Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome, readers, to the Greylands and to the beginning of another month’s journey Into the Bronze Age!  We recently finished May, 1971, and with this post we start our voyage into June of that year.  We’re off to a really interesting start, with some intriguing Superman stories and the first appearance of a classic Batman villain which I have been eagerly awaiting since O’Neil began to plant the first seeds of his arrival several issues ago.  That’s right, this month is witness to the coming of the Demon’s Head, R’as Al Ghul!  That makes this a red-letter post.  Let’s see if the character lives up to his reputation in this first appearance!

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:

  • The Ed Sullivan Show aired its final episode, ending an era of entertainment
  • Soyuz 11 takes 3 cosmonauts to Salyut 1 space station, but crew found dead on return
  • Willie Mays hits 22nd and last extra inning home run
  • North Vietnam demands U.S. end aid to the South
  • US ends ban on China trade
  • The New York Times begin publishing excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, classified documents on the long history of the U.S. in Vietnam
  • An Orange Order march causes a riot in Londonderry in North Ireland
  • Various groups boycott the opening of the North Ireland Parliament
  • International Court of Justice asks South Africa to pull out of Namibia
  • Supreme Court overturns draft evasion conviction for Muhammad Ali
  • Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards sentenced on drug charges
  • Notable films: Le Mans and McCabe and Mrs. Miller

The ending of the Ed Sullivan Show seems to me to mark the ending of a certain element of innocence in American entertainment.  Can you imagine a TV host today that had so little screen presence?  Well, aside from Jimmy Fallon, but clearly that talentless personality black hole made a deal with the devil.  It’s the only way to explain his career.  At any rate, that event shares this month with a new tragedy in the Space Race, as several cosmonauts die during a mission.  Of course, tragedies are in no short supply on Earth itself, and Ireland continues to bleed, while tensions continue to rise.  It’s a shame that the turmoil on the planet was mirrored, in a fashion, in space.  On a lighter note, the ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll’ reputation of the genre is further cemented by the antics of the Stones.  I imagine this isn’t the last time such a thing would happen.  It’s an interesting month, all told.

The top song this month and into the next is Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” which I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever heard.  That’s unusual.  It’s rather melancholy song about the end of a relationship, which seems somehow fitting for this month.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Action Comics #401


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“Invaders Go Home”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Boy Who Begged to Die!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

It seems last month’s Lois Lane issue was not a fluke, but rather presaged something in the zeitgeist.  We start off this month with another comic story depicting the plight of Native Americans, and penned by Leo Dorfman of all people.  I have to say, I wasn’t expecting this.  The comic has a provocative cover, showing the Man of Steel defeated and helpless before a band of tribesmen. Interestingly enough, this image is not a cheat, but of course, it doesn’t tell the whole tale.

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The story begins with Clark Kent using his ‘mobile news room’ to cover the anniversary of of statehood for an unnamed region in the southwest where a train is carrying tourists to a celebration.  Suddenly Indians appear, armed with bows and arrows, braves on motorbikes!  Mr. Mild Mannered thinks its part of the show until they start firing arrows at the cars and he sees a fire on a bridge ahead.

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Shifting into Superman, he carries the locomotive to safety, only to discover that the flames were just a harmless slogan, part of some type of public stunt on behalf of the local tribespeople.  The motorized raiders take off, but the Man of Steel is able to trail them easily enough, smashing into the cliff in which they’re hiding and confronting them.  Yet, he finds that their leader is a man named Don Hawks, now going by Red Hawk, who was a leading astrophysicist.  The young man has come home to help his people, and he takes the Man of Tomorrow on a tour of their plight today, showing him the pitiful state of their tribe.  The fiery leader explains that all of the surrounding region used to be theirs, but the white settlers had stolen it all from them.

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In a scene evocative of Kanigher’s great racial story, we then visit an improvised Indian classroom where the children, and Superman, are given an education on proud heritage of the people to counteract the negative stereotypes to which they’ve been exposed.  Interestingly, the beautiful teacher, Moon Flower (sounds more hippie than Hopi), teaches her students about the technological achievements of native populations like agriculture and the Mayan calendar, but she also mentions their own mythical superman, Montezuma.  Now, I figured this was just Dorfman talking out of his hat, making up ‘Indian superstitions,’ but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is a legend surrounding Montezuma II.  He apparently became the focus for many southerly tribes’ legends about the ‘King in the Mountain’ archetype.  Most cultures have such a legend, regarding a famous king who will return at an appointed hour to save or to avenge, like King Arthur for Britain or Frederick I in Germany.  Apparently Dorfman actually did a bit of research for this story.  Color me impressed.

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Anyway, after his education and tour, the Man of Steel is, naturally, much more sympathetic to the native people’s troubles.  Finally, Red Hawk takes the hero to “Montezuma’s Castle,” a massive plateau that is sacred to his people but has been taken over as a rocket testing site for a major company (oh-so-cleverly bearing the acronym G.R.A.B.).  The Metropolis Marvel wants to help, but despite his efforts to mediate, the president of the company, Frank Haldane, refuses to budge, insisting that their weather studies have shown that this is the perfect location for their projects.

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Just then, Red Hawk’s uncle, Old Snake, the medicine man of the tribe, appears and promises to drive the white men away with magic, using mystic sand paintings.  The impatient young man will have none of his uncle’s superstitions, however, and when Superman flies away laughing, he is deeply shamed by what seems like contempt for his people’s ignorance.  Yet, it seems Old Snake is as clever as subtle as his namesake, and his painting of lightning brings a massive storm.  Only the Man of Steel’s timely arrival saves the base.  The hero repairs the damage, earning the ire of Red Hawk, who resents this apparent betrayal, though Moon Flower is more sympathetic, seeing that his is only doing his duty.

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Next, Old Snake apparently summons a tornado, but once again the Man of Tomorrow intervenes to prevent damage.  It is then that we learn that he and the medicine man have been in cahoots, with the Kryptonian actually creating the disasters in order to drive the rocket company away.  Of course, he also feels obligated to fix what he breaks, but he’s hoping that they will wear the stubborn Haldane down.  Their last gambit, creating an earthquake, might have been successful, but Old Snake is, after all, quite an old snake, and he dies of a heart attack during the excitement.  The GRAB folks are relieved, but Red Hawk unexpected declares that he has learned his uncle’s secrets and will carry on his work.  He invites Superman to come to their camp that night in order to show him.

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When the Action Ace arrives, he is confronted by another sand painting in the form of his shield and a strange red jewel.  Red Hawk declares that he has used his magic to sap the hero’s powers and his men jump the astonished Kryptonian who suddenly finds himself unable to resist.  They truss him up, and the story ends with the native leader declaring that they will trade Superman for their land!

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There is a lot going on in this comic.  On the one hand, Dorfman is engaging in the traditional, ‘all Indians are the same’ trope in some ways, as with the train attack, evoking as it does the classic cowboys and Indians stories that were about Plains tribes.  Still, since some of those elements were meant to be part of a publicity stunt, it isn’t as bad as it might be.  On the other hand, Dorfman is using a pastiche tribe, the Navarros, as opposed to a real people group, and thus he avoids misrepresenting a real tribe.  He also includes traits that are indicative of southwestern tribes, like the sandpainting.  But he blends those with mythology that has more to do with Mexican and Central American peoples, with the Montezuma legends.  It’s a bit of a mess, but it is clear that his heart is in the right place, and the result is certainly less sloppy than Kanigher’s recent effort.

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I like Superman’s wry self-assurance here.

Dorfman gives us a positive overview of native peoples, stressing their development and the fact that they weren’t just ‘savages.’  He also sympathetically portrays their modern plight and their extremely legitimate grievances with the folks who stole their land.  Notably, Superman is unable to simply resolve the conflict.  His powers, which he willingly uses to aid the righteous underdog here, at the expense of the rich and powerful, are still not sufficient to solve the problem.  This, as fantastical as his efforts are, results in a more mature, effective story.

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Quite a striking image, the native leader standing triumphantly over the symbol of the white status quo.

It’s a solid tale on its own merits, featuring common and enjoyable Superman plot devices, but given the social agenda that it promotes and the attempt, however uneven, at accuracy and respect, it is more than the sum of its parts.  Swan’s art is great, as usual, but he really does a great job with some of the unusual parts of the tale, like the poverty and despair evident in the Navarro village, and, to his great credit, he generally depicts the tribesmen wearing at least some modern clothing, which immediately sets this comic apart from the last Indian yarn.  All told, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as it is a moderately provocative, at least slightly challenging story, especially for 1971.  I’m quite surprised it came from ‘dopey Dorfman,’ who usually tells pretty silly stories.

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“The Boy Who Begged to Die”


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The backup tale for this issue is also quite provocative.  It presents our hero with an intriguing ethical quandary, which is the type of story device that I always enjoy.  It begins with the crash of a small meteorite in the center of a small town called Masonville.  Superman, flying over, happens to see the commotion and comes to investigate.  He waves the crowd back and does the natural thing for him, examining the hunk of space junk with his x-ray vision, but this turns out to be a fatal mistake!  The radiation from his vision (which contradicts at least one explanation for how those powers work, I’m sure) triggers a reaction in the rock, turning it into a drastically unstable bomb.  He can’t move without triggering a massive explosion, so he orders an evacuation of the town.

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The people flee, trusting in the Man of Steel, and soon they are outside a mile perimeter, and not a moment too soon, because the hero realizes that the reaction is increasing, and thus the yield of the explosion will increase as well.  Just then, a young man with a broken leg limps slowly up the Metropolis Marvel, wondering where everyone is.  After a quick explanation, the boy, who was in the basement of the orphanage and was forgotten in the hurried evacuation, realizes that, hobbled as he is, he could never escape from the blast in time.  What’s more, every moment Superman delays in detonating the meteorite–turned-bomb, the larger the radius will be and the more danger to the townsfolk.

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action-401-26-04 - CopyDisplaying incredible courage, the young man insists that Superman do what he must, choose the greater good over his single life, and detonate the bomb.  The Action Ace is paralyzed by indecision.  He can’t bring himself to willingly kill this boy, yet he knows that if he doesn’t, thousands more could die.  This is a great moral puzzle for the Man of Steel, but his motivations are a bit off.  Instead of focusing just on the boy’s life, he thinks about his vow to stop hero-ing if he takes a life and the consequences of that, which is a little immature reasoning.

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Nonetheless, the situation is one of great tension, and the youth decides to take matters into his own hands, taking responsibility for his death upon himself as he tries to set the rock off by hitting it.  Yet, his efforts are too little (which does rather make me think that Superman could perhaps have flown it away, but that’s neither here nor there).  Finally, in an effort to force the Kryptonian’s hand, the young man takes his cape to create a noose.  Just then, Superman drops the meteorite, creating a powerful explosion that just barely misses destroying the huddled townsfolk.

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After the debris clears, we discover that, as he always does, Superman found a third way.  Inspired by seeing the boy carrying his invulnerable cape, the Man of Tomorrow used his super breath to blow the cape around the youth, then detonated the bomb, trusting in the Kryptonian fabric to protect the young man.  It works, and the boy survives, though he is badly injured.  Superman rushes him to the hospital, and we get a happy ending.

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This is a pretty great story for only seven pages.  It puts Superman in a genuinely challenging situation, one which his powers cannot outright solve, which is always a good source of dramatic tension for the incredibly powerful character.  I really enjoyed the fact that the Man of Steel was unwilling to sacrifice even one life, even to save thousands.  That’s the core of the character right there.  There are only really three flaws.

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The kid is a bit too willing, even anxious to die.  I can certainly see a virtuous and courageous young man coming to that decision, but it should have brought with it at least a little turmoil.  This youth seemed positively chipper about annihilation.  In the same vein, Superman’s anguished reaction misses the emotional core of the moment, focusing on his future career rather than the guilt of taking a life.  Finally, the protective powers of the cape are really a bit ridiculous if they can survive the explosion we’re shown here.  No matter how invulnerable the cape is, the kid inside would be jelly!  Of course, Bates only had seven pages to work with, and he fit a lot in.  So, we’ve got a tale with impressive aspirations and a great concept, though it is a bit immature in execution.  It’s still a good read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #407


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“Suspicion Confirmed”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Henry Scarpelli
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

While this month’s Superman stories present us with engaging and challenging moral dilemmas, this week’s Supergirl tale attempts to follow suit…with rather less success.  This issue of Adventure is quite a convoluted journey.  Unfortunately, it’s continuing the rather pointless plotline from the last issue, with ‘Nasty’ Luthor still trying to find concrete proof of Supergirl’s secret identity, as if she is a cop instead of a supervillain.  Last I checked, due process just doesn’t mean that much to megalomaniacs bent on world domination.  The issue does have a fairly nice cover, the standard dramatic confrontation angle, with a hidden (though obvious) figure challenging our heroine with knowledge of her secret.  Though Linda’s figure is a tad awkward, it’s otherwise a nice looking cover, with the unusual angle of looking out from the closet.

The tale inside begins where the last left off, with Linda Danvers in the hospital following her undercover heroics in the burning building.  With her super powers returning and her wounds healing, the girl knows she must escape before she is examined, and the arrival of a critically injured police officer provides her with the opportunity she needs.  Notably, the officer is black, which is a little detail that you wouldn’t have seen that long ago.  There’s also a funny little scene where Linda, clad only in a stolen sheet, hails a cab, and the unflappable cabbie doesn’t even bat an eye.

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Back at the office, Linda is greeted as a hero, but Nasty’s suspicions continue.  Yet, celebrations are short-lived, as there is a new story in the offing.  A man named Renard has come to them with a mystery he wants their help to solve.  He’s recently bought a reputedly haunted theater, and it has been plagued by strange occurrences, so he wants the news crew to bring their cameras down and find the culprit…which really seems less like a new crew’s job than a private detective’s job…or you know, the Ghostbusters!  “Who you gonna’ call?”  Random reporters, apparently.

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Sekowsky does give the fellow an interesting face…though he doesn’t have Geoff’s dynamite fashion sense.

Johnny, Nasty, and Linda head to the theater that night and set up different camera posts to cover the place with high-tech film gear in the hopes of snaring the would-be specter.  As the night rolls on, the silence of the place is split by a scream, as Nasty observes Johnny being carted off by a grisly-looking phantom.  Of course, the villainess is just waiting for such an opportunity to catch Supergirl in the act.  Just like her cousin, the Maid of Might is facing a terrible choice, intervene and reveal her secret or do nothing and leave her friend to an unknown fate.  So, she does what any hero worth their salt would do and finds a third way…ohh, wait…no she doesn’t.  She just sits there and watches her friend get abducted, possibly sacrificing his life to protect her secret.

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This is a huge problem.  The character rationalizes her choice, thinking about how much she would lose if she were exposed, and slightly more appropriately, how it would endanger her family, but she’s still utterly failing in her responsibilities as a hero.  These are realistic concerns, but there’s no emotional weight behind her struggle.  If she had good reason to believe that Johnny wouldn’t be harmed, that would be one thing, but she has no such guarantee, and her inaction could easily end in tragedy.  In fact, when the police arrive and search the place, they find nothing.  And then…she still doesn’t intervene.  Instead, she goes to Kandor for a fashion show.  Picking up her new, indestructible costumes, the Girl of Steel leaves her friend to his fate while she plays dress-up.  It’s not her finest moment.

