Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 5)

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

We visited waterfalls, hiked on glaciers, and even snorkeled in a glacial river between two tectonic plates (and that was intense, let me tell you!).  It was a really wonderful and necessary break, and sadly now we have to come back to the real world with all of its endless problems.  At least there are bright and hopeful comics to keep us company!  Today, I’ve got a pair of titles and a trio of stories.  I hope y’all enjoy my commentary as we travel farther Into the Bronze Age!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87 (AND Avengers #85-6)
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Phantom Stranger #11


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Mourn for the Thorn”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello my dear readers, and welcome to my penultimate post about January 1971!  Today, we’ve got my first coverage of a Superboy issue, as well as some Superman’s Girlfriend, so we’ve got tons of super-action.  We’ve also got G.I. Combat, for a more serious story, and the trio are a good set of books.  Please join me as I work my way through them.

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #396
  • Adventure Comics #401
  • Batman #228 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and Bold #93
  • Detective Comics #407
  • G.I. Combat #145
  • Superboy #171
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135
  • Superman #232 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #233

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


G.I. Combat #145


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Superboy #171


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pictures: An Atlantean nightmare

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

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

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

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

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

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“My Executioner Loves Me”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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


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

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 4)

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Greetings internet travelers, and welcome to a particularly fascinating edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I’ve got something special for y’all today, something that surprised the dickens out of me!  I’ve got a story that was much less enjoyable than I expected and a story that was vastly more enjoyable as well.  I’m sure y’all will be as surprised as I was.  So, let’s get right into this post’s features!

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 #394
  • Adventure Comics #399
  • Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
  • Brave and Bold #92
  • Detective Comics #405
  • The Flash #201
  • G.I. Combat #144
  • Justice League of America #84
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
  • Superman #231
  • World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • World’s Finest #198

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


G.I. Combat #144


g-i-_combat_vol_1_144“Every Man a Fort”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Cover Artist: Joe Kubert

This is an unusual and fun issue of the Haunted Tank.  Unfortunately, the ghost of the titular haunting still doesn’t really contribute anything, but the book sticks out because the story it tells actually touches on the origin of the heroic tank crew who star in these tales.  This issue gives us the first meeting of the tank crew in tank training, and a memorable meeting it is.  We also get the first meeting of Jeb and J.E.B., which is much less interesting and something of a let-down.  For the third book in a row, Robert Kanigher turns in a perfectly serviceable story without any glaring flaws.  Maybe we were just in a lull for him.  I suppose time will tell which set of stories was the fluke, the terrible or the tolerable.

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This particular tale begins in media res, with the Haunted Tank taking on a German panther, smashing the other steel beast, but being rocked by their fire in return.  Jeb is blown out of the hatch and has his bell rung but good.  He begins murmuring about the crew’s first meeting, which leads us to a flashback and reveals something I didn’t know.  Jeb is a Yankee!  This also comes as a surprise to the other three members of the crew, Slim, Rick, and Arch, who are all Southerners.  They don’t display good Southern manners, however, instead telling Jeb that, since he’s a Northerner, he’s not fit to bear the name of the famous Confederate general.  What follows is an episode out of the Three Musketeers, as Jeb, with quiet courage, puts up a list, saying that anyone who wants to try to make him change his name is welcome to sign it.  Shortly, he’s got three different appointments for fights, which Russ Heath illustrates wonderfully.  Shades of d’Artagnan!

First Slim cleans his clock, but as soon as he has recovered, Jeb seeks out the next name on the list, introducing himself as Jeb Stuart.  So, next up, Rick rearranges his face.  Still undeterred, Jeb approaches Arch, and after a brutal fight, the three tankers accept him, telling their former foe that he’s earned the right to that name, in spades!  It’s a great sequence, and it establishes Jeb’s character in an endearing, hard-won fashion.  I do wish we had gotten a bit more development of the other three crew members, as they remain little more than names.

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gi-combat-144-09Later that night, Jeb is visited by his namesake, who tells him that he has the heart of a “Johnny Reb,” and that the ghost will be proud to be his guardian.  It’s a bit lackluster, to be honest.  I like that he recognizes the tank commander’s fighting spirit, but I would have preferred that their first meeting be a tad more dramatic.

