Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 6)

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141


Jimmy_Olsen_141

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


World’s Finest #205


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

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


Final Thoughts:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 5)

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Greetings dear readers!  Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a very unusual and memorable pair of books to cover in this batch, for better or worse.  We have the JLA guest starring in Lois Lane (sort of) and the beginning of the infamous Don Rickles appearance in Jimmy Olsen.  The Superman family books are rather bonkers this month, it seems.  Join me and see what you can make of the madness that follows!

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 #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111


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“The Dark Side of the Justice League!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Ray Holloway
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artists: Dick Giordano and Gaspar Saldino

“Law of the 100!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gray Morrow
Inker: Gray Morrow
Letterer: Ray Holloway

This comic is just a delightful mess, from the cover onward.  I admit, I’ve been excitedly eyeing this image in my reading list.  It is just such a fun design, with (almost) the entire League in action and the unusual sight of Lois playing Gulliver to superheroic Lilliputians.  It’s the type of concept we’ve seen before, but not that often.  Unsurprisingly, Dick Giordano creates a lovely, energetic piece, and the cover gets bonus points for being an accurate representation of the tale within.  It’s an effective image, and I know I’d have been curious to know what was going on in this book!

What a tale that is!  Fascinatingly, Kanigher uses this issue to tie his work on the supporting Superman titles into the emergent Fourth World mythos that Kirby is currently creating, weaving in elements from the King’s Jimmy Olsen run.  It’s interesting to see creators embracing the New Gods this quickly.  It all starts innocently enough, with Lois arriving at the beach for a relaxing day off, only to be secretly observed by…the JLA!?  Well, not exactly.  As she dozes on the sand, tiny doppelgängers of the League rush out and, using their unique powers, bind her down and put a strange liquid on her lips.  As she begins to stir, they rush into hiding, leaving her none-the-wiser.  The sequence is great fun and really nicely done.

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The next day, Lois is out covering a story when she notices a passing armored truck and somehow realizes that it is stuffed with gangsters.  She calls out a warning to Superman, allowing him to bag the crooks, and the Man of Steel finds himself wondering if his lady love has developed some type of 6th sense that might protect her from danger.  If so, he muses, he would be able to marry her, but he brushes the thought aside and flies off.  In a charming little touch, the women Lois had been interviewing encourage her not to give up hope.

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Later on, the girl reporter is on location at Metropolis park, covering the arrival of a mysterious statue.  Once again, she has a flash of insight and realizes that the art is fake, really a set of dangerous robotic weapons, and she is able to warn the Metropolis Marvel once more.  Smashing the rampaging robots, Superman thinks that Lois must have developed a new ability, so he gives in and kisses her.  As soon as their lips meet, he goes insane, beginning his own destructive rampage!

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Lois rushes to her car and uses a carphone (!) to contact, of all people, the head of the D.N.A. Project!  That’s right, she appeals for help to the secret government DNA research base in the Wild Area, introduced in Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen.  Apparently Superman brought her there to give a genetic sample…for some reason.  The sober scientist quickly forms a plan and tells the rattled reporter to go to the Daily Planet and await instructions.

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Well, that’s not the reaction you want after a kiss!

Unfortunately, later that night, after dozing at her desk, the journalist awakens to a strange sight: the littlest Leaguers, who kindly explain their plot.  Apparently, they were created from stolen DNA by the Project’s evil opposite number, the Monster Factory, and are under orders from their Apokoliptian masters.  They were to plant a special poison on Lois’s lips and, by faking her new ability, convince Superman to kiss her, thus dooming himself.

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When the ravishing reporter tries to flee, they attack and mock her, but a package left by the Project opens in the struggle, revealing an octet of tiny Loises, each inexplicably armed with a device to counter the abilities of the heinous pint-sized heroes.  One has a chip of gold Kryptonite to rob the Miniature Man of Might of his powers (where in the world would they have gotten that?), while another has a yellow glove to get past the little Lantern’s ring.  Some of them are a bit less direct, like a laser pistol that cuts the straps of Hawkman’s wings as opposed to…you know…just shooting him.

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It’s an exceedingly silly scene, but it is capped when the fun-sized Flash kicks up a cloud of dust while trying to escape, causing Lois to sneeze him into defeat.  With the miniature minions beaten, the reporter finds another gift from the Project, an antidote lipstick, which she dons before running out to kiss Superman a second time, restoring his mind.  The tale ends with the two strolling away, the Man of Steel not remembering a thing.

