Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’re starting a new month of comics, and we’ve got a double douse of super stories for our survey.  I’m experimenting with formatting a bit with this post, so I welcome any feedback about the changes.  I’m changing the sizing of my images so they will mostly auto-adjust for folks viewing the site on tablets or phones.  Are any of y’all accessing it that way?  If not, are the new sizes too much for those of you still viewing on PCs?

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 performs underground nuclear test at Amchitka Island Aleutians
  • Mariner 9, 1st to orbit another planet (Mars)
  • Intel advertises 4004-processor
  • The Compton inquiry is published, acknowledging that there was ill-treatment of internees, but rejected claims of systematic brutality or torture (Northern Ireland)
  • The US increase air activity to support the Cambodian government as fighting neared Phnom Penh
  • China performs nuclear test at Lop Nor, PRC
  • Battle of Garibpur: Indian troops aided by Mukti Bahini (Bengali guerrillas) defeat the Pakistan army
  • China People’s Republic seated in UN Security Council
  • American “Dan Cooper” hijacks plane, extorts $200,000 ransom before jumping out of plane over Washington State, never seen again
  • Soviet Mars 2 becomes 1st spacecraft to crash land on Mars
  • Republic of Ireland states that it will take the allegations of brutality against the security forces in Northern Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights
  • Multiple deaths in Ireland, intentional and accidental, as IRA and security forces clash in bombings, ambushes, and sniper attacks

The Troubles in Ireland heated up this month, with the IRA stepping up attacks and the death toll rising.  The racial troubles in the U.S. seem a little quieter this month, and we see an important moment in world history, as Communist China joined the center of U.N. power, the Security Council.  This decision would have major and far-reaching consequences.  One wonders if it solved more problems than it created.  We also see tensions rising elsewhere in the world, as the early stages of the Indo-Pakistani War are taking place on the two countries’ borders.

On a more positive note, the space race continues, and man-made satellites reached mars.  The U.S. remained in the lead, with the Soviets trailing behind and the crash landing of their probe.  It’s amazing to me how much was accomplished in just a few years.

At the top of the charts this month we have two songs tied, two very different songs.  The first is Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves,” which is a pretty fun and very 70s song.  The second tune is the legendary, wonderfully funky theme song of Shaft!  As you know, he’s one bad mother-

-Shut your mouth!

-I’m talking about Shaft!

Can you dig it?


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #406
  • Adventure Comics #412
  • Batman #236
  • Brave and the Bold #98
  • Detective Comics #417
  • The Flash #210
  • Forever People #5
  • G.I. Combat #150
  • Justice League of America #94
  • New Gods #5
  • Superboy #179
  • Superman #244
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
  • World’s Finest #207

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


Action Comics #406


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“Master of Miracles”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Challenge of the Expanding World”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Alex Toth
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Ghost That Haunted Clark Kent”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Well, this is a new one.  We’ve got Clark Kent haunted by the headless ghost of Superman.  Only in comics, folks.  This is certainly a striking cover.  I mean, you can’t help but wonder what in the screaming blue blazes is going on inside, but it seems to declare a very particular type of tale awaits within, the traditional gonzo Superman yarn.  Notably, this issues is one of those rare few where the headline story is not the source of the cover, though I guess almost anything would pale in comparison, at least in the ‘what the heck’ sense, to a decapitated spectral Man of Steel.

The first story inside is actually quite solid, despite its lack of guillotined ghouls.  It begins with Clark being dispatched in his ‘rolling newsroom’ (I’m curiuos how long this thing is going to hang around) by Morgan Edge to get the scoop on a mysterious new guru known as “The Master” attracting the best and brightest minds in the country to a commune called “Sanctuary.”  Edge’s dismissive comments on communes made me laugh, as he declares “Bah! Most communes are run by dropouts from life”.  He may be a jerk, but he’s not wrong.  Well, Mr. Mild-Mannered heads out, only to find a bus of scientists on their way to meet the Master stuck trying to cross a river and in danger of being swept away by a flood.

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action-406-06-04Clark changes to Superman and rescues the imperiled pilgrims, but as he flies away with the bus, he sees the mysterious Master appear and freeze the onrushing wall of water.  The guru is cryptic and enigmatic in his speech, in classic mystical mumbo-jumbo fashion, and predicts a coming global catastrophe.  He brings the new arrivals into Sanctuary, an otherwise deserted valley, and puts them to work picking up litter.  Posing as one of the faithful, Clark decides to get a closer look.  He observes the Master gather all of the recovered glass bottles, melt them down in an instant, and form them into giant dome to serve as the shelter of Sanctuary.

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action-406-11-08When Clark tries to enter, the Master reveals that he knows the hero’s secret identity and, using “prophet power”, predicts an imminent emergency that will need Superman’s attention.  The Man of Steel rushes off to save a train full of dangerous chemicals threatened by a raging forest fire, using a tanker of carbon dioxide to smother the flames.  Yet, he laments that even this solution added to the planet’s pollution.

Determined to solve the mystery of the Master, the Metropolis Marvel heads to his Fortress of Solitude, to use its computers.  While there, he gets a message from the Bottle City of Kandor about their census computer having broken down…and he’s really sort of a jerk as he dismisses them.  action-406-12-09He uses a “blackout beam” on the bottled city to cut off communications.  That seems unnecessarily harsh!  Another “emergency” distracts the Man of Tomorrow from today’s problem, sending him rushing to Metropolis.  The problem?  Their new jets are too noisy and are breaking the windows in the city…which really doesn’t seem like a job for Superman.  Nonetheless, the Action Ace whips up a floating airport in the bay using a mothballed fleet for materials, but once again, he is left lamenting the environmental impact of humanity.

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Back in Sanctuary (you didn’t think they’d forgotten about it, did you?), the Master has melted down old cans and walks across the molten metal to display his powers, finally shaping the metal into a cone structure.  He then leads his followers into a ‘hall of learning’ made out of discarded plastics, and Superman begs to join him, saying he realizes that there is much for him to learn.  The Man of Steel even humbles himself by putting the Master’s sandals back on his feet.

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Inside the hall, the pilgrims feel the structure begin to vibrate as a video screen plays a tape of the Master claiming to be part of an alien race that had seeded humanity on Earth and has now sent him back to rescue part of the population from the coming destruction of their planet.  Superman, using X-Ray vision, realizes what is really happening, and rushes outside to confront the Master, who has combined his three structures into a rocket.  Examining the guru’s shoes, the Man of Tomorrow realizes that they are actually from Kandor.  In fact, the charlatan is also from Kandor, and he was preparing to kidnap his followers and head to another planet where he could be a superman.

Apparently, this fellow, Van-Tarr, followed Superman out of Kandor, enlarging right behind him, and then used his powers to fake the abilities of the Master.  Now, this surprised the heck out of me.  I thought that the whole point with Kandor was that Superman couldn’t enlarge them…but apparently he can and just doesn’t.  What in the world?!  If that’s the case, our hero is basically holding these people hostage!  Any of you readers know what the explanation of this is?

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Well, whether Superman is Kandor’s savor or jailer, the story ends with him saving the Master’s former followers and returning the would-be world-ruler to the bottle city and telling the story to Morgan Edge.

This is a pretty Silver Age-ish tale, in its way, with an enigmatic newcomer who has powers to rival Superman, but the mystery it develops is actually handled reasonably well.  The Master is intriguing, and I enjoyed the reversal of his supposed origin, which itself would have not been out of place in comics.  The environmental focus of the story was also interesting, with the charlatan taking advantage of people’s anxiety about pollution, which was reinforced by Superman’s own observations throughout the story.  Clearly, this topic is still very much in the zeitgeist.  Swan’s art is excellent as usual, and I particularly liked his depiction’s of the Master’s feats.  All-in-all, this is a fine, enjoyable tale.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Ghost that Haunted Clark Kent”


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So, as goofy as the cover and central image of this story are, the backup itself is not as bad as I expected.  We certainly have some truth in advertising here, as the tale starts with almost the exact scene from the cover, with Clark Kent being brought to see a headless, spectral Superman stalking the walls of the Tower of London.  He’s in town to film a TV special, and the Beefeaters at the Tower naturally called him in to see this phenomenon.  Well, the curious Clark fakes a case of the creeks in order to switch into Superman and spy on the specter.  He discovers the figure passing through walls into a sealed chamber inside the fortress, where he becomes solid.  Drilling up through the foundations of the ancient pile, the Man of Tomorrow emerges in an ancient laboratory and faces a man in a Superman costume with a very strange, almost deathly visage.

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Instead of the fight we are all likely expecting, this phantasmagoric figure introduces himself quite politely.  It turns out he is Dr. Troy Magnus, once the royal physician back in 1665, during the last great Black Plague outbreak in England, and his story is a tragic one.  He was an alchemist, and he sought a potion to cure the plague.  He tested it on himself, and it seemed to work for a time.  Then, suddenly he was gripped with fever, but instead of dying, he turned into a phantom.  After a while he became corporeal again, but he now became a typhoid Mary, passing the plague on to all of those around him.  Horrified, he begged the guards to kill him, but his body became spectral whenever he was threatened.  Desperate, the devastated doctor volunteered to be sealed up inside a wall within the fortress, where the alchemical portion has kept him alive all this time.

Whew!  Well, what does all of this have to do with Magnus dressing up like a mummy Superman?  Nothing, actually.  He wanted to attract Superman’s attention, and being a specter, was able to suss out that Clark and he were the same.  Deciding that just a crazy ghost sighting wouldn’t be enough to attract the Action Ace’s attention, he did the only logical thing…pose as a headless, ghostly version of the hero.  That is…just so weird and unnecessary.  This story would work perfectly well without this contrivance.  This is the ridiculous world of this era of Superman, though.  He’s the center of the universe, and everything relates to him.  Clearly this is one of those cases where someone came up with a cover image and scrambled to find a story to justify it.

Paper-thin excuses for a Superman connection aside, the reason the alchemist has contacted the Man of Steel is that he hopes, with all his vast powers, the Kryptonian can finally end his long life.  That’s actually rather sad, and Swan does a great job of putting some anger and desperation in Magnus’s face as he pleads with the Man of Tomorrow to kill him.  Of course, the Metropolis Marvel refuses, but he agrees to seal up some gaps in the specters sepulcher.  Yet, when he uses his heat vision to do so, he accidentally strikes a mirrored alchemical machine, and as the deathless doctor tries to save his device, he is struck…and dies!  Considering that this comes moments after him having pleaded for death, you can’t help wondering if this was an elaborate form of suicide…which is really a little uncomfortable in a book like this.  As you might imagine, Clark is devastated by having accidentally taken a life, which is a huge thing that, I’m sure, will never be mentioned again.  The story ends with the sobered superhero resealing Magnus’s tomb so his plague doesn’t harm anyone, even in death.

So, what do we make of this weirdo tale?  Well, it really isn’t a bad story in concept, despite its ridiculously contrived central image.  The tale of poor Troy Magnus is a brief but effective one, and it is quite sad seeing this noble fellow, who only wanted to help people, cursed for his efforts.  Yet, it’s all outlandish enough that it really could use more space to work, and the ghost running around in the super-suit is just silly to the point of detracting from the gravity of the story.  Most importantly, however, Dorfman’s ending, having Superman be responsible for a death without any reflection or time to process what that means, is just terrible.  I’m reminded of a previous bi-polar story by Dorfman with a similarly unnecessarily dark ending.  There could easily have been an interesting yarn here, but once again, Dorfman rather dorfs it up.  I’ll give this odd little backup 2 Minutemen.

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P.S.: This issue includes a reprint of part 1 of a really neat Atom/Flash team-up that I am sure I must have read at some point of time but can’t remember for the life of me.  It’s got great Alex Toth art and an exciting, imaginative plot.


Adventure Comics #412


“The Battle for Survival”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Bob Oksner
Editor: Joe Orlando

Animal Man: “I Was the Man With Animal Powers”
Writer: Dave Wood
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Jack Schiff

Alright, now that’s a cover designed to catch your attention, isn’t it?    We’ve got cool looking aliens, gladiatorial combat, and Supergirl with a big-honking sword.  I would have passed right by most of the Adventure covers we’ve seen so far, but this one would certainly have given me pause!  About the only problem with it is that the blue giantess that our heroine has apparently defeated looks more curious than worried about the sword poised over her heart, Damocles-style.  Well, that and the somewhat awkward placement of her figure in relation to Supergirl.  Fortunately, this exciting cover is a good match for the tale within, and if you happened to pick this comic up because of it, you probably weren’t disappointed.  The story starts with the unnecessary Nasty witnessing a really crazy scene, as she spies Supergirl stealing a painting while a horde of bizarre bugs swarm over the street!  Rushing to a phonebooth, she calls the news team, thinking to *sigh* prove Linda is the Maid of Might.  However, it is Linda herself who answers!  For the first time, Nasty actually has a reason to doubt the almost certain knowledge she’s carried, but ignored, for so many issues.

Anyway, the team arrives and finds the bug bonanza under control by the police and get footage of the insect insanity and the art gallery crime scene.  Linda manages to convince Johnny to give her the rest of the day off (I’d like hours like that!) so she can set out after her imposter.  On a nearby roof, she finds the spurious Supergirl just waiting for her.  The duplicitous doppelganger greets the Maid of Might and tells the original that she must test her, throwing a handful of explosive capsules, any one of which “is usually enough to destroy an entire city” at the young heroine!

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The Girl of Tomorrow smothers the explosives in her hand, which apparently passes the test. (Sheesh!  That seems a bit extreme, especially given what we’ll see of the stranger’s motivations later on.)  The counterfeit Kryptonian confesses that she is from the planet Liquel II and masqueraded as Supergirl to get her attention.  She then blackmails the heroine into accompanying her home, threatening the innocent inhabitants of the city if she doesn’t.