Nonetheless, the flashback rolls on, and we join the Haunted Tank on its first mission, to reinforce a fort overlooking vital supply routes in North Africa.  We get a really nice scene where the crew stops to pray, only to be ambushed by a half-track.  I quite enjoy little moments of faith like that.  They manage to dispatch that threat, only to arrive at the fort too late.  It has already been bombed to smithereens by the Luftwaffe.  That brings us back to the present, and the crew carries on with Jeb still delirious.

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They spot a train carrying supplies for Rommel, and they realize it is up to their tank to stop it.  Yet, try as they might in a vicious running firefight, once again, nicely drawn by Heath, they can’t smash through its armor.  Now, that seems a bit silly, but they actually did have armored trains, so it’s not quite as goofy as it seems, especially given the small gun on a Stuart.  Anyway, Jeb comes to just in time, ordering Slim to ram the engine, a desperate gamble that pays off, sending the train and all of its ammo and fuel over a cliff and saving the day.  As usual, the General appears once the action is over to offer unhelpful commentary rather than supernatural aid.

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This is a solid story, and I really enjoy the camp episode about Jeb’s name.  His quiet, obstinate perseverance is great.  The whole thing looks good, as do most of these Haunted Tank tales, and the adventure with the train is a neat change of pace.  Interestingly, this origin actually contradicts an earlier one from issue #114.  Leave it to Kanigher to botch some continuity.  That earlier story tells the tale of how General Stuart himself came to be attached the the tank, and it is an interesting one.  I rather wish that supernatural side of the concept had been explored a bit more, but I imagine they had to walk lightly about such things in the Silver Age.  Perhaps we’ll see more done with it in future issues.  At any rate, I’ll give this fun and interesting issue 4 Minutemen, though it loses a bit for the continuity kerfuffle.

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Justice League of America #84


jla_v-1_84“The Devil In Paradise!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Great Ant Circus!” (reprint)
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Murphy Anderson
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth and Julius Schwartz

This is an odd one.  Denny O’Neil’s groundbreaking run on the book is over, and we get one issue with a fill-in writer before the beginning of Mike Friedrich’s run.  It seems like Kanigher (yes, he strikes again) was going for a ‘Very Special Episode’ type of story with this comic, but the result is so uneven and random, with the melodrama turned up to 11, that the resulting read doesn’t ever really come together.  Unlike the last few mostly tolerable Kanigher offerings, this one is full of poorly thought-out events, abandoned plot points, and overall sloppy writing.  It isn’t the worst story of his we’ve covered, and it actually still manages to be somewhat enjoyable.  Nonetheless, it is weird.

Almost immediately after it begins, we get a flashback.  The JLA are receiving a special Nobel Prize, which is actually a cool idea and something that makes perfect sense for a group of people who regularly save the entire world.  This particular instance is actually rather small-potatoes, as the team receives the reward for saving a kidnapped scientist before he could be “sold behind the Iron Curtain.”  In a fun touch of continuity, the organization they’re tangling with is The 100, the same group that has begun to make its presence known in some of the Superman books also penned by Kanigher.

The 100 have a veritable army guarding the scientist, and we get a fun sequence where all the gathered members of the League get to chip in during the rescue, though the creators apply cartoon logic to Superman’s powers, as he melts an entire tank, somehow without deep-frying the guys inside.  They’re literally sitting in molten steel and only seem mildly perturbed in a ‘How dare you melt my tank’ kind of way.  You can’t see him, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Yosemite Sam was actually piloting that tank.

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Yep, it sure is a good thing that the melting temperature of flesh is so much higher than steel!

While the others keep the gang busy, Hawkman affects the professor’s rescue with an assist from the Flash, and that brings us back to the ceremony.  After the League’s time in the limelight, another recipient takes the stage, Dr. Viktor Willard, whose ‘Pax Serum’ has turned “the hawks of savage, primitive tribes of the Matto Grosso country into doves!”  Now, if that sentence didn’t disturb you, A) you haven’t read enough science fiction or B) you didn’t think about it enough.  This guy invented some kind of drug that made human beings docile.  That’s a dystopian dictatorship’s dream!  What’s more, he presumably gave it to an unwilling population, forcibly restraining their hostile tendencies.  That’s wildly ethically problematic!  Yet, the League and the Nobel crowd seem to think it’s the greatest thing in the world.  Yay!  Let’s just drug people to make them act the way we want!  Shades of Equilibrium!

