story inside is actually fairly enjoyable, though there is one glaring problem caused by Kanigher apparently forgetting Superman’s powers.  I suppose there are a lot of them to keep track of!  Still, I think this new character is promising.

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Our first glimpse of the mysterious botanical beauty is in the form of flyers dropped all over Metropolis, informing the members of the ruthless criminal organization known as the ‘100’ that she is out to destroy them  These flyers contain a picture of the beautiful Thorn, as well as the challenge, which seems somewhat short-sighted.  Clark Kent and Lois Lane discover these circulars and are split on how to treat this character.  Lois wants to chase down the story, while Mr. Mild Mannered is afraid that if they do, they’ll make this woman a target for the 100, though it rather seems like that particular cat is already well out of its bag.  We also get a bit of somewhat unusual misogyny from Perry White, as Clark convinces him the story is too dangerous for a woman.  Instead, the editor tells Lois that a convicted murderer named Johnny Adonis, awaiting his fate on death row, has asked to see her in his final hours.

Once she arrives (Superman having saved her from a car wreck on the way, just to stay in practice), the girl reporter discovers that the convict has a very unusual request.  He wants her to marry him for the short time he has before his date with the chair.  Adonis points out that she can have the marriage annulled as soon as he is gone, and then he declares that she owes him a debt.  We discover that he had saved her life years ago when she fell through the ice of a frozen lake while on vacation.  Feeling that she owes the killer her life, Lois agrees.  Of course, there’s a small dose of obligatory drama with Superman because of her choice, but nonetheless, the deathhouse is soon the scene of a grim and joyless wedding.  Yet, the wedding is just a smokescreen, and as soon as the Man of Steel has left in disgust, the prisoners stage an escape, using the new bride as a hostage!

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Meanwhile, the Metropolis Marvel encounters the enigmatic vigilante known as the Thorn for the first time.  He finds her taking it to a trio of 100 thugs and intervenes just in time to save her from a bullet.  Before he can talk with her, though, she vanishes into the night.  That’s right.  She slips away and hides in the shadows….hides from the man with X-Ray vision.  In the shadows.  Are shadows made of lead in the DCU?  This is the only real problem with the story.  Apparently Kanigher forgets how Superman’s powers work.

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“Shadows!  My kryptonite…err…wait a minute…”

Next we cut back to the escaping prisoners, who, clear of pursuit, decide to dispose of their hostage.  They push their car into the river with Lois inside, and her pleas for help seem to fall on deaf ears, her new “husband” coldly ignoring her plight.  Yet, just then Thorn arrives, pulling the reporter out of the river and attracting the bullets of the surprised convicts.  That’s just too much for Mr. Adonis, though, and he turns on his fellows, struck with a sudden attack of conscience.  He gets a few of them, but they get him as well.  Fortunately, Superman arrives just in time to stop the rest of the gang, though too late to save Lois’s new groom, who dies in her arms.  Her work done, Thorn sneaks off into the fog, and we get the dumbest line in the book, as captions tell us “vainly Superman stares through the curtaining vapors.”  Really?  It’s a shame Superman doesn’t have any powers that let him do things like see through fog or shadows.

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It’s really silly, but despite that goofy little oversight, this first chapter is pretty entertaining.  We don’t see much of Thorn (or Rose for that matter) in this first tale, but what we see is enough to pique our interest, as she is a relentless, capable crusader, pursuing this 100 organization.  It’s not a bad introduction, and the next story will fill us in on who she is.  This headline plot seems like it’s going to be pretty goofy, with the gimmicky “Lois is marrying a prisoner” thing, but it actually works out pretty well.  Lois does have an obligation to the guy, and though his request is absurd, Kanigher manages to make the case for it at least well enough for the world of comics.  In context, it’s less absurd than Superman losing Thorn in the fog.  We don’t get to know Adonis well enough for his death to have much of an impact, but his little arc is moderately interesting.  All in all, it’s a solid story, worth an average 3 Minutemen.

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“Night of the Thorn”


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This is the real meat of the issue, the backup tale that gives us the origin of the fascinating character Rose and Thorn.  How can Rose AND Thorn be one character?  Well, that’s the gimmick, and it’s a good one.  Her origin even makes ‘comic book sense,’ which is enough for me in this context.  It’s a standard superhero origin, but with a great twist.

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We first meet Rose Forrest at the grave of her father, police detective Phil Forrest.  She obligingly fills us in on what happened to her dearly departed dad, who was on the police force of Metropolis and who was investigating the activities of the vicious new criminal organization, the 100.  He and his partner, Danny, make enough trouble for the gang that the hoods put a price on their heads.  Eventually, they manage to take Forrest out in a fiery running gunfight which left him at the bottom of a river.  For some reason, Danny seems to think it would be a good idea to bring his partner’s daughter to see daddy get fished out of the river, but the sight is too much for her, and she suffers a breakdown.

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While in the hospital, the doctors observe her sleepwalking, and they helpfully tell us that “her ego personality as Rose is incapable of violence[,] but her id, her unconscious self, is different!”  Now, that’s mostly nonsense, but the result is that, once she is released, she begins to live a double life.  Every night she wakens, no longer Rose, but with a new personality in control of her body.  This Thorn persona crosses through a convenient secret passage in her brownstone home to an abandoned and even more convenient costume shop in a neighboring building.  There she dons a wig and dresses in a strange disguise, then takes to the street to exact her revenge on the killers who took her father from her.  On this particular night, she interrupts the gang’s ambush of Danny, disabling the attackers, and then running off before the stunned policeman can ask her any questions.

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She ends the night by chasing another set of killers into a bowling alley and bowling a very unlikely strike, pitting bowling balls against bullets and somehow not becoming a bullet-ridden corpse.  It’s a bit silly, but it’s entertaining enough.  The night spent, she returns home and transforms once more into the passive and peaceful Rose, who remembers only a strange, disjointed dream.

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This is a fun story, but it’s real strength lies in the power of the concept rather than the particular execution.  It’s a great idea, and I am very much looking forward to see where it goes from here.  I was particularly surprised by the fact that the portrayal of the main character’s psychosis, though handled with traditional comic book exaggeration and sensationalism, is actually more or less accurate.  You see, Lady Grey has a doctorate in psychology, and while this particular type of thing is not her area of expertise, when I ran it past her, she told me that dissociative identity disorder (the official name for what is colloquially known as multiple personality disorder) can work more or less like this.  I was quite astounded that the science in the story wasn’t complete nonsense.  That is, of course, ignoring the sleepwalking component, as the two are unrelated.  So, good on Kanigher!  This backup is too brief to do much more than set up the concept, but it succeeds at that well enough, though the last encounter in the bowling alley is a bit of an odd fit, not quite meshing with the rest of the tale.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen as well, and we’ll have to see what else Rose and Thorn have in store for us.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133


jimmy_olsen_133“Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Pal, Brings Back the Newsboy Legion!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: E. Nelson Bridwell and Murray Boltinoff

Okay gang, strap in for the beautiful, gloriously insane madness that is Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.  The most mad, and strangely, at times, also the most glorious, is his Jimmy Olsen!  So we’re in for a wild ride.

I love Jack Kirby.  He’s hands-down my favorite comics creator and, arguably, the most important figure in the history of superhero comics.  I’ve read most of his genre-defining work at Marvel produced with Stan Lee, and it is a fascinating experience to read through those amazing early Marvel books from the dawn of the Silver Age, watching step by step as that unparalleled team built the Marvel Universe line by line, panel by panel, but even more so because at the same time they were transforming superhero comics forever.  The work is often silly and Silver Age-ish, undeveloped and simplistic, and always overwritten.  Stan Lee never meet an unnecessary caption that he didn’t like, and calling his prose purple is like calling the sun a candle!  Nonetheless, there has never been an era like that one.  If you’re interested in the legendary King of Comics, let me recommend this fascinating documentary about his life and work.

Stan and Jack were the ultimate creative partnership, generating countless concepts, a seemingly bottomless well of imagination and innovation.  Not all of their ideas were hits, and there was probably a dud or two for every success in those early days.  Yet, they created entire worlds of possibilities, and their successors have had long and illustrious careers merely mapping the landscapes first explored by comic’s most dynamic duo.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately, for DC Comics) that golden age didn’t last.  Marvel in general and Stan Lee specifically didn’t treat ‘the King’ properly for a peasant, much less for comics’ royalty.  There’s a good deal of ‘he said,’ ‘she said’ about the events surrounding Kirby’s departure from Marvel Comics, and I won’t get into the ugly details of the matter.  While what I’ve read has made me more sympathetic to Kirby than Lee, the real details of those days are probably lost to history, and there’s no sense fighting ancient battles all over again.

Suffice to say, the man who had at least half credit for building the Marvel Universe found that familiar space no longer home and set out for new horizons.  He came to DC Comics, and the company was only too thrilled to have such a comics luminary working for them.  Kirby did not come empty handed either.  He brought with him an entire new universe full of characters, concepts, and wonder without end.  The King was given the opportunity to explore this new world, though the folks in charge never quite understood the idea, which made them continuously nervous and eventually contributed to the early demise of the various Fourth World books.  They were definitely different, and the books teemed with life and creativity, just as the early Marvel books had.  This was an era of imagination much like that earlier age, with Kirby pitching out idea after idea, filling each book with eye-popping, astounding sights.  Just like his earlier work, they weren’t all hits, but they expanded the DC Universe tremendously.

As part of his new contract, Kirby was tasked with salvaging DC’s lowest selling book, Jimmy Olsen, the price he must pay for the chance to bring his new ideas to life.  There’s an apocryphal story that Jack told DC, ‘give me your lowest-selling book and I’ll turn it into your highest-selling book.’  True or not, DC didn’t have much to lose, because, much like the other Superman books, as we’ve seen, Jimmy Olsen was stuck in a Silver Age-ish rut.  Its stories were formulaic and silly, and readers were tiring of the routine.  Kirby brought something entirely new to the series, breathing new life into a book on its last legs, and that is where we begin today.  Prepare yourselves.  The journey is a wild and wonderful one.

