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.

World's Finest 205-10

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.

World's Finest 205-27

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: September 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Come on in and enjoy some 4-colored adventures in a brighter, better world than ours.  I don’t know about you, but I can certainly use such a pleasant diversion.  We’ve got a very interesting pair of books to cover in this post, including the end of Denny O’Neil’s unusual but intriguing tenure on Superman.  Let’s get started!

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 #242


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“The Ultimate Battle!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Girl Who Didn’t Believe in Superman!”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Stan Kaye

“The World’s Mightiest Weakling!”
Writer: Otto Binder
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Bernard Sachs

And here we are at last, the conclusion of Denny O’Neil’s attempt to update Superman.  This is the grand finale of the saga of the Sand Superman, and I have been looking forward to the read.  We start with a solid but not quite earth-shattering cover, which is a bit ironic given what it depicts.  It’s a dramatic piece, but the two fighting figures, carefully matched in their combat, look a bit awkward.  It looks more like they’re standing in mid-air than engaged in a frenetic flying fist-fight.  The blazing city below them is a nice touch, but the flat coloring renders it less powerful than it could have been.

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The story within is a similarly mixed bag.  It opens where the last issue left off, with the defeated Man of Steel grasped in the grip of the ghoulish “war demon,” which has been animated by another Quarrmite spirit.  The fight is taking place in a junkyard, and a pair of bums cheer the monster on, even going so far as to vent their frustrations on the formerly invulnerable hero. Seeing the Metropolis Marvel bleed, they realize that he is now a mere mortal and proceed to beat him savagely.  With Superman defeated, the two hobos, “Stewpot” and “Gemmi,” then take charge of the clueless creature, who is new to their world and has a childish innocence.  The vicious vagrants decide to use the demon to satisfy their own desires for chaos and destruction.

Conveniently, Jimmy Olsen happens to be at the junkyard on an assignment (one wonders what he did to tick Perry off), and the young reporter finds his fallen friend.  The injured hero is rushed to the hospital, where they discover his brain injury from last issue and begin a delicate operation while I-Ching, Diana Prince, and Jimmy Olsen waited with baited breath.

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Meanwhile, the demon, sporting his bum brain-trust on his shoulders, smashes through a museum and confronts the police.  Just then, the Sand Superman arrives, and he crashes into the monster with massive force!  After a quick battle, the creature proves too much for him, and the dusty duplicate flees, wondering what prompted him to intercede, despite his protestations that he cares nothing for humanity.  This is an intriguing moment, but it sadly doesn’t get much development.

The demon’s rampage continues, with him smashing through a police barricade, but as he becomes accustomed to his power and begins to enjoy the chaos he’s causing, he also grows tired of the bums who are bossing him around.  Finally, he decides to employ his lessons in destruction on his masters themselves, and he kills them, on panel!  Their deaths (in shadow, but visible nonetheless, which is quite unusual), are accompanied by a quote from Ecclesiastes, interestingly enough.  And with that, the villainous vagabonds leave the story, making their inclusion feel rather pointless.

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With his masters mashed, the monster heads after his original foe, smashing his way into Superman’s hospital and easily brushing aside Diana Prince’s puny efforts to oppose him.  This is not Wonder Woman’s best performance, as Jimmy puts up just about as much of a fight as she does.  When the creature reaches the Fallen Man of Steel, it finds him fully recovered, but the two are evenly matched, at least until the sudden and unexpected arrival of…the Sand Superman!  The Man of Grit smashes through the ceiling, and in a nice touch the Action Ace wonders for a moment whose side his double is on.  His question is answered a moment later, as his alluvial alternate crashes into the demon, and the pair of powerhouses push their foe towards the park, where the portal to Quarrm still rests.

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The spirit is sucked back into its formless realm, and the crisis seems to have passed…until the duplicitous dusty duplicate declares that he is determined to be Superman, and therefore the original must die!  The real Metropolis Marvel protests that they can coexist, but the Alluvial Ace declares that the hero is too proud of his own uniqueness to share his world with another, which is an interesting angle.  The two are squaring off for a final showdown, where their oppositely charged atoms will trigger an explosion that will destroy one of them when I-Ching suddenly shows up and offers to cancel their charges out and let them fight normally.

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After his mystic gesture is finished, the two super-foes begin a titanic combat that takes them through the very core of the Earth.  In a nice sequence, Superman lures his doppelganger into a trap and clocks him into orbit, but after he pursues his enemy into space, the pair look down to see the world consumed by a cataclysm triggered by their Earth-shattering brawl!  They gaze upon a world scoured of life, and Superman breaks down, only to be brought back to reality by I-Ching.

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The vision was just a mystical trick, to dissuade the two titans from beginning their cataclysmic combat.  The Sandy Superman is so moved that returns to Quarrm willingly, observing that there can only be one Man of Steel.  The mystic offers to transfer the double’s powers back to the original Superman, but he refuses, saying that he has power enough, and after seeing what it could do, he wants no more, which is an interesting character moment.

And on that somewhat bittersweet note, Denny O’Neil’s Sand Superman saga comes to a close.  As with the run as a whole, this final story is very uneven.  There is a lot here that is really excellent, but there are a number of incongruous elements as well, along with a general sense of missed opportunities.  Really, that’s the biggest problem with this issue and O’Neil’s tenure on the book at large.  The mythology of this story feels ad-hoc and unfinished, a random grab-bag of elements that don’t have a unifying theme and lack the power of, say, the world-building going on in Kirby’s Fourth World books.

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What’s here isn’t bad, but it just feels like it should be more than it is.  The war demon is the best example from this last arc, with its odd appearance and random nature.  His two hobo masters, who contribute almost nothing to the story during their brief tenure, are also signs of this trend.  They corrupt the simple spirit with their thirst for violence, though we had already seen the creature being plenty violent during the previous issue.  These two bums are given no development, no motivation for their evil attitudes, and thus their deaths have no power other than shock value.  This is even more of a shame because there’s plenty of potential for something worthwhile here, perhaps in the style of Frankenstein, with an innocent ruined by the evil of those around it.  Or, through these two bums, O’Neil could have explored how the morally weak react to the man of virtue, which is implicit in their hatred of the Metropolis Marvel but gets zero development.

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Then there’s the incongruous presence of the enigmatic and ill-defined I-Ching, who always felt out of place to me.  I can’t help feeling like the time spent with Diana Prince and I-Ching in these issues is wasted, and it’s time that could have been more profitably spent with Superman or his doppelganger.  As is, the Sandy Superman’s sudden sea-change is not entirely earned, though that is the element that has kept me hooked throughout this arc, the most intriguing piece of O’Neil’s plot.  That is probably the biggest disappointment.  The somewhat promising premise of Quarrm is also left unexplored and unexplained, fading out of the book with the finale of this story.

superman 242 p_017Still, there are some really excellent elements to this story.  The vision of a super-powered brawl destroying the Earth is really striking, and it reminds me of an Action Comics issue from a while back which evinced a similar realization of what such powers could do if not restrained.  This is an intriguing and thought-provoking premise, and one not seen that often in this era.  The fact that this dream then prompts Superman to willingly limit his power is a really fascinating twist.  I’m very curious if we’ll see that actually play out in the DCU at large or if it will be forgotten once O’Neil leaves.  I hope it will be the former!  The evidence of the Sand Superman’s internal conflict is also really interesting, though we don’t get to see much of it.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of O’Neil’s character work with the Man of Steel himself in this issue.  The idea that the hero so enjoys being The Last Son of Krypton that he’d be unwilling to share the limelight is an interesting one.  I don’t think that’s a good read of the character, but it could have led us to the Action Ace doing a little soul searching, which might have been promising if given a bit more space.  I think the fact that he doesn’t actually get the chance to reject that claim is a big weakness of the comic.

The classic “Swanderson” art is quite good throughout this issue.  Even though the war demon’s design is on the goofy side, they still make it look dynamic and frightening in action part of the time.  The depiction of the central super-fight is also nicely effective, as is their work on its cataclysmic consequences.  There are a number of great, dramatic moments beautifully depicted throughout the issue, especially the timely arrival of the Sand Superman.  The art is so good, in fact, that I wish the art team had been given a bit more powerful of a story to illustrate.  In the end, this is a flawed comic full of interesting ideas, an effective microcosm of the equally flawed but fascinating run that spawned it.  It’s an enjoyable read, but it really should be more than that, seeing as it serves as the end of a 10 issue plot.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as its strengths and weaknesses effectively break even, bringing Denny O’Neil’s landmark run on Superman to a less than earth-shattering conclusion.

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #114


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“The Foe of 100 Faces”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

The two feminine features of Lois Lane share a single story in this issue, and it is another surprisingly moving tale about race and equality.  Unfortunately, a solid comic is saddled with a pretty weak cover.  While Giordano’s Lois looks great, his Thorn is a bit misshapen, and the composition itself is not terribly captivating, full of yellow sky and not much else.  Notably, the ‘girl’ comic’s cover focuses on a non-existent love triangle instead of the much more interesting grist of the actual plot.

lois_lane_114_02The tale within starts in the office of Perry White, where he shows the lovely Lois Lane a copy of The Black Beacon, published in the city’s ‘Little Africa’ neighborhood, which was written by an anonymous columnist.  The pair admire the unknown author’s work, especially his stance against the nefarious 100, and Perry sends the girl reporter out to recruit the mystery man for the Planet (which really seems a bit outside of her job description: what kind of paper is Perry running?).  Interestingly, Morgan Edge shows up and backs White’s decision, thinking to himself that the 100 are competition to his own outfit, Intergang.  That’s a nice little bit of continuity, with Kanigher touching on what’s happening in other DC books.