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This is an insane issue, but it is also a lot of fun.  There’s some really neat elements, as Kanigher tries to bring the mythos Kirby is creating out into the wider DCU.  Of course, being Kanigher, he does it in a fairly goofy way.  On the other hand, it does actually mesh surprisingly well with what we saw in Kirby’s own book.  The tiny clones, the stolen DNA, the mysterious machinations of the malevolent Monster Factory: it all works, after a fashion.  Yet, the writing is more than a little sloppy, with a lot of the details coming completely out of left field and the whole thing lacking internal consistency.  Why in the world does the Project have tiny-anti JLA weapons on hand.  How do they know they’re facing an evil army of mini-mes in the first place?  Whose idea was the ridiculously elaborate plan to get Superman to kiss Lois?  If they can clone tiny Leaguers, why not just make full sized ones to take out the originals?  Kanigher doesn’t bother to answer any of those questions.

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Look at the individuality and personality on the faces of these background characters.

Once again, Roth’s art is simply lovely, and while he had previously seemed to struggle a bit with the superheroic elements of these comics, despite his success with the romantic and dramatic moments, he turns in a really nice looking Justice League, even if they are tiny.  Particularly impressive, as usual, is his face-work, like in the image above.  The art definitely helps this tale, even as goofy as the story is.  Taken all together, this is a very entertaining, if bonkers, story, but it goes to show that nobody can really stack up to Kirby except Kirby.  He actually made something mostly coherent out of the madness of the Project.  Kanigher?  Not so much.  Despite his efforts, this feels more like a new gimmick and less like a facet of a new mythology.  I’ll give this entertaining fit of silliness 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s fun, but it’s flawed.

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“Law of the 100”


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The real highlight of this issue is its Rose and Thorn backup, which is just plain excellent for the limited space it has to work with.  It features the art of Gray Morrow, which is a big departure from Ross Andru’s and a real treat.  The story itself really shows off its star.  It starts with a classic cheat image, as we see the tenacious Thorn shot down by a new figure.  Of course, this is revealed to simply be a test of the 100’s newest killer using a mannequin (although, that mannequin seems to be moving a whole lot for an inanimate object.  The fresh-faced fink in question is apparently Leo Lester, the son of one of the organization’s best gunmen.  They tell the boy that his father was betrayed to the cops but that he’s destined to take his place, and then they send him after the Thorn with his father’s gun.

On the street, the kid attempts to ambush the Nymph of Night, but she’s too good.  She manages to toss a smoke thorn (Batman’s going to sue!), and she easily takes him out.  The sequence is just beautiful, with Morrow delivering a wonderfully realistic sense of movement and presence to his figures.  Look at the motion in the Thorn’s body on this page.  Well, artwork aside, the vigilante is stunned to discover that her attacker is a youth, and she tries to reason with him.  This is actually one of the weaknesses of Morrow’s art, as the gunman doesn’t actually look that young.

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Unfortunately, just then another 100 hit squad opens up on the both of them, the kid having failed his job.  Strangely, the gunsles are hidden on a mobile merry-go-round.  It’s essentially a tiny carousel mounted on a truck.  Crazy!  I guess they really had these things, but I’d never seen one.  It’s an interesting and rather whimsical choice for a ruthless gang of murderers.  Criminals in the DCU have class!  Of course, no matter how charming their costuming, they are still trying to shoot the Vixen of Vengeance, and she doesn’t take that too kindly, so she tosses an explosive thorn, blowing the car/carousel away.

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Somehow this doesn’t kill the thugs, but it does attract the cops.  Not wanting to hand her young assassin over because she hopes she can reach him, the Thorn hauls him to a secluded spot on the waterfront.  As part of this scene, we get a really interesting moment where the Baleful Beauty’s two personalities are in conflict, with her Rose persona wanting to help the boy and the Thorn identity being much less sympathetic.  It’s a neat touch.

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After her internal debate, the Nymph of Night tries to persuade the captive kid that the 100 know no loyalty, but he refuses to believe her until he’s ambushed by another team of hitters from the gang.  Once again, the Thorn acts to save the punk’s life, tossing out a set of flash grenade-thorns and taking out the gunmen in a nice panel, this time aided by Leo.  As they run from gangster reinforcements, the boy promises to tell his savior why he really agreed to hunt her.

