Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 4)

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Mondays stink, but they can be better with some Bronze Age comics!  We’ve got some landmark issues on tap today, folks.  Not only do we have a new offering from Jack Kirby, which introduces several enduring elements of the DC Universe, but we also have the opening moves in Denny O’Neil’s attempt to update Superman for the Bronze Age.  Check out my take on these books below!

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.


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135


jimmy_olsen_135“Evil Factory!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

This one is a bit odd, folks, so odd I really had a hard time figuring out what to say about it.  The plot itself is actually fairly straightforward, at least as far as superhero comics go, but the implications thereof are something else entirely.  In this issue Kirby continues laying the groundwork for his Fourth World saga, introducing and explaining new concepts which will echo through the pages of DC Comics for decades to come.  They don’t quite reach their potential on their first outing though, as the King, for all of his creative brilliance, sometimes lets his imagination run away with him.  He was unparalleled at creating new ideas, new characters and situations, but he wasn’t always the best at seeing what complications those new creations entailed.  That was probably one of the great strengths of the ‘Stan and Jack’ team.  Two heads are, after all, better than one.

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Our issue opens with a shot of a horde of tiny, toy-sized replicas of our protagonists, Superman, Jimmy Olsen, and the Newsboy Legion, all swarming up the arm of a strangely garbed scientist like a colony of colorful ants.  It’s a really striking image, though it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the story inside, much like the lovely Neal Adams cover for this issue.  After playing with the fun-sized Legionaries, two masked miscreants, named Simyan and Mokkari (who is pretty cool looking) discuss their plans to destroy a mysteriously and rather ambiguously named “Project.”  Apparently they are using advanced science to clone human beings and modifying their DNA to achieve certain monstrous effects.  They are even growing a specially designed giant to kill Superman himself!

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This all seems pretty tame in 2017, very standard sci-fi stuff, but in 1971, this was much more cutting edge.  While the idea of cloning had been fodder for science fiction authors for decades, really coming to prominence in the 50s, a lot of the definitive books were still to be written in 71.  This is one of the advantages of my little project.  I’m able to see stories like this much more clearly in their context, rather than reading them purely from the perspective of the 21st Century.

Meanwhile, back at the ‘Mountain of Judgement,’ Superman and the Legion bid farewell to their Hairy hosts and receive dire warnings about troubles at…the Project!  How vague!  They take to the Zoomway again and soon arrive at the secret base called with that incredibly descriptive moniker, where they are greeted with great suspicion and many armed guards.

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Once past security, the Legionnaires make a very surprising discovery.  Among the base personal are…their fathers, the original Newsboy Legion!  There’s a charming panel where the boys greet their dads, and it’s cool that Kirby got to bring his original characters back in some fashion.  The King does a great job in creating adult versions of his lovable urchins, and they all have wonderfully distinct faces.

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Even Flippa-Dippa’s father thinks he’s an embarrassment!

While the kids reconnect with their fathers and get caught up on events, Superman takes Jimmy aside to explain the situation to the young man.  The Man of Steel tells his young friend that “the genetic code has been broken,” and the Project is dedicated to genetic research.  Specifically, it’s all about cloning.  In an effort to break things to the reporter gently, the Man of Tomorrow kindly presents him with a sight sure to trigger an existential crisis, introducing Jimmy to a clone of himself!  Apparently, the government, for some reason, decided to use the Daily Planet as a pool from which to collect the samples for their work, so they secretly collected DNA from the employees during routine medical examinations.  Notably, they did this without bothering to inform the staff.  Why clone Jimmy Olsen of all people?  Well, Kirby never bothers to explain that.

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How would you react to finding out you had been cloned without your knowledge or consent, that there were dozens, maybe hundreds of clones of you running around and serving a shady government organization?  Shock?  Horror?  Anger?  Well, not Jimmy.  He evinces mild surprise.  This is my biggest problem with this issue in particular and this arc in general.  The idea of the organization that would come to be known as Project Cadmus is a great one, just full of storytelling potential.  It’s use on JLU led to some of the best episodes of that series.  In fact, for my money they’re some of the best superhero stories around.  It was also used to good effect in Young Justice.  Part of what made those stories so great was their willingness to explore the themes inherent in such an undertaking, themes about the morality of cloning, the humanity and independence of artificial lifeforms, and the rights that a man-made being would merit.

Now, the first time I read these books, I spent several issues in a row waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the colossal ethical problems with cloning to be addressed, at least in some fashion.  I thought for sure the shady, top secret government program that was cloning people without their consent, screwing with the DNA of their subjects, and creating human beings to serve their will, i.e., doing tons of super villain-esq stuff, would be revealed to have some type of nefarious agenda.  But that never happened.  The natural questions that cloning, especially cloning in secret and under conditions like these, raises, in fiction and in real life, are never so much as hinted at.  It’s a colossal oversight, and something that really weakens the story Kirby is telling.  There’s nothing even slightly troublesome in his DNA Project, no questions of morality, just bright and shining potential.

jo135-18If you’re familiar with the sci-fi tradition involving cloning, it’s obvious that this is not just a question of a concept that lacked the sophistication of later day treatments back in 1971.  No, the themes that are inherent within the idea were present in the fiction as early as the 60s, maybe even the 50s, so this is just a matter of Jack Kirby moving too fast for his own good, which happened from time to time.  He spun out new creations so quickly that he barely had time to think them through before he was on to the next thing.  That had to be especially true now, as he was dreaming up an entire new universe of characters and concepts.  But, it doesn’t make this story any less flawed.

Back to our tale, as Jimmy presumably struggles with his existential angst at discovering that he’s been copied a zillion times, our two evil scientists contact their mysterious master, the malevolent Darkseid!  We get a bit more of a look at him, and he is quite the imposing figure, even from this early date.  Just then, their Superman slayer breaks free and starts trashing the joint, and in desperation, they teleport him directly into the rival Project, there to serve his destructive purpose.