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Anyway, that’s not even the weirdest thing to come out of this scene.  All of a sudden, with no explanation, Black Canary becomes telepathic, reading the thoughts of Willard’s fiance, Phyllis Temple.  Oddly, she calls her new ability “SP.”  ESP stands for extra-sensory perception, but I’m guessing ‘ol Kanigher just got confused.  To add to the inexplicable oddities, Superman’s x-ray vision suddenly goes haywire, and he sees half of Willard’s face as a skull.  That is never mentioned again, by the way.  It’s just a random little bit of madness.  On the way home from the event, Superman and Flash have a race, but it proves too destructive, so they call it off.

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Next, we get an incredibly, achingly melodramatic scene between Batman and Black Canary.  They cross paths in the Watchtower, changing shifts for monitor duty, and they share a kiss, instantly regretted by both, as the heroine is still mourning the loss of her husband.  It’s not that bad of a scene, but the captions are just too much!  I wonder what Ollie would think of this.  My wife would hate this scene, as she will hear of no other love interest for Batman but Catwoman.  I’m not quite as militant about it, but that pairing does have a place in this old softie’s heart.

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Anyway, the plot, such as it is, picks up two days later as the League responds to a distress call from the remote hinterlands of Australia where a native village has been destroyed by another tribe, which has seemingly gone mad.  Suddenly the team is attacked by Aborigines with weird weapons and mirrored shields.  The heroes have a brief fight, but then their opponents just vanish and we get some gobbledygook about the natives’ belief in the supernatural and the heroes’ belief in science.  What does this have to do with our main plot?  Your guess is as good as mine, since it is never explained.  Were these folks experimented upon by Dr. Willard?  Are they just random natives practicing black magic?  Who knows?  The League don’t bother to find out, just leaving with the whole matter uninvestigated.  Way to go, team!

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Cool panel, though.

On the way home, the Flash discovers the recent Laureate’s fiance floating on an overturned boat, delirious.  He rushes her to the hospital in Central City (which I suppose is really no further away for him than a coastal hospital).  While comforting her, his wife, Iris, arrives, steaming mad and ranting about how he missed her receiving a reward.  She declares “The JLA’s no place for a married man!  Let your superhero bachelors carry on!”  This is another completely random, completely out of character moment.  Shades of Bob Haney!  Iris has always been very supportive of Barry’s superhero career, so this comes out of nowhere and, I’m fairly certain, goes nowhere as well.

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The League brings in the suddenly-telepathic Black Canary, and the bird-lady sings about what she sees in Miss Temple’s mind.  Apparently, her fiance went from Nobel Peace Prize recipient to flat-out Bond villain, complete with secret volcano lair, all in the blink of an eye!  The mad scientist flew her to his private island base and explained his randomly evil plan to her.  He declares that, for no particularly good reason, instead of curing aggression in the world, he’s going to ramp it up to cause a holocaust, leaving the pair of them safe in their underground bunker.  He also introduces her to his incredibly vaguely defined servant, “Nether Man,” described as “Neither man, robot, nor android.”  Sure.  Why not.  Nether Man is smitten with the lovely Miss Temple, but when she escapes, he is sent to hunt her down nonetheless, sinking her speedboat in the process.

Having gotten the scoop, the League leaps into action, encountering a series of booby-traps and obstacles on the island, which give several different members a chance to shine.  It’s a nice sequence, as Superman detonates mines, the Atom picks a lock, and Hawkman dodges lasers.  Then, while they are fighting really uninspiringly designed robots, Flash has a line that irks the literary scholar in me, as he refers to ‘machines turning against men’ as “Orwell’s nightmare world of 1984.”  What?  1984 has nothing to do with machines turning against men!  Sheesh, Kanigher, read a book!

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While the League are occupied, Phyllis runs to confront her fiend of a fiance as he is preparing to launch his doomsday device.  He orders Nether Man to kill the meddlesome woman, only to have his creation turn on him, destroying itself in the process.  The final page of the issue attempts to deliver some kind of moralizing message, but it makes no sense with the story that’s just concluded, as Phyllis philosophizes that both Nether Man and Dr. Willard are “victims of the same hate that ravages the world!  Unwitting murderers!  But…who can cast the first stone at them?”  Wait, what?  What story were you reading, lady?  Those two were victims of the hate that your psycho boy-friend whipped up trying to annihilate humanity!  I’d call him a pretty ‘witting’ murderer, and, while I’m no saint, I feel fairly comfortable in my moral fitness to throw the first stone at attempted genocide.

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Clearly, we’re meant to find this ending super profound and meaningful, but the story just doesn’t earn anything of the sort.  The Frankenstein-esq turn with Nether Man is good, and surprisingly well handled in a very short span of time, but his master gets pretty much zero motivation for his genocidal tendencies.  The issue is chock full of material and has plenty of action, but it really feels like three or four separate, disjointed stories rather than one unified plot.  The Aristotelian Unities don’t really apply to comic stories, but some type of unity of action is important in any conventional yarn.  This issue certainly fails at that, and while there are some fun team moments and even some interesting ideas introduced, like the attraction between Batman and Black Canary, the strange, discordant notes of unexplained events, incongruous dialog and action, and general lack of development and, you guessed it, logical consistency, leave it something of a mess.  It’s not a bad read, but if you think about it for more than two seconds, you’ll find your head hurting.  I’ll give this off-beat issue 2 Minutemen.  It certainly seems like those last few solid Kanigher issues might have been the fluke after all, but just wait until you see what’s next!

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106


lois_lane_106“I Am Curious (Black)!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Milton Snappin
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

“Rose and Thorn: ‘Where Do You Plant a Thorn?'”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

Wow.  Just….just wow.  This is an amazing comic.  I know that is hard to believe.  Just look at that title and that cover, not to mention the name in the credits!  Nonetheless, this is a heck of a comic book.  I expected this issue to be a terrible, ham-handed, melodramatic mess.  How could it be anything but, right?  Well, I was blown away by what was under that goofy cover.  Robert Kanigher, of all people, managed to tell a simple, subtle, touching, and authentic story about race, bigotry, and inequality that gently delivers a a message of human unity without beating the reader over the head with it.  This comic actually achieves the profundity that Denny O’Neil is trying so desperately to grasp in each new issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

This unusual story starts off with Lois Lane, clearly entirely pleased with herself, as Lois often is, having just received an assignment to get “the inside story of Metropolis’ Little Africa,” an all Black neighborhood in the poorest part of the city.  In a somewhat creepy little panel, Clark thinks, for no particular reason, that he’s going to ‘keep an eye on her’ as Superman.  I’m sure that won’t be significant later.  The glamorous girl reporter gets a ride from her favorite taxi driver and heads to the slums.  Yet, when she arrives, she gets the cold shoulder from all of the area’s inhabitants.  They just refuse to talk to her, politely ignoring all of her efforts to break through.

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There’s a particularly striking scene where she passes a street meeting and a fiery young man points her out, noting that, though she is young and pretty, they must not forget that:

“she’s whitey!  She’ll let us shine her shoes and sweep her floors!  And baby-sit for her kids!  But she doesn’t want to let our kids into her lily-white schools!  It’s okay with her if we leave these rat-infested slums!  If we don’t move next to her!  That’s why she’s our enemy!”

It’s a really surprisingly honest moment, dealing fairly straight-forwardly with issues of school desegregation and white flight.  The young man’s earnest anger is shocking, as is the subject matter appearing in a superhero comic, much more in Lois Lane.  Kanigher shows admirable restraint in moments like this throughout the book, letting the scenes speak for themselves, and they speak eloquently.  Lois herself is struck by this speech.  She ponders how, though the young man’s words aren’t true for her, they are true for many of her race.

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Having determined that she won’t get any story out of this neighborhood while she’s looked at as an outsider, Lois conceives of a bold plan.  She convinces Superman to use a kryptonian device to temporarily turn her into a Black woman so she can see what the world looks like through such people’s eyes.  What follows is a short but telling collections of scenes where Lois, suddenly not the “right” color any longer, discovers how different life is for the other half.  Her favorite taxi driver blows right past her on a rainy street, refusing to pick her up.  On the bus, she’s the subject of suspicious looks, or at least feels that way.  That’s one of the most remarkable things about this story.  Kanigher captures, not only the obvious signs of racial inequality, but the general sense of ‘otherness’ that minorities have to deal with.  That’s impressive.

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Arriving in the slums, Lois heads in to one of the tenement buildings to talk to some of the inhabitants, only to find a fire starting in a trash pile.  The place is incredibly run-down, and one of the renters informs the disguised reporter that the slumlord who owns the place refuses to do any maintenance.  That renter invites Lois into her home and what follows is something akin to the Widow’sMite.  This woman, who has almost nothing, who has to chase rats out of her baby’s room, offers Lois coffee, shares her hospitality, and then asks this complete stranger if she needs any help.  It’s a touching little scene, and it helps to ground the humanity of the folks trapped in this area.

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Lois is moved, and she heads out to see what else there is to see.  In an alley, she spots an ‘improvised pre-kindergarten,’ where a man is teaching a group of children that ‘Black is beautiful.”  This may strike you as odd, especially if you aren’t familiar with American racial history, but it is actually a really interesting and subtle addition to the story.  You see, the famous Doll Test in the 40s indicated that segregation and racial inequality had a psychological effect on minority children.  They literally preferred white skin to theirs, tending to have subconsciously absorbed the narrative or racial inferiority.  It’s a pretty heartbreaking idea that kids might be uncomfortable and unhappy in the skin they’re born in, but that was (and may still be) the world that we had created.  Once again, Kanigher displays surprising sensitivity and insight.

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lois-lane-106-p_015Well, the crisis of the story arrives when Lois meets the fiery street speaker she had encountered earlier, but the young man, named Dave Stevens, of course, doesn’t recognize her.  He does recognize a gang of kids creeping into an alley to meet a pusher, however, and charges after them in order to protect his neighborhood.  The thugs meeting the kids don’t take kindly to the interruption and shoot the brave fellow.  Superman arrives just then and captures the criminals, then rushing the wounded man to the hospital.  It’s at this point that we get one of my favorite panels in the book.  Stevens needs o-negative blood for a transfusion, but the hospital is out.  Lois, with a wonderfully rendered expression of realization, simply states “I–I’m o-negative!  Just like him!”  There’s no heavy-handed captions, no undue focus.  The moment stands on its own, and it is a great moment.  Lois realizes that she, a White woman, shares the same blood that is coursing through the veins of this Black man.  That she is the same, inside, as he is.  It’s really lovely.

The transfusion is conducted, and it is a success!  While the young man recovers, Lois has an interesting conversation with the Man of Steel, asking him, point blank, if he would marry her if she was couldn’t change back.  His response is really fascinating, as he doesn’t ever really answer her.  He points out that he is the ultimate outsider, being an alien, but she retorts that his skin is “the right color.”  It’s intriguing to see other writers toying with the idea of Superman as a representative of the established order, a symbol of conservatism and resistance to change.  The man himself seems better than that, but there is a touch of that old fear, that superheroes are inherently fascistic or oppressive, defending the existing social order as they do.  I’ve always found that argument foolish, as heroes can and do inspire folks to be compassionate and courageous, but the possibility is certainly there.  Just last month we saw Jack Kirby putting Superman in a similar role by placing him at odds with Jimmy, as a representation of youth culture.  We’re certainly getting into pretty interesting stuff on this front, no doubt about it.

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The issue ends with Lois, having transformed back into her usual coloring, greeting the revived young man.  Once again, Kanigher makes an excellent choice of restraint.  The final pages is wordless, with nothing but the dawning realization and acceptance on Dave Stevens’ face to tell the story.  He recognizes the same truth that the reporter herself did, that inside, they are the same, whatever outward differences may appear.  It’s a good, hopeful ending.  It’s touching without being saccharine, and I really don’t think it could have stood any dialog or captions and still kept that balance.

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I think what may be most astonishing to me about this book is the fact that I’ve never heard of it.  I’ve read a decent amount about comics and their seminal moments.  I’ve read about Denny O’Neil’s Green Lantern run, the drug abuse issue, and more.  I’ve heard about a lot of the important stories, and yet…this issue has never had a mention so far as I can tell.  It has never garnered any notice, but it is a bold and sensitive (for a 14 page comic story) treatment of some very timely issues.  I can only imagine that no-one was paying any attention to Lois Lane.  I know I certainly didn’t expect to find an honestly poignant story in these pages!  Yet here it is, a forgotten gem.  This type of book is one of the reasons I started this project.  I am thrilled to have discovered it, not least because its message of seeing through the other fellow’s eyes is especially fitting these days, at least in my country.  That’s one of the great strengths of literature.  It builds our capacity for empathy and helps us to look at the world from different perspectives.  That’s one of the ways that literature makes us better as human beings, and this little story in an insignificant comic magazine has just such power.

The whole issue is beautifully illustrated by Werner Roth, who I’ve never heard of before.  I’ll be looking for his name from now on, though!  He really captures the emotions of the various characters and gives each extra an interesting and unique face.  Lois herself is given a lot of personality by both Kanigher and Roth, and I think her portrayal is one of my favorite parts of the issue.  She is represented as intelligent, capable, and level-headed, which is great given how often the Silver Age Lois was just a complete mess, a mad, manipulative, emotionally disturbed harpy.  This story gives us a more worthwhile Lois, and I quite enjoyed it.  Overall, I can’t think of any way this comic could be improved, so, this 14 page Lois Lane story written by Bob Kanigher of all people is the first Bronze Age book to earn 5 Minutemen out of 5!  Clearly, I’m going to have to reassess Kanigher as a writer.

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“Rose and Thorn: ‘Where Do You Plant a Thorn?'”

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Apparently Thorn is actually a man in drag…yeesh!

This is another interesting and engaging Rose and Thorn story, probably stronger than the first offering because it doesn’t have as big of a job to do since the origin has already been told.  It can focus on smaller tale and give it more development.  The concept continues to intrigue me, and I’m pleasantly surprised once again by Kanigher’s writing in this backup.

This particular yarn opens with the eponymous Thorn gazing at the window of a funeral home at a solid gold coffin on display there.  Apparently the 100 like grand gestures, as they’ve commissioned this flashy final resting place just for her.  As she considers the coffin, a pair of the 100’s gunmen come after her, but she makes short and vicious work of them.  In fact, it may only be the arrival of her father’s former partner, Danny Stone, that saves the life of one of the thugs.  That’s a little touch that I enjoy, as Thorn isn’t exactly a rational and restrained heroine.  It makes sense that a vengeance driven split personality might have some problems with excessive violence.  I’m curious to see if that will be developed.

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Anyway, the story continues the following day, when Rose is once again in control, and she is palling around town with her new boss, Vince Adams, owner of the funeral home and secretly a leader of the 100.  We get some good intrigue as Rose is left to browse the flowers in a florist shop owned by another 100 member as he and Adams meet to discuss the murder of her alter ego.  The florist is charged with killing Detective Stone, and when the officer just happens to waltz into his store seeking roses for Rose, he sees his chance.  One poisoned bouquet later, and the trap is set.  Fortunately for Rose and Danny, the girl’s dog chews on one of the flowers, dying in their stead!  I was really surprised by this.  Usually you never kill a pet in a comic like this, even if you kill human beings.  It is pretty dark, as an animal is completely innocent, and it’s the kind of thing that forever marks a villain.  Folks can forgive a likeable rogue for a little murder, but never animal cruelty.  Such are the vagaries of audience ethics!

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Well, Stone realizes that something is up, and instead of descending on that florist shop with a SWAT team, he just strolls in casually to ask the guy how his flowers ended up poisoned.  What’s more, he also blindly accepts the ridiculous story the guy tells him about having bought the flowers from some strange trucker and walks right into the trap the store owner sets up.  Detective Stone is apparently exceptionally bad at his job.  It’s a good thing he’s working in Metropolis.  Without Superman around, he’d probably already be dead.

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What is going on in that last panel?  Is the gun animate?

He gets lucky once more, however, as once he is sapped, Thorn comes to his rescue, making a dynamic entrance and leaving the two gunsels stuck to a giant cactus!  They look like they’ve been crucified, so it is a rather striking image.  Stone recovers and captures the two thugs, probably getting credit for a collar he doesn’t deserve.

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This is a solid little tale, told in just 8 pages.  It’s a good example of economical storytelling, and Kanigher fits in action and character development admirably.  The small cast helps that task, of course.  Ross Andru’s art is actually one of the biggest weaknesses of this story.  While it is usually serviceable, even rather good with some of the face-work, it is also occasionally stiff, awkward, and just downright ugly in some spots, especially the opening page with Thorn.  There’s a few places where the art fails the story as well.  Still, all-told, this is a good story in a remarkable issue.  Color me intrigued by Ross/Thorn’s saga.  I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen, though I’m inclined to take off some points for Stone’s ridiculous gullibility.

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Well, what a fascinating selection of issues we’ve covered in this post!  I just can’t figure Robert Kanigher out.  He can turn out the goofiest, laziest, scholckiest work you’ve ever seen in one book and yet turn out one of the best short comics I’ve ever read in another, all in the same month!  Whatever Kanigher’s story may be, we’re certainly getting into intriguing trends here at the end of 1970, and we have only one more post to go before we round out November.  So, until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 5)

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

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

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

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

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Night of the Thorn”


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

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

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

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

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

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I want to live in Jack Kirby’s world.

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

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

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

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

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