I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Bronze Age awesomeness! Welcome, Internet travelers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ve got a set of Bat-comics on the docket. We’ve got the whole Bat-Family in attendance, as well as some friends of the cowl, so let’s we what they’re up to!
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #404
Adventure Comics #410
Brave and the Bold #97
Detective Comics #415
The Flash #209
Forever People #4
G.I. Combat #149
Justice League of America #92
New Gods #4
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
World’s Finest #205
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“Swamp Sinister” Writer: Dennis O’Neil Penciler: Irv Novick Inker: Dick Giordano Letterer: John Costanza Editor: Julius Schwartz Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano
“The Outcast Society” Writer: Mike Friedrich Penciler: Irv Novick Inker: Dick Giordano
“Castle With Wall-to-Wall Danger!” Writer: John Broome Penciler: Carmine Infantino Inker: Joe Giella Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
This month, our headline tale is another episode in the growing saga Ra’s Al Ghul, but this time it doesn’t have Neal Adams’ peerless pencils to help it. According to our credits, he was involved in the cover, but it looks much more like Dick Giordano to me. Either way, it’s a solid composition, capturing a nicely dramatic scene, though something of a cheat. The story within is not quite as good as the earlier entries in the set, but the last one makes an especially hard act to follow. It begins, dramatically enough, with a body delivered to Bruce Wayne’s penthouse apartment! As the great detective begins trying to piece together where his deceased guest might have come from, the mysterious Ra’s Al Ghul arrives and helpfully explains.
It seems that the head of the League of Shadows himself sent the body, by way of a calling card. The horribly disfigured corpse was once one of his men, a researcher named Pollard, who, together with another named Striss, was working on a chemical compound for him, a compound that “renders molybdenum as weak as tinfoil.” Yet, instead of delivering the formula once it was prepared, they planned to steal it. Interrupting the theft, Al Ghul was struck down, and the thieves escaped.
Talia discovered her father and set out after the traitors, while their doctors managed to revive the Demon’s Head. Notably, for the first time we begin to get a sense of Al Ghul’s immortality angle, as he mentions having been revived often before, but there is no sign yet of the Lazarus Pits. As for the corpse, it seems that the chemical the thieves stole has an unexpected side effect. If left exposed to the air, it becomes a deadly plague. The horrible disfigurement of Pollard is the result. Having been exposed during his attack on Al Ghul, Pollard died shortly thereafter, but Striss escaped, ignorant of the danger of what he carried. Now Al Ghul must locate the fugitive before his daughter, who is ignorant of these facts, does, and he needs the World’s Greatest Detective to do so in time.
The Dark Knight agrees, as if he has any choice, and takes off. He theorizes that Striss will want to test his chemical, and he goes to the closest supply of molybdenum, which is held by an eccentric billionaire. At the fellow’s mansion, Batman discovers an attack already underway. The gate has been gassed, and masked men stalk the grounds. Taking out the marauders in a nicely drawn sequence, the Caped Crusader makes his way into the mansion itself, where he finds a frightened French housekeeper who tells him that the invaders took the master of the house to “the small stream.”
The hero is momentarily stumped, knowing there are innumerable smalls streams around, but then he realizes that, in French, the word for “small stream” is “bayou,” and he makes an important connection. He realizes that Striss has taken his billionaire captive to the eccentric fellow’s private fallout shelter, which is located in the Louisiana bayou.
Tracking them with the help of Ra’s, Batman bails out of a plane over the swamp and begins his search, finally interrupting an confrontation between the villainous doctor and Talia. During the ensuing struggle, the chemical vial is shattered, and Striss falls into the lethal liquid. The others escape, and Al Ghul’s doctors manage to treat them for the plague. The tale ends with Batman noting that the grateful kiss he receives from Talia would be much more enjoyable if he hadn’t just witnessed her cold willingness to kill.
This is a fair enough little adventure, and we get a few interesting moments with Al Ghul, including the hints about his unnatural resiliency. Yet, there isn’t a lot to it, and the final result feels a little lackluster, especially in comparison to the rather breathtaking chapter that preceded it. Al Ghul isn’t quite as mysterious or fascinating a figure, and although Batman and Talia share an intriguing moment at the end, she doesn’t really have much to do either. In the end, the tale feels a bit cramped, and Novick’s art, though solid as usual, isn’t quite as striking as Adams’, especially when it comes to R’as himself. I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen. It’s fine, but it isn’t exceptional.