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lois_lane_114_03Meanwhile, the Thorn’s alter-ego, Rose subconsciously eavesdrops on her boss, Vince Adams, as he meets with two 100 torpedoes and assigns them to get rid of the protestors blocking the construction of a new high-rise that the gang wants to use as a front.  While the innocent young Rose is unaware of these schemes, her vigilante identity takes note, perhaps implying a growth in the strength of that personality.

That evening, Lois approaches the small office of The Black Beacon, and inside she finds a familiar face.  That’s right, Dave Stevens, from the book’s excellent and groundbreaking first issue on race, is the anonymous author, and he’s obviously been changed by his encounter with the girl reporter.  While his assistant, Tina, is very cold and dismissive of Lois, Dave responds by saying that Lois is a “blood relation” of his, after a fashion, since her blood saved his life.  He tells the story of the journalist’s journey as a black woman, but Tina remains unconvinced.

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Yet, when Dave starts to bring Lois to the embattled Metropolis State building site to show her how he works, the 100 killers try to run them down, only to be stopped in dramatic fashion by the Thorn, who hits them like a whirlwind in a nice sequence.  Interestingly, Dave is a bit angry that a woman has fought his battle for him, but Lois points out that, just like minorities want to be treated equally, so do women, and he acknowledges her point with a smile.

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Once they reach the site of the protest, the young activist explains that the community is objecting to the building of the skyscraper because the city is pursuing it instead of addressing the needs of its people.  They demand affordable housing, schools, and infrastructure instead of another office building.  This fairly complex issue is massively simplified, but that’s to be expected in a comic like this, and the presentation is still effective.  Once again, a black woman objects to Lois’s presence, and once again, the reporter, herself changed by her previous experience, responds with patience and a plea for unity, which is well met.  It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s still heartwarming to see the characters bridging their gaps and the message is good.

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Yet, while the protestors are learning to look past surface differences, the idle construction workers are roused by 100 flunkies into attacking the marchers.  This is done with a surprisingly light touch.  The workers are a pretty diverse group themselves, including American Indians, and they don’t believe the rabble rouser’s speech at first, instead being willing to respond to the non-violence of the protest in kind.  It’s only after more 100 plants among the marchers start shooting and attacking the workers, backed by plants among the construction men as well, that a riot starts.  Kanigher avoids demonizing either group and, though not through realistic means, still manages to show how otherwise decent people can get swept up in violence and bigotry.

Lois gets knocked out (should I count supporting characters on the Headcount?), and Dave Stevens fights like a lion to protect her.  Tina tries to come to his aid, but they are both struck down as well.  Suddenly, the Thorn strikes, and she throws out explosive smoke bombs among the troublemakers.  The Baleful Beauty wades into them in another nice sequence, but she takes a hit as well, and it is only Superman’s timely arrival that saves the quartet.  The Man of Steel manages to use his super breath to disperses the crowd without hurting them.  The hero tries to talk with the Thorn, offering to sponsor her for League membership (!), but the Nymph of Night slips away, replying that she is a loner.

Lois begs the Metropolis Marvel to help the protesters, and he comes up with a solution.  He redesigns the building to use vertical space as well as horizontal and helps construct a new tower, which will serve both groups.  This makes everyone but the 100 happy.  Lois herself gets wistful, wishing she could have the type of relationship with Superman that Dave and Tina share.  Speaking of the two lovebirds, in the next few days, Lois visits them as they teach neighborhood children about black history, and the readers are treated to a cool double paged spread about the subject, and even I learned a bit (I had no idea that Dumas had African ancestry)!

Unfortunately, the peace does not last, and the 100 stages muggings and other disturbances at the new housing development to discredit the black citizens who moved in.  Lois goes to investigate, only to witness an explosion and see the fire department greeted by gunfire and thrown trash.  Dave helps her search for the culprits, but they vanish.  This scene has some fascinating racial overtones, with Perry White pointing out that the organization that has arisen to oppose the new housing development “America Awake,” is using the incidents as proof that “blacks create their own slums wherever they go,” an idea that I’ve unfortunately heard expressed much more recently than 1971.

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lois_lane_114_22That evening, as the black community celebrates their new home, someone throws a firebomb at a table full of children (would that this were more unrealistic), and Lois risks her life, scooping up the explosive and throwing it into the street, suffering severe burns in the process.  At the same time, she sees the Thorn sneaking around and follows her into the newly finished skyscraper.  There, the gallant girl reporter is captured as the Vixen of Vengeance attacks the 100 crew operating as the mysterious “America Awake.”  Dave Stevens comes charging to the rescue again, and with the aid of a smokescreen created by the Thorn’s thrown boot (seriously), she and the adventurous author clean up the crooks in yet another nice action sequence.  After the fight, while Lois’s burned hands are bandaged at a nearby hospital, Tina embraces the girl she had previously rejected, impressed by her willingness to sacrifice her own life for children of color.  Finally, the issue ends with Dave Stevens taking the job at the Planet so that his voice can reach a national audience.

This is another good, surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful story on race by Robert Kanigher.  He continues to amaze me with the varied quality of his work.  While this one is not as subtle and moving as his first try at the topic, that is, after all, a high mark to hit for a comic from the early 70s.  Nonetheless, there is a good story here about breaking through the walls that our perceptions of race build between us.  There is a focus on the plight of the urban poor that carries some weight and a good adventure story to boot, which is impressive because, as we’ve seen, writers can have a hard time balancing their plots and their messages. *cough*O’Neil*cough*

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Kanigher packs a ton into this issue, perhaps a bit too much, actually.  The story races from the initial protest to the attempts to discredit the black community to the capture of the barely introduced “America Awake” front.  I think we could have had a more compelling and intriguing story, plot-wise, if Kanigher had broken this into two issues and built a bit more tension and suspense with the second half of the plot.  The idea of the 100 playing on people’s biases by staging embarrassing incidents and what that says about our culture has some fascinating potential, and building up an actual mystery around what was happening could have been really rewarding.

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Nevertheless, what Kanigher does give us works pretty well, even if it does move at such a quick pace that the “America Awake” organization feels like an afterthought.  Of course, this comic provides a massively simplified take on the problems of the inner city, with the citizens being entirely innocent and the only negative influence coming from outside.  Obviously, that issue is a great deal more complicated, and attempts to address urban poverty have been fraught with many challenges.  Yet, Kanigher’s story, simplistic though it may be, serves a worthwhile purpose by challenging the popular perception of the urban poor, especially those in black communities, and does the same kind of narrative work as his stories about Native Americans, showing members of these groups as individuals, normal human beings with the same fears, problems, emotions, and desires as anyone else.

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This is, as I’ve mentioned before, a very worthy undertaking and part of the power of literature, which can build in us the capacity for compassion, the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  The racial tensions of the 1970s certainly made stories like this necessary, but the events of the last few years have shown how much such stories are still needed.  In this era of polarization and tribalism, we could all use a reminder that the fellow on the other side of the isle is human, even if we disagree with him.  This is even more important when that fellow happens not to look like us, as it is far too easy to demonize the Other.  When even people who want the same things are constantly dividing themselves into different camps, it’s nice to read a comic where a daring dame like Lois breaks through such barriers.  It’s also really great to see the friendship that exists between her and Dave, which I imagine was a little shocking in 1971.  I love that there is nothing romantic between them, that they’re just two friends and equals.  That’s a dynamic you don’t see that much in comics of this era.  Honestly, their interactions are some of my favorite parts of the issue.

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lois_lane_114_15 - Copy (2)On the art front, Werner Roth turns in some more beautiful work, filling his faces with personality and emotion but also managing to create some really dynamic fight scenes.  Yet, there are a few places where we end up with some awkward and ugly panels, where his figure work breaks down a bit, like the apparently drunk flying Superman to the left, here.  Still, on the whole, Roth continues to do a wonderful job on this book, really serving to capture the emotions of his cast.  I think that I’ll give this fun and thought-provoking comic a strong 4.5 Minutemen.  It’s a little rough in spots, with some heavy-handedness and its subject is radically simplified, but it is still an unusually good read and has a sweetness and earnestness that make such excesses a bit more forgivable than others we’ve seen.  I never expected to enjoy Lois Lane nearly this much!

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Well!  What a pair of issues!  This is a really significant set of stories, and they definitely illustrate how comics are evolving in this era.  We should have some fascinating trends to examine in the Final Thoughts for this month!  I hope you will join me again soon when we shall do just that!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 4)

 

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Solomon Grundy was born on a Monday, and Into the Bronze Age was born, fittingly enough, on a Saturday.  Not quite as catchy though, is it?  Nonetheless, here we are on a Thursday with a brand new set of Bronze Age comics to cover.  Welcome readers, to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got the finale of our JLA/JSA crossover, another episode from Kirby’s Fourth World, and some Superboy shenanigans to peruse in this set, so let’s get to them!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #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.


Justice League of America #92


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“Solomon Grundy – The One and Only”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The One-Man Justice League!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella

“Space-Enemy Number One!”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This month brings us the second half of this year’s JLA/JSA crossover, which promises another entertaining tale.  Adams’ cover, though dramatic, is a bit lackluster, with Grundy being a bit oddly proportioned (which actually fits the art within, sadly), and the image being a bit plain, other than the forms of the fallen heroes.  Nonetheless, it proves accurate, as the comic opens with the League and Society forces on Earth-2 defeated and at Grundy’s none-too-abundant mercy!

