Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 2)

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Hello comic fans and lovers of literature, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’re continuing our march through June of 1971, and it is already proving to be an intriguing month.  This pair of comics isn’t quite as fascinating as the last few, but we do have an enjoyable batch of books to explore.  So, further up and further in!

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

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


Detective Comics #412


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“Legacy of Hate”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Head-Splitters!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Under this pretty excellent cover, beautifully drawn by Neal Adams, we have a very conventional yarn.  The cover composition is exciting, with our hero facing mortal peril in a nicely rendered and atmospheric image that has the added benefit of actually occurring in the comic.  The headline tale is, despite its medieval trappings, a rather hackneyed plot, and though I can’t put my finger on it, I think I have read another Batman story that was extremely similar.

It’s another murder mystery in a castle, and on that front, this story hearkens back to the first Dr. Darrk story, only six issues ago.  Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable enough read.  It begins with an old mystery device, as Bruce Wayne receives notice that a distant relative, Lord Elwood Wayne, is dying at the ancestral Wayne estate in England, though I’m fairly certain that we’ve never really had any mention of such family ties in Batman’s backstory.  Nonetheless, it’s the standard setup, an ailing relation, the gathering of the distant family from the four corners of the world, related, but unknown to one another, and a spooky locale for setting.  Bruce heads to England to answer the summons and meets Wilhemina Wayne, an orphan from South Africa, Rev. Emelyn Wayne “a missionary among the unenlightened Asian ‘heathen,'” and Jeremy Wayne, an Australian ranch hand.

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To add to the atmosphere, they are picked up in a hearse (the weather being too bad for horse and carriage) and driven to an imposing old castle on a stormy night, there greeted by an equally imposing butler, Asquith, a descendant of the servant of the original inhabitant of the ancient pile.  During the journey, the grim driver tells the gathered Waynes that the place is haunted by the murdered first lord of the estate, Lord Harold.  Once arrived, they meet the aged Lord Wayne and his friend and physician, but the meeting is necessarily brief.

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Detective412-06They are informed that the estate will be split between them, and any accidents will divide it among the survivors.  A perfect setup for intrigue, of course.  That night, Bruce is having a drink with ‘Mina,’ because of course he is, when suddenly she sees a figure in medieval armor on the battlements!  The millionaire comforts the girl and pretends he saw nothing, but he gets into costume, once again endangering his secret identity beyond all bounds (I wonder if the guy from Gotham has anything to do with the hero from the same city showing up here in the middle of nowhere..), and begins an investigation.

The Dark Knight hears a scream as he prowls about and arrives in Mina’s room, only to find himself confronting the armored figure of a strange intruder!  After a skirmish in which that very armor proves very handy against hand-attacks, his opponent escapes.  The Caped Crusade continues his search, wondering which of the gathered family and friends could be masquerading as a phantom.  He hears sounds of a struggle coming from the Aussie’s room and kicks the door in to discover the man, lightly wounded, but alive, having fended off another attack, and the hero sets off again in pursuit.

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Detective412-13After stopping to stage his bed to make it seem like Bruce Wayne is sleeping….while everyone else in the castle is running around like crazy, because that will be foolproof, the Caped Crusader hears another cry from Mina.  Her door was locked, but someone was trying to force it.  Pursuing the culprit into the marsh outside, the Dark Knight suddenly finds himself in desperate straits, stuck in the muck and being charged by a spurious spectral knight with a lance.  The strike seems to go home, and the warrior rides on, crying out that his vengeance can now begin.

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Yet, Batman lives!  He snatched up a tree branch and used it as a shield, though the impact almost knocked him out.  He rushes to the castle armory, thinking that he knows the supposed spirit’s identity.  There he confronts “Lord Harold,” and after a quick battle, the armored figure is unmasked as…Asquith?!  The spooky butler speaks in a strange voice, claiming to be Harold and saying that he was wreaking just vengeance.

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The batty-butler leads the Masked Manhunter to a hidden chamber where the real Harold’s brother had imprisoned him to usurp his title, and then, bizarrely, the sepulchral voice declares that Asquith has failed him, and the servant simply dies…yet the voice briefly continues, promising to continue its quest for revenge!  The story ends with Batman making notes about the case, pointing out that Lord Wayne had died that same night and pondering if this were a case of haunting or madness.

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This is a solid enough murder mystery, but it has too many characters and too little space to be entirely successful.  Batman figures out the culprit on very thin evidence, noting that none of the relatives would have vengeance as a motive, despite the fact that, rationally, neither would Asquith.  The art is nicely atmospheric, and there are several fittingly Gothic moments, especially the showdown in the swamp.  Bob Brown does a good job throughout, rendering some nicely dramatic images and doing some good work on the various supporting characters, giving them personality, despite their lack of development.  Perhaps most notably, he really works to create a well-realized setting, putting a lot of detail into panel backgrounds and giving the old castle a real sense of presence.  In general, there’s more show than there is stay to this story, but it is still an enjoyable enough read.  It is very familiar, but the confirmation of an actual haunting makes it a bit more original than most of this type, though I wish they had left the ending just a tad more ambiguous.  I’ll give this one an average 3 Minutemen.

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“The Head-Splitters”


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Our Batgirl backup certainly can’t be accused of being unoriginal this month!  It has one of the more unique murder weapons I’ve encountered in comics.  The tale begins with a woman awakening screaming, and the next morning the papers carry the headline that a wealthy socialite divorcee was mysteriously killed, her “head cracked like an egg!”  The same morning, breakfast at Commissioner Gordon’s house sees he and his daughter sharing a meal.  The head cop is baffled by the crime, but he reveals that the victim had a thing for wigs, which, according to Babs, is no clue at all because “What now-gal doesn’t dig wigs!”  Yikes, that slang!  Anyway, this gives Jim a clue, but for his daughter’s birthday, not the crime.  He offers to let her pick out a wig, for which he’ll foot the bill.

That day, Babs visits “Vazly,” the most fashionable wig-maker in town, where she and another divorced socialite happen to come in for fittings at the same time.  Ironically, they both pick out the same style, which causes the fiendish fashion-monger some concern.  It seems that he and his assistant are using their wigs to blackmail wealthy young women, fitting the headgear with an ingenious mechanism that can cause it to constrict with devastating power.  If they mix up the wigs and should accidentally target the police commissioner’s daughter, that could spell trouble, but they are careful to arrange them.

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Unfortunately, “Fate steps in,” and a cleaning woman tries on a few of the wigs and mixes up the two in question, and the dangerous one goes to our red-haired heroine.  Following the instructions that came with it, she sleeps in the wig, only to awaken in agony at the touch of a control by Vazly’s assistant.  Babs calls the wig-maker, and he tells her he will happily take it off, if only she’ll cough up $100,000.  In a pain-induced panic, the young librarian scrapes up the meager funds she can and heads to his shop, but when she arrives, the would-be blackmailers discover their mistake.

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They play the whole event off, easily removing the wig and telling the confused Miss Gordon that she must have dreamt the whole thing, yet they plan to kill her once she is safely away from their headquarters.  The fire-tressed female doesn’t play their game, however, having seen a cracked dummy head in the trash and put the pieces together.  She arrives in costume to confront them moments later and lets them know the jig is up.  She clocks Vazly, but his assistant plops a wig on her head and triggers the constriction.  Dun dun DUN!

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This is certainly a new angle, though it rather defies belief.  I have to think that a mechanism that would make a wig constrict with bone-crushing force might just be detectable…but then again, it works in a comic book-y kind of way, so I’m willing to give it a pass.  After all, this is the kind of ridiculous, over-the-top plot that makes comics great.  Vazly looks suitably sinister, and the mix-up with our heroine is a quick way to get her into the mix.  This story does suffer a bit from its lack of space, being only seven pages.  Still, it’s an entertaining read, one that once again matches Batgirl up against a fashion-felon, which might be a bit much, with two tales in a row.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.

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The Flash #207


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“The Evil Sound of Music!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Phantom of the Cafeteria”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Dick Giordano

Well, what do you know?  Kanigher leaves The Flash, and we finally get an issue that is really  enjoyable.  It even features a supervillain, after a fashion, and ahead of schedule!  We actually get a foe worthy of the Flash earlier than I expected, just judging by the covers that awaited us, which makes this issue a pleasant surprise.  Speaking of covers, this one does the story within no favors.  It’s got a nicely creepy looking monster, but it suffers from the Flash’s weird pose and the fact that, even with the cover copy, the scene isn’t exactly clear.  It’s just not a very effective image, not doing the tale it represents justice.

And that tale is actually a fun read.  It begins with the World’s Fastest Man in a hurry, leaving monitor duty on the JLA Satellite to race home and pick his wife up for a rock concert.  Yet, as the Allens prepare, we visit with a sinister looking figure in a darkened room, pouring over ancient books.  This is Sargon the Sorcerer, former Golden Age mystic hero turned current villain…sort of.  It’s a bit complicated.  Apparently he appeared back in issue #186 in his not-so-triumphant return to the DCU, wherein he clashed with the Flash.  It seems that he is out to regain his lost mystic gem, the Ruby of Life, which is the source of most of his powers.  He also wants revenge on the Speedster, who thwarted his last efforts.

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Novick really draws the heck out of Sargon throughout the issue.

Back in the Allen household, we get a cute scene between Barry and Iris, as Mrs. Allen notes that her husband, usually a slowpoke out of costume, can’t stand still when music is playing.  He teases her because, for once, she has made them late with her ruminations.  Apparently the couple are bound for a rock concert, headlined by the oh-so-cleverly named “Washington Starship.”  I wonder who that might reference…!  The lead singers just happen to be named Paul and Grace.  Anyway, Barry and Iris arrive just in time, thanks to a dose of super speed, and it is a super psychedelic show, accompanied by Friedrich’s narration, which is almost touching and insightful but manages to be just a little too pompous and overblown to be successful.

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I wonder if the couples are supposed to be anyone famous….

During the concert, Sargon strikes, using his magic to turn the music into a psychic attack, which panics the crowd and paralyzes the band.  While the unflappable Iris stays behind to cover the unfolding story, the Scarlet Speedster springs into action, using his powers to pull the crazed crowd out of the venue and prevent anyone from being trampled.  Given the then recent history of tragedies at concerts, this scene has a little extra significance, with the hero preventing events from going bad in the ways they had before, a type of cathartic, escapist fiction that is very much part of the purpose of comics.

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Yet, after the concert-goers have escaped, Sargon steps in again, seizing control of the Speedster and sending him to retrieve the Ruby of Life from a special vault in the Flash Museum.  The sinister Sorcerer looks positively evil as he places the jewel upon his brow and revels in his returned power.  While he is distracted, his spell over Flash ends, and the hero and the guitarist, Paul, both find themselves watching helplessly as the malicious music-spawned monsters menace their lady loves.  Each of them strains mightily and overcomes the siren song, but only Flash has the speed to save his girl.

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But they are not the only ones observing this tragedy-in-the-making, and Sargon looks on in horror as his spell spins out of control.  We discover that Grace is actually his niece, and while Flash saves Iris, the magician intercedes to rescue the songstress.  The Sorcerer tries to apologize to the young woman, but she will hear none of it, and he departs in despair.  The tale ends by checking in with each of our characters a little later, with Iris taking care of a slightly ruffled Barry, Paul happily reporting that Grace and their unborn baby have a clean bill of health, and Sargon himself contemplating how he has come to such a state, willing to use his own niece in his quest for power.