One of the most noteworthy features of this first issue is the return of a previous Jack Kirby creation, the Newsboy Legion, to the pages of DC Comics.  It’s quite fitting that Kirby’s return should also coincide with his reviving of an old concept from the 40s, one that was near and dear to his heart.  These plucky kids were one of the many ‘kid gang’ groups that crowded into comics during the Golden Age, and Kirby drew on his own experience in a neighborhood gang to create them.  Originally, they were a group of orphans who sold newspapers to survive and got into all kinds of adventures.

This new set are the descendants of the original, which is a fun angle, and they are working for Galaxy Broadcasting, the new parent company of the Daily Planet, as child reporters…because that makes sense and is totally legal.  They include a fun set of walking archetypes: Gabby, the loquacious one, Big Words, the brainy one, Tommy, the normal one, and Scrapper Jr., the tough one.  Unfortunately, the King has added in a new member, likely in an effort to add some diversity to the cast, named, and I kid you not, “Flipper Dipper,” who goes everywhere dressed in a S.C.U.B.A. diving outfit, complete with mask and fins.  It’s…an odd choice.  He’s a ridiculous character who can only contribute to a story through the force of plot.  All the other kids have a fairly normal, conventional gimmick.  What does this poor schmuck get?  Diving.

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Inexplicably, the kids have built an incredibly hi-tech vehicle called the ‘Whiz Wagon,’ capable of flying, underwater travel, and a host of other incredible feats.  Morgan Edge, the mysteriously sinister new president of Galaxy funded the construction of the vehicle, which was designed by resident genius, Big Words.  This is just number one of the crazy, imaginative concepts that Kirby is going to squeeze into this issue.  Take a look at this thing.  It looks like a suped-up version of the ‘o-matic’ 60s Fantasticar.  It is certainly neat looking.  After all, no-one could design a gadget like Jack Kirby!

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The Legion, led by Jimmy Olsen, are going to use this fancy contraption to travel to a mysterious place called the ‘Wild Area,’ an ill-defined spot of unspecified dangers, there to plumb its secrets.  It’s supposed to be wildly unsafe, so, naturally, they’re sending kids to cover it.  This doesn’t sit too well with Clark Kent, who confronts the slimy Morgan Edge about his choice, but his efforts to protect the youths are rebuffed.  Edge insists that the inhabitants of the Wild Area, the “Hairies,” don’t trust anyone over twenty-five, meaning that the crew has to be young.  As you’ve probably already guessed, this story is going to be about the generation gap, in insane Kirby fashion.

Leaving the office, the disguised Man of Steel is run down by a car, which, of course leaves him unscathed.  It seems that Morgan Edge has been annoyed by his questions, and the car was full of Intergang’s hired killers.  Still following me?  We’re only a few pages in!  With Kent pretending to be home recovering from his “accident,” the Whiz Wagon sets out on an incredible journey by sea, sky, and road, heading to the ill-defined Wild Area, where they encounter a group of hi-tech bikers called ‘The Outsiders’ that only Jack Kirby could have imagined.

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They ride crazy, over-designed bikes, wear outlandish gear more fitting for space travel than cycle riding, and employ sci-fi weapons.  Jimmy and his youthful pals take fire in the Wagon, and so they immediately do the sensible thing and attack these heavily-armed Star Wars rejects barehanded.  Their insane courage is rewarded rather than earning them messy deaths, and when Jimmy knocks out the gang’s leader, they immediately put him in charge.

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Following the ancient rule, in his own book, Jimmy’s sort of awesome.

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Meanwhile, Superman sets out to find the Legion, sure they are in over their heads.  He employs a power I’m pretty sure he’s never evinced before or since, as he uses his heat vision to detect the afterimage of the heat created by the Wagon’s passage.  Oookay.  I hope that if I’ve got any readers who are Superman experts, they’ll correct me if I’m wrong about that, but it seems like a weird addition.  Arriving in the Wild Area, the Metropolis Marvel discovers the home of the ‘Outsiders,’ only to be attacked by the gang, now lead by his old friend!  Before the two can straighten things out, one of the bikers shoots the Man of Tomorrow with a weird ray, conveniently packed with kryptonite…that this random guy just had..in case Superman ever showed up.  It’s a very Silver Age-ish moment, silly in the extreme and an example of that kryptonite-as-plot-device trend I hate.

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Well, the Man of Steel recovers and meets the Legion in the wondrous, Kirby-esq city known as ‘the Habitat.’  It’s a glorious full page splash, and it makes absolutely no sense.  Superman points out that a ‘dropout society’ like the Outsiders could never have built anything like it, but the origins of this bizarre arboreal urban sprawl will remain a mystery for the moment.  With things calmed down, the hero meets with his young friend, who apologizes for the zapping and fills him in on the Legion’s assignment, ‘The Mountain of Judgement.’  You’ve just got to love the portentous names that Kirby assigns everything.  One of the bikers tells them what little that they know about it, which isn’t much.  Apparently it’s some type of gargantuan mobile structure at the end of some type of dangerous path called ‘the Zoomway.’  Just then, a tremendous sound shakes the entire city, heralding the presence of the Mountain of Judgement!

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I want to live in Jack Kirby’s world.

Okay, catch your breath, gang!  This utterly mad issue was just the start, and what a start it was!  Kirby is simultaneously introducing a new supporting cast for Jimmy, establishing a bizarre and exciting new setting, and planting the seeds for the Fourth World.  This issue, as irrational and silly as it is in many regards, is just absolutely chock full of imagination and wonder.  That’s perhaps Kirby’s greatest strength, the conjuration of wonder, and it will be a common accomplishment in the Fourth World books, even at their weakest. He manages it here, with the strange societies of the Wild Area, the mysterious, alien structures of the Habitat, and the pure ‘Kribyness’ of the visuals.  I’ve left a lot out of my summary, because there is no way to capture all of this colorful craziness.

I was not very fond of these early Jimmy Olsen issues when I first read them some years ago.  All of the sillier elements grated too much on me, but I’ve developed more appreciation for such wild stories in the interim.  As bizarre as this issue is, it is also undeniably fun and imaginative.  It’s even zanier and even more creative than an outing with Zany Haney.  It has plenty of weaknesses, with the stupid kryptonite convenience at the top of the list.  It’s also worth noting that, while Jack Kirby was an artist of unparalleled skill and creativity, with his talents matched only by the bottomless productivity of his ever-working imagination, his skills as a dialog writer are not quite as legendary.  The 60s slang that fills the book, while not as horrible as some of the earlier Teen Titans issues, can be pretty cringe-inducing.

The whole generation gap angle of the story also feels a bit dated, even in 1970.  The angst of generational conflict, which will be felt more next issue, bores me.  I suppose that’s because I was an angsty teenager once and am now keenly aware of just how stupid I was. Of course, as we’ve often noted, Superman is certainly a fitting symbol for the established order, having remained almost entirely unchanged for years, so I suppose there is something more clever here than I had really given Kirby credit for.  In the context of the social relevance trends, the revamping of characters, and the greater social engagement sweeping through DC Comics, this theme is actually quite fitting.  Who is more a symbol of the previous generation than Superman?  Of course, Jimmy is not really the first character I’d pick for a rebellious avatar of teen identity.  Still, I’ll have to see how the other issues strike me.  Perhaps they’ll read better on the second pass.

The dropout societies of the Wild Area, and even the name that Edge gives them, the ‘Hairies,’ obviously references the hippies of the 60s, but they are much more exciting.  Hippies with ray guns and Kirby-tech might even be moderately tolerable.  Nonetheless, the final result is intriguing.  You couldn’t read this issue and not want to know just what in the blue blazes was going on.  And that is nothing to laugh at.  There’s an undeniable charm and frenetic energy to this story, so despite its goofy elements, I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.  We’ll see better Kirby stories before long, but even with its weaknesses, this is a fascinating beginning!

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Well my friends, that’s it for this milestone edition of Into the Bronze Age!  The King is here, long live the King!  Please join me again soon for our last two issues of the month, which promise to be interesting at the very least.  I hope that y’all are enjoying our trek as much as I am.  Until next time, keep the heroic spirit alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 1)

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Hello dear readers, and welcome to another installment of Into the Bronze Age.  I imagine that many of you out there are thunderstruck by the results of the American presidential election, no matter who you favored.  This entire election has been bizarre beyond words.  Many of you likely feel like the world is spinning madly out of control.  Perhaps some of you are feeling pleased and hopeful.  Whatever the case, I imagine we could all use a break from politics and from a national discourse that has grown ever more poisonous and vicious.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about politics.  I’m neither going to lament nor cheer.  No, instead, I’m going to publish this post about, of all things, 1970s comic books.  What a thing to do at a moment in history that, whatever comes, is sure to be remembered for years.  Yet, it’s at times like this I think that these silly little superhero books can do us the most good.  They are bright, hopeful, and they espouse, at their best, the only true heroism, the self-sacrificial love that marks the highest apex of human virtue, mirroring as it does divine virtue.  They remind us that we are at our best, not when we are doing for ourselves, but when we are doing for others.  They are a good escapist refuge from an ugly and uncharitable world, but they are also a reminder that humanity is capable of good things, beauty, joy, and laugher.

So, without further ado, welcome to September 1970.  Let’s see what awaits us within, shall we?

This month in history:

  • Palestinian terrorists hijack ten different planes during what is known as the “Black September” civil war in Jordan
  • Psychedelic drug evangelist and all-around wack job Timothy Leary escaped from prison
  • IBM announces System 370 computer
  • USSR launches Luna 16; returns samples from lunar Sea of Fertility
  • President Nixon requests 1,000 new FBI agents for college campuses
  • Unrest and conflict continues in Ireland

We have a tie between two extremely awesome songs at the top of the charts this month, with both Edwin Star’s “War” and Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”  These are two very different songs, but they provide a nice cross section of the time.  “War” is certainly a very striking piece, given the conflicts filling our list above.