Grundy is at his most monstrous and, unfortunately, so is Dillin’s art.  While the swamp creature’s size was inconsistent last issue, it gets rather ridiculous this month, with the monster changing size from panel to panel like his name is Hank Pym.  Grundy’s size switching aside, things look dire for our heroes until Superman comes to and slaps his foe’s ears back, freeing himself and distracting the zombie while the others escape.  Through brief check-ins with the aliens, we learn that the young extraterrestrial boy, A-Rym is beginning to fade, but his plight remains unknown to the Leaguers and Society members.  To make matters worse, none of those heroes efforts prove effective against Grundy.

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Meanwhile, in the Batcave, the two Robins are recovering, and the Earth-2 elder gives his young counterpart an alternate costume of his, and we’re introduced to the Neal Adams design for new Earth-1 Robin threads.  As a fun Easter Egg, Adams himself gets referenced by the Adult Wonder in the story.  The costume itself isn’t perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over the by now wildly inappropriate getup of the Pantsless Wonder.  It’s got a lot of potential, and upon later revisions, it will turn into a really wonderful costume.  For my money, the version that showed up in Batman: The Brave and the Bold is just about perfect and one of the all-time best Robin looks.  Interestingly, this costume is presented to the audience as a possible change for Dick in the main DCU, and the editor invites fans to write in if they want to see it.  Sadly, the response must have been underwhelming, and we got another decade of Robin’s bare legs.  That’s a crying shame.

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Anyway, after a brief check-in with Barry Allen on the Satellite, where his wife comes to care for him, which is sweet, we’re back to the gathered champions as they regroup.  Hal whips up a temporary power ring for his counterpart, and the pair of them peel off to tackle Grundy while the Hawks head out to capture the kid.  The Robins arrive and give the Winged Wonders a hand, recovering Alan Scott’s ring in the process, but it is the youngest member of the team that finally ends the struggle.  Teenage-Grayson connects to the scared young alien.  Realizing that the yellow-skinned being is no monster, he comforts the poor kid.  This scene also features a rather cool moment where the Teen Wonder uses his new costume’s ‘wings’ to glide in for a punch.  How did this not become his costume?

Meanwhile the two Emerald Crusaders clash with the zombie menace as he tears through the countryside, but individually their diluted rings are too weak.  Finally, combining their willpower, they knock Grundy out.  When the original Lantern recovers his ring, the green team seals the behemoth in his swamp.  The tale ends with teams on the two Earths managing to put the pieces together and reunite the pair of alien menaces, converting them to just a boy and his dog and saving both of their lives.  With their energy signals finally strong enough to detect, the boy’s brother is able to recover him, and the League and the Society have a friendly farewell.

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JusticeLeagueofAmerica_092_10This is a fun adventure, though it shrinks the scope of the story a bit from the previous issue.  It’s always enjoyable to watch these two sets of heroes go into action together, and everyone in the Earth-2 group gets something to do.  The action scenes are nicely balanced that way.  Yet, Friedrich doesn’t bring too much color or depth to their interactions, with the exception of the incongruous generational conflict from the previous issue.  He does bring that weird forced drama between the Hawks and the Robins to a conclusion, with everyone shaking hands and parting friends.  That element continues to feel rather pointless, and even the characters themselves seem to have little time for it.  Unfortunately, this yarn once again displays the rather sappy tendencies of “Touchy-Feely” Friedrich, but his excesses aren’t too noticeable in this outing.

This issue does have some real weaknesses, though, with the resolutions feeling far too simple and convenient.  You have the combined might of the Society and League beating on Grundy for most of two issues, and then the two Lanterns just zap him unconscious in two panels, which seems more than a little anti-climactic.  The wrap-up to the kid’s plot is also a bit quick, but if you’re living in the DC universe, I suppose you’d get used to drawing connections between strange events.  After all, they almost always end up being linked!  Sadly, one of this story’s biggest weaknesses is the art.  Dillin’s not at the top of his game, so the action is often stiff and unattractive, but he is juggling a pile of characters.  All-in-all, this is a fun if flawed conclusion to the first adventure.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.  The interesting premise of the first chapter doesn’t quite live up to its potential here.

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P.S.: One of the cooler facets of this issue is the teaser that it carries for the next, which shows Batman, Green Arrow, and my favorite, Aquaman, lined up in the crosshairs of an assassin!  Exciting!
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New Gods #4


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“O’Ryan Gang and the Deep Six”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

“The Secret of the Buzzard’s Revenge!”
Writers: Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Jack Kirby
Editor: Whitney Elsworth

We’ve got another issue of the most epic of Fourth World titles this month, and it’s got another rather lackluster cover.  All of the action is crowded into the bottom half of the page by the cover copy, and the unbalanced image full of squashed, disproportionate figures, is not the King’s best work.  Sadly, that’s true of what lies within as well.

We start with something very promising, something perfect for the cosmic drama of Kirby’s Fourth World, as Metron takes a young New Genesis student on a space-and-time spanning trip in his Mobius Chair, visiting a primeval world, ruled by massive, monstrous beasts and equally monstrous men.  Kirby gives us a stunning double-paged splash as the enigmatic scholar of the New Gods philosophizes about the stages of human development, making an interesting observation that humankind is much more willing and capable of higher spiritual development once “their bellies are full.”  Once the pair return home, they are greeted by Highfather, who solemnly informs them that one of their number has fallen…on Earth!

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On that beleaguered world, Orion has discovered that fallen comrade, the aquatic Seagrin, whose body is being pulled out of the waters that were ever his home.  The warrior is moved by the death of his friend, and he calls on the latter’s Mother Box to return him to the Source, which she does in a fiery explosion full of Kirby crackle.  This is a striking scene, demonstrating both the King’s dedication to the elevated tone of his tale, with this death establishing the stakes and the seriousness of the conflict, while also showing his prodigious creativity, as he invents an interesting looking character just to kill him off without even a single panel of life.

As the holocaust abates, the Black Racer is seen tearing through the flames, having claimed the life of a god!  We get a very brief check-in with his supporting cast as the Racer returns to the paralyzed form of Willie Walker, and then we see that the drama of the moment has been observed by Darkseid, but none of this amounts to much.

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For however much he may be a poor fit for this story, I have to say, I rather like Victor Lanza’s unabashed meekness.

Meanwhile, Orion returns to his collection of human allies, who helpfully recap their names and motivations, which is necessary because there’s very little memorable about them.  The New Genesis warrior explains that Darkseid has imported a device to hide the Apokaliptian presence on Earth, which is shielding his minions.  Orion explains that the warlord has probably entrusted it to his human servants in Intergang, so he plans to use his own ‘gang’ of humans to find and destroy the machine.  Using Mother Box, the Dog of War tracks down an Intergang member, and he and Dave Lincoln shake the fellow down to discover the device’s location.

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Even when creating very conventional story beats, Kirby still introduces creative twists, like Lincoln and his pipe.

ng04-21At a remote spot on the edge of the city, lovely Claudia Shane decoys the guards by faking a stalled car, only to gas them with the help of New Genesis technology (Note the wonderfully distinctive yet visual consistency with which Kirby depicts even something as simple as a switch).  With the way clear, the rest of the gang moves in, and the timid businessman Victor Lanza confronts the local Intergang headman, “Country Boy,” pretending to be the consigliere of the “O’Ryan Mob.”  He bluffs the apparently not-too-bright boss into showing off the incredible hi-tech device that Darkseid entrusted to him, allowing Orion to destroy it.  Man, Darkseid is so going to kill that guy.

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ng04-25With the jammer destroyed, Mother Box is able to pinpoint one of Seagrin’s killers, the leader of the devious Deep Six, Darkseid’s aquatic shock troopers.  Setting out to challenge this fiend, known as Slig, the Dog of War heads into the sea, but his foe is ready for him.  Apparently the Six have the power to mutate sealife into vicious and useful forms, and Slig uses this ability to capture Orion in grasping tendrils of seaweed.  The warrior is able to escape by triggering the Astro-Force, but it is a desperate and dangerous maneuver that leaves him stunned.  And it is there that our tale ends!

This is a slightly disappointing issue, really.  It has a wonderfully imaginative cosmic opening, and the scene where Orion finds his fallen friend is somewhat touching and dramatic.  Yet, those promising beginnings feel a bit squandered in the story that follows.  The action as Orion’s crew chases down the Intergang stooges is entertaining enough, but it feels uneven and a bit anticlimactic after the more bombastic events of the previous issues.  His helpers remain rather underdeveloped and continue to feel mostly unnecessary.  The teenage kid literally contributes nothing to this issue.   It doesn’t help that the main antagonist, “Country Boy,” sadly lacks the interest and personality of the other Intergang representatives we’ve seen, like “Ugly” Manneim and Steel Hand.

Yet, unfortunately, the biggest weakness of this issue may be the art, or perhaps it is the inking.  Colletta over-inks several of these pages, drowning out detail and hurting the artwork.  Kirby’s pencils themselves are not at their best either, most notably with Orion.  There are some wonderfully cosmic, imaginative panels and pages, but their execution is often either a bit off or they are drowned in ink.  Nonetheless, there are still wonderful Kirby-esq moments, like the destruction of the Apokoliptian device and the opening sequence.  Despite those weaknesses, though, this is still a fun issue.  While it feels a bit more like it is marking time than really advancing the plot, the ride is enjoyable, and there are some interesting stops along the way.  I’ll give this uneven issue 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s still a bit above average.  It’s entertaining, but I imagine it’s one of the weaker issues of this title.  Speaking of future stories, I’m looking forward to Orion’s showdown with the Deep Six, which I remember being a really cool issue, one that took more advantage of the setting and scope of Kirby’s Fourth World.