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While there she sees the Professor, who is at work on creating an antidote for his anti-superpowers pill.  As she returns, she has the utterly silly thought that her new costume, which looks almost exactly like her OLD costume, will somehow give her an edge when she confronts her foes because it will confuse them.  Because apparently they aren’t capable of extrapolating minor changes.  She must think that getting a haircut really messes people up.

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My friend may be getting turned into clothing by a grisly monster as we speak, but yay! Fashion!

Back on Earth, her boss, Geoff, is fed up with the police’s lack of progress, so he decides to head a team going back to the theater…with more cameras.  Because that worked so well last time.  They do precisely the same thing, and, astonishingly, it works about as well the second time around.  This time, it is Nasty who is snatched, so Supergirl actually gets into action, but she misses the phantom.  In a particularly stupid detail, the police, seeing footage of the event, decide that the girl dressed almost exactly like Supergirl, who has a giant ‘S’ on her chest, must be a stranger in league with the monster.

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Geoff, feeling somehow responsible for sending two people to an unknown fate, takes a gun and goes down to the theater, which, had he done earlier, probably would have solved the problem.  Yet, Linda calls the police on him, defying his orders, and intervenes as Supergirl, another course of action that could have resolved this whole situation much earlier.

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Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen…

Using her conveniently working X-Ray vision, she locates a hidden passage and follows it down, just in time for her powers to very conveniently conk out again.  In the tunnels under the theater, she finds the two captured reporters as prisoners of a surprisingly well-spoken phantom, who reveals his boss…Starfire!

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The femme fatale seems not to have died in her plunge from the castle window after all…on which I’m definitely going to have to call shenanigans.  We didn’t see a body in that sequence, which I attributed to the era, but we did see what seemed to be a lifeless hand sticking out of the water in the last panel, which seemed pretty darn clear.  According to the villainess, she just swam under water and hid until the authorities left.  Pretty shoddy job on the part of the police.  ‘No body?  Ehh, she’s probably dead.  Let’s go get dinner!’

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The page in question

Covering the captives with a pistol, the spurious specter has Supergirl between a rock and a hard place, and the villains capture her, dropping her into a tank of acid.  Fortunately, the Maid of Might is still wearing her invulnerable uniform, so she flips her cape over her head, feigns agony, and endures the immersion until her bonds burn through.  Then she leaps out, breaking Starfire’s hand (!) to stop her drawing a gun, and capturing the villains with a flying tackle.  The story ends with Supergirl taking her prisoners to the police station and unmasking the phantom as Mr. Renard.  Finally, we see the gang joking about going to a show, while Nasty still plots to pin Supergirl down.

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It’s all very Scooby Doo, isn’t it?  That last scene especially is just a bit ridiculous and cartoonish.  The story is entertaining enough, though the book continues to suffer from Sekowsy’s dramatically uneven artwork.  There are some genuinely nice layouts, interesting angles, and nice panels…and then there are the usual bunch of downright ugly pages.  The bigger problems are Supergirl’s complete failure as a hero and the fact that the center of the book just feels like so much running around, with three different trips to the theater and the unnecessary side-trip to Kandor.  Starfire’s return and convoluted plot seem beneath her as well.  This is quite a ridiculous setup.

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“And we would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling Kyrptonains!”

She has her henchman pretend to haunt his theater in the hopes of attracting Supergirl’s attention?  I can’t help but think there must have been a simpler way to accomplish that.  The slippery master-villain also suffered a very ignominious defeat.  She plagued the Girl of Steel for multiple issues at a time previously, proving a suitable nemesis for our heroine.  And here, she gets taken down with fairly little fan-fare, just dumped in the local police station, and then forgotten about.  It’s a waste of a character that had a certain amount of villainous credibility built up.  In the end, I’ll give this silly story 2 Minutemen, though I’m inclined to give it less because of Supergirl’s unheroic performance.  It is particularly egregious in light of the much better told Superman story dealing with the same kind of dilemma that it shares space with this month.

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Batman #232


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“Daughter of the Demon”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

It’s finally here!  The debut of R’as Al Ghul, one of the greatest Batman villains created after the Golden Age, and arguably the most significant to the character in recent years, following his revitalization in Batman Begins.  I have been eagerly awaiting this issue, remembering it fondly from my previous read-through of the Bat-books, and, perhaps most significantly, from the wonderful adaptation from that best of Bat-worlds, Batman: The Animated Series.  The episode “The Demon’s Quest,” is an extremely faithful translation of this story, so much so that I was really struck by that when I first read the comic, having started my Bat-experience with the cartoon.  The episode in question is an excellent one, but that is no surprise considering the source.  Timm and Co. had an affinity for elevating their material, capturing the potential in every story and character and presenting them in all of their archetypal and dramatic power (though the recent release of Batman and Harley Quinn indicates that this is sadly no longer the case).  Yet, their task was an easy one in this case.

I loved R’as Al Ghul already from his appearances in B:TAS, and I was excited when I encountered him in this book and in his subsequent appearances.  I have been particularly looking forward to returning to his first appearance here, both to see if it lived up to my memory and to experience it in its original context among the DCU.  I’m very pleased to say that I was definitely not disappointed.

I supposed I’d better begin with the iconic cover, which is dramatic and nicely symbolic.  There are a few problems with it, but the biggest is the fact that it gives away the twist of the entire issue!  The thrust of the book’s mystery is the identity and agenda of the enigmatic Al Ghul…only that mystery is solved, in part, before you ever open it, as the villain is clearly orchestrating whatever is happening to Robin.  The other issue is the slightly distracting cover copy and the odd coloring of the ghostly Al Ghul.  I like his spectral image, but I think there is a little something missing from the execution.

Nonetheless, the tale within does not disappoint.  It begins with the Teen Wonder stealthily returning to his room one night at Hudson University, only to be ambushed within by a pair of gunman who shoot him down!  Now, having seen the cartoon episode first, I didn’t really appreciate how big a moment this, or that which comes later, really was.  I was just watching the familiar patterns of a well-known plot, but in context, I now realize that this is a really shocking event, with shadowy figures awaiting, not Robin, but Dick Grayson, in his home!  From the first page, the stakes are set as being extremely high, and we are given to understand that this is definitely not your normal adventure.

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A short time later, Bruce Wayne receives a most distressing envelope bearing a picture of his unconscious ward and a simple note, “Dear Batman, we have Robin!  Save him if you can!”  Once again, I read right past this the first time, but here is a note, sent to Bruce, but addressed to Batman.  The message is clear, and it is only made clearer by what will happen later.  First, Bruce swings into action, heading to Wayne Manor in order to use his mothballed crime lab to examine the note.  Now, this raises a bit of a question, as why would he not have the same type of facilities in his Penthouse headquarters, but it seems clear that O’Neil is taking a bit of a mini-tour of the Batman mythos in this book.

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The truly shocking moment comes when, upon reaching the Batcave, the Dark Knight is surprised to find that he has visitors!  An intense looking man in a cloak with a looming servant/bodyguard greet him, calling him by his real name!  This is R’as Al Ghul, who explains that he discovered the Dark Detective’s identity by deduction, reasoning he would need to be wealthy and meet certain criteria.  Bruce unmasks and accepts all of this with a truly surprising lack of reaction.  It seems quite out of character, and the mysterious man’s explanations seem far too simplistic, but these issues, while not given entirely adequate explanation by O’Neil in this issue, can be reconciled by what we learn by its end.

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Batman232-05The Caped Crusader does demand to know what the intruders want, though, and Al Ghul reveals that his daughter has been taken as well, and he wants Batman’s help in rescuing her.  The hero recognizes Talia, the girl he recently rescued from Dr. Darrk and, realizing that they have a common cause, the great detective gets to work.  A microscopic examination of the note reveals residue of an herb used by a far eastern cult of killers who have their headquarters in Calcutta, so the trio take off for the orient!  As they leave, Ubu, Al Ghul’s servant, makes a big deal of allowing his master to go first, and the Dark Knight quietly takes the man’s measure.

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On the flight, we see a Batman that has been developing in the last few years but has not, I think, been seen in such clarity before this point.  He sits in stoic, brooding silence, replying to his companion’s questions about his composure that he must control his emotions because he has a job to do.  The character’s portrayal throughout this issue is of the driven, collected, self-possessed Dark Knight Detective that came to define the best version of the concept, and this scene is a striking departure from the grinning, joking Batman that we’ve seen even recently in the rest of the DCU (Bob Haney doesn’t count, of course).  During the trip, we peer into the Masked Manhunter’s reverie and see him remembering his origin, that terrible night when a boy’s innocence died along with his parents and something hard and pure was born in its place.  We get a capsule version of the familiar origin story, complete with his adoption of Dick, with a focus on the self-sacrifice and dedication that his destiny demanded, further establishing this issue as a new beginning.

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In Calcutta, an old beggar is accosted by some street toughs, only to reveal himself as Batman, terrifying the low-lifes and forcing information out of them about the “Brotherhood of the Demon.”  Finding his way to their supposed headquarters, the Dark Knight enters first, only to be pounced upon by a leopard!  In a great sequence, the hero uses his strength and agility to grapple with the great cat and break its neck.  The danger passed, the detective notes that the animal was a trained guard, though the only thing in the room is a desk with a map of the Himalayan Mountains.  He claims there is a faint scratch tracing a route, and R’as offers to finance a mountain expedition.

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Later, on Mount Nanda Devi, the trio continue their search, following a clear trail, and Neal Adams includes what I have to think is Deadman’s face in the mountainside.  I wonder if this is near Nanda Parbat!  To continue their search, the travelers must scale the mountain, and Batman leads the way, though R’as takes a moment to admire the beauty of their surroundings, admitting to a love of desolate places that is positively Romantic, a nice character moment.  Suddenly, a shot rings out, and the mystery man seems to be hit.  Batman launches a desperate swing from the cliff-face to elude the gunman, and when the attacker follows, the hero springs from the snow in which he had secreted himself to take the assassin out.

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Interestingly, the Caped Crusader’s knows something we don’t, and he approaches the hidden camp of his enemies brazenly, walking boldly through their armed sentries and telling them that he knows they won’t fire.  As he strides into an inner chamber, he sees Robin and, ignoring the guards, secretly slips his partner a knife.  Just then, a masked figure enters, but the Dark Knight has had enough and declares that he knows the whole score.  From the very beginning, he knew that the entire quest was all a show, recognizing that R’as Al Ghul’s convenient appearance was all-too transparent, and his suspicions were confirmed when Ubu, always solicitous of his master’s honor, let the hero walk ahead of him when danger awaited.  Batman also fooled them with the map, lying about the scratch, but they took him to this mountain nonetheless.

Batman232-21Having vamped long enough, the Masked Manhunter asks the Teen Wonder if he’s ready, and they clean house, taking out the gathered assassins in a nice sequence that only suffers from having no backgrounds.  Then, the Dark Knight snatches the mask from the robbed figure to reveal Ubu, who decides to try his luck.  But Batman isn’t impressed by the man’s size or strength, and he flattens the hulking bodyguard in another great sequence.  Finally, R’as and Talia Al Ghul are revealed, and the Dark Detective confronts them, demanding an explanation for the dangerous game that the enigmatic man has been playing.  Al Ghul responds simply that his daughter loves the hero and, being inclined to retire, he wanted to see if Batman were worthy of being his successor and….son in law!

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What an ending!  The look of complete surprise on Batman’s face in the final panel had to be mirrored in that of many a fan as they read this book.  Of course, I knew it was coming, but trying to put myself in their shoes, I really felt the impact of this twist.  Readers must have been on the edge of their seats waiting for the next issue!  Reading this book in context really emphasizes how important and innovative it was.  This issue is the culmination, or at least a culmination, of all of the reworking and renovating that O’Neil had been doing in his Batman stories, and this is, in many ways, a new beginning, a line drawn in the four-colored sand, declaring that ‘what comes next is to be something new, yet classic,’ something that returns to the core of the character and positions him in a world worthy of him.

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This is the Batman I love.  This is the Batman that was translated so wonderfully into the Animated Series.  This is the Batman that realizes the character’s potential and takes advantage of the archetypal power of the concept.  He is dark, driven, intimidating, hyper-capable but believable, marked by the sadness of his origin, yet capable of enjoying his adventures, especially when joined by his adoptive son.  He is serious, but not joyless, and that’s an important distinction, often lost these days.  It isn’t perfect, not yet.  O’Neil is still a little clumsy with some of his dialog, but it is close, the character is close.

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I am also very impressed with R’as Al Ghul in this first appearance.  He is mostly just busy being mysterious, but there is a dignity and a certain Romantic air about him that is appealing.  Already you can see the Byronic anti-heroic quality that will define the character (though he will usually lack the self-critical element of that archetype).  Throughout there are hints that there is more to this enigmatic figure than meets the eye, like the ability of the older man to keep up with the powerful Caped Crusader during his quest and his calm self-assurance in every situation.

This issue is beloved for a reason.  It is a great declaration of a new (and old) vision for the Dark Knight, and it presents an exciting, world-trotting adventure that both honors and challenges many of the important elements of the Batman mythos, reuniting the Dynamic Duo in the end and introducing an intriguing new villain with a very unusual agenda.  Adams art is beautiful throughout, of course, but he too is coming into his own here.  His Batman is powerful yet agile, dynamic yet mysterious, full of untapped depths yet in complete control.  The art is alternately moody, intense, exotic, and exciting.  O’Neil, for his part, turns in some of his best writing here, focusing on character and story and really creating something special.  I’ll happily give this landmark issue 4.5 Minutemen.  It isn’t perfect, but it is darn close.

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P.S.: The letter’s page of this issue included a short note about the Futurians, the villainous secret society of several issues back, about which I had wondered.  It turns out that the name was a reference to a group of science fiction fans from the 30s, many of whom would go on to be major influences in the genre.  How neat!


And that’s it for this post, though I don’t know what else y’all could ask for!  We’ve got a great selection of stories in this batch, even with the Supergirl clunker.  This is definitely an exciting time in comics, and change is in the air!  DC is growing, and there are exciting things on the horizon.  On that note, I hope you’ll join me again soon for the next installment of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome to another installment of Into the Bronze Age!  We begin our journey through May of 1971, marching ever further into the last great age of comics!  Our books for this post aren’t the best we’ve ever had, but I can honestly say they aren’t the worst, either.  I’m looking at you, super baby.  Join me as we see what was going on many years ago!