It is certainly an interesting month in history, with all kinds of crazy things going on.  I learned a lot reading about this month, and I was fascinated by both the Black September conflict and the bat-guano insane life of Timothy Leary.  The guy was like a real-life supervillain.  It’s very interesting for those of us on the path to the Bronze Age that we see evidence in this flurry of skyjackings of the trend we heard about all the way back in Batman #219.  Clearly calling this period “The Golden Age of Skyjacking” is rather appropriate.  The Space Race continues as well, giving us something a bit more positive happening in the skies, but there are still signs of unrest everywhere.  Well, enough of all this real-world drama, let’s talk about some superheroes!

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #392
  • Batman #225
  • Brave and the Bold #91
  • Detective Comics #403
  • G.I. Combat #143
  • Green Lantern #79
  • Justice League #83
  • Showcase #93
  • The Flash #200
  • World’s Finest #196

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

Action Comics #392

action_comics_392“The Shame of the Super Son”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Once again, this issue follows what is becoming a familiar pattern.  The Headlining Superman tale is just goofy Silver Age fare, but the Legion backup is just plain good.  The Superman tale continues the Saga of the Super Sons and repeats many of the silly domestic farce elements that annoyed me with the last one.  Once again, everyone seems to just spend all day and night in their costumes, even when doing the most prosaic and pedestrian activities, giving us some really unintentionally funny panels.  I’m actually reminded a bit of the Tick…

In our last issue, we ended on the cliffhanger of Superman apparently taking away his goofus of a son’s powers with gold kryptonite.  He makes this pretty huge choice with ridiculous suddenness, deciding that his hard-luck screw-up of a teenage son, or, you know, a teenager, was too dangerous and incompetent to have super powers.  Apparently Clark doesn’t remember what it was like to be 13 or so.  After all, I know I know I certainly didn’t have everything together at that age…of course, I still don’t, but that’s neither here nor there!  This issue picks back up with the elder Supes as he returns home, sullen and silent.  His son runs off as soon as they are home, justifiably angry at his father for, you know, stripping his powers away permanently without so much as a heads-up.  I have to say, this surprised me a bit.  I was sure that the previous issue’s cliffhanger would be a cheat of some sort and that this one would reveal the kid’s powers weren’t permanently lost just because he’s a klutz, seeing as how that would be insane and incredibly cruel.  I was certain that this issue would reveal it was all just a lesson for the boy, but no, Kanigher amps up the crazy by barreling ahead quite earnestly.

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And Kanigher cranks up Superman’s jerk dial a dozen more notches, as the Man of Tomorrow wordlessly brushes past his wife, who can tell something is wrong, and locks himself in his study, while the wife, increasingly panicked by his complete freaking silence, repeatedly demands to know what happened to her son.  Wow, you’re just bad all around at this family stuff, aren’t you Supes?  So, what does Mrs. Man of Steel do?  She runs across the street to the neighboring mansion of Batman and asks him for help.  In so doing, she interrupts the Caped Crusader lounging in his den, watching TV in full costume.  That’s got to be one of the most ridiculous images in the book, but it has plenty of competition.

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Check out Batman’s swinging 60s den!

The Dark Knight (not so dark here) gets the story out of his friend, who has NOW decided to be remorseful for ruining his son’s life (a little late there!).  Next we get a montage of scenes where the former Boy of Steel gets humiliated in various ways, all while continuing to wear his costume as he engages in even more normal activities.  He nearly drowns while swimming (in a cape!), has to pick up his date on a Bat-bike (the pedal-powered kind), and gets one-uped by Bat-boy.  There’s a lot of silly in these pages.

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Things take a turn when Superman is ambushed by a bunch of criminals from the Generic Gang who happen to have gotten their hands on the most plentiful element in the Silver Age DC Universe, kryptonite!  The Super Son, having lost his powers, is somehow unaffected, and he manages to free his not-so-super father.  I’d have sympathized if he had left him to the crooks.

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This prompts a change of heart in the Man of Tomorrow, who brings his son to the Bottle City of Kandor for his 14th birthday.  While there, they don a set of bracelets that, supposedly signify their bond.  When they come back to the Fortress, they discover one of the dangerous zoo animals escaped , and Superman doesn’t seem to have the power to stop it.  His son belts the beast and discovers that his powers have returned.  Apparently, the bracelets actually gave the elder’s powers to the younger.  The issue ends with father and son reconciled and the Man of Steel, now powerless, retiring and letting his son take over the family world-saving business.  It really seems like he got there the hard way.

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Well, this was a bonkers issue, picking up from the last bonkers issue.  Superman really comes off pretty terribly, both with his ridiculously abrupt and insanely severe punishment of his son and with his callous treatment of his justifiably frantic wife.  The ending would be heartwarming, if it wasn’t made necessary by the Man of Steel’s being inhumanely cruel in the first place.  In the end, this is more or less what you might expect of such a story.  It’s ludicrously Silver Age-y , and I had to check again to make sure it wasn’t really written by Bob Haney.  The domestic farce in this one was even worse than the previous one, and there’s little goofier than the entire set of super families hanging out and swimming in their own pool, all in full costume.  That kind of zaniness costs this issue a half Minuteman over the previous one.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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“The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”

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As usual, the Legion backup is great fun.  This one is an offbeat issue, though it certainly employs the standard Legion formula of the apparent enemy within.  I think the Legion must spend more of their time fighting each other and chasing “traitors” than doing anything else.  Imagine how much more they could have gotten done if they weren’t always worried about secret double agents in their midsts!

The issue begins with two of the lady Legionnaires, Saturn Girl and Princess Projectra, heading out on a mission to capture a “space renegade” (good band name), Pozr-Du.  You’ve got to love these Legion names.  On the way, Saturn Girl reveals a new costume, which I suspect points to a larger trend of linking fashion and female characters.  This is something I’ve noticed in some Supergirl comics I’ve read around this period (some of the only ones I’ve encountered).  I wonder if DC was attempting to bring in and engage more female readers with such an emphasis on costume design and the like.  I know the Supergirl book actually had costume design contests and the like.  It makes a certain amount of sense, and I think it’s a rather nice effort on DC’s part, if perhaps a bit heavy handed.

Well, when the girls find their quarry, they are ambushed by the renegade and blasted out of the sky, unconscious!  When they awaken, strangely enough there is no sign of Pozr-Du.  He didn’t bother to capture them or even finish them off, though they landed right in his lap.  Mystified and discouraged, there is nothing the pair can do but return to Legion HQ, which looks a bit different than I remember.  However, once there, things taken an even stranger turn, as their ship is snagged in an “energy-grappler” and Cosmic Boy, manning the defenses, claims never to have heard of them!

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The lovely Legionnaires are captured by their former teammates, and despite their protestations, Cosmic Boy and the others tell them that the Legion has never had members named Princess Projectra or Saturn Girl.  To prove their legitimacy, the heroines demand to be taken to the trophy room where they can produce evidence of their accomplishments, but when they arrive, they find their mementos are missing!  This provides us with a fun little glimpse of the Legion trophy room, complete with some really cool looking creatures and objects.

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Just then, two new members arrive to check out the intruders, Prince Projectur and Saturn Lad!  They demonstrate their powers, and the flabbergasted femmes begin to feel rather hopeless.  Interestingly, both of these guys are wearing almost the exact same costumes as their female counterparts, and it just looks plain ridiculous.  Just a slight redesign on them to give them something a bit more dignified and masculine would have done wonders.  At the very least, give them pants, for heaven’s sake!  This is like the unironic 70s predecessor of the Hawkeye initiative, and it does unintentionally illustrate how silly the average female comic character’s costume is.

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Anyway, fashion disasters aside, our two heroines find themselves prisoners, floating suspended in the middle of a chamber in a detention sphere.  The pair discuss their situation, and I really enjoyed the matter-of-fact way these two unflappable ladies calmly assess the possible explanations of their predicament.  They are experienced enough at this kind of thing to immediately recognize that there are a number of possible explanations.  They could be on an alternate Earth, the weapon they were struck with could have put them into a dream state, or many other even stranger possibilities.  I liked this.  It makes sense that experienced heroes would have a frame of reference for even something as crazy as finding out that none of your friends remember you.

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Unable to determine exactly what is going on from their cell, the ladies plan an escape, and they do so in clever and dynamic fashion.  The cell stretches with their movement, and since their captors failed to take their flight rings, thinking them fake, they fly in opposite directions, straining the bubble’s elasticity until it breaks.  Free once more, Princess Projectra has a plan.  She tells Saturn Girl to stay hidden while she looks for answers.

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In search of just that, she visits the quarters of a particular Legionnaire, her boyfriend, Karate Kid.  The Princess demands answers, and tries to remind Val of their relationship, including a really sweet little flashback to the first time they said “I love you.”  To attempt to spark his memory, the lovely illusionist kisses her erstwhile beau.  He still insists he doesn’t know her, but suddenly he collapses!  In another really clever move, the Princess applied a drug to her lips that would knock him out when she kissed him.  With the Kid unconscious, she applies a small device to his neck, hoping that it will answer her questions.

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Returning to Saturn Girl, Projectra is challenged by her male counterpart.  However, she has begun to suspect the truth, so she creates an illusory monster that threatens her, and the startled “Prince” leaps to her aid, letting her real name slip out in the process.  She unmasks him as Brianiac 5, and the jig is up!

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Slimer, no!

It seems that the new megacomputer Brainy built spit out a prediction that a Legionnaire was in danger of cracking under pressure and endangering her teammates, and it named Projectra.  The device was still experimental, so they weren’t sure that they could trust it.  They devised a training exercise to test their teammate’s reactions and combat fitness, throwing her into a completely bizarre situation.  Saturn Girl was the proctor and used her powers to cancel her partner’s out.  Chameleon Boy was Pozr and Sun Boy played the role of Saturn Lad.  Fortunately the clever Princess used one of Brainy’s inventions to discover that Karate Kid was lying and began to unravel the setup after that.