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The Girl of Steel agrees, and the pair blast off, arriving just in time for the alluring alien, Glynix, to enter Supergirl into a gladatorial contest for the fate of her world.  It seems that Glynix and her mate Largyn are the rulers of their world, but they have been challenged by a vicious tyrant named Zogg.  The cosmic equivalent of the U.N. has ordered that all conflicts be settled by combat between champions instead of wars, and the desperate Glynix forced the Maid of Might into the fight as a last resort.  We get a really silly moment where the girl suddenly realizes that, hey, maybe that wasn’t fair, but the story rushes on.  Supergirl agrees to fight, not for the rulers, but for their people, and she squares off with the big blue gal from the cover.

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Art Saaf draws a nice looking fight scene, as Supergirl battles big blue, but her first attack seems to pass right through the giant, earning her a thrashing for her trouble!  The titan tries to crush her, but the Girl of Steel is made of sterner stuff and manages to escape, though Glynix is so worries, she almost calls off the combat rather than see the heroine hurt.  In something of a leap of logic, Supergirl works out that the giantess must have hypnotized her, because clearly it is impossible that an alien could have the ability to phase out.  In a clever move, Linda uses her heat vision to blind her foe and uses that advantage to absolutely annihilate the girl gladiator.

adventure 412-14With the fight over, Glynix rushes out and gives her erstwhile champion a sword, leading Supergirl to discover that she must either finish her foe or the young ruler will pay the price instead.  As all good superheroes do, the Maid of Might finds a third way, and calls on the gathered populace to change this unjust custom.  They support her and free their leader, only to have Zogg turn their army against them.  It seemed that the cowardly Largyn never thought Supergirl could win, so he cut a deal with Zogg to keep some power.  Glynix refuses to give in, and Supergirl rescues her before Zogg can have her killed, returning to destroy the weapon’s of the tyrant’s troops in a fun scene.

Yet, the would-be world-beater is not finished yet, and he calls on a buried and outlawed superweapon to destroy the Girl of Steel.  The “shock ray” shoots Supergirl, knocking her out of the sky.  She survives, if only barely, but before Zogg can fire again, Largryn finally finds his backbone and intercedes.  The two draw knives and engage in a vicious struggle, rolling into a moat that suddenly appears, despite the fact that all of this has, until this page, been taking place inside the arena.  After a tense moment, the restored ruler emerges, having finished off his foe.  A recovered Supergirl takes her leave, and arrives home exhausted.

This is a crazy, plot-packed adventure, but it is a great kind of madness.  It is just stuffed with adventure, action, and fun.  You’ve got a whole epic story crammed into 21 pages, but it worked fairly well, with little mini-arcs for both of Liquel II’s leaders, even if Glynix’s hasn’t been thought out all the way.  The gladiator fight is great fun, and Zogg makes for a solid, scenery-chewing bad guy.  The whole thing works as a classic sci-fi super saga despite a bit of silliness here and there.  I thoroughly enjoyed its wild ride.  Art Saaf, who I don’t think I’ve encountered before, does a marvelous job with the art.  It’s bold, energetic, and really lovely, with lots of personality in the dramatis personae.  I’ll give this fun tale of a super-fracas 4 Minutemen.


And that will do it for the first post on this month’s books.  I think we’ve got a promising beginning.  I hope we’ll find the rest of our books as much fun as Supergirl!  Please join me again soon to see what Batman has in store for us this month.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 4)

 

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Happy belated Halloween dear readers, almost in time for Thanksgiving!  I hope you all had a grand and spooky time!  We’ve got at least one tale in this batch that has a horror flavor that befits the season now behind us, and it’s in Lois Lane, of all books!  Honestly, all of our issues for this month have a suitably Halloween-ish flavor, with monsters, mayhem, and more.  They make for an interesting, if not electrifying set of stories.  Let’s check them out!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115


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“My Death … By Lois Lane”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“The Computer Crooks”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

We have an unusual cover for an unusual story this month, and once again, Dick Giordano turns in a lovely version of title character.  It’s a dramatic piece, with Lois’s apparent death, and Superman’s sudden entrance adds a bit of dynamism it would otherwise be lacking.  I can’t help but feel that the typewriter represents some wasted space, though.  Nonetheless, the tale within manages to deliver on the suspense promised by the cover.  It begins, strangely enough, with our titular heroine visiting Willie Walker, to help his sister care for him.  That’s right, Jack Kirby’s Black Racer makes an appearance in Lois Lane of all books!  Kanigher seems to be pretty interested in picking up on the threads that the King is weaving in his own titles, which adds a really neat and unexpected flavor of world-building to these stories.  Would that there was such attention in the other Superman books.  Interestingly, I think the Racer’s pretty terrible design actually looks a bit better when drawn by Roth, a little leaner and more graceful, which suits the character.  It still isn’t good per se, but it might be less hideous.

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Anyway, once Lois leaves, the paralyzed Willie becomes his perilously powered alter-ego, and sets out to bring death to denizens of Metropolis.  Later that night, Lois is entertaining her new boss, Morgan Edge, having invited him over because “he always seems so alone,” which seems uncharacteristically sweet for Lois and is also pleasantly ironic given Edge’s nefarious nature.  After the evil executive leaves, the ravishing reporter opens a newly arrived package and discovers a typewriter, supposedly a gift from a secret admirer.  However, she finds herself compelled to write on it, and she produces a prediction of death for a famous biochemist.  She rushes to the bridge where her premonition placed his perishing, only to arrive just in time to see him die, the first victim of the Black Racer!

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Returning home, she tries to dismiss the strange event, only to once again be compelled to foresee another fatality, this time a famous singer.  Calling the woman despite the late hour, the jinxed journalist has no luck, and when she tries to intercede directly, she once again arrives too late.  Lois finds the singer’s apartment full of gas and the woman herself quite dead, the Racer’s second victim.

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Once more returning to her apartment, the creeped-out columnist faces the demonic device in fear, and she begins to type out a final oracle, her own obituary, set for the distant dawn in that very apartment.  Her first thoughts are of Superman, but he’s on a mission to the arctic.  Finally, the witty writer decides she’ll just avoid her apartment until the appointed hour has passed, and she heads into an all-night movie theater (do they have those in big cities?).  Unfortunately, a fire breaks out in the cinema, and Lois is ironically trampled while trying to prevent a panic.  The Man of Steel had just gotten back home and puts out the blaze, but in the melee he missed his lady love.

 

Meanwhile, a ‘kind’ couple, claiming to be Lois’s neighbors, have brought her home and drugged her.  They are secretly Inter-gang agents reporting to Morgan Edge, and the mysterious typewriter is revealed to be an Apokaliptian artifact!  Shortly after they leave, Superman comes to check on his Pulitzer-winning paramour, only to find her almost unconscious.  Lois is able to warn him about the terrible typewriter.  Reading her notes, the Man of Steel finds himself forced to type his own death-notice.  Yet, just as he’s about to finish the note, he wrenches himself away from the macabre machine!

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He realizes that Lois’s notes used every letter…except J, and he was just about to be forced to write “Jewel Theater,” the location of the fire, which would trigger the trap.  The Man of Tomorrow puts the pieces together and throws the device into space, narrowly avoiding a powerful explosion, one that might have even killed a Kryptonian!  The story ends with Superman comforting a sleeping Lois, relieved at their escape but ruminating on the fact that his enemies killed two innocent people as part of their ploy and promising to bring the killers to justice.  I quite like that Superman, and thus the story, take these deaths seriously.  With the main characters safe, it would be easy for Kanigher to forget about the others, but it’s a nice note of character consistency that Superman doesn’t.

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This is a solid and effective little mystery.  Kanigher manages to create a little tension and suspense, with Lois’s perilous predictions and her increasing confusion and fear when facing the uncertainty of her situation.  Unfortunately, the Black Racer is a bit of a red herring, as he doesn’t actually contribute anything to the story in the end.  The final resolution, with the typewriter gimmicked to kill Superman is the least effective element of the tale, but it’s not bad.  An exploding typewriter just feels a bit pedestrian for the New Gods.  Nonetheless, the result is a pretty decent read.  Werner Roth’s art continues to be quite good, and he gets a chance to create a wider range of panels, including some action, while mostly avoiding the superheroic elements that aren’t his forte.  Still, his Superman continues to evince the occasional awkwardness.  I’ll give this solid story 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Computer Crooks”


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This month’s Rose and Thorn backup is another solid entry in this surprisingly good feature.  This one is mostly setup, a definite ‘part one,’ but Kanigher has the sense to give the story he wants to tell room to breathe.  It begins with the 100’s leader, Vince Adams, directing a group of his men dressed as hippies to hit the streets and start getting kids hooked on drugs.  The Thorn gets wind of this, and she is none too pleased.  In another of Giordano’s nice multi-moment / collage panels the Nymph of Night cleans house at a drive-in movie theater showing a Superman documentary, just in case you forgot whose town this is.

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Note the guy in the top right.  Who knew that the Thorn once decked Donald Trump?  Even the dialog is fitting!

 

As she’s finishing the job, Danny Stone arrives, and the two share a moment, only for the Vixen of Vengeance to pull away and drop a ‘smoke thorn.’  The dialog in the scene is downright painful, but the idea, of the vigilante being too driven by her mission to allow herself to get close to anyone, is a good one.

 

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And now we’ve got Robert Kennedy!  This book is a veritable who’s who.

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The next day, the Thorn’s unwitting alter-ego, Rose is at work with Adams when he is called in to a meeting of the gang.  In another example of Kanigher’s attention to continuity and his blending of Fourth World ideas into his own books, the 100 have stolen an advanced computer from Intergang.  The device is described as being similar to a Motherbox, but it’s design is too 50s sci-fi and not nearly Kirby enough to fit the bill.  Nonetheless, Adams has the machine tasked with creating a trap for the Thorn in the organization’s collective side, and after being pleased with the result, kills the scientist who got the thing working.

That evening, Detective Stone is ambushed by some disguised 100 thugs, only to be rescued, again, by the Baleful Beauty.  Meanwhile, we get a glimpse at the first stages of the 100’s plan, as no less a peerless personage than Poison Ivy is brought in to orchestrate the operation!  But sadly that waits for next month!

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Exciting!  This is the first Poison Ivy appearance, as near as I can tell, since 1966!  She won’t return to a Batman title for another six years, but she’ll show up in JLA pretty soon.  I’m looking forward to seeing this classic Batman villain in action, as she’s a favorite of mine.  She’s even more of a favorite of Lady Grey, who always insists on referring to her as a ‘hero’, but then again, the good lady tends to identify more with the villains than with the heroes!

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As for the story itself, it is unexceptional but effective.  This issue did its job, setting up the second half, though it could probably have been a bit more tightly plotted given how little space it had to work with.  Still, Kanigher turns in another entertaining outing for the Thorn, giving us some action, teasing us with a glimpse of the larger plot, and even giving us a awkward but interesting piece of characterization.  Dick Giordano’s art is really good throughout.  I’ve been enjoying seeing his work in this book, as I’ve only ever known him as an editor.  So, I’ll give this solid first chapter 3.5 Minutemen.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142


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“The Man from Transilvane!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell

“Last Mile Alley”
Writers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth

Okay, we’ve got a strange one here.  I vaguely remember this arc from my original read-through, and not fondly, I’m afraid.  Judging from this first story, I don’t think it seems too promising.  One thing’s for sure…it’s weird.  Once again, it seems like the King’s imagination is running away with him.  As the cover announces, it’s vampires and werewolves, Kirby style, which means that, if nothing else, it certainly won’t be boring.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be good.  The cover itself is a decent composition, with the vampire figure fairly menacing and filling the space well, but I’ve got to say, seeing Superman and a Dracula knock-off sharing space is just a bit off-putting.  It looks almost like a poor photoshop job, which isn’t helped by the fact that DC is still redrawing Kirby’s Superman.  Jimmy getting mauled by the wolfman in the corner is more entertaining, though!

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The story itself is not Kirby’s finest work.  It begins with two refugees from the Late-Late Show, a vampire and a werewolf (sounds like the setup for a bad joke!), who are stalking around the outskirts of Metropolis.  The art is alternately strikingly creepy and awkward as the vampire uses extremely vaguely defined eye beams to make bite marks on a sleeping woman’s neck from miles away.  Sure, why not?

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jimmyolsen142-04That woman happens to be Laura Conway, assistant to Morgan Edge, and the next morning sees her stonewalling Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen as they try to see her boss and confront him about his shady doings.  Things take a turn from the strange when she suddenly goes full vampiress, complete with fangs, pale skin, and missing reflection.  She passes out, and before the newsmen can figure out what to do, a bat flies into the office, transforming into our friend the vampire, who helpfully announces that he is “Count Dragorin of Transilvane!”  Of course he is.

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The guys take this all rather remarkably well in stride, even considering their unusually high threshold for the unusual.  Still, the vampire zaps them with those same vague eyebeams, referring to them as “The Power.”  Clark recovers quickly enough to hear Dragorin ask the girl for the location of a man named Dabney Donovan, but before the disguised Man of Steel can manhandle the macabre un-man, he vanishes!  The girl recovers once he’s gone, and Mr. Mild-Mannered and Jimmy leave to chase down their clue.

 

They arrive at a defunct NASA research facility used to create synthetic alien environments for testing, the former home of ‘mad scientist’ Dabney Donovan.  However, they are greeted by a wolfman, a very Kirby wolfman, with a cool look and some very snazzy duds.  Fido tries to maul Clark, but Jimmy courageously and selflessly attacks the creature, leading it away from his fallen friend.  That gives the reporter the chance to change into Superman.