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:

  • Amtrack railroad begins operation
  • National Public Radio begins programming
  • Nixon administration arrests 13,000 anti-war protesters in 3 days
  • Race riots in Brownsville section of Brooklyn
  • Friends of Earth return 1500 non-returnable bottles to Schweppes
  • Multiple killings and bombings continue to occur in Ireland
  • USSR launches Mars 2, 1st spacecraft to crash land on Mars
  • USSR Mars 3 launched, 1st spacecraft to soft land on Mars
  • US Mariner 9 1st satellite to orbit Mars launched
  • 36 hospitalized during Grateful Dead concert; drunk LSD apple juice

Well, it wasn’t quite as crazy as some of the previous months have been, but there was certainly plenty going on.  I’m slightly surprised that NPR only started this late in the Century.  I had sort of imagined them being around much longer.  We can see the tensions continuing to escalate both in the U.S. and abroad, with arrests of protesters here and the Troubles continuing to grow in Ireland, taking a toll on both sides.  We also see the space race proceeding apace, with both superpowers rushing to examine the Red Planet.  It’s clearly a strange, worrisome, but also fascinating time.  I wonder how the contemporary comics reflect it.

It seems that Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” remained at the top of the charts through May, but at the tail end of the month, the Rolling Stones snuck into #1 with “Brown Sugar,” a fun, carefree song plenty at odds with the turbulent headlines of the time.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Action Comics #400


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“My Son… Is He Man or Beast?”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“Duel of Doom!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

It’s the landmark 400th issue of Action Comics…unfortunately, there’s not really anything particularly noteworthy to mark the occasion.  But hey, look at that, another monkey on a cover!  That’s right, this month Superman gets the ape allotment at DC, and it is certainly an unusual image.  In fact, it represents a very unusual story as well.  The cover probably primes you to expect another Saga of the Super Sons, but no, Dorfman has even weirder plans.  And when you’ve got weirder plans than Bob Haney, watch out!

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So our strange story begins with Superman attending the funeral of yet another old friend who we’ve never heard of, in this case, a scientist named Jan Nagy.  The Man of Steel attempts to comfort the late scientist’s son, who Swan draws to look like he’s an adult but is presumably still a teenager.  Unfortunately for the hero’s efforts, the kid reacts with hatred, saying he wants nothing to do with the Metropolis Marvel.  Oddly, the scientist’s will appoints Superman as the boy’s guardian, which is just really strange in multiple ways, if you think about it.  The bereaved boy, Gregor, storms off, saying he wishes he could kill the Kryptonian, and his family lawyer comments that he’d have to be some kind of “super gorilla” to do that.  What an unimaginably odd thing to say.  It can’t possibly be foreshadowing.

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Well, Supes chases after the angry young man but sees him phase right through a door!  Inside, the Action Ace spots Gregor transforming into…you guessed it, a gorilla.  Superman confronts the irate ape, only to have the creature tell him that the hero himself is to blame for the transformation.  Gregor turns back to normal and reminds the Man of Tomorrow of a yesterday not that long ago when he saved the boy’s father from an experiment gone wrong.  The scientist had created a new element, metamorphon, in an atomic furnace, but it threatened to explode and mutate everyone nearby (and here’s another threat to civilization thanks to a DC scientist).  The hero disposed of the furnace in a swimming pool to drown the reaction, but the nearby Gregor was affected by the fumes, despite his efforts.

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The boy soon found himself transforming uncontrollably at his slightest whim, becoming intangible or taking on the shapes of animals.  Instead of being thrilled to have developed some honest-to-goodness superpowers, donning a costume and taking to the streets to fight crime, which seems to be the dominate way of dealing with such trauma in the DCU, the boy just becomes bitter and blames his new guardian.  He even spurns the woman he loves because he feels like a freak.  Superman encourages the youth to learn to control his powers and use them for good, and the boy agrees, but demands that the Man of Steel teach him, still full of venom.

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Helping the Man of Tomorrow open locked and booby-trapped doors and scaring poachers, Gregor begins to control his powers, but he also uses them to spy on Superman, discovering his secret identity.  In an attempt to reach the little punk, Clark takes him to the Fortress of Solitude, where the boy carelessly damages a satellite by pushing random buttons, causing the Action Ace to run off to try and save it.

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Meanwhile, a distress call comes in about a sub trapped in the Sea of Japan, and Gregor, finally displaying some character, realizes that he’s been acting like a jerk and sets out to help them by taking Superman’s place.  He recreates the Kryptonian’s powers temporarily, but his own abilities don’t last long enough to finish the job.  He is injured by the pressure before the real Man of Steel arrives to save him, and the two have a supposedly touching farewell reconciling as Gregor dies, his metamorphic form turning to dust at the end.

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As I said, this is a weird one.  There’s a slightly clever reference in the boy’s name.  A character who metamophosizes and is named Gregor.  Hmm!  We get the standard device of a close friend we’ve never heard of, and Superman suddenly finds himself a parent to a surly and sullen teenager, with super powers to boot, as if regular teenagers aren’t hard enough to manage!  The story, at only 14 pages, is way too rushed for any real emotional attachment to Gregor, especially as he comes off more like a jerk than a victim.  His powers don’t really seem like that much of a burden.  If he wants to complain about metamorphic powers, he should probably compare notes with Metamorpho first.  I can’t help feeling like Rex got the worse deal, there!  The story feels fairly Silver Age-ish, with the melodrama cranked up to 11 without any real justification in the story itself.  It’s an okay tale for what it is, but it is certainly nothing special for the 400th issue.  It feels like a bit of a let-down in that context.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen because it just fails to achieve the pathos for which it’s clearly aiming.

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“Duel of Doom”


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As often seems to be the case with these books, the backup tale is significantly more fun than the headliner.  It offers an enjoyable jaunt into the miniaturized world of Kandor, where two young students idolize Superman and Supergirl.  They argue about which hero is the best, like all good comic fans.  Arvor, an electronics student thinks the Man of Steel is the best, while the archeology student, Yllura, supports the Maid of Might.  There’s a charming ‘battle of the sexes’ element to their interactions, which results in their deciding to compete with one another in their final exams, where each student has to achieve something impressive.

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Gota’ say, I think I agree with Arvor here.  Is there really that much future for an archeologist in a bottle city?

Yllura heads to the outskirts of the city to explore ruins located in some caverns and discovers a hidden temple.  Meanwhile, Arvor tests an experimental visor of his own design that simulates Superman’s X-ray vision.  His belt jets short out during his flight and send him plunging into a lake, accidentally finding his way into an underground river.

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While he wanders through the cavern after his embarrassment, the lady scholar triggers an ancient defense mechanism, producing a grotesque floating head.  Her frightened scream leads the electrical whiz to her, and he smashes the source of the projection with a rock.

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Unfortunately, this shorts out the power in the tomb, plunging the pair into darkness.  Yllura realizes that Arvor’s visor could lead them out, and with his invention lighting the way, they escape from the caverns.  The couple realizes that, no matter who is the best, they are still better as a team.  The plucky pair both ace their exam and are awarded a joint trophy by Superman and Supergirl who arrive to officiate their graduation.

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This is a simple but fun little science fiction story.  The two Kandorians have a charming dynamic, with some good back and forth in the small amount of ‘screen time’ they have.  I like the proxy battle of the sexes they play out, which is a neat reflection of the growing concern over gender equality at the time.  I enjoy how both of the kids make mistakes but both also have moments of triumph.  It’s a very brief little story, but it’s an enjoyable one with a decent amount of personality.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #406


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“Suspicion”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Editor: Mike Sekowsky
Cover Artists: Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano

This is an issue that is a bit hard to pin down.  One moment it is hilarious and surprisingly witty, the next it is so goofy and poorly thought-out it almost seems surreal.  The overall effect leaves me wondering if maybe I’m missing some clever parodic elements, but I’m fairly certain it’s just Sekowsky being inconsistent and employing lazy writing shortcuts.  The crux of the issue is the discovery of Supergirl’s most closely guarded secret by her nemesis, but the manner in which this happens is dramatically unworthy of the event.  Sekowsky also seems to have forgotten what happened in the previous issue, as this comic opens with a recap of the recently concluded ongoing Starfire saga, but whereas the last issue ended with the Maid of Might capturing the villainous professor and assured that a cure for her stop-and-go superpowers would be forthcoming, her powers are still unreliable in this one with no explanation.

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The story proper opens with Linda Danvers preparing to go to her college graduation, at which she has, for some reason, agreed to speak as her own alter-ego, Supergirl.  That couldn’t possibly go wrong.  Oddly, the graduation is disrupted by a crowd of pushy protesters, and the demonstration quickly turns into a riot when the football team takes on the demonstrators.  Supergirl just up and leaves, heading back to her room to change, and here is where Nasthalia “Nasty” Luthor enters the picture and enacts her brilliant master plan to discover the superheroine’s secret identity.  What, you may ask, is this staggering work of genius that manages to outwit the wily Kryptonian?

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adventure406-04 - CopyWell, Nasty follows her and watches whose room she enters.  That’s it.  That’s the discovery.  It’s so blazingly stupid that I had to read the sequence twice to be sure I hadn’t missed something.  This is an example of plot induced stupidity if ever there was one, as the being with about a zillion different super senses doesn’t notice that she’s being followed and walks through her front door instead of using the roof entrance that we’ve seen her use before.  Wow.

Back out among the mob as plain old Linda Danvers, our protagonist meets up with her adoptive parents amid the protest, which has descended from carrying standard slogans to parody signs that make fun of the mindlessness of such crowds, which is pretty funny.  Linda and her parents are weirdly unaffected by all of the chaos surrounding them, and Linda herself seems entirely unruffled that her graduation, a rather major milestone, has been completely ruined by these protesting morons.  The page has several little jokes, making it one of the funniest pieces of the book.

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Note the irony of the image and caption in the last panel.

Having graduated, despite the lack of a ceremony, the young Kryptonian says goodbye to her family (about whom I know absolutely nothing for this version) and heads to Metropolis in search of a job.  However, she finds that no-one is hiring, though there is a surprisingly mature reference (for the time) to sexual harrasment as one guy tries to use the prospect of a job to get her to go out with him.  I was surprised to see that kind of thing get a mention in a comic like this.

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Check out the fourth panel.  That image looks familiar, but I can’t quite place it.

Finally endangers Superman’s secret identity as well, calling him while he’s at work in the guise of Clark, with Nasty secretly stalking her.  Cousin Clark comes through, arranging a job for her in San Francisco.  Hooray for nepotism!  I’m actually slightly bothered by the use of Frisco rather than, say, Coast City.  I dislike it when DC mixes real cities in with their imaginary geography.  It ruins the effect of the alternate world with its own internal consistency.  That’s the reason I’ve never cared for things like Firestorm being based in New York instead of his own fictional town or sharing space with another hero.

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At any rate, Linda flies cross-country to take the job at a TV station, K-SFTV, where she meets two groovy guys dressed in the height of early 70s fashion, drawn by Sekowsky to look like they’re in their 30s, which makes their immediate flirtation with the disguised Supergirl even more inappropriate than it would be normally.  Linda also discovers that her old college cohort, Nasty, has taken a job at the station as well.  These two girls are made camerawomen, with apparently no training or experience, and for some reason, they travel in a trio, since apparently one camera isn’t enough.

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Multiple camera angels don’t do a whole lot of good when they are all right next to each other…

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After covering a bunch of stories where Nasty has stuck to Linda like glue, making it impossible for her to do any hero-ing, they respond to reports of a fire, where they find people trapped inside a building.  Supergirl slips away in the crowd, changes into her costume, and flies into the building to rescue a woman and her child.  Then, instead of, ohh, I don’t know, using those same powers to fly OUT of the building with the pair, she slowly walks through the inferno, risking their lives.  Almost at the exit, the rescued woman comes to and tells her savior that there is another victim trapped within, a baby she had been watching.

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Finally employing her x-ray vision (why exactly didn’t she do that before?), the Maid of Might rescues the baby, while Nasty notices her absence and tries to get footage of her, only to be foiled when the heroine switches back to Linda to emerge with the infant before collapsing, her powers having faded and left her vulnerable.  She awakens in an ambulance, wondering how she’ll escape before the doctors notice that her wounds have miraculously healed.

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This story is so silly in places, yet the moments with the protesters are genuinely funny and clever.  It’s really a surprisingly inconsistency.  Whatsmore, Sekowsky is doing really interesting and unusual things with his character.  In the scope of one issue, he dramatically transformed the status quo for Supergirl.  He not only has her graduate college but get a job and start a new life in a new city.  That is a pretty huge change for an era that is still largely about stability.  The renovation of characters is clearly having an impact, even in unexpected quarters.  Of course, Supergirl herself remains pretty flat and unchanged, despite the shift in her setting.

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The whole bit with Nasty discovering the Girl of Steel’s secret identity was just so stupid I hardly have words to describe it, and her inaction throughout the story is inexplicable.  She’s got excellent reasons to believe that Linda Danvers is Supergirl, so why in the world doesn’t she act on that information.  Instead, she’s following her around waiting for proof.  Nasty, baby, proof is for the cops.  You’re a Luthor.  You don’t need proof to do something violent and unpleasant.

In the end, this is just a clunky story with lazy writing and everything serving the plot.  That’s a shame, because there are elements of it that are really promising and interesting, as well as quite funny.  It doesn’t help that the issue continues to feature Sekowsky’s wildly inconsistent art.  It’s quite good in some panels and just plain hideous in others.  This one doesn’t have as many standout mistakes as some previous outings, but it just might be uglier overall than most of the previous run.  I’ll give the issue as a whole 2 Minutemen, rating that high because it made me chuckle despite its foolishness.

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Well, that will do it for the opening act of May 1971.  It isn’t exactly an impressive first showing, but I am sure that the rest of the month will give us some better books, though, perhaps I shouldn’t get my hopes up for the next batch.  Or perhaps I should.  After all, the next issue of Batman features the return of the the most dramatic, the most dynamic, the most dynamite villain ever to grace the pages of one of the Dark Knight’s books.  Who could this wondrous one be?  Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.  Please join me again soon for a story staring an incredibly charismatic character as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome back to my feature delving into DC Comics in the Bronze Age!  ‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,’ as the saying goes, and a long and exhausting but wonderfully adventure-filled trip to Yosemite, King’s Canyon, and Sequoia national parks put my plans for regular updates on hold for a time.  Lady Grey and I took Faber’s advice, of Fahrenheit 451 fame, to heart and “stuffed [our] eyes with wonder.”   We’re home now, and I’m back once more on my Bronze Age quest!

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:

  • US/Canada ISIS 2 launched to study atmosphere
  • Classic sci-fi/fantasy soap opera Dark Shadows concludes its run
  • Fran Phipps is 1st woman to reach North Pole
  • Mt. Etna erupts in Sicily
  • US Lt William Calley sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering 22 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre
  • In Sri Lanka, insurrection launched against the United Front government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
  • US President Richard Nixon orders Lt. Calley freed
  • The Republican commemorations is held in Belfast of the Easter Rising (in 1916 in Dublin), revealing conflicts between the two wings of the Irish Republican Army
  • President Nixon ends blockade against People’s Republic of China
  • Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Follies” premieres in NYC
  • Supreme Court upheld busing as means of achieving racial desegregation
  • People’s Republic of Bangladesh forms, under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
  • Charles Manson sentenced to life (Sharon Tate murder)
  • Soyuz 10 launched; cosmonauts become 1st in Salyut 1 space station
  • Columbia University operations virtually ended by student strike
  • About 200,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters march on Washington, D.C.
  • USSR performs nuclear test at Eastern Kazakh/Semipalitinsk USSR
  • Turkey state of siege proclaimed
  • US performs nuclear test at Nevada Test Site
  • Significant Films: Billy Jack, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and Big Jake

I quite liked the show Dark Shadows when I was a kid, and as with many of the pop-culture artifacts with which I was closely attached, that attraction probably has as much to do with the dearth of options as with the inherent quality of the program.  There simply was nothing else like that around, so even though it is pretty hokey by today’s standards, I ate it up as a kid because it was a source of the fantastic which was quite rare in live action in those days.