“The Outcast Society”
Our Robin backup continues the hippie commune-centered adventure of the previous issue. Robin is fairly appalled at the poor conditions in which the commune inhabitants live, with rickety shacks for shelter, no power, and carrying their water from the nearby stream. The leader of the dirty hippies, Jonathan, tells the young hero that they don’t want his “plastic world.” There’s an interesting connection there to a recent Green Lantern issue about the growing artificialness of the world. Despite the protestations of the hippie head-man, Robin insists that he must arrest Pat Whalon, as the bullet that his girlfriend wears around her neck, the same that was dug out of his leg, matches the gun of her policeman father, who was shot down in the previous issue.
The ‘Outcast Society’ refuses to let the Teen Wonder take the punk, saying they have to vote about whether or not to allow this. Funny, but I don’t think the cops would see it that way. Robin agrees to be patient and gets the grand tour. He sees the hippies building, working, and farming, and the portrayal of the place is full of starry-eyed optimism. Dick takes part and pitches in, while Pat makes a nuisance of himself, bragging about his radical exploits and generally being a real jerk. Finally, the Community votes to let the Teen Detective arrest the rabble-rouser, but Pat sets a nearby field ablaze and escapes!
This a decent little tale, though not terribly compelling. Novick and Giordano do a really good job with the art, though, bringing energy and personality to the various characters inhabiting this world that helps to make this story where not much happens still feel somewhat worthwhile. Robin in particular looks great, with his cape always whipping about dramatically. It’s rather funny to see the sympathetic treatment of hippie communes here from a modern perspective. Old ‘Touchy-Feely’ Friedrich is in full swing. Notably, most communes didn’t fare too well or last too long. Unsurprisingly, taking a bunch of ignorant kids who don’t know how to do anything and don’t have any kind of solid moral code and sticking them in a field to make their own way didn’t generally turn out all that well. I’ll give this particular Outcast tale an average 3 Minutemen. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t particularly great, either.
The Brave and the Bold #97
“The Smile of Choclotan!” Writer: Bob Haney Penciler: Bob Brown Inker: Nick Cardy Editor: Murray Boltinoff
“Who Has Been Lying in My Grave?” Writer: Arnold Drake Penciler: Carmine Infantino Inker: George Roussos Editor: Jack Miller
Our bi-monthly dose of Zaney Haney comes with another helping of Wildcat this month, which is always welcome. As I’ve said before, the character that Haney really had the best handle on was ‘ol Ted Grant. Yet, this issue doesn’t really take advantage of that familiarity. Our heroes are partnered up on the cover, but that isn’t quite the case in the comic itself. The cover has nice Nick Cardy art, and it makes for a striking image, though it is a fairly massive cheat, in terms of the story it represents. There’s not even that much of a defense of the image as symbolic.
That story begins in fine fashion, with Bruce Wayne, vacationing in Acapulco, watching a young man preparing for a demanding cliff-dive. Suddenly, the bold billionaire sees a rifleman, preparing to kill the kid. When the native makes his dive, so does Bruce, as Batman! Using his cape as a parachute (which we haven’t seen too often at this point, I think, but will eventually become a staple of the character), the Dark Knight manages to ruin the would-be killer’s shot.
Later on, Bruce, back in-mufti, follows the assassin’s target, a young native named Luis. He spots a poster of his old friend, Wild Cat, apparently boxing in the local arena under the name El Tigre. Strange! Just then, the hapless kid is jumped by a trio of knife-wielding thugs. Batman intervenes once more, but by the time he dispatches the desperadoes, Luis has vanished.
That night, Bruce attends the fight, only to see the former champ get drugged and knocked out. When the hoods try to get to him under cover of the ensuing riot, the Masked Manhunter takes a hand once more. Rescuing Ted and his assistant, who turns out to be Luis, the Dark Detective takes them to their shack, where he learns their story. It seems that Ted had once fought Luis’s father, and after the Mexican boxer refused to take advantage when Ted got resin in his eyes during a match, the pair became great friends.