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P.S.: Once again, this issue includes a backup of a classic Kirby tale from the Golden Age, this tiemas well as a few pinups of Fourth World characters.


Superboy #177


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“Our Traitor Super-Son!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Plague from the Past!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Ohh joy, another entry in the grand tradition of Super-Dickery.  This one certainly ticks the usual boxes, too, with an unnecessarily convoluted plot by our hero that has him acting like a complete jerk to those that love him most.  I’ve got to say, this is one trope of the Silver Age that I really don’t miss, as the payoffs were rarely clever enough to justify the logical acrobatics the writers required from their characters or their plots.  superboy v1 177 - 01The cover for this issue sets the stage well enough, even if its not a particularly compelling image (and the lines of its ‘ceiling’ don’t quite make sense).  For once, the promise of the cover is delivered within, though the tale begins in more traditional fashion.  Young Clark’s ‘Earthday’ celebration with his parents is interrupted by reports that the “Mothball Fleet” has suddenly up and set sail, seemingly on its own.  Has Skynet finally achieved sentience?

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superboy v1 177 - 02Not quite.  After a nice two-page spread in which Superboy is attacked by strange weapons mounted on the old ships, only to disable them with his freeze-breath, the Boy of Steel is confronted by a video message from the author of these strange events.  The prosaically named “Cerebron” (I wonder what his gimmick could be) declares that he was controlling the fleet and begins to make some threats before we cut away to the young hero towing the frozen fleet away.  Yet, the storytelling breaks down a bit here, and the fact that the conversation continued between panels isn’t really obvious, which actually caused me some confusion when I read this yarn.

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superboy v1 177 - 04Back in Smallville, Pa Kent is busy loading up produce for his general store (I always forget that he had this store in this era of the comics), when Superboy suddenly swoops in with the police hot on his heels.  The Boy of Might declares that Kent is selling tainted food, and the police haul him away.  Tests prove that the youth’s accusation is accurate, and the Kents are locked up.  I’ll give Dorfman partial credit.  While Ma Kent does the usual “how could he treat us like this!” bit, Pa is more level-headed and points out that there must be a good reason.  After all, they know their son wouldn’t hurt them intentionally.  Now, if only the payoff will justify his faith…

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Meanwhile, the Smallville Superstar quickly removes all traces of his heroic identity from the Kent household.  He’s not a moment too soon, as shortly after he leaves, Cerebron and a henchman arrive and investigate the premises.  Apparently, the cerebral supervillain can track the young hero through a special pair of glasses that detect a radiation trail he is leaving behind.  Finding Superboy’s trail but no trace of his connection to the house, Cerebron slinks away.

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While this is happening, Clark is staying with Lana’s family since his parents are in jail, and Lana is none too impressed with Superboy’s having put them there.  Slipping away, Clark gets into costume and moves his various hi-tech gadgets into a temporary base in a nearby asteroid, only to have it immediately discovered by Cerebron.  Instead of fighting his foe, Superboy detonates the base while he slips away with his stuff, apparently afraid it might be damaged in a fight.  That’s a pretty weak excuse to pad the story out for a few more pages, but Dorfman hurries past it.

superboy v1 177 - 09Over the next few days, the hero and villain play cat and mouse, with Cerebron finding his foe each time Superboy establishes a new base.  Apparently, every time the Boy of Steel tries to attack Cerebron, his ship vanishes…and somehow the kid with a zillion types of vision can’t find it.  Of course, all this time, Ma and Pa Kent are rotting in jail.  Finally, our young hero decides to set a trap for his persistent enemy, and he establishes a base in an wrecking yard, which he seals when Cerebron’s invisible ship enters.  Once again, why X-Ray vision can’t detect the ship is anyone’s guess.  Despite not being able to see the sinister Cerebron, Clark comes up with a clever solution.  He just uses his heat vision to turn the inside of the base into an oven and forces the villain to surrender or be cooked.

superboy v1 177 - 11 - CopyFinally, Superboy captures the clever criminal, unmasking him as Lex Luthor in the process.  We are also treated to an explanation of the story, with Lex reminding us that he hates Superboy because he made him bald.  What an utterly ludicrous motivation for a great villain!  The whole bald angle is a great extra element to the character, illustrating as it does Lex’s pride and vanity, but it should really be ancillary.  It’s just so hilariously absurd that it’s treated as the entire motivation in some of these stories.  Nonetheless, baldy’s plan wasn’t bad this time.  The fleet was a diversion, and its guns really just coated Superboy in radiation that his nemesis could track.  During the unclear intermission where Cerebron threatened the hero, we see that he claims to have figured out the Boy of Steel’s secret identity and promises to kill the Kents if he interferes again.  Thus, Clark faked their arrest in order to protect them…which is fine, but why in the world would he not tell them?  Apparently, the police knew all about it, so it seems that he can trust the police to keep the secret, but not his own parents.  That’s just sloppy writing, which is to be expected from Dorfman.

This is a decent enough story despite the goofiness of that device, if more than a little silly and convenient in some places.  I would say that Superboy’s cruel mind games against his parents justify as abuse, though.  The different scenes as the Boy of Steel travels from base to base are fun, if poorly justified, and his eventual method of capturing the crooks is pretty clever.  I’ll give this slightly below average tale 2.5 Minutemen, largely on the weakness of the poorly used Super Dickery.

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“Plague from the Past”


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The backup, on the other hand, is a solid and enjoyable little yarn, brief and rushed, but effective nonetheless.  It begins with Superboy smashing into an Egyptian tomb in which his friends Professor Lang and Lana have become trapped during a dig.  Once they’re freed, the Boy of Steel helps them examine the various artifacts of the site, including an hourglass dedicated to Anubis, God of the Dead, which can supposedly reverse time.  The youthful hero impetuously tries the device, but nothing happens. Interestingly (abd honestly rather surprisingly for 1971), the characters note that all of these cultural treasures must be turned over to the Egyptians.  Still, the thankful government is so pleased with Lang’s discovery that they reward him with a small sampling of his finds, including the hourglass.

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Arriving home in Smallville to a grand parade, that very artifact falls off the float, only to be caught by Superboy.  Later on, the Boy of Steel volunteers to open the sarcophagus in case there are any more booby traps, but when he does, a strange sparkling gas seeps out and immediately strikes his friends down while leaving him unaffected.  Blowing the gas out the window, he rushes them to the hospital, but the deadly plague spreads rapidly thanks to his unthinking reaction!  Shortly the whole town is stricken with the strange disease, even the hero’s own parents.  There’s a nice little moment where Superboy has a realization about what his invulnerability means in light of a world full of very vulnerable humans.

In desperation, the Smallville Superstar employs the hourglass of Anubis once more, noting that, despite the fact that he doesn’t worship the Egyptian deity, he has certainly come to believe in his power.  The artifact works, and the young Kryptonian is hurled backwards in time to the parade earlier that day.  The hourglass falls once more, and stunned by his temporal journey, he fails to catch it.  Nonetheless, Superboy is elated, and he carefully releases the death cloud from the sarcophagus into space this time, protecting his town.

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This simple adventure is fun and has a nice, if abbreviated, emotional beat for our young hero.  It is more a gesture towards deeper storytelling than anything significant in and of itself, but it is still a nice touch.  One of Superman’s greatest challenges is how to care for the fragile beings that surround him, even in settings like the Justice League.  I also like the twist with the magic hourglass, that it required belief, and the plague certainly provided impetus for that.  I’ll give this entertaining tale a solid 3 Minutemen.

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And that will do it for this batch of books!  We had three very different titles.  The next post will feature a pair of Super-books, including the finale of Denny O’Neil’s year-long Superman saga.  Come back soon and see how he wraps his storylines up.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 3)

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Hail and well-met Internet travelers, welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We have three very different comics to cover in this batch, each intriguing and unusual in their own way.  I was surprised by each of these books, and I image they might have something unexpected in store for you, my dear readers, as well.  Shall we find out?

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.


The Flash #209


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“Beyond the Speed Of Life!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Coincidence Can Kill!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Elongated Man’s Undersea Trap”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well folks, here it is at last, the return of the supervillains!  I have been eagerly awaiting this issue of The Flash, and I am sick to death of his unequal contests with the Generic Gang!  I’ve been watching this cover, with its promise of actual, honest-to-goodness supervillains, coming closer in my list, and hope for it has helped me endure the doldrums that preceded it.  It is a pretty nice image too, even outside of my desperate desires for some dynamite foes.  The cover copy is a bit much, but the central composition is nicely dramatic.  I’m pleased to say, I was not disappointed by my read either, despite the fact that the two cover-cons don’t play as much of a role as you might imagine.

The tale begins in media res, with the Scarlet Speedster already defeated!  What’s this?  Captain Boomerang and the Trickster arrive to admire their handiwork after triggering a cunning trap, all set to finish their fast foe for good.  Except, they find him already…dead!?  In a lovely and wonderfully wacky moment, the two villains stand in silence, honoring their expired enemy.

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I love how sad Boomer looks.