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This is a surprisingly good story.  I have grown to rather dread these Flash comics, but this one is a fun and interesting read.  Mike Friedrich doesn’t get as sappy and melodramatic as he sometimes can, though the comic is rather overwritten in his customary style, with the narration during the concert being particularly purple.  Speaking of his writing, this entire issue is a love letter to the music of the era, with the obvious reference to Jefferson Starship setting the tone, but Friedrich gives us a lot more than that.  He also sprinkles song titles throughout the entire issue.  I counted nine different songs, but it’s possible I missed some.  They are:

  • “White Rabbit”
  • “Homeward Bound”
  • “The Sound of Silence”
  • “Come Together”
  • “Penny Lane”
  • “Let It Be”
  • “My Sweet Lord”
  • “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”
  • “Down This Lonesome Road”

We’ve got some Jefferson Airplane, of course, as well as plenty of Beatles and even some Simon and Garfunkel.  What an interesting collection!  This is a fun little set of Easter eggs, but they come at a cost, as Friedrich can’t quite slip all of them in naturally.  Thus, his desire to include these references sometimes results in some rather awkward and tortured sounding dialog.  Still, I found the whole thing charming, and it is an unusually direct glimpse of the impact of the culture on the comics of the day.

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In terms of the plot itself, it was nice to see the Flash actually face a foe that was something of a threat to him, and I found myself fairly fascinated by Sargon.  I’m really curious to know what his story is and what he’s after.  I quite liked that we got only hints about him and that he escaped, not unmarked by his experience, but uncaptured by our hero.  His brief moments of characterization are intriguing, and I look forward to seeing what comes of them.  I also enjoyed the little character moments between Barry and Iris, with her evincing a more classic taste in music and the like.  I wouldn’t really expect ‘ol square Barry to be into the rock scene in 71, but it leads us to a fun tale, so I can buy it.

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Irv Novick does a great job with Sargon and some of the more bizarre, otherworldly elements of the art here, especially the music monsters, but there are a few moments where his work doesn’t quite capture the drama of a scene, like in the climax of the story where the sequence of the two struggling paramours and Sargon’s intervention could probably have used a bit more space to breath.  Still, on the whole, he turns in a nice looking comic with some real personality and emotion to it.  I suppose I’ll give this enjoyable little rock ‘n romp 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Phantom of the Cafeteria”


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It looks like we’re going to have Kid Flash and Elongated Man trade off for the backup slot in The Flash, which is fine by me.  This month, we get an interesting little Kid Flash tale that has some familiar elements.  It begins with our fleet young friend, Wally West, pondering the dilemma of hiding his super speed in the cafeteria line at school, where he finds himself last, which is worth a chuckle.  Suddenly, food starts disappearing right off of kids’ plates, and there’s not a sign of the culprit!  Someone starts screaming about ghosts, which, in the DCU, is not all that far-fetched, but Wally keeps his head.  He calms down the students, even getting commended by the principal later on, but he continues to wonder about what happened.  When a pretty young lady asks him about their date that night at the “peace rally,” he’s so distracted that he temporarily forgets about it.

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Fortunately, he’s quick with an excuse as well as with his feet, and that night he’s at the rally when more food starts to go missing.  Wondering if the thief might be someone else with super speed, the Fastest Boy Alive gets into costume and races about in search, spotting another speedster and giving chase!  Despite being knocked aside by the blurred figure, Kid Flash isn’t to be discouraged and eventually finds a trail of food wrappers and other trash which lead him to a small, amphibious looking alien, passed out before a cliff-face.

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Thinking quickly, Wally determines that this creature is some type of unknown lifeform with an incredibly fast metabolism that moves at super speed.  It is emaciated and must have been starving, stealing food to survive.  Noticing a recent rock-slide, Kid Flash drills through into a cave system, and just then, the creature comes to and speeds into the cavern.  Theorizing that the being was a youth from a strange subterranean race that came out to explore, only to get trapped by the rock-slide, Wally seals the entrance and cleans up after the unusual but harmless visitor.

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This seven page tale lacks the great pacing and jam-packed content of one of Kanigher’s Robin backups, but it tells a complete if somewhat underdeveloped story.  The setup is a tad familiar as well.  I know The Flash had encountered various super-speedster aliens from time to time in such mysteries, but this version does have the charm of involving Kid Flash and his youthful setting, starting in the school and the like.  We’ve also got a nod towards realism, with the subterranean stranger’s appearance helping to explain its powers.  I’m wondering if Skeates is thinking about trying to do some world-building in these backups the way Kanigher has managed in his Robin tales.  It will be interesting to see if the red-headed Dana makes a return later on.

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It’s also notable that our young hero is seen going to a peace rally in this book, positioning him fairly clearly with the youth anti-war movement.  While his fellow Titan, the Teen Wonder, has been around the outskirts of such events, he’s maintained a certain neutrality.  While such politics were certainly not the focus of this story, it’s fascinating that the rally is featured here incidentally but deliberately.  Anyway, I suppose I’ll give this entertaining mini-mystery 3 Minutemen, as it doesn’t have quite enough substance to warrant more.

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And with the super-speed sortie of Kid Flash behind us, we will write finis to this post.  We had a solid set of books here, nothing groundbreaking or of enduring fame, like last post’s introduction of R’as Al Ghul, but we do have some interesting evidence of growing cultural influence and some efforts at building continuity and creating ongoing plotlines in The Flash.  I hope that you enjoyed my commentaries and that you’ll join me again soon for another step on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 3)

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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!

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

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


Detective Comics #411


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“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.

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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.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 411 008Before 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. DETECTIVE COMICS 411 007 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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


“Cut…and Run!”


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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.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 411 027Suddenly, 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!

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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.

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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.

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The Flash #206


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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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‘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.

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“Showdown in Elongated Town!”


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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another dose of Bronze Age goodness!  We’re moving through March of 1971, and I’ve got a pair of issues and a foursome of stories for you today, my good readers.  I hope that y’all will enjoy my coverage of these 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 #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

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


Detective Comics #409


Detective_Comics_409“Man in the Eternal Mask!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Night of the Sharp Horns!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a decent if not particularly spectacular Batman tale in our headline slot.  It features a mystery that is more about the ‘why’ than the ‘who,’ which culminates in an appropriately dramatic confrontation.  The story begins with an unseen assailant attacking a portrait hanging in a museum and scrawling “Die Jinx, Die!” onto the canvas (shades of Ace Ventura!).  In the morning, the vandalism is discovered, and neither the curator nor the security guard can figure out why or how the artwork was attacked.  After all, it’s a portrait of a beloved philanthropist who no-one had cause to hate.

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Meanwhile, Batman pays a visit to the artist of the piece, Rene Leclerq, where he is due for his own portrait.  That’s a bit odd.  I can’t really see the Dark Knight just standing around in an artist’s studio when he could be prowling the streets.  ‘Well, there’ve been 10 muggings and 3 murders while I sat around here, but that is a darn good likeness!’  Robbins needs the Masked Manhunter to get involved in the plot, but I have to think there was a better way to accomplish that.  Either way, when Leclerq prepares to resume work on the hero’s portrait, he finds it has also been defaced with a similar message.

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Batman reasons that, though there are many people who might find him a jinx, the only connection between this incident and the first is the artist himself.  Though Leclerq can think of no-one who would hold a grudge against him, the Caped Crusader arranges a trap, hoping that a public unveiling of the repaired painting will flush the deranged art critic into the open.  Yet, when the painting is revealed, there isn’t a sign of a telling reaction from anyone in the crowd, though the pair do notice Tracy Calhoun, the “Adonis Athlete,” a football star that the artist had painted five years before.  The Law of Conservation of Detail should make you sit up and take notice of this.

That night, Batman lies in wait for the anti-art attacker, and when a dark figure lashes out at the portrait, he finds more than he bargained for, as it leaps to life and grapples his knife away from him.  The Dark Knight has posed as his own portrait, which is a tad Looney Toons-ish, but I’ll give it a pass.  After a struggle, the vandal lands a lucky blow and knocks the hero out for a while.  Sadly, this doesn’t quite count for our Head-Blow Headcount, as Bats takes it on the chin and not the back of the noggin.

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Nonetheless, when he staggers to his feet, he realizes that the fight actually pointed him to a suspect, as his opponent had a “chin like a rock,” and was obviously very athletic.  This makes him think of Tracy Calhoun, who was described in just such a fashion during his heyday.

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The mystery of why Calhoun would want to destroy Leclerq’s art remains, and when the Masked Manhunter goes to find the artist, he discovers that he’s been called to an unknown client’s house in the middle of the night.  Deducing what is afoot, the Caped Crusader speeds to Calhoun’s house while the young man confronts the artist and explains why he hates him.

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Apparently, on the last day of their sittings, Leclerq begged for a few minutes more after their time had run out, and Calhoun reluctantly agreed.  Then, late for a date, he sped away recklessly and suffered a terrible car wreck that left him horribly scarred.  When the artist protests that he’s as handsome as he ever was, the embittered athlete removes one of those ubiquitous life-like masks, which are apparently available in every corner store in comic universes, to reveal a terrible, shattered visage.

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Clearly insane after the loss of his good looks, which he let define him, Calhoun blames Leclerq for the accident caused by his own recklessness, and he’s decided that the man must suffer.  The former footballer first destroys his own portrait with a saber, then prepares to pinion the painter as well.  Just then, Batman arrives, and while Calhoun holds him at bay for a time, eventually he is once again hoisted by his own petard, as he strikes his portrait while preparing a blow, and the entire heavy painting collapses off the wall, crushing him.  He had accidentally cut the supports when he attacked the artwork, and the object of his hatred destroyed him.  Unfortunately, the final image is rather more comical than tragic, with the madman’s arms and legs poking out of the canvas like he’s a cartoon character.

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This is a solid enough story, and the ‘attractive person turned hideous and embittered’ is an old archetype that still works pretty well.  It was nicely subverted in the Freedom Force villain Shadow, but we’ve seen it played straight many times in comics.  Dr. Doom, anyone?  We certainly all know folks who are too concerned with their appearances, so it isn’t hard to imagine someone so obsessed that a loss of their beauty would send them over the edge.

I enjoy the irony of the final confrontation, as a man who has destroyed his own life by his choices insists on blaming someone else, only to have his continued self-destructive choices finally finish the job.  It’s not the most memorable story, but it does its work well enough, even if it is a bit too rushed to give us much of a real mystery.  I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.

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“Night of the Sharp Horns”


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The backup tale, however, once again proves better than the headline.  We pick back up with Batgril’s adventures in Spain as she searches for the mysterious figure who had killed the arrogant but aging El Granados’s bull the night before.  She had just discovered that another sword was missing from the estate, so she takes to the grounds in order to keep a watch.  Her lonely vigil is rewarded with the sight of a cloaked figure slipping into the pastures where he begins to perform multiple passes with the chosen bull, El Aguila.  Babs thinks that his athleticism and agility mark him as Paco, the young firebrand who had rescued the older bullfighter in the ring during his last performance. 

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Detective409-25Just as the stranger prepares to slay his bovine opponent, Batgirl intervenes, snaring his sword in her cape.  When the bull charges, she rescues the trespasser and realizes that her suspicions were correct.

Yet, the young man denies that he had killed the previous bull, and when he escapes (ungrateful punk), she finds her hands full dealing with the now unencumbered El Aguila.  Making like a Minoan, the daring dame leaps over the bull’s horns and runs to the estate’s arena for safety.

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Yet, that safety proves short-lived, as a dark figure appears riding a massive bull!  Charging her like some particularly awesome cavalryman, the bull-rider tries to skewer the young heroine with a sword.  Fortunately, Babs has some skill with a rope, and she lassos the bull, sending her assailant flying into the air.  After hog-tying the beast in a fashion that would make the Vigilante proud, she confronts her attacker, who is revealed to be Manolos, the aged servant of El Granados!

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What was he doing killing his master’s bovine opponents?  He tells the girl detective that he was still faithful, but his master was getting too old to continue his career, so he had set out to kill the bulls before they killed the bullfighter, knowing that former champion was too stubborn to retire.  El Granados himself arrives and confronts his old friend.  While angry at first, he realizes the truth of Manolos’ words, and he agrees not to fight again.  As they reconcile, Batgirl vanishes.