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Everyone congratulates her on her performance, and she is reunited with Val, who apologizes for putting her through that ordeal.  That’s nice and all, but I have a feeling he’s going to face an ordeal of his own in payback!  We also see the office of Legion Leader taken over by Mon-El, which is a fun little addendum to the story, adding a little peak into the organizational functioning of the team.  Things like that are neat in small doses, adding a certain amount of fleshing out to the concept.

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The reason for the test is a bit stretched, as it really seems like there is probably a simpler way to figure out if Projectra is about to crumble than to subject her to an elaborate and extreme test that could have caused even a sane person to lose it.  Still, by the standards of the high melodrama that usually accompanies internal Legion stories, it rather fits.  The most important thing is that it is a fun tale, entertaining and rather surprising.  The different explanations the ladies propose are so reasonable and utterly common in comics that I never considered that it was all a hoax.  What’s more, the portrayal of the two protagonists was quite good, both of them coming off as competent, brave, and resourceful.

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It’s interesting that they went through their entire adventure without any violent action, yet the story was plenty entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed getting to know Princess Projectra in this yarn, as I hadn’t really encountered here much before.  As is often the case with these Legion backups, this short adventure packs a great deal in just a few pages, and does it with aplomb.  It doesn’t feel rushed, and there’s plenty of excitement while also providing us with a bit of character development.  That’s impressive.  Its also worth mentioning that I really enjoyed the art in this issue.  Win Mortimer turns out some great looking, classic DC house-style work, and he does some several really cool page and panel-breaking layouts.  So, slightly disturbing costuming aside, I’ll give this one an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

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That’s all for today, and I hope this post and these stories bring some lightness and some fun into your day.  On a day like today, that’s a good thing.  Join me (hopefully) soon for the next two tales in our journey Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 6)

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Welcome to the last post on August 1970!  It’s not as bad as the Superman tale we met last time, but this isn’t quite the soaring success we encountered elsewhere this month.  I hope you enjoy this next step, Into the Bronze Age!

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #391
  • Aquaman #52
  • Batman #224
  • Teen Titans #28
  • Detective Comics #402
  • The Flash #199
  • Justice League #82
  • Phantom Stranger #8
  • Showcase #92
  • Superman #229
  • World’s Finest #195

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

World’s Finest #195

worlds_finest_comics_195“Dig Now, Die Later!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editors: Mort Weisinger and E. Nelson Bridwell

This is definitely Zaney Haney, and not his most successful issue, though neither is it his least.  Compared to some of them, this one is even a little tame.  Haney lets this story get away from him a bit, so it isn’t quite as good as the previous iteration.  One highlight is the inclusion of the sidekick team.  I always enjoy seeing Jimmy Olsen and Robin join the World’s Finest.  I find them a fun addition, though they really don’t do much here.  Nonetheless, this issue has some good moments.  Unfortunately, Superman entirely overshadows everyone else in the, as he is wont to do.

When I started reading the Silver Age Superman and World’s Finest books, I was particularly surprised to discover how big a role Olsen often played in these adventures.  It seems that in order to provide Superman a sidekick akin to Batman’s, Jimmy was dragooned into service, despite not really being an equivalent figure.  It’s a weird little trend, and sometimes it really doesn’t fit.  Still, he is a resource kid and a good character, so it also led to some enjoyable yarns.  This one sadly doesn’t offer us anything special along those lines, though.

We pick up where we left off, with Superman unmasked by the brain-damaged Batman, who thinks he is the Mafia’s ‘Big Uncle’ Lukaz.  Trapped by the kryptonite wreath, the Man of Steel is rapidly weakening, and knowing that escape is impossible, he tries a desperate gambit.  He employs ‘Super-Ventriloquism’ to ape the sound of Krypto, hovering outside the fortieth floor window, causing a panic among the hoods.  Now, Super-Ventriloquism is a pretty goofy power, but I have to admit, this is a clever use for it.  It’s actually a good way for the hero to buy himself some time.

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It’s also funny to see a bunch of tough guys running away from a dog…

worldsfinest195-09.jpgWith his captors temporarily routed, the Metropolis Marvel puts everything he has left into an inhalation of super breath, which sucks the lead-lined suitcase closed, cutting off the deadly radiation.  When the mafiosos return, Superman seems to just be starting to recover, so they prepare to finish him off, but he fakes a memory loss like Batman’s, pretending he thinks he really is a hood.  Pseudo-Lukaz decides to make him into a weapon for the mob, and then we get one of the sour notes that trouble this story as the disguised Batman announces that he’ll continue to dress as Batman “to confuse the law!”  Ooookay.  Sure.  That’s a thing.  This has absolutely no follow-up and doesn’t affect anything.  It’s just an extra bit of weirdness that Haney decided to include.

Well, the Bat-Godfather, hereafter, the Batfather, takes his new ‘soldier’ to his special gallery, where he has wax figures of all of the mafia’s enemies.  He shows Superman the figures of Robin and Jimmy Olsen and tells him that they are the next targets.  They summon both boys to a junkyard where the Batfather plans to ambush them.  However, when the two youths are captured and on the point of being executed, Robin delivers an impassioned speech to his mentor, declaring that he loves Batman like a father.  The impact of the Teen Wonder’s words snap the Dark Knight out of his mafia persona.  It’s not a bad moment, though not given much room to breathe.

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Just then, Lukaz shows up, having escaped the Fortress of Solitude through yet ANOTHER head injury, this time that of a robot jailer, whose head-blow jarred its circuits into recognizing him as its master.  The Godfather and his two measly henchmen apparently frighten the entire team into inaction.  There is a good idea here, as the bad guys, using regular old guns, threaten Superman, not with death, but with the deaths of his allies.  The Man of Steel continues playing his part, knocking Batman out with a super-slap and burning Robin and Jimmy Olsen to ash with his heat vision!  He hands over their “hearts” to Lukaz in a special case and carries his erstwhile partner off to ‘dispose’ of him.

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I’m sure that’s fine for a man with a concussion…

On the way, the Dark Knight revives and punches Supes in a really odd looking panel, but the Man of Tomorrow calms him by explaining his plan.  He planted a tracker in the case, and they are headed to find Lukaz’s stash of evidence.  Along the way, we get another sour note, as Batman is stymied by a door marked “For accredited criminologists only.”  Can you imagine the Caped Crusader being stopped by a ‘no trespassing’ sign?  Well, they find the stash, but they are jumped by the Godfather and his two thugs.  Really?  Again?  If you’re going to fight freaking Superman and Batman, you should really bring more than two guys!

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Anyway, Robin and Jimmy arrive and take them out, with Superman revealing that, before he roasted them, he switched them out with their wax doubles from the head gangster’s own collection at super speed.  It’s a solid resolution, though, if the Man of Steel had time to do that, one thinks he could probably have just disarmed the thugs as well.  I suppose he needed the ruse to find the evidence cache, so we can ‘no prize’ that.

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This was a fun story, creative, with some clever moments from Superman and a good character moment with Robin and Batman.  Unfortunately, that was about the only good moment the Dark Knight had in this tale, with Superman carrying almost all of the action, even solving the mystery, making the World’s Greatest Detective pretty much entirely superfluous.  The end results is still enjoyable, but not terribly exceptional.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen on the strength of the cleverer moments.

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This comic also had a Congo Bill backup.  It was a reprint, so I won’t be covering it, but it was a fun little story about a jungle con-artist, which basically employed the old ‘beguiler beguiled’ trope.

 

Final Thoughts:

Well readers, I ALMOST made it to September before our own September ended.  So close!  C’est la vie.  Nevertheless, we have successfully made it through August, and an interesting month it was!  We saw some of the very best and very worst stories we’ve yet covered.  August unfortunately saw the goofy Silver Agey-y Super Sons and, horror of horrors, the insipid foolishness of both tales from the Superman issue (which I was really probably too hard on), but it also gave us more great books than we’ve yet seen in one place.  The Legion backup, Aquaman, Detective ComicsTeen Titans, The Phantom Stranger, and Showcase all featured excellent stories, earning 4.5 Minutemen.  That’s not half bad!  We’re seeing innovation continuing to grow, with the Aquaman book and the creative Phantom Stranger tales, and we’re seeing a further growth of more mature (in the true sense, not in a ‘sex and violence’ one) themes and horror motifs in the Batman books.  All-in-all, I would call it a good month.  It seems we are settling in to something of a routine, with most books following a predictable pattern of quality and style.  Please join me next time to see what September holds!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We’ve had a busy month in the head-blow department, with our favorite Aquatic Aces both making an appearance.  Our Aqua-guys just can’t catch a break!  I’m mollified by the fact that, even though Aqualad has been added to the Wall, at least Robin is on there twice.  Take that Boy Wonder!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 1)

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Well, last month was a bit of a letdown, but this month promises to be a bit more interesting, with more Aquaman and more of the fun Manhunter debut!  Join me as we forge a little further Into the Bronze Age!

This month in history:

  • 2nd San Diego Comic Con was held (of note probably only in this context)
  • Rubber bullets used for the first time during the Troubles in Ireland
  • France performs nuclear tests
  • 1st computer chess tournament held
  • Peruvian Airlines jet carrying 45 US exchange students explodes
  • Jim Morrison is tried in Miami on “lewd & lascivious behavior”
  • Venera 7 probe launched for Venus
  • Unrest continues at home and abroad, with bombs and riots in the US and Ireland

Well, both the Troubles in Ireland and the Space Race continue, and although it was a quieter month in the US, things were obviously still not peaceful.  I imagine it will be some time before we stop seeing these events in our monthly roundup.