Then we flash back to that morning, when Barry Allen was leaving home, late for work as usual (I love that perennial bit of characterization).  Just as he’s kissing Iris goodbye, the Crimson Comet gets a mental image of Captain Boomerang and the Trickster hiding out on the edge of town, and, despite knowing it is likely to be a trap, rushes off to check it out.  Meanwhile, in their hidden hideout, the dangerous duo get their own mental message, which shows them Flash’s rapid approach.  They suddenly discover a glowing rope and, thanks to psychic guidance, are able to time their attack perfectly, tripping the speedster up and sending him skidding across the desert sands.

Yet, his tumbling fall is more than meets the eye, as the Fastest Man Alive finds himself being paced by a speed-blurred shape, which begins communicating with him as it drags him through a dimensional barrier into a bizarre and alien world.  The new dimension, which his speedy escort describes as “beyond the speed of life,” is really nicely rendered by Novick, looking fairly unique and unusual.  His guide, who calls himself ‘The Sentinel,’ explains to the speedster that this is the dimension beyond the speed of all living things, and that normal physical laws don’t apply there.  Racing along together, the Sentinel tells his kidnapped companion that he has brought him to this strange realm for a purpose.

Back on Earth, the two villains begin to bicker as the Trickster wants to unmask the fallen hero, while Boomer says they should have respect for the dead, which is another fun little moment.  Just then, their mysterious benefactor arrives, and we discover the real villain of the piece, Gorilla Grodd!  This is pretty unsurprising considering that there were mental powers in play, but it’s always good to see Grodd.  The super-simian is full of contempt for these ‘lesser beings,’ and explains that he used them as pawns in case the plan failed, which they don’t take too well.  Yet, they prove no match for the mighty gorilla, who subdues them with ease.

flash209-13In the speed dimension, the Sentinel tells Flash that the strange place is being attacked by a being he calls the Devourer, which is trying to tear its way into the hero’s universe.  The being takes a number of random forms, shifting rapidly, including a giant rat, ram, blowtorch, and T-Rex.  All of the Scarlet Speedster’s attacks are ineffective, but he finally reasons that, since the normal physical laws don’t apply in this bizarre place, he should try something completely random that would be ineffective in his home dimension.

 

Thus, he runs through a host of random movements at super speed before discovering that bouncing up and down hurts the monster.  Ooookay?  The Devourer takes the form of Iris as it is destroyed, which makes it hard for Barry to keep up his ‘attack,’ but he finally annihilates it and asks the Sentinel to bring him home.

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Yet, back on Earth, the Fastest Man Alive makes a startling discovery.  He has just become the fastest ghost not alive!  The Sentinel had to pull him out of his body for the trip.  Desperate to live again, the hero begs the other being to put him back, despite his protestations that it may be impossible.  While Grodd prepares to force his two former pawns to kill each other (!), the Sentinel races past Flash’s lifeless form.  Suddenly, the Scarlet Speedster lives again, and by rapidly vibrating his body, which is held by the super-gorilla, he sinks the mad monkey into the earth, before scrambling his mighty mind with some super-speed blows.  The other two villains are so stunned that they surrender, and the day is saved!

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This is a fun story, with some delightful little bits of characterization, like with Boomerang’s insistence on respecting the dead and Grodd’s superior attitude.  It’s great to see some supervillains again, even if we don’t really get to see them in action.  Their mere presence makes the Flash’s world seem more interesting and colorful.  It’s a shame this tale didn’t get more room to breathe, as I’d have loved to see an extended fight between the three villains.  I think that could have been a lot of fun.  As is, the villain plot feels a bit short-changed by the dimension-hoping dangers.

The Devourer, for its part, is also a tad disappointing because the Flash’s method of defeating it is just silly.  If the dimension doesn’t obey the normal laws of physics, I can think of several more interesting ways in which that could have been used.  Ultimately, that’s a good concept, but the payoff speaks of a lack of imagination.  On the art front, Novick and Giordano make a really nice team, and they do a great work with both halves of this yarn.  I particularly like Novick’s portrayal of Captain Boomerang, so scrawny and distinctive looking.  So, all-in-all, this was an entertain read, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, largely on the strength of the Rogues that make an appearance.

Grodd is finally act a bit like the sinisterly superior super-simian that he would one day become, which is nice to see.  He’s one of my favorite Flash villains, being such a wonderfully, whimsically crazy concept.  As with most things, I feel like the Timmverse Justice League show captured him best, with his poised, cultured, and dignified portrayal being far better than the brutish and one-note version of the New 52.

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“Coincidence Can Kill”


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We’ve got another Kid Flash backup this month, penned by one of my favorite writers, Steve Skeates, which is a pleasant surprise.  The tale itself feels super brief, but it is fairly original.  It begins with our young hero, who is dressed in the finest of 70s threads.  Just look at that fashion disaster!  Well, when the groovy youth happens upon a bank robbery when coming home from school (isn’t he supposed to be in college by this point?), he is thrilled for the chance to get into action.  flash209-21In a fun bit of detail, he notes that when he started out he expected to be stumbling over heists all the time, but unlike in “comic mags,” such things have proven rare.  Yet, when he goes to eject his costume from his ring, a strange gas emerges instead, knocking him out!

Shortly thereafter, the young hero awakens, only to see the thieves being picked up by the law.  This leaves Wally without criminals to catch, but he still has a mystery to solve.  What happened to his ring!  He reasons that the accessory must have been switched, and he remembers that he and his lab partner, “Genius” George, had washed their hands at the same time, each taking off their rings.

flash209-23

Rushing to George’s house, Kid Flash discovers that the boy was picked up shortly before, supposedly heading to a meeting at school.  Realizing that there is no meeting that night, Kid Flash heads out in pursuit of the car.  He manages to trail it to a rough part of the town.  Meanwhile, “Genius” George has gotten himself in way over his head, volunteering to join a criminal gang and use his science skills to make gadgets and weapons for them, all as a blind to get him into their presence so he can capture them.  This was the purpose of the gas-filled gadget, but unfortunately he’s wearing the wrong ring!

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When he presses the catch on the jewelry piece, out pops the Kid Flash costume.  Fortunately, Kid Flash himself is on the scene, and he takes out the thugs in no time flat.  With the gang K.O.ed, the Teen Titan and George compare notes, and lucky for the Fastest Boy Alive, George reasons that his ring must have leaked and, when the hero saw him in trouble, he threw out the costume to distract the criminals.  The story ends with Wally thinking that, hopefully, this experience will teach George to stay away from “dangerous stuff like gas…and criminals!”

This is a breezy but fun little tale.  The idea of a high school science buff taking it upon himself to capture a criminal gang is crazy…but then again, so are high school kids!  I never tried anything quite that wild, but in a world full superheroes and daring do, I suppose it is a little less farfetched that a starry-eyed youth might try to emulate his idols.  The whole story is built on coincidence, but it moves along with such energy, that you can just about forgive it.  I’ll give this brief backup a solid 3 Minutemen.  Oddly, Kid Flash himself is miscolored throughout the strip, being depicted with yellow legs.

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The Forever People #4


Forever_People_v.1_4

“The Kingdom of the Damned!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

“The Amazing Dreams of Gentleman Jack”
Writer: Joe Simon
Pencilers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Inkers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

Welcome to more 4th World Madness!  Our new issue of Forever People is really a striking one.  It’s got a fair cover, with the heroes overcome, but the strange depiction of Desaad’s minions, with their weird, glowing colors, is an odd choice.  The desperation that the image portrays is fitting, however, as the tale within is one of hopelessness and despair for our young protagonists.  We begin with a panicked sea of humanity, surging against the glass wall of a bizarre prison and crying for help, only for the next image, a lovely two-page spread, to show us that their pitiful pleas have been converted into joyous laughter, which fills the air of a colorful, Disney World-esq amusement park.  Of course, it’s an amusement park as designed by Jack Kirby (shades of Sci-fi Land!), so you might expect it to be even more amazing than the Magic Kingdom, and just a bit creepier too.  Actually, the design is positively pedestrian for the King, but it does still feature flying cars and other sci-fi staples.

One of those airborne autos arrives, bearing a very special passenger.  Darkseid disembarks within the bowels of this park, Happyland, which serves as a wonderfully ironic front for Desaad’s cruel experiments.  The dark god has arrived at his underling’s request to observe the fates of the Forever People, who have been brought here following their capture by that hypnotic huckster, Glorious Godfrey.

We check in with the young quintet as they test their prison walls.  They discover that Mother Box has been stolen from them, though Vykin detects it nearby.  When their guards arrive, poor Serifan tries to resist them with one of his ‘cosmic cartridges,’ only to be felled, followed shortly by the rest of the team.  Meanwhile, Desaad is busy with Mother Box herself (itself?), as he tries to destroy the incredible device.  As the marvelous machine is tortured, it suddenly vanishes in a flash of light, and despite the fact that Desaad takes credit for driving it to commit suicide, Darkseid reminds his malicious minion that they don’t really know what happens to the devices  in such circumstances.

In a rather funny scene, Darkseid walks to his ship out in the open, passing through the park-goers and scaring small children.  His grotesque features are split by a grin as he chases off one pair, when a child realizes he is real but her grandfather insists he’s just a man in a costume.  It’s a weird little episode, and while it is fun, it feels a little incongruous with the gravitas of the character.

forever people 004 16Then Kirby’s inimitable imagination is on strange and unsettling display as he takes us on a tour of the torments Desaad has devised for our young heroes.  First, Mark Moonrider is locked in another glass prison, this one rendering him as an animated skeleton to the people passing below.  Big Bear, for his part, is in a shooting gallery where the park-goers see him as a robotic bear, and their each shot creates a cacophony of sonic chaos within his cell.  Beautiful Dreamer has a more sedate torture in store for her, as the uber-creepy master masochist paralyzes her and inserts her into a glass coffin, where the illusion works in the opposite way of the others, rendering the harmless civilians who regard her as hideous monsters waiting to devour the helpless damsel.