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It’s a nice ending, but it sort of leaves an important point unaddressed.  While everyone can probably forgive the killing of the bulls (except PETA), Manolos did also straight-up try to murder Batgirl.  He attacked her with a sword while mounted on a charging bull.  I don’t think he just wanted to scare her!  That bit of craziness aside, this is a good story, and the two-part tale gives us a surprising amount of character development and drama, while also delivering some nice action.  Batgirl herself comes off much better in this half, as she doesn’t get knocked out by a hat or anything equally embarrassing.  I’m impressed by how successful Robbins is at creating a character-driven mystery with such little space to work with.  The reconciliation between the bullfighter and his mentor is suitably touching, and Paco’s arrogant attempts at stealing his rival’s glory provides a solid, if somewhat unlikely, red herring.  I was impressed with Don Heck’s work on this feature, and I’m not always a big fan of his superhero art.  He turned out several really pretty pages and nice, dynamic action sequences here.  In general, this is a good backup story, doing a lot with a little.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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The Flash #204


The_Flash_Vol_1_204“The Great Secret Identity Expose!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Mind-Trap”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Our Flash headliner for today is something of an oddball.  There’s really not that much too it, and if it weren’t for the fact that last month’s bonkers issue was penned by Robert Kanigher, who is also the schizophrenic scribe responsible for this screwball story, I’d think that it was an attempt to immediately bury the bizarre retcon of that tale.  As is, the yarn seems somewhat pointless.

This outing begins the morning after last issue’s decade-spanning daring-do, with Barry and his wife celebrating their safe return from the future and reminiscing about Iris’s uncovered origin.  I always enjoy these little domestic moments between the couple, and this one has the potential to be charming, though not much is made of it.  They are admiring the locket that had been sent into the past with her when their reverie is interrupted by a call that sets them on a new adventure.  The call summons Iris to cover a banquet honoring a business tycoon, and at the function, the reporter suddenly leaps up and declares that the guest of honor is, in fact, a fraud!

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Barry, thinking fast (‘natch), pulls her out of the ballroom, only to discover she has no idea she said anything.  Just then, the police arrive to confirm her declaration.  Apparently, the fellow is a fraud, having kidnapped the real business magnate and masqueraded as him.  Determined newshoud that she is, Iris charges off to get the story, leaving her husband stunned.

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He changes in to the Flash, just in case, and on their way back from the banquet, the couple sees a pair of disabled musicians playing for donations on the street-corner.  Suddenly, Iris declares that these two are really disguised fugitives.  Naturally, the hidden hoods don’t take too kindly to this, and the Flash has to take them out as they fill the air with bullets, for all the good it does them.  Once more, Iris has no idea what she’s done and refuses to believe either her husband or the shouted threats of the captured gangsters who promise that their organization, the Generic Gang, will get revenge for her actions.

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The next day we get the most interesting part of the issue, where the JLA have a cameo as they arrive en mass to testify in court about one of their cases.  What makes this interesting is that here we’ve got a story that implies the existence of something equivalent to the cape laws in the Watchmen, where superheroes can give testimony in costume, which is neat in a nerdy kind of way.  And after all, nerdy kinds of neat are really our bread and butter here at The Greylands.

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Iris is a very stubborn woman.  I sympathize, Barry!

Anyway, as Batman prepares to take the stand, Iris suddenly leaps up and reveals that he is really Bruce Wayne!  Fortunately, once more Barry is quick on the uptake and he chatters his teeth at super-speed in order to scramble the soundwaves of her dramatic courtroom confession.  I guess that makes sense in a comic-booky kind of way, but it’s a bit of a stretch.

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Batman, who of course can read lips, realizes what has just happened as the Flash scoops the renegade reporter up and zips her out of the courtroom.  In a telephone booth  Barry again confronts his wife with her actions, and she swears that she doesn’t even known the League’s identities.  Suddenly, Superman summons the Scarlet Speedster and declares that he’s needed for an emergency meeting of the League.  The Fastest Man Alive has to do some fast talking as he tries to explain what even he doesn’t understand.  The JLA is understandably concerned, and Flash tells his teammates that there is clearly something going on and vows that if he doesn’t get it sorted out in 24 hours, they’ll never see him or his wife again.

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Superman is being super-pushy.

When he goes to find Iris, the Flash discovers that she’s been kidnapped by members of the Generic Gang, which is gunning for her.  They hustle her into an armored truck, and somehow the man who can move at the speed of light can’t get to their victim before the doors close.  The Fastest Man Alive takes after the fleeing gangsters, taking their pursuit car out in a blink and conveniently overhearing that the door of the armored truck is rigged to blow if opened.

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Ahead, the drivers of the truck bail out, sending their vehicle careening into the drink.  The hoods hose down the dock with machine gun fire, but the Flash takes them out easily in an admittedly fun sequence.  He dives off of the dock and tears the armored doors open by projecting his vibrations forward like a cutting beam, which seems a bit out of his usual line, and then zips Iris away before the explosives can blow.

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I do enjoy how the entire sequence takes place while the truck is in the air, a nice display of Flash’s speed, if a bit awkwardly handled.

Determined that Iris can’t just be left around to blurt out secret identities willy-nilly, the Scarlet Speedster determines to go to the future with her where both she and his secrets will be safe.  His wife objects that he can’t give up his life (regardless of the fact that he’s also giving up her life), and he replies that she’s his wife, for better or worse, so where she goes, he goes, which is fairly sweet.  However, on the way, their progress is halted, and her locket begins to glow and emit energy waves.  Somehow Barry deduces from basically no evidence that the locket had absorbed some weird temporal energies, and it was the source of her sudden ESP, so they return to their own time and Iris agrees never to wear the necklace again.  Problem solved.

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This is a weird little tale.  It’s entertaining enough, but the resolution is pretty random, about as random as the gimmicky conflict that drives the plot itself.  The Generic Gang are little more than mobile obstacles to Barry, offering no real threat to the Fastest Man Alive.  This supervillain drought is really starting to get old.  One wonders just why writers were for so long unwilling to use Flash’s villains, who comprise one of the best rogue’s gallery in comics.  It makes absolutely no sense, though I suppose it’s indicative of a  larger trend.  Super villains are very scarce in general these days.

While the League’s cameo is neat, Kanigher doesn’t really do much with their interview with the speedster.  Almost any line spoken by one of the heroes could have been assigned to another one without making any difference.  Barry’s willingness to give up his life to stay with his wife is sweet, but it really feels like he gives up on solving the problem way too easily.  With all the resources that the League has to bring to bear on something like this, it seems worth at least one visit to the Satellite or something.  In the end, this is a forgettable and somewhat pointless little story, with a goofy, logic-leaping conclusion.  On the plus side, Irv Novick’s art is great on the Flash, if a little light on details in the action sequences.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  Man, Kanigher’s score are just all over the place!

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In a  fun bit of synchronicity, “The Ballad of Barry Allan” came on my radio station while I was writing this feature.  Very apropos!


“The Mind Trap”


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We get another Steve Skeates penned Kid Flash backup here, and I’m always happy to see part of the SAG team in action.  The story Skeates spins is very promising, but unfortunately it’s rather starved for space.  Its premise is an old but enduring one, featuring a mind-hopping villain, something of a telepathic virus, traveling from host to host.  It has shades of many a horror tale, though this version doesn’t manage to harness a harrowing horror tone. 

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It begins with Wally West and the rest of his class on a tour of an exhibit on ancient Egypt at the local museum, hearing a legend about a terrible tyrant, Pharaoh Rama-Skeet (Skeates having some fun at his own expense?), who swore that death wouldn’t stop his drive for power.  Just then, a car wreck outside attracts their attention, and the kids watch in wonder as a man pronounced dead suddenly stands up and hurries off in an imperious manner.  Wally switches into his ‘work’ clothes and takes after the apparently stunned man.  When he finds the fellow, the man touches him, and Kid Flash suddenly finds himself fighting a terrible mental battle, realizing that this is the spirit of Rama-Skeet trying to wrest control of his mind.

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Wally sinks into darkness and knows no more until he finally comes to himself several minutes later, having just touched someone else.  The young hero watches helplessly as the man undergoes the same mental trauma that he himself had faced, but he wonders why the spirit would leave a super speedster for a regular Joe.  He begins to suspect that the 15 minutes the ghost inhabited his mind might be all the still weakened Pharaoh can manage at once.  This is a bit of a jump, and if the story had more room to breathe, we might have seen this pattern repeated once or twice more to really establish it.  As is, Skeates is working at a feverish pace.

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In order to throw the power-mad phantom off his guard as he begins to rant and rave, Kid Flash kneels before him, but this is just a ploy, and the Fastest Boy Alive slams into super-speed, dragging the possessed man behind him.  He plans to keep the host helpless until the 15 minute limit is up in the hopes that the spirit will be destroyed by the host’s mind in that time.  Though the task is incredibly taxing on a body already exhausted by his mental struggle, the teen hero manages to keep up the pace until the Egyptian ghost runs out of time.  With a terrible cry, the specter departs, leaving his host confused but unharmed.  Exhausted but victorious, Kid Flash collapses to rest.

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This is a fine little story, but it could have been much, much better with some space to grow.  This kind of challenge, as Wally himself admits, is really out of his line, but his solution to the problem is really fairly brilliant.  Despite that, the very brief tale just didn’t have the time to develop the creepy atmosphere and mystery that these types of plots really thrive on, and the result is that the villain is both entirely forgettable (having almost no real dialog) and not terribly threatening.  That’s a shame, as this could have been much more.  I suppose we must judge a story on what it is and not what it could have been, so I will give this too-brief tale 3 Minutemen, as it is enjoyable if not impressive.

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P.S.: Interestingly, I am apparently not the only fan wondering where all the supervillains have gone.  This issue includes a letter demanding their return and marveling at their long absence.  Notably, this letter is written by future DC luminary, Bob Rozakis!  Rozakis, DC’s future Answer Man, got his start in these very letter columns, which would also be where he would do much of his work on the other side of the pen.  I love things like this, little traces of DC history buried in their letters.  How neat!


And on that note, I’ll wrap up today’s post.  I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and found something interesting and worth your time herein.  Though these weren’t the most amazing issues, they have their moments.  The real highlights of this month await in the books to come.  Our next post will introduce Forever People #1, the next Kirby Fourth World book, so don’t miss that!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 4-Special Edition!)

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Welcome to another stop on my journey Into the Bronze Age!  In today’s post, I’ve got something special for you!   The next book in the Roll Call is JLA #87, which has a rather unique origin and merits a slightly different approach.  It’s actually an interesting footnote in comic book history, one half of an unofficial crossover between DC and Marvel’s two top teams, the JLA and the Avengers!  In honor of this unprecedented event, I’ve decided to do a special post.  I’m going to put off covering the next few DC comics for a little while and cover both halves of this ‘crossover,’ as well as provide a little background about the event and the characters it created.  That’s right, for the first time in my Bronze Age feature, I’m going to cover a Marvel comic!

So, how did we end up with a quasi-crossover several decades before the official JLA/Avengers crossover event?  Back in 1969, rascally Roy Thomas of Marvel fame and the dynamic Denny O’Neil were friends, and they were each writing their companies’ respective big super-teams.  They decided to do an unofficial crossover, creating pastiche characters in each of their magazines.  The product of Roy’s efforts were the Squadron Sinister (Avengers #70), which would later spawn the Squadron Supreme and go on to become an enduring part of the Marvel Universe.  O’Neil seems to have chickened out a bit (JLA #75), producing only evil doppelgangers of the League, but a few years later Thomas tried again with Mike Friedrich.  The results were this month’s JLA story and Avengers #85 and #86.  There’s a little feature on this ‘crossover’ here that provided some background for this post.