This month’s chart topper was “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by the Carpenters, a sweet, sappy song that is something of a contrast to the rage in the air all over the world.  Even in a burning world, love endures, I suppose.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #391
  • Aquaman #52
  • Batman #224
  • Detective Comics #402
  • The Flash #199
  • Justice League #82
  • Phantom Stranger #8
  • Showcase #92
  • Superman #229
  • Teen Titans #28
  • World’s Finest #195

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

Action Comics #391

action_comics_391“The Punishment of Superman’s Son”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Ordeal of Element Lad!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Okay, I was astonished to find that the headline tale was NOT written by Bob Haney.  It features the Super Sons, after all, and it is full of all kinds of Haney quality Zaniness!  Of course,  that means this is an odd one, Haney or no Haney.  It is pretty hilarious in spots and just ohh so very goofy throughout.  The Super Sons stories are always pretty out there, and this one is no exception.  Interestingly enough, Wikipedia is all kinds of wrong about these oddball characters, maintaining that the first appearance of the Super Sons was in a Haney-penned story from 1973.  Apparently this 1970 feature wasn’t the first appearance either, though, as that was in 1965.  There you go kids; that’s why your teachers tell you not to trust Wikipedia!  Anyway, let’s jump right into the madness, shall we?

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Essentially, this is Goofus and Gallant, the super hero edition, with the oddly doppleganger-ish children of the World’s Finest duo standing in for the titular pair.  We join Superman and his son, the incredibly creatively named Superman Jr. (Really?  Not, you know, Superboy?) as they discontentedly watch Batman and HIS equally creatively named son, Batman Jr.  The young Dark Knight is getting the Metropolis Medal of Valor in recompense for his deeds of daring do in the great city.  The Man of Steel and his son look on unhappily, with Super-Dad really bucking for ‘Father of the Year’ as he berates his son for not being as good as Batman’s boy.  Later, they head home to the “secluded, adjoining homes of Superman and Batman in the country between Metropolis and Gotham.”  And, just for the record, it was at that moment that I began to suspect that this issue was written by a 10 year old.  Seriously, there are a lot of concepts here that seem like something my little nephew would come up with, the fevered dreams of playground storytelling.  I realize that these comics were pitched to younger readers, but there’s a bit of a difference between what a kid would think is cool and what a kid would come up with if left to his own devices.

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Anyway, at the door the super pair are met by “Mom,” who is conveniently wearing a wig and has her face in shadow.  This is actually a funny and clever little element of these Super Sons stories.  They always had the mothers’ faces in shadow and they tried to keep their identities fuzzy.  It’s hilarious that they’d go to that much trouble for these stories they’ve already labeled as ‘imaginary,’ and which don’t have many other concessions to logic or consistency.

Well, here we see a few more moments of the type of domestic farce that I love so very much, with the Super-Family sitting down to eat in full costume.  Fortunately, it’s not the focus of the issue.  It’s just a bizarre little side feature, as if Ross Andru just forgot that these characters have civilian identities after the first page.  Either way, Superman continues to play ‘disappointed Dad’ and is fairly ugly to his son as he takes off to retrieve a special singing alien plant.

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We get an admittedly cool sequence as The Man of Tomorrow recovers the plant from a creature of flame, intending to bring the vociferous vegetable home to display on Earth.  The idea of a singing plant is not a new one, and it’s a cool enough sci-fi concept.  Yet, this story goofies it up by having the sounds the bush creates be genre and instrument specific.  This alien life-form plays “rock, marimba, strings, piano, cello, [and] steel band.”  Sure.  Just think about that one for a moment.

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The Boy of Steel demonstrates his Goofus bona fides by burning the vocal vegetable to a crisp by flying too fast when he’s sent to deliver it.  This earns the poor schmuck a real tongue lashing from his father, combined with a healthy dose of parental guilt.  You really do feel for this poor kid (apparently only 14), as his various screw-ups throughout the issue are all accidents, and he’s really trying to do his best.  He reminds me a bit of Jerry Gergich from Parks and Rec.  To top things off, Batman and son just casually drop by to brag about how awesome they are.  I swear, the whole thing reads like parody.  If this were written today I’d think it was really clever satire!

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Super goofs are the worst!  Also, smug Batman better watch out or he might find himself thrown into the sun…

The Super Sons hang out, with the Boy Detective trying to cheer up his super pal, including offering to let him ride his “Bat Bike.”  Ha!  Well, all of his efforts are to no avail, and then the two of them each attempt to stop a group of robbers with a nifty subterranean tank that looks more than a little like the Transport Modules from the old Ninja Turtles ‘toon (maybe the crooks work for Krang!).  The Boy of Steel blows it again, being fooled by fake Kryptonite, while Batman Jr. cleverly outwits the thieves…at least, if you don’t think about it too hard.  He finds the tunneling tank in a lake, hiding out from the authorities, so he plugs up its air snorkel, which is currently UNDERWATER, with a handkerchief.  This, somehow, causes the gang to surface, despite the fact that the snorkel was already blocked by being, you know, UNDERWATER!  It’s just a ridiculous little oversight that adds to the silliness of this issue.  Did you guys even bother to READ this thing before you sent it to press?

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Afterwards, we get another dose of domestic farce as all of the heroes sit down to a family dinner, still in costume, to celebrate Superman Jr.’s birthday.  Yay.  For his gift, the elder Superman decides to take his son to the Fortress of Solitude for the first time in an attempt to heal the rift between them…the rift that he has totally caused for being a jerk to his well-meaning son.

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Unfortunately, Goofus, I mean Superman Jr., screws everything up when he’s left alone in the Fortress.  He accidentally trashes the place, which seems to be the final straw.  The issue ends with the Dad of Steel locking his son in a booth and dropping in a piece of gold kryptonite to permanently take away his powers.  There’s actually something of value there, as the Super Father faces the fact that his son is more or less a danger to everyone on Earth because he’s such a huge clutz, but he’s also only 14…and who wasn’t a screwup at that age?  In other words, it immediately sinks into bathos or “narm.”  I’m sure we’ll see some type of turnaround next issue, but that’s where this merry-go-round of craziness ends.

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So, what do we make of this non-Haney batch of zaniness?  Well, I’m not really sure.  It’s just so goofy and silly that I certainly can’t enjoy it the way I do your average adventure story, but it is also undeniably vivacious and full of energy in a way that last Superman story simply was lacking.  It is clear that Kanigher isn’t thinking too deeply…or at all…about this tale, but it is fun and you really can’t help but feel sorry for the Super-Loser.  It does seem like the basic concept suffers from a lack of creativity, with the Super Sons just being carbon copies of their fathers, but there are neat moments interwoven with the ludicrous ones, though the latter outnumber the former.  This is a very Silver-Agey tale, though somehow less obnoxious than some of the others we’ve waded through.  I suppose it is just so wacky that it comes back around again and is fun.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s final effect is silly, but entertainingly so.

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“The Ordeal of Element Lad!”

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In the backup position this month we have the continuation of the excellent Legion story from the previous issue, and just as in that comic, this story absolutely steals the show.  It suffers from its brevity to a degree, yet it still manages to deliver a great espionage adventure.  Bridwell really came through with this two-parter, giving us a fascinating setup, solid if limited character work, exciting twists and turns, and a level of sophistication that really stands in marked contrast to the childish fare that seems to populate the pages of the Superman books.

You can see Bridwell struggling with his limited space to a degree, but the way he’s structured the two separate episodes helps to mitigate these restrictions.  For example, our perspective shifts a bit with this issue, and characters who didn’t get too much focus in the previous story get to carry most of the action in this one.  Unfortunately, Timber Wolf and Karate Kid still get rather short shrift, falling between the cracks a bit, but I suppose that type of thing is bound to happen in a team book with a big cast, especially when page real-estate is at such a premium.  The real stars of the issue are Element Lad and Saturn Girl, and we join the latter at the beginning of the story right where we left her, deep in the belly of the beast, having infiltrated the science labs of the tyrannical President Peralla.  The previous issue’s mild cliffhanger ending is continued as the scientist’s assistant declares that she knows the young Legionnaire.  Fortunately, she doesn’t know her as a Legionnaire!  It seems that this girl, Marli Zhorg (gotta’ love these Legion names) was a schoolmate of Saturn Girl’s but hasn’t kept up with her fellow Saturnian’s exploits since the old days.  Thus, she thinks that Imra is just another scientist looking for a job, happily assuming that her college buddy has no more qualms about working for a dictator than she does.

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Yet, though her cover is intact, the psychic heroine faces another obstacle.  She can’t telepathically smuggle the secrets of the ‘Humanoid’ super soldiers out to her teammates in the presence of another mind-reader.  Thinking quickly, she sends a seemingly innocent message ‘in the clear’ to Brainiac 5 that nevertheless appraises him of the situation.  It’s a nice display of her resourcefulness.  Meanwhile, the rest of the team is meeting with Masrin, the rebel leader, under the guise of being fellow operatives from the Dark Circle.  As they try to figure out how to fight the seemingly unstoppable Humanoids, Brainy discovers a trace of their substance on Karate Kid’s hand and rushes to conduct an analysis.

Just then, the loyalist forces attack, and a desperate battle ensues, a battle that will be hopeless unless the young Coluan can solve the mystery.  In a fun and fitting little sequence, Brainy solves the puzzle in the time it takes Element Lad to complain about his tardiness.  It’s a nice little character moment, demonstrating Brainiac 5’s competence, coolness, and also indicating the touch of arrogance that comes from knowing you’re the smartest being in the room.

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With the secret in his possession, Element Lad begins a herculean labor, single-handedly dispatching the Humanoids by converting their bodies into various elements, all while making the rebels believe it is their new weapons carrying the day in order to maintain their cover.  The sequence is nicely illustrated by Mortimer, and the Legionnaire displays a creative use of his powers as he destroys the creatures.

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The effort leaves him so drained that Timberwolf has to carry him when the rebels advance, but even so, he keeps up his attack.  Soon they are storming the capitol itself, and Saturn Girl sends them inside information, handily dispatching her former friend when she realizes what the young heroine is up to.  Brainy uses his force field belt to penetrate the city’s defenses and smash their controls, allowing the rebels to sweep in and providing him with a nice action sequence in the bargain.

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Masrin is more concerned with securing the treasury than with the capture of Peralla, and he pulls a Scrooge McDuck (minus the charm and whimsy) as he examines the wealth of the planet.  Here we see the culmination of the solid character work that Bridwell manages to weave into this fast moving story, as the rebel leader’s vices are displayed in several subtle ways amidst the action.  We see it when he shouts cornball lines during the battle that make the heroes roll their eyes, as well as in his casual disregard for his men in the previous story.  His vices prove his undoing, in classic fashion, as his greed provides the opening the Legionnaire’s need to take care of him.  The team convinces Masrin to hold back most of the treasure and only offer a small portion to his troops.  When he does so, Element Lad uses the last of his energy to transmute the gold and jewels into simple lead and stone.  The rebels turn on their disgraced leader, and a better man takes his place.

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The team, their mission successfully completed, is extracted, and the tale ends with Element Lad waking up in the infirmary after his heroic efforts, being congratulated by the others.  His valiant, unyielding perseverance throughout the issue was really quite impressive, and it’s pleasant to see the fellow get his due, especially because he’s a character that I don’t know well.  I like seeing new (to me) characters come out strong, and I always enjoy seeing underdogs (and Element Lad rather seems like one to me) make good.  He really does carry the issue, though, and his endurance in the face of his increasing exhaustion is a great heroic note for the character, even if it’s all we have time to learn about him.

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So, there you have it, an excellent Legion adventure, full of fun, intrigue, and energy,  with personality and character packed into every rare spare moment.  I didn’t even mention the romance subplot where the rebel officer’s girlfriend was revealed to be in love with someone else.  That type of extraneous element could easily just feel tacked on and unnecessary, but it is indicative of Bridwell’s apparent desire to see that nothing is left hanging.  Instead of being a distraction, it is handled with a light enough touch to add just a little extra flavor to the tale, occupying no more than a single panel and fitting in organically.  Once again, we see the power of visual storytelling, as a single word balloon and a meaningful glance tell us everything we need to know about the way things stand.

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The story isn’t perfect.  It’s just too short to be entirely successful.  The setup for the yarn remains impressive, though it doesn’t get as much exploration as we might like.  The final resolution, disposing of both Perala and Masrin, as well as the general threats to the world, as quickly as it does is a tad unsatisfying.  Nonetheless, the dramatic irony of Masrin’s greed-triggered fall helps to ameliorate this feeling.  On the whole, if the only complaint you can level against a story is that you wish there were more of it, you’re doing pretty well.  I’ll give it a solid 4 Minutemen, like it’s previous iteration.  I am really enjoying these Legion tales, and I’m looking forward to the next one!  They really help make these Action Comics days more enjoyable.

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Aquaman #52

aquaman_vol_1_52“The Traders’ Trap”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Never Underestimate a Deadman”
Writer: Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Editor: Dick Giordano

Well, back to Aquaman’s aquatic adventures, and happy I am for the return!  I really love this run, as I’ve remarked before, and though this isn’t the best one of the bunch, it’s still pretty darn good.  This issue is graced with another beautiful Nick Cardy cover, one that embraces the visual daring and creativity of the art within.  Once again, the SAG team deliver an innovative story that is breaking away from the standard formulas, along with really lovely and unusual art.  Imaginations continue to run wild, and the flurry of creative concepts keeps flying as the team further fleshes out this strange world.  What’s more, this story provides a really surprising and rather challenging moral dilemma for its protagonist.  In short, this book continues to encapsulate the best things about the Bronze Age.

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Another beautiful, trippy Aparo splash page

Before we rejoin our hero and his silent girl friday, the SAG team tosses out another concept to populate this bizarre world, a new and interestingly designed race of aliens, quite ugly but also fairly unique.  They have an advanced ship that looks a bit like a fugitive from Star Trek, and they are apparently on the hunt for slaves!  They approach the blue colony sphere…thing…from the last issue and spot the Sea King and his companion fighting off a horde of the natives.  The giant-headed aliens are impressed with the scrappy pair’s prowess, so they decide to capture them.

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Trapped in a force field, the Marine Marvel and the girl are brought aboard the alien ship and imprisoned in glass tubes with the rest of the day’s ‘catch.’  Aquaman deduces that the strange beings are telepathic and have highly developed brains, what with their huge melon-heads and all.  It seems telepathy is a common feature in the life forms of this bizarre land, a nice little bit of internal consistency that doesn’t get remarked upon but which makes the setting feel more fleshed-out and believable.

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Then we get a moment that I really enjoyed, one of those ‘Aquaman-is-awesome’ scenes that this series does so well.  While the glass prisons are enough to hold most life forms, the Sea King is not so easily cowed.  Held in his cell by powerful mental force, Arthur proves once again how much raw willpower he can muster as, inch by agonizing inch, he forces his arm to move until he shatters the cylinder and escapes.  Then he proceeds to wipe the floor with the big-brained bozos, casually remarking that though they may be smart, they aren’t too much in a fight.  It’s a really great sequence, and demonstrates how well the SAG team handle the character.

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I LOVE this panel with Aquaman cleaning three of the aliens’ clocks at once!

The Marine Marvel smashes a door control to cut off reinforcements and makes his way to the bridge, still desperate to follow the telepathic ‘pull’ that had drawn him to that blue colony in the first place in the hopes that it would lead him to Mera.  Some experimentation allows him to discern the workings of the controls, and the inclusion of that scene helps to illustrate the attention being given to the telling of these tales.  It makes sense that an alien ship could not be instantly piloted by a stranger, so seeing Aquaman actually pressing the wrong buttons as he’s trying to figure it out is a nice nod to logical consistency and their efforts to create a believable universe.  As Aristotle said, impossibilities (like men breathing under water and traveling to other worlds) can be accepted, as long as the are believably possible impossibilities.

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Well, once he arrives back at the colony, we encounter the most interesting moment in the story.  Our hero realizes that the girl is still trapped, and he faces the choice of what to do with her.  He knows he is going to be charging into battle against overwhelming odds as he pursues his quest, and he also knows that the colonists are likely to kill the girl on sight because she was the one who fired on them.  Yet, if he leaves her behind, she is liable to become a slave…or worse!  It’s a compelling and puzzling moral dilemma with no easy answer, and Aquaman himself doesn’t instantly know what to do.  He wants to do what is best for the girl, yet what that might be isn’t easy to discern.  His decision is made quickly, but at least we are shown that he sweats over it.  He chooses to leave the girl behind as he continues to search for a way home.

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Now, I’m far from convinced that this was the right choice, and it is actually rather troubling to me that Aquaman abandons her.  While I rather think that Skeates intends it to be thus, it seems that, at the least, Arthur should have woken her up and asked her what SHE wanted.  Of course, given her beliefs, she might not have ‘spoken’ with him, even if he had done so.  It is truly a difficult situation, as he could not take her home, her life wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel in the new colony, and our hero knows nothing else about this weird world.  As he remarks, at least she is safe, for the moment.  Nonetheless, it is vexing, and the fact that this simple four-color adventure book had me puzzling over a moral conundrum is a testament to its quality and to its uniqueness in the current crop of comics.

Aquaman52_13.jpgWell, to turn back to our tale, the Sea King attempts to fight his way into the colony, but he is felled by a…*gasp* head blow!  Yep, poor Arthur gets a second spot on the Head-Blow Headcount wall.  I’m afraid it won’t be his last, either.  I will say this for the noggin knock, though, at least these alien inhabitants of this land might actually have the strength to knock our hero out with one shot, unlike the average humans who tend to do so.  Either way, his captors decide to carry him to the “Extermination Chamber”!  Dun dun, DUNNN!

What a great place for a scene shift.  We check in briefly with Mera and Vulko, who are monitoring Black Manta as he circles Atlantis.  Suddenly, the Manta-ship disgorges two divers, but what are they up to?  Well, we won’t find out this issue, as our scene shifts again, picking back up with our hero on his way to his dreadfully named destination.  He makes swift work of his three guards in a nice, dynamic sequence, and he realizes that he’s reached the source of the strange ‘pull’…but there is nothing there!

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Just then, Mera snaps and cries out that she needs her husband (calling him “Aquaman” instead of Arthur, which always bothers me as it seems quite unnatural), and in response, the startled Sea King suddenly finds himself growing…and growing…finally appearing in front of a very surprised Sea Queen!  What is going on?  Well, we’ll actually get our answers in the Deadman backup!

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It’s a surprising and intriguing ending, though I really dislike Mera’s panicked outcry.  The modern portrayal of Mera has its problems (for one, she’s now trained as a warrior and assassin and quite blood-thirsty…just like every other character Geoff Johns reimagines), but at least she’s a fiery, independent woman.  I like my Mera with more spirit, more moxy.  She should be no-one’s damsel in distress, especially with all the power she is packing.  Still, like I said with the last issue, I do enjoy the idea that both husband and wife are desperate to be reunited.  It’s sweet.  This outburst pushes things too far, though.

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The more interesting element is, of course, the controversial (to me, at least), choice that our hero makes this issue.  It is handled briefly, and the action moves right along, yet it is a really compelling moment that tells us about the character.  What do y’all think of his choice, readers?  What should Aquaman have done with the girl?  Feel free to weigh in through the comments.