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Finally, Seirfan and Vykin have a dual doom.  Vykin is trapped on the rollercoaster track, with his head thrust between the ties, while Serifan is strapped to a pedal which, when pushed, will lower his friend out of the path of the oncoming coasters.  He must be ever alert, or his helpless friend will meet a grisly fate.  Things certainly seem grim for the five from New Genesis, but the last page reveals that all is not lost, as the missing Mother Box rematerializes somewhere else, where a massive Asian figure picks it up and senses its plea for help.

I remember not being all that impressed by this issue on my first reading, but I really found it intriguing this time.  The torments Kirby devises for his five protagonists are really creative and unique.  They display the King’s limitless imagination, but more importantly, they all turn upon issues of perception and illusion, both of the possibility of escape and in more general (and more interesting) terms.  The victims are all constantly fed false impressions, and with them, false hope, which is a crushing blow for the soul, but these illusions also afflict the innocent inhabitants of the park.  On my first reading, I didn’t appreciate the cleverness or intricacy of what Kirby is doing here, playing with themes of perception, as well as, building on the themes of the last issue, like the willingness of the crowd to accept comforting lies rather than face the reality of the world or their own responsibilities for it.  While the scene with Darkseid and the park-goers may feel a tad out of character, it helps to cement the thematic thrust of the issue and the result is a surprisingly thoughtful tale.  I’m really quite impressed.

This issue doesn’t suffer from the unevenness of the previous offering, and though it still has some awkward dialog, notably from the Forever People themselves, that problem isn’t as noticeable either.  There isn’t a lot that really happens here, but it is interesting that Kirby indulges in an entire issue where the villains are ascendant.  There’s no triumphant escape, no heroic defiance, nothing but defeat and despair.  That’s very unusual, and it is effective at establishing the vicious evil of Desaad and the power of the Apokoliptian forces.  The art is also impressive, possessing Kirby’s usual excellence, but he really outdoes himself on Desaad’s cruel, leering visage in several spots, as well as his boisterous portrayal of Happyland.  I’ll give this surprisingly sophisticated comic 4 Minutemen.  It’s worth reflecting on what illusions might be distorting our own view of the world.

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P.S.: Notably, this issue came during the infamous price increase of the early 70s, when DC books went from .15¢ to .25¢, many of them adding reprints to make it up to the readers.  Kirby’s book, for its part, added pin-ups of the Forever People which are fairly nice, as well as a Golden Age Sandman story penned by none other than Simon and Kirby, which is pretty cool.


G.I. Combat #149


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“Leave the Fighting to Us”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“Last Man – Last Shot”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
Editor: Robert Kanigher

Our issue of G.I. Combat this month is a very unusual one, featuring a subject not often tackled in Silver or Bronze Age comics, even war comics.  The cover gives no real hint of the type of tale waiting within, though it is a fair ‘imminent peril’ image.  The composition feels a bit unbalanced, though, perhaps because the tank is shoved out of center stage by the promotional box about Sgt. Rock.  And, of course, it features the notorious yellow skies of classic comic covers.

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The yarn with in starts with a bang, as Jeb and his crew discover a pair of G.I.s racing across a bridge in a jeep and falling prey to a Nazi fighter.  The Haunted Tank leaps into action, racing against the death-dealing German warbird, and they finally manage to knock it out of the sky in a pretty nice sequence.  Once they crash through the plane’s flaming wreckage (!), they discover that saved the jeep’s driver, but he is busy performing last rites for his passenger, and doing so in the Jewish fashion.  This type of portrayal of other cultures and faiths was still pretty rare at the time, so this is a notable moment.

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The driver, Sgt. Saul Levy, is a new tank commander for their unit, and he as saying the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead over his fallen friend.  Once they all reach the camp, Levy doesn’t really fit in, and he’s picked on by some of the other men.  Fortunately, there are those who stick up for him.

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When they go out on a mission the next day, they encounter a striking sight, and one rarely seen before in comics: a concentration camp victim, a living scarecrow and temporary survivor of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”  That’s right, this comic actually portrays, in a Comic Code kind of way, the Holocaust, which is impressive and praiseworthy.  Unfortunately, the escaped prisoner has used all of his strength, and after he tells the tankers about a concentration camp nearby, he breaths his last.

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When they approach the camp, the two tanks are targeted by a pair of turrets, and Sgt. Levy makes a mad dash across the field to spike both guns.  It’s a dramatic sequence, and the heroic deed earns the young commander the respect of his crew.  They push their assault and destroy the guard towers protecting the camp, liberating the prisoners.  The pitiful figures, starved and barely able to walk, shuffle out to meet the tankers, and among them Sgt. Levy finds his own uncle, David.

Just then, another Nazi fighter drops out of thy sky, guns blazing.  Levy saves his uncle and knocks out the plane, but not before he is mortally wounded.  The book ends with the old man tearfully pronouncing the Kaddish over his body, honoring him in the tradition of his faith.  Meanwhile, Jeb prays for his fallen comrade in his own way.

This is a brief and bittersweet little tale, but it is remarkable for exposing, however slightly, the horrors of the Holocaust and focusing specifically on its impact on and importance for the Jewish community.  It’s really interesting and fitting that our perspective character for this story, the one who saves the day and liberates the camp, is himself Jewish.  For him, the camps are not some alien concept, a horror softened by distance and because it is happening to strangers.  In fact, he finds a family member among the victims within the compound, making the tragedy personal as well as profound.  Kanigher is employing a surprisingly light touch with Levy and with the subject matter in general, and the result is a striking and readable story.  It both introduces readers briefly to the nature of the Holocaust and engages with antisemitism, demonstrating the dangers of such ignorance and the heroism of the people it targets.  The only real flaw is that the Haunted Tank is pretty much a background figure in its own story, but that is acceptable every once in a while.  Russ Heath’s art is pitch-perfect, as usual, capturing both the ‘blood and thunder’ action as well as the quiet, emotional moments, like the heart-rending image of the concentration victim’s death.  I’ll give the story overall 4.5 Minutemen.

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And with that unusual tale, we wrap up this batch of books.  These are a surprisingly worthwhile set of comics, each more than meets the eye in different ways.  I hope you enjoyed my commentary and that you will join me again soon, for another stop in our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 1)

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Hello friends and Internet travelers, and welcome to the start of a new month of Bronze Age comics!  We begin September 1971 with these two books, and once again the Super Family leads off, though the stories themselves might not quite live up to that moniker.  Let’s find out as we journey further Into the Bronze Age!

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


This month in history:

  • The Irish Republican Army set off a number of bombs, causing damage and injuries across Ireland
  • Qatar regains complete independence from Britain
  • Watergate team breaks into Daniel Ellsberg’s doctor’s office
  • A baby girl and several soldier are killed in separate shooting incidents in Northern Ireland
  • Alaskan 727 crashes into Chilkoot Mountain, kills 109
  • British Prime Minister Edward Heath meets with Irish Prime Minister/Taoiseach Jack Lynch at Chequers in England to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland
  • William Craig and Ian Paisley speak at a rally in Belfast before a crowd of approximately 20,000 people and call for the establishment of a ‘third force’ to defend ‘Ulster’
  • 1,000 convicts riot & seize Attica, NY prison, leading to the deaths of 11 guards & 31 prisoners
  • John Lennon releases his “Imagine” album
  • Two North Ireland Loyalists are mortally injured when the bomb they were preparing exploded prematurely in Belfast
  • 6 Ku Klux Klansmen arrested in connection with bombing of 10 school buses
  • Momofuku Ando markets the first Cup Noodle, packaging it in a waterproof polystyrene container
  • US performs nuclear tests at Nevada Test Site
  • 90 Russian diplomats expelled from Britain for spying
  • MP David Bleakley resigns in protest over the introduction of Internment and the lack of any new political initiatives by the Northern Ireland government

It looks like this was a tempestuous month in 1971, with the Troubles in Ireland escalating and the death-toll rising.  We also see the opening moves of the Watergate scandal taking place, though these events wouldn’t come to light until later.  This month also saw the infamous riot at Attica prison, which proved bloody and traumatic.  This is an event that would loom large in the memory of the decade.  Notably, it seems that the domestic terrorist group, The Weathermen, got involved in the action, launching a retaliatory bombing during the conflict, because there’s nothing like blowing up innocent people to accomplish your goals!  We’ve also got more domestic troubles on the list, with continuing racial conflict in the form of the activities of the KKK.  It’s a bleak, grim time, and that’s for sure.  I imagine that the adventures of some colorful superheroes were a welcome escape for some.  I know how they felt.

On top of the charts this month was Donny Osmond’s “Go Away Little Girl,” the sweet innocence of which stands in pretty stark contrast to the events of the day.


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.