On more serious fronts, we can see tensions surrounding Vietnam continuing to escalate, and the rival marches that once illustrated the division in the culture have been replaced by one large anti-war march.  There are still plenty of divisions, but I’d say that is an interesting insight into how things have changed in just a year, as are the politics and media circus surrounding Lt. Calley.  The world of 1971 is a pretty grim one in many ways, and we can certainly sympathize with that here in 2017, so let’s try to find some color and some joy!

Fittingly, the top of the charts this month was occupied by Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” a great rock song and one that is just plain fun, nonsensical lyrics and all.


Roll Call


(You can see everything cover-dated this month HERE)

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

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


Action Comics #399


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“Superman, You’re Dead… Dead… Dead”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“Superbaby’s Lost World”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Well, we’ve got two Dorfman-penned tales in this month’s book, and they’re about what I’ve come to expect from him, ranging from mediocre to goofy.  The first is actually mostly inoffensive, but the second is just too silly for me.  Whatever the contents, we’ve got another nice looking Neal Adams cover, and it sets up the central mystery, such as it is, for the headline tale.  It’s a bizarre enough image to capture a reader’s interest.  One does want to know what is going on.

Within, the story in question centers around a disaster in the making, as Superman is summoned from his ‘rolling news room’ which we saw introduced a few issues ago, to stop a run-away experimental generator before “the chain reaction ignites the atmosphere and turns Earth into a ball of flame.”  No pressure.  Did you know, that was actually one of the outcomes scientists thought possible when they tested the first atomic bomb?  And they still tested it.  Maybe comics aren’t all that far-fetched after all.

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You know, I wonder, do scientists in the DC Universe ever work on projects that don’t have the potential to destroy life as we know it?  Oversight committees must reject any new study that doesn’t endanger the entire planet as a matter of course.  This particular disaster-waiting-to-happen is a new experimental solar generator that is going critical.  Just as the Metropolis Marvel attempts to stop it by…flying directly into it for some reason, he feels himself pulled…somewhere!

The Man of Steel finds himself in a strange cage with three other familiar figures.  They announce that they are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Lt. General George Custer.  (One of these things is not like the others.)  Escaping from the cell, the Man of Tomorrow discovers that each of these ‘heroes’ has been pulled from the past by an experimental time machine for, of all things, a history class!

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Now, sure, unquestionably, George Washington deserves to be on that list.  The only reason the U.S. is a democracy (at least for a while longer) is that he was a good enough man to refuse to be made a king, and few men would set aside power once taken up.  Lincoln, for all of his culpability in the beginning of the Civil War, deserves the spot for freeing the slaves, even if it was largely a symbolic gesture when first made.  That’s still an incredibly important moment in our national development.  But Custer?  Really?  Not, I don’t know, F.D.R., or Teddy Roosevelt, or just about anyone else?  George, ‘I-led-my-men-to-their-deaths-while-attempting-genocide’ Custer?  Well, I suppose perception of him hadn’t quite gotten past the simplicities of the ‘cowboys and Indians’ portrays of the previous half century.

Anyway, on with the story.  The scientist running the experiment explains to the Action Ace that he is “the last might Superman of [his] era,” which makes no sense.  Demanding answers, the Man of Steel is shown a memory tape that displays his history, including memories supposedly wiped out by the process of being brought through time.  According to the tape, Superman was killed by an alien being, but human scientists cloned him (though they don’t call it that), because the world can’t get along without a Superman.

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The new Man of Tomorrow didn’t remember his death, and he also died some time later of an alien disease.  The scientists recreated him again, knowing it would be for the last time.  To further prove their story, the future scholar takes the shocked hero to a crypt and shows him the remains of the previous two iterations of ‘Superman’ and gives him a medal posthumously awarded to his past self.

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Stunned, Superman asks how he will die, and he’s told that he’s killed trying to shut down an experimental energy source.  That certainly sounds familiar, right?  Well, during the explanation, the shell-shocked Kryptonian hears a broadcast about an archeological expedition trapped by a cave-in in Greenland and, without a thought, rushes off to help.  He rescues them, but when that feat is finished, the head scientist tells his time-tossed guest that he must return to the past.  At first Superman refuses, asking why he should return just to die, but when the panicked egg-head tells his wayward visitor that, unless history plays out the way it should, time itself will unravel and destroy the universe (see, everything they make can destroy reality!), the true Man of Tomorrow valiantly heads back to meet his fate.

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Yet, back in the past, he successfully flies the haywire generator out into space and survives the experience.  Confused, he ponders his medallion, only to discover that it contains an element not present on Earth.  Superman deduces that he was accidentally pulled into an alternate dimension’s future, and remembers clues in the scientist’s descriptions of the other historical figures, who were all described differently than in real life.

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This is a solid enough story.  It’s got an interesting and curious twist, and it’s good to see the selflessness of the Man of Steel, which is also nicely tempered by a reasonable desire to stay alive if he doesn’t have to die.  Yet, when faced with the necessity, he willingly sets out to make the ultimate sacrifice.  It’s curious to note that the idea of cloning a replacement for Superman was presented way back here in 1971.  The idea would, of course, famously return in future stories.  There’s nothing particularly exciting here, but it’s an entertaining enough read.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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“Superbaby’s Lost World”


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The second story, however, is not quite so easy to enjoy, despite having some honestly funny moments.  Unfortunately, it’s a ‘Superbaby’ tale, which is from the start a concept not terribly likely to win my undying affection, and this particular outing is pretty painful in some ways.  I haven’t read enough of these to know if such features are established conventions of the conceit, but if so, heaven spare me from more Superbaby stories!  The yarn involves the Kents taking their otherworldly infant to an amusement park, and from the very beginning this tale rubs me the wrong way.  Apparently, despite being fairly desperate for their son to keep a low profile and not reveal his powers, the Kents just let little Clark run around with a bright red and blue outfit, complete with a freaking cape!  Okay, I can deal with the adventures of Super-tot, but could we get just a trace of logical consistency for the concept?  No?  That’s too much to ask?  *sigh*

The actual plot has the potential to be rather charming, but the trappings surrounding it are just plain maddening.  You’ve got the Kents trying to keep Clark under wraps while the little super-psychopath destroys attractions left and right in the park with his super strength and poor impulse control.  When the nosy child discovers a pair of jewel thieves hiding their ill-gotten gains in a garbage can, the kid rips the receptacle open to return their basket to them, thinking they’ve lost it.  The image of the two-foot tall super-tot, cape flapping in the breeze, is just too goofy for me.

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This begins a series of mis-adventures, as the kid lost sight of his parents in the interim and the jewel thieves decide to bring him along as cover and to prevent him making a scene.  There is a fun idea here, but the ridiculous visual, combined with Dorfman’s device of having kiddie-Clark speak in a weird 3rd person pidgin that I’m fairly certain no child has ever used in the history of the world, make the result rather grating.  The plot, such as it is, continues with the crooks taking the kid on a boat ride, where he reveals his powers, ripping an animatronic animal out of the ground, and then flying the couple out of the river when their boat swamps.

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Then follows a comedy of errors as the Super-simpleton tries to fix each of his mistakes, which leads to more mistakes.  He tries to dry the couple’s clothes out on a fake volcano, only for them to be chocked by smoke, which he blows away, knocking them off of a cliff!  When they are discovered by the cops, the glibly named ‘Connie and Hyde’ (get it?) practically throw themselves into the arms of the boys in blue, begging them to save them from the psychotic super-tot.  Of course, the police don’t believe their stories, and the Kents finally find Clark, destroying yet more of the park’s exhibits.  One has to imagine the little wrecking-machine put the poor place out of business with the untold amount of damage he inflicted on it.

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The idea of Superbaby unwittingly foiling the crooks is actually a rather promising one, but while the story has its moments, kiddie-Clark’s ‘me do such and such’ routine, combined with the ridiculous little cape just prove too much for me and drag this book down to the absurd.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.  At least this one wasn’t as bad as the last super-baby we encountered!

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Adventure Comics #405


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“Starfire’s Revenge!”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

Here we have the conclusion of the Starfire saga begun several issues back.  Starfire has proven an interesting antagonist for the girl from Krypton, and Sekowsky’s continuing story has been entertaining for the most part, though it stands out more for its creativity and willingness to depart from the status quo than for its quality.  With this issue, it ends strong, and Sekowsky delivers an exciting adventure full of intrigue and peril.  The cover is effective if not particularly dynamic, and it hints at the central complication of the yarn.  It certainly does the job of intriguing prospective readers, which is half the battle.

adventure 405-02 - CopyThe tale picks up where the previous outing of the story left off, with Supergirl desperate to track down Starfire and her scientific flunky in order to find a cure for her fluctuating powers.  She is on the verge of despair until her powers return, allowing her to use her super senses to detect her quarry…by just looking around from her apartment.  Okay, that’s a bit silly, even for a super character in this era.  She just uses telescopic and x-ray vision to scan, presumably miles and miles around her, all without moving from home.  That makes things a bit too simple, but Sekowsky is apparently in a hurry to get into his plot.

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The Maid of Might discovers the villains aboard a plane bound for Paris, but before she can pursue them, her powers fade out once more.  Starfire, for her part, is busy with plans of her own, and she directs the professor to create a stronger dose of their anti-power drug.  She also contacts a man with a familiar face.  The lethal Lothario from the first issue, Derek, apparently has a twin brother named Rodney, and she spins him a twisted version of his brother’s death to turn him against Supergirl.  Claiming that the Girl of Steel killed his twin, Starfire recruits Rodney for help with her plan, which will involve him dosing the heroine with the new drug when her powers are at ebb.

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We get a fun scene as the Maid of Might has to find a way across the Atlantic despite her unreliable powers, eventually hitching a ride on a passing jetliner and feeling rather embarrassed about it.  Awaiting her in the City of Lights, Starfire has other plans in motion.  She informs her gang about their next job, which involves the murder of a major designer, the theft of his fall line, and the destruction of his salon.

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adventure 405-13In a very convenient turn of events, Supergirl just happens to hear a broadcast of the designer’s fashion show which is interrupted by the thieves, despite the fact that she’s just hanging out in the woods waiting for her powers to return.  There had to be an easier and less ridiculous way to bring those plots together!  Nonetheless, the Maid of Might rushes to the salon, and her powers return just in time to let her tackle the gang.  Yet, Rodney’s sudden attack and his resemblance to the deceased Derek distract her long enough for her nemesis to escape.  The Maid of Might becomes a mediocre maiden once more, and she plays a dangerous game with the berserk brother as the building burns, finally getting close enough to knock him out.

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She takes her captive to safety, then strives to convince him that she didn’t kill his brother, no easy task.  Finally, she hits upon a plan to capture Starfire and prove her innocence at the same time.  After realizing that Supergirl is willing to risk her life in this gambit, Rodney relents, and that night, he shows up at the villain’s headquarters, carrying the heroine’s apparently helpless form.  Starfire is pleased, but while preparing to dispose of her Kryptonian prisoner, she decides to tie up loose ends with Rodney as well and reveals the truth.  The pair find themselves menaced by a gorilla of all things (how did he not end up on the cover?), but fortunately Supergirl is up to the challenge and puts the beast to sleep.

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Pictured: A glimpse of why comics are awesome.

The escaped Maid of Might crashes a fashion show of the stolen styles and chases Starfire down.  Her powers fail her once more, allowing the villainess to lock herself behind a heavy door, but when Supergirl smashes through using her exo-skeleton (no longer confusingly called a “cyborg”), the door strikes the cyclopean psycho and sends her crashing through a window to her death below.  That’s right, Supergirl just committed a touch of manslaugher.  It is clearly an accident, but what an accident!  The tale ends with the gang captured, the antidote secured, and the villain quite dead.  I guess that explains why she never returned!

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You just took a human life…oh well!

This is a surprisingly good issue.  The last two chapters have been fairly mediocre, despite their promising premises and the still rare departures from the status quo and ongoing elements.  This comic, however, had an exciting, engaging plot, and Sekwosky made good use of his fluctuating power deus ex machina to deliver some reasonably exciting action sequences.  Perhaps most importantly, the art in this issue is significantly better than the last two portions of the tale.  Sekowsky simply turned out a better looking comic this month.  There’s a certain creativity in his layouts and design work that makes the book visually interesting, and while some of his figures are still awkward, there are no glaring problems this time.  There are a few downright lovely panels scattered throughout these pages, and on the whole, Sekowsky seems to be putting more polish into his work, or perhaps the diligent Dick Giordano made the difference.  The biggest flaw in this issue is the fact that Supergirl takes a life, however unwittingly, and the consequences of this act are given a grand total of one panel of development.  If you’re not going to give a moment like that the treatment it deserves, you shouldn’t employ it in the first place.  So, all told, this is a fun but flawed issue, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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And that wraps up the first post of April 1971.  Next up we have a very bittersweet subject, as we’ll be covering the very last issue of the original Aquaman comic.  I’ll also have something of a surprise for y’all, a special feature.  So, be sure not to miss it!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 1)

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Hello Internet travelers!  Sit down and rest a spell, and let me do the traveling for you.  You just kick back and relax while I delve deep in the 1970s in search of the elusive character of the Bronze Age!  That’s what this feature is all about, and this post begins my coverage of another month of DC Comics.  We’ve got a really exciting slate of books in this batch, including two, count them, two, new titles by Jack Kirby that expand his ground-breaking Fourth World series.

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:

  • Bomb attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
  • Winnie Mandela sentenced to 1 year in jail in South Africa
  • “City Command” kidnaps 4 US military men at Ankara, Turkey
  • Egypt refuses to renew the Suez cease fire
  • Joe Fraizer beats Muhammad Ali and retains the heavyweight title
  • Gun battle between official and provisional IRA leaves one dead
  • Hafeez al-Assad elected President of Syria
  • Several British soldiers killed by the IRA
  • South Vietnamese troops flee Laos
  • Chatrooms make their debut on ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet
  • Irish PM resigns in protest over limited British response in Ireland
  • Thousands march in Britain demanding interment for IRA members
  • USSR performs nuclear test at Eastern Kazakh/Semipalitinsk USSR
  • Bangladesh (East Pakistan) declares its independence
  • George Lucas makes his directorial debut with THX 1138, based on his student film
  • The Andromeda Strain released

It’s certainly a full month, with a great deal going on.  Conditions continue to deteriorate in Ireland.  I’m feeling repetitive typing that month after month, but it’s going to be a recurring theme for quite some time.  The Vietnam war also continues, and it will roll on for a few more years yet, but I imagine that the tide of public opinion has begun to turn by this point.  I was very surprised to see that chatrooms made their appearance this early.  I knew that ARPANET was in development in the 70s, but it’s mind-blowing that the forerunner to the Internet was that far along as early as 1971.  We also have the first appearance of a man who would come to define a significant portion of the 70s with his cinematographic vision, George Lucas.  At this point, he was just a promising young filmmaker with no real hints of what was to come.  I used to really admire Lucas as an artist, but last few decades cured me of that.  You still can’t help but marvel at what he achieved in the original Star Wars movies, but I suppose that’s quite a ways away.