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Justice League of America #87


JLA_v.1_87“Batman – King of the World”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

That’s a great cover by Neal Adams.  It’s in the hackneyed ‘hero acting out of character’ tradition, but it is still quite striking and beautifully rendered.  What lies inside is a red letter issue, featuring the creation of characters of very limited impact in the DC Universe but who are of significance in comic book history at large, the Champions of Angor!  I can already hear you asking, ‘who?’  That’s because these guys are pretty obscure.  In fact, they’re so obscure that I didn’t even include them in DCUG, which has almost every DC character you could imagine.  Nonetheless, the impetus for their creation as quixotic counterparts of Marvel’s premiere super-team, the Avengers, is actually really interesting.

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While both Avengers issues are classics and the characters introduced therein found a life of their own, this book is not quite so fortunate.  It’s a really fun read, but the Champions themselves are pretty forgettable and play only a minor role in the story.  It begins, not with the ersatz Avengers, but with Batman and Hawkman in battle with some unseen foe.  The Dark Knight is already down, but in a nice show of his fortitude and courage, the Winged Wonder, though badly battered, makes a final charge, only to be blasted by a beam of energy.  We then see a towering robotic figure, which has a pretty nice design, much better than the boxy robots from #84, looking a bit like one of Dr. Who’s Cybermen.  The mechanical man ponders Hawkman’s signal device and decides to trigger it in order to draw his fellow Leaguers…to their doom!

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Next we check in with Superman, who is apparently still mopey from his pity-party in the Flash’s book this month, and he thinks about how he’s alone on Earth.  To cheer himself up, he goes to seek out his fellow Leaguers, the only folks with which he can really identify.  I actually like that element of this scene, even if it is a bit overly emotional.  Heading to the satellite, he encounters Zatanna, who is given an oddly intense description by Friedrich and an awkward close-up by Dillin.  She’s called “The girl with the enigmatic smile and the dancing eyes,” and “the bearer of peace.”  It’s a bit…weird.  She apparently calms the Man of Steel with her mere presence and explains that today is the anniversary of the League’s rescue of her lost father, so she came to celebrate.  As it turns out, she arrived just in time to answer Hawkman’s distress call from South America.

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Apparently close-ups are not too flattering for the mistress of magic…

JusticeLeague087-05Superman, Zatanna, Flash, and the Atom arrive to discover Batman and Hawkman apparently just palling around with a giant, laser-spewing robot.  Nothing to see here!  Strangely, the Dark Knight acts like his fellow Leaguers are crazy, denying that they need any help.  In a funny bit, the Atom asks, with palpable snark, “What about the mysterious robot–doesn’t it strike you as a wee bit strange?”  That guy is six inches of sass!  The Masked Manhunter replies that, as Bruce Wayne, he was funding an archeological dig for Carter Hall’s museum when they unearthed the robot, and after it was awakened by the sun, it obeyed his orders.  This contains a fun idea, that Bruce would chip in to help his fellow Leaguers in their secret identities.  There’s some story and characterization potential there.

Well, needless to say, the team is a tad suspicious, and when Green Lantern’s arrival elicits an irrational outburst from Batman, they suddenly find themselves facing the menacing machine, apparently under his orders!  The metal monster targets Zatanna first, doing the classic robot bit of talking out all of its thought-processes and actions, revealing that it considers her the greatest threat.  The bot disables her with a power blast, and the Flash begins to blitz it while the Atom attempts to shrink inside its head.  Both heroes are repulsed by a force field and KOed.

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Superman and Green Lantern attack, but they can make no headway.  Analyzing the Emerald Crusader, the machine turns itself yellow, and apparently Hal lacks the creativity to, I don’t know, use his ring to throw rocks at it or something.  The android antagonist zaps Hal, leaving only a Man of Steel vs. a metal man, but even the mightiest Leaguer of all falls before the villainous machine.  This is actually an interesting moment, because Superman gets taken out, not by magic and not by kryptonite, but by more direct methods.  What makes this notable is that this is the first time we’ve seen such a portrayal in the post-kryptonite world.  It looks like O’Neil’s elimination of the emerald element is already starting to bear fruit, as you have to imagine that, if this story had been told a few months before, this android would surely have been armed with a kryptonite beam or the like.  O’Neil’s innovation is already leading to better storytelling.

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Back to the story, we discover that the robot was controlling Batman’s mind to throw the League off, and in order to keep him under control, it plays along with his growing power delusions, pretending to offer the defeated Leaguers to Batman as its ‘master,’ and thus recreating the cover.  This seems…overly elaborate and unnecessary, as the bot can’t possibly think the normal guy in the bat costume is much of a threat to it.  Nonetheless, we get a shock when the robot declares that the Justice League members are…dead!

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JusticeLeague087-17Of course, that can’t really be the case, and we see, one by one, that they are really alive.  It starts with GL and the Atom, as the Emerald Gladiator uses his ring to trace the robot’s transmissions home, wherever that is.  The Atom shrinks to subatomic size and catches a ride on the ring’s beam, following those transmissions to their origin in order to shut the machine down at its source.  That’s a pretty clever move, and it’s successful, as the android freezes just as it was about to destroy a native village in its search for minerals.

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The rest of the League look down on the battlefield, and we see that the Lantern created duplicates of them to trick the rampaging robot into thinking they were dead.  Weirdly, Friedrich describes these as androids, which doesn’t really seem to fit for the power ring, but it’s a minor point.  Superman heads off to get Batman and Hawkman to a hospital, and the remaining team members travel with the Emerald Knight to meet up with the Atom on the alien world from which their android antagonist originated.

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When they arrive, they discover nothing but ruins and a newly destroyed machine, courtesy of the Mighty Mite.  The planet seems to have been “shattered by nuclear warfare” ages ago, and just as the heroes are contemplating whether their enemies might still be around someplace, a quartet of strange looking super beings arrive.  These, at last, are the Champions of Angor, heroes from an alien world!  They include Jack B. Quick, a speedster who can fly for short periods, Blue Jay, a man with the power to shrink and gain wings, the Silver Sorceress, who has “hex powers” and a costume without even a hint of silver on it, and Wandjina, an Australian storm god armed with a powerful mystic weapon.  My, do these guys seem familiar or what?  Their parallels are pretty clear.  They’re obvious stand-ins for Quicksilver, Ant-Man/Yellow Jacket, the Scarlet Witch, and Thor.  Sadly, unlike their Squadron counterparts at Marvel, they aren’t terribly electrifying.

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Their designs are pretty awful, though a few of them (Blue Jay and Silver Sorceress) have some potential.  What the heck is going on with Wandjina’s weird little hairy epaulets?  Also, his name is pretty terrible.  There are literally hundreds of storm gods to choose from.  Why in the world did Friedrich pick one with such a goofy name?  Personally, I’d have gone with somebody like the Babylonian god Marduk.  He’s got a cool name, a good backstory, and provides some cool design possibilities.  Anyway, I think both their lackluster role in this story and their pretty weak designs help to explain why this foursome never amounted to much in the DCU.  It’s a shame, because I love the idea of the JLA having a surrogate set of Avengers to wail on from time to time.

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JusticeLeague087-20Back to our tale, the audience is let in on what neither group of heroes knows and is provided with the backstory of the planet.  Apparently it was run by competing mega-corporations, like some alien version of the Space Merchants, and they seeded the galaxy with robotic servants, each programed to harvest resources and send them home to their owners.  These interstellar companies eventually wiped each other out in an atomic war, but their mechanical servants remained.  Just as the League battled one on Earth, the Champions battled one on Angor, and they both tracked the robots’ signals back to this planet.  In classic ‘Marvel Misunderstanding‘ fashion, the two groups of heroes misinterpret each other’s motives and begin to fight pretty much immediately.  In a fun little touch, Friedrich includes a literal ‘literary license’ enabling him to translate the alien language.

The fight itself is really brief, effectively just one double-page spread, which is quite disappointing if you’ve heard about this issue and looked forward to reading it for the sake of this moment.  It is a cool spread, with each hero squaring off against their opposite number, though it is weakened by some heavy-handed narration about the madness of war.  We get it Mike, ‘war, what is it good for?’  I’m really rather sad that we, for some reason, get GL here instead of Superman because it would have been great to see the Man of Steel vs. the God of Thunder.  That’s really a missed opportunity.  I suppose it isn’t the only one in this issue.

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During the conflict, Jack B. Quick hurls some rocks at the Scarlet Speedster, who in turn, sends them flying back at his opponent, but one of them actually strikes Blue Jay, nearly killing him!  Zatanna immediately stops fighting and calls the Lantern over to help.  They heal the injured size-changer, and, in the usual fashion, this act of selfless heroism convinces the other side that they must have been mistaken about their opponents.  With the help of a ring translation, the gathered heroes share their stories and make friends, and the story ends with another really weird focus on Zatanna, as all the Leaguers give her a super-awkward looking group hug and the heavy-handed narration continues.

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This issue is just jam-packed full of plot.  There are at least two or three issues’ worth of story here, and I’m not even talking about the modern ‘decompressed’ methods of storytelling.  Once again, Friedrich’s narrative eyes are bigger than his stomach, as he just fills this comic with ideas that are all fighting to have enough space.  The result is a riotous and creative book that feels very rushed.  You’ve got the initial robot menace, the adventure to the alien world, the discovery of the backstory of the space merchants, and the fight with the Champions, any of which could easily have filled an issue.  Trying to pack it all in means only the first idea really got explored, and even that one ended very abruptly.  Of course, the biggest flaw of the book is , in some senses, the disappointing appearance of the Champions of Angor.  They’re barely in the story for six pages, and their big battle is over in two.  The concept of an Avengers analog is a promising one, but sadly, these guys don’t quite live up to their potential.

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Awkward moments courtesy of Mike “Touchy-Feely” Friedrich.

Despite its crowded plot and less than inspiring new characters, this is still a fun book to read.  There’s no question that this is better than last issue, even with its flaws.  While the ideas in this comic may be crammed together and largely unexplored, they are interesting.  We’ve once again got an impersonal, greedy corporate entity as our villains, which seems to be becoming a more common device and certainly feels fitting for the modern day.  You’ve also got a bit of an anti-war message here, but it’s so incongruous and so easily lost amongst the hustle-and-bustle of the more interesting elements of the story that it doesn’t amount to much.  It’s also more than a little strange that, despite her prominent role in this story, Zatanna didn’t join the League here.  That feels like another missed opportunity.  Dillin’s art is pretty strong, and that seemingly characteristic stiffness from his JLA work isn’t really in evidence here.  His design for the robot is quite good, but obviously his designs for the Champions aren’t so fortunate.  I suppose that, over all, I’ll give this fun but flawed issue 3.5 Minutemen, largely on the strength of the first episode and the intriguing ideas in evidence.

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Avengers #85


Avengers_Vol_1_85“The World Is Not for Burning!”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Penciler: John Buscema
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Mike Stevens
Editor: Stan Lee

You can see what else Marvel put out this month HERE.

Some years back I read through The Avengers up through the early 80s, and I really loved the experience.  Perhaps if I live to be 150 I’ll have time one day to go back and read through all of Marvel like I’m doing with DC.  Either way, I love the Avengers as a team and a concept, and their comic is one of my all-time favorites.  Those early Avengers years in the Silver and Bronze Ages produced some truly great comics, and they are a blast to read.  As I’ve discussed before, while the characters who make up the JLA have a special place in my heart, I can’t deny that, on the whole, the classic stories of Marvel’s main team beat those of DC all hollow.  Here at the beginning of the Bronze Age, we’re in a great time for the Avengers, featuring some of my favorite stories from this series.