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This little backup is really quite good.  It’s a breezy but effective story, with a healthy dose of action.  The Thorn comes off really well throughout, seeming competent and dangerous and generally living up to her hype.  It’s great to see her using her gadgets, taking out her foes like Batman.  It makes for some exciting reading.  Meanwhile, the heart of the plot with the kid turned killer is fairly interesting.  I’m curious what else is going on with him.

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Yet, a big part of what makes this particular backup so great is Gray Morrow’s exceptional art.  He’s got got a very unusual style for DC at this time, and the realistic detail that he puts into things like the Thorn’s hair as she fights and runs, or the shift in fabric is really cool.  In general, this tale just looks lovely.  There’s not a whole lot here, but nonetheless, it is a really enjoyable read.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, about the highest score a backup can get.  Kanigher is continuing to do really solid work in these backups, however bonkers his feature scripts may be.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139


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“The Guardian Fights Again!!!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack KirbyE. and Nelson Bridwell

When you think of cosmic adventure and mind-bending epics, what’s the first name that comes to mind?  Why, Don Rickles, of course!  What, it isn’t?  Well, join the club.  This issue and the next might just be the wackiest point in the Fourth World saga…and also perhaps the lowest, or at least the most nonsensical.  For some inexplicable reason, the King essentially takes a break from his myth-making, his larger than life story about the clash between superhuman forces of good and evil, to do a two issue arc featuring Don Rickles and his equally inexplicable doppelgänger.  Even the cover is a mess.  If you thought some of the previous covers were crowded with copy, you hadn’t seen anything yet!  Yikes!  There are more words in that image than in the entirety of any two modern comics.  The art itself is okay but it’s barely got any room to work with.

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Inside, it gets even stranger.  It begins with the Guardian being tested by Tommy’s father at the Project, run through a thorough examination before being allowed to go into action.  Though the tests show nothing wrong with the cloned hero, the doctor is still a bit hesitant to give him a clean bill of health because this copy of Jim Harper shares a mysterious abnormality in his brain with the rest of the clones produced at the Project.  Once again, I find something rather sinister in this scene that I doubt Kirby intended, but there is definitely something a little unsettling about the setup.  It seems to beg for development, but I don’t think it was ever really touched on again.  Despite this, the Guardian is given a chance to head back to Metropolis with Superman, and the Legion is super excited about teaming up with their fathers’ idol.

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jimmyolsen139-11Unfortunately, only Superman, Jimmy, and the Guardian make the trip in the Whiz Wagon, while the kids remain behind, quarantined and due to be tested because Gabby picked up a cold.  Isn’t that sort of closing the barn door after the cows have gotten out, especially if you let the others go?  Nonetheless, the scene is pretty funny, as Gabby’s fellows pelt him with newspapers for landing them in stir.  Note Flippa Dippa who, for reasons known only to himself and Kirby’s fevered imagination, is wearing his wetsuit under his hospital gown.  Their salvation comes in a strange but entertaining form, as Scrappy finds one of the tiny mini-Scrapper paratroopers has hitched a ride in his hair and agrees to help them break out.

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The Whiz Wagon wings its way back to Metropolis, and when they get back, Superman zooms off to resume his secret identity so that Clark can be ready to receive these visitors.  He and Jimmy realize that Morgan Edge is behind a lot of their troubles and plan to have it out with their new boss.  Yet, the evil Edge has more gimmicky problems at the moment, as, and stay with me here, he is trying to work out a contract with Don Rickles, but he somehow has to deal with ‘Goody’ Rickles, who is on his research staff and is inexplicably the entertainer’s spitting image.  Despite having the same last name, there’s no indication that these two are related either.

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For some reason, Goody barges in at that moment, unaccountably dressed in a cape and tights.  Apparently, some of the guys in his office told him to wear it in order to shoot a TV pilot.  I…I don’t even know where to begin.  His dialog is just nonsensical.  Sometimes almost funny, but mostly indistinct and unclear.  The malicious mogul instantly hates the wacko, and for once I can’t blame him, and sends him out on a fake assignment that is actually a trap.