At the top of the charts this month is an amazing song, one of Lady Grey’s all-time favorites, Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.”  It feels like it belongs to a slightly earlier day, but darn if it isn’t a great song, melancholy and beautiful.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

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


Action Comics #398


Action_Comics_398“The Pied-Piper of Steel”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“Spawn of the Unknown”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got an unusually mediocre cover by Neal Adams and an equally uninspiring headline story within.  Though the actual plot isn’t exactly electrifying, there’s some fun reflections of the zeitgeist in Dofrman’s setup for this tale.

It’s all about the music, man!  Well, actually, it begins with a plunging globe, as the new owner of the Daily Planet, Galaxy Broadcasting, replaces the iconic globe with an antenna, because corporations have no souls.  The cable breaks, and the globe plunges towards the crowd below.  Fortunately, Superman is on hand, but unfortunately, apparently he’s also super stupid, as he rescues the two workmen on the landmark but leaves it to continue its fall.  He realizes his mistake and uses his ‘super aim’ (come on Dorfman) to harpoon the thing with a pole instead of catching it.

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After that daringly dim rescue, the Metropolis Wonder switches back to Clark Kent and meets with Morgan Edge.  The callous CEO declares that print is dead (thanks Egon!), and that he’s going to make Kent a roving TV reporter…so, basically repeating the setup we’ve already seen elsewhere.  It’s quite fascinating to see that the conversation about the future of news media and the survivability of print papers has been an issue since way back in the early 1970s.  As we seem to be living in the actual death of print publications here in the Internet Age several decades later, those predictions are rather entertaining.  Anyway, he gives Mr. Mild Mannered a ‘rolling newsroom,’ a fancy newsvan with it’s own transmitting equipment and sends him to cover a big music festival.

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In a reflection of outdoor music festivals of the era following in the footsteps of Woodstock, a former science professor named Cy Horkin has taken to organizing concerts across the country.  The band list is rather funny, feeling more like artists from the early 60s, including ‘The Ding-a-Lings’, ‘the Soda Pops’, ‘Porky and the Hamlets’, and ‘the Astronauts’, an entertaining line-up.  At the festival, Clark isn’t allowed to record the music because of licensing issues, but he records the concert itself.  Strangely, as ‘the Astronauts’ start playing a song about ‘digging that rock,’ the crowd goes wild and starts mindlessly digging into the hillside behind them, threatening to collapse the house above.

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Superman leaps into action, picking the entire house up, and almost certainly doing more damage than the kids would have in the process, but then the crowd snaps out of it, confused by their compulsion to dig.  Clark interviews Horkin, but he gets no real answers, and apparently he doesn’t bother to look into the matter any further.  Really?  How often has the Man of Steel seen mind control?  You’d think he might find this just a tad suspicious.

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At any rate, Morgan Edge is very pleased with the ratings for this story, so he sends Kent to cover the next concert.  At that venue, when a comedy act called the ‘Bucket Heads’ who, you guessed it, wear buckets on their heads, sing about drinking up sunshine, the audience starts to drink everything in sight.  This could easily have turned ugly, but Superman intervenes by opening up underground springs until the effects wear off.  There’s a decided Woodstock vibe in the art of this scene, which is interesting.  Following the show, Clark is again placated by a very unhelpful interview with Horkin, but we discover that the promoter is behind all of this chaos, as he’s invented an ‘Electronic Brain,’ which, for some reason, is in a humanoid-shaped head, and which psychically compels people to follow the directions of the song lyrics they hear.

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Meanwhile, the Man of Steel tries to analyze the music from the concerts, but when his tape bursts into flames, he just assumes his tape recorder must have malfunctioned.  Sure, that’s perfectly normal.  Instead, he takes a Kryptonian tape recorder (it’s hilarious that it’s also a tape recorder, not just a hi-tech recording device) with him to the next venue.

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At the final show at Horkin’s old college, there is a group called ‘Satan’s Angels’ playing.  Get it?  When they sing “Break it up!  Tear it down!  Wipe it out!” the crowd complies, and they begin wrecking the campus!  This is all part of Horkin’s plan.  He left the school in disgrace when he wasn’t chosen as president and designed his device to get revenge.  Superman shows up to thwart him, but strangely, the Man of Tomorrow begins to join in with the anarchy!  He smashes a building, but shortly he leads the crowd back towards the stage, and while they tear the venue apart, the hero nabs Horkin and smashes the brain.

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The Metropolis Marvel explains that he was immune to the mind control because of his, *sigh* ‘super brain’, but when he listened to the Kryptonian tape recorder, he was brainwashed like everyone else.  Because that makes sense.  While smashing the building, a falling beam knocked the headset off, and he came back to his senses in time to capture the villainous Horkin.  Notably, the crowd wants revenge and threatens to mob Horkin, but Superman insists on handing him over the proper authorities.  In jail, the perfidious professor rails as the authorities pipe rock music over the loud-speakers in an ironic little ending.

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This is a decent enough story, though the structure feels a bit Silver Age-ish.  The focus on violence and mob-mentalities at music festivals are an intriguing reflection of the zeitgeist, coming a little over a year and change after the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, which for many, marks the unofficial end of the 60s counter-cultural movement.  Infamously, the Hell’s Angels were involved in a violent riot that caused one death and revealed a brutal and ugly spirit at the event.  With this story we have another fantastical attempt to contextualize and grapple with current events, like last month’s brain-controlled students in Teen Titans.

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Probably the most interesting thing about this yarn is the idea that the music itself is not responsible for what the concert-goers are doing, which is a curious response to these events.  It seems as if Dorfman wants to emphasize to his readers that there can still be value in the art of the counter-culture, even if its ideals have been revealed as hollow.  That being said, I’m probably giving this tale more attention than its author did.  Whatever cultural commentary Dorfman employed, he definitely didn’t portray the Man of Steel in the best light.  The hero seems a bit dim throughout, and I really hate the whole ‘super brain’ concept.  One of the great weaknesses Superman has is the fact that he’s just as susceptible to mind-control as other mere mortals, though I know that wasn’t always the case in the Silver Age.  I suppose I’ll give this story with its goofy elements 2.5 Minutemen.

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“Spawn of the Unknown”


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This title sounds like the headline of an old Shadow story or the like, very ominous and foreboding!  The story to which it relates, on the other hand, isn’t quite so atmospheric.  It’s also a bit of cheat, as the Fortress of Solitude features in this tale only tangentially.  It begins with Superman’s arrival at a volcanic crater, presumably someplace in Africa.  A game keeper named Ituru tells the Man of Steel that he must not touch the ground because the area is infected with a plague that turns living creatures into plants, and he claims it can even affect the Kryptonian!  The game keeper fills the hero in, telling the story of a Prof. Bruno, a botanist who set up a lab in that crater and began doing super-sciencey experiments with the local flora.  He created all kinds of strange mutant plants, and after being warned that he was ‘tampering in God’s domain,’ his lab exploded, releasing strange spores that seem to have mutated the animal life in the area into plants.

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The Man of Tomorrow isn’t worried until Ituru leads him to a grisly sight nearby, where a twisted tree grows from the ground, a miserable mockery of Supergirl!  The plant-being can’t speak, but Superman swears to help her.  He gets an emergency call, leading him to Egypt to prevent a tomb robbery in the Valley of the Kings, where he decides to scare the thieves rather than capture them.  I’ve got to say, I think there may be a question of priorities here, Supes.

Nonetheless, the scene is fairly entertaining, even if a bit Scooby-Doo-silly.  The tomb-raiders (nope, not him) are hauling out their ill-gotten gains, when suddenly, a statue of Anubis, the god of the dead, speaks to them in tones of grim portent!  Superman is, of course, inside the statue, and he uses his x-ray vision to make them all see-through, because that’s how x-rays work.  Sure, Superman’s x-ray vision is pure comic book science, but this is inconsistent even for the comic portrayal of the ability!  Well, regardless of how absurd the gimmick is, the thieves find it pretty compelling, and they hightail it out of there.  The Man of Steel reasons that, if he had arrested them, there would just be more back tomorrow, but this way, they’ll spread the word and fear will do what the law couldn’t, which is actually relatively clever.

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Back at the crater, the Metropolis Marvel tries to uproot Supertree, but it begins to grow around him!  He rips its ‘arms’ off as he frees himself, and just as he’s lamenting how he’s crippled her for life, a hale and completely not plant-like Supergirl arrives!  She explains that the seeds scattered all over are actually just an experiment of the professors that grow to mimic nearby lifeforms as a type of camouflage.  One had grown to mimic her, and since he was there last, another has grown to mimic the Man of Steel himself!

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Superman is supremely relieved, and the super-pair transplant the entire crater to a remote world in case the plants should prove dangerous.  Apparently, their code against killing applies to “any kind of life”  Who knew they were Super-vegans?  I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard that before, and it seems both intensely stupid and obviously regularly broken.  How often does Superman heat-vision through a giant plant or smash an alien monster?  Anyway, the story ends with the super-pair admiring the hideous new plants that grace the Fortress of Solitude.

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This is an okay story, but that’s as much as you can say about it.  Swan’s art is great, as usual, and his inventive work with the plant-creatures and the x-ray skeletons are really the highlights of the yarn.  The central problem doesn’t really last long enough to have much impact, and the resolutions to both the minor and major complications are a bit on the silly side, but it’s still a reasonably enjoyable read.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it’s just so-so.

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Adventure Comics #404


Adventure_Comics_404“Super-girl?”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

This comic picks directly up from the off-beat comic of two issues ago, and it certainly offers us another unusual story.  I’m very curious to see how long Sekowsky will continue this arc, especially given its complete departure from the usually sacred status quo.

This one begins as Supergirl awakens from her impromptu nap, courtesy of the thugs with the machine guns who ambushed her, and she discovers that she’s bleeding!  How could this be?  How could an invulnerable woman bleed?  Well, she realizes that her almost-beau, Derek, poisoned her somehow, but apparently he didn’t do too thorough of a job.  Her powers begin to come back, but they fade in and out.

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In search of answers, she heads to the Fortress of Solitude and visits the Bottle City of Kandor in the hopes that their tiny but advanced minds can help her.  Despite a battery of super-science-y tests, the Kandorian braintrust is stumped.  Since they can’t restore the Maid of Might’s powers, they give her a hi-tech exoskeleton (for some reason called an ‘exoskeleton cyborg,’ despite the fact that it is neither robot nor living creature and therefore not a cyborg) that can grant her super strength, as well as rocket boots to let her fly.  These gadgets should let her continue adventuring until they can figure out how to restore her powers permanently.

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Meanwhile, Starfire, the nefarious femme fatale from our first issue, is pursuing her plans for a female dominated planet.  Derek has arrived for his payoff, but when the villainous vamp suspects that her Lothario for hire might talk and thereby endanger her schemes, she has him killed!  On panel!  It’s a surprising move, and it establishes how ruthless Starfire is rather nicely.  It’s also surprising to see the villain actually flat-out kill someone in a comic of this era, but I imagine no-one weeps for Derek!

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Afterward, the would-be queen investigates her Amazonians in training, her female followers, and plots her first moves now that Supergirl is believed dead.  She and her all-girl band are going to a town near the Maid of Might’s college, Carvale, where they plan on robbing the place blind during its Mardi Gras festival.  Now, for many of you Yankees from the uncivilized reaches of our fair country, that might not mean much, but where I’m from, Mardi Gras is a massive celebration with parades and parties galore.  We get out of school, people take off work, and it’s quite something to see.

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Starfire and her gang blend in by wearing costumes and begin a criminal campaign, robbing party-goers and heisting banks.  Meanwhile, in nearby Stanhope, Linda Danvers reads about the crime wave and heads to town as Supergirl, staking out the last bank to be hit and confronting the thieves.  Her superpowers short out at just the wrong time, of course, to provide us with the requisite dramatic tension.  Fortunately, the Maid of Steel still has her exoskeleton, and she flips the getaway car and piles into the fleeing femmes.  Her luck runs out, though, as one of the larcenous ladies lands a lucky blow and knocks the powerless heroine out.

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The gang bring Supergirl to Starfire, who plans to kill her herself, but first she enjoys herself by beating on the helpless captive.  After smacking her around a bit, the psycho cyclops has her prisoner untied and then proceeds to prove her dominance with a further beating, knocking her out once more.  When the Maid of Might comes to, she discovers her powers have returned, and she immediately makes short work of the gang.  Yet, Starfire and her pet scientist escape, leaving the heroine without any answers about her condition.

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This is a pretty decent story.  The loss of powers, however silly the mechanism, creates some reasonably nice tension, though the on-again-off-again powers are a pretty blatant deus ex machina.  Starfire is certainly appropriately villainous here, but she doesn’t get quite enough time to develop much of a personality other than ‘vicious.’  Perhaps the next issue will flesh her out some more.  Unfortunately, while the plot of the story is enjoyable, the art continues to be awful.  Sekowsky gives us some fun designs of the various Mardi Gras costumes, but his figures are awkward and stiff, his proportions are all over the place, his panels mostly lack backgrounds, and his perspective is almost always wonky.  I’m not sure which is worse, this issue or the last one.  Nonetheless, the comic is a fun enough read that it makes up for the art, to a degree.  All told, I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, but only barely.

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And that does it for our first few books of March 1971.  We’re off to a reasonably good start, and I can’t wait to see what else this month holds for us.  Please join me again soon for another addition of Into the Bronze Age, and until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 1)

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Here we are diving into February!  We’re definitely moving along pretty well this year.  I’ve managed to get a good routine of reading and writing down.  I consider it training for when I start writing my dissertation, and having just finished a conference paper, I think the practice may be doing me some good!  Anyway, this month we’ve got a promising line-up of books.  I wonder how they’ll stack up in the reading.  For today, we’ve got a double-dose of Super, and despite a real clunker, the net result is mostly positive!

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:

  • Idi Amin ousts Milton Obote and appoints himself president (dictator) of Uganda
  • A series of house searches by the British Army in Catholic areas of Belfast, resulting in serious rioting and gun battles
  • OPEC mandates “total embargo” against any company that rejects 55 percent tax rate
  • National Guard mobilized to quell rioting in Wilmington NC
  • Apollo 14, 3rd US manned Moon expedition, lands near Fra Mauro, and Alan Shepard & Edward Mitchell (Apollo 14) walk on Moon for 4 hrs
  • South Vietnamese troops invade Laos
  • Richard Nixon installs secret taping system in White House
  • Algeria nationalizes 51 percent of French oil concessions
  • Many deaths in Ireland as the Troubles continue to escalate

Things are really getting bad in Ireland.  I’ve condensed a half dozen or so entries on the subject here.  Sadly, there’s no relief in the near future.  We also see the rise of OPEC, heralding all kinds of complications later on in the decade.  Notably, this is the month that Nixon started his notorious tape-recording operation.  We’re still three long years away from his impeachment.  I wonder if history will be repeating itself any time soon.  On a more positive note, man once more walked on the Moon this month.  That’s a bright point at any time.