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When the monster arrives, he lays into Superman, and having received a coating of kryptonite, the creature is quite effective.  The Man of Steel takes a beating, and the crazed clone continues its rampage.  In response, the grownup-Legionnaires decide to release a special project, a clone of their old friend and mentor, the Guardian!  Ethical qualms about cloning your dead buddy?  Nah!  The caged subject’s repeated cries of “Let me out!” combined with his shadowed portrayal give him a sinister sense that is quickly dispelled when the new Guardian leaps into action to save the base.

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Big, green-skinned guy with anger issues?  Does he, by chance, seem Incredibly familiar, or is it just me?

jo135-27It’s great that Kirby gets a chance to revisit so many of his old creations, and you can feel his pride as he reintroduces them back into the DC Universe.  The Guardian would go on to have a very respectable second career at DC, surviving as a concept long after Kirby’s time there ended.  Of course, the other concepts the King introduced in this story also went on to significant roles in the DC Universe, as I mentioned above.  It’s a shame that some of their later significance wasn’t present here in their introduction.  The story is really fine, in so far as it goes, and Kirby is in fine form for the art, filling both competing genetics projects with wondrous gadgetry.

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The introduction of the cloned Guardian is exciting, and it’s fun to meet the original Legion.  Notably, we also learn what each of them went on to do, and this mostly explains their presence at the DNA Project, mostly but not entirely.  Apparently Scrapper Sr. is a social worker.  I can see how a teacher, a geneticist, and a doctor are going to be important in a cloning facility, but I’m not quite sure what vital role a social worker fills.  Anyway, I’ll give this imaginative but flawed story 3 Minutemen.  It’s readable, but it’s really missing something.

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P.S.: As with the last episode, Kirby also included a text piece expanding on the ideas presented in the magazine.  It’s even crazier than last month’s, by a significant margin.  I hardly know where to begin with this thing.  The bonkers, almost stream-of-consciousness style of the essay is matched by the bizarre content.  It’s a pseudo-defense of the idea behind the Hairies, an idea that is still way too vague by the end of the piece’s attempts to explain it.  I’m guess Jack himself wasn’t entirely sure what they were.  It may also be a defense of the hippy movement’s incredibly short-sighted and impractical ideals.  I really can’t do this thing justice, so I’m just going to let y’all read it.  All I’ve got to say is that this piece provides the same lack of comprehensive thought as the issue itself.

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Superman #233


superman_v-1_233“Superman Breaks Loose”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Ben Oda

“Jor-El’s Golden Folly”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Murphy Anderson
Inker: Murphy Anderson

With this wonderfully iconic cover we we reach the landmark “Kryptonite Nevermore” storyline at last.  Amidst the universe wide wave of renovations, the head honchos at DC decided that their flagship character, the Man of Steel himself, needed to join the growing ranks of the revamped heroes that were populating their books.  So, who better to rework the father of superheroes than the man who had already done the same thing with so many other characters, Denny O’Neil?  I’ve read a bit about this set of comics, and I’m very curious to read them.  The choices that he made in reworking Superman are fascinating.  There’s a tendency to wonder why he didn’t make certain choices that seem obvious these days, though I suspect that owes a great deal to hindsight.  After all, what hero had more continuity, more inertia, and more baggage than the Man of Tomorrow?  Think about what a daunting task it must have been to approach the job of updating Superman.  There’s also a question of exactly how much freedom the author had.  After all, as DC was forcing the re-drawing of the character in Jack Kirby’s books, it isn’t terribly likely that they would give Denny O’Neil carte blanche in his approach.

The first change O’Neil makes is an interesting one, and I suppose it addresses perhaps the biggest problem the character faced at this point.  At the very beginning of the comic, an experiment with a new ‘kryptonite-engine,’ which promises to produce cheap energy for the entire world, goes wrong.  Superman attempts to smother the resultant explosion with a lead shield, despite the fact that it could literally kill him.  Yet, his efforts fail, and he’s caught in the blast.  By all rights, he should be dead, yet he wakes up with no ill-effects!  Strangely, the explosion seems to have turned the kryptonite samples the team was using into common iron ore.

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superman-233-0006Meanwhile, back at the offices of the Daily Planet, we learn that effect wasn’t just local.  Apparently the device’s malfunction destroyed all of the kryptonite on Earth!  And just like that, with the stroke of a pen, Denny O’Neil does away with the biggest crutch that Superman scribes have ever had.  Somewhere hack writers were crying out in despair.  We also meet the Planet’s new owner, the creepy Morgan Edge, head of Galaxy Broadcasting which has bought the paper.  In a scene silly enough to be right out of Batman V. Superman, Edge casually and randomly assigns the newspaper reporter Clark Kent to be his new on-air newsman.  He sends the mild mannered fellow out to cover the launch of a new ‘mail rocket,’ the kind of concept that was always showing up in comics but didn’t survive past the 50s in the real world.  Interestingly, Morgan Edge voices a completely reasonable concern, wondering if the complete and total removal of the only thing that could stop Superman is actually all that great of an event.  That’s a theme that’s much more common today, but it’s good to see it here.

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Obviously, this provides a new complication for the Man of Steel, as he’s now got to find a way to do his hero-ing while live on camera in front of millions of viewers!  This is one of the changes that seems somewhat ill-conceived.  While it adds some more chances for complications and challenges to the character, it seems like an unnecessary hurdle for the character’s status quo.

Anyway, the Metropolis Marvel faces his first test almost immediately, as he spots a man with a radio spying on the launch and has to deal with him during a commercial break!  Superman encounters some random thug, part of the Generic Gang, no doubt, whose group plans to hijack the rocket and sell it overseas.  He thinks he’s ready ready for the last Son of Krypton, as he’s managed to acquire a sample of the most abundant element on Earth, kryptonite!  Of course, if this neanderthal could read, he’d know that his space-rock isn’t going to do him much good.  To educate the fellow, the Man of Tomorrow happily takes the rock from him and eats it!  It’s a great scene, a very clear and forceful message about the completeness of the anti-kryptonite change.