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jimmyolsen139-20Shortly thereafter, Clark and Jimmy arrive, demanding to see Edge, but they get sent out on the same assignment, arriving at the park in short order.  There they find a strange craft, and when Clark investigates, Goody moronically starts pressing buttons, suddenly causing the device to vanish!  The remaining protagonists are then attacked by Intergang thugs, and the Guardian goes into action while Goody says things that are ostensibly supposed to be funny.  The cloned champion gives a good showing, tearing through his assailants, and even Jimmy gives a good account of himself.  Kirby has him keep his foes busy through athleticism and cleverness rather than simply outbrawling them, which is fitting.  Goody does a comedy routine as he accidentally thwarts the bad guys.  Unfortunately, all their efforts are for naught, as one of Intergang’s bigwigs, the aptly named “Ugly” Mannheim, grabs Jimmy and holds him hostage until the others surrender.

Meanwhile, Clark is stuck in the strange craft, which has shifted into another dimension, nicely rendered by Kirby, who had a gift for alien vistas.  Back in Morgan Edge’s office, he orders Mannheim to dispose of his captives.  Instead, he feeds them.  Goody makes with more ‘humor,’ but the scene is salvaged by a pretty dramatic turn.  Ugly casually lights the entire table aflame with but a touch of his cigar, and then announces that the food was laced with a powerful accelerant, which is now in his captives’ systems.  He releases them, warning the three that in 24 hours they’ll all go up like Roman candles.

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That’s a wonderful villain image.

jimmyolsen139-28Goody’s indignation, not at the murder attempt, but at being dropped off out of his way is genuinely funny, but it’s one of the few moments in this comic that can actually be described that way.  He’s more grating and bizarre than humorous, with some of his dialog reminding you of a joke in the way that a badly hummed tune can remind you of a song.  There are elements in common, but the effect is rather different.  The story itself has a lot of good qualities.  However silly the setup, the Newsboy Legion making their escape is pretty fun, as is their banter.  Ugly Mannheim is instantly memorable, and the sequence with his unusual methods of dealing with his prisoners is actually quite good.  It’s nice to see the Guardian in action again as well, but all of this is overshadowed for some reason by the utterly incongruous presence of Goody, who makes no real sense and just doesn’t fit in this story.  Kirby’s art is quite good in this issue, unlike the last New Gods, and he turns in a lot of lovely and energetic moments, as well as some great character work with the Legion.  In the end, it’s rather hard to rate this issue, as it is just so very strange and feels more like two separate stories mashed together than a coherent whole.  I suppose I’ll give this mad mess 2.5 Minutemen, as the good elements are strong enough to partially offset the perplexing presence of ‘Goody’ Rickles.  It’s still a fun read, and interesting in context, but boy is it strange.

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P.S.: So, how did this flight of insanity come into being?  Check out the article here for some nice background, but here’s the short version.  Apparently Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman, Kirby’s assistants, were huge fans of then popular insult-comedian Don Rickles, and they thought it would be fun to have him appear in a comic for a few panels and insult Superman.  They wrote up some dialog and showed it to Jack, who loved the idea.  He, in turn, took it to Carmine Infantino, who never met a gimmick he didn’t like.  The editor got permission from Rickles and decided that this needed to be promoted and made into a two-issue feature.  Then, out of the unfathomable, beautiful madness of Kirby’s mind came what followed.  Apparently, Rickles himself was none-too-pleased with the final result, and I can’t say I really blame him.

 


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Color me surprised, but this is the second month in a row without a single new head-blow to add to the tally.  I’m thinking August has got to break the streak.

 


Final Thoughts:


July was an unusual month, filled with books that were not necessarily good, but were certainly memorable and, at least in some ways, important.  There were some genuinely enjoyable yarns along the way as well, of course, but this month gave us several significant comics that, though they were flawed as stories, were important to the DCU or interesting reflections of concerns in the zeitgeist of their time.  Even some of the sillier stories like this issue of Lois Lane are worth noting because of how they are evidence of the growth of the setting or the genre.  In Lois’s case, her bizarre adventure introduces the King’s Fourth World to the DC Universe at large, for however awkward that meeting might be.

Kirby’s Fourth World itself continues to develop in intriguing ways.  This month we get to see Darkseid emerge a bit more into the foreground, and we see a little of his personality and the nature of his rule in the machinations of his servants in this Forever People.  We also see the notable creation of another black character, still very much a rare occurrence at this point, though it is a moment of dubious honor, considering that he is the Black Racer.  On the plus side, his creation does point to an awareness of DC’s lack of diversity and some of the early, if halting, steps to try and make the DC Universe a bit more reflective of the nation that spawned it.