This month’s number 1 was the Osmonds with the very cheerful “One Bad Apple.”  This song of encouragement in love despite disappointments and ‘bad apples,’ seems surprisingly fitting given the ugliness of this month in history.


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
  • 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.


Action Comics #397


action_comics_397“The Secret of the Wheel-Chair Superman!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: E. Nelson Bridwell and Murray Boltinoff

“The Super-Captive of the Sea!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: E. Nelson Bridwell and Murray Boltinoff

Urg.  I suppose it will come as a surprise to pretty much no-one who read my coverage of the previous part of this story that I was dreading reading this issue.  It ended up being pretty much exactly what I expected, and not only did the cover story not fix the problems with the previous issue, it magnified them as well.  To his credit, Dorfman does attempt to address the obvious issues with Superman becoming a super-bum, but his efforts are woefully inadequate.

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Our story, such as it is, picks up right where the previous one left off.  As the not-so-Superman takes off in his wheelchair, pursued by a curious, gawking crowd, Jimmy Olsen notices the disturbance and sets out to discover what has brought his former friend to this extreme.  The Man of Tinfoil, after escaping from the lookey-loos with the aid of a cloud of steam created by his heat vision, returns to his squalid home.  There Jimmy finds him and finally gets the story of the former hero’s disappearance.  It’s a pretty lack-luster tale.

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What we don’t hear is the agonized screaming as the crowd is scalded by steam…

Apparently after a series of disappointing missions, his powers just began to fade away, one after another, leaving only his invulnerability and visions.  I don’t know about you, but I think I could find some way to use being invulnerable and being able to melt things with my eyes.  I’m just saying.  Anyway, the now hobbled Kryptonian was fired by Moran Edge for taking too many sick days….despite the fact that he’s still invulnerable.  I don’t think Dorfman quite thought that one out all the way.  For a while he tried to continue hero-ing with the aid of his superman robots, but they were eventually all destroyed, and Superman, not having any savings, was forced to live on the streets.  There’s some nonsense about him not wanting to mooch off of his friends because of his pride too.

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Of course, that’s silly six ways from Sunday, but we covered that last time.  Anyway, we also discover who the strange, plague-ridden people are who were sharing Superman’s hovel.  They are a doctor named Reynolds and his wife who were infected with a terrible disease while trying to cure it, and the super-bum has promised to care for them for the few weeks they have left to live so that they don’t risk infecting anyone else.  We’re supposed to see all of this as a sign of Superman’s continuing altruism, but that conflicts with his petty motivations for the rest of the story, which are revealed when Jimmy convinces his friend to visit a neurologist.

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The doctor elicits a more substantive account of the missions that preceded Superman’s power loss, and it turns out that in each case, the Man of Steel discovered he wasn’t needed because mankind had advanced technologically to the point where they could deal with any disaster.  Instead of being proud of his adopted race or in any way acting in accordance with his established characterization, this cause Superman to develop psychosomatic symptoms and imagine his power loss because he feels sorry for himself.  Despite being told its all in his head, the former Metropolis Marvel  can’t get out of his own way long enough to restore his powers, giving up after a whole five minutes of effort, really displaying that willpower and drive that made him such a great hero.

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What a hero!

Then, to cap things off, back home he gets distracted while heat vision drying his clothes and sets the building on fire.  He finally recovers his powers in time to pull the doctor and his wife out of the inferno, but they die anyway.  They die because of his carelessness, but we’re supposed to be okay with it because they only had a short amount of time left anyway.  Then, after burying his friends, Superman heads out into space to find a new world that needs him, not for their sake, but for his, because in this comic Lex Luthor was right all along.

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I don’t have much to say about this comic that I didn’t say last time.  It’s an example of terrible characterization, and Dorfman’s efforts to address the glaring problems with his portrayal just don’t hold up, especially because the entire conflict of the story is that Superman felt so bad for himself because human beings weren’t in mortal danger from natural disasters that he sank into a power-robbing depression.  That’s fairly awful.  I’ll give this, like the first issue, two Minutemen.  The story is so-so, but the characterization is what sinks it.

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“The Super-Captive of the Sea”


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Our backup for this issue is another ‘Untold Tale of the Fortress,’ which seems like a pretty decent setup for interesting stories.  This one stretches the the theme a bit, as we begin by discovering that Superman had two other Fortresses of Solitude, one in a meteor and one at the bottom of the Sea.  Now, I’m no Superman expert, but I was surprised to learn of their existence.  I was curious if these alternate Fortresses had some life beyond this book, and according to the Fortresses’ Wikipedia article, the undersea version was introduced way back in 1958!  Who knew?

Anyway, our untold tale begins with Superman re-opening that very undersea Fortress and using its monitoring equipment to watch for threats beneath the seas.  What’s this?  Has Superman decided that lording it over the whole air-breathing world isn’t enough and he he needs to horn in on Aquaman’s territory?  We don’t find out right away, as the Man of Steel rushes out to dispose of some barrels of radioactive waste that are caught in a fishing boat’s nets.  While rounding up the barrels, the Metropolis Marvel turned Marine Marvel (Aquaman is so going to sue him) accidentally leaves the sea and suddenly begins to suffer some strange ill effects.

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Swan draws some great underwater action.  I’d love to see him tackle an Aquaman tale!

We learn that a cloud of space pollution (sure) recently drifted into the Earth’s atmosphere, and it plays merry havoc with Superman’s sense of direction.  Water seems to block the effects, so he moves into his old Fortress while he waits for the cloud to dissipate.  Over the following days, the Man of Tomorrow has to get creative to deal with threats that aren’t in the sea, like using his heat vision from a distance to weld a bridge that is collapsing and creating a tidal wave to put out a forest fire.  At each adventure, he thinks he spots two shadowy figures leaving the scene, but when he investigates he finds only innocuous sea-life.  One wonders how he’s explaining Clark Kent’s sudden absence from the Daily Planet during these escapades.

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Eventually, Superman begins to get lonely, so he uses his powers to create a suit of lead-glass that should protect him from the cloud’s effects.  Come on, Supes; if you’re lonely, just visit Atlantis!  I’m sure Arthur and Mera would roll out the red carpet for you!  Well, just as the Submariner of Steel prepares to leave the ocean, he’s confronted by two strange aquatic aliens.  They catch him in a net that gives off red sun radiation and explain that they are the source of all of his problems.

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Apparently, they’re from a water planet which has observed Earth for some time, and they decided that they just had to have a Superman of their own, so they devised these tests to see how he would operate on a oceanic world.  I’m reminded of the opening lines of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds:

[T]his world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.  […] Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

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Literary associations aside, Superman’s not about to stand for being carted off to some other world without so much as a ‘how-do-you-do,’ and he’s got a clever plan.  The invaders tell him that they were the sea creatures he kept seeing, as they have the power to change shape, so the Man of Steel says he doesn’t believe them and challenges one of the aliens to turn into a seahorse.  When the aquatic alien obliges, the Man of Tomorrow goads him into coming close ‘so he can see clearly,’ and the seahorse/creature swims into the net.  Once he’s inside, Superman bets him that he can’t turn into a whale, and the dim-witted alien (Okay, so maybe the ‘intelligences greater than man’s’ bit doesn’t fit so well after all) cheerfully shows off, snapping the net and freeing the Kryptonian.  Superman quickly freezes the pair and, donning his suit, hurls them through space towards their homeworld and disposes of the cloud.  Yeah, I’m sure that will work great and they won’t die horribly in the vast and frozen void of space.

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This is a fun little story.  It’s very much a Silver Age plot, but it’s handled well enough that the silliness of the concept isn’t too much.  The aliens are pretty cool looking, very fitting for aquatic extraterrestrials.  I quite enjoyed Superman’s plan for defeating them.  It’s straight out of a fairy tale.  It’s the kids tricking the witch into the oven or the like, and I found it charming, a pleasant expression of the character’s cleverness.  My only real problem with the story is its wasted potential.  What a perfect opportunity to have Aquaman guest star!  I’ll bet the Sea King was relieved when Superman went home and stopped stealing his thunder.  Other than that, this enjoyable backup is just fine.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #402


Adventure_Comics_402“Love Conquers All-Even Supergirl”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“Rat-Race”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Tony DeZuniga
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

This offbeat issue of Adventure provides us with an interesting angle, a superhero falling for an old, old scam.  The villains of this piece employ a honey trap, a scam wherein a grifter/spy/general-ne’er-do-well seduces a mark in order to get something out of them.  It’s a new one on me to see this done with a superheroine, at least outside of a specific espionage-esq setting.

The villains in question here are a new femme fatale named Starfire (no, not the famous one) and her conman minion, a Brit named Derek.  Starfire has a neat look, with a distinctive star-burst eyepatch, but we don’t learn too much about her.  Apparently she’s got aspirations to world domination, but with an unusual twist.  She plans to put a female hegemony in place, with her at its head, of course.  That’s a pretty neat take on an old refrain, and it definitely has potential for an antagonist of Supergirl.  Well, this unknown megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur has an ace up her sleeve.  Her scientist henchman has been developing a pill that removes superpowers…all superpowers…which seems a bit of a stretch.  One pill that counters everything, power rings, genetic mutations, alien DNA?  That’s…convenient.  For some reason, Starfire has pegged Supergirl as her first victim, so she’s hired honey trap expert Derrek to seduce the young heroine and slip her the pill.

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What the devil is going on with his hair in the second panel?

The ‘young man,’ who in Sekowsky’s lackluster art looks to be in his late 30s, has to get his introductions the hard way, so Starfire arranges a fake mugging for the grifter in Supergirl’s home town.  It works like a charm, unfortunately for the make-believe muggers, who get a real beating.  They also yell out their plans to one another, which is probably not a fantastic idea when dealing with someone who has super hearing, but luckily for them, the Maid of Might seems to not be paying attention.  When the heroine goes to check on Derrek, he surprises her with a kiss in thanks and turns on that British charm.

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“I THINK SHE’S FALLING FOR OUR SECRET PLAN, GUYS!  JUST BE COOL!”

The next day, Linda Danvers finds Derrek in one of her classes at Stanhope College, and she finds herself thinking about him.  Later, she finds a sign a note on the campus bulletin board from the conman, begging Supergirl to meet him that night.  The Girl of Steel reluctantly agrees, even though she knows she can’t get involved with a mere mortal.

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She meets Derrek, dressed in a formal version of her costume, which is a fun little touch, and they have a night on the town, where he works his magic.  Still, Supergirl is made of sterner stuff, so she tells him that they can’t be together, and after one last kiss, agrees to meet him the next day for a farewell picnic.

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What…is going on with that car’s back end?  It’s apparently floating several feet off of the ground!

On that day, Derrek slips the anti-powers pill into her cup, completing his mission.  Meanwhile, Starfire’s flunkies have staged a robbery to put the drug to the test, and when Supergirl intervenes, she finds her powers rapidly waning!  She dodge gunfire for a moment but suddenly crumples to the ground.  When the grifter checks her, he declares to his confederates that Supergirl is dead!  Dun-dun-DUN!  That’s a good cliffhanger to end on.  It’s hard to get much more serious than ‘the book’s star is dead!’

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So, this month Supergirl became a romance comic.  This story was an interesting departure, and there is actually a little bit of good character work here.  That’s the part of the tale that I found most enjoyable.  It’s reasonable that Supergirl might fall for a charming rascal who said and did all the right things.  After all, she’s still just a girl, young and inexperienced with romance.  I know I was pretty darn stupid at that age and got into all kinds of romantic troubles before I meet my wife.  It’s a plot that actually takes some advantage of Supergirl’s age and setting, which is a pleasant change of pace.

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The whole thing moves a bit too quickly to make the betrayal have the punch that it could have, and the anti-power pill is a bit of a silly gimmick.  Yet, the biggest weakness with this story is the art.  Sekowsky’s usually uneven pencils are absolutely abominable in this story, and there are several pages that are just plain ugly.  The creativity and inventiveness that marked Manhunter don’t have much opportunity to shine here, and his figure-work and perspective are all kinds of wonky.  The final effect is a solid if unattractive story of an unusual type.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.  Amor vincit omnia!

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And since I’m not covering the very short-lived backup feature in Adventure (I believe this is its last month), that will do it for this post.  I hope you enjoyed my musings and will join me again soon for another leg of my journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome internet travelers, to my first strides into the next year of DC’s Bronze Age comics, 1971!  We’re beginning a whole new year, a year that will bring us the expansion of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books to include all of their titles, and a year that will bring a number of changes to the DC Universe, starting with the Man of Steel himself.  We’ll tackle the landmark “Kryptonite Nevermore” story at the end of this set of posts.  I’ll be adding Superboy to my staple of books, as it will be gaining a Legion of Superheroes backup feature, which means that I’ll now be reading every superhero comic DC published other than Wonder Woman, and the Amazing Amazon is due to get added to my list when Denny O’Neil takes over the title in preparation for her return to her classic roots, in April of 1972.  We’ve got a while to wait for that one.  As for 1971, I can’t wait to see what this year of comics holds for us!  I hope you’ll join me as I continue my journey!

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:

  • Cigarette ads banned on TV
  • Ohio agrees to pay $675,000 to relatives of Kent State victims
  • Globetrotters lose 100-99 to NJ Reds, ending 2,495-game win streak
  • Berkeley chemists announces 1st synthetic growth hormones
  • 29 pilot whales beach themselves & die at San Clemente Island, Calif
  • Irish Republican Army (IRA) carry out a ‘punishment attack’, tarring and feathering 4 men accused of criminal activities in Belfast
  • Congressional Black Caucus organizes
  • Rev Philip Berrigan & 5 others indicted for plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger
  • 2 bombs explode at UK Employment Secretary Robert Carr’s home
  • At a party conference in Dublin, Sinn Féin end their 65 year abstentionist
  • John Lennon and Yoko Ono record “Power to the People
  • Riots break out in the Shankill Road area of Belfast, North Ireland
  • Charles Manson and accomplices convicted for the Tate murders
  • Military coup in Uganda under major general Idi Amin
  • The 170 delegates of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) call for the resignation of Northern Ireland Prime Minister James Chichester-Clark
  • Apollo 14 launched, 1st landing in lunar highlands

Clearly 1971 did not bring calmer days with it, especially not in Ireland.  I was really surprised that TV ads for cigarettes were banned this early.  I thought for sure they continued into the 80s.  Unrest continues around the world, but in America, this month is more about aftermath than new events.  It does feature Apollo 14’s mission, which is pretty exciting.  There is the plot to kidnap Henry Kissinger by a gang of priests and nuns, though.  That’s pretty insane, and I’m more than a little surprised that I never heard about it.  Apparently, the group was never convicted, and there are rumors that this was a setup.  Perhaps Nixon asked someone to ‘rid him of this troublesome priest.’  Still, one wonders!