This particular issue begins with our star tossed heroes, Thor, Black Panther, Black Knight, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Quicksilver, and Goliath (the Clint Barton variety, a concept I never cared for), as they prepare to journey via Mjolnir.  They are returning home from the extra-dimensional tyrant Arkon’s world, where they just concluded the previous issue’s adventure.  Thor hurls his enchanted hammer about, ordering it to take them all back where they came from, but only three of their number arrive at their respective homes.  Goliath, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and the Vision don’t appear with the others, but Thor and the Panther don’t have time to investigate, as they are due to join Cap and Spidey at a Toys for Tots charity event, which is a nice little bit of detail.  It does seem like the matter of missing heroes might take precedence, but far be it for me to advocate disappointing disadvantaged kids!

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The missing Avengers find themselves only partially materializing, left in a wraith-like state on a world that is dying!  All about them, human beings burn horribly and the very streets melt under the fire of a raging sun.  Unable to do anything more than watch, they feel helpless.  Quicksilver, spying a paper, realizes that the date indicates that they’ve been gone for weeks rather than hours!  In an attempt to do something, Wanda uses her hex powers, and suddenly they find themselves solid and on a peaceful street corner on the right date.  Yet, there are subtle hints that all is not as it seems, as people don’t seem to recognize the team.

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When they arrive at Avengers’ Mansion, it too seems subtly different, and inside they accidentally trigger a trap before they are confronted by a strangely garbed figure who tells them that this is his team’s home!  This is Nighthawk, who the team had encountered months ago as part of the Squadron Sinister, yet he seems not to know them.  After an ill-fated attack on the diamond-hard Vision, Nighthawk employs the better part of valor and escapes through a secret door.  The Vision slips through and opens it, and the team pursues the mysterious masked man.

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Inside what should be their meeting room, they discover four new figures: Lady Lark, American Eagle, Tom Thumb, and…Hawkeye?  Well, neither pastiche team arrived fully formed, it seems.  This quartet are obvious parallels to Black Canary, Hawkman, the Atom, and Green Arrow, though, oddly, American Eagle seems more like a cross between Captain America and the Winged Wonder, as he’s an uber patriotic, flag-waver type, who immediately assumes the Avengers are commies!

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In classic Marvel fashion, the teams immediately come to blows when Goliath tries to get some answers out of Nighthawk in his usual hot-headed fashion, dangling the guy out a window.  Suddenly, a message comes over the view-screen, where Dr. Spectrum (Green Lantern) tells his team that the solar rocket ‘Brain-Child One’ is ready for launch, and he calls them the “Squadron Supreme.”  The Vision realizes that his team must have witnessed a glimpse of the future of this world and tries to explain, only for Tom Thumb to blind Goliath as the giant laughs at his diminutive stature (real sensitive there, Clint).  Interestingly, instead of having shrinking powers like the Atom, Tom Thumb is just a little person and inventor, making for a very unusual parallel.

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The teams leap into action, with Tom Thumb disabling Quicksilver with an adhesive that coats the speedster, Lady Lark disabling the Witch with a sonic cry, Hawkeye hitting the Vision with an explosive bolt, and American Eagle decking Goliath.  It seems like things are going badly for the Assemblers until Clint’s destroys Tom Thumb’s flying platform and the Vision recovers to take out Eagle and Nighthawk.

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Inside, Quicksilver shakes off his sticky prison and hits pseudo-Hawkeye like a cannonball, while the Witch turns the tables on Lady Lark, zapping her with a hex-sphere.  With the Squadron captured, the Avengers realize that they are going to need these strange heroes’ help if they are to save their world.  They take the reviving Nighthawk, commander a ship, and head to the launch site, explaining the problem in transit.  Fortunately, the nocturnal avenger (Freedom Force joke!) believes them, because without his help, they’d have to defeat the three strongest members of the Squadron!

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This comic is a blast to read.  It feels well-paced, and the plot has plenty of room to breathe, unlike it’s distinguished counterpart.  It is overwritten in the classic Marvel tradition, with dialog just everywhere.  Roy Thomas was always great at writing adventure stories, even if he followed in Stan’s footsteps by being very verbose, and this was no exception.  Notably, in contrast to the DC book, where the pastiche team received only a few pages, this entire issue revolves around the Squadron Supreme, first as mystery and then as antagonist.  They are given a great deal more space, and the fight between the two teams takes up roughly seven pages in this book, more than doubling the space devoted to the encounter in JLA.  Of course, they also feature in the next issue as well, where the other part of the Squadron gets as much room to shine as the Avengers themselves.  It’s no wonder that their appearance here proved much more memorable than the Champions’ over in DC.

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Of course, it’s hard to get much better than John Buscema art in the Bronze Age.  The man was a master, and there’s a reason that his run on this book is legendary.  As for the Squadron members themselves, their designs are, on the whole, stronger than those of their counterparts, but there are still some definite exceptions.  The new Hawkeye’s design is rather incoherent though his hood is neat, and American Eagle’s wings and helmet can end up looking rather goofy.  Lady Lark, Nighthawk, and Tom Thumb, however, benefit from solid, distinctive designs.  All of these characters would evolve in future appearances, but it’s notable how little those three changed.  From their very first appearance as villains ten issues ago, the original four members of the team had a pretty solid look and concept.  I’ll give this half of the adventure 4.5 Minutemen, an enjoyable adventure with some grand stakes and some interesting new characters.

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Avengers #86


Avengers_Vol_1_86“Brain-Child to the Dark Tower Came…!”
Writer: Roy Thomas and Len Wein
Penciler: Sal Buscema
Inker:Jim Mooney
Letterer: Shelly Leferman

You can see what else Marvel put out this month HERE.

The second half of this two-parter opens with the gathered heroes rushing to confront the remaining there Squadron members guarding the rocket as it prepares for lift-off.  For reasons of plot, Nighthawk must stay with the ship to shut it down, so the Avengers hurry to stop the launch, only to get into a brief fight with the Squadron members.  Fortunately, Wanda manages to hit the rocket with a hex sphere, which also has the power of plot, and stops the launch.  Just then, Nighthawk arrives and straightens everything out.  In a funny touch, Goliath notes that it’s nice to meet superheroes that they don’t end up fighting and observes that it is a rare occurrence for the team.  That’s a fun bit of self-awareness, and, just as the DC booked aimed at being a bit Marvel-ish, it seems that this one aims to be a bit DC-ish.

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Poor Pietro, perpetually in over his head…

After the Avengers tell their story, the Squadron members explain the rocket’s origins, and the mystery begins to unravel.  It seems that a decade ago a very unusual child was born, a son of two parents who had been exposed to great amounts of radiation who was born with an incredible intellect.  The child prodigy to put all others to shame, he was a brilliant scientist by the tender age of four!

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In an effort to increase his intelligence even further, young Arnold Sutton experimented on himself, giving him the most advanced mind on the planet, but making him a deformed freak.  His work was respected, but he was still ostracized and abused.  He became a top rocket scientist for the U.S., but eventually moved to a deserted island in order to be free of humanity.  It becomes clear that this brilliant mind is still the mind of a child, and it has decided to lash out at those who hurt it.  Thus, the rocket supposedly meant for exploration is actually a doomsday device.

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Back on the Avengers’ Earth, the remaining team-members try to bring their missing mates home, but without success.  Unaware of this, the lost heroes soldier on, teaming up with the present Squadron members to pay the young ‘Brain-Child’ a visit.  When they arrive on his island, they are met with powerful advanced defenses, confirming their suspicions.  In another DC touch, the heroes split up into teams and each try to break into the uncanny kid’s fortress from four different directions.  The speedsters take the first crack at him, naturally, but they get caught in a storm of flying rocks and must whip up their own super-speed cyclone to counter it.

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Meanwhile, Nighthawk and the Scarlet Witch encounter a massively muscled guardian who makes short work of the psuedo-caped crusader.  It also hypnotizes poor Wanda before she can hurl a hex sphere.  On the third front, Dr. Spectrum and the Vision encounter a weird, Lovecraftian creature that manages to counter both their powers and overwhelm them.

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The final team of Goliath and Hyperion (it seems like not teaming Hawkeye and Hawkeye is a bit of a missed opportunity!) attempt to sneak up on the genocidal grade-schooler, only for him to reveal that he has mental powers as well as great intelligence!  Brain-Child manages to take out the mighty Hyperion, who, in a fun touch, is called a ‘man of brawn.’  But, though stunned, Goliath is still fighting, and he employs his ex-identity’s expertise to turn Hyperion’s tough form into an improvised missile!

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The weakened Brain-Child collapses, and all of his traps, even his entire fortress, disappear as he loses consciousness.  The strain apparently snaps his mind back to its proper child-like state, and Dr. Spectrum uses his power prism to turn him into a normal boy.  The Squadron promises to take care of him and give him a normal life, and just then, the Avengers begin to fade out!  They arrive back home, their fellows finally having succeeded, and the story ends on a surprisingly sombre note, as the Vision ponders whether they can ever know if they are truly…home!

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I strongly suspect that this classic issue provided the inspiration for an excellent episode of the Justice League show featuring an ersatz JSA.  That episode featured a very similar antagonist.  The plot was admittedly quite different, but it did center around a post-apocalyptic world.  If true, that’s a fascinating line of descent, from JLA pastiche in the Avengers to JSA pastiche in a JLA show.  How neat!

As for the comic itself, it is another really entertaining story, and it is great fun to see the Avengers actually team up with their heroic counterparts from the ersatz-League.  It makes for a fitting end of the saga, and Brain-Child is a sympathetic and intriguing antagonist.  Thomas manages to tell his story with admiral brevity, yet still manages to make you feel for the little guy, creepy though he is.  There’s enough tragedy with this character to fit the high tone of the comic and make him compelling.  The ending is great, exactly what comics are all about, providing a hopeful resolution to the issue’s problem.  The little DC-esq touches to plot are also really fun for readers ‘in the know,’ as is the hint of self-awareness from Goliath.

In a fascinating and unusual display of erudition, this story references Robert Browning’s poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” with both its title and the comments of one of its characters.  This is a delightfully fitting reference, as Browning’s poem paints a scene of Gothic desolation as its knightly hero trudges slowly and painfully through a wasteland that the poet describes in detail.  Notably, it seems that at least some of the ugliness of his surroundings are a matter of the knight’s perspective, as he sees through jaundiced eyes and with the vision of despair.  Brain-Child experiences just such a vision of the world, but unlike Childe Roland, who perseveres to his ambiguous fate at the Dark Tower, the brilliant boy gives in to despair and decides to drown the whole world in fire, himself included.  The reference is a really neat addition to the story.

Once again, the art is superb, and Brain-Child is suitably disturbing.  I’ll give this issue 4.5 Minutemen as well.  It loses a little credit for the silly bit with Nighthawk in the beginning.

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Reading these stories in context is just fascinating.  They really highlight the different approaches to story-telling current at the two companies, as well as just being interesting as a piece of comic lore.  In comparison with the counterpart Avengers stories of this unofficial crossover, the weaknesses of the JLA tale are particularly telling.  The Avengers yarns are simply significantly better than the JLA version, and I once again find myself wondering just how the Justice League book survived with Marvel routinely kicking its backside every month in this era.

The Marvel books are just full of characterization and personality.  It’s on display in nearly every panel, overwrought, but present nonetheless.  In fact, even the brand new characters of the Squadron already begin to develop distinct personalities in the few pages allotted to them.  Compare that to the JLA issue, where only Superman really gets any characterization.  The scripting of the Avengers books is also a good deal more balanced, even if Thomas is more than a little purple in his prose.  The Marvel books are, as one might imagine, more character driven, while the DC title is much more idea driven.  In fact, one of the best traits of the JLA as a concept is on display in this issue, and that’s a tendency to engage big ideas.  Of course, those don’t get much attention, but they are present, nonetheless.  Interestingly, the DC book is really the more socially conscious, with its half-hearted anti-war message and its more memorable menacing corporate apocalypse.