Most strikingly for me, this month gives us the story of Glorious Godfrey and a fascinating tale about the dangers of surrendering your will and moral judgement to the strong man and the demagogue.  This lesson was well learned in the mid-20th Century with the rise of fascism and World War II, but the allure of having someone do your thinking for you is a strong and pervasive one.  Human beings don’t like to think, as Socrates knew to his sorrow, and they always look for ways to escape that onerous onus.  I see this constantly in my students, but unfortunately, this trend is very much in evidence in the modern world, far beyond the classroom.  The ever increasing tribalism of our politics in the U.S. is the clearest example of this tendency I can imagine.

Notably, the viciously divided culture of 1971 seems to have produced similar anxieties about such mindless adherence to those that promise easy answers, as last month’s JLA issue demonstrated.  The connection between these books point to more than just Jack Kirby’s memories of the War years as being the source for this story.  In the era of George Wallace and numerous other strong men on all sides of the political spectrum, I suppose this should be no surprise.

Fascinatingly, this month’s Green Lantern deals, in a way, with a similar theme, though it is not really the focus of the story.  O’Neil finally turned in an issue that I really enjoyed, however goofy it might be.  It helps that the book takes the tack of satire rather than direct (and, let’s face it, shrill and self-righteous) critique.  Most notably, with this issue the author moves away from racism, pollution, and the other crippling social issues of the time, and focuses instead on the growing disposable, artificial nature of modern life, with its pillorying of the plastic peril of the Black Hand.  This is another topic that certainly resonates in the modern day, though in a less dire fashion.

Also in the zeitgeist of the day, the plight of Native Americans remains in our comics for this month with the conclusion to Dorfman’s Superman tale in Action Comics #402.  This is another prime example of a bit of a disconnect between the significance and quality of some of this month’s books, as the story itself is more than a little messy and goofy, lacking the dignity and seriousness of the first chapter.  Nonetheless, Dorfman’s heart is in the right place, and his work points to a growing concern in the culture at large, a desire to see native peoples given justice and a fair break, something we certainly still haven’t mastered.

This comic illustrates one of the difficulties in tackling social issues in the superhero genre.  As Superman easily wraps up all of the problems in a few pages, captures the villain, and provides a safe, stable, and successful future for the downtrodden tribesmen, we can’t help but feel that the reality of the struggle of such peoples is given rather short shrift.  This was one of my complaints with the previous attempt at such a story by Robert Kanigher.  It is a difficult and tenuous thing to treat a real tragedy in a setting where sun gods can juggle planets, stop bullets, and reverse time.  How do you honor the suffering of such a situation with a character than can resolve any problem with the snap of his fingers?  It can be done, as Kanigher’s racial story proves, but it is a difficult proposition.

DC’s flagship character was not just involved in attempts at social relevance this month.  Denny O’Neil’s continuing efforts to revitalize Superman are also on display, giving us attempts to humanize the archetypally superhuman Man of Steel.  While the resultant story is uneven, it’s an interesting continuation of the author’s efforts over the last several months, as his weakened hero has had to struggle with newfound limitations and doubts.  While the changes seem fairly mild to a modern audience, saturated with ‘bold new directions’ to the point where every radical shift just blends into the background, I have to imagine that O’Neil’s efforts were pretty groundbreaking for the venerable and traditionally very stable Superman.  Judging from the letters pages in these issues, that seems to be borne out.  Contemporary readers were reacting, and quite strongly, to the stories O’Neil is slinging.

Finally, as one of my radical readers pointed out, the appearance this month of a General Patton analogue in G.I. Combat is very likely a result of the relatively recent release of the film, Patton, the previous year.  Glancing over the plot summary of the movie, I’m certain he was right, as there are some really striking similarities between it and the story in question.  So here we have another quite clear example of the culture influencing the comics directly.

All of these stories make for a memorable if uneven month.  There are some great yarns to be found here, though a surprising number of those I enjoyed most were the backups.  There was still plenty here worth reading, one way or another.  I hope that y’all enjoyed this stage of our journey and will join me again soon for the next chapter of our voyage Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive, and exercise your God-given mind and moral sense!