Action Comics #404


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“Kneel to Your Conqueror, Superman!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Specter of 3000-Moons Lake!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Coward and the Hero”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Day They Killed Clark Kent”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got rather exceptionally yellow cover on this month’s Action issue, and Neal Adams makes the Roman-esq figure in the center look rather like Superman, which makes the scene a tad confusing.  Still, it’s a solid if unimpressive representation of the tale within, though the yellow isn’t terribly attractive.  As for the story in question, it’s a fairly forgettable one, starting with Clark Kent getting an assignment to do a story on a government think tank.  On the way to the coastal facility, an earthquake strikes, and Superman goes into action, shoring up the cavern underneath the building.  Yet, when he arrives at the lab, instead of finding the scientists panicked, he finds that they were expecting him to arrive and save the day precisely when he did.  This was all predicted by a genius named Caesar, who plugs into a massive computer and runs calculations, forming the basis for much of their research.

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action-404-08-06 - CopyIt turns out that this fellow, Rufus Caesar, is a major fan of the Man of Steel, and he invites the hero back to his home to view some of his awards.  Once there, the Action Ace sees that the scientist has a big collection of Superman memorabilia.  Apparently, the fellow is not only a fan, he idolizes the hero.  Things take a turn for the creepy when Caesar has the Metropolis Marvel try on a piece of a salvaged Superman robot, only to reveal that it is a trap, which paralyzes the Kryptonian.

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Plugging the helpless hero into a strange machine, Caesar begins to siphon away his powers one by one, declaring that he has admired Superman for so long that he now wants to be him.  Unlike the Man of Tomorrow, this sinister scientist will use such powers to make himself the ruler of the world.

Despite his butler’s misgivings, Caesar carries on with the procedures, testing his newfound abilities as he gets them.  Yet, using stolen vision powers, Caesar discovers a cable-car nearby that is in danger of falling.  After trying to fly through the wall before getting invulnerability, he decides to finish the job before going to the rescue.

 

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Super Head-Trauma!

Donning a custom-made costume, he becomes “Super Caesar” (how creative), and plugs into his machine once more.  Yet, things don’t go as he planned, as Superman, who has been resisting the energy drain all this time, suddenly gives in, and the power flowing into Caesar’s body is far too much for his mortal frame to hold.  In a panic, the butler reverses the device, and the powers flow back into their rightful owner, who rushes off to save the cable-car.  When he returns, the Action Ace discovers that “Super Caesar” has become “Super Vegetable,” as the machine fried his brain!  In a rather macabre coda, this makes for a great story for Clark Kent, and Morgan Edge is pleased by the scoop.

So, this is a rather uninspiring rehash of the ‘someone steals Superman’s powers’ bit.  It’s fine and inoffensive, but it isn’t terribly compelling either.  There are some interesting elements here, like the fact that the fellow’s turn towards evil springs out of his obsessive hero-worship of the Man of Steel and the butler’s reticence, but Dorfman makes little of these highlights.  That’s a shame, because there is a good dramatic potential in a character who is as much a symbol as Superman dealing with the dangers of hero-worship.  We do get further evidence about the deplorable state of higher education in the DC Universe.  I know grad school tends to scar folks, but what must be going on at the universities in this setting where every third PhD decides they want to rule the world?  Maybe I’m being too hard on them.  After all, I know plenty of PhDs, and some of them are none too stable.  Perhaps the real difference is that in the DCU they actually have the technology to allow them to do it!  Either way, I suppose such ruminations have caused me to wander from the point.  I’ll give this story an average score of 3 Minutemen.

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“The Day They Killed Clark Kent”


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Our backup this month is another tale of the college Clark Kent, and this one is a fun and unusual offering.  The theme of this collegiate yarn?  Hazing, of all things!  It begins with Clark interrupting the rowdiest frat on campus hazing a kid he knows named Dave.  The poor schlub is tied to a chair having his face covered in shaving cream, and Clark decides to intervene while making it look like an accident, pretending to slip on the shaving cream and smacking each of the offending frat boys in the process.  It’s a funny little scene, though, I have to say, if this is the worst frat’s idea of hazing, Dave is getting off easy!  I’ve seen much worse in my time.

Dave is none too thankful for the rescue, and when the “brothers” approach him, wanting to prank the mild-mannered journalism student, he agrees.  Of course, privacy is nothing to Superboy, who eavesdrops on the conversation and is ready for their antics.  When the boys ask him to join the group and show up for some harmless initiation ceremonies, he is prepared.

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The punks put their victim in a movable platform and tell him he’s on a pirate ship (rather imaginative for frat boys, really).  They throw sand in his face and hit him with a fan, but Clark uses the confusion of the prank to use a bit of super breath to wreck their frat house and make them think it was their own fan.  Next, they try to make him walk the plank into a tub of water, but the Teen of Steel drives it right through the floor!  Finally, they get Dave to use a cattle prod on the blindfolded boy!  Now that’s definitely hazing!

Clark fakes being electrocuted by a short-circuit and stops his heart, causing the prank-happy punks to panic and leave him there, possibly dead.  Planning to capture them as Superboy and let them sweat about having killed someone (!), the Campus Marvel observes Dave rally the other morons and bring them back to help their victim.  Clark pretends to come to, and the little episode comes to a happy conclusion as the frat boys clean up their acts and convert their party pad into a study area to help struggling students.  That’s quite a switch, but I’m wondering if these knuckleheads are really the ones you’d want tutoring you!

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So, this fun little college adventure definitely has the feel of an adult trying to write about youthful antics, but it manages to be fun despite that, and it actually delivers a worthwhile if clunky moral about the problem of hazing.  Now, as someone who teaches undergraduates and has seen plenty in his day, I can tell you that this remains a problem, and a serious one, despite the fact American culture tends to think of it as harmless fun.  In fact, I imagine it has probably gotten worse, despite attempts by institutions to crack down on the practices, and let me tell you, the fairly innocuous pranks in this comic don’t hold a candle to the kind of insane and simply stupid stuff kids get up to these days.

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In general, I’ve found Greek Life to be an overall detriment to campuses and students, and hazing is just one part of that.  To my mind, the negatives of these groups far outweigh the positives.  I can’t tell you how many struggling students have confessed to prioritizing asinine fraternity or sorority activities over their coursework or who get wrapped up in the poisonous drinking culture centered on these groups.  Anyway, I seem to have wandered afield from the fairly innocent story at hand here.  I’ll give this silly but entertaining little tale 3 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #410


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“The Nature of the Beast!”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Joe Orlando

“The Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires”
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Penciler: John Forte
Inker: John Forte
Letterer: Milt Snapinn
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Ruler Without a Planet”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inker: Vince Colletta

We’ve got a couple of rather odd Supergirl yarns this month, and in an unusual switch, the cover story is not our lead feature.  It is a solid enough design, a surprising image, well rendered, and it represents its tale well.  Yet, our first adventure, strangely enough, would have made for a much better and more exciting image, as it features some really cool looking monsters.  Why pass up creepy creatures for a kid?  Either way, the story in question, begins with Linda Danvers visiting Nasty Luthor at her new apartment.  The scheming femme fatale is trying to convince Linda to be her roommate so that she can spy on her and prove that she is Supergirl.  *sigh*  This again?  I was hoping this incredibly stupid plot thread would be dropped when Sekowsky left the book!  Unfortunately, that’s not the only stupid moment this issue.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of why Linda would even begin to consider rooming with her nemesis, something much more interesting interrupts the conversation, as the Maid of Might observes the man next door being attacked by a pair of really nicely designed bird-men!  Making her excuses about having a hair appointment, the mild-mannered maiden dashes off, only to return as Supergirl and burst in to tackle the monsters.  She makes short work of them, but her superpowers fade out again just as she pursues them out the window.

adventurecomics410p08She notes that she’s not wearing her power devices, which were designed for just such a situation!  There’s no explanation, no editorial note, just a big dose of idiot-ball powered stupidity to create some drama as she desperately clings to the avian antagonists, only to fall helplessly before snagging a ledge at the last minute.  It’s a fine adventure sequence, but it’s catalyst is just moronic.  Anyway, back in the apartment, Nasty responds to the commotion and finds the victim of the attack, Mike Merrick, who is in full 70s sleaze mode from the first moment he wakes up.  Thinking Nasty has somehow chased away his attackers and seemingly completely unperturbed by being assaulted by six foot tall talking canaries, Mike asks Nasty out to dinner.  When Linda shows up, feeling a bit jealous about her nemesis getting the credit, he asks her too.  That can’t end badly.

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Mike takes the two ladies out dancing, but he ignores Nasty all night and just dances with Linda, which is sort of a jerk move in general but especially if he thinks the former saved his life!  On the way home, they are kidnapped by another pair of bird-men, who call Mike “the evil-one.”  They carry them far out to sea and deposit them on an island inhabited by more of their kind.  There the squawking chief of the tribe tells the story.  Apparently these monsters are no natural occurrence but poor natives, mutated by the cruel experiments of a scientist, who was helped by…Mike Merrick!  The chirping-chief also claims Merrick stole a sacred jewel from their idol and killed the scientist to keep it for himself.  Linda is horrified that her handsome date could be so cold-blooded.

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Mike refuses to return the gem, claiming innocence, but the atavistic avians are having none of it.  They strap Linda to a cross and tow her to the central volcano, threatening to throw her in unless her paramour cracks.  Finally, Mike gives in, and he tells them where to find the jewel.  Yet, the mutant natives lock the couple up nonetheless.  While imprisoned, the disguised Maid of Might confronts her date about the accusations against him, and he continues to claim innocence, saying he didn’t know about the experiments and that the professor’s death was an accident.  Suddenly, the treasure thief tosses a lit match into the hay in their cell, creating a blaze and luring a guard in where he can grab him.  Selflessly, Mike holds off their creepy captors, allowing Linda to escape.