Years later, when Luis’s father began to search for a lost cultural treasure of Mexico, an idol of the ‘smiling god,’ Choclotan (which is, of course, fictional), the old champ came to help. Yet, when the pair were searching the mountains for the lost treasure, Luis’s father was killed and Ted’s head was creased by a bullet, leaving him amnesiac. Apparently there is a sinister band of smugglers after the treasure as well, headed by a shadowy figure known as El Grande. They are the ones behind the attacks on the duo.
Luis found his costume and has been helping him make a living by fighting as ‘El Tigre,’ while the youth cliff-dived for tourists. Yep, sounds like a great plan. Have the man with brain damage fight in boxing matches! Anyway, poor judgement aside, Batman agrees to help, and they set out to search for Choclotan. They encounter an old friend of Luis’s family on the way, a rancher named El Sordo, who owns a massive stead in they area they are traveling. Apparently he was Luis’s father’s manager, and he offers to guide the group in their search.
On the way, Ted suddenly snaps out of his fugue for a moment, telling the group they need to climb a nearby cliff. When the agile Luis does so, he sees massive jaguar prints carved in the valley, leading the way to the treasure, and tells Batman that jaguars were the sacred animal of Choclotan. As they push on, the group realizes they’re being followed, and that night, while El Sordo is on watch, the Dark Knight makes his own patrol, only to be attacked by machete-armed muchachos. Suddenly, Wildcat appears and lends a hand, and the pair manage to fight off the fiends and discover an apparently wounded El Sordo.
Yet, when they finally reach the end of the trail, a flooded volcano crater, and Luis dives in to locate the treasure, his reemergence reveals treachery! El Sordo is, in fact, El Grande, and he has captured the heroes. Insisting that Ted is merely faking his memory loss, Grande/Sordo has his beastly henchman, called ‘The Ox,’ attempt to beat the truth out of the boxer. Despite the champ’s best efforts, he takes a beating and finally tells their captors that he remembers.
The treasure, he claims, is in a nearby cave, and his confession is taken as a terrible betrayal by young Luis. Yet, when the smugglers enter the cave, Wildcat suddenly stops Luis from following, and moments later, a massive jet of water shoots out of the cavern, washing the would-be thieves away! The treasure chamber was booby-trapped, and Ted’s memory had come back, allowing him to recall this and trick their enemies. Finally, the trio discover the grinning god, and Choclotan can return to his people.
This is a fun yarn, and it is honestly rather tame for a Zaney Haney offering. The plot is relatively unified by his standards, and while the exotic Mexican setting provides plenty of flavor, there aren’t any particularly insane flourishes to speak of. Sadly, Wildcat isn’t really present for much of this story, instead he’s present in name only, as his amnesiac self lacks any real personality.
There are some nice elements to the adventure, like the surprisingly subtle hint about El Sordo, when we learn that this wealthy rancher was formerly just a fight manager, which should make an attentive reader suspicious. Of course, such a reader would also notice that Wildcat effectively killed several men in the finale, a fact that is barely acknowledged. Yes, it’s mostly an example of a ‘hoisted by your own petard‘ trope, but Ted’s role is a bit more direct than those usually are, as he willfully sends them into a situation he knows will probably kill them. That’s problematic, but such concerns never slowed Zaney Haney down one bit.
On the art front, I can’t say I’m fond of the combination of Bob Brown and Nick Cardy. Brown seems to be trying to ape Cardy, or Cardy is overwhelming Brown, but the final result is less somewhat than the sum of its parts, seeming like a poor compromise between their two styles. I suppose I’ll give this fine, Indiana Jones-style adventure 3.5 Minutemen. It’s an entertaining read.
Detective Comics #415
“Challenge of the Consumer Crusader” Writer: Frank Robbins Penciler: Bob Brown Inker: Dick Giordano Letterer: John Costanza Editor: Julius Schwartz Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano
“Death Shares the Spotlight!” Writer: Frank Robbins Penciler/Inker: Don Heck Letterer: Ben Oda
“The Forbidden Trick” Writer: William Woolfolk Penciler: Leonard Starr Inker: Leonard Starr Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
“The Case of the Finders Keepers” Penciler/Inker: John Prentice
Our issue of Detective Comics this month is notable, not so much for its story, which is fair enough, but for the real-life people it is based on, which provide another of those intriguing glimpses into the zeitgeist of the era that I love. We’ve got a solid enough cover, a dramatic image of the hanging Batman, though it is, unsurprisingly, something of a cheat. The tale within begins with the Dark Knight following, of all things, a garbage truck! He’s trailing two trashmen when they jump a man in a suit and prepare to throw him into the compactor in the back of their truck. The Caped Crusader intervenes, and with the help of the would-be victim, he manages to chase the thugs off.
After the action, the Masked Manhunter discovers that their target was none-other than Tom Carson, famed “consumer crusader” and “leader of ‘Carson’s Consumer Commandos.'” That’s right, there’s a Ralph Nader in the DC Universe! This fascinates me. Ralph Nader is a champion of consumer rights and has been a huge factor in holding government and industry accountable for their deeds in the U.S. in the last half century. He also created “Nader’s Raiders” and “Public Citizen,” a pair of watchdog groups that advocated for public interests. Nader was in the headlines in the early 70s, and it is fun to see him and his work referenced in such a way in comics. What an unusual topic for a superhero story!
Anyway, this pseudo-Nader, Tom Carson, tells Batman that he has a lot of enemies because of all of the big companies he’s ticked off by exposing their malfeasance. Yet, the most recent case is Magna Industries, who were preparing to introduce a “microwave anti-pollution device.” Carson’s group was testing their product, and he notes that a poor result could be disastrous for the company. The Caped Crusader drops Carson off with Barbara Gordon for safekeeping, which is a fun little detail, and then he heads to check out Ben Ames, president of the company in question. He notes that, as Bruce Wayne, he knows Ames personally, and can’t believe he’s behind the hit.
At the Ames estate, the Dark Knight sees a light on and reasons that the corporate bigwig might be waiting for a certain call. Disguising his voice, Batman fakes the call from the Carson’s car, which he borrowed, and proves Ames’ guilt. In order to figure out his motive, the hero tries a more theatrical approach. He uses some of Carson’s spare clothes and some phosphorescent paint to stage a ghostly visitation. Suddenly, Ames is confronted by the “ghost” of the man he tried to have killed! During the confrontation, Ames declares that Carson drove him to it because he tried to blackmail his company, threatening to release a damning report, despite the fact that the device was perfectly safe.
One mystery solved, the Masked Manhunter sets out to find who is in back of the blackmail scheme. Heading to Carson’s headquarters, he interrupts his assistant, Joan Wilde, in the middle of a call to Ames. Unfortunately, she has confederates. In a neat sequence, they attack Batman, using the various testing devices in the consumer products laboratory. After a desperate and colorful battle, the Dark Knight manages to turn the tables on his antagonists, who get caught in their own trap as the machines turn on them.
You’ve heard of jungle Batman and snow Batman, but how about disco Batman! Staying alive, staying alive!
Pursuing the femme fatale behind the caper, the hero leaps into a convenient car to give chase to her, only to realize it is hooked to a crane for crash testing. Before he can react, the Dark Detective finds himself hurled high into the air, only moments from a cataclysmic collision with the ground.
When the car comes crashing down, Miss Wilde is certain she has disposed of her foe, only for Batman to emerge, a little worse for the wear but uninjured, from the smoke. He tells her that he threw himself into teh air to avoid contact with the car, and that, plus the airbags, allowed him to survive. I’m not sure that would actually work, but it makes comic sense, so I’ll give it a pass. The issue ends with Carson discovering the corruption in his organization and being cleared of any involvement.
This is a solid little mystery, and the fight in the testing laboratory is pretty fun and creative. It’s a really clever setting for a superhero fight, filled with lots of bizarre gadgets and silly contraptions that make for good superheroic fodder, all of which could realistically exist in such a place. It’s also really quite interesting to see the consumer rights revolution make its way into comics, albeit obliquely. Who knew the DC Universe had their own Ralph Nader? You keep up the good work, Tom Carson! So, I’ll give this tale 3.5 Minutemen.
“Death Shares the Spotlight”
Our Batgirl backup picks up where the last left off, with Babs dashing off to ‘call the police,’ an excuse she uses to go into action. She contacts the agent who had been in charge of auctioning off the props from the Mesa movie studio, one of which was used in that night’s assassination attempt. The girl detective learns that a hundred of the prop guns are still in Gotham, being used in a wild west show featuring a former Mesa movie star. At the same time, Jason makes his own connection and sets off as well.
Counting on the powder-burns on would-be killer’s hand to identify him, Babs is disappointed when all the show’s players begin using prop guns. That doesn’t stop the star of the show, Chuck Walla, from letting his guilt and self-consciousness drive him to flee the spotlight in an attempt to destroy the evidence, his gloves, before anyone notices.
When Batgirl confronts him, the actor catches her at gunpoint. He admits that he tried to kill Tiz, who was once his girl, before joining up with her new husband. Just then, Jason jumps in, having followed his own trail to the assassin. The Daredevil Dame pitches in, taking out Walla but making her beau think it was his blow that did it, which is rather cute.
This is a brief and rapid-paced tale, feeling even shorter than normal, but it is reasonably complete. I did feel a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more to it, and Walla’s panicked display of guilt was a bit much. Unfortunately, this also features some of Don Heck’s worst work we’ve seen so far. It’s very rough and awkward in several scenes. I’ll give this lackluster offering an average 3 Minutemen. It’s not bad, but it isn’t particularly good either.
And that does it for this iteration of Into the Bronze Age! Bat-books galore! I hope y’all enjoyed the post and that y’all will join me again soon for another dose of classic comics. Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!
Hello and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age! While I know nothing can live up to the incredible extravaganza that was the Ten-Eyed Man’s return, I think we’ve got an interesting pair of books on tap today, including a fascinating first appearance. So, check out more of what May 1971 has in store for us!
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #400
Adventure Comics #406
Brave and Bold #95
Detective Comics #411
The Flash #206
Forever People #2
G.I. Combat #147
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
Justice League of America #89
New Gods #2
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
World’s Finest #202
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Detective Comics #411
“Into the Den of the Death-Dealers!” Writer: Dennis O’Neil Penciler: Bob Brown Inker: Dick Giordano Letterer: Ben Oda Editor: Julius Schwartz
“Cut… and run!” Writer: Frank Robbins Penciler: Don Heck Inker: Dick Giordano
This month we’ve got an uneven cover. It’s a bit oddly designed, with some wonky perspective, and the sword of the fellow in purple is misshapen. The concept is cool, however, and seeing Batman facing ninjas is always exciting. Inside is an important issue in the the Dark Knight’s history, introducing a significant character and advancing the League of Assassins plot that continues to develop across these books. Yet, as is so often the case, the significance of this story isn’t immediately apparent. It will take a little time for the groundwork laid here to bear fruit.
Our story starts with a nicely dramatic splash page, courtesy of Bob Brown. We see Batman perched atop the “Statue of Freedom,” which is totally not the Statue of Liberty, with Gotham spread out in the distance. I enjoyed this little touch of ersatz world building, though the Statue of Liberty is a bit too iconic for this to work. Their world is not our world, and I prefer it that way. Within the edifice, the Masked Manhunter has planned to meet an informant with information about the League of Assassins, but those same killers find the fellow first! The Caped Crusader fights off their followup attack, and we see some more of the ‘martial arts master’ Batman that would become the standard in following years, though the art doesn’t quite sell it.
Before he dies, the informant manages to give the hero a lead. With his last breath, he whispers that the nefarious Dr. Darrk will be on the Soom Express (totally not the Orient Express), and soon we watch as Dr. Darrk and a beautiful young woman board the train, followed by a mysterious old lady. As the train slows for a hill, Darrk and his companion leap off, and once more they are followed by the old woman, who throws off a disguise to reveal the Batman…who somehow hid his pointy-eared cowl under a mask and wig. It’s still a rather cool moment, despite its silliness. Yet, Darrk was waiting for him, and his assassins overwhelm the Dark Knight, beating him unconscious with bo-staffs.
When the Masked Manhunter awakens, he discovers that he is the un-masked Manhunter! The girl, who introduces herself as Talia, daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul (that’s right!), has taken off his mask to treat his injuries. She declares that Darrk had fallen out with her father, and he had taken her prisoner as part of their feud. Their conversation is cut short when Darrk leads them to what he intends to be their doom!
Talia is tied to a stake in the middle of an arena, while Batman is left free, free to face an enraged bull! The Crusader uses his cape to confuse and distract the animal before leading it into Darrk’s minions. Then, in an exciting display of resourcefulness and power, he rips Talia’s poll out of the ground and uses it to pole-vault into Darrk, where the villain watched from a balcony. With the bad Doctor in tow, the Dark Knight heads to meet the train, only to be blinded by a hidden weapon of Darrk’s. As the assassin master prepares to finish off his foe, Talia shoots him, and the villain falls into the path of the train, meeting a grisly end. The story ends with Batman comforting the traumatized girl, who was forced to take a life.
This is a good, solid adventure story, continuing to develop the threat of the League of Assassins. It seems like a fairly straightforward resolution to that arc, with a suitably dramatic and treacherous ending for the demonic Dr. Darrk, but there is, of course, much more going on here. O’Neil layers in some pretty good plot hooks for new stories, introducing Talia, casually mentioning her father, and the significance of these things is easy to miss.
Yet, the seeds of something great are already here. While the girl claims she cannot recognize Bruce Wayne’s face, she has seen it, which will open up possibilities in the future, and the way she speaks of her father makes it clear that he is a powerful and dangerous man. There isn’t much chemistry between our hero and this new lady in his life yet, but then again this is only their first meeting, a meeting under adverse conditions.
I imagine that O’Neil realized that he had something promising with the League of Assassins, but at the same time understood that Darrk, was not nearly an interesting enough head honcho for such an outfit. With this tale, he disposes of one functional if uninspiring villain and makes the way for a much, much better one. Next month, we’re going to meet on of the greatest Bat-villains of all time, and one who defines the Bronze Age of Batman! This story, however, is not quite so impressive as I remember that one being. It’s an exciting adventure tale, and Brown’s art is strong if not spectacular. I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.
P.S.: I realized after the fact that this story was actually loosely adapated into the Batman: The Animated Series episode, “Off Balance.” Thus, Timm and Co. actually adpated both parts of the introduction of R’as Al Ghul!
Our backup this month is the continuation of last issue’s Batgirl yarn, and it’s a fun one. The Dynamic Dame was captured by the mod mobsters, the felonious fashionistas who were backing a clothier invested in the skir-craze. It was…an odd but entertaining plot. We join the gangster, ‘Serpy,’ as he straps Batgirl into an automated cloth cutter, and abiding by villain union rules, he leaves her to her fate. Things look grim for the girl detective, but she uses her head, or more specifically, her mouth! She rotates the pattern plate to stay ahead of the cutting blade, and when it reaches the end, it shuts off. This is a nicely clever escape, showing her resourcefulness.
Suddenly, Milt, one of the designers and fashion spies shows up, but he has had a change of heart, not being up for murder, and lets her go. The Masked Maiden tries to warn the gangster’s target, stylista Mamie Acheson, but the girl doesn’t believe her, so the heroine rushes to catch a plane in hopes of beating the assassins to the punch. On the Rivera, Serpy and his right-hand thug toss a helpless Ms. Acheson overboard, only to have the fashionplate rescued by Batgirl!
Then, the Masked Maiden tackles both killers and puts them on ice. Don Heck does a pretty nice job with most of the action, but there are some rough spots too. After her rescue, Mamie is feeling the weight of her decision, and after a comment from Batgirl about her beautiful legs (really Babs?), she comes up with a way out of the conundrum. She shows up on stage in a Batgirl inspired pants-suit, and surely fashion designers the world over started jumping out of windows.
It’s a cute ending to an off-beat story. I enjoyed the repentance of the felonious fashion designer, as it makes sense he would balk at murder, whatever lengths he might be willing to go to for his business. Batgirl’s dynamic rescue is good, but her escape from the deathtrap is my favorite part of the issue. It’s nice to see her recover from the bumbling bombshell she was last issue. The setup is still a bit odd, but the result is an enjoyable little story, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.
The Flash #206
“24 Hours of Immortality” Writer: Robert Kanigher Penciler: Irv Novick Inker: Murphy Anderson Cover Artist: Neal Adams
“Showdown in Elongated Town” Writer: Cary Bates Penciler: Dick Giordano Inker: Dick Giordano
I’m not entirely sure why, but I really dislike this cover. For one, the frozen, blank-eyed expression on the girl’s face says less ‘absence of fear’ and more ‘presence of lobotomy.’ It just doesn’t really work for me. Other than the girl’s plunge, there’s nothing else to it, and the image just doesn’t quite capture her fall, nor the significance thereof. The same is true of the story within, another product of the unequaled master of the uneven, Bob Kanigher.
It begins with aerial daredevil Susan Logan and her son flying to the ‘Sky Devils Circus,’ while at the same time Neurosurgeon William Kandel and his wife are racing towards an operation on a famous scientist. Suddenly, Logan loses control over her plane, and she just happens to crash right into the doctor’s car. The son and wife are killed in the crack-up, but as the two heart-broken humans are left lamenting their lost loved ones, two strange, glowing figures appear out of the ether. They claim to be “aliens countless light-years advanced over” Earth, which doesn’t entirely make sense, and in their weird robes, they look more like bug-eyed spirits than advanced aliens. Nonetheless, they are apparently studying Earth, so in the interest of gathering data, they restore the two lost loved ones back to life in exchange for their relatives surrendering their lives in 24 hours. Until that time, the aliens declare that each of their future victims will be immortal.
Each pair rushes off to finish their business and spend their remaining time together, and each runs into trouble on the way. The doctor is caught in the crossfire between the Generic Gang and the Flash during a car chase, only to find that the rounds passed right through him. The surgeon begs the Monarch of Motion to help him get to his appointment, and then the hero chips in as his assistant to make the multi-hour procedure go faster and give the man more time to spend with his wife.
Afterwards, the pilot, Susan Logan, finds the location of the aerial circus aflame. The Flash is able to put the blaze out, but she still manages to get into trouble and nearly crash for a second time. I’ve got to say, at this point, I’m not sure this woman should be flying. We also get a really weird and random diatribe about forestry and forest fires, as the Flash has a page-long harangue against people whose carelessness starts fires, including a pointed visual reference to dead animals. I sympathize, having grown up in the ‘Smokey the Bear’ era, but this is just absolutely shoe-horned into this issue.
Get it? GET IT?!
Thanks to the Fastest Man Alive, Logan is still able to perform in the show, but she is on the verge of being beaten by the favorite, so she puts her immortality to the test, diving all the way to the ground instead of opening her chute. This seems like something of a cheat to me, but she’s doing it to provide for her soon to be orphaned son, so I guess we’re supposed to say it’s okay.
Finally, the two on borrowed time are taken back to their fateful appointment by the Flash, as he has decided not to let them give up their lives without a fight. He pleads with the two aliens in some rather painfully badly sentimental dialog, the usual ‘we have emotions and minds!’ routine. In response, the robed ones pretty much say, ‘eh, we’ll kill you too.’ They try a few different weapons, with the Flash escaping from each one, and then they literally disintegrate him. And that’s the end of the Flash. This is the book’s last issue! Next month we’ll put the Adventures of Kid Flash in this slot…
Ohh wait, no. Instead, Barry pulls a Doctor Manhattan, and literally reconstructs his body, molecule by molecule, with limbs, mind, that have already been disintegrated. Yet, while the insanely powerful, godlike Dr. Manhattan took months to do so, Flash does it in seconds. Because that’s a thing that he can do. Because that makes a lick of sense with this powers. At this point, the aliens essentially just give up with the murder and mouth some meaningless platitudes about how mankind is clearly more noble than they thought, possessing higher characteristics like selfless love. Except, they already saw that when A) the first two willingly offered their lives for their loved ones and again, B) when the Flash did the same for two strangers before they tried to melt him. It’s really stupid in context. Clearly Kanigher is hitting the conventional notes without bothering to tell a story that gets there naturally.
‘Farewell and a good life! Sorry about trying to murder you!’
So the end result here is a weird attempt at moralizing in multiple ways that bungles its payoff. The aliens are really random and don’t solidify as a concept, and the two different pairs of marked people mean that you don’t spend enough time with either one to really get invested in their story. Susan Logan just seems downright incompetent, and the doctor and his wife are given no real time to display any personality. Barry gets literally one panel of introspection with Iris as he tries to decide what to do, and the reintegration resolution is so ridiculous, that I had to read it twice to make sure I got it. I’ll give this half-hearted tale a weak 2Minutemen. It’s been done before, and done much better. Even the poorly developed Phantom Stranger tale with the needlessly Egyptian aliens (or needlessly alien Egyptians, depending on your point of view) was more dramatically successful.
“Showdown in Elongated Town!”
Yet again, the backup feature saves the day! This time, we get a really exciting event stuffed into the back pages of the Flash, the return of the Stretchable Sleuth, the Ductile Detective, the Rubberized Roustabout, the Elongated Man! Now, I’ve got a solid affection for this hard-luck hero, though I’ve read few of his stories. He’s just such a likeable character, and I love the ‘Nick and Nora’ vibe that he and his wife embody. It’s a charming concept, and it really sets him apart from the competition. I suppose this once again reveals my love of the underdogs.
This particular tale reintroduces the Elongated Man to the DC Universe and the pages of Flash in strange but memorable fashion. He the Stretchable Sleuth suddenly finds himself in a bizarre, fun-house version of a western town, hauling a wagon like a packhorse. Suddenly, his mystery-scenting noes starts twitching, and Ralph knows that something odd is afoot. A distorted gunfighter appears, and bizarrely, he fires a solar-powered six-shooter at the hero. With everything strangely distorted, the Ductile Detective has a hard time operating, and his efforts to capture his antagonist only net him a dummy!
Just then, he is beset by a stampede and a massive rattlesnake. Fleeing upwards, Ralph discovers a loudspeaker, revealing that these threats aren’t real. He makes his way inside one of the buildings, dodging more solar blasts, and, in a panel that I find a bit creepy, he pops a pair of contact lenses out of his eyes! Elongated Man has deduced that he’s been setup, and someone planned to cripple him by distorting his vision. Snatching up an old lever-action rifle, Ralph stalks into the street to confront the only man who could accomplish all of this, and he calls him out…the Mirror Master!
As the villain fires his mirror gun, the Stretchable Sleuth crams himself into the gun barrel, then springs out, surprising his foe and capturing him! It’s a nice resolution, an unexpected attack that makes a certain amount of sense as a way to take out the much more powerful opponent. The tale ends with the Elongated Man figuring out the mystery of his predicament and putting the pieces together. The Mirror Master hypnotized him and drew him to this ghost town in order to train himself for a clash with the Flash. To handicap the hero, the Reflective Rogue used special contacts to distort his vision. Apparently, ‘ol Mirror Master was a big western fan, and the trappings of the story were his way of living out a classic showdown fantasy.
This is a fun story and a decent reintroduction of the Elongated Man. He captures a much more powerful villain, taking advantage of the fact that he was underestimated, which is pretty well in character. I like the way he puts things together, and it is all relatively believable in context for the Ductile Detective. It’s cool to see Dick Giordano handling the art chores as well, and he does a fine job, capturing the distorted, bizarre landscape fairly well, and also doing a good job with Ralph’s stretching powers. I’ll give this enjoyable little backup tale 3.5 Minutemen. There’s nothing really wrong with it other than the slightly awkward device of the contacts. It seems like the master of mirrors could probably have come up with a simpler, more easily controlled way of doing the same thing.
That finishes up our books for this post, and all-in-all, a nice pair of comics they were! We’ve got some exciting events in the offing her, with the famous next stages of the League of Assassins story arc just on the horizon and the return of the Elongated Man to the pages of Flash offering some relief from the mediocrity of the main tales in that book. I am really looking forward to a change in pace for the Flash magazine. These are routinely among the weakest comics I read in each batch. These weird random stories have outstayed their welcome. I would really like to see a return to classic super-heroics. We’re still three issues away from the return of supervillains to an actual Flash story, and even then it is looks like it will be only a temporary revival. Whatever awaits us in the Fastest Man Alive’s adventures, we have two exciting new comics awaiting us next time. So, please join me again soon for another league in our Journey Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!