Once again, the story suffers a bit from brevity, but it still manages to present us with a complete adventure, while also keeping us on the hook by raising as many questions as it answers.  Throughout Aquaman comes off as pretty awesome, powerful, capable, indomitable (other than that one head-blow…), and driven, yet still concerned about the girl who has fallen in with him, despite his own considerable problems.  I think the issue itself may not be quite as strong as the last one in all respects, but the episode with the choice provides enough interest and depth to push it up to the next level in my estimations.  Thus, I award it a very respectable 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Never Underestimate a Deadman”

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This Deadman backup provides a fun and interesting, if a bit uneven, conclusion to our main adventure, and it is followed by an Aquaman epilogue that I will cover in this section.  Neal Adams is in fine form, so the art is beautiful, but unfortunately, he is also handling the writing chores, and his prose tends to be a tad purple.  He also makes some rather odd choices with his captions, as when the boxes constantly urge the hero to hurry.  Still, it’s a fun yarn.

It opens with Deadman and the strange, dimension hopping Tatsinda arriving back on Earth after a stomach churning journey.  The Deceased Detective commits something of a faux pas by telling his now cat-shaped companion that he liked her better in the other world.  They encounter the Ocean Master moping about his betrayal of the man who he has come to realize is actually his brother, Aquaman.  In a really nice bit of characterization, there is an element of pride even in Orm’s remorse, a certain epic grandeur that reminds one of Milton’s Satan in a funny costume.  It is not just that he betrayed his brother, it is also that he failed to save him, and the failure itself, a failure to enact his will, is, perhaps, what galls him most.  It’s actually a wonderful character beat, and I think it captures something about Orm that is true about most great villains.  The central sin, the original sin, and the one that leads to worldly greatness both good and bad, is pride.  It must be the defining characteristic of any would-be world-conquering villain.  Magneto or Lex Luthor would be nothing, despite their individual causes, if they were not backed up by towering pride and will to back it.

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I’ll add, at the risk of sidetracking this commentary even further, that Ocean Master’s costume, though here it looks about as good as it ever does, is just a lost cause.  The light purple, almost pink cloak and pants, the whole color scheme…it just doesn’t have the dignity the character needs.  The later redesign that adopted a more serious color scheme looks world’s better.  The modern version is, like almost every single New 52 costume, overdesigned, but it has some good elements.  I like the scales that echo and reflect Aquaman’s armor, but the whole thing just doesn’t quite come together.  I think one more pass would get it right.  Unlike many folks, I actually quite like the helmet.  I think it is distinctive and interesting.  The new version refines it nicely, but I think it has always been a good trademark for the character, making the design pop.

Well, anyway, Deadman grows tired of listening to Orm’s monologuing as the fate of the world hangs in the balance, so telling Tatsinda to hang tight, he grabs the reins of the villain’s body, and uses him to infiltrate the aliens’ ship.  I bet you had forgotten all about these guys, huh?  Well, helpfully, we get a quick recap, and the invaders obliging explain their plan to “Orm,” since he is, after all, their ally.  They are going to flood the world with radiation from all of their emitters, and this will reduce the inhabitants’ intelligence, making them nice, tractable slaves.

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The ghostly hero decides to smash their devices, and by jumping from opponent to opponent, he makes some progress, but the aliens shut their brains down to thwart him (That has to be a VERY specific skill.  How often would it come in handy?  I mean, other than going to see a DC movie?).  Unable to use the aliens, Deadman begins to flit across the globe, controlling various animals to smash the devices, but he realizes that to get the central device he needs help, namely, Aquaman!  We discover what has happened to the Aquatic Ace.  Apparently the invaders don’t believe in taking life (an interesting touch), so to fulfill their bargain with Orm, they just shrunk the hero down, and he is now trapped in a microscopic realm on Mera’s ring.  Intense concentration can reverse the effects (sure, why not), so Deadman snags Vulko in order to prompt Mera into such an effort, and this triggers the Sea King’s return.

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Yet, is it all for naught?  The Dead Detective realizes that the time limit has expired!  Fortunately, it seems that his efforts were enough, even without destroying the central device…or were they?  Tatsinda tartly informs the smug spirit that it was, in fact, she, who saved the day.  She swam out to the ship and sabotaged the device so that it backfired, stupefying the aliens and forcing their withdrawal.  This is an unexpected and fun twist.  I enjoy Tatsinda’s self-satisfied recounting of her deed, and she also coolly informs our hero that no lady, no matter what her form, cares to be ignored.  It’s a fun little ending, even if it is a bit of an anti-climax.

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To add to the fun of this issue, the team also provides us with an accounting of the creation of these interlocked tales, which is, in and of itself, an enjoyable and interesting read.  I’ll reproduce it below so y’all can enjoy it as well.  Essentially, it was a collaborative idea that all the creators contributed towards, the story evolving as it was told.

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Anyway, the story itself was a good read, and Deadman’s frantic efforts made for good adventure fare.  In the end, these aliens just didn’t seem like that great of a threat, and that rather lowered the impact of the story.  I think that this is the weakest of the Deadman chapters, and the weakest chapter overall, especially considering the weight and enjoyability of the Aquaman section from this issue.  Still, those are pretty high marks to hit, and the tale deserves an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

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The epilogue reunites our two submarine superheroes, and the couple discusses the strangeness of the recent ordeal while also bringing the returned king up to date on Black Manta’s odd behavior.  Mera notes that she is, in a sense, the goddess of this bizarre microscopic world and speculates about other such places.  We know from the Atom that they abound, making the DCU Universe even more packed with life and wonder than is apparent.  It’s a neat concept, and it rather reminds me of the medieval idea that God would waste no space in creation, thus, every element and every area must have its life, its wonder, and its purpose.  It’s a lovely vision of the universe, and, though it raises endless questions, is great for a world of wonders such as this.  The issue ends with Aquaman calling out Manta and promising further adventures to come!

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Well, I am going to stop this post here, letting these two issues stand alone.  I’ve decided to start treating multi-feature books as multiple entries since their writing takes just as long as do multiple individual issues. That will also hopefully help me keep up a more rapid and consistent pace.  I’m trying to use this blog to discipline myself in writing, in part as training for my dissertation writing which is coming up soon, so hopefully this will aid that objective.  I’m also going to try to rein in my issue commentaries a bit, as they’ve grown more than I had intended, so you may look for more restrained summaries in the future.  As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments, and I hope you will join me next week as we tread further on our journey Into the Bronze Age!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Poor, poor Aquaman.  He becomes the second hero to make a return appearance on the wall of shame.  At least this time, it might make some sense.  I have to say, I expected we’d see even more entries, but I suppose we aren’t even a year in yet, are we?  Clearly, this trope is alive and well in the Bronze Age.

 

Into the Bronze Age: June 1970 (Part 4)

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Welcome to the fourth and final installment of my coverage of June 1970.  I’ve got an interesting pair of stories for you, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #389
  • Aquaman #51
  • Batman #222
  • Detective Comics #400
  • The Flash #198
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77
  • Justice League #81
  • Phantom Stranger #7
  • Showcase #91
  • Teen Titans #27
  • World’s Finest #194

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

Teen Titans #27

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Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda

Well, I wasn’t looking forward to this one; I’ll admit it.  Despite that, I also have to admit that this issue isn’t as bad as the previous one, though the stupidity of that story hangs around this one’s neck like an albatross.  This story is just…odd.  It is decidedly NOT a Teen Titans tale.  This is one of those late 60s space exploration movies, the ones that attempted to stay close to science fact.  You could easily pull the Titans out of this book and replace them with any generic space explorers, and it wouldn’t affect the plot one bit.  They don’t use their powers, they don’t don their costumes, and they don’t really DO anything.

Essentially, this entire story is marking time and reversing the unparalleled idiocy displayed by Mal last issue.  His pointless gesture of needless self-sacrifice, sneaking aboard to pilot a remote controlled space shot for Venus, prompts a frantic effort to save his demonstrably worthless hide.  The space program embarks on a crash construction project to create a new spacecraft to intercept and rescue Mal, saving him from his own stupidity.  (And you thought they went to a lot of trouble to save Mark Watney!)  The Titans are chosen to crew it instead of, you know, someone qualified.  They debate the worthiness of the young man’s actions as they prepare, somehow treating this whole ridiculous situation as if it had even the slightest shred of justification.  The best defense that his supporters can marshal is that Mal is ‘doing his thing.’  Yeah.  Great.  That’s tremendously compelling.

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I suppose I may be letting my bitterness about how asinine this entire story-line is show through a bit too much here.  I’m sorry, but as I’ve said, if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s logical inconsistency.  Well, the powers that be get the rocket built in time, and the Titans blast off, dropping a team off at the Moon for no discernible reason while Dove mans the controls of the main module, awaiting their rendezvous with Mal’s ship.  We get a two page roundup of the last several issues, and then we’re back in the present, and the present is mostly space procedural stuff.  You’ve got various readings being taken and reported, orders shouted, numbers and tossed back and forth, the usual.  Clearly, as we discovered with that Robin tale a while back, NASA and Apollo are on the brain for the creators and fans of 1970.

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Speedy, Hawk, and Wonder Girl (or generic astronaut’s 1, 2, and 3), the Moon team, land for their vague mission, but they discover that the materials left behind by Apollo 11 have mysteriously vanished!  The boys head out to search the area while the Amazing Amazon holds the fort.  The search proves fruitless, but when the two teens come back to the LM, they discover that the Lady Vanishes!  That’s right, Wonder Girl has disappeared as mysteriously as the Apollo 11 gear.

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Meanwhile, Kid Flash and deadweight, err, I mean Lilith, meet up with Mal.  The Fastest Teen Alive spacewalks to rescue their friend, but his tether to the module snaps.  He has to pilot them across space with a small jet propulsion device.  That’s right, he pulled an Iron Man, predating The Martian by about 40 years.

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We cut back to the Moon as those kids make their way back to the main craft, and we discover that a group of rather cool looking aliens, too well designed for the minor role they’re given, are the source of the strange happenings on Luna.  They appear carrying all of the missing items, including an unharmed Wonder Girl.  The creatures turn out to be friendly, and they share their story, which involved them leaving their home world to pursue strange radio signals, only to crash-land on Earth’s satellite.  They took the devices left behind by Apollo 11 to try to repair their ship, but when Wonder Girl explained things to them, they brought everything back.