This month’s number 1, just barely, is George Harrison’s deceptively lovely “My Sweet Lord,” which the unobservant might not realize at first is actually a Hare Krishna song, not a Christian one.  Harrison had joined the slightly cult-y Hare Krishnas back in the 60s and this song was an expression of his new religion.


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.


Action Comics #396


action_comics_396“The Super-Panhandler of Metropolis!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Invaders from Nowhere!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Ohh, hooray, another gimmicky Superman story.  Yay?  This is not the most electrifying beginning for the new year.  Our headline tale, as you can gather from that cover, is another ‘Superman in an everyday situation’ yarn, which doesn’t have much appeal for me, and this one goes beyond the normal gimmickiness to also portray the Man of Steel himself rather badly.

It all begins in the far future decade of the 1990s.  What could such an inconceivably distant era hold for the Metropolis Marvel?  Well, nothing good, I’ll tell you that much.  The story opens with an episode of “Where Are they Now,” a TV show that tracks formerly famous individuals.  They catch up with James Olsen, now chief producer of WMET-TV, but instead of asking him about his own life, they ask a bunch of question about Superman, who disappeared years ago.  I bet that had to tick ‘ol Jimmy off.  Apparently, the Man of Steel just gradually faded from public view, and eventually no-one was able to contact him any longer.  We cut to the man himself, slumped and defeated, sitting in a wheelchair and panhandling on a street corner.  What could have brought him to this low state?  Well, we don’t get to find out this issue.

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Instead, we get a tour of the true city of tomorrow, Metropolis, circa the 1990s!  In this remote future, the citizens no longer need a Superman, as they have all kinds of nifty technological wonders , like anti-gravity beams, escape-proof capture cells in banks, and fire detectors in every streetlight, as well as helicopter fire engines.  Do you remember when they came out with those anti-gravity beams in the 90s?  What a time…

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Superman’s sad-sack inner monologue tells us that he has lost all of his powers except for his super vision and hearing, and this has apparently left him a complete wreck of a human being.  He thinks of himself only in terms of his abilities.  He also thinks of himself entirely as Superman, not Clark or even Kal-El.  Herein is one of the biggest problems with this story.  This mopey, defeated loser doesn’t have much in common with the Superman from last month’s World’s Finest, dragging himself through the dirt of an alien world to save the universe, despite the overwhelming odds against him.  Some of the best Superman stories are those in which he loses his powers and then goes on to demonstrate that it isn’t super strength, invulnerability, flight, or any of the rest that makes him a hero; it’s the indomitable spirit that animates him.  In fact, one of my favorite episodes of Justice League is “Hereafter,” where the Man of Tomorrow gets transported to a very distant tomorrow indeed where the sun is red.  He quietly, calmly, and heroically goes about doing what he can to survive and to find answers, despite the fact that he’s powerless.  It’s a wonderful examination of what makes him special, the unassuming greatness that isn’t about bullet-proof skin or laser eyes.

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Anyway, back to our story.  The crippled Superman, who is definitely not just Clark Kent, saves a young boy who stupidly runs into traffic, who repays him by insulting the man who saved his life.  Nice, kid.  A good Samaritan sees the deeds and gives the Super-bum five bucks, which he uses to buy some food, taking it home to an abandoned tenement building.  He’s apparently got a bunch of diseased folks living there with him, as we get a glimpse of ‘strangely mottled arms’ reaching out for the food.  That doesn’t get explained, this month, though.  Desperate to regain his lost glory, the former Man of Steel also does some experiments in an attempt to restore his powers.  All they do, however, is destroy his clothes, leaving him nothing to wear but his costume so that we can reach maximum gimmick.

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action-396-15-11So, the next day he goes out covered with a blanket and a shawl so people won’t see the costume, and while he’s out, he runs into Lois, now married with children, and what’s more, married to a dead-ringer for Clark Kent.  The girl’s got issues, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this, either.  Later, while begging in front of the Daily Planet building, Superman reaches for a dropped coin and reveals his costume.  The crowd notices and bombards him with questions.  The issue ends with him fleeing in his wheelchair, pursued by the quizzical crowd.

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Check out those groovy 1990s fashions!

This is a weird one, and it rubs me the wrong way to an extent.  There’s probably a good story to be told about Superman losing his powers; in fact, that story has been told several times, and told well, but this isn’t one of them.  The character examination that should be the fruit of such a storytelling endeavor is wasted here, with the bitter, broken former hero concerned only with his loss of power and glory.  It isn’t that we couldn’t handle a story about an embittered Man of Steel, it’s that this story gives us no real justification for his state, other than the loss of his powers.  Of course, there are also the logical problems with this story, as it is just strange that, with or without powers, Clark Kent would end up a beggar.

He’s a talented and intelligent guy.  Plus, you know Bruce would kick some money his way!  Heck, the Last Son of Krypton could just sell some of his homeworld’s technology and live in luxury the rest of his life.  Instead, he’s apparently just left the Fortress of Solitude sitting empty.  The sci-fi elements of the far-future 1990s are pretty hilarious in retrospect, but that isn’t anything to hold against this story.  There are some intriguing mysteries teased in the background of this tale, like the apparently diseased inhabitants of Super-bum’s tenement and the question of how he lost his powers, but they are not the focus of the plot.  I assume they’ll get developed next issue, but I can’t say I’m particularly excited about reading that tale.  I’ll give this one 2 Minutemen for its misuse of its central character.

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P.S.: Interestingly, the effects of “Kryptonite Nevermore” were already being felt when this book hit the stands, as it includes a one page update on the state of Superman and his setting.

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“The Invaders from Nowhere”


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This is a fine Superman story, if not particularly impressive.  While this tale is a bit unusual for the Last Son of Krypton, for the Atom, it would just be a Tuesday.  The curtain rises on the Man of Steel himself ripping his way into his Fortress of Solitude, as all of the security systems are going nuts and the great golden door has jammed.  A rapid search of the place at super speed reveals two weird looking aliens who introduce themselves as Seekers from the world of Krann.  This pair of extraterrestrial invaders precede to capture the Metropolis Marvel despite his best efforts.  His punches pass right through them, and their weapons render him helpless.

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Superman is transported aboard their ship to a world under a red sun where some sort of sinister experiment awaits him.  Once planetside, he’s locked in a strange cage-like device, but our hero won’t take this sort of thing lying down.  He’s determined to fight, despite the fact that he should be powerless under a red star, yet when he starts to resist, he discovers that his powers remain undiminished.  Strange!  He throws himself at his cage again and again, but his efforts have no effect.

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We cut to the aliens in the control room, and they helpfully fill us in on their plot.  It seems the core of their world has run out of energy and begun to grow cold.  They’re trying to jump-start it by siphoning off Superman’s energy through his escape attempts.  They accomplish their purpose, and the Man of Steel, exhausted, slumps over…dead!    The Krannians drag him outside, only for their captive to spring back to life!  Superman notes that he can control his hearbeat, so he could stop it long enough to appear dead.  That’s a useful trick that could make Batman jealous.

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Fearing that the red sun would render him powerless as he tried to fly to Earth, the Man of Tomorrow hijacks the alien ship and heads for home.  Yet, as he flies, he experiences a strange phenomenon, as he begins to grow.  Eventually, he and the ship emerge back in the Fortress of Solitude, springing out of the model of Krypton!  The entire alien world was actually part of a microscopic universe, and the incredibly advanced extraterrestrials were inhabitants thereof.  This fact explains why Superman didn’t lose his powers under the red sun, as it was just the replica in the Krypton display.  Before our hero can decide what to do with the pint-sized kidnappers, there is a tiny explosion, and a microscopic examination of the area reveals the ruins of Krann.  Their plan worked too well, and their planet’s core overheated until it exploded like Krypton-that-was, for a nice little touch of irony.

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This is a fun little backup yarn, clocking in at a brief but enjoyable 9 pages.  It manages to set up the problem, provide some action, and even deliver a bit of a surprise, all in those few pages, and that is nothing to sneeze at.  The concept of a mysterious microscopic world and invaders therefrom is not a new one, having showed up often in the Atom’s escapades, but it’s always one I enjoy.  It provides an opportunity for fantastic and unusual adventures that can stretch the imagination.  After all, the possibilities of such a setting are limitless.  Of course, Krann barely gets any exploration in this story because it is so short, but the possibility is still there.  In this case, I’ll give this tale 3.5 Minutemen for a fine read.

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Adventure Comics #401


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“The Frightened Supergirl”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“The Strange House”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

As with the last issue, this book contains a backup for Tracey Thompson, an extremely short-lived character, which I won’t be covering as it isn’t really a superhero story.  The Supergirl feature is an unusual but entertaining little tale, featuring a character I had previously only encountered in All-Star Superman, Lex Luthor’s niece, Nasthaltia “Nasty” Luthor.  Nasty, a fitting antagonist for the Maid of Might, was apparently only introduced a few issues ago in #397.  It seems she had a fairly short life, appearing in only ten issues, but it looks like we’ll see her a few more times before she fades into obscurity.  However, it isn’t the presence of the awkwardly named ‘Nasty’ that makes this issue unusual.

We begin in media res, with the villainess’s plan already completed.  Supergirl has been reduced to a quivering, cringing wreck, completely paralyzed by fear.  She is cowering in terror from a mouse while Lex Luthor and his young niece look on.  Nasty helpfully fills us in on how the Maid of Steel got into this situation.  The Lady Luthor poisoned the heroine’s drink at a luncheon in her honor, spiking her water with an an agent that caused utterly crippling fear.

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In complete panic, Supergirl smashed her way out of the building, fleeing down the street.  Everything and everyone she encounters just feeds the fires of her fear.  In a funny little episode, she encounters a little boy dressed up as a cowboy who tries to play with her, which only horrifies the girl more.

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I love the kid’s sheepish encouragement in panel 3.

adventure-401-06She tears through everything in her mad flight, smashing buildings, cars, and more.  The police try fruitlessly to restrain her, for all the good that does, and finally, Nasty herself shows up, claiming to be a friend of the frantic female.  By speaking calmly and soothingly, she temporarily allays the Maid of Might’s fears and brings her back to her hideout.  There, joined by her villainous uncle, she revels in the humiliation of her foe.  Lex plans to sell tickets to view the terrorized teen to the underworld, by which he expects to make a fortune.

adventure-401-13First, however, Nasty wants to have a bit more fun, so she pulls out a little toy car that can follow a target and sics it on Supergirl.  Spooked by the device, the Maid of Steel lashes out again, utterly destroying the house they were hiding in and very quickly revealing how bad an idea it is to panic a super strong, invulnerable person in an enclosed space.

All of a sudden, Linda Danvers awakens in bed and slowly realizes that this had all been a dream.  She sees with relief that the city still stands.  Then, that same toy car from her dream rolls into her room, a gift her roommate got for her little brother.  How strange!

This is an odd story, though it is fun.  The ‘it was all a dream‘ maneuver surprised me, because as crazy as this all was, it didn’t seem substantially crazier than a normal Sekowsky story.  All throughout, I was thinking, ‘man, folks are really going to love Supergirl after this.  First there’s that bridge from a few issues ago, now she’s torn down the entire town!’  I think it would have been interesting to see Sekowsky actually play with the consequences from such an event as he did with the bridge incident, but I suppose he really didn’t have time in only 14 pages.  It’s entertaining to see Supergirl just tear through town, and there are several funny moments in the tale.  The dream angle also covers over some issues I had with the story, as it does seem a bit odd for Supergirl, while certainly acting irrationally because of fear, to nonetheless run away instead of flying away.  Also, the pair of super geniuses who have captured her certainly don’t act too bright when they antagonize the incredibly powerful alien in their little house.  Of course, with the plot being the product of a dream, you can handwave all of that.

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Speaking of the villains, I like the focus on female antagonists so far in this book.  It’s something of a rarity to have a cast that is primarily female agents in comics, and there’s good potential in that setup.  That being said, I’m not certain how I feel about Lex Luthor having a niece.  I rather prefer him to be alone in the world, a solitary man of brilliance, will, and blackened soul.  Nonetheless, Nasty is undeniably fun in this story.  The whole story is enjoyable, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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And that is our first pair of books.  Not the most impressive duo, but I’m sure there are better stories awaiting us.  Please join me again soon for another step in my Journey into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 1)

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Welcome to December 1970, where we have finally reached the end of the first year of this not-so-little project, something over a year after I actually began it!  Hopefully, we’ll be able to move through the next year a bit more quickly.  But first, we’ve got to get there, which means we’ve got one more month of comics to read.  Let’s take a look at what was going on in the world back then, shall we?

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:

  • USA’s Environmental Protection Agency created
  • US and USSR perform nuclear tests
  • Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy & Bill Masterson Trophy stolen from NHL hall of fame
  • The Dutch Antilles government of Petronia falls
  • Soviet Venera 7 is 1st spacecraft to land on another planet (Venus)
  • An uprising against Poland’s communist regime fails
  • Walt Disney’s Aristocats is released
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (United States) signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon (OSHA arrives)
  • Unrest continues in Ireland
  • Paul McCartney files a lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles

This is a fairly quite month, at least compared to our last few, though there are dozens of nuclear tests perform that provide mute but eloquent witness to the tensions in the world.  Perhaps the event of greatest note is the landing of the first spacecraft on another planet.  That was quite an accomplishment, and one I hadn’t heard of before.  Of particular interest to this blog, given my propensity for jokes about it, is the advent of OSHA.  I suppose now my teasing won’t be anachronistic.

The top song this month was “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles.  You’ve gotta’ love Smokey Robinson!


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

  • Action Comics #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

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


Action Comics #395


action_comics_395“The Secrets of Superman’s Fortress”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Credit Card of Catastrophe”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

This is a pretty solid issue, with two enjoyable tales within, and just check out that cover!  That’s a striking image, and it certainly piqued my curiosity.  The headline tale doesn’t quite live up to the cool cover, but it’s fun enough, with some cool extra treats.  It does have one glaring logical problem, though.

This cover story starts with something unexpected, a flashback to Superman’s creation of his Fortress of Solitude!  We just get a brief glimpse of him setting the place up, then we are treated to cool two-page spread diagram of the place, which was a pleasant surprise.  I’ve mentioned before how much I loved this type of thing as a kid, and I still think it is a nice feature to add to a story, to give readers a spatial sense of a place, fleshing the setting out a bit more fully.  The diagram accompanies a visit from Jimmy Olsen, who Superman takes for a tour in thanks for the boy’s assistance on his adventures.

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I love what the giant gold key says about Superman

In time, he also brings Lois for a tour, and he shows her his not-at-all creepy hall of Lois dioramas immortalizing her aid in various cases he’s faced.  The girl reporter takes this as a charming sign of the Man of Steel’s affection.  I think I might be more inclined to take it as a sign of him being a super-stalker, a-la Superman Returns!  Anyway, Lois’s questionable sense of romance aside, she also notices a restricted access door and asks the hero about it, but he refuses to answer.  After he returns her home, the Metropolis Marvel looks inside the forbidden room and spends some time in melancholy reflection of the artifacts within, a cape and a feather.  It’s a nice, moody scene, and readers are really left wondering what could affect Superman so profoundly.

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In answer to the burning question on the audience’s minds, Superman puts on a device that will help him recall the experience he has been trying to forget because he just has to see it again.  We learn that on a mission in space he spotted a crashed spacecraft on a wild planet and decided to investigate.  When he arrived, he discovered a tribe of primitive humans, probably survivors of the ancient shipwreck, who are being hunted by slavers using dogs.  The Man of Tomorrow leaps into action, not one to let such injustice pass, and creates a shelter for the panicked savages, and, in a funny scene, he also just lets the dogs chew on him until he weaves a net to hold them.

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But his efforts do not go unnoticed, and we meet a group of alien amazons, powerful warrior women who are on the world to mine an element vitally necessary for their race.  The commander of the crew, Captain Althera, is quite struck by the heroic conduct and appearance of Kal-El, the ol’ lady killer, and she begins to wonder about where he might have come from.  For his part, Superman promises the tribe that he’ll protect them until the slavers leave.  The next gambit of the amazons, which involves booby-trapping a fruit tree they visit, is easily defeated when the Man of Steel simply carries the tree away, prisoners and all.  Althera’s crew is concerned about her infatuation with the alien, but she attempts to hide her feelings.

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The amazons have a very Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon look, which I love.

Later that night, Superman discovers her slipping out of their camp to carve a statue of him, only to smash it in anger at her own feelings.  Clearly this chick’s got issues!  Like Lois, the hero has perhaps poor judgement about romance, and he finds this strange outburst quite endearing.  The kryptonian, long sojourning among frail humanity, is fascinated by this powerful, passionate female alien.  Her strength and spirit are intriguing for him, and he begins to wonder if he’s found a woman of iron who could keep up with a Man of Steel.  That’s actually a cool angle, and it makes sense that, even though Superman identifies with humanity, there would always be a part of him that would desire the company of beings that were really his equals.

On her way back to cap, the distracted Captain accidentally triggers a deadfall setup by the tribesmen, and though she has the strength to hold it temporarily, the Man of Tomorrow must come to her aid.  His intercession moves the warrior woman.  She insists that he must be one of her people, and she wants him for her mate!  Interestingly, Superman isn’t in too big of a hurry to dissuade her at first, but when her helmet falls off, the feathery plumes covering her head reveal that her people are avian.  For some reason, this is a deal breaker, and it is also the on real problem with this story.  (It never stopped Captain Kirk!)  Superman realizes that they are incompatible, but seeing as he’s the last of his race, that’s true of any other being, including Lois!

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In a neat touch, the reason that Althera was convinced the hero was one of her people was because he could fly, which her bird-like race had once been able to do as well.  She assumed he was a further evolution.  That works pretty well, and it makes the kryptonian’s revelation of his origins an effective turning point for the story.

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With Superman’s help, the amazons quickly manage to mine the materials they need, and the two races part in peace, leaving Clark nothing to remember his lovely lady-lark but a single plume from her head.

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The whole thing happens too fast to be entirely successful as a tale of lost love, but it’s a fun story, and the Vrandarians have a cool design.  There’s a story worth a longer treatment here, with a warrior woman who rebels against her matriarchal culture in the name of love and Superman lured to the stars by the prospect of a partner who could really be his equal, but these promising elements are really only here in embryonic form.  Still, it’s an enjoyable enough read, despite Superman’s seeming overreaction to his possible paramour’s plumes and the speed of their romance.  I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.

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“The Credit Card of Catastrophe”


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This is a story that I fully expected to be super gimmicky and silly, but, despite the fact that it seems like an utterly conventional ‘overly elaborate but harmless scheme’ story on paper, it actually features a more thoughtful, reasonable resolution than I expected.

The story beings with an off-beat scene, as Superman, for some reason that is never explained, visits a fortune teller named ‘Madame Mephisto’ (apparently the Marvel character is moonlighting at DC!).  The Man of Steel is oddly affected by her routine, but he remains skeptical, though he accepts a token from her: a card that is supposed to grant him three wishes, wishes with a secret price.

Later on, the Metropolis Marvel is in disguise as his mild-mannered alter-ego, covering a baseball game (apparently he, like his recent movie counterpart, has the most eclectic beat in newspaper history) when the stands begin to collapse!  He rushes to help as Superman, but his powers fail him.  In desperation, he wishes to be able to accomplish his usual daring do, and suddenly leaps into action.  Afterwards, his card glows mysteriously!  One wish down.

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The next day, because every day in the DCU is a constant cavalcade of crises, Clark is covering the filming of a movie when something goes wrong.  A hot-air balloon threatens the crowd, and once again the Man of Tomorrow’s powers fail him.  Once again, his wish saves the day, accompanied by the glowing of his card!

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The third day, you guessed it, we get another disaster, an oil platform threatened by an iceberg.  One quick wish later and Superman is carving the ‘berg into ice cubes,’ and his third wish is gone.  His powers seem to have deserted him permanently, and he sets out to find the mystic who started all of this.  She claims to have affected him with her magic and promises to restore his powers, but for a price!  Madame Mephisto demands that the hero hand over half the gold in Fort Knox, and Superman faces an interesting moral quandary.  If he agrees, he’s committing one heck of a crime and betraying the public trust.  If he refuses, there’s no telling how many could suffer and die because he won’t be able to help them.  I’m pleased that the rational choice of the greater good is actually the one he takes, displaying a slightly more mature morality than ‘crime=bad’ that usually populates such books.

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Yet, when he returns with the gold, he gives it to the fortune teller in an unexpected fashion, dumping the heavy bullion right on her head!  I was sufficiently taken aback by this twist, thinking, ‘that would kill her!’  Here’s where the story impressed me and proved itself to be more than I expected.  Superman digs the buried clairvoyant out, only to unmask her as…Supergirl!  This is where the cliche comic story would generally provide a paper-thin excuse, which this one certainly has, but it also has a surprisingly well thought-out resolution.  Supergirl attended a lecture on hypnotism and was curious if she or Clark could be conned into doing something against their will, so she wildly unethically decided to experiment on her cousin without his knowledge or consent.

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She hypnotized him into believing his powers were gone and that the card could restore them; then she followed him to ensure that nothing really went wrong.  The fun bit is that Superman reasoned it out in a believable fashion, without ridiculous jumps in logic.  He realized that in each challenge he faced, he wasn’t hurt, despite his powers supposedly having been cancelled.  He recognized that only his voluntary powers were affected, making it unlikely that magic was the cause, which is quite clever and reasonable.  When the Maid of Might restored his powers in order to get the gold, he spied on her with X-Ray vision and sussed out enough of the rest to turn the tables on her.  Supergirl complains that he ruined her experiment, so they’ll never know if they can actually be controlled through hypnotism, which, of course, is magic in comics.

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This is a fun and curious little story, surprising in that the contrived plot is actually given enough thought to make it work out in the end.  Supergirl’s experiment seems unnecessary, and I think I’d be more than a little annoyed at being used as a guinea pig if I were Superman, but, let’s face it: he’s probably done worse things to her.  I’ll give this simple and gimmicky but enjoyable story 3 Minutemen.

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The letter column for this issue includes a funny missive to the sour-grapes writers who voiced complaints about the same names constantly showing up in the letter feature as certain epistlers got their dispatches picked fairly often.  The letter included a hilarious and very clever little poem which I found worth sharing with y’all:

A pox on Martin Pasko,
A plague on Irene V.
And fie to all the other fans
More fortunate than me!

Thus readers rant a million ways
O’er fruitless hours of writing praise
In deathless prose and deathless verse,
At times verbose and sometimes terse.

Suppose the reader knocks the tale
And says the artwork was too stale?
Or if not, what else might be wrong–
Was the story too short? Or too long?

Yes, that just might be the key
To critical success for me!
And so, once more, to pen and paper
To criticize each startling caper
Of daring men and super-creatures,
Aliens, spirits, other features.

But hapless writers, don’t lose heart
If the pearls of wisdom you’d impart
Are deemed too dull by guys and dolls
Who cull comments for lettercols.
No hard names should you others call:
Patience and work will conquer all.

Better luck next time.

Isn’t that clever?


Adventure Comics #400


adventure_comics_vol_1_400“Return of the Black Flame”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

We’ve got a milestone for Adventure Comics here in issue number 400, and to celebrate, Mike Sekowsky, who is wearing three different hats in this issue, arranges a return engagement for a Supergirl villain.  I didn’t even know she had any villains!  The femme fatale of our tale turns out to be the Black Flame, a Silver Age character I’d never heard of.  Apparently, she’s a rogue from the Bottle City of Kandor, which is a pretty neat idea, honestly.  In one of her previous encounters with the Maid of Might, she was stripped of her powers with gold kryptonite, which is apt to make one a bit cranky.  I was pretty thrilled to find a tale with an actual supervillain, as those have been few and far between in our comics this year.  The story itself is fun, if a bit goofy.  Apparently Sekowsky thought that the Black Flame’s triumphant return wasn’t enough to mark the 400th issue, so he introduced three more bad guys, putting the heroine up against a fitting four antagonists.  The trouble is, whereas the Flame is an established villainess with a kryptonian pedigree, her three associates are one-shot opponents who don’t make any sense in this setting.

We join the Maid of Might as she repairs her super-suit (apparently, she doesn’t have an Edna Mode on call).  She’s enjoying a classic black and white film (a girl after my own heart), so she catches a strange news broadcast that follows the flick.  The station received an unusual note, a public appeal to Supergirl for help, including a hidden phone number that only her super senses can detect.  Intrigued, Kara decides to investigate.  A call leads her to a mysterious rendezvous that is definitely not a trap.

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Meanwhile, at the trap…err…rendezvous, a quirky quartet are gathered together, watching her progress.  They include the tall, spindly figure of ‘The Inventor,’ the green-clad leprechaun, ‘L. Finn,’ and the portly presence of ‘the Toymaster.’  Now, that’s ToyMASTER, not ToyMAN.  He’s totally different and original and not at all a ripoff.  Shut up!  Toyman is a well-known DC villain.  Toymaster has, I’m fairly certain, never appeared again.  Why Sekowsky didn’t use the existing villain, who already had a grudge against Superman and his friends, I’ll never know.  Anyway, this very motley and unimpressive assortment are lead by the costumed Black Flame, who has a pretty cool look, though it really doesn’t scream ‘black’ or ‘flame.’  She obligingly gives us a flashback to her escape from prison, which is pretty neat.  She slowly assembled odds and ends until she could build a one-shot stun ray, which she used to zap a guard and get his gun.  Then she staged a daring breakout of her kandorian prison, blasting her way to a ship.

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Oddly, she takes that ship to the Phantom Zone, as if it were a planet to which you could just fly.  My knowledge of the Silver Age Superman mythos is a tad spotty, but I’m pretty sure that even then it was firmly established that the Zone was a separate dimension you had to have special equipment to access.  That was more or less the whole point.  I hope a reader will correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m inclined to put this down to Sekowsky’s confusion, especially considering what happens next.  The fiendish flame wants to recruit some fellow villains.  So, who does she carry away from the Phantom Zone?  Perhaps General Zod, Jax Ur, or another famous kryptonian criminal?  Perhaps some new and exciting foes from Krypton-that-was?  No!  She calls the three goofballs we met before, who just seem to be earthlings.  How in the world did they end up in the Phantom Zone?!

Well, their inexplicable origins aside, the narrative returns to the present, where Supergirl strolls into the eerie old house that is definitely not a trap.  Once inside, she’s ambushed by a robot maid with a lasso coated in kryptonite dust.  She destroys the automaton, but she begins to succumbs to the effect of the poisonous element.  Suddenly, Streaky, little cape and all, arrives, ignoring her pleas for help and coating her with more kryptonite dust!  It turns out that this is another robot, controlled by the Toymaster, and the embattled heroine beheads it with a blow, passing out from the effort.

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Robo-Streaky, no!

The Maid of Might awakens in a strange setting, tied up with kryptonite coated bonds and posed as a ten-pin in an oversized bowling alley.  The quartet of criminals have a supply of kryptonite bowling balls, and they take turns rolling for a deadly strike.  That’s right, we’re in classic villainous death trap territory here.  The whole setup is pretty silly, but I’m willing to give it a pass considering how central a part of the genre this kind of thing is.  I’ll admit, it’s weird and unique enough to be entertaining.

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With each strike, Supergirl grows weaker, but she also realizes that the impacts are knocking the kryptonite off of her bonds, so she recovers between rounds.  Finally, she is strong enough to break free, and she puts her foes on their heels until L. Finn hits her with a blast of magic, knocking her out once more.  It is revealed, to literally no-one’s surprise, that the fellow dressed as a leprechaun is, in fact, a leprechaun!

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Once more, the Maid of Might awakens in a death trap.  Twice in one issue is pushing things a bit, even in a comic book!  Genre conventions be darned, the Black Flame is going to have her overly-elaborate revenge, even embracing the classic villain mistake, and leaving the heroine to her fate, confident that there is no way she can escape.  To be fair, things do look grim for Supergirl.  She’s bound in a pile of gold kryptonite dust (one wonders where the Flame got all this stuff!), with a giant kryptonite harpoon pointed at her chest.  Now, once again, I’m going to plead foul.  Doesn’t gold kryptonite remove powers pretty quickly?  I didn’t think it was a slow process.  What’s more, aren’t the effects of the gold variety irreversible?  Didn’t we just see that a few months ago in a Superman story?  Then again, I suppose green kryptonite doesn’t accomplish its effect all at once.  I suspect that I’m giving this more thought than Sekowsky did.  Still, I’m inclined to call shenanigans.

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adventure-400-21Inconsistent alien minerals aside, the situation looks dire for our heroine, but she escapes in a cute and moderately clever sequence.  It does depend entirely on the incompetence of the Toymaster, though.  He left his toys and his control box right next to her prison, within convenient reach.  I can’t help but think that the Flame would have been better off going for the name-brand villains rather than these generic knock-offs.  Toyman would never have made such a rookie mistake.  I suppose you get what you pay for.

Either way, the Girl of Steel discovers that she can control these little automatons telepathically, and she orders them to free her.  They make for an entertaining and charming little robot army.  She turns their adorable ire on her captors, and they make quick work of the villainous team, enabling Supergirl herself to put the Black Flame out of action.  I have to say, I just love the scene of the toys descending on the villains.  That’s so silly and yet so fun that it really captures the joyful absurdity of a superheroic world.

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This is a fun enough story, but it really does have some weak points.  The random earth-villains randomly being in the Phantom Zone is odd by itself, and the double death trap dilemma is a bit much.  I would have liked to see more of the Black Flame, as she piqued my curiosity.  Unfortunately, after her escape, all she really did was give orders to her evil associates.  I suppose I’ll give this flawed issue 2.5 Minutemen. as its faults slightly outweigh its enjoyability, but the adorable antics of the animate toys make me smile.

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That covers our first post on December of 1970.  I hope you enjoyed it and will join me again soon for our next few issues.  They promise to be an interesting pair!  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!