The fates of these two groups of characters is quite interesting and illustrative.  It’s really impressive how quickly and completely the Squadron became fixtures of the Marvel Universe, even eventually starring in their own incredible and sophisticated maxi-series.  Meanwhile, it took around two decades for anyone at DC to do anything with the Champions of Angor, and even then their return is pretty obscure (Silver Sorceress and Blue Jay joined the JLI).  I can’t help but think that their respective fates reveal the quality of each group of characters, as well as the chance they had to make an impression on fans in their original appearances.  The DC team definitely seems like a matter of wasted potential, which makes one wonder, what might have been?

Until next time, I, like the Vision, will be pondering whether I’ve somehow ended up in an alternate reality ever-so-close to my own.  It would explain quite a bit.  Whatever universe we’re in, keep the heroic ideal alive, and be sure to join me again soon for another step on our journey, Into the Bronze Age!

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Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello readers and Internet travelers!  This is another iteration of Into the Bronze Age, where I’ll be examining a few books cover dated from February 1971.  Lady Grey and I are bound for Iceland next week for a vacation, so I’m going to try to squeeze in a few more posts before we go, as I imagine I won’t have time while we’re traveling.  So, how about we check out some 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 #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Detective Comics #408


Detective_Comics_408“The House that Haunted Batman”
Writers: Len Wein and Marv Wolfman
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Phantom Bullfighter!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Now that is a heck of a cover!  How could you not pick this comic up?  It’s got a haunting image, a provocative mystery, and it just begs to be read.  Sadly, the story inside isn’t quiet as compelling, though it certainly looks lovely with Neal Adams handling the art chores.  It includes the return of a villain that I’ve never heard of before, which surprised me because I thought I knew even the more obscure Batman rogues pretty well.  This adds another little discovery to my Bronze Age journey.

This strange, surreal story begins with Batman, on the trail of his young ward, Dick Grayson, who had disappeared from college 24 hours before.  The Dark Knight has tracked Robin to a creepy old mansion that, strangely enough, wasn’t there the day before!  Inside, he prowls through darkened rooms until he spots the Teen Wonder, who collapses into his arms and then…dissolves into dust!  We get the exact scene from the cover, which is a bit of a rarity.  I tend to enjoy seeing that kind of payoff, but considering how detailed the cover image was, it actually feels like a bit of a cheat in this instance, as seeing the image in the comic doesn’t actually add anything, which it should.

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Anyway, horrified by this sight, Batman recoils, and then he races up the grand staircase to discover the source of a horrible cry that fills the house.  He encounters a room full of bats and a gramophone, but disconnecting it doesn’t stop the sounds.  Suddenly, a gunshot rings out, and the Masked Manhunter takes off after the shooter, only to discover that he’s a phantom figure of Dick Grayson!  The apparition’s shots drive the hero through a trap door and into a darkened room, a room inhabited by his friends in the Justice League, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon, who are all gathered around…his coffin!

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That is a legitimately creepy image.

The Caped Crusader’s friends take turns bashing him, cursing his memory, and suddenly the hero finds himself in a tiny room with the walls closing in.  Just before he’s crushed, the world resolves itself into a very different vision, a high-tech facility, with both Batman and Robin trapped in glass tubes, being bounced up and down.  It is then that the villain of the piece reveals himself to be, Dr. Tzin-Tzin, the Master of Illusion…who I’ve never heard of.  Apparently, he only has a half dozen or so appearances in the Bat books, though he first showed up some fifty issues ago.

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Ironically, the unbelievable, nighrmarish motivations for Dick’s departure expressed here will go on to become the primary characterization of his relationship to his surrogate father.  Yay for modern comics!

He kindly explains that the League of Assassins had hired him to dispose of Batman after the Dark Knight defeated their first operatives.  It’s great to see the League storyline surface again, but Tzin-Tzin isn’t terribly interesting, though he’s plenty dramatic in this tale.  He informs the Caped Crusader that the up and down movement in their tubes will trigger a bomb as soon as either he or Robin hits 100 repetitions.  At the moment, the Teen Wonder is way ahead, so the villain demands that Batman beg and plead with him to spare the young man.  Instead, without a second thought, the hero begins to accelerate his own movement, surpassing Robin and triggering the explosion!

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Instead of being destroyed, however, he stuck to the top of his tube and dropped his belt down to trigger the bomb, then escaped in the smoke.  Yet, Tzin-Tzin won’t allow him to get away that easily, and the Dark Knight is confronted by the villain’s ‘Deadly Dozen,’ which precipitates a really great looking fight where Batman really shows the physical expertise that marks the definitive interpretation of the character.  Once again, Batman plays Captain America, employing a shield to good effect.  Better watch out; Bruce, Cap may sue!

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Adam’s action looks great as the Maksed Manhunter massacres the minions, and just when the remaining members of the Dozen manage to grab the hero, causing Tzin-Tzin to reveal himself in order to deliver the death blow, Robin makes his move!  The Teen Wonder takes the villain out and allows Batman to finish off the last two killers.  The whole scene makes for a good sequence.

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Yet, when the Dynamic Duo escort their captive out to the Batmobile, he suddenly vanishes, revealing himself to still be in the house…which then explodes in spectacular fashion!  Thus, Tzin-Tzin escapes to trouble our heroes another day.

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This is a fine story, with some really nicely disconcerting action in the first, nightmarish portion of the tale.  That bizarre, dream-like sequence is perhaps the strongest element of the story.  While Batman’s escape from Tzin-Tzin’s trap is nicely handled, as is the fight, what is going on with the villain is just not quite established well enough.  He’s a master of illusions, okay, but the final trap doesn’t really jive with that.  I didn’t really get a great sense of what he’s about, other than being a Fu Manchu clone.  That said, the whole is still a fun read, and it’s nice to see Batman and Robin in action together, if only briefly.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Phantom Bullfighter!”


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This was a pretty intriguing setup for a mystery featuring the Danger Dame in an exotic setting, which is something you don’t see too often.  We join the fire-tressed female in Spain, where she has traveled to collect a rare manuscript for her library.  She’s has joined the fellow donating the text, Don Alvarado, who is a rancher involved with the bullfighting tradition.  They are watching a legendary matador who is now in his twilight, El Granados, when he is suddenly knocked down by a bovine belligerent.  The man’s servant, an aged former bullfighter himself, tries to rescue him, but a young upstart leaps out of the stands and begins to distract the bull.  It is a service for which neither the prideful El Granados or the aged Manolo are grateful.

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Later the bullfighter joins Don Alvarado’s party as they head to the ranch in order to pick out some bulls for his next fights.  That night, someone steals El Granado’s sword, and Batgirl spots the shadowy figure creeping about the house, so she flagrantly endangers her secret identity and changes into Batgirl.  She pursues the thief, but he whips his ‘stiff-brimmed hat’ at her, knocking the fighting female out cold!  That’s right, Batgirl gets another slot on the Headcount courtesy of Oddjob!  It is pretty goofy that a hat, however stiff it’s brim, could knock someone out, but we’ll give it a partial pass as there is a precedent.

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Batgirl awakens an hour later and heads back to her room, defeated.  The next morning, they discover that El Granados’ first choice of bulls was killed with his sword!  The strange slaying sets up quite a mystery, as there are endless questions of motives.  Who would kill the animal and why?  The servant, Manolo, promises to guard the sword with his life, so that night Babs thinks there isn’t much chance of a repeat performance, that is, until she spots a sword missing from the wall of the old house.

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This short little tale manages to set up a pleasantly puzzling mystery, and while it is short on action, Robins uses his time wisely by introducing an interesting cast of characters and giving us lots of suspects to choose from.  I’ve got my suspensions about who and why, and I’ll let y’all know if I’m right when we hit the next issue.  Batgirl’s performance is pretty poor, which, as we’ve seen, is unfortunately often the pattern of these Bat-Family backups.  Despite that, this is a good little story, and it emphasizes the ‘detective’ in Detective Comics.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #203


The_Flash_Vol_1_203“The Flash’s Wife Is A Two-Timer!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

KANNNNIGHER!  You made me believe in you!  You made me think that maybe there was more to you than the hack behind those earlier stories, but it was you!  All along, it was you!

What am I raving about, my curious readers?  Well, we’ve reached the notorious issue of the Flash where Iris’s bat-guano insane retcon occurs.  I knew this was coming, but I had forgotten that it was written by Robert Kanigher.  It’s odd enough that a retcon should show up at this early date in the first place, but what lies inside is even stranger, and one can’t help but wonder how it came about.

The story begins with the Flash taking a trip up to the JLA satellite headquarters where he meets an unusually sullen Superman.  When the Scarlet Speedster explains that he came up early because Iris was out of town and he was a bit lonely, Super-grump replies by saying that he’s an alien alone on Earth and questions what Flash would know about loneliness.  Sheesh!  Of course, Superman grew up on his adopted world from a very young age, so the existential angst seems a bit overblown in context.

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Oddly, the Flash answers that he knows more than the Man of Steel thinks, and proceeds to tell a tale about the strange discovery of his wife’s origins.  Apparently, a few days before, Barry had returned home to find the house deserted and a weird note from his wife.  It read, bizarrely enough, “Darling-can’t stop myself–irresistible force–pulling me–1000 years–future-help me…”  In response, the Fastest Man alive rushes to the basement and hops on his Cosmic Treadmill, racing through time  to the year 2970.

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Once there, he sees a hi-tech aqueduct and decides to get a drink, only to be attacked by jetpack wearing guards firing futuristic (but not 1000 years worth of futuristic) weapons.  Dodging their fusillade, the Flash phases through a mountain to escape.  He emerges in what is described as a “self-contained city,” and notes that it had been “atom-bombed,” which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, seeing as its mostly still there and not, you know, just a radioactive wasteland.  I know that folks had a lot of goofy ideas about what atomic war would be like, but for Heaven’s sake, the Atomic Knights tales were more accurate, and those stories were published over a decade before this one!

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Inside the city, the Crimson Comet discovers ragged survivors of a nuclear war…somehow, and finds that conditions are very grim.  As a siren sounds and the place empties, he also encounters Iris, who begs him to leave her and return home!  When he refuses, she tells him her story, which began that morning when she was cleaning up her father’s lab.  She discovered an amulet she had as a baby, and when she picked it up, it began speaking to her!  It’s the record of Jor-El…er…I mean Eric Russel, who was a scientist of Krypton..er…’Earth West’ in 2970.  Earth East had pretty much defeated his hemisphere-nation, and a nuclear attack was eminent, so he and his wife sent their baby Kal-El…err…that is, Iris, back in time to save her.  The Kents…err…I mean, the Wests, had been praying for a child, and she just materialized out of thin air (good thing she didn’t show up inside a wall or something!), so they adopted her.

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After confronting her father about hiding the truth from her, Iris went home, melodramatically wondering if Barry could still love her even though she’s from the future, which is one of the dumbest sentences I’ve ever read, and I teach freshmen composition….in the Trump era.  Anyway, Iris suddenly felt herself sucked through time and just managed to scrawl that note.  Back in the future, her real parents spot her amulet and realize their daughter has returned.  They tell her about the current state of the world, which is really rather unintentionally funny.  Apparently, all the big nations wiped each other out, so the world is now ruled by…Laos.  That’s right!  It’s a hilariously random choice, though I suppose Laos was much more on the American mind in 1970 than in 2017.

Shortly after being reunited, the family is forced to part again when their Earth-East ruler spots Iris through a spy satellite and claims her as his own, announcing that he’ll wipe out the entire city if she doesn’t come with him.  Of course, the Flash isn’t about to let some futuristic fascist carry off his wife without a fight, so he challenges this fellow, Sirik, to a duel when he arrives.  We get some moments between Barry and Iris which are supposed to be sweet, but the context is just so ludicrous that even this old softie didn’t get misty eyed.

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Ming the Merciless…err…I mean Sirik, tells the Scarlet Speedster that he has to get past his men in order to earn the right to face him.  Barry moves at normal speed until he’s out of sight, then proceeds to blitz baldy’s boys.  The action looks okay, but Novick misses the opportunity to make the setting of the city-tower interesting and unique, filling most of his panels with blank backgrounds.

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Finally reaching Sirik, the Flash finds the fiend holding Iris hostage.  Instead of just shooting his antagonist, the dictator tells him to stand behind a wall, for some reason, and then starts to fire.  The Scarlet Speedster slips through the wall and belts the villain.  However, he’s the world’s worst loser and triggers a nuclear holocaust to kill them all in response.  The Flash zips across the world, somehow knowing  where the missiles are launching from, and destroys them all, as well as their missile sites.  This puts both hemispheres on equal footing, and the hero lectures the gathered East and West folks, telling them that they have to learn to live together or risk completely destroying the world.  Finally, the happy couple returns home, promising to visit the future-in-laws from time to time.  The story ends with Super-buzzkill continuing to whine about being all alone (despite the fact that he has a mother, a father, and an adopted sister, not to mention a bunch of bullet-proof, presumably nearly immortal pets).

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Interestingly, the issue includes a note acknowledging that Kanigher just swiped Superman’s origin for Iris, so at least he’s honest about that.  Nonetheless, this is just a silly issue.  The story is just so colossally unnecessary, adding a completely useless complication to Iris’s origins that contributes nothing to her characterization or her relationship, and I’m pretty sure it’s one that rarely if ever produces anything worthwhile in future comics.  If you’re going to create intentional parallels to another story, especially one in your own universe, you really need to do it for a reason.  The ring structure in Beowulf, with mirrored encounters recurring throughout the poem, serves important narrative purposes.  To use a comics example, the origin for Earth-3’s Alexander Luthor Jr. intentionally mirrors that of Superman to interesting effect in Crisis on Infinite Earths, completing the inversion of hero/villain and stretching it all the way back to the beginning/ending in a very clever piece of writing.

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Thanks, Super-Sourpuss!

On its own terms, the tale is just weak, not focusing on the ‘possible future’ angle enough for the parable of East and West destroying one another to have much impact.  There is actually interesting work to be done there, and the fact that the story ends, not exactly with a defeat of the villainous East, though that’s there, but with a plea for peace, could be worthwhile.  Yet, it’s shoe-horned into one panel, and the real consequences of the war are glossed over throughout.  The character moments between Iris and Barry that were supposed to be sweet just come off as silly and saccharine as well.  It feels much more like a story from the 50s or early 60s than it does a comic from 1971, and the final resolution with the Flash just casually jaunting across the entire planet in a heartbeat to destroy the nukes just smacks of Silver Age excess.  The story isn’t terrible, just mediocre and goofy.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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And that does it for today!  We had a solid set of Bat-tales and a ridiculous Flash issue.  I really just can’t figure Kanigher out.  There are several lesser lights working at DC during this period, though there is plenty of amazing talent.  I find myself groaning a bit whenever I see Dorfman’s name in the credits, as he tends to produce pretty silly stories, but Kanigher is a bit different.  He writes goofy comics like this one, yet he can also turn out some solid, even great work.  It’s something of a mystery.  Anyway, I hope you’ll join me again soon for another step in my journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Batgirl finally helps Aquaman break his streak as the sole new addition to the Wall of Shame and gets her second spot on the Headcount.  I’m actually a little surprised that the Bat-family hasn’t featured on this list more often, as I remembered the ‘ol noggin’ knock being a common device in these stories.  At least Aquaman has some company at the end of the list now!

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:

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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: December 1970 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got Detective Comics and The Flash, two books, four stories.  There are some fascinating real-world connections to these comics, methinks.  Check them out below and see if they ring any bells for you!

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.


Detective Comics #406


detective_comics_406“Your Servant of Death — Dr. Darrk!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Explosive Circle!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

In our headline tale we have the next iteration of the growing saga of the League of Assassins!  From auspicious beginnings last issue, the promising setup receives further development in this story, and O’Neil teases an epic adventure that will unfold in these pages in months to come.  This particular part of that whole, like its introduction, doesn’t quite have the grandeur of that which would eventually develop, but it’s a fair adventure tale with the added attraction of successfully creating an “impression of depth.”

The story starts off with a bang, literally, as a bomb goes off as shipping magnate Count Orsoni christens the newest ship in his fleet.  The traditional wine bottle is rigged to blow, and the resulting explosion nearly kills the wealthy industrialist.  If we recall, last issue we discovered the League of Assassins was out to get shipping magnates.  Batman remembers this as well, so he travels to Europe in his secret identity.  Conveniently, Bruce Wayne is an old friend of the Count, so he arranges to visit his ailing pal at his estate, where he is being treated privately.  Apparently the Count survived, but he was paralyzed by the blast.

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detective406-04Upon arrival, Wayne is greeted by Mara Thursday, the Count’s cousin, who takes him to the manse.  It is there that he meets a fellow who will figure into the future of the League plot, Dr. Ebenezer Darrk!  With a name like that, he’s got to be a good guy, right?  Well, once again showing blatant disregard for his secret identity, Bruce changes into his ‘work clothes,’ and Batman prowls the night, keeping watch on the Count’s room in the belief that his would-be killers will try again.  As he settles in for his vigil, he hears Mara scream and rushes to her room.  She tells him some story about an attacker that is full of holes, clearly lying to distract him from the Count (I guess we’d call those “alternative facts” today.).  It’s actually a neat sequence, as O’Neil leaves the reader to ponder on how Batman saw through her lies, only explaining the matter later on.

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Can you figure it out?

Anyway, the Dark Knight isn’t fooled, and he races to protect the Count, only to be ambushed by another League Assassin!  This guy is a sling master, firing spiked bullets at the hero, and it takes a clever ruse for Batman to take him out.  The Caped Crusader de-cloaks, rigging his cape and cowl as a decoy to draw the slinger’s fire and allowing him to get the drop on the killer.  It’s a nice display of the character’s resourcefulness.

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One danger surmounted, our hero continues his quest, only to discover Orsoni is missing!  He tracks the nabbed nobleman to a secret passage into ancient catacombs below the estate and discovers his friend in the middle of a stone chamber.  When he approaches, a cloaked figure gets the drop on him, threatening to shoot the Count if Batman doesn’t follow orders.  I wonder who could possibly be under that cloak?  The Law of Conservation of Detail means there’s really only one possibility at this point.  Well, whoever he is, he happily explains to the Masked Manhunter that these Christian catacombs actually have an older origin, once having served as a Roman dungeon, and, somehow, the various torture device of those lousy Latins are still there and in working order.  The super mysterious figure forces Batman into a deathtrap, chaining him to a table and giving him a cord that holds a giant axe above his own head, making the hero his own executioner!

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Of course, the Dark Detective has figured out the same thing we have, and he calls his captor Dr. Darrk, who, in turn, reveals that he is actually the head of the League of Assassins.  Pulling the classic villain move of leaving the hero unattended (what is that, the third time already this month?), Darrk takes off, leaving Batman alone with only a paralyzed man to help him.  Yet, astonishingly, Orsoni claws his way to his hands and knees and crawls, not to the trapped crime fighter, but to a statue of his favorite saint, St. Diona (a fictional saint, for some reason).  With a desperate prayer, the injured man topples the statue, which lands in precisely the right position to protect the Caped Crusader from the blade and yet not crush him with its own stony weight.  It’s a good moment, and the hero is stunned, recognizing the possibility of a miracle in the unlikely series of events (even Batman is more open-minded than Dr. Thirteen!).

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His escape arranged, perhaps with divine intervention, the Dark Knight sets out after the dark-Darrk, snatching up a shield to protect him from the sling-armed slayer.  This proves fortunate, as his foe has recovered, but after a quick shield toss that would make Captain America proud, the Masked Manhunter continues on his way.  He finds a cloaked figure creeping out a window, only to discover that it is Mara, dressed in the Doctor’s robes.  Darrk has already made good his escape!  The Count’s captured cousin, Mara, agrees to spill her guts, and the story ends with Batman taking her and the assassin to the authorities and assuring the Orsoni that he’ll chase Darrk down.

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This is a good story, with some nice mystery and plenty of action.  I often enjoy it when an author invites their readers to solve a mystery themselves.  I’m usually pretty good at that type of exercise, but I have to admit, I didn’t entirely put together the pieces of Mara’s deception.  She claimed that an attacker came in through her window and struck her, but she didn’t see his face.  She was sitting in front of a mirror at the time with a lamp next to her, so she would certainly have seen the man, which Batman realized.  That’s a fun piece of detective work.  The second exotic assassin to do the bidding of the League was another fun element of the story, and I quite enjoyed the possibly miraculous saintly intervention, especially the hero’s cautiously credible reaction to it.  There’s both a nice nod to faith and a solid piece of characterization there.  The real weakness of the issue is the lack of mystery surrounding Darrk and the complete lack of development for him as well.  He’s just sort of generically evil, and he gets so little ‘screen time’ both as a cypher and as a villain that his reveal is pretty much without impact.  Fortunately, O’Neil sets this plot up to get further development, and we know that we’ll see this fellow again.  This is a good second outing for the League of Assassins, and I think I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“The Explosive Circle!”


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Our Batgirl backup for today is an intriguing one because of its connections to social unrest and youth culture.  Interestingly, we’ve got youth involvement and student organization showing up in the Robin story this month at the same time this particular tale makes its appearance with a very different perspective on the phenomenon.  This version touches on questions that are back in the news today, whether peaceful protests are effective and whether or not violence can be justified as a form of protest.  The answers to these questions seem pretty clear to me, and writer Frank Robbins takes more or less the approach that you’d expect.

It all starts with a bomb, just as the headliner does, as a Gotham building explodes, leaving behind a charred clue, a burnt library book that Commissioner Gordon asks his librarian daughter to help him identify.  One would imagine that the police could probably manage that on their own, but sure.  She recognizes the text as “the current rage of the ‘tear down the establishment’ crowd,” a description that is delightful on its own merits, and for the contempt it displays for its subject.  Naturally, Babs decides to pursue this clue on her own, as Batgirl, having remembered the girl who checked this book out, thanks to her photographic memory.  I imagine that particular character trait was mentioned before this issue, but this is the first time I’ve taken notice of it.

Batgirl heads to the girl’s apartment, where the hippies are hanging about in bunches.  The girl, Shelley Simms, blithely informs the fire-tressed crime-fighter that she and her hippy group were planning on protesting her, if they could ever figure out where she lived.  The profound stupidity of that statement is just the beginning and is, of course, indicative of the general mindset of the hippy movement.  That statement really struck me, because, of course hippies would have picketed superheroes if they actually existed in the 60s.  In fact, I imagine superheroes would almost certainly be protested today as well.

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detective406-25Anyway, when Batgirl confronts the silly Miss Simms with the fact that her book was found at the site of the bombing, she suddenly freaks out and declares, in wonderfully silly 60s slang, “I don’t need your fuzz-fink help–lay off!”  Real smart cookie, this one.  Babs, on the other hand, is actually quite intelligent, so she stakes out the girl’s apartment and tails her when she leaves.  Well, she’s fairly intelligent, as she follows her on the street, rather than swinging across rooftops and the like, so she gets spotted.

Shelley leads her costumed companion to a fiery young man at a theater which is hosting a ridiculous, edgy play, complete with faux protesters and jack-booted thugs to put them down.  Apparently Shelley lent her book to this real winner of a guy.  The young fireplug, Mal, uses the distraction of the performance to have his boys quickly grab the girl detective.  Babs narrowly avoids a trip to the Head-Blow Headcount wall of shame, but she’s eventually brought down anyway.  When she awakens, Batgirl finds herself trapped in a mined basement, and Shelley, the brain-surgeon, is completely surprised that her radical terrorist boyfriend is a bomber and a killer, a revelation that one has to imagine had been presaged before now.