 

jimmyolsen142-17The Man of Tomorrow saves his beleaguered pal, making short work of the woflman, but he in turn is once more stunned by Dragorin’s eyebeams, allowing the villains to escape.  The reporters rally and search the facility, discovering a clue pointing to a cemetery and a “destruct date”, 1971 (incidentally dating this story, which tends to be rare in comics).

Meanwhile, the pugnacious youngsters of the Newsboy Legion have escaped from the Project and sailed down an underground river.  Flippa Dippa (sigh) is useful for  precisely second time in the series, as he opens an underwater door and allows the group access to an elevator.  They arrive in an old bunker, now serving as the hideout of a gangster.  More importantly, they overhear his phone conversation, which reveals that he is the man who killed the original Guardian, Jim Harper!  The kids are entertaining in their short appearance, but sadly this is all we see of them this issue.

 

Back in our ‘A’ plot, Superman and Jimmy arrive at the cemetery and investigate a tomb, with the Action Ace offering a theory that Dragorin and his furry friend don’t actually disappear but instead shrink rapidly.  Inside the tomb they find a miniature alien world, Transilvane, which I guess confirms the hypothesis..  Oookay.  Not sure what is going on?  Well, you’re not alone.  You see….he’s a vampire…but from…not space…but..mini-space?  I don’t know.

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So, like I said, this is a weird one, and it is a bit hard to assess.  There are some really fun elements to it here and there.  I love Jimmy’s desperate but heroic attempt to save Clark, and Kirby’s artwork captures the savagery of the wolfman attack.  I actually really like the King’s take on Jimmy in this series in general.  The kid is a young adventurer, hardened to danger by his association with Superman, quick on his feet, loyal, and a thoroughly likeable guy.  Yet, he’s still a kid and still trying to prove himself.  I wish that both Jimmy and the Legion were given more space to shine in recent issues .  Unfortunately, Kirby’s portrayal of Jimmy’s super-pal isn’t as successful, at least in this issue.  Perhaps this one’s biggest weakness is its dialog, which is just plain bad: awkward, stilted, unnatural, and sometimes just weird.  Despite that, Kirby turns the occasional nicely fitting phrase, which only highlights how rough the rest of it is.

The actual plot of this issue is pretty bonkers.  I think I see what Kirby is trying to do, but the whole thing just feels pretty far out there.  We’ve got space-vampires, space-werewolves, and a tiny planet.  This feels like a rejected Fantastic Four script.  In general, the sudden invasion of the monster mash cast just feels like a disorienting tonal shift, and the mixture of horror and sci-fi elements, which can certainly be done well, here just feels poorly conceived.  The fairly coherent (if outlandish) and focused approach to the first several issues of Jimmy Olsen, with the connecting elements of the D.N.A. Project and the mystery of the Wild Area, has been lost, and the book is starting to feel like it is floundering, lacking a clear direction.  Kirby’s art is mostly good, though a little bare-bones in some places.  He brings his trade-mark energy and drama to even the silliest scenes.  I’ll give this random tale of movie monsters and super-sleuthing 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s not terrible, but it just doesn’t work well.

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P.S.: This issue include a two-page spread on the “Haries” and their gadgets, which is interesting and adds to the world Kirby is creating.  It’s odd, though, as the Wild Area seems to have been abandoned and is already fading in the rear-view mirror as this series races off in a random direction.  Clearly, the King was still thinking about that seemingly abandoned setting, which makes me wonder what might have been.

 


Teen Titans #35


Teen_Titans_v.1_35

“Intruders of the Forbidden Crypt”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy

“A Titan is Born”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Doom Hunters”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Jack Schiff

“Have Arrow — Will Travel!”
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Penciler/Inker: Lee Elias
Editor: Mort Weisinger

Well, you thought the combination of vampires and simulated alien worlds was odd?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  Zaney Haney has got a new one, a tale of possible reincarnation, star-crossed lovers, and Shakespeare…and oh yeah, the Teen Titans are there for some reason.  It’s a story only the rajah of randomness could tell.  Nick Cardy gives us another really nice cover for it, this one suitably suspenseful and creepy for our use so close to Halloween.  Cardy creates a nicely mysterious and tense scene, and it’s beautifully drawn as always.

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teentitans35-03The story inside begins with Lilith being vague, cryptic, and once more displaying the power of plot…so, pretty much business as usual for her.  I thought we had gotten past all of her esoterism, but apparently not.  In this instance, the team is randomly in Verona, Italy, and they are visiting the supposed house of Juliet, of “Romeo and…” fame, when she passes out after feeling like she is the young heroine reborn.  Wally mocks her, but the superfluous Mr. Jupiter, who is still hanging around the book for some reason, tells him to lay off.

Then the industrialist shows the team why he’s come to Italy (though not why a group of superheroes are just be-bopping around Europe with him), a new lab complex he plans to build there.  Suddenly, an angry local business magnate, Donato Loggia, bursts into the office, ranting about stopping the project.  The Italian insists that his family runs Verona and that he won’t have an outsider upstaging him, even trying to get Jupiter to challenge him to a duel.

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teentitans35-09After the intruder leaves, the team heads to a costume ball, just straight-up wearing their costumes, wildly endangering their secret identities.  ‘Hey, I wonder if the group of kids traveling with the well known philanthropist could be the same as the superheroes who went to the party with him…’  Nonetheless, at the party, Loggia shows up with his son and nephew, and Lilith immediately falls for the son, reenacting “Romeo and Juliet,” as the kid is the son of her “father’s” enemy.  Kid Flash doesn’t take this too well and starts playing the part of Tibalt, starting a brawl with the Loggia family, with the rest of the male Titans joining in until the police show up.

 

If you’ve read the play, you can probably guess what’s coming next.  Both parties are warned to keep the peace by the local law (not quite a prince, but beggars can’t be choosers).  Things continue in this silly direction, with Lilith now convinced that she and the young Loggia, literally named Romeo, are the reincarnations of Shakespeare’s tragic lovers, and Wally flying off the handle at the whole situation.  That night, Lilith and Romeo 2.0 run off, while Kid Flash gets jumped by a couple of random Loggia thugs, who manage to stab the Fastest freaking Boy Alive, because plot.  Now Flasher is playing the part of Mercutio, down to even uttering some of the poor guy’s dialog….despite the fact that Mercutio was Romeo’s friend, not Juliet’s, but logical consistency isn’t really Haney’s strength at the best of times.

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“Oh no!  I’ve been stabbed!  If only I had super-humanly fast reflexes that let me dodge knives…and bullets….”

Meanwhile, Interpol has approached Jupiter, wanting his help getting evidence on Loggia, who they suspect of being dirty.  Jupiter wants to use Lilith’s relationship to spy on his rival, but Dick won’t hear of it.  It’s at this point that they figure out the girl in question is missing.  She’s run off with Romeo and discovered the ancient tomb of the Capulets, Juliet’s family, where they find two empty coffins.  Yet, when the Titans arrive to search for them, they find three empty coffins and are stalked by a shadowy figure.  Dun dun DUN!

 

Oookay.  This isn’t a bad story, really, but it is such a poor fit for the Titans that it is hard to assess it on its own merits.  I’m also so sick of this goofy direction for the team that Mr. Jupiter and their pointless meanderings just annoy me at this point.  This plot could work decently well for a romance comic, but the superheroic cast of this book just feels dreadfully out of place and underused.  We don’t even have anything approaching a credible threat.  Instead, a couple of random guys, not even with enough gravitas to join the Generic Gang, give a bunch of superpowered heroes a run for their money.  Essentially, this tale just emphasizes things that were already problematic about this book.  I’ll give this particularly ill-fated instance of Haney’s zaniness 2.5 star-crossed Minutemen.  A plague on both their houses!  I’m being generous because I feel my own bias quite strongly here.

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P.S.: Maybe the reason Speedy has such a poor showing in the brawl with the locals is that he’s still recovering from his addiction over in Green Lantern….


“A Titan is Born”


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Our backup continues the tradition of focusing on a single Titan, which is a nice way to develop the team a bit.  Unfortunately, the Titan they focus on is the pointless Mal Duncan.  I can’t wait for him to become the new Guardian and therefore justify his presence on the team!  Fittingly enough, when we join Mal, he is ruminating on the very fact of his own pointlessness.  Apparently the other Titans left the poor kid behind on monitor duty at Jupiter’s lab when they went to Italy, which hardly seems fair.  As the lonely youth roams the halls of the facility, he marvels at the processing power of Jupiter’s computer, which has a name that could only have come from Hepcat Haney, “Think Freak.”  In his wanderings, he encounters a stranger in the lab, who claims he is a scientist there at the invitation of Mr. Jupiter and produces a letter to prove it.

Mal is a little suspicious, but he accepts the fellows explanation at first.  After a while, he begins to notice things that don’t add up, like changed records on an experiment, the fellow’s coat not being wet, despite there being a rainstorm that night, and the guy’s odd reaction to the mention of the word “limbo”.  Feeding all of his data into, *sigh*, Think Freak, Mal discovers that the supposed scientist is actually the Gargoyle!

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So this guy is apparently an old foe of the Titans, having faced them a few times in their series.  He took on this current identity in issues 14, which I know I read, but I can’t remember this loser to save my life!  At the end of that story, this mystically powered mort was trapped in Limbo, but Mr. Jupiter’s experiment inadvertently freed him.  (Can scientists in the DCU do anything without endangering their world?)  Now the Gargoyle wants revenge, but since he can’t get at the Titans who actually defeated him, he’ll settle for Mal.

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Hey, a new head-blow for the Headcount!

The two have a running fight, with the young hero clearly outclassed, and the villain comes out on top.  In desperation, Mal tells Think Freak to fix the problem with the experiment that allowed the Gargoyle to reenter the real world, which severs the criminal’s connection and sends him back to Limbo.  The somewhat tenderized Titan decides that he’s worthy of staying on the team after all, which seems like something of a stretch to me, and welcomes the sun as it comes out after a stormy night.

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This is a decent little story, but there isn’t too much to it, nor does it have an inspiring villain.  The Gargoyle has a semi-cool look, though it doesn’t make sense that he’s just a dude in a costume, but the real problem with him is that he just doesn’t have much personality or a coherent concept.  All I could tell you from this issue would be that he wears a gargoyle costume, was trapped in Limbo, and hates the Titans.  Who is he?  What does he do?  No clue.  Mal’s soul searching is fitting, seeing as he really doesn’t belong on the team, but rather than use this opportunity to actually give him a raison d’etre, Haney leaves the character where he found him.  In general, this is a pretty forgettable story.  If you’re going to bring back a forgotten character, you might need more space to make it worthwhile, especially one as bland as this guy.  I’ll give this backup 2.5 Minutemen.  It isn’t bad, but it feels a bit lacking.  George Tuska’s art is quite good in both of these comics, and he does a good job on the Gargoyle, though once again, you really don’t see him as a man in a costume, and his work in the main story is nicely atmospheric.  His slightly exaggerated, cartoony style is not a bad fit for this era of Titans.

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P.S.: While the new stories in this issue weren’t all that great, this issue might still have been worth your money way back when, as it included two really fun and charming classic tales, featuring Aquaman and Aqualad and Green Arrow and Speedy.  The former features the peerless pencils of the ever awesome Ramona Fradon.  Having so often just read these stories in reprints and collections, it is really fascinating to see what else was actually included between the covers of these books.


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpg2f52ff2370b3a87769869427faeac69darrowheadAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgMister_Miracle_Scott_Free_00014aa6e3fed1467a75dcac3f9654a2c723glheadLilith_Clay_(New_Earth)_002malduncan

In all of our books this month, we only came up with one headblow for the headcount, but it brings a new face to the feature.  That’s right, the esteemed Mal Duncan, pointless member of the Teen Titans joins this august company.  Maybe he does have what it takes to be a superhero after all.  He may not have super powers or a costume, but he can take a blow to the back of the head like a champ!  I wonder who will be next!


Final Thoughts:


This month has been drawn out because of my busy schedule, but we have finished it at last.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly memorable month in most respects, and we’ve got an unusually high number of turkeys in this batch of books, including our oddball Action Comics tale and several others.  The exception, of course, is the famous finale of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow drug story.

The conclusion to Denny O’Neil’s latest attempt at social relevance was surprisingly good, rising above its beginnings and its hokier elements to actually achieve a little power at times, all while still maintaining some classic comic fun, which is perhaps even more impressive.  This tale clearly illustrates the continuing attempt at relevance and more mature storytelling, and it is once again not alone on the stands.  Our Supergirl yarn in Adventure Comics features a classic morality tale about prejudice and fear of the Other, while Batgirl’s Batman backup includes mentions of radical political groups and the tension between Americans and their government.

Interestingly, in the Batgirl story, these elements are almost purely set dressing, not really being the focus of the narrative.  This indicates how thoroughly these ideas have made it into the zeitgeist of the DC Universe.  The Phantom Stranger’s story also has a focus on realistic issues, zombie robots not withstanding, as it both provides a positive portrayal of native Africans and exposes the evils of the exploitation of the continent by foreign corporations.  That’s a surprisingly sophisticated topic for a comic in 1971, where the traditional ‘darkest Africa’ stereotypes are often still in play.

Other highlights and points of interest this month included a return of the Macabre Man-Bat, with the unusual but engaging art of Frank Robbins, which I quite enjoyed.  I also really enjoyed Mr. Miracle’s latest adventure and the introduction of Big Barda, though the story had its flaws.  I’m excited to see the role she’ll play in the series going forward!

There seem to be a number of series that are floundering at the moment, including Supergirl, Jimmy Olsen, Teen Titans, and the Superman books.  These are all proving uneven and inconsistent.  I hope we’ll see more definite directions for them in the coming months.