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The kids depart, promising to send help soon (Superman could just give them a tow, I suppose), and all of the disparate craft link up, prompting their return journey, but not before Kid Flash earns some chauvinist points by responding to Wonder Girl’s statement that she was so happy to see him that she could kiss him by saying “Just like a doll!  Thinking of kisses when we’re still over the Moon!”  Classy Wally.

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On the way home, their oxygen mixture is off, and it drives them temporarily mad, setting them at each other’s throats.  Fortunately, the young speedster manages to have enough presence of mind to fix the problem, and they all make it home, safe and sound, where Mal will surely be thrown in jail for the rest of his natural life for stealing a multi-million dollar spacecraft and causing the expenditure of untold further sums to rescue his stupid self….at least, if there were any justice in the world…We end with an ambiguous tease for next issue that features little more than a woman screaming.

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This wasn’t a bad issue, taken strictly on its own merits, but not much happened and it was not, as I said, really a Teen Titans story.  The Nick Cardy art is beautiful, of course, though it makes me miss his Aquaman stories a bit.  This tale is fairly realistic, minus the aliens, and the attention to scientific detail, as well as the connections to the real and recent history of the space program, was surprising.  Unfortunately, it didn’t make for the most gripping of stories.  Of course, the whole of it is weighted down by the fact that the event that drives all of the action is insufferably stupid.  I’m looking forward to this current direction changing, as it doesn’t have much to recommend it.  The idea of these young heroes having to wrestle with the consequences of their actions is a promising one.  We’ve just seen an incredible movie dealing with the similar themes of the consequences of the use of powers in the form of Captain America: Civil War.  Clearly, the idea has legs.  This odd, pointless set of tales, however, aren’t worthy of setup.  I’ll give this particular story 2 Minutemen.  I’m taking off half a Minute for Mal’s imbecility.

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World’s Finest #194

World's_Finest_Comics_194.jpgCover Artist: Kurt Swan
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

This was a surprisingly fun story.  I read it a while back, and it didn’t make a big impression on me.  It is by no means the height of comic craft, but it is definitely solid quality Zaney Haney, fun and not too insane.  It holds together reasonably well and displays Haney’s mastery of creating interesting, memorable one-shot characters.  The tale features the World’s Finest team with all of their vast power facing off against the overwhelming threat of…the Mafia?  That’s right, we continue this month’s trend of superheroes fighting non-super threats.  At least this feels somewhat fitting for Batman, and it also seems like the type of thing that Superman would involve himself in if it was necessary.  He’s really a ‘no job too small’ kind of guy.

The issue opens with young Dick Grayson doing a familiar act, but one which the world has not seen for some time.  He is back as the last member of the Flying Graysons, performing at a circus for charity.  At the same time, Batman is there, keeping an eye out for anything untoward, as the circus owner, a fellow named P.J. Farnum (get it?) has been pressured by the mob.  Suddenly, while Batman is distracted by a hood threatening Mr. Farnum, the Teen Wonder finds himself facing the same deadly fate that claimed his family!  The wires for his high-flying act have been sabotaged, and he begins plummeting through the air.  He hits the safety net, but it too has been cut!  The last Grayson continues his perilous plunge toward a seemingly intractable fate, but at the last moment he is rescued by…a clown?!?

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That’s right, Superman was on hand as backup, undercover as a clown puttering around the ring in a little car.  It’s a fun visual to see Superman half in the disguise, looking goofy, but smiling and waving to the crowd.  There’s something rather fitting for the Man of Steel, that he would be so unconcerned with his appearance and reputation that he would dress up in a silly costume and hang around in the background, getting no attention and no accolades.  It’s silly, but it’s rather nice.

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Unfortunately, the mafioso responsible for this “accident” slipped away, but he is only a small fish in a the growing problem of the Mafia.  The World’s Finest team decide that they must put a stop to this sinister organization, and they point out that it isn’t just a matter of busting heads, as these guys are professionals, very slick and very careful.  Even if they catch the rank and file goons, the organization continues because the folks at the top are protected by the law, seemingly being legitimate businessmen.  Of course, one would be forgiven for thinking that this really shouldn’t be that much of a problem for Batman, who could just make the mob leader cry like little girls, whether he could prove anything or not, but we’re still dealing with a fairly Silver Age-y Batman here, one who lounges around eating oranges while Hanging out with Superman, and who also plays much more by the rules.

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Anyway, the heroes decide to have the World’s Greatest Detective and master of disguise infiltrate the Mob…ohh, wait, no, they decide to have Superman do that…yep, Superman disguises himself as a forger and arranges an ‘introduction’ to the mob by faking a job on one of their banks.  His chutzpah and skills impress the boss, and he gets an introduction to Karl Lukaz, the “Big Uncle” who runs the organization, a rather distinctive looking fellow with an eye-patch and a soft spot for canaries.  It is in this fellow that we see Haney’s ability to create memorable supporting characters for these brief, passing roles.  However, the boss of bosses doesn’t welcome the incognito Man of Tomorrow with open arms.  No, he has to pass a loyalty test.  Now, what would be a fitting test for a forger?  Perhaps, forging something?  No, no, nothing so mundane.  Lukaz wants his new friend to murder Bruce Wayne!  Dun dun, dunnnnn!

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That’s right, he wants the forger to do some contract killing.  How did this guy end up running a criminal empire?  Every manager worth his salt knows you should let employees stick to their specialties!  Well, the disguised Metropolis Marvel arranges with his friend for Bruce Wayne to be “killed” during a charity polo match, and the supposed playboy billionaire’s horse is quietly tranquilized, sending him on a terrible tumble.

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Despite “Big Uncle” pulling a surprise inspection of Wayne’s body in the morgue, the deception holds, thanks to Batman’s foresight.  For his troubles, Clark learns of a secret stash of evidence that Lukaz uses to ensure the loyalty of his “nephews,” a stash that would provide the authorities just what they need to take the entire organization down.  The hero bends all of his efforts to locating this Damoclean Sword of evidence, but despite using his abilities in many clever and creative ways (subtly scanning with x-ray vision, reading computer tapes with microscopic vision, and more) he has no luck.  It seems “Big Uncle” is too smart to leave his Achilles Heel unprotected.

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Meanwhile, Batman is beginning to act a bit strangely.  It seems the fall from his horse didn’t do him any favors, and he is having terrible head pains.  Nevertheless, at Superman’s urging, the Dark Knight agrees to infiltrate the Mob as well.  One does wonder why this wasn’t the first plan.  After passing Lukaz’s test with some quick thinking and smooth talking, Batman is in position, but his efforts also turn up nothing, so the pair decide to put “Big Uncle” on ice in the Fortress of Solitude and have the Masked Manhunter take his place in hopes of weaseling the information they need out of Lukaz’s lieutenants.

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I love the thought of Superman just dropping a criminal off in the Fortress.  It’s hilarious and strangely sensible.  After all, where are they going to go?  Anyway, a meeting of the major crime bosses sees Batman’s head-trauma bear bizarre fruit, as he shows up in costume, but still disguised as Lukaz.  What’s more, he exposes Superman and presents him with a kryptonite funeral wreath, leaving us on a strange cliff-hanger!  What has happened to the World’s Greatest Detective and what will become of the World’s Finest team?!

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This was a fun issue, though it was a bit odd and silly around the edges.  The idea that Superman would be the one to go undercover really is rather strange, especially since his partner is the World’s Greatest Detective.  It does feel a bit like burying the lead.  Despite that, I enjoyed seeing Clark having to reason his way through his challenges, using his powers in subtle, careful, and thoughtful ways.  He can’t just punch his way through this problem.  Instead, he has to be clever, and I enjoy seeing Superman employ his brains.  Batman doesn’t get all that much to do, and his head-blow induced personality change (not quite right for the Head-Blow Headcount, sadly!) is an old device.  I’m curious to see where it will take us next issue.  This was enjoyable, and Haney managed to give the mob boss some personality instead of having him just be a stock character, the generic gangster type.  It was definitely a step up from last month!  All things considered, I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.

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Final Thoughts:

So, how did this set of issues seem to y’all, my fine readers?  Personally, I think this was a pretty strong month.  We had some great stories, like JLA and Aquaman, and we also had a delightful surprise with Manhunter 2070!  That by itself was enough to make this month memorable.  In addition, we had a much more famous debut, with the introduction of Man-Bat.  Even though that comic wasn’t necessarily the greatest, it was exciting to see a classic symbol of the Bronze Age make his first appearance.  Of course, we also had some clunkers, like Teen Titans and GL/GA.  Yet, even missteps like these are beginning to look different.

These aren’t just groaners like the occasional bad Superman comic, overly goofy Silver Age pieces outliving their era.  No, these are issues that are much more the outworkings of a certain climate of ideas, products of their time.  As ham-handed as O’Neil’s writing was in the Green Lantern book, he was trying to wrestle with interesting and challenging themes.  In the same way, the Teen Titans book, despite the stupidity of the driving force of its plot, was a love letter to the space race and the culture’s obsession with the subject.

Though there wasn’t as clear of a common theme as there was last month, there were definitely some interesting trends to be noticed.  We saw hints of the social tensions of the day in the Batgirl backup and even, in a very subtle way, in Aquaman, with the Girl Friday’s shocking willingness to kill purely for the sake of prejudice.  Of course, we mustn’t forget the trendy Batman story featuring the Beatles…errr….I mean the “Twists.”  All told, this was a fun, interesting month, with some good touchstones for the changing culture and the changing genre.  Of course, we’re still seeing inconsistencies across the board, with certain characters evolving in one book but not another.  I’m curious how long such disconnects will continue.

Well, that’s it for June 1970!  I hope you enjoyed this trip with me, Into the Bronze Age!  Please join me next week as we begin our examination of July!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We had Batgirl join the not so illustrious company of the Wall of Shame this month, though Robin is still in the lead.