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Fortunately for him, she changes to Supergirl and rescues him, only to run out of power and plunge into the ocean because she still isn’t wearing her devices.  Mike pulls her from the waves and reveals to her unconscious form that he knows her secret (which, realistically, he would almost have to after Supergirl’s arrival on this remote island, just as Linda disappeared), but that he lied about where he hid the treasure.  With a stolen kiss, he heads out on the lamb, knowing she’ll try to hunt him down.

The end…What?  You want to know what happened to the innocent natives who were turned into monsters after being subjected to inhuman experiments?  Well, too bad, there is star-crossed romance afoot!  Seriously, Joe Albano just completely drops that plot, ignoring the plight of the real victims of this story, which is a shame, because that is vastly more interesting than anything else happening in this book.  Despite that, and despite the stupidity of Supergirl just forgetting to wear her life-saving exo-frame and flight ring, this isn’t a bad read.  Mike Merrick is an interesting character in the little we see of him, a bad boy to whom Supergirl is obviously attracted in the way women are often attracted to jerks, but one who does have some scruples and who has a certain adventurous daring that is admirable.  Essentially, he’s Supergirl’s distaff (technically “spear”) version of Catwoman.  If we were introduced to him more as Indiana Jones and less as Casanova, this would be a stronger tale.

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And that is really the problem with this yarn.  The focus is consistently on the wrong notes, or at least, the right notes are dropped while trying to cram too much story into 14 pages.  If this had been a book-length tale, I imagine it would have been a good deal stronger.  There are still some fun and interesting ideas here, not least the dynamic between Supergirl and Mike.  The love triangle with them and Nasty is sort of funny, but the real highlight of the book is the reversal Albano pulls off with the monsters being the victims of the tale, while still remaining antagonists.  Those bird-men are wonderfully designed and drawn too, with great detail and a wonderful sense of reality by Bob Oskner, whose work I don’t really know.  He does a solid job with the rest of the book, but I really love these anthropomorphic avians.  They have an animalistic quality in movement and mannerism that is impressive and rather unusual.  They remind me a bit of the “monkey-birds” from The Pirates of Dark Water.  With art that is better than its writing, I’ll give this story 3 Minutemen, as it intrigued me, even as it frustrated me.

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“The Ruler Without a Planet”


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Our backup is, sadly, not a new Legion story.  Our dose of Legion legends this month is just a reprint.  Instead, we get another somewhat half-baked Supergirl adventure.  It begins in dynamic enough fashion, with a massive monkey (really an ape, but who’s counting bananas?) who is reenacting King Kong in downtown.  He smashes through a  wall, and, when Supergirl arrives, gives her a belt for her troubles.  She manages to knock out the big ape, notably thinking about not wanting to hurt him but reasoning that, while she can disable him without permanent damage, the police would have to kill him.  That is a small but pleasant piece of characterization.

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Suddenly a fire breaks out, and just as she goes to use her superbreath, the Maid of Might’s powers putter out.  Just then, a little girl steps in and uses her own dose of superbreath to extinguish the blaze.  The powerfully precocious little poppet tells Supergirl that she’s an alien with superpowers who accidentally took off in her step-father’s ship, landing on Earth shortly before the craft exploded.  The girl, Judy, demonstrates other powers when the Girl of Steel balks, and she requests to be the hero’s assistant, while revealing that she knows the Kryptonian’s secret identity.

Supergirl takes this all way too much in stride and happily inducts the flying five-year-old into superheroing.  I know there’s a tradition in comics of kid crime fighters, but this is just excessive!  Super powers or not, if a kid isn’t old enough to tie their shoe, they probably shouldn’t be capturing crooks!  The tone of this whole insane episode is just crazily casual, as the two go on to have various adventures.  Apparently Linda just sort of adopts Judy (one wonders how she explains having a flying, super recognizable child just show up living with her in her secret identity.

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“I guess I’m your mother now?”

adventurecomics410p45 - CopyThings change one night when Judy is contacted telepathically by her step-father, who reveals that this was all actually just a set-up, and he sent her to Earth to eliminate heroes like Supergirl.  He tells the child that kindness is weakness and only strength matters, brow-beating the little girl into carrying out his plan.  Yet, when Judy goes to murder the sleeping Supergirl, she can’t do it.  In response, her step-father removes her powers and tries to zap her from space.  Fortunately, the Maid of Might intervenes and takes off after his craft, only to watch helplessly as the Air Force jets shoot him down!  So as not to upset the child soldier, Linda tells her that her step-father got away, and together they watch his ship’s fiery death, pretending it is a falling star.

Whoa, heavy ending for a cute, silly little story.  Once again, Albano just doesn’t really develop his plot and leaves a major detail hanging.  This one, however, is a point that really can’t be ignored.  As of the end of this tale, Supergirl still has a little girl living with her.  What in the world is she going to do with her?  The wiki seems to imply that Judy returns at some point in time, but having looked ahead, it seems that she completely drops out of the strip.  This whole episode feels like a Silver Age comic or a particularly poorly thought-out Zaney Haney offering.  There’s not enough space given to the story for it to have much an impact, and while Judy’s choosing kindness over ruthlessness is sort of sweet, it all happens so quickly that it doesn’t have much weight.  I suppose I’ll give this silly little story 2 Minutemen.  It just doesn’t quite work.

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P.S.: This issue is notable for being the debut of Supergirl’s primary 70s costume, which, interestingly enough, was actually designed by a fan, which has been true of several of her costumes.  Fun!  The costume itself is incredibly 70s, almost as 70s as her 80s costume is 80s (one word: headband).  It’s not a bad look, really, being simple and recognizable, though it isn’t my favorite of her looks.  It’s also a bit too much of its time, and I generally prefer more timeless, iconic costumes.  I think such designs better capture the archetypal power of superheroes.

 


And with those issues finished, so is this post.  There are some interesting seeds planted with this month’s Supergirl tales, and I’ll be curious to see if anything comes of them.  I’m also curious if there was any particular instance of hazing in the zeitgeist at the time that might have lead to the college Clark story.  Whatever the case, I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentaries and that y’all will join me again soon for the next step in our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 5)

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Hello Internet travelers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Strange sights await you in this post, my dear readers, like Lois Lane being jealous of a tree, a Titan becoming a teenage witch, or time-traveling 70s thugs!  It’s an unusual batch of books we have on the docket.  So, let’s 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 #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112


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“A Tree Grows in Metropolis!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Rock and Rose”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

This is a bit of a weird one, folks.  It has a solid enough cover, even if it is pretty gimmicky.  Interestingly and unusually enough, the cover proves to be a pretty honest representation of what’s inside.  We join the story with Superman scouting a dying planet, abandoned by an advanced race when they outgrew the world.  The vegetation seems to dying now that the inhabitants are gone.  Bizarrely, the Man of Steel has a vision of Lois wrapped in foliage, only to discover that it is actually a strange alien tree that has somehow survived.  Deciding to save the plant, he brings it home…and then plants it in Metropolis Park.  Planting an alien lifeform in the middle of a densely populated city?  What could possibly go wrong?

Oddly, the men of the city are fascinated with this extraterrestrial arboreal artifact, but the women are repulsed.  Reporting on the story, Lois finds herself uncomfortable around it, and her unease proves well-founded when, after their date that night, Superman detours to the park, where he stands entranced in front of the plant.  Suddenly, the tree “speaks” telepathically, introducing itself as Rzalin and declaring its love for the Man of Tomorrow.  Inexplicably, the Kryptonian hero becomes enslaved to its will and begins to carry out its commands, creating a moat of lava around the being to protect it (which would cool relatively quickly, but oh well).  When Lois objects, Superman actually knocks her out with a nerve pinch!

The Metropolis Marvel begins to bring the tree materials from around the galaxy, carrying out some type of plan.  The graceful girl reporter tries to intervene, poll vaulting (!) over the moat and confronting the alien.  It is then that Rzalin reveals its plan, whereby it will convert its Kryptonian captive into another tree by an elixir made from the materials he is collecting, and together they will release spores that will convert all of humanity into more of their kind.  Yet, the enterprising Lois came prepared, and she tries first to poison, then to burn, the tree.  Unfortunately, Superman stops her and takes her home again.

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Not to be daunted, the resourceful reporter thinks that she can destroy Rzalin with white kryptonite, which is deadly to all plants (which I didn’t know).  Fortunately, there is a sample at the Superman Museum, but before she can put her plan into action, she’s attacked by her own houseplant!  Apparently the heinous herb can control earthly plants.  Lois launches into a deadly race to the museum, but she is attacked by trees, flowers, and even gigantic pollen!

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Eventually, Rzalin brings her to the Park to watch its triumph, as Superman drinks the elixir and changes into another perfidious plant.  Just as Lois gives into despair, we suddenly see her and Superman looking at the tree, apparently perfectly fine.  The alien being dies, and the pair posit that it must have fed on mental energy, but the minds of earthlings weren’t strong enough to support it.  Lois supposes that, since their minds were feeding it, they must have been in its fantasy…which doesn’t really follow.  The end…I guess?

That’s right, it was all just a dream.  For some reason.  This is an odd choice for a twist, as the story that came before wasn’t really about the tree, which is supposed to be the dreamer (and thus perspective character) in this scenario.  It’s incongruous and rather unsatisfying.  There are some positive elements to this story, though.  I enