Solomon Grundy was born on a Monday, and Into the Bronze Age was born, fittingly enough, on a Saturday. Not quite as catchy though, is it? Nonetheless, here we are on a Thursday with a brand new set of Bronze Age comics to cover. Welcome readers, to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age! We’ve got the finale of our JLA/JSA crossover, another episode from Kirby’s Fourth World, and some Superboy shenanigans to peruse in this set, so let’s get to them!
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Justice League of America #92
“Solomon Grundy – The One and Only”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
“The One-Man Justice League!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
“Space-Enemy Number One!”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Julius Schwartz
This month brings us the second half of this year’s JLA/JSA crossover, which promises another entertaining tale. Adams’ cover, though dramatic, is a bit lackluster, with Grundy being a bit oddly proportioned (which actually fits the art within, sadly), and the image being a bit plain, other than the forms of the fallen heroes. Nonetheless, it proves accurate, as the comic opens with the League and Society forces on Earth-2 defeated and at Grundy’s none-too-abundant mercy!
Grundy is at his most monstrous and, unfortunately, so is Dillin’s art. While the swamp creature’s size was inconsistent last issue, it gets rather ridiculous this month, with the monster changing size from panel to panel like his name is Hank Pym. Grundy’s size switching aside, things look dire for our heroes until Superman comes to and slaps his foe’s ears back, freeing himself and distracting the zombie while the others escape. Through brief check-ins with the aliens, we learn that the young extraterrestrial boy, A-Rym is beginning to fade, but his plight remains unknown to the Leaguers and Society members. To make matters worse, none of those heroes efforts prove effective against Grundy.
Meanwhile, in the Batcave, the two Robins are recovering, and the Earth-2 elder gives his young counterpart an alternate costume of his, and we’re introduced to the Neal Adams design for new Earth-1 Robin threads. As a fun Easter Egg, Adams himself gets referenced by the Adult Wonder in the story. The costume itself isn’t perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over the by now wildly inappropriate getup of the Pantsless Wonder. It’s got a lot of potential, and upon later revisions, it will turn into a really wonderful costume. For my money, the version that showed up in Batman: The Brave and the Bold is just about perfect and one of the all-time best Robin looks. Interestingly, this costume is presented to the audience as a possible change for Dick in the main DCU, and the editor invites fans to write in if they want to see it. Sadly, the response must have been underwhelming, and we got another decade of Robin’s bare legs. That’s a crying shame.
Anyway, after a brief check-in with Barry Allen on the Satellite, where his wife comes to care for him, which is sweet, we’re back to the gathered champions as they regroup. Hal whips up a temporary power ring for his counterpart, and the pair of them peel off to tackle Grundy while the Hawks head out to capture the kid. The Robins arrive and give the Winged Wonders a hand, recovering Alan Scott’s ring in the process, but it is the youngest member of the team that finally ends the struggle. Teenage-Grayson connects to the scared young alien. Realizing that the yellow-skinned being is no monster, he comforts the poor kid. This scene also features a rather cool moment where the Teen Wonder uses his new costume’s ‘wings’ to glide in for a punch. How did this not become his costume?
Meanwhile the two Emerald Crusaders clash with the zombie menace as he tears through the countryside, but individually their diluted rings are too weak. Finally, combining their willpower, they knock Grundy out. When the original Lantern recovers his ring, the green team seals the behemoth in his swamp. The tale ends with teams on the two Earths managing to put the pieces together and reunite the pair of alien menaces, converting them to just a boy and his dog and saving both of their lives. With their energy signals finally strong enough to detect, the boy’s brother is able to recover him, and the League and the Society have a friendly farewell.
This is a fun adventure, though it shrinks the scope of the story a bit from the previous issue. It’s always enjoyable to watch these two sets of heroes go into action together, and everyone in the Earth-2 group gets something to do. The action scenes are nicely balanced that way. Yet, Friedrich doesn’t bring too much color or depth to their interactions, with the exception of the incongruous generational conflict from the previous issue. He does bring that weird forced drama between the Hawks and the Robins to a conclusion, with everyone shaking hands and parting friends. That element continues to feel rather pointless, and even the characters themselves seem to have little time for it. Unfortunately, this yarn once again displays the rather sappy tendencies of “Touchy-Feely” Friedrich, but his excesses aren’t too noticeable in this outing.
This issue does have some real weaknesses, though, with the resolutions feeling far too simple and convenient. You have the combined might of the Society and League beating on Grundy for most of two issues, and then the two Lanterns just zap him unconscious in two panels, which seems more than a little anti-climactic. The wrap-up to the kid’s plot is also a bit quick, but if you’re living in the DC universe, I suppose you’d get used to drawing connections between strange events. After all, they almost always end up being linked! Sadly, one of this story’s biggest weaknesses is the art. Dillin’s not at the top of his game, so the action is often stiff and unattractive, but he is juggling a pile of characters. All-in-all, this is a fun if flawed conclusion to the first adventure. I’ll give it 3 Minutemen. The interesting premise of the first chapter doesn’t quite live up to its potential here.
P.S.: One of the cooler facets of this issue is the teaser that it carries for the next, which shows Batman, Green Arrow, and my favorite, Aquaman, lined up in the crosshairs of an assassin! Exciting!
New Gods #4
“O’Ryan Gang and the Deep Six”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby
“The Secret of the Buzzard’s Revenge!”
Writers: Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Jack Kirby
Editor: Whitney Elsworth
We’ve got another issue of the most epic of Fourth World titles this month, and it’s got another rather lackluster cover. All of the action is crowded into the bottom half of the page by the cover copy, and the unbalanced image full of squashed, disproportionate figures, is not the King’s best work. Sadly, that’s true of what lies within as well.
We start with something very promising, something perfect for the cosmic drama of Kirby’s Fourth World, as Metron takes a young New Genesis student on a space-and-time spanning trip in his Mobius Chair, visiting a primeval world, ruled by massive, monstrous beasts and equally monstrous men. Kirby gives us a stunning double-paged splash as the enigmatic scholar of the New Gods philosophizes about the stages of human development, making an interesting observation that humankind is much more willing and capable of higher spiritual development once “their bellies are full.” Once the pair return home, they are greeted by Highfather, who solemnly informs them that one of their number has fallen…on Earth!
On that beleaguered world, Orion has discovered that fallen comrade, the aquatic Seagrin, whose body is being pulled out of the waters that were ever his home. The warrior is moved by the death of his friend, and he calls on the latter’s Mother Box to return him to the Source, which she does in a fiery explosion full of Kirby crackle. This is a striking scene, demonstrating both the King’s dedication to the elevated tone of his tale, with this death establishing the stakes and the seriousness of the conflict, while also showing his prodigious creativity, as he invents an interesting looking character just to kill him off without even a single panel of life.
As the holocaust abates, the Black Racer is seen tearing through the flames, having claimed the life of a god! We get a very brief check-in with his supporting cast as the Racer returns to the paralyzed form of Willie Walker, and then we see that the drama of the moment has been observed by Darkseid, but none of this amounts to much.
Meanwhile, Orion returns to his collection of human allies, who helpfully recap their names and motivations, which is necessary because there’s very little memorable about them. The New Genesis warrior explains that Darkseid has imported a device to hide the Apokaliptian presence on Earth, which is shielding his minions. Orion explains that the warlord has probably entrusted it to his human servants in Intergang, so he plans to use his own ‘gang’ of humans to find and destroy the machine. Using Mother Box, the Dog of War tracks down an Intergang member, and he and Dave Lincoln shake the fellow down to discover the device’s location.
At a remote spot on the edge of the city, lovely Claudia Shane decoys the guards by faking a stalled car, only to gas them with the help of New Genesis technology (Note the wonderfully distinctive yet visual consistency with which Kirby depicts even something as simple as a switch). With the way clear, the rest of the gang moves in, and the timid businessman Victor Lanza confronts the local Intergang headman, “Country Boy,” pretending to be the consigliere of the “O’Ryan Mob.” He bluffs the apparently not-too-bright boss into showing off the incredible hi-tech device that Darkseid entrusted to him, allowing Orion to destroy it. Man, Darkseid is so going to kill that guy.
With the jammer destroyed, Mother Box is able to pinpoint one of Seagrin’s killers, the leader of the devious Deep Six, Darkseid’s aquatic shock troopers. Setting out to challenge this fiend, known as Slig, the Dog of War heads into the sea, but his foe is ready for him. Apparently the Six have the power to mutate sealife into vicious and useful forms, and Slig uses this ability to capture Orion in grasping tendrils of seaweed. The warrior is able to escape by triggering the Astro-Force, but it is a desperate and dangerous maneuver that leaves him stunned. And it is there that our tale ends!
This is a slightly disappointing issue, really. It has a wonderfully imaginative cosmic opening, and the scene where Orion finds his fallen friend is somewhat touching and dramatic. Yet, those promising beginnings feel a bit squandered in the story that follows. The action as Orion’s crew chases down the Intergang stooges is entertaining enough, but it feels uneven and a bit anticlimactic after the more bombastic events of the previous issues. His helpers remain rather underdeveloped and continue to feel mostly unnecessary. The teenage kid literally contributes nothing to this issue. It doesn’t help that the main antagonist, “Country Boy,” sadly lacks the interest and personality of the other Intergang representatives we’ve seen, like “Ugly” Manneim and Steel Hand.
Yet, unfortunately, the biggest weakness of this issue may be the art, or perhaps it is the inking. Colletta over-inks several of these pages, drowning out detail and hurting the artwork. Kirby’s pencils themselves are not at their best either, most notably with Orion. There are some wonderfully cosmic, imaginative panels and pages, but their execution is often either a bit off or they are drowned in ink. Nonetheless, there are still wonderful Kirby-esq moments, like the destruction of the Apokoliptian device and the opening sequence. Despite those weaknesses, though, this is still a fun issue. While it feels a bit more like it is marking time than really advancing the plot, the ride is enjoyable, and there are some interesting stops along the way. I’ll give this uneven issue 3.5 Minutemen. It’s still a bit above average. It’s entertaining, but I imagine it’s one of the weaker issues of this title. Speaking of future stories, I’m looking forward to Orion’s showdown with the Deep Six, which I remember being a really cool issue, one that took more advantage of the setting and scope of Kirby’s Fourth World.
P.S.: Once again, this issue includes a backup of a classic Kirby tale from the Golden Age, this tiemas well as a few pinups of Fourth World characters.
“Our Traitor Super-Son!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano
“Plague from the Past!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Ohh joy, another entry in the grand tradition of Super-Dickery. This one certainly ticks the usual boxes, too, with an unnecessarily convoluted plot by our hero that has him acting like a complete jerk to those that love him most. I’ve got to say, this is one trope of the Silver Age that I really don’t miss, as the payoffs were rarely clever enough to justify the logical acrobatics the writers required from their characters or their plots. The cover for this issue sets the stage well enough, even if its not a particularly compelling image (and the lines of its ‘ceiling’ don’t quite make sense). For once, the promise of the cover is delivered within, though the tale begins in more traditional fashion. Young Clark’s ‘Earthday’ celebration with his parents is interrupted by reports that the “Mothball Fleet” has suddenly up and set sail, seemingly on its own. Has Skynet finally achieved sentience?
Not quite. After a nice two-page spread in which Superboy is attacked by strange weapons mounted on the old ships, only to disable them with his freeze-breath, the Boy of Steel is confronted by a video message from the author of these strange events. The prosaically named “Cerebron” (I wonder what his gimmick could be) declares that he was controlling the fleet and begins to make some threats before we cut away to the young hero towing the frozen fleet away. Yet, the storytelling breaks down a bit here, and the fact that the conversation continued between panels isn’t really obvious, which actually caused me some confusion when I read this yarn.
Back in Smallville, Pa Kent is busy loading up produce for his general store (I always forget that he had this store in this era of the comics), when Superboy suddenly swoops in with the police hot on his heels. The Boy of Might declares that Kent is selling tainted food, and the police haul him away. Tests prove that the youth’s accusation is accurate, and the Kents are locked up. I’ll give Dorfman partial credit. While Ma Kent does the usual “how could he treat us like this!” bit, Pa is more level-headed and points out that there must be a good reason. After all, they know their son wouldn’t hurt them intentionally. Now, if only the payoff will justify his faith…
Meanwhile, the Smallville Superstar quickly removes all traces of his heroic identity from the Kent household. He’s not a moment too soon, as shortly after he leaves, Cerebron and a henchman arrive and investigate the premises. Apparently, the cerebral supervillain can track the young hero through a special pair of glasses that detect a radiation trail he is leaving behind. Finding Superboy’s trail but no trace of his connection to the house, Cerebron slinks away.
While this is happening, Clark is staying with Lana’s family since his parents are in jail, and Lana is none too impressed with Superboy’s having put them there. Slipping away, Clark gets into costume and moves his various hi-tech gadgets into a temporary base in a nearby asteroid, only to have it immediately discovered by Cerebron. Instead of fighting his foe, Superboy detonates the base while he slips away with his stuff, apparently afraid it might be damaged in a fight. That’s a pretty weak excuse to pad the story out for a few more pages, but Dorfman hurries past it.
Over the next few days, the hero and villain play cat and mouse, with Cerebron finding his foe each time Superboy establishes a new base. Apparently, every time the Boy of Steel tries to attack Cerebron, his ship vanishes…and somehow the kid with a zillion types of vision can’t find it. Of course, all this time, Ma and Pa Kent are rotting in jail. Finally, our young hero decides to set a trap for his persistent enemy, and he establishes a base in an wrecking yard, which he seals when Cerebron’s invisible ship enters. Once again, why X-Ray vision can’t detect the ship is anyone’s guess. Despite not being able to see the sinister Cerebron, Clark comes up with a clever solution. He just uses his heat vision to turn the inside of the base into an oven and forces the villain to surrender or be cooked.
Finally, Superboy captures the clever criminal, unmasking him as Lex Luthor in the process. We are also treated to an explanation of the story, with Lex reminding us that he hates Superboy because he made him bald. What an utterly ludicrous motivation for a great villain! The whole bald angle is a great extra element to the character, illustrating as it does Lex’s pride and vanity, but it should really be ancillary. It’s just so hilariously absurd that it’s treated as the entire motivation in some of these stories. Nonetheless, baldy’s plan wasn’t bad this time. The fleet was a diversion, and its guns really just coated Superboy in radiation that his nemesis could track. During the unclear intermission where Cerebron threatened the hero, we see that he claims to have figured out the Boy of Steel’s secret identity and promises to kill the Kents if he interferes again. Thus, Clark faked their arrest in order to protect them…which is fine, but why in the world would he not tell them? Apparently, the police knew all about it, so it seems that he can trust the police to keep the secret, but not his own parents. That’s just sloppy writing, which is to be expected from Dorfman.
This is a decent enough story despite the goofiness of that device, if more than a little silly and convenient in some places. I would say that Superboy’s cruel mind games against his parents justify as abuse, though. The different scenes as the Boy of Steel travels from base to base are fun, if poorly justified, and his eventual method of capturing the crooks is pretty clever. I’ll give this slightly below average tale 2.5 Minutemen, largely on the weakness of the poorly used Super Dickery.
“Plague from the Past”
The backup, on the other hand, is a solid and enjoyable little yarn, brief and rushed, but effective nonetheless. It begins with Superboy smashing into an Egyptian tomb in which his friends Professor Lang and Lana have become trapped during a dig. Once they’re freed, the Boy of Steel helps them examine the various artifacts of the site, including an hourglass dedicated to Anubis, God of the Dead, which can supposedly reverse time. The youthful hero impetuously tries the device, but nothing happens. Interestingly (abd honestly rather surprisingly for 1971), the characters note that all of these cultural treasures must be turned over to the Egyptians. Still, the thankful government is so pleased with Lang’s discovery that they reward him with a small sampling of his finds, including the hourglass.
Arriving home in Smallville to a grand parade, that very artifact falls off the float, only to be caught by Superboy. Later on, the Boy of Steel volunteers to open the sarcophagus in case there are any more booby traps, but when he does, a strange sparkling gas seeps out and immediately strikes his friends down while leaving him unaffected. Blowing the gas out the window, he rushes them to the hospital, but the deadly plague spreads rapidly thanks to his unthinking reaction! Shortly the whole town is stricken with the strange disease, even the hero’s own parents. There’s a nice little moment where Superboy has a realization about what his invulnerability means in light of a world full of very vulnerable humans.
In desperation, the Smallville Superstar employs the hourglass of Anubis once more, noting that, despite the fact that he doesn’t worship the Egyptian deity, he has certainly come to believe in his power. The artifact works, and the young Kryptonian is hurled backwards in time to the parade earlier that day. The hourglass falls once more, and stunned by his temporal journey, he fails to catch it. Nonetheless, Superboy is elated, and he carefully releases the death cloud from the sarcophagus into space this time, protecting his town.
This simple adventure is fun and has a nice, if abbreviated, emotional beat for our young hero. It is more a gesture towards deeper storytelling than anything significant in and of itself, but it is still a nice touch. One of Superman’s greatest challenges is how to care for the fragile beings that surround him, even in settings like the Justice League. I also like the twist with the magic hourglass, that it required belief, and the plague certainly provided impetus for that. I’ll give this entertaining tale a solid 3 Minutemen.
And that will do it for this batch of books! We had three very different titles. The next post will feature a pair of Super-books, including the finale of Denny O’Neil’s year-long Superman saga. Come back soon and see how he wraps his storylines up. Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!