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Having dealt with the man on the ground, Big Blue takes to the wild blue in search of the other part of the Generic Gang, who have arrived in fighter jets!  Superman’s heat vision suddenly weakens, and he’s forced to down the two jets by more direct methods.  He challenges himself to find different ways to stop the two threats, and in one entertaining bit, he uses his x-ray vision to spot the pilots of one of the jets and then knocks them out by punching directly through the hull.  I like the idea that Superman tries to shake things up just to have fun with his adventures.  That seems like a nice bit of characterization.

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On his way home, the Man of Steel suddenly finds himself weakened for a moment as he passes over the spot of the kryptonite explosion, and we get a closeup of the impression he left in the sand when he crashed.  Dun-dun-DUN!  In the epilogue, we see a strange sight, as a sinister creature of sand in the shape of Superman arises out of that impression and stalks off towards civilization.  There’s something in O’Neils narration of this scene that reminds me a bit of the end of Yeats’ “Second Coming.”  There is certainly something portentous about the scene, and it is fittingly intriguing, setting up the saga to come.

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This is a solid story and a good beginning for something new.  Superman’s life and setting are being shaken up, and the removal of kryptonite is certainly a good first step towards forcing a more grounded and creative approach to the character.  This comic is perhaps most notable for what it doesn’t do.  Most of the Man of Tomorrow’s trappings remain unchanged, and now, despite the unexplained dimming of some of his powers, he certainly seems more powerful than ever.

There isn’t a whole lot else here, and the threats the hero faces in this issue are fairly run-of-the-mill.  That works well enough because O’Neil is showing us the impact of the opening scene on the character’s life, but they don’t have a great amount of interest in-and-of themselves.  Still, it’s a good, readable story with some interesting action and an intriguing ending.  I know a bit about this arc, but I still find myself looking forward to seeing how O’Neil builds on the seeds he’s planted here.  Of course, Swan’s art is beautiful, and he really shines, both in the action and the detailed face work he does in several scenes.  His Bronze Age art is some of the very best there is.  As for this issue, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Of course, this poem also feels horribly apt for out world today, but that’s neither here nor there.

“Jor-El’s Golden Folly”


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This was a great little backup tale.  I thoroughly enjoyed the read, which I did not expect.  It’s a fun examination of life of Krypton-that-was without some of the more ridiculous elements that generally accompany such yarns.  It follows the early career of the great scientist himself, Jor-El, before he had acquired the fame that followed him later in life.  It’s a neat glimpse into the life and character of both of Superman’s parents, and the story actually has some surprising elements for a comic from this period, especially in its treatment of Lara Lor-Van.

The story begins with Jor-El’s assignment to his first project at the Kryptonopolis Space-Complex, where he meets Professor Ken-Dal and General Dru-Zod(!), who will be his bosses.  Jor will be working on the space program, which is in dire trouble, as its budget has been slashed just as it was nearing completion.  Notably, the facility also houses the training facility for future space-pilots, and in a remarkably forward-thinking move, Bridwell makes them all women.  Jor-El even wonders why women make better astronauts than men.  That’s a pretty surprising development from a period where we’ve still seen plenty of sexism alive and well, and it’s a cool insight into Kryptonian culture.

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Well, Jor-El gets right to work, and he decides that if they can’t afford to build powerful rockets, they must find another way to get their ships off of the ground.  So, he develops the principles of anti-gravity in a fun little sequence, where he straps a device to a dog and levitates it.  One wonders if this confused looking pooch is Krypto!  Either way, his project gets approval, but because of budget cuts, the scientist is forced to build his ship out of the most common element on the planet, gold.  That’s a fun little detail.

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Everyone mocks Jor-El’s ship, calling it his “golden folly,” in a situation somewhat analogous to Howard Hughe’sSpruce Goose.”  Just like Hughes himself, however, the Kryptonian scientist is vindicated when his ship successfully takes off.  However, Lara, who displays an admirable adventurous streak, wanted to be in the cockpit for the maiden voyage, so she stowed aboard.  Her flight is successful until the ship hit space, and then the controls go dead!  Between Jor-El’s remote tinkering and Lara’s piloting skill, they managed to put the ship down on a moon.

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There’s a slim chance that Lara could have survived, so when the next rocket heads for that moon several days later, Jor-El uses his antigravity belt to stow away aboard and not add any weight, which is actually quite clever.  On the harsh, barren moon, the young scientist searches desperately for the brave pilot who captured his heart, and at long last, he manages to find her.  There reunion is charming, and it tells the tale of how the pair got together.

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This is just a fun story, and I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpses of Krypton’s former glories that it provided.  Jor-El and Lara are both interesting characters under Bridwell’s pen, and I was particularly impressed with his treatment of Lara.  Together, these two make worthy parents for the Man of Steel.  Once again, I’m impressed by the ability of the this era’s creators to tell complete stories in such limited space.  These seven pages give us an adventure, several character moments for both protagonists, and a bit of world building.  That’s impressive!  I’ll give this enjoyable slice of Kryptonian life 4 Minutemen.

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Final Thoughts:


This was a pretty good month, over all, and it brought me several delightfully unexpected gems.  The stand outs for me were the books I was most prepared to dislike, Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane and Superboy.  Neither of these comics was exactly amazing, but I was very pleasantly surprised both by how much fun they were and by the lack of the sort of gimmicky silliness that I expected in those titles.  Here’s hoping that they continue to be of such solid quality.  In particular, Robert Kanigher continues to impress me.  Even his less stellar offerings, like this month’s Haunted Tank are generally respectable efforts these days.  I’m curious to see if his improvement will last.

We also saw the return of several themes that have become definitive of the early Bronze Age, like environmentalism and youth culture in this month’s Superboy and Batgirl stories.  I was impressed with how both of those books handled these themes and the more mature moral sense that they displayed.  At the same time, we had some disappointments this month, notably Jack Kirby’s unexamined and unproblematized treatment of cloning in Jimmy Olsen.  Still, all things considered, this was a fine beginning to our new year.  I can’t wait to see what else 1971 has in store for us!  As always, thanks for reading, and, until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

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No new changes on the Headcount, so poor Aquaman still has the last two slots.  I’m sure we’ll see more additions soon.  I only hope they aren’t more from the Sea King!

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 5)

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Hello Internet travelers, and thank you for joining me for today’s stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  This is the very last post covering the banner year of 1970.  We are standing at the threshold for the 70s proper, and soon we’ll be exploring a whole new year of comics.  We’ve got a promising trio of titles to examine in this post.  So, hop in your Whiz Wagon and join me as I investigate these classic comics!

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

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134


jimmy_olsen_134“The Mountain of Judgment!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We return to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World today in our second issue of Jimmy Olsen.  With this book we get a bit better of an idea about the setting Kirby is developing, but there are still far more questions than there are answers.  Kirby is setting up a great deal here, and my memory doesn’t quite serve to show me which threads will get paid off.  I have a vague notion that several of the ideas he sets up here won’t quite get the development they need.  Nonetheless, this issue is full of wild ideas and colossal concepts, including some classic Kirby artistic experimentation.

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It opens in grand fashion, with a full-page splash of a mass exodus from the tree-house like ‘Habitat’ we saw at the end of the previous issue.  It’s a parade of crazy, Kirby-esq vehicles, led by the wondrous Whiz Wagon.  Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion are leading the Outsiders out in search of the mysterious and oh-so-awesomely named ‘Mountain of Judgement.’  The Newsboys get into some antics as they try to film the crowd that turns up to see them off, and Flippa-dippa is already stretching for an excuse to make himself useful…which is not a great sign.  Yet, the festivities are interrupted by the newly recovered Man of Steel who tries to talk the crew out of pursuing their mission, intimating that he knows something they don’t.  Jimmy and the Legion insist they have a job to do, but their discussion is cut short by the antagonistic bikers, who mount another attack on the Metropolis Marvel.

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One of them tries to run Superman down with a rocket cycle, because apparently he’s a moron and doesn’t get the whole ‘more powerful than a locomotive’ thing, and that goes about as well as you’d expect.  The Man of Tomorrow catches it and plays rocket wrangler in a really cool panel.  Yet, the next attack is more effective.  One of these dropouts with their ridiculously advanced weaponry, targets the hero with a bazooka shell of kryptonite gas, and another finishes him off with a “green K paralysis gun.”  Of course, this is another example of that ‘everything is kryptonite’ problem with this era of Superman stories.  Fortunately, next month we get “Kryptonite Nevermore,” and I am really looking forward to that.

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Anyway, Superman is defeated and possibly poisoned, you know, what with the deadly element he was exposed to and all, and his best friend, Jimmy Olsen, casually and callously notes that now they can get on with their job.  This is the one point of the book that really bothered me.  Last issue, the attack on Superman was sudden and unexpected, and Jimmy had just taken control of the gang.  This issue, on the other hand, the attack goes on for some time, the young reporter is clearly more in control, and yet he does nothing to stop it.  What’s more, he greets his friend being knocked unconscious with all the concern that you or I might muster for seeing a stranger stub their toe.  That’s a beat that doesn’t ring true.  It seems like, at the least, they could have, you know, listened to what Superman had to say.

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After that kerfuffle, the convoy heads out, careening towards the foreboding Zoomway and beginning a race with death as they encounter obstacle after obstacle in their search for the mysterious Mountain.  First, Jimmy sends the Whiz Wagon straight through a camouflaged entrance to the roadway at top speed, ‘trusting in his instincts,’ which seems an unnecessary gamble, but what do I know?  Next, they must build up speed on a rock-strewn course in order to leap a chasm, a jump that some of the bikers don’t make.

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Then they wade into “the water course,” where Flippa-dippa actually contributes, by planting a charge on a blocked exit, though his incompetence nearly gets himself killed as the charge goes off too early.  Of course, the incredible Kirby-bikes of the Outsiders are equipped for submarine operation as well, because Jack Kirby’s reality is way more interesting than ours.

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Next, the crew encounters a reality-warping tunnel that messes with their senses, and they have to pilot by instruments as they lose all sense of direction.   This is portrayed by two bizarre pages of Kirby’s patented black and white photo-collages.  They’re fairly psychedelic and surreal, but it rather irks me that his model car doesn’t actually look that much like the Whiz Wagon.  I think he’d have been better off to incorporate some pencils, as he did in similar instances with the Fantastic Four.  I know that this was the King experimenting with the medium, pushing its boundaries and pioneering new techniques, but I never really cared for the effect that this type of gambit created.  According to the letters’ pages of the old Marvel books, though, it seems to have received at least some positive reaction from fans.  I wonder what DC readers would have thought of this in 1970.  If they hadn’t been reading Marvel books, it’s possible they wouldn’t have seen anything like this before.

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jo134-19At any rate, Superman has awakened during all this adventure, and he sets out after our young travelers, zooming past the dangers they overcame.  Along the way, he passes the bikers who were left behind in the madcap dash towards their goal, and, in a bit of a cheat, he notes that they are all unharmed.  I can’t help but wonder if that was a Comic’s Code sop, because you’ve got to think that the guys that failed that jump and plowed into the chasm wall probably didn’t do too well.  Nonetheless, the Man of Steel suddenly encounters a bizarre, Brobdingnagian behemoth, a boogeyman from the nightmares of a regular car, a gigantic converted missile carrier with a frightening facade that is screaming down the Zoomway.  This is the Mountain of Judgement.  Who should be caught in its path but the plucky Legion.  Pulling off a last minute save, the Metropolis Marvel carries the Whiz Wagon into the Mountain, which is Kirby-tech from top to bottom.  Instantly, the enigmatic Hairies who we heard about last issue spring forth and start examining the Wagon with delicate instruments.

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Only Kirby could design this gloriously mad vehicle.