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Well, Gil Kane is back, and with him come the nostrils…so many nostrils.  The art in this backup is generally good, but he does pick some odd angles.  The story itself manages to be engaging and intriguing in its brief seven pages.  Of particular interest is the similarity of the plot to then current events in the form of the Weathermen’s bombing campaign.  The Weathermen were a radical domestic terrorist organization that had its roots in political movements originating on college campuses.  They were involved in bombings of public buildings and monuments from the late 60s through the late 70s.  In fact, they had been behind a bombing this very year, in October. Their brilliant, infallible plan was to blow things up until they magically created a communist utopia.  Incredibly, this didn’t work out too well.

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So, radicalized youth movements were in the news in 1970, and the experience of the stupid Miss Simms was likely one that many young people shared, as they watched political movements they were involved in splinter, change, and darken.  This particular comic story doesn’t capture all of that nuance, of course, but in these seven pages Robbins manages to evoke the destructive side of the counter-cultural movement and set up an engaging plot.  My only real complaint is how incredibly annoying Shelley is.  I wish that Batgirl had just dangled her off of a building instead of bothering to tail her.  The girl’s venomous response to Babs’ attempt to help her and the increasing stupidity that followed rankled me.  I suppose I should have more patience with the character; after all, I was 18 once, and as stupid yet convinced of my own intelligence as ever a teenager was.  Nonetheless, I don’t have much patience for that kind of nonsense these days.  Shelley’s foolishness aside, I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #202


the_flash_vol_1_202“The Satan Circle”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Accusation”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got another Kanigher story, and one more clue to figure out what kind of writer he is.  This particular yarn won’t put the debate to rest, however, as it is neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad.  Notably, it features another story seemingly based on the Manson Family murders of a few years back.  Folks who have been following this feature for a while may remember that we encountered a Green Lantern/Green Arrow story earlier in 1970 that dealt with the same events in interesting ways.  This particular comic takes a decidedly less serious slant on events, but there are some creepy parallels that I imagine are not accidental.

Despite that, the headline tale begins sweetly enough, with a nice domestic scene between Barry and Iris Allen.  Iris is headed out of town to cove a spate of disappearances in Hollywood dance clubs that seem to be related to a movie about a “black magic cult.”  I was a bit surprised at the reference to evil Satanic cults hiding right under the surface of everyday America way back here in 1970.  It’s at least a decade too early for the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 80s, when Americans would see Satan worshipers under every rock.  The 80s was a weird time, guys.  Anyway, the couple share a charming farewell, with Barry, of course, late for work, but still stopping long enough to pick a rose for Iris to wear in her hair.  As I’ve said before, I always enjoy these little scenes, and Kanigher does a good job of making use of this one, both for exposition and for setting up a Chekhov’s Gun for later in the issue.

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That evening, Barry receives a frantic phone call that freezes the blood in his veins, as he hears Iris desperately cry for help before the call is cut off.  In the blink of an eye, he’s speeding across the country as the Flash.  He arrives at the home of a Hollywood director, where Iris was to begin her investigation, only to find it ablaze, with a burning satanic effigy in the yard.  The Scarlet Speedster also finds a body in the pool, and he has a bad moment where he thinks it might be Iris.  Inside the mansion, he discovers half a dozen more victims, each wearing a devil mask, but with no sign of his wife among them.  A panicked search of the place finally presents a clue, when he finds her rose next to a phone upstairs, revealing that she has been kidnapped!

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The Crimson Comet sets out to search for a lead, visiting the suspiciously Satanic ‘discotheques’ where the missing kids had last been seen.  It’s quite odd to see the Flash dance with various club girls, as if he’s trying to blend in.  I think the bright red superhero costume and super speed might give you away there, Barry.

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In between some of his visits, the speedster is ambushed by a motorcycle gang who are definitely not the Hell’s Angels.  No, they’re the totally unrelated Hell’s Imps.  You might think that a biker gang would be a poor match for an honest-to-goodness superhero, but they have a strange gas in their exhaust that affects Barry, slowing him down.  He still manages to escape, arriving at ‘Pluto’s Palace,’ which looks just like the first place, only to meet a sultry cage dancer who promises to lead him to the Satan Circle!

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A rapid midnight race leads him to a seemingly deserted house occupied by robed cultists.  It is, of course, a trap, and his guide answers to the leader of the group, who claims to be an incarnation of Lucifer himself.  He looks a bit more like Vincent Price to me.  The cultists reveal that Iris is their prisoner and they plan to sacrifice her for a dark ritual.  Well, the Flash should be able to take a bunch of bathrobe wearing weirdos, right?  Wrong.  The gas he inhaled earlier had a delayed effect and begins to weaken him even further.  He tries to carry Iris away, only to collapse under he weight.

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Desperate, the Scarlet Speedster devises a very clever escape.  He drums his fingers on the old wooden floor at super speed, so fast that the motion is invisible, until the rotten boards collapse under the Allens, sending them tumbling into the (relatively) clean air of the basement.  Able to clear his head, the Flash is ready for round 2.

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Kanigher tries to create a bit more tension by trapping his hero between cultists armed with explosive bullets and the arriving motorcycle gang, but he doesn’t really have enough space left to pull it off.  Out of necessity, the Sultan of Speed wraps up the villains in a half page.  The story ends with a nice little exchange between the Allens back at home, where Iris points out that the Satan Circle was no match for the stronger circles, the wedding bands that binds the two of them together.  Aww.

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This is a solid story, but it lacks a certain something to make it really ‘good.’  The villainous Satan Circle receive practically no development at all.  We don’t even know if they actually had any mystic powers or not.  For all we know, they’re about as magical as your average modern day “witch.”  Nonetheless, the Circle racks up a pretty terrible body count, and I’m not entirely sure that is earned by the story.  Despite that weakness, the Flash’s search for Iris and his fear and uncertainty about her fate was handled pretty well, other than the incongruous moments with the frantic hero stopping to dance in various clubs.  Probably the most interesting element of the story is the cultural currency it carries.  While the Satan Circle as we meet them has little in common with the Manson Family, the scene of a Hollywood big-shot’s home turned into a charnel house, with graffiti and strange signs left behind, certainly evokes the Family’s murder of the Tate family.  Add to that the constant undercurrent of fear about ‘devil music’ and its influence on young people, and you’ve got a story that is clearly drawing from the zeitgeist.  Whatever its connections, the comic itself is entertaining, if not terribly impressive, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Legendary skinner, Freedom Reborn member, and all around awesome guy, Daglob, just clued me in to an event that almost has to have been a major influence on the creation of this story.  Apparently, in 1969, Anton LaVey began to popularize the ‘Satanism’ movement, starting with the publication of The Satanic Bible that very year.  What’s more, 1970 saw the premiere of a documentary on the phenomenon, and apparently Satanists and the occult suddenly flooded the zeitgeist, often becoming, to quote my friend, “likely suspects in movies and TV shows.”  Now, Satanism, especially LaVey’s signature brand, is nothing more than jumped up Epicureanism with a bunch of nonsensical occult bells and whistles.  Nonetheless, it certainly had the potential to seem terribly frightening to mainstream America at the time.

It descends from the Romantic Period’s misreading of Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost and similar lionizing of the “Satanic Hero,” a character who rebels against social norms and cultural constraints, pursuing their own desires.  The poetWilliam Blake famously claimed that Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (“Marriage of Heaven and Hell”).  For a fairly clear refutation of that reading, check out C.S. Lewis’s A Preface to Paradise Lost.  It’s a short work and a wonderful read on its own merits, especially if you’re interested in literature and in epic in particular.

Anyway, I seem to have wandered somewhat astray from my point.  This revelation puts the Flash tale in a rather different light, doesn’t it?  Now we can see it reflecting a general anxiety about the encroachment of strange and seemingly sinister beliefs, as well as the clear and frightening evidence of social decay and upheaval represented by such madness as the Manson Murders.  That’s a fascinating new perspective!  Thanks Daglob!


“The Accusation”


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I was delighted to discover another Steve Skeates penned story in this month’s offerings, and this off-beat little backup didn’t disappoint.  It’s odd, but it’s an interesting read.  From the very beginning, this story establishes itself as a bit unusual, as in the opening pages, we join, not our protagonist, but a man named Carson, who dreams of a ghostly Kid Flash tormenting him for a hidden crime.  flash-v1-202p22The spectral speedster, in a nicely drawn sequence, accuses Carson of murdering a young man, but the dreamer insists upon his innocence.  When he awakes, he’s disturbed by the dream and can’t get it out of his head.  He remembers that a kid was killed by a hit and run driver the night before, but he’s certain that he stayed home last night…or is he?

Meanwhile, we check in with Wally West in school, where apparently he’s being taught by Clark Kent.  As a teacher, the brief little scene, where a daydreaming Wally is asked a question and frankly admits he wasn’t’ paying attention made me smile.  What unusual and refreshing honesty!  Having survived the soul-crushing weight of high school for another day (sheesh, as bad as it is for a normal kid, think what torment it must be if you have superpowers and routinely save the world!), Wally switches to his costume and spends the night tracking down a car-stripping gang.

Meanwhile, our mysterious Mr. Carson’s sleep is troubled, as he has another dream along the same theme, where the ghostly Kid Flash calls him a murderer and mentions stolen jewels!  Once more awakening in panic, he goes for a drive to try and calm his nerves, and the two halves of our plot rush towards a collision.

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Kid Flash, in the meantime, has managed to find his pigeons, and he smashes into them at super speed, carefully using only a light blow, for fear of killing them by striking them at full velocity, which is a nice touch.  We cut back and forth between our plots, with the dream-convicted Carson slowly remembering what he had repressed from the previous night.  He had acquired some stolen jewels, and driving home in a hurry, had run over an innocent kid rather than risk crashing and being caught with the goods, a cold-blooded act of murder!  He struggles against the returned memories as Wally struggles against the thieves, and he too almost joins the Headcount as he gets distracted and takes a head-blow.  Fortunately for him, he recovers and ties up the criminals for the police.

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Yet, as he’s walking home, a little shaky from the blow, Carson, driving erratically in his mounting dread, spots the boy and recognizes him as the spectral figure from his dreams.  The dream-tormented may-be-murderer panics and, frozen by the sight, smashes his car into a pole, dying in the impact.  Like Lancelot in Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” Kid Flash, unaware and with grim curiosity, discovers the person who died from sight of him.

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I’m glad to see Kid Flash return as a backup for the Flash.  I like the character, and I am excited to see more of his adventures.  This particular yarn is an interesting start to the feature.  Taken as a story bound by the more restrictive limitations of fiction as verisimilitude that we’re used to in the modern day, which tries to get as close to the real, rational world (outside of obvious difference, like the existence of superheroes) as possible, this tale wouldn’t work.  We’re left asking, ‘why does Carson see Kid Flash, if the boy knows nothing about his crime?’  Yet, a normal, logical plot is not what Skeates is going for here.  He leaves just enough mystery and mysticism in the story to make the strange coincidences functional, to make them serve as clues to something uncanny under the surface.  In this instance, the questions we’re left with are, in fact, part of the story’s purpose.  It’s short, but it gives us just enough, just barely enough, to work as a story, and a reader, in remarkably few pages, travels from sympathizing with the unknown Mr. Carson to marveling at the coldness and viciousness of his crime.  It would have been nice to learn more about him, but the story works, even so.  Dillin’s art is fantastically moody, and he really captures the anguish of Carson’s brief journey from ignorance to desperation.  I’ll give the backup 4 Minutemen, as it was intriguing and enjoyable.

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That will do it for this post, and I hope y’all enjoyed the read!  We’ve got a pretty solid pair of books here, with both youth culture and satanism in the mix!  The contrast between this month’s Robin and Batgirl’s stories really makes for a fascinating snapshot of the time, representing both the hope and the fear of the growing power of youth culture.  Once again, current events make their presence known in DC Comics, leaving their mark on this fantasy world.  I hope you’ll join me soon for another day’s journey, Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!