Well, there’s not too much to say about this month of comics, but I hope y’all enjoyed the journey!  I am looking forward to our next month of Bronze Age exploration, and I hope you’ll join me soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ll start the new month.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 3)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a pair of super-titles to examine today, and we’ve got more super titles for the next session too!  It’s crazy that Superman had twice as many titles as Batman at this time, not counting their shared title.  Imagine that happening today, as Batman has become the face of DC Comics and WB movies, for better or worse.  It’s especially funny considering the somewhat uneven quality of the super-books compared to Batman’s titles.  Well, let’s see what this batch holds for us, shall we?

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superboy #178


Superboy_Vol_1_178

“Pawn of the Monster-Maker!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Superbaby’s First Friend!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Our issue of Superboy this month has an interesting cover, promising us a Superman-bat-esq tale, complete with torch-bearing mobs.  What we actually get is much stranger.  The cover composition is suitably horror-ish and well done by Neal Adams, though Superboy’s batwing/arm is legitimately creepy to me.  Inside, we are met, not with another ill-fated experiment by Kirk (Man-Bat) Langstrom, but with Superboy traveling through space.  He visits the world Glorr, where an advanced civilization was destroyed by their own pollution, which in turn, mutated all of the plant life on the planet.

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Brown gives us some pretty cool alien lifeforms in the one panel of this we see.  When he arrives home, the Boy of Steel responds to an emergency at a movie studio where a giant mechanical monster has gone haywire.  We get a pretty cool two page spread of the Youth of Tomorrow battling the two-headed dragon, though the hero’s off the charts powers, of which we are reminded, rob the moment of any suspense or drama.

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Strangely, during the fight, Superboy’s hands suddenly become reptilian.  The transformation is brief, and the restored Kryptonian puts out the fire, meeting the director who created the mechanical menace once that is done.  Jan Milo, monster movie-maker supreme tells the young champion that this massive mechanism was going to be the heart of his new picture, which was going to restore his fortunes.  He gives the Boy of Steel a tour of his studio, introducing him to some of his famous movie monsters, which once again have sort of neat designs.  Clark is rather rude and tells the director that his day is done and that monster movies have gone out of style, but the auteur is adamant.

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Later on, Superboy responds to a number of emergencies, but each time he does, he transforms into a monster and causes destruction before coming back to himself.  He repairs the damage he causes, but people begin to fear him.  First he turns into something evoking Frankenstein’s Monster, then King Kong, the Wolfman, and an insectoid creature.  At first the Boy of Steel thinks this might have something to do with Glorr, but he eventually comes to suspect Milo might somehow be behind it, as the director and his cameraman show up at each of these disasters.

We discover that Milo is in fact the mastermind, and his assistant has invented an “ultra-morph ray” which, with a red-Kryptonite lens, projects an image over Superboy, somehow causing him to transform into that image….sure.  Why not?  The pair are out to gather material for Milo’s comeback monster epic, and their latest and last ploy is to turn Superboy into a Super-Bat.  Yet, before they can make their attempt, as Super-Bat attacks them!  How can this be?  Well, Superboy has fooled them with a projector of his own, having spied on them with X-Ray vision.  He teaches the two a lesson and hauls them off to the police.

This is a very silly and forgettable story, though it reminds me of the classic Silver Age trope of superheroes getting involved in the movies.  It seems like everyone got into that act back in the day, Batman, Superman, Aquaman, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and many more.  Those stories tend to be charming and fun, while this one, unfortunately, is just goofy instead.  The red herring of the mutated world was an interesting storytelling feint, but there isn’t much made of it, and the crazed director turned nascent supervillain is a silly concept, even for Superboy.  It’s not a terrible yarn, but it isn’t a particularly good one either.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  Seeing the Boy of Steel turn into various was fun, but that’s about all you can say for it.  Notably, we have here another instance of environmentalism appearing in comics, with the mention of the world destroyed by pollution, but as this turns out to be a red herring, that is little more than set dressing.

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“Superbaby’s First Friend”


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Ohh…another Superbaby story…yay?  Just to add to the usual level of crazy for these tales, this one features a completely unexplained witch-baby as well who befriends our little super-scamp.  Geoff Brown really pulled this one out of left field.  It begins with the Kents going camping, and little Clark is gleefully tearing through the forest…literally!  Sheesh, apparently even toddler Superman is occasionally prone to ‘Superdickery‘.  Ma and Pa get on to their rambunctious youngster and tell him to rein in the superpowers because someone might see him.  However, the Kryptonian kid isn’t the only super-powered child vacationing at this random national park.  There’s also a family of…*sigh*….witches, who have a young son around Clark’s age.  The two tots meet and are each thrilled to find someone else who can do the things they can do.  They take turns showing off and flying around.

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Just then, a couple of robbers head through the park, and when they see the soaring super-kids, they panic and wreck their car….over a cliff!  The terrific tots save the pair and their car, but the men are so stunned that they just assume they were hallucinating.  After all, who would believe something so insane?  They continue with their operation, recovering the stolen loot they had hidden at the bottom of the park’s lake.  The kids decide that they should help to make up for scaring the men and raise the huge golden statue they stole from the bottom of the lake.  Now, this raises some questions about how in the world these two guys managed to steal, transport, and hide this thing in the first place, but Brown has sillier things to do than answer sensible questions like that!

The thieves yell at the super friends, who fly off in tears, but they quickly recover and return to playing, accidentally whipping up a giant wave of bubbles on the lake, leading the robbers to become lost and the Kents and the witch-family to take off, each thinking their child alone was responsible.  Neither set of parents believes their super-powered offspring when they tell them about their new friend, and when the authorities respond to the bubble-lanche, they discover the two thieves and their loot.

As far as Superbaby stories go, this one isn’t that bad.  The kids’ antics are mildly entertaining, and their completely unconscious thwarting of the thieves is somewhat funny.  Still, how utterly crazy is it that Brown introduces this random family of witches without any explanation or background.  I’m pretty sure the magical kid is never heard from again, which contributes to this being a pretty forgettable little yarn.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen, as despite the fact that it isn’t too bad, it loses a step because of the continued use of the incredibly asinine baby-talk all of these tales seem to feature.

Both of these stories feature Bob Brown’s artwork, and he does a very solid job throughout.  His designs for the background monsters in Superboy are creative and interesting.  In fact, I’d have rather seen a story featuring them!  He produces some really nice pages and panels, with Superboy’s fight against the two-headed dragon looking particularly god.  He also create charming, bright artwork for the Superbaby adventure, turning in an all-around solid-looking comic.

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Superman #243


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“The Starry-Eyed Siren of Space!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“The Death-Trails of Krypton!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

We’ve got quite the romantic cover for this month’s Superman, and you’d think for a moment that someone mixed up the art for Lois Lane and Superman.  Now, don’t tell Lois, but that ain’t her getting smooched by the Lips of Steel!  Fortunately, the tale inside is not as much ‘lonely hearts’ as the cover indicates.  The image itself is really quite good for what it is, a striking composition, though I have to wonder what the heck is going on with Superman’s cape!  There isn’t much to it, of course, and I wonder if Julie Schwartz was nervous about putting out a Superman book with nothing but a kiss on the cover, especially because it isn’t really representative of the tale within.  The actual story is a much more conventional Super-saga than we might expect from the lip-lock that greets us on the outside.

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A supernova, why that tickles!

It starts with the Man of Steel returning from a mission in space when a star unexpectedly explodes, buffeting our hero and sending him hurtling through the cosmos.  And here begins the pretty ridiculous and literally astronomical power levels depicted in this story.  I guess the de-powering of Denny O’Neil’s run really didn’t last long at all.  We are now one issue on, and already the star-juggling Superman is back.  Thus, a supernova is just a mild inconvenience to our hero.  After the star-shaking explosion, he finds himself in unfamiliar skies and then is drawn inexorably to and through an unknown planet.  As he burrows into the world’s interior, he discovers a Star Trek style advanced being, except this one is a brain in a pyramid (almost a brain in a jar) rather than an energy being.  The brain introduces himself as Kond and tells the Man of Tomorrow that he drew the Kryptonian to the cavern in order to get his help.

Apparently Kond is a super-evolved being who long ago left his physical form behind, along with his mate, Rija, but she got bored with being a brain in a jar (how could such a thing happen?!) and made herself a physical form in order to enjoy corporeal experiences again.  Kond is worried about her and wants the Metropolis Marvel to bring her back, and in exchange, the superbeing promises to give Superman the means to end war, hunger, disease, and poverty on Earth.  Disease and hunger, sure, but one wonders what even a superbeing could give someone that would put an end to activities caused BY human beings without abrogating free will.  Nonetheless, Kal agrees, pointing out that he would do with it even without being ‘paid,’ which is fitting.

On the surface, Superman quickly discovers Rija, but she is being menaced by a skeletal dinosaur!  Quickly rescuing the girl, the Man of Steel finds defeating the monster more difficult, as it reforms when he smashes it.  Finally, he flings it into space, and the grateful girl, wants to thank him and experience a little romance at the same time.  She modeled her physical form on that of the crew of a passing ship, and the Man of Tomorrow realizes she is a “Starry-Eyed Siren of Space,” because of course she has, and he can’t resist her charms, leading to our cover-kiss.  superman_243_12Unfortunately, Kond is observing this super-necking and becomes insanely jealous.  He creates a body for himself based on Superman’s and attacks the unwitting love-slave.  Using both his newfound Kryptonian might and his own mental powers, Kond almost destroys the hero and returns to Rija, only to discover the she has come to regret her moment of weakness.  Like almost any woman in a comic from the Silver Age, she just wanted to make her paramour jealous.

While she weeps and wishes for death (!), thinking that Kond has been so hurt he has taken off, the couple is attacked by an energy being (there it is!  I knew there had to be one in this story).  Kond jumps to defend his lady love, but every attack just splits the creature in two.  Finally, a recovered Superman intercedes, using his super-breath to suck the oxygen away from Rija…killing her!  Well, at least for a moment.  The Man of Steel has realized that Rija was actually creating these menaces with her subconscious, and as this one was created by her desire for death, allowing her to ‘die’ for a moment ended the threat.  Shades of Forbidden Planet!

Fortunately, Kond quickly revives Rija and the soulmates reunite.  The superbeings honor their agreement and give Superman four flasks that will somehow end war, hunger, poverty, sickness.  Once again, one wonders.  However, when the Man of Tomorrow tries to return home, he realizes that the supernova actually blew him into yesterday….or a few million yesterdays ago.  He jumps through the time barrier and back into the modern day, but unfortunately, the stresses of the journey destroy the flasks, leaving the world still very much in need of a Superman.

The slightly melancholy ending, with Superman realizing that this shortcut out of the “neverending battle” isn’t going to work after all, is a nice touch, but it isn’t really earned by the rest of the story.  Bates’ little moment of characterization feels more like an afterthought than anything else.  The rest of his story is relatively effective, a decent little sci-fi adventure, though it’s nothing special.  The whole thing has a very Star Trek-ish feel to it, from the advanced beings, the romancing of alien women, and the energy creatures.  Another blogger has pointed out that Kond and Rija bear a striking resemblance to The Providers, the alien overlords in the original Star Trek episode, “Gamesters of Triskelion”.  It seems likely that Cary Bates was watching some Star Trek reruns while penning this comic.  I’ll give the uninspiring but inoffensive result an average 3 Minutemen.  As usual, Swan and Anderson turn in a solid job on the art, though there are some particularly nice moments scattered throughout.

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“The Death-Trails of Krypton!”


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We get another “Fabulous World of Krypton tale in the backup slot this month, which is always a treat, and this one is no exception.  It’s a quick but imaginative little yarn about the first man on Krypton to fly…with dire consequences!  It starts with a father and son examining strange green trails in the Kryptonian sky.  The father explains to his boy that these are the trails of Trolius, and their origins are wrapped in mystery stretching back thousands of years.  Fortunately, we can solve that mystery, and the readers are drawn back in time to see a young Kryptonain inventor, Dol-Nd, who is preparing to test his powered artifical wings, which have a cool design thanks to Bob Brown.  The young man throws himself off of a cliff, which seems rather drastic for a first test, but fortunately, after a little adjustment, he gets the hang of his wings and soars through the air.  Not so fortunate, however, is the unexpected side effect of his flight.  The wings have left behind alarming green trails in the sky.

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Dol-Nd built his flying harness with the help of a previously undiscovered crystal he found shooting out of geothermal vents in the area, a crystal with massive energy potential, enabling it to power the engine of the wings.  The element, Trolium, which he named after the sky god, Trolius (a nice bit of world building) proves to be unstable, giving off deadly radiation when activated.  Thus, Dol-Nd concludes that he can never risk flying again.

Unfortunately, an escaped criminal has observed his test flight and is quick to attack the inventor and steal his flying harness, taking to the skies in a journey that might well doom the planet!  The quick-thinking young scholar lures the thief down into range with a bag of jewels, pretending to offer them in ransom for the wings, only to smash them into the ground, triggering an explosion of steam and Trolium, which batter the Kryptonian Icarus (though I suppose he got burned by going too low rather than too high) out of the sky.  Once again, Bob Brown turns in a really nice sequence here.  The story ends with poor Dol-Nd sending his wondrous wings flying towards space where they could do no more harm.

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This is another fun little glimpse into the science fantasy world of Krypton, and it is a limited but nicely imaginative one at that.  Bob Brown brings some nice energy and creativity to the art, while Murphy Anderson’s inks bring his pencils in line with Swan’s, creating some continuity between the two features.  Bates manages to cram his complete story in these six pages…just barely, though we’re left without any characterization and without a spare moment.  I’ll give this pleasant little story a solid 3 Minutemen.

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And like Dol-Nd’s wings, we have come to the end of this stage of our little journey.  These were a decent but unexceptional pair of books.  Fortunately, though we had to endure some Superbaby silliness, we also got to enjoy some World of Krypton wonders.  That’s the give and take that makes the project work and keeps me sane!  I have to admit, though, I’m rather disappointed that O’Neil’s partial depowering of Superman didn’t last a bit longer.  We may yet see other scribes return to the idea, but it is clearly business as usual this month.  Well, I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and that y’all will join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 1)

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

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

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


This month in history:

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

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

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

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

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Action Comics #405


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

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

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

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

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

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

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The many moods of Superman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Most Dangerous Bug in the World”


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

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

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

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

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


Adventure Comics #411


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Detective Comics #416


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Deadly Go Between”


Detective Comics 416-18

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

Detective Comics 416-20

Detective Comics 416-20

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

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

Detective Comics 416-25

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

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

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 6)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  With this post we’ll finish of September of 1971.  Our last two books are really quite a pair!  We have an unusual issue of World’s Finest, but the real highlight (lowlight?) here is the raw star power of the greatest new superstar in the DC constellation….I’m speaking, of course, of Don Rickles.  That’s right, this month we get more of the inexplicable madness of Kirby’s use of the insult comic as a guest star in Jimmy Olsen.  Yay?  Well, see what sense you can make of what lies within!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141


Jimmy_Olsen_141

“Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

“The Guardian”
Writer: Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon

Ohh man, for a moment there as I was looking from Lois Lane to my next book, a moment of blissful forgetfulness, I was excited for more of Jack Kirby’s wild and wonderful Jimmy Olsen adventures…and then I remembered that this one was the second half of the Don Rickles fiasco.  If you thought the last issue was strange, just wait; you ain’t seen nothing yet!  We start with an almost decent cover, in that classic, ‘heroes introducing a new character’ fashion that JLA and other books did from time to time.  Unfortunately, this one has Don Rickles on it, which is bad enough, but even worse, it is a black and white picture of the guy.  I’m never a fan of mixing real photos, especially black and white ones, with comic art in such a way.  It is just incredibly incongruent.  It looks like someone cut the center out of the cover and pasted Rickles’ mug into the hole.

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jimmyolsen141-04Despite the ugly cover, the first images that greet a reader inside are really quite impressive.  Kirby is experimenting with his photo-collages again, trying to create an otherworldly effect for Clark Kent’s journey into the strange alternate dimension in the booby-trapped capsule from the last issue.  The result is pretty striking and successfully cosmic.  After floating helplessly for a time, the mild mannered one is visited by Lightray, who eventually rescues him.  Yet, Clark doesn’t escape before he gets a brief glimpse of New Genesis and Apokolips in their great cosmic dance.  This brief interaction is really cool and, sadly, way more interesting than what takes the bulk of the comic’s focus.

jimmyolsen141-08While the reporter roves around in the Fourth World, his three friends, Jimmy Olsen, the Guardian, and…urg…”Goody” Rickles, find themselves deposited on the side of the road by Intergang, poisoned and facing a fiery fate.  The cloned hero sends the other two to seek help at the nearest hospital….ohh, wait, no.  That might make sense.  He sends them to the Daily Planet instead.  The Guardian himself sets off after the villain’s rolling headquarters to capture an antidote, and Kirby treats us to a few panels of his revived Golden Age hero leaping rooftop to rooftop in classic fashion.

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Meanwhile, the actual focus of the plot nears, as Morgan Edge prepares for the arrival of the real Don Rickles in his office.  When the comedian shows up, he’s mobbed by the staff in an admittedly funny scene, where they all beg to be insulted.  Unfortunately, I’d say that’s the last unambiguously funny bit in the book.  After the corporate shark chases off his underlings, he leads the star into his office, where his dialog becomes part comedic and part chaotic nonsense.

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While those two talk business (I guess?), Jimmy and Rickles’ inexplicable doppelganger are taking the subway, where Goody’s agitation causes the chemical in his system to react and start him smoking.  There’s some funny bits to this, but I can’t help but wish we were visiting one of the more interesting plotlines instead.  Fortunately, we quickly return to the Guardian, who smashes his way into “Ugly” Mannheim’s mobile base.  He lays into the gangster’s gunmen, but we cut away from his fight for….*sigh*….more Rickles.  Double the Rickles, in fact, as Goody arrives at the Planet, where he and the original engage in some “funny” hijinks about how they are identical.

As Goody and Jimmy approach critical mass, glowing and emitting flames, Morgan Edge calls for the bomb squad while silently cursing Mannheim.  Disaster is averted (although, other than Jimmy’s death, would it really have been that much of a loss?) by the timely arrival of the Guardian, who crashes through a window with the antidote in wonderfully dramatic fashion.  How did the cloned champion overcome all Mannheim and his criminal cohorts?  Well, we don’t get to see that.  Nope.  It’s way more important that we watch Don Rickles chew scenery.  As the comedian hams it up, Clark Kent returns via a boom tube and the bomb squad arrives and carries the frantic comedy star away.

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Sheesh.  There is a lot of really interesting material in this comic; the trouble is that Kirby ignores all of that to give us Don Rickles and Goody making faces at each other.  Clark’s cosmic journey is quite visually interesting, and there is a lot of potential to his visit to the dimension of the New Gods, especially given his fascination with a world full of super-beings in the Forever People title, but no sooner does one of them arrive than we cut away.  The same is true of the Guardian’s big return to action, where he swings through the city and single-handedly defeats the villain….almost all off panel.  This issue is just a lesson in missed opportunities, as the King has absolutely packed this book with fun concepts and characters, from the Newsboy Legion to the returned Golden Age hero, and yet he wastes his narrative space on Don Rickles of all people.  That being said, this issue isn’t as bad as I may have made it sound.  It’s still a relatively entertaining read, though one that will have you groaning in a few places or simply scratching your head.

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Kirby’s art, so beautifully powerful and dynamic in the last issue, is much more inconsistent in this one as well.  Don Rickles himself is all over the place, and the bombastic scope of the action is more restrained, which is really a shame.  There are a couple of wow moments, like Clark’s trip and the Guardian’s timely arrival, but those are sadly exceptions.  So, what do we make of this mad little issue?  I think I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.  It has some interesting moments, but they are quickly bypassed for lesser material.  The humor is better in this one, but while the plot is more coherent and less nonsensical than the previous issue, the overall effect is weaker.  This outing just lacks the whimsical fun of its predecessor.  Or perhaps I’m just already sick of Don Rickles

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P.S.: Notably, the letters column for this issue includes a missive from a thoughtful reader who points out many of the same criticism I had about the completely unaddressed moral issues inherent in the concept of the D.N.A. Project.  Even fans in 1971 could see the disturbing implications of such technologies and wanted more substance from their treatment.

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P.P.S.: This issue also features another text piece, this one on the return of the Newsboy Legion.  It’s hilarious to see Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman struggle to make Flippa Dippa sound cool.  As a bonus, the comic includes the first adventure of the Newsboy Legion and the Guardian from 1942, and it is a surprisingly fun and solid story that holds up well today.  Jack Kirby and Joe Simon made a good team.  I wish the new Guardian would get a bit of his progenitor’s personality, but then again, given that he was grown in a test-tube, I suppose it makes sense for him to be a bit bland.

 


World’s Finest #205


World's_Finest_Comics_205

“The Computer That Captured a Town!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Secret of the Last Earth-Man!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Duel of the Flying Knights!”
Writer: Joseph Samachson
Penciler: Frank Frazetta
Inker: Frank Frazetta

We’ve got a very unusual team-up tale in this month’s World’s Finest.  It’s really just a Superman story, with the Teen Titans serving as victims in need of rescue, but it features an interesting premise.  That premises is presaged by the book’s exciting cover, one I imagine I would have been plenty tempted to pick up.  I’m always a sucker for a giant monster, but Adams’ dragon, however fearsome in aspect, is a bit strangely proportioned and weird looking.  I think the perspective is just a bit wonky on it.  I do like how the Titans on the sidebar are all reacting to the scene in the center, though.  That’s a clever use of the character preview.

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Inside, we travel to the small town of Fairfield where we join three of those young heroes, Kid Flash, Speedy (apparently taking time out from his drug-addled drama in Green Lantern), and Mal Duncan.  The trio are on patrol when they see a man robbing, not a bank, not a jewelry store, nor any of the normal criminal fare, but a grocery store.  Despite the fact that the poor fellow is clearly desperate, stealing to feed his starving family, they beat him savagely and show now compassion.  Even more strangely, after the fight, Kid Flash and Speedy talk down to Mal, and say he better get back to his “side of town” and be with his “own kind,” and Mal meekly accepts such statements, speaking in exaggerated, minstrel show-style.

World's Finest 205-03

World's Finest 205-06This is not the only sign that something is not right.  A scene change find Wonder Girl and Lilith acting like stereotypical 50s TV girls, sitting around, pining over boys and exercising no agency in their lives.  Yet, when Clark Kent shows up on TV to read the news, Lilith’s subconscious reaches out to him, and Mr. Mild Mannered has a vision of an old man discovering a strange machine in a cave and transmits the message “THE TEEN TITANS ARE TRAPPED IN FAIRFIELD!”  Startled, Clark actually says that on the air, which leads to confusion from the girls and anger from everyone’s favorite corporate shark, Morgan Edge.

After placating his boss, Clark changes into Superman and heads out to investigate, locating his young allies just as Kid Flash is once again talking down to Mal and using super racist rhetoric.  Yet, when the Man of Steel asks about their being trapped, the Fastest Boy Alive laughs the question off.  The Kryptonian gets the same response from Lilith, but as he wanders around town, he begins to notice the name “Richard Handley” plastered over everything and, combined with the images from his vision, he develops a theory and heads into the hills to test it out.

World's Finest 205-10

Locating a cave, and having a flashback to what we just saw seven pages ago (for some reason), the Metropolis Marvel suddenly finds his way barred by a massive monster, a huge fire-breathing dragon!  While Dillin’s dragon looks pretty great in most of his panels, his first appearance has his proportions a little screwy, like the cover image.  Nonetheless, this starts a battle between the beast and our modern day St. George, only Superman can’t hurt the creature.  He reasons that it was created by whatever machine is affecting the town, and thus, it isn’t actually real and possesses no nervous system that he can injure or vital points he can attack.

World's Finest 205-15

As their battle rages, the machine’s own violent energy seeps out into the town, causing the bullies to turn on the meek.  Back at the cave, the Action Ace attempts to slip past the monster, but he’s caught and hurled out of the cave.  Yet, his second attempt, moving at super speed, is successful, and after a nice looking fight sequence, he manages to reach and smash the mysterious machine at the heart of the town’s problems.  Just then, the dragon vanishes and the world returns to normal, with the girls giving the chauvinistic Kid Flash what-for (although, methinks if the super strong Wonder Girl slapped him, he might just be in a coma) and Mal shoving Speedy’s racism down his throat.  Fortunately, the boys come out of it, and they all make peace with one another.

World's Finest 205-21

Then Superman kindly provides some answers, explaining that a man named Richard Handley had discovered the strange device in the cave, which he surmises was of alien origin, some time ago, and when he touched it, the machine absorbed his thoughts and then projected them across the town, controlling the minds of its inhabitants.  Notably, the Man of Steel opines that Handley was a “complicated man,” but when he describes the fellow, he doesn’t really seem all that complicated, instead, just a simple racist, chauvinistic, and provincial jerk.  The only non-negative quality Supes ascribes to the guy is that he loved his town, which is really only a neutral characteristic.

This was almost a really interesting coda to the story.  It seems like Skeates is aiming to soften the portrait of Handley in this scene, but the sketch he draws doesn’t accomplish that end.  If Handley had some redeeming qualities, it could have been a really nice illustration of the fact that people are not merely the sum of their beliefs and that someone can possess flawed principles and still be redeemable, which would be a moral that would still have a lot of resonance today, perhaps even moreso than in 1971.  As is, the guy just seems to be the worst.  Now, the theme is still somewhat served because we see the Titans, who are ostensibly good people, acting in biased and immoral fashion in this story, but the impact would have been stronger if the final impression of Handley had been more nuanced.

World's Finest 205-27

Either way, this is an interesting and unusual little morality play of a story, and it has an engaging mystery in the conduct of the Titans and a fun core of action with Superman’s visually engaging fight with the dragon.  As usual, I’m thrilled to see Aquaman scribe extraordinaire, Steve Skeates, pen another yarn.  In classic Skeates fashion, the plot for this one has some unique qualities that separate it from the usual ‘heroes acting out of character’ and ‘mind controlled town’ tropes.  The alien device here isn’t co-opting the heroes or the town for any nefarious purpose, and they aren’t being overtly evil or trying to conquer the world.  They’re just being influence by biased and prejudicial values, a serious problem, but a much more subtle one than those usually found in such tales, which is interesting.  Skeates manages to deliver a simple but thoughtful story, showing his readers the ugliness of racism and sexism, and doing it in a creative way, by having admired characters enact it, while at the same time not getting stuck in his message.  As is often the case in this title, Dick Dillin’s art is great for the most part, except for just a few awkward panels.  Superman’s fight with the dragon is particularly nice.  It really seems like outside of the massive chore that JLA had to be, Dillin does routinely excellent work.  I’ll give this interesting and different tale 4 Minutemen.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpg2f52ff2370b3a87769869427faeac69darrowheadAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgMister_Miracle_Scott_Free_00014aa6e3fed1467a75dcac3f9654a2c723glheadLilith_Clay_(New_Earth)_002

No new faces join the Wall this month, though Lois gets honorable mention for her own head-blow hiccup.  I wonder who our next guest will be!


Final Thoughts:


Quite a month!  We encountered books of every type, the serious, the silly, and the truly out there.  The stories varied wildly in quality, but even some of the rough ones were noteworthy, and we had several really good comics in this batch too.  One of my favorite events this month was the return of supervillains to the Flash for a strange but entertaining tale.  He’s got such a great rogue’s gallery, and it is exciting to see them back in action again.  One of my ever-astute readers pointed out that there may be something of a theme of de-supering the superheroes at DC in this era, and I wonder if the reticence in the use of supervillains that I’ve noted might be part of such a trend.  If so, it is an intensely foolish one.

On that topic, this month also saw the slightly anti-climactic end of O’Neil’s rather uneven run on Superman wherein he partially de-powered the Man of Steel and did away with some of his familiar trappings.  His stories tended to be rather more odd than impactful, but they clearly caused a stir in their day.  For whatever flaws they had, O’Neil did manage to inject some humanity and some drama into the character that were a welcome additions.  I’ll be interested to see how long his changes endure.

Another of O’Neil’s efforts is worth mentioning here, as we got a new glimpse of R’as Al Ghul and Talia, though the story wasn’t nearly as effective as previous outings.  I wonder how long it will take before these characters achieve the iconic status that marks them as important additions to the Batman mythos.

In terms of the comics reflecting their times, we have some really fascinating examples this month.  We saw Ralph Nader and his Nader’s Raiders given the DC Universe treatment, with fictionalized counterparts fighting the good fight for consumer protection in the superhero world.  One wonders how consumer standards would be different in a world where an alien monster might come rampaging through the city or mystical energy could sweep through your building on any given Tuesday, bringing appliances to life.  Well, whatever new safeguards might be necessary, it’s interesting to see the events at the end of the last decade with Ralph Nader’s consumer protection crusading being reflected in a Batman comic of all things.  I’d say this reflects, in a small and subtle way, a changing attitude towards businesses and authority.

History also enters into our comics in a very unexpected way, as the Holocaust is referenced in G.I. Combat.  It’s a great story, particularly notable for its Jewish protagonist and its subtle but honest reminder of the terrors of hatred and the horrible capacity of humanity for evil.  This was another Kanigher story, and he continues to turn out the occasional grand slam, producing some of the goofiest comics I’ve read, but also some of the unequivocally most successfully serious and thought-provoking issues.  This month, he turned out two.  Kanigher’s work on Lois Lane and the story about urban poverty and its racial dimensions is quite good as well, despite its heavy-handed sentimentality and simplicity.  It’s notable that both of these, and our World’s Finest issue all deal with racial bias and attempt to encourage readers to see people of different races as individual human beings.

It’s really interesting to see superhero comics tackling such a topic, which was still a very a live issue in 1971.  It was only this very year that the final efforts to desegregate schools in the South were begun and the Supreme Court put the nail in the coffin of the Jim Crow era (though far from the end of the Civil Rights struggle).  That makes the racial overtones of the Lois Lane story’s conflict really fascinating and timely.  The DC Universe is still a very monochrome place at this point, but here we have a positive character of color in the person of Dave Stevens, acting heroically and making a difference in his community.  We’ve come a long way from just a few years before where the inclusion of a single black face in a crowd in Green Lantern resulted in special attention and letters of appreciation for such an unusual inclusion.  In the other direction, we’re only a few months away from DC getting its first black hero as well!

On another note, we also got Robin’s hippy commune sojourn this month, another reflection of the wider world, as the Counter-Culture movement still hadn’t quite run out of gas.  Interestingly, Friedrich attempt to paint the hippies and their commune positively, presumably for the same kinds of reasons as Kanigher and his work on the inner city, perhaps hoping to show his readers the normalcy and humanity of people that many would regard as outsiders and Others.  It’s a mediocre story and more than a little odd, but its appearance is worth noticing.

Of course, this month also saw the finale to this year’s JLA/JSA crossover, which was a fine if uninspiring pair of issues.  While Friedrich’s work on the book hasn’t been bad, for the most part, I am looking forward to getting to the end of his run.  Sadly, I’ve got a while to wait.  His efforts at adding drama and conflict to the League have been rather odd and poorly handled so far, but he is trying to add more of an emotional core to their stories.

Finally, Kirby’s Fourth World sees a very uneven set of books this month, with a creepy and compelling Forever People issue which was much better than I remembered on one hand….and the madness of ‘Goody’ Rickles on the other, with the solid but unremarkable New Gods somewhere in between.  In the Forever People book, Kirby’s surprisingly sophisticated reflection on the power of self-delusion and the illusions that we treasure is really striking in light of the previous issue’s focus on the lies we tell ourselves to justify our actions.  I’m not entirely convinced it was a conscious development of themes, but Kirby was an instinctive storyteller, and I think it is entirely possible that he wove those threads together subconsciously, even as he leapt from idea to idea.

The Don Rickles disaster, on the other hand, was, despite some genuinely fun moments, mostly just a waste of the powerful imagination and creativity that had been, for better or worse, pouring out of the Jimmy Olsen title.  All of the interesting material is shoved into the background to make room for the “funny” bits.  It’s a shame given that this confused mess shows up right on the heels of the bizarre but promising story arc with the Wild Area and the D.N.A. project.  The end result is that at this point I can see some of the signs that led to the death of the line.  What would you have thought as a kid buying the Fourth World books, only to hit two issues like those?  Yikes!

Taken all together, this was an eventful and interesting month of comics, with a pretty high proportion of socially relevant stories, especially compared to where this little journey began.  I hope that y’all enjoyed this stop on our voyage and will join me soon for the beginning of the next month of classic comics as I travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Come on in and enjoy some 4-colored adventures in a brighter, better world than ours.  I don’t know about you, but I can certainly use such a pleasant diversion.  We’ve got a very interesting pair of books to cover in this post, including the end of Denny O’Neil’s unusual but intriguing tenure on Superman.  Let’s get started!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Superman #242


Superman_v.1_242

“The Ultimate Battle!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Girl Who Didn’t Believe in Superman!”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Stan Kaye

“The World’s Mightiest Weakling!”
Writer: Otto Binder
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Bernard Sachs

And here we are at last, the conclusion of Denny O’Neil’s attempt to update Superman.  This is the grand finale of the saga of the Sand Superman, and I have been looking forward to the read.  We start with a solid but not quite earth-shattering cover, which is a bit ironic given what it depicts.  It’s a dramatic piece, but the two fighting figures, carefully matched in their combat, look a bit awkward.  It looks more like they’re standing in mid-air than engaged in a frenetic flying fist-fight.  The blazing city below them is a nice touch, but the flat coloring renders it less powerful than it could have been.

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The story within is a similarly mixed bag.  It opens where the last issue left off, with the defeated Man of Steel grasped in the grip of the ghoulish “war demon,” which has been animated by another Quarrmite spirit.  The fight is taking place in a junkyard, and a pair of bums cheer the monster on, even going so far as to vent their frustrations on the formerly invulnerable hero. Seeing the Metropolis Marvel bleed, they realize that he is now a mere mortal and proceed to beat him savagely.  With Superman defeated, the two hobos, “Stewpot” and “Gemmi,” then take charge of the clueless creature, who is new to their world and has a childish innocence.  The vicious vagrants decide to use the demon to satisfy their own desires for chaos and destruction.

Conveniently, Jimmy Olsen happens to be at the junkyard on an assignment (one wonders what he did to tick Perry off), and the young reporter finds his fallen friend.  The injured hero is rushed to the hospital, where they discover his brain injury from last issue and begin a delicate operation while I-Ching, Diana Prince, and Jimmy Olsen waited with baited breath.

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Meanwhile, the demon, sporting his bum brain-trust on his shoulders, smashes through a museum and confronts the police.  Just then, the Sand Superman arrives, and he crashes into the monster with massive force!  After a quick battle, the creature proves too much for him, and the dusty duplicate flees, wondering what prompted him to intercede, despite his protestations that he cares nothing for humanity.  This is an intriguing moment, but it sadly doesn’t get much development.

The demon’s rampage continues, with him smashing through a police barricade, but as he becomes accustomed to his power and begins to enjoy the chaos he’s causing, he also grows tired of the bums who are bossing him around.  Finally, he decides to employ his lessons in destruction on his masters themselves, and he kills them, on panel!  Their deaths (in shadow, but visible nonetheless, which is quite unusual), are accompanied by a quote from Ecclesiastes, interestingly enough.  And with that, the villainous vagabonds leave the story, making their inclusion feel rather pointless.

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With his masters mashed, the monster heads after his original foe, smashing his way into Superman’s hospital and easily brushing aside Diana Prince’s puny efforts to oppose him.  This is not Wonder Woman’s best performance, as Jimmy puts up just about as much of a fight as she does.  When the creature reaches the Fallen Man of Steel, it finds him fully recovered, but the two are evenly matched, at least until the sudden and unexpected arrival of…the Sand Superman!  The Man of Grit smashes through the ceiling, and in a nice touch the Action Ace wonders for a moment whose side his double is on.  His question is answered a moment later, as his alluvial alternate crashes into the demon, and the pair of powerhouses push their foe towards the park, where the portal to Quarrm still rests.

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The spirit is sucked back into its formless realm, and the crisis seems to have passed…until the duplicitous dusty duplicate declares that he is determined to be Superman, and therefore the original must die!  The real Metropolis Marvel protests that they can coexist, but the Alluvial Ace declares that the hero is too proud of his own uniqueness to share his world with another, which is an interesting angle.  The two are squaring off for a final showdown, where their oppositely charged atoms will trigger an explosion that will destroy one of them when I-Ching suddenly shows up and offers to cancel their charges out and let them fight normally.

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After his mystic gesture is finished, the two super-foes begin a titanic combat that takes them through the very core of the Earth.  In a nice sequence, Superman lures his doppelganger into a trap and clocks him into orbit, but after he pursues his enemy into space, the pair look down to see the world consumed by a cataclysm triggered by their Earth-shattering brawl!  They gaze upon a world scoured of life, and Superman breaks down, only to be brought back to reality by I-Ching.

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The vision was just a mystical trick, to dissuade the two titans from beginning their cataclysmic combat.  The Sandy Superman is so moved that returns to Quarrm willingly, observing that there can only be one Man of Steel.  The mystic offers to transfer the double’s powers back to the original Superman, but he refuses, saying that he has power enough, and after seeing what it could do, he wants no more, which is an interesting character moment.

And on that somewhat bittersweet note, Denny O’Neil’s Sand Superman saga comes to a close.  As with the run as a whole, this final story is very uneven.  There is a lot here that is really excellent, but there are a number of incongruous elements as well, along with a general sense of missed opportunities.  Really, that’s the biggest problem with this issue and O’Neil’s tenure on the book at large.  The mythology of this story feels ad-hoc and unfinished, a random grab-bag of elements that don’t have a unifying theme and lack the power of, say, the world-building going on in Kirby’s Fourth World books.

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What’s here isn’t bad, but it just feels like it should be more than it is.  The war demon is the best example from this last arc, with its odd appearance and random nature.  His two hobo masters, who contribute almost nothing to the story during their brief tenure, are also signs of this trend.  They corrupt the simple spirit with their thirst for violence, though we had already seen the creature being plenty violent during the previous issue.  These two bums are given no development, no motivation for their evil attitudes, and thus their deaths have no power other than shock value.  This is even more of a shame because there’s plenty of potential for something worthwhile here, perhaps in the style of Frankenstein, with an innocent ruined by the evil of those around it.  Or, through these two bums, O’Neil could have explored how the morally weak react to the man of virtue, which is implicit in their hatred of the Metropolis Marvel but gets zero development.

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Then there’s the incongruous presence of the enigmatic and ill-defined I-Ching, who always felt out of place to me.  I can’t help feeling like the time spent with Diana Prince and I-Ching in these issues is wasted, and it’s time that could have been more profitably spent with Superman or his doppelganger.  As is, the Sandy Superman’s sudden sea-change is not entirely earned, though that is the element that has kept me hooked throughout this arc, the most intriguing piece of O’Neil’s plot.  That is probably the biggest disappointment.  The somewhat promising premise of Quarrm is also left unexplored and unexplained, fading out of the book with the finale of this story.

superman 242 p_017Still, there are some really excellent elements to this story.  The vision of a super-powered brawl destroying the Earth is really striking, and it reminds me of an Action Comics issue from a while back which evinced a similar realization of what such powers could do if not restrained.  This is an intriguing and thought-provoking premise, and one not seen that often in this era.  The fact that this dream then prompts Superman to willingly limit his power is a really fascinating twist.  I’m very curious if we’ll see that actually play out in the DCU at large or if it will be forgotten once O’Neil leaves.  I hope it will be the former!  The evidence of the Sand Superman’s internal conflict is also really interesting, though we don’t get to see much of it.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of O’Neil’s character work with the Man of Steel himself in this issue.  The idea that the hero so enjoys being The Last Son of Krypton that he’d be unwilling to share the limelight is an interesting one.  I don’t think that’s a good read of the character, but it could have led us to the Action Ace doing a little soul searching, which might have been promising if given a bit more space.  I think the fact that he doesn’t actually get the chance to reject that claim is a big weakness of the comic.

The classic “Swanderson” art is quite good throughout this issue.  Even though the war demon’s design is on the goofy side, they still make it look dynamic and frightening in action part of the time.  The depiction of the central super-fight is also nicely effective, as is their work on its cataclysmic consequences.  There are a number of great, dramatic moments beautifully depicted throughout the issue, especially the timely arrival of the Sand Superman.  The art is so good, in fact, that I wish the art team had been given a bit more powerful of a story to illustrate.  In the end, this is a flawed comic full of interesting ideas, an effective microcosm of the equally flawed but fascinating run that spawned it.  It’s an enjoyable read, but it really should be more than that, seeing as it serves as the end of a 10 issue plot.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as its strengths and weaknesses effectively break even, bringing Denny O’Neil’s landmark run on Superman to a less than earth-shattering conclusion.

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #114


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“The Foe of 100 Faces”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

The two feminine features of Lois Lane share a single story in this issue, and it is another surprisingly moving tale about race and equality.  Unfortunately, a solid comic is saddled with a pretty weak cover.  While Giordano’s Lois looks great, his Thorn is a bit misshapen, and the composition itself is not terribly captivating, full of yellow sky and not much else.  Notably, the ‘girl’ comic’s cover focuses on a non-existent love triangle instead of the much more interesting grist of the actual plot.

lois_lane_114_02The tale within starts in the office of Perry White, where he shows the lovely Lois Lane a copy of The Black Beacon, published in the city’s ‘Little Africa’ neighborhood, which was written by an anonymous columnist.  The pair admire the unknown author’s work, especially his stance against the nefarious 100, and Perry sends the girl reporter out to recruit the mystery man for the Planet (which really seems a bit outside of her job description: what kind of paper is Perry running?).  Interestingly, Morgan Edge shows up and backs White’s decision, thinking to himself that the 100 are competition to his own outfit, Intergang.  That’s a nice little bit of continuity, with Kanigher touching on what’s happening in other DC books.

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lois_lane_114_03Meanwhile, the Thorn’s alter-ego, Rose subconsciously eavesdrops on her boss, Vince Adams, as he meets with two 100 torpedoes and assigns them to get rid of the protestors blocking the construction of a new high-rise that the gang wants to use as a front.  While the innocent young Rose is unaware of these schemes, her vigilante identity takes note, perhaps implying a growth in the strength of that personality.

That evening, Lois approaches the small office of The Black Beacon, and inside she finds a familiar face.  That’s right, Dave Stevens, from the book’s excellent and groundbreaking first issue on race, is the anonymous author, and he’s obviously been changed by his encounter with the girl reporter.  While his assistant, Tina, is very cold and dismissive of Lois, Dave responds by saying that Lois is a “blood relation” of his, after a fashion, since her blood saved his life.  He tells the story of the journalist’s journey as a black woman, but Tina remains unconvinced.

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Yet, when Dave starts to bring Lois to the embattled Metropolis State building site to show her how he works, the 100 killers try to run them down, only to be stopped in dramatic fashion by the Thorn, who hits them like a whirlwind in a nice sequence.  Interestingly, Dave is a bit angry that a woman has fought his battle for him, but Lois points out that, just like minorities want to be treated equally, so do women, and he acknowledges her point with a smile.

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Once they reach the site of the protest, the young activist explains that the community is objecting to the building of the skyscraper because the city is pursuing it instead of addressing the needs of its people.  They demand affordable housing, schools, and infrastructure instead of another office building.  This fairly complex issue is massively simplified, but that’s to be expected in a comic like this, and the presentation is still effective.  Once again, a black woman objects to Lois’s presence, and once again, the reporter, herself changed by her previous experience, responds with patience and a plea for unity, which is well met.  It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s still heartwarming to see the characters bridging their gaps and the message is good.

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Yet, while the protestors are learning to look past surface differences, the idle construction workers are roused by 100 flunkies into attacking the marchers.  This is done with a surprisingly light touch.  The workers are a pretty diverse group themselves, including American Indians, and they don’t believe the rabble rouser’s speech at first, instead being willing to respond to the non-violence of the protest in kind.  It’s only after more 100 plants among the marchers start shooting and attacking the workers, backed by plants among the construction men as well, that a riot starts.  Kanigher avoids demonizing either group and, though not through realistic means, still manages to show how otherwise decent people can get swept up in violence and bigotry.

Lois gets knocked out (should I count supporting characters on the Headcount?), and Dave Stevens fights like a lion to protect her.  Tina tries to come to his aid, but they are both struck down as well.  Suddenly, the Thorn strikes, and she throws out explosive smoke bombs among the troublemakers.  The Baleful Beauty wades into them in another nice sequence, but she takes a hit as well, and it is only Superman’s timely arrival that saves the quartet.  The Man of Steel manages to use his super breath to disperses the crowd without hurting them.  The hero tries to talk with the Thorn, offering to sponsor her for League membership (!), but the Nymph of Night slips away, replying that she is a loner.

Lois begs the Metropolis Marvel to help the protesters, and he comes up with a solution.  He redesigns the building to use vertical space as well as horizontal and helps construct a new tower, which will serve both groups.  This makes everyone but the 100 happy.  Lois herself gets wistful, wishing she could have the type of relationship with Superman that Dave and Tina share.  Speaking of the two lovebirds, in the next few days, Lois visits them as they teach neighborhood children about black history, and the readers are treated to a cool double paged spread about the subject, and even I learned a bit (I had no idea that Dumas had African ancestry)!

Unfortunately, the peace does not last, and the 100 stages muggings and other disturbances at the new housing development to discredit the black citizens who moved in.  Lois goes to investigate, only to witness an explosion and see the fire department greeted by gunfire and thrown trash.  Dave helps her search for the culprits, but they vanish.  This scene has some fascinating racial overtones, with Perry White pointing out that the organization that has arisen to oppose the new housing development “America Awake,” is using the incidents as proof that “blacks create their own slums wherever they go,” an idea that I’ve unfortunately heard expressed much more recently than 1971.

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lois_lane_114_22That evening, as the black community celebrates their new home, someone throws a firebomb at a table full of children (would that this were more unrealistic), and Lois risks her life, scooping up the explosive and throwing it into the street, suffering severe burns in the process.  At the same time, she sees the Thorn sneaking around and follows her into the newly finished skyscraper.  There, the gallant girl reporter is captured as the Vixen of Vengeance attacks the 100 crew operating as the mysterious “America Awake.”  Dave Stevens comes charging to the rescue again, and with the aid of a smokescreen created by the Thorn’s thrown boot (seriously), she and the adventurous author clean up the crooks in yet another nice action sequence.  After the fight, while Lois’s burned hands are bandaged at a nearby hospital, Tina embraces the girl she had previously rejected, impressed by her willingness to sacrifice her own life for children of color.  Finally, the issue ends with Dave Stevens taking the job at the Planet so that his voice can reach a national audience.

This is another good, surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful story on race by Robert Kanigher.  He continues to amaze me with the varied quality of his work.  While this one is not as subtle and moving as his first try at the topic, that is, after all, a high mark to hit for a comic from the early 70s.  Nonetheless, there is a good story here about breaking through the walls that our perceptions of race build between us.  There is a focus on the plight of the urban poor that carries some weight and a good adventure story to boot, which is impressive because, as we’ve seen, writers can have a hard time balancing their plots and their messages. *cough*O’Neil*cough*

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Kanigher packs a ton into this issue, perhaps a bit too much, actually.  The story races from the initial protest to the attempts to discredit the black community to the capture of the barely introduced “America Awake” front.  I think we could have had a more compelling and intriguing story, plot-wise, if Kanigher had broken this into two issues and built a bit more tension and suspense with the second half of the plot.  The idea of the 100 playing on people’s biases by staging embarrassing incidents and what that says about our culture has some fascinating potential, and building up an actual mystery around what was happening could have been really rewarding.

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Nevertheless, what Kanigher does give us works pretty well, even if it does move at such a quick pace that the “America Awake” organization feels like an afterthought.  Of course, this comic provides a massively simplified take on the problems of the inner city, with the citizens being entirely innocent and the only negative influence coming from outside.  Obviously, that issue is a great deal more complicated, and attempts to address urban poverty have been fraught with many challenges.  Yet, Kanigher’s story, simplistic though it may be, serves a worthwhile purpose by challenging the popular perception of the urban poor, especially those in black communities, and does the same kind of narrative work as his stories about Native Americans, showing members of these groups as individuals, normal human beings with the same fears, problems, emotions, and desires as anyone else.

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This is, as I’ve mentioned before, a very worthy undertaking and part of the power of literature, which can build in us the capacity for compassion, the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  The racial tensions of the 1970s certainly made stories like this necessary, but the events of the last few years have shown how much such stories are still needed.  In this era of polarization and tribalism, we could all use a reminder that the fellow on the other side of the isle is human, even if we disagree with him.  This is even more important when that fellow happens not to look like us, as it is far too easy to demonize the Other.  When even people who want the same things are constantly dividing themselves into different camps, it’s nice to read a comic where a daring dame like Lois breaks through such barriers.  It’s also really great to see the friendship that exists between her and Dave, which I imagine was a little shocking in 1971.  I love that there is nothing romantic between them, that they’re just two friends and equals.  That’s a dynamic you don’t see that much in comics of this era.  Honestly, their interactions are some of my favorite parts of the issue.

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lois_lane_114_15 - Copy (2)On the art front, Werner Roth turns in some more beautiful work, filling his faces with personality and emotion but also managing to create some really dynamic fight scenes.  Yet, there are a few places where we end up with some awkward and ugly panels, where his figure work breaks down a bit, like the apparently drunk flying Superman to the left, here.  Still, on the whole, Roth continues to do a wonderful job on this book, really serving to capture the emotions of his cast.  I think that I’ll give this fun and thought-provoking comic a strong 4.5 Minutemen.  It’s a little rough in spots, with some heavy-handedness and its subject is radically simplified, but it is still an unusually good read and has a sweetness and earnestness that make such excesses a bit more forgivable than others we’ve seen.  I never expected to enjoy Lois Lane nearly this much!

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Well!  What a pair of issues!  This is a really significant set of stories, and they definitely illustrate how comics are evolving in this era.  We should have some fascinating trends to examine in the Final Thoughts for this month!  I hope you will join me again soon when we shall do just that!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 4)

 

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Solomon Grundy was born on a Monday, and Into the Bronze Age was born, fittingly enough, on a Saturday.  Not quite as catchy though, is it?  Nonetheless, here we are on a Thursday with a brand new set of Bronze Age comics to cover.  Welcome readers, to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got the finale of our JLA/JSA crossover, another episode from Kirby’s Fourth World, and some Superboy shenanigans to peruse in this set, so let’s get to them!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Justice League of America #92


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“Solomon Grundy – The One and Only”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The One-Man Justice League!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella

“Space-Enemy Number One!”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This month brings us the second half of this year’s JLA/JSA crossover, which promises another entertaining tale.  Adams’ cover, though dramatic, is a bit lackluster, with Grundy being a bit oddly proportioned (which actually fits the art within, sadly), and the image being a bit plain, other than the forms of the fallen heroes.  Nonetheless, it proves accurate, as the comic opens with the League and Society forces on Earth-2 defeated and at Grundy’s none-too-abundant mercy!

Grundy is at his most monstrous and, unfortunately, so is Dillin’s art.  While the swamp creature’s size was inconsistent last issue, it gets rather ridiculous this month, with the monster changing size from panel to panel like his name is Hank Pym.  Grundy’s size switching aside, things look dire for our heroes until Superman comes to and slaps his foe’s ears back, freeing himself and distracting the zombie while the others escape.  Through brief check-ins with the aliens, we learn that the young extraterrestrial boy, A-Rym is beginning to fade, but his plight remains unknown to the Leaguers and Society members.  To make matters worse, none of those heroes efforts prove effective against Grundy.

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Meanwhile, in the Batcave, the two Robins are recovering, and the Earth-2 elder gives his young counterpart an alternate costume of his, and we’re introduced to the Neal Adams design for new Earth-1 Robin threads.  As a fun Easter Egg, Adams himself gets referenced by the Adult Wonder in the story.  The costume itself isn’t perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over the by now wildly inappropriate getup of the Pantsless Wonder.  It’s got a lot of potential, and upon later revisions, it will turn into a really wonderful costume.  For my money, the version that showed up in Batman: The Brave and the Bold is just about perfect and one of the all-time best Robin looks.  Interestingly, this costume is presented to the audience as a possible change for Dick in the main DCU, and the editor invites fans to write in if they want to see it.  Sadly, the response must have been underwhelming, and we got another decade of Robin’s bare legs.  That’s a crying shame.

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Anyway, after a brief check-in with Barry Allen on the Satellite, where his wife comes to care for him, which is sweet, we’re back to the gathered champions as they regroup.  Hal whips up a temporary power ring for his counterpart, and the pair of them peel off to tackle Grundy while the Hawks head out to capture the kid.  The Robins arrive and give the Winged Wonders a hand, recovering Alan Scott’s ring in the process, but it is the youngest member of the team that finally ends the struggle.  Teenage-Grayson connects to the scared young alien.  Realizing that the yellow-skinned being is no monster, he comforts the poor kid.  This scene also features a rather cool moment where the Teen Wonder uses his new costume’s ‘wings’ to glide in for a punch.  How did this not become his costume?

Meanwhile the two Emerald Crusaders clash with the zombie menace as he tears through the countryside, but individually their diluted rings are too weak.  Finally, combining their willpower, they knock Grundy out.  When the original Lantern recovers his ring, the green team seals the behemoth in his swamp.  The tale ends with teams on the two Earths managing to put the pieces together and reunite the pair of alien menaces, converting them to just a boy and his dog and saving both of their lives.  With their energy signals finally strong enough to detect, the boy’s brother is able to recover him, and the League and the Society have a friendly farewell.

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JusticeLeagueofAmerica_092_10This is a fun adventure, though it shrinks the scope of the story a bit from the previous issue.  It’s always enjoyable to watch these two sets of heroes go into action together, and everyone in the Earth-2 group gets something to do.  The action scenes are nicely balanced that way.  Yet, Friedrich doesn’t bring too much color or depth to their interactions, with the exception of the incongruous generational conflict from the previous issue.  He does bring that weird forced drama between the Hawks and the Robins to a conclusion, with everyone shaking hands and parting friends.  That element continues to feel rather pointless, and even the characters themselves seem to have little time for it.  Unfortunately, this yarn once again displays the rather sappy tendencies of “Touchy-Feely” Friedrich, but his excesses aren’t too noticeable in this outing.

This issue does have some real weaknesses, though, with the resolutions feeling far too simple and convenient.  You have the combined might of the Society and League beating on Grundy for most of two issues, and then the two Lanterns just zap him unconscious in two panels, which seems more than a little anti-climactic.  The wrap-up to the kid’s plot is also a bit quick, but if you’re living in the DC universe, I suppose you’d get used to drawing connections between strange events.  After all, they almost always end up being linked!  Sadly, one of this story’s biggest weaknesses is the art.  Dillin’s not at the top of his game, so the action is often stiff and unattractive, but he is juggling a pile of characters.  All-in-all, this is a fun if flawed conclusion to the first adventure.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.  The interesting premise of the first chapter doesn’t quite live up to its potential here.

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P.S.: One of the cooler facets of this issue is the teaser that it carries for the next, which shows Batman, Green Arrow, and my favorite, Aquaman, lined up in the crosshairs of an assassin!  Exciting!
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New Gods #4


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“O’Ryan Gang and the Deep Six”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

“The Secret of the Buzzard’s Revenge!”
Writers: Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Jack Kirby
Editor: Whitney Elsworth

We’ve got another issue of the most epic of Fourth World titles this month, and it’s got another rather lackluster cover.  All of the action is crowded into the bottom half of the page by the cover copy, and the unbalanced image full of squashed, disproportionate figures, is not the King’s best work.  Sadly, that’s true of what lies within as well.

We start with something very promising, something perfect for the cosmic drama of Kirby’s Fourth World, as Metron takes a young New Genesis student on a space-and-time spanning trip in his Mobius Chair, visiting a primeval world, ruled by massive, monstrous beasts and equally monstrous men.  Kirby gives us a stunning double-paged splash as the enigmatic scholar of the New Gods philosophizes about the stages of human development, making an interesting observation that humankind is much more willing and capable of higher spiritual development once “their bellies are full.”  Once the pair return home, they are greeted by Highfather, who solemnly informs them that one of their number has fallen…on Earth!

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On that beleaguered world, Orion has discovered that fallen comrade, the aquatic Seagrin, whose body is being pulled out of the waters that were ever his home.  The warrior is moved by the death of his friend, and he calls on the latter’s Mother Box to return him to the Source, which she does in a fiery explosion full of Kirby crackle.  This is a striking scene, demonstrating both the King’s dedication to the elevated tone of his tale, with this death establishing the stakes and the seriousness of the conflict, while also showing his prodigious creativity, as he invents an interesting looking character just to kill him off without even a single panel of life.

As the holocaust abates, the Black Racer is seen tearing through the flames, having claimed the life of a god!  We get a very brief check-in with his supporting cast as the Racer returns to the paralyzed form of Willie Walker, and then we see that the drama of the moment has been observed by Darkseid, but none of this amounts to much.

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For however much he may be a poor fit for this story, I have to say, I rather like Victor Lanza’s unabashed meekness.

Meanwhile, Orion returns to his collection of human allies, who helpfully recap their names and motivations, which is necessary because there’s very little memorable about them.  The New Genesis warrior explains that Darkseid has imported a device to hide the Apokaliptian presence on Earth, which is shielding his minions.  Orion explains that the warlord has probably entrusted it to his human servants in Intergang, so he plans to use his own ‘gang’ of humans to find and destroy the machine.  Using Mother Box, the Dog of War tracks down an Intergang member, and he and Dave Lincoln shake the fellow down to discover the device’s location.

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Even when creating very conventional story beats, Kirby still introduces creative twists, like Lincoln and his pipe.

ng04-21At a remote spot on the edge of the city, lovely Claudia Shane decoys the guards by faking a stalled car, only to gas them with the help of New Genesis technology (Note the wonderfully distinctive yet visual consistency with which Kirby depicts even something as simple as a switch).  With the way clear, the rest of the gang moves in, and the timid businessman Victor Lanza confronts the local Intergang headman, “Country Boy,” pretending to be the consigliere of the “O’Ryan Mob.”  He bluffs the apparently not-too-bright boss into showing off the incredible hi-tech device that Darkseid entrusted to him, allowing Orion to destroy it.  Man, Darkseid is so going to kill that guy.

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ng04-25With the jammer destroyed, Mother Box is able to pinpoint one of Seagrin’s killers, the leader of the devious Deep Six, Darkseid’s aquatic shock troopers.  Setting out to challenge this fiend, known as Slig, the Dog of War heads into the sea, but his foe is ready for him.  Apparently the Six have the power to mutate sealife into vicious and useful forms, and Slig uses this ability to capture Orion in grasping tendrils of seaweed.  The warrior is able to escape by triggering the Astro-Force, but it is a desperate and dangerous maneuver that leaves him stunned.  And it is there that our tale ends!

This is a slightly disappointing issue, really.  It has a wonderfully imaginative cosmic opening, and the scene where Orion finds his fallen friend is somewhat touching and dramatic.  Yet, those promising beginnings feel a bit squandered in the story that follows.  The action as Orion’s crew chases down the Intergang stooges is entertaining enough, but it feels uneven and a bit anticlimactic after the more bombastic events of the previous issues.  His helpers remain rather underdeveloped and continue to feel mostly unnecessary.  The teenage kid literally contributes nothing to this issue.   It doesn’t help that the main antagonist, “Country Boy,” sadly lacks the interest and personality of the other Intergang representatives we’ve seen, like “Ugly” Manneim and Steel Hand.

Yet, unfortunately, the biggest weakness of this issue may be the art, or perhaps it is the inking.  Colletta over-inks several of these pages, drowning out detail and hurting the artwork.  Kirby’s pencils themselves are not at their best either, most notably with Orion.  There are some wonderfully cosmic, imaginative panels and pages, but their execution is often either a bit off or they are drowned in ink.  Nonetheless, there are still wonderful Kirby-esq moments, like the destruction of the Apokoliptian device and the opening sequence.  Despite those weaknesses, though, this is still a fun issue.  While it feels a bit more like it is marking time than really advancing the plot, the ride is enjoyable, and there are some interesting stops along the way.  I’ll give this uneven issue 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s still a bit above average.  It’s entertaining, but I imagine it’s one of the weaker issues of this title.  Speaking of future stories, I’m looking forward to Orion’s showdown with the Deep Six, which I remember being a really cool issue, one that took more advantage of the setting and scope of Kirby’s Fourth World.

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P.S.: Once again, this issue includes a backup of a classic Kirby tale from the Golden Age, this tiemas well as a few pinups of Fourth World characters.


Superboy #177


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“Our Traitor Super-Son!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Plague from the Past!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Ohh joy, another entry in the grand tradition of Super-Dickery.  This one certainly ticks the usual boxes, too, with an unnecessarily convoluted plot by our hero that has him acting like a complete jerk to those that love him most.  I’ve got to say, this is one trope of the Silver Age that I really don’t miss, as the payoffs were rarely clever enough to justify the logical acrobatics the writers required from their characters or their plots.  superboy v1 177 - 01The cover for this issue sets the stage well enough, even if its not a particularly compelling image (and the lines of its ‘ceiling’ don’t quite make sense).  For once, the promise of the cover is delivered within, though the tale begins in more traditional fashion.  Young Clark’s ‘Earthday’ celebration with his parents is interrupted by reports that the “Mothball Fleet” has suddenly up and set sail, seemingly on its own.  Has Skynet finally achieved sentience?

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superboy v1 177 - 02Not quite.  After a nice two-page spread in which Superboy is attacked by strange weapons mounted on the old ships, only to disable them with his freeze-breath, the Boy of Steel is confronted by a video message from the author of these strange events.  The prosaically named “Cerebron” (I wonder what his gimmick could be) declares that he was controlling the fleet and begins to make some threats before we cut away to the young hero towing the frozen fleet away.  Yet, the storytelling breaks down a bit here, and the fact that the conversation continued between panels isn’t really obvious, which actually caused me some confusion when I read this yarn.

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superboy v1 177 - 04Back in Smallville, Pa Kent is busy loading up produce for his general store (I always forget that he had this store in this era of the comics), when Superboy suddenly swoops in with the police hot on his heels.  The Boy of Might declares that Kent is selling tainted food, and the police haul him away.  Tests prove that the youth’s accusation is accurate, and the Kents are locked up.  I’ll give Dorfman partial credit.  While Ma Kent does the usual “how could he treat us like this!” bit, Pa is more level-headed and points out that there must be a good reason.  After all, they know their son wouldn’t hurt them intentionally.  Now, if only the payoff will justify his faith…

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Meanwhile, the Smallville Superstar quickly removes all traces of his heroic identity from the Kent household.  He’s not a moment too soon, as shortly after he leaves, Cerebron and a henchman arrive and investigate the premises.  Apparently, the cerebral supervillain can track the young hero through a special pair of glasses that detect a radiation trail he is leaving behind.  Finding Superboy’s trail but no trace of his connection to the house, Cerebron slinks away.

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While this is happening, Clark is staying with Lana’s family since his parents are in jail, and Lana is none too impressed with Superboy’s having put them there.  Slipping away, Clark gets into costume and moves his various hi-tech gadgets into a temporary base in a nearby asteroid, only to have it immediately discovered by Cerebron.  Instead of fighting his foe, Superboy detonates the base while he slips away with his stuff, apparently afraid it might be damaged in a fight.  That’s a pretty weak excuse to pad the story out for a few more pages, but Dorfman hurries past it.

superboy v1 177 - 09Over the next few days, the hero and villain play cat and mouse, with Cerebron finding his foe each time Superboy establishes a new base.  Apparently, every time the Boy of Steel tries to attack Cerebron, his ship vanishes…and somehow the kid with a zillion types of vision can’t find it.  Of course, all this time, Ma and Pa Kent are rotting in jail.  Finally, our young hero decides to set a trap for his persistent enemy, and he establishes a base in an wrecking yard, which he seals when Cerebron’s invisible ship enters.  Once again, why X-Ray vision can’t detect the ship is anyone’s guess.  Despite not being able to see the sinister Cerebron, Clark comes up with a clever solution.  He just uses his heat vision to turn the inside of the base into an oven and forces the villain to surrender or be cooked.

superboy v1 177 - 11 - CopyFinally, Superboy captures the clever criminal, unmasking him as Lex Luthor in the process.  We are also treated to an explanation of the story, with Lex reminding us that he hates Superboy because he made him bald.  What an utterly ludicrous motivation for a great villain!  The whole bald angle is a great extra element to the character, illustrating as it does Lex’s pride and vanity, but it should really be ancillary.  It’s just so hilariously absurd that it’s treated as the entire motivation in some of these stories.  Nonetheless, baldy’s plan wasn’t bad this time.  The fleet was a diversion, and its guns really just coated Superboy in radiation that his nemesis could track.  During the unclear intermission where Cerebron threatened the hero, we see that he claims to have figured out the Boy of Steel’s secret identity and promises to kill the Kents if he interferes again.  Thus, Clark faked their arrest in order to protect them…which is fine, but why in the world would he not tell them?  Apparently, the police knew all about it, so it seems that he can trust the police to keep the secret, but not his own parents.  That’s just sloppy writing, which is to be expected from Dorfman.

This is a decent enough story despite the goofiness of that device, if more than a little silly and convenient in some places.  I would say that Superboy’s cruel mind games against his parents justify as abuse, though.  The different scenes as the Boy of Steel travels from base to base are fun, if poorly justified, and his eventual method of capturing the crooks is pretty clever.  I’ll give this slightly below average tale 2.5 Minutemen, largely on the weakness of the poorly used Super Dickery.

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“Plague from the Past”


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The backup, on the other hand, is a solid and enjoyable little yarn, brief and rushed, but effective nonetheless.  It begins with Superboy smashing into an Egyptian tomb in which his friends Professor Lang and Lana have become trapped during a dig.  Once they’re freed, the Boy of Steel helps them examine the various artifacts of the site, including an hourglass dedicated to Anubis, God of the Dead, which can supposedly reverse time.  The youthful hero impetuously tries the device, but nothing happens. Interestingly (abd honestly rather surprisingly for 1971), the characters note that all of these cultural treasures must be turned over to the Egyptians.  Still, the thankful government is so pleased with Lang’s discovery that they reward him with a small sampling of his finds, including the hourglass.

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Arriving home in Smallville to a grand parade, that very artifact falls off the float, only to be caught by Superboy.  Later on, the Boy of Steel volunteers to open the sarcophagus in case there are any more booby traps, but when he does, a strange sparkling gas seeps out and immediately strikes his friends down while leaving him unaffected.  Blowing the gas out the window, he rushes them to the hospital, but the deadly plague spreads rapidly thanks to his unthinking reaction!  Shortly the whole town is stricken with the strange disease, even the hero’s own parents.  There’s a nice little moment where Superboy has a realization about what his invulnerability means in light of a world full of very vulnerable humans.

In desperation, the Smallville Superstar employs the hourglass of Anubis once more, noting that, despite the fact that he doesn’t worship the Egyptian deity, he has certainly come to believe in his power.  The artifact works, and the young Kryptonian is hurled backwards in time to the parade earlier that day.  The hourglass falls once more, and stunned by his temporal journey, he fails to catch it.  Nonetheless, Superboy is elated, and he carefully releases the death cloud from the sarcophagus into space this time, protecting his town.

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This simple adventure is fun and has a nice, if abbreviated, emotional beat for our young hero.  It is more a gesture towards deeper storytelling than anything significant in and of itself, but it is still a nice touch.  One of Superman’s greatest challenges is how to care for the fragile beings that surround him, even in settings like the Justice League.  I also like the twist with the magic hourglass, that it required belief, and the plague certainly provided impetus for that.  I’ll give this entertaining tale a solid 3 Minutemen.

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And that will do it for this batch of books!  We had three very different titles.  The next post will feature a pair of Super-books, including the finale of Denny O’Neil’s year-long Superman saga.  Come back soon and see how he wraps his storylines up.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!