Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 1)

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I’m back at last!  Welcome readers and friends, to a long deferred new edition of Into the Bronze Age!  My world wandering has come to an end for a while, but it seems like Lady Grey and I only started to recover when we found ourselves swamped by the beginning of the semester!  Our adventures were excellent but exhausting, and for a while after we got back, we did as little as possible.  Now we’re running to catch up!  The semester has proven much busier than we anticipated, and I find myself getting smashed by my dissertation work, so updates will be intermittent for a while.  I will be happy to return to my Bronze Age ruminations and to my modding projects, though, and I was glad to find time to finish this post, which sat half-way completed for a month!  Here’s hoping that the early days of Fall will have some wonder left in them for all of us.

This month we’ve got several super, but not exactly superb, tales, featuring Superman and Supergirl, as well as some deeds of Detective derring-do.  Let’s check them out!

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


This month in history:

  • Walt Disney World opens in Florida (the only Disney of my youth)
  • Tennis star Billie Jean King becomes 1st female athlete to win $100,000
  • Social Democratic and Labour Party continues its boycott of the Northern Ireland Parliament
  • Northern Ireland PM and British PM meet and agree to send an additional 1,500 troops to Ireland
  • John Lennon releases “Imagine”
  • US and USSR perform various nuclear tests
  • Jesus Christ Superstar premieres
  • 2 killed in racial violence in Memphis
  • Pittsburgh Pirates beat Baltimore Orioles, 4 games to 3 in 68th World Series
  • Last issue of Look magazine is published
  • A group of Northern Ireland MPs begin a 48 hour hunger strike against the policy of Internment
  • West German Chancellor Willy Brandt is awarded Nobel Peace Prize
  • Nobel prize for literature awarded to Pablo Neruda
  • Troubles continue in Ireland, with several IRA members killed in various confrontations with police and troops
  • IRA explodes a bomb in Post Office Tower, London
  • U.N. agrees to admit the People’s Republic of China
  • Films of note: The French Connection, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Last Picture Show

We’ve got another month with the Troubles continuing in Ireland and racial unrest continuing in the States (Get used to seeing those words; they aren’t going away any time soon).  Yet, there are also a number of interesting cultural events that take place this month.  I’m rather surprised that the Florida Disney World opened this late.  I rather thought it had opened shortly after the original location.  We also get the release of several memorable films, including a childhood favorite of mine, Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

To me, the most interesting of these events is the debut of Jesus Christ Superstar because it says rather a lot about the spiritual state of the country, with its humanized, un-deified Christ and its focus on a sympathetic Judas.  It’s a good show, one that I’ve enjoyed, but it is certainly a product of its time and, in terms of its dubious theology, very much a product of the modern world.  It is human nature to want to confine the cosmic and limit the illimitable.  As soon as you grant the deity of Christ and the significance of his appearance, he goes from a ‘wise philosopher’ who talked about how people should be nice to each other to a God whose existence makes certain demands upon us.  This is is a significant part of the reason that we’re always trying to rewrite the historical Christ, trying to redefine him as something that will demand less of us, no matter how little sense such revisions might make.

On a more grounded note, this month’s chart topper by a clear margin is Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” which is a great song with a lovely, bittersweet tone to it.  It’s interesting, and in context of the history and culture of its day, the song feels even more fitting.

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Action Comics #405


Action_Comics_405

“Bodyguard or Assassin?”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“The Red Dust Bandit!”
Writer: Don Cameron
Penciler/Inker: Howard Sherman
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Haunted Island”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler/Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Most Dangerous Bug in the World?”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got a weird one to start us off for this month, just an odd duck from start to finish.  It has a solid enough cover, with some type of mysterious threat presumably lingering just beyond the image and Superman in an iconic pose, but it isn’t really all that dynamic.  The story inside is similarly uninspiring.  It begins with the Man of Steel answering an urgent summons from the President.  Notably, we aren’t treated to the conventional shadowed figure of a non-specific president.  No, this time we see the Commander in Chief clearly, and he and his security chief, General Trevis, scan the Metropolis Marvel before he is admitted to the Oval Office, citing fears of assassination.  Apparently, a mysterious malefactor left a message on the President’s desk, declaring that an enigmatic assassin named Marsepun would kill the head honcho at 9:00.  Note the name.

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Well, to protect the President from this would-be killer, Superman, upon advice from Trevis, takes him to the automated base, Tonacom, hidden in a mountain in a secret location and supposedly impenetrable.  Once inside, the Action Ace is given an overview of all of the defenses guarding the only way in, but suddenly communications with Trevis fritz out and the sensors detect an intruder barreling straight through the base’s protections.  To make matters worse, the evidence indicates that it is somehow Superman himself who is fighting his way inside to kill the President.  The Man of Tomorrow realizes that it is his voice on the assassin’s message and that the name, Marseupun, is just an anagram for his.  Hands up if you saw that one coming.  In the face of all this, the Kryptonian begins to lose his grip.

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The many moods of Superman

Now, this could have been an intriguing, suspenseful sequence…if Bates hadn’t immediately revealed that Trevis is behind it all.  He’s working for a secret organization that doesn’t want the President to sign a peace deal that will lead to nuclear disarmament, and he’s set Tonacom up as one big trap, combined with a hidden thought-scrambler designed to turn the Man of Steel psychotic.  In an attempt to calm the increasingly agitated hero, the President narrates some of his “spectacular acts of courage in the past,” leading to a weird couple of pages with flashbacks to non-existent stories.

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Despite all of the Chief Executive’s efforts, as the intruder gets closer, Superman gets more enraged.  Suddenly, the vault door of the base explodes inward and the Action Ace is confronted…with his reflection.  Yep, that’s it.  This confirms that he’s been the assassin all along, and he turns against his charge, who shoots him with a “gamma gun.”

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Unfortunately, the politician’s beam reflects off of his invulnerable target and strikes him instead.  Trevis has been watching and recording all of this, planning on using the video to chase Superman from the Earth, but suddenly, the Man of Steel explodes, revealing that he is in fact as well as in name, a man of steel, a Superman robot.

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Destroying all of the evidence, Trevis flees, but when he reports to his masters, they tell him he has failed and execute him through the phone (neat trick, I wonder if it works on telemarketers…).  Just as he dies, he sees the President, still alive, but it is actually Superman in disguise.  While searching for the authors of all of this misfortune, the Metropolis Marvel thinks to himself that the President was suspicious of Trevis for weeks, and that the two of them had planned this sting to catch him.

action 405-19Superman controlled his robot with a remote, a remote with some very specific buttons and used….*sigh*….”Super Ventriloquism” to speak for it.  Sadly, his efforts to track down the spy ring behind the assassination attempt meet with failure, as he follows their signal to a phone booth on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean….only to have the device explode after a mocking message.  That’s a lot of preparation for not a lot of payoff, but I suppose the shadowy organization knows its business.  The story ends with the notice that it was an imaginary tale and that the danger still exists…which seem like rather contradictory ideas.

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This comic could have had an interesting, suspense-story vibe, as Superman wrestled with whether or not he was losing his mind, but Bates decided to discard the suspense, and with it, most of the interest of the story, by revealing, not only the villain, but the entire plan as well.  Superman’s twist feels like a bit of a cheat, and it makes his narration of his previous deeds rather ridiculously boastful in retrospect.  The end result here is just awkward.  Bates couldn’t quite decide what he wanted this story to be, and so it is a loose collection of ideas that don’t resolve into anything worthwhile, despite some interesting potential.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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“The Most Dangerous Bug in the World”


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The backup is forgettable but solid enough.  It begins with a boy bumping into Clark Kent on the street and planting a tiny ‘bug’ on him that would have been science fiction in 1971 but is pretty commonplace today.  This device fits unnoticed in the newsman’s pocket and yet can transmit several blocks away.  Is this some nefarious scheme by Lex Luthor to learn Superman’s secret identity?  Nope, it’s just dumb luck.  The kid is the grandson of an inventor who wants to show off his new bug to some investors.  He sent the boy out to plant it on some poor schmuck, which seems wildly unethical to me.  The men, unconcerned with the inventor’s casual invasion of privacy, then proceed to listen in on the private life of this random stranger.

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However, because the stranger is the Man of Steel, what they hear is unusual.  First, they hear him typing at super speed, and then, after he gets a distress call from a small space ship from an antimatter universe, they hear him flying at super speed.  They can’t make sense of these sounds at first, and the Action Ace’s rush to the aid of the antimatter astronauts brings them confusion.  The aliens tell him that if they make contact with the Earth, both it and they will explode in a cataclysm as matter meets antimatter.  Now, I’m no physicist, but wouldn’t they already be in contact with molecules of air…which is matter…so wouldn’t they already have annihilated the planet?

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Comic book science aside, the Man of Tomorrow leaps into action, ensuring that there will actually be a tomorrow after all.  He burrows a path through a mountain and then pulls them ship up into space in his slipstream.  Guiding the craft back to the rift through which they had accidentally passed, he sends them home, only then realizing that there is a transmitter sending out a signal from his pocket.  Meanwhile, the scientist has, with a rather astonishing leap in logic, figured out that he’s listening in to Superman, and the kid, feeling bad for having accidentally exposed the hero’s secret (this is why you don’t spy on people!), confesses to Clark.  Of course, Mr. Mild-Mannered covers, and that night he shows a film of Superman, featuring the same sounds, and informs his audience that he previewed it in his office, allaying the eavesdropper’s suspicions.

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This is not a bad little story, though a bit silly in the convenience of its logical leaps.  I rather wish Bates had played the mysterious sounds for a few more laughs, as that could have been a fun source of humor, with the scientist trying to convince his investors that the device really was working properly.  Still, it’s a fine if forgettable tale.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  The art in both of these stories is good, in the usual ‘Swanderson’ style, with some really rather nice bits in both strips.

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This comic had classic Vigilante and Aquaman stories as backup strips, and they were a lot of fun.  The Vigilante yarn was very much Lone Ranger-style Western rather than straight superhero, but it was nonetheless a neat surprise, as was the super charming Ramona Fradon Aquaman tale.  I’ll have to do a feature on those classic Aquaman stories one of these days.


Adventure Comics #411


Adventure_Comics_411

“The Alien Among Us”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inkers: Bob Oksner and Steve Englehart
Editor: Joe Orlando

“The Wedding That Wrecked the Legion”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: John Forte
Inker: Sheldon Moldoff
Letterers: Vivian Berg and Milt Snapinn
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“Warrior Shepherd”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Joe Orlando

Our Supergirl story this month is an interesting one, with a bit of a 50/60s morality play sci-fi feel, something of a cross between The Day the Earth Stood Still and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”.  It’s a little surprising that this comic is from 1971 rather than 1961, at least until you notice the fashions.  On an unrelated note, this is the second month in a row where we’ve had a cover with a kid blindly wandering into danger as Supergirl rushes to help, which is rather random.  Someone at DC had child endangerment on the mind.  The cover image itself is okay, though the alien is more odd than menacing, really.

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The tale begins with the news crew getting a report of an alien entering Earth’s atmosphere in some type of transparent capsule, and Linda slips off to go investigate the matter, with Nasty all set to follow, only to get trapped into staying late and typing up order forms, thankfully putting a temporary end to her inane quest to discover the secret she already knows about Supergirl’s identity.  For her part, the Maid of Might zooms up to discover a strange looking space traveler on his way to the surface, but the gasses that form his clear cocoon begin to react violently with the atmosphere, and while she is putting out fires, the creature slips away.  Let’s leave aside for the moment how the creature can slip away from someone with super vision and super speed…

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The stranded space traveler has crash-landed on Earth, and he decides to investigate a native city before he tries to contact the inhabitants for help.  He meets with entirely predictable paranoia, fear, and cruelty, being attacked by three apparently myopic young misanthropes, who don’t seem to pay much attention to the fact that he’s seven feet tall and green.  The antagonized alien easily disables the punks without hurting them, only to then be accosted with about the same level of restraint by the gendarmes.  The cops pretty much immediately attack him, giving the creature only the briefest of warnings before they shoot to kill.  Remember, at this point, as far as anyone knows, he hasn’t done anything aggressive.

 

Fortunately, the bullets bounce off the alien’s armored skin, and the enraged being tries to toss the cops, car and all, away, only to be stopped by Supergirl who catches his metallic fastball.  When she tries to capture the creature, he vanishes, leading her to be summoned to a meeting of a bunch of soulless bureaucrats in suits, who chew her out and tell her not to interfere anymore as they set out to kill the innocent extraterrestrial.  The Girl of Steel objects, but not on any humanitarian grounds, instead arguing that capturing this sentient being could be scientifically advantageous….which is way too cold -blooded for the character.  We do get a brief note mentioning that Supergirl had helped cure the bird-people from her previous adventure, which is nice to know but is obviously an afterthought.  Apparently someone noticed that she totally abandoned those folks last issue.

 

The next day, the city is panicked, and citizens are attacking anyone who is different, thinking they may be the alien in disguise.  The Maid of Might has to intervene again and again to rescue different innocents from angry mobs.  The source of all this fear, meanwhile, is hiding out in a basement, scared and lonely himself, when he is discovered by a young boy.  The child befriends the being, feeding him, and in return, the traveler heals the young boy’s arm, which had been useless since birth.

 

Unfortunately, the boy’s father discovers the alien and reports him, leading the bureaucrats and the police to ambush the hapless creature.  After promising he won’t be harmed if he surrenders, they immediately open fire, while Supergirl stands by and watches, ineffectually objecting but not doing anything to intercede as they murder the innocent alien.  That’s really the most unforgivable part of this issue to me, that Linda, who absolutely has the power to prevent this tragedy, doesn’t act, all because some jerk in a suit tells her not to.  After the space traveler is struck down, we get the standard sci-fi ending, as the boy rushes to him, pleading innocence in the ambush, only for his newfound friend to forgive him before he dies.

It’s a surprisingly grim ending, and unnecessarily so, especially since Supergirl could and should have interceded to prevent it.  This is particularly surprising considering the growing independence of thought and increased moral maturity that we’ve been seeing in these books.  We’ve seen Superman and Supergirl both buck corrupt authority….but not this time.  Nonetheless, this isn’t a bad issue, though it doesn’t have enough space to do everything it is trying to do.  It definitely feels like a classic sci-fi morality play, but in order to create that atmosphere, Albano mishandles his protagonist and rushes to reach his “the real monster is man” ending.  It’s still a relatively decent tale with some emotional weight behind it, and the too-brief scenes with the boy and the alien are actually rather charming.  Bob Oskner’s art is functional throughout, though his alien is suitably strange, yet sympathetic, and he does a great job portraying the creature’s very human fear and despair.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, with it losing some points because of Supergirl’s portrayal.

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Detective Comics #416


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“Man-Bat Madness!”
Writer/Artist: Frank Robbins
Colorist/Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Deadly Go-Between!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Rex-Circus Detective!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Sy Barry
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Case of the Gold Dust Death”
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Letterer: Ira Schnapp
Editor: Jack Schiff

Detective Comics this month brings us another tale of that Bronze Age staple, the macabre Man-Bat!  We have an intriguing yarn in this issue, as Frank Robbins is handling both the art chores and the writing, and the result is unique and striking.  Neal Adams does a great job with the colors, and the pair create a really nicely moody and eerie adventure that is a bit ahead of its time in style.  The whole effect reminds me of books from the 80s and 90s, especially the limited-color palette Dark Horse Star Wars books like Dark Emipre.

The story itself begins at a quiet, subdued wedding ceremony where Kirk Langstrom and his fiancee, Francine, finally managed to tie the knot without anyone bat-ing out.  Batman himself watches over the ill-starred couple, and after the ceremony, he gives them a gift, a case full of his Man-Bat antidote.  The gift comes with a warning, as he doesn’t know how long the original dose will last.  The pair of newlyweds swear never to go down that monstrous road again and prepare to build a life together, though they realize they can never have children for fear of what they might become.

 

After their honeymoon, Langstrom destroys his formulas and vows never to experiment again, but when someone uses a prototype sonic device elsewhere in the museum, a change comes over the scientist,  Working in a frenzy, he prepares a new batch of his mutagen.  Fortunately, the device is shut off before he takes the devilish draught, and Kirk locks the new formula away, rushing off to meet his wife at the opera, complete with stylish and totally not portentous cape.  This whole sequence is just wonderfully rendered, capturing the oppressive madness of the scene, with Langstrom’s face distorted by beakers and cast in somber lines by dim lights.

At the opera, all is well until the violinist starts to play, and the high-pitched sound once again affects the scientist, who begins to revert to Man-Bat!  Francine tries to give him the antidote, but, hilariously, the prima donna’s solo aria shatters the ampule.  Completely transformed, the Man-Bat once more takes flight, pursued by Batman, who was also attending the show.  After a brief fight, the monster flees to the subway, railing against the moon that he fears controls him and declaring his own independence from outside forces.

Man-Bat invades a subway train, causing a panic and an emergency stop, which in turn causes an electrical fire, trapping the passengers.  In a nice moment, Batman appeals to his alter-ego’s remaining humanity, and the pair rescue the hapless travelers and together lead them out of the blackened tunnel.  Yet, once the deed is accomplished, Man-Bat once again escapes from the Dark Knight, arriving at his lab, where Francine awaits him.  However, this time the monster has no compassion for his mate, and he knocks her aside and drinks his new formula, intending to remain Man-Bat forever.  Fortunately, Batman beat him to punch, switching the vial with a new antidote.  The experimental serum cures Langstrom, perhaps forever (what are the chances of that, huh?), but it is still untested, so only time will tell.  The couple may even be able to have children. I’m sure that couldn’t possibly go horribly wrong.

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This is a fine little adventure, but it is too brief to be really successful.  We get some nice moments, and the sequence in Langstrom’s lab is great, but the whole thing resolves a little too quickly and too easily.  In general, this story just needs more development, especially the element with the sonic triggers for Langstrom’s transformations.  There’s an interesting angle there, but it’s left entirely unexamined.  I like Batman’s appeal to Man-Bat’s “ember of humanity”, and it’s nice to be reminded that the creature does have a heroic streak.  Throughout, Robbins’ artwork is just striking, and his work on Man-Bat’s face is really quite exceptional.  The furry, monstrous, yet wonderfully emotional visage is very effective.

His figures get a little cartoonish at times, which really doesn’t fit the tone or themes of the story, but overall, I quite liked his work here.  He gives several scenes a wonderful dramatic weight and definitely evinces a good sense of storytelling, even if his style is a little off at times.  It’s unusual but enjoyable.  So, all-in-all, this is a solid and interesting tale.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, with the unusual art raising it above average.  On a different note, this Man-Bat appearance struck a chord in my memory, and I found myself reminded of Spider-Man’s foe, the Lizard.  There are a lot of similarities between these characters and their settings, down to a long-suffering wife and the tragic regularity of their backsliding.  I wonder how intentional the parallels were, as the Lizard had premiered a decade before at Marvel.

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“The Deadly Go Between”


Detective Comics 416-18

Our Batgirl backup for this week is a solid story, which begins with the funeral of one of Gotham’s Finest, a close friend of Commissioner Gordon, killed in the line of duty.  Gordon swears to catch the fiend responsible and works himself ragged in search for the mysterious murderer.  When the Commissioner gets an enigmatic call in the middle of the night, Babs listens in, worried about her father, but she gets quite a shock.  The voice on the line claims to be Batgirl, and the real girl detective hears her lure Gordon into some sort of trap, claiming to have found his friend’s killer!

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Heading out to catch her impersonator and protect her father, Batgirl discovers her doppelganger, only to be captured by a pair of thugs acting as backstops for the duplicitous Dare-Doll.  Meanwhile, the bogus Batgirl leads Gordon to a meeting of radical political group, claiming that their leader killed the Commissioner’s friend, just because he hates cops.  The scene is accompanied by some very goofy slang, as the fellow is described as an “ice-the-pigs radical”.

In the interim, our real red-haired heroine’s situation hasn’t improved any, as her two captors prepare to toss her off the roof.  She manages to turn the tables on them and escape, rushing to trace her father, while he and her criminal counterpart await the departure of the fall-guy, Zed Kurtz, who the false Batgirl is certain will kill Gordon when confronted.

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This is a fine first part of an adventure, and I’m certainly curious to see how it will all play out.  The one real weakness is the ease with which Babs is captured.  She’s sneaking up on her double, and the dialog tells us she’s alert and scanning for trouble…and then her captors just materialize next to her.  That section could have been handled better, but that’s a fairly minor quibble.  It’s nice to see Gordon get something a spotlight, and a duplicitous version of our dynamite dame protagonist is an interesting angle.  Heck’s art is really a bit better this issue, with no real weak points, and he brings a lot of detail and richness into his setting and backgrounds.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.

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Alright my friends, that wraps up this edition of our little Bronze Age ballyhoo.  I hope that some of my dear readers are still out there and check in every once in a while.  I’m sorry for the long delay and hope that we’ll be able to meet more often going forward.  This was a solid batch of books with which to reconvene, but the next set looks to be much more memorable, including another Mr. Miracle, but also the conclusion to the Green Lantern/Green Arrow drug story!  Check back soon for more Bronze Age goodness and a little comic craziness.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!