Superman begins to explain but is interrupted by the discovery of a tiny but incredibly powerful bomb hidden in the car-mounted camera.  The Hairies lessen its power, and the Man of Steel smothers its blast, leaving the Legion boys entirely gobsmacked.  At this point, Jimmy finally begins to show some appreciation for the guy who is constantly saving his life.  It seems that Morgan Edge had an ulterior motive for sending this expendable little gang of kids on this assignment.  They were a Trojan Horse designed to destroy the Hairies.

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But, just who are these strange people, and what are they doing in this bizarre corner of the world?  Most of our questions remain unanswered, but their new hosts take the hero and his crew on a tour and show them the incredible insides of the Mountain, which serves as a giant rolling home for their enclave.  Essentially, theirs is a “mobile scientific society,” whatever that is, and Superman somehow knew about them.  The issue ends with the Legion wondering what game Morgan Edge is playing, and we get a glimpse of the man himself contacting a mysterious master, a strange character by the name of…Darkseid!

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This is another jam-packed issue, full of Kirby’s signature wild, rollicking action, an imaginative overload.  Unfortunately, our inker is the notorious Vince Colletta, so I imagine that we’re losing some of the nuances of the art.  Nonetheless, the book is full of fantastic visuals and wonderfully over-designed gadgets.  I don’t think he’s quite got the hang of Superman himself yet, as the Man of Steel occasionally looks a bit wonky, but the rest of the art in this issue is as gorgeous and creative as you’d expect.  The King delivers a plot that centers around a frantic race, which makes for a fun read, and the mysteries he’s introducing left and right are intriguing.

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Obviously, DC fans will recognize where a lot of this is going, but it is great fun to see the seeds planted.  The weakness, other than the odd moment with Jimmy’s indifference to Superman’s plight, is Kirby’s dialog.  It’s got a strange quality to it that I just can’t put my finger on.  Just check out some of the examples I posted above.  It has something in common with Beat poetry, an odd rhythm and cadence, combined with some silly 60s slang.  I’m definitely not the first to observe this, and while it isn’t a huge problem with this issue, this is something that marks the Fourth World books and can make them feel a bit dated, even for their contemporary milieu.  Still, on the whole, this is a fun issue, full of the manic energy that always characterizes Kirby’s plotting.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Interestingly, despite several ads for more forthcoming Fourth World books due out this very month, we won’t see them premiere until a few months into the next year.  I wonder what happened there?

P.S.: Several of my friends over at Freedom Reborn have been kind enough to remind me of something that I really should have remembered.  Apparently, despite hiring Jack Kirby to draw Superman and Jimmy Olsen, DC’s top brass were concerned that he would somehow damage the characters by drawing them like Jack Kirby rather than like the house style.  They actually had artists like Al Plastino and Murphy Anderson retouch and sometimes completely redraw both of those characters, leading to the weirdness I noticed in the Superman figures above.  Here’s a great article by Kirby champion and expert, Mark Evanier.  It’s really a crying shame, and the few samples of existing Kirby Superman art really make me long for what might have been.  I had actually learned this years ago when I read through the 4th World omnibuses, but I apparently had forgotten.  Thanks guys!

P.P.S.: This issue also came with an odd, off-beat text piece by the King himself where he praises the possible development of real-life Whiz Wagons and ponders the world that might come.  It’s an interesting read, though Kirby’s strange prose style is a bit hard to get a hang of.  It seems that prediction like these were everywhere decades ago, and yet I still don’t have my flying car, my personal submersible, or my jetpack.  Clearly, we’ve failed to make the future as awesome as it should have been.  After all, we’re living in the 21st Century, and aside from the Star-Trek like device I carry around in my pocket, it doesn’t seem all that different from the 20th.  Buck Rogers would be heartbroken!

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Teen Titans #31


Teen_Titans_Vol_1_30.jpgGreed… Kills!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Some Call It Noise”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Nick Cardy
Editor: Dick Giordano

Apparently we’re seeing a change in format with this issue.  Instead of a single story, we’re going to get two short yarns each month for a while.  I’m more than a little disappointed by that, as I’ve been looking forward to this issue because the cover indicated it would be Aqualad-centric, even featuring the fantastic but rarely used Aquagirl.  Imagine my dismay when I realized the promising cover only represented a brief backup tale (8 1/2 pages) rather than a full comic.  Promisingly, both of the stories herein are penned by Steve Skeates, but they didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The first tale, which is actually not the cover story, sadly returns our titanic teens to the pointless Mr. Jupiter plot.  We find them engaged on a mission for the mysterious millionaire, costume-less and also rather clueless.  Lilith has had another vague vision, and she has brought them to a pawnshop she foresaw being robbed.  The team debates the value of following her “hunches,” and Kid Flash is particularly dubious.  Yet, the would-be thieves do show up, and while the boys tackle them, quickly dispatching two of them, the young speedster lets his pigeon get away.

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For some reason, he doesn’t use his super speed in pursuing the guy, and then he just stands idly by while the fellow stumbles into traffic and gets run down.  Now, it’s supposed to be sudden, but how sudden does it have to be for a kid with super speed not to be able to intervene?  That bothered me, and it smacked more of Kid Flash just choosing not to act than anything else, which is a failure on Skeates’ part.

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A scene follows with the police in the hospital that tells us that the injured man is Kevin Murphy (no, not Tom Servo’s alter ego), a notorious thief, thought to have died ten years ago.  What does all of this have to do with a job for Mr. Jupiter?  Well, wait and see.  The kids follow up on their “mission,” visiting a wealthy businessman, named Mr. Tout, from whom they are tasked with getting a donation for a charity to help first time youth offenders reform.  Mr. Scrooge, er…I mean Tout doesn’t react take too fondly to this idea, and he screams about how criminals can’t be reformed and how he won’t subsidize lazy bums who won’t get jobs.  Cardy really does some great personality work with this fellow, giving him a distinct and evocative look.

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Their plea having failed, Mal notes that Tout looked directly at him during his tirade and speculates that there were probably racial overtones in it.  The quintet try to decide what to do now, and Lilith surprises them all by insisting that they go visit the injured Mr. Murphy.  teentitans30-08It’s handy to have the powers of plot.  Meanwhile, Tout discovers the concussed crook’s whereabouts and, strangely, begins to panic.  He decides that he must take care of this situation, immediately!

When they arrive at the hospital, the former Titans discover gunmen attempting to take out the police guards and kill Murphy.  Fortunately for the lone cop still standing, the girls intervene, promptly incapacitating the two assassins in a nice Cardy action sequence that, like some of our previous issues, demonstrates the different fighting styles of the participants.  Interestingly, Lilith is actually useful in the fight, which I didn’t expect.

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The gunsels grounded, the kids get an explanation from Murphy, who is dying from his injuries (that’s entirely on you, Wally).  Apparently, he and Tout were partners years ago, and after a big score, the ‘self-made man’ went straight and built himself a business empire.  Yet, he was afraid that his former partner would one day be caught and turn on him, so he tried to have him killed.  Murphy faked his own death in order to escape, and when his identity was in the papers after his capture, Tout decided it was time to finish the job.  Strangely, the issue ends, not with the capture of Tout, but with the youths just wandering down the street, talking over the enigmatic events of the case.  Tout’s fate is implied, but not shown.

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This is a fine story, with an interesting twist, but the trouble is that it isn’t really a Teen Titans story, just like some of the earlier issues I’ve covered.  Replace little-miss plot device with a clue that connects Murphy to Tout, and you could lift the Titans entirely out of this plot without anyone noticing.  None of the team use their abilities, none of their secret identities come into play, and the characterization, while solid, isn’t particularly distinctive or necessary to the narrative.  There’s nothing at all that makes this a Teen Titans tale.  The kids aren’t even in costume.  Cardy’s art is as beautiful as usual, but it also suffers from the lack of costumes.  His Kid Flash and Speedy are pretty hard to tell apart without any of their action garb to aid us.  Cardy still turns out a lovely story here, but I miss his seeing his Titans in action.

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Part of the problem here is just the situation that Skeates inherited, but I’m disappointed that he didn’t just go ahead and disentangle the team from this narrative albatross around their necks.  There are some elements of social commentary here, with the bootstraps-businessman’s success not actually a product of his own hard work, the racial tension, and the counterexamples for criminal reform and the like.  It subtly pushes for a more liberal approach to several social issues, but there isn’t much made of those ideas.  I suppose I’ll give this story 3 Minutemen.  It’s about average.

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Oddly, this comic also includes a two-page, mostly text short story about Kid Flash encountering a bank robber with a portable whirlwind, who is definitely not Whirlwind.  I wonder if this was an experiment or just a space filler.


“Some Call it Noise”


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The story I was so eagerly anticipating proved more than a little disappointing in context, mostly from its brevity, which left Skeates just too little space to follow any of the fun and interesting ideas he introduced.  Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable little adventure, and it is great fun to see Aqualad and Aquagirl in a story together, something we haven’t seen for quite some time, and never in a Teen Titans book, methinks.

This little yarn begins in an operating room where a desperate case is met by a daring doctor.  The patient has some type of head trauma that will prove fatal, unless, perhaps an experimental treatment the doctor has been developing is employed.  Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite aquatic adolescents hurry out of the waves on their way to a concert.  This is a fun idea, but unfortunately, Skeates just doesn’t have the time to do much with it.

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It does give us a charming image, though.

Just as the two young heroes reach the concert, the experimental surgery reaches its own crescendo, and the patient seems to be recovering well.  Yet, there is a terrible side effect of the new drug, and the recovering man goes mad!  His body chemistry thrown into turmoil, he develops superhuman strength, and he smashes his way out of the hospital.  Outside, he pulls a Grendel, catching wind of the merry music in the park and, enraged by the noise like that lonely fen-stalker, he sets off to put a stop to the revelry in most violent fashion.

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The maddened patient charges past the Aqua-teens, clocking poor Tula on the head and leaving her stunned.  Aqualad sets out in pursuit, realizing that this guy needs to be stopped before he kills someone.  Just as the crazed music critic prepares to smash the band, the Aquatic Ace attacks, laying into the fellow in a nice action sequence.  However, here we get one of my only real critiques of the issue.

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Aqualad thinks to himself that he’s able to throw a strong punch underwater, so he’s even more capable on the surface without the water resistance to fight.  Now, you might be thinking, ‘but that’s right!’ and you’d be correct.  My issue is that this really rather sells his abilities short, as he isn’t just able to throw “a strong punch;” he’s downright super strong!  I think Skeates, as much as I love him, forgets the super strength of his Atlanteans too often.  Still, it’s a minor complaint, and the kid still handles the enraged patient with aplomb.

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Yet, his encounter with his angry antagonist proved a dangerous distraction.  Aquagirl, injured more seriously than he realized, has wandered off in a daze, trying to head to the sea, but stumbling further inland in confusion.  In growing fear, as their one-hour deadline looms closer and closer, Garth sets out on a desperate search.  Following a few clues, he finds her leaning against a lamppost in town, and then we get one of the stronger beats of the story.  Aqualad notes that their hour was up five minutes ago, yet they don’t just drop dead.  Instead, they grow weaker, yet the young man pushes himself to a heroic effort, carrying the lovely lady all the way back to the beach.  He even passes out on his feet, but keeps stumbling forward blindly, collapsing mere inches from the sea.

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Fortunately, the tide comes in, reviving the exhausted Atlanteans.  It’s a great sequence, and it shows that Aqualad has some of his surrogate father’s force of will.  It also establishes that the one hour limit is not a hard and fast rule, but a general guideline that threatens, not immediate death, but growing weakness.  That’s a significant step in the right direction.  In the final half page, the two teens head out to sea, and I really love the spin Aqualad puts on their adventure.  He argues that, even though they missed part of the concert, it was worthwhile because he “saved a man from doing something he would have hated himself for for the rest of his life.”  That’s true, and an unusual angle on the events of the day.  It implies a thoughtful, empathetic quality for the young hero, which I enjoy.

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This is a fun little adventure, but it is definitely just that, a little adventure.  I really enjoy seeing Aqualad and Aquagirl get to share a story together, but it is so brief that Tula’s role is almost nonexistent.  She takes no part in the real action, and she’s even out of her head for half of the tale.  That’s a shame because she’s a great character who doesn’t get much focus in the first place.  Despite the fact that I wanted more from this backup yarn, it is effective and efficient, delivering a complete story in just a few pages.  I’ll give it a fun but limited 3.5 Minutemen.

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World’s Finest #199


worlds_finest_comics_199Race to Save Time”
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Colourist: Tatjana Wood
Editor: Julius SchwartzE. Nelson Bridwell

This is the second half of our two-parter featuring the race around the galaxy between Superman and the Flash, and it is great fun.  The crazy cosmic adventure of the last issue continues here, though the scale gets reduced a bit for the finale.  Also, Jimmy faces more chronological conundrums.  Interestingly, the first issue promised, in no uncertain terms, that we would get an answer to the age-old question about who would win in a race, the Flash or Superman.  “There must be a winner!” declared the cover copy, and there is…sort of.  O’Neil still cheats a bit.  I wonder if that question was ever entirely settled in the Bronze Age.  Who wins, you ask?  Well, there’s only one way to find out!

Our story picks up right where it left off, with poor, time-displaced Jimmy facing a flight of airborne arrows.  The situation looks pretty hopeless, until the hapless teen fades through time once more, but this is only a temporary temporal reprieve, as he lands right in the middle of a witch trial by the masked menace of the Spanish Inquisition!  I bet you didn’t expect that!  Of course, the young man’s sudden appearance is taken as proof positive that he is in league with dark powers, so he is sentenced to die. Poor Jimmy, out of the frying pan, into the inquisitional fire.

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Meanwhile, our two heroes are continuing their race, and we get a brief recap of events , thanks to some exposition from the masters of the art, the Guardians.  Our nameless Centurion is still hanging out, but sadly we don’t get any more of his inner monologue.  That’s a missed opportunity Mr. O’Neil!  Anyway, the radical racers are ambushed by another batch of the Anachronids, and unfortunately they chose their sector of space well as they are near an orange star, so Superman is weakened.  The charging champions put up a good fight, but eventually they go down, captured by the super-fast robots!

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Back in 15th Century Spain, Jimmy is not one to wait idly by for his fate.  He uses his wristwatch, a marvel in that era, to distract his guard and then takes him out, fleeing the prison.  He escapes into the night, trying to figure out how to get home.  In search of shelter, he stumbles into a barracks, accidentally stirring up a hornet’s nest of trouble!  Fleeing the roused soldiery, the young reporter climbs up a balcony, only to run smack into the grand inquisitor himself, Torquemada, now unmasked.  Poor Jimmy!  His luck is worse than mine!

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As time continues to fluctuate, we also get a brief check-in with some other DC characters, including Batman and Wonder Woman, as their environments shift and anachronisms creep into the modern day.  In deep space, Superman and the Flash awaken to meet their captors and the architects of the universe’s current peril, the Phantom Zone Villains!  They kindly introduce themselves to the Scarlet Speedster as: Kru-El (definitely a case of nominative determinism), Jax-Ur, the notorious General Zod (whose Silver Age look is only so-so), and Professor Va-Kox.  This criminal quartet have had their robotic minions bring the heroes back to the strange, extra-dimensional planet they visited last issue.  Apparently, the villains have managed to escape from the Phantom Zone to this dimension, but they can go no further.  They created the Anachronids to turn the universe on its head, as they’ve determined that upsetting the time-stream will weaken the dimensional barriers enough for them to escape.  That’s workable enough technobabble for the setting.  The Flash cries out that this plan will kill billions of beings, and, in true villainous style, the Phantom Zone refugees respond with callous disregard.  All that matters is their freedom, and once free, they’ll pick up the pieces and rule like kings!

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Well, for something like the fourth or fifth time this month, the villains complete their contractual obligation to leave the heroes alone in order for them to escape, as the Phantom Zone Four propose to leave the pair alive in order to see their triumph.  Man, the DC villains really need to read the Evil Overlord List.  Even so, the strange star of this world is red at the moment, so the Metropolis Marvel isn’t strong enough to burst their bonds, and, his medallion captured, the Flash doesn’t have the energy to vibrate free.  But wait, the medallion was made by the Guardians, so the heroes realize it may function similarly to a power ring.  They concentrate their willpower on the device, and Superman uses it to free himself, but before he can help his comrade, Zod returns, destroying the medallion!  He has them both dead to rights, and he tells them the villains decided they were too dangerous to let live.  That’s the right idea, Zod; if only you had acted on it earlier.

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The Flash, still bound, manages to knock the kryptonian’s gun away, and Superman jumps his father’s old foe.  The Man of Steel, now more like the Man of Soft, Bruisable Flesh, takes a beating, but he eventually manages to knock the former dictator out, twisting his ankle badly in the fight.  It’s a fun scene, as Superman has to work much harder than he’s used to because he doesn’t have his powers, yet he still triumphs through force of will.  I rather prefer the Bruce Timm approach to the character, though, which stipulates that everything Superman does requires great effort, but that’s really a matter of taste.

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Unfortunately, the Flash also catches a ricochet blast from the gun, rendering his legs temporarily paralyzed.  This leaves both heroes unable to walk, but, as the Flash declares in grand heroic fashion, they can still crawl!  They set out, dragging themselves desperately towards the Phantom Zone criminals’ headquarters, where they hope to find the controls for the Anachronids.  Never one to let the weight of the universe resting on his shoulders get him down, the Scarlet Speedster declares to his not-so-super partner that they “began this thing as a race-remember?  Well, we’re still racing–and I’m still determine to beat you!”  That is just a great sequence, and it just wonderfully captures the indomitable heroic spirit of these two characters, Flash in particular, with his cheerful, hopeful personality.

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Next, O’Neil briefly checks back in with Jimmy as he awaits the headman’s axe, just to add a little more tension to the situation.  Back in the future, the two exhausted, injured heroes, arrive at the headquarters and encounter Jax-Ur and the Professor playing six dimensional chess (!).  The Flash throws a rock to distract them, and then, using a last burst of speed, the pair rush the villains and knock them out.  With just thirty seconds left until the the universe is shattered, the heroes drag themselves up the steps of the control center, and the Flash pulls the shut-off lever with only moments to spare.

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Exhausted, he declares somewhat sheepishly, “Hey!  Guess what?  I won!”  That’s right, the Flash won the race…after a fashion.  This sets everything to rights, as the Anachronids decelerate and disintegrate, not being able to survive at sub-light speeds.  Jimmy is yanked back through time just in the nick, as the axe descends.  Just then, Kru-El dashes into the control center with a gun, but the sun has just turned once more, giving the Man of Steel back his powers.  He decks Kru-El and destroys their machinery.  Then he takes Flash home, noting that he’ll get the Guardians to help him seal this dimensional breach.

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Well, this is a great two-parter.  This second half doesn’t have the rapid pace and non-stop action of the first, but it is still a lot of fun.  I love the heroes grit, reduced to crawling, and yet refusing to give in.  They persevere and succeed pretty much entirely on moxie alone.  It’s a lovely character moment for the two of them.  The story does have a few little weaknesses, some break in logical consistency, like Superman taking out Kru-El easily, despite the fact that the villain now has super powers too.  The wrap-up is really a bit too brief, and it seems that O’Neil may have run out of room.  Still, the story is so much fun, and the adventure, both for the heroes and for time-tossed Jimmy, is so satisfying, that I’m not too bothered by such things.  Once again, Dillin’s artwork is really strong, standing in particular contrast to the stiff and lackluster work from this month’s JLA.  By the way, Bronze Age Jimmy is growing on me as a character.  He’s proving resourceful, courageous, and capable.

Speaking of Jimmy, his encounter with the Inquisition gives O’Neil a chance to bring in a little social consciousness, as the youthful reporter notes that the fanaticism and cruelty of Torquemada didn’t die out in the Middle Ages (in fact, it was generally way more common in the Renaissance), but continues to live on in the modern day.  We certainly still see plenty of that kind of viciousness and irrationality in our own time.  It is a fine little note, but it would have been more effective if he could have connected it to the main plot more directly.  I think there’s an angle to be worked there with the Phantom Zone villains, but c’est la vie.  In the end, this is just an all around enjoyable comic yarn.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, with the the Flash’s unflappable good cheer helping overcome its weaknesses.  I just had a blast reading both of these stories.

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Final Thoughts:


And that, my dear readers, is the end of the first year of our journey Into the Bronze Age!  It’s taken a tad more than a year of real-time, but hopefully the next will move a little more quickly!  Either way, I am very excited to have completed an entire year of this project, having read most of the superhero books published by DC Comics for 1970.  It’s been a fascinating journey, and we have watched the Bronze Age grow before our very eyes.  We’ve seen Silver Age tropes grow a little more rare, but more importantly, we’ve seen a revolution taking place in the pages before us, as the cardboard characters of the Silver Age began to grow, developing unique personalities (some of those more pleasant than others…I’m looking at you, Ollie).  We’ve seen Denny O’Neil absolutely everywhere, jumping from book to book to book, constantly innovating, often failing, at least in part, but arguably succeeding more often than not.  I’m really blown away by how large a role he’s played in these early days of experimentation and evolution.  Clearly, the Bronze Age at DC owes a great deal to that man, and even if his writing is sometimes heavy handed and pedantic, the fellow did some amazing work.  It’s easy to credit later works for being more sophisticated than their predecessors, but it is important to remember that the former wouldn’t exist without the pioneers who came before.

Over the last year of comics, social consciousness themes have grown from occasional influences trumpeted, often solely, in the books being penned by Denny O’Neil, to showing up just about everywhere, even in the most conservative of DC’s offerings, like the Superman titles.  The most immediate and marked change, is of course, in Batman, who has evolved quickly and more consistently than most.  He’s already begun to resemble the ‘grim avenger of the night’ version of the character that is the pure expression of the concept, at least for my money.  Books like Aquaman are serving as sources of innovation, both in art and story, and a spirit of change seems to be in the air.  Interestingly, even the fans notice it, and many of the letters of the latter part of the year have talked about the ‘character revolution’ or something similar, going on at DC, calling for the same process to be applied to characters not yet affected.

I would say by December 1970, the Bronze Age was well and truly on the way.  The change between the first and last month is really quite marked, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!  First, what about this month itself?

We’ve had a lot of solid stories and a few strong stand outs.  This month’s comics have featured two different takes on the growing political involvement of America’s youth.  We’ve also seen multiple instances of real-life events influencing and inspiring this month’s comics, from the student march in Cleveland being reflected in Robin’s tale to the cultural anxiety around the rise of Satanism being reflected in the Flash’s macabre plot.  In general, I think there has been a slight uptick in stories with supernatural elements, with Flash, Kid Flash, Batman, and, of course, the Phantom Stranger all facing occult menaces this month.

All-in-all, I’d call that a pretty fitting end to a good year of comics, and I hope that you’ll join me soon as we race back through time on our Cosmic Treadmills to peer into 1971!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

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Only Aquaman joins our distinguished company on the wall of shame this week, though we had several very close calls, more than we’ve had before, I believe.  There you go, folks, an entire year of head-blows.  It seems Aquaman’s reputation of getting knocked out as regularly as Philip Marlowe is probably deserved.  Hopefully things will improve for my favorite hero in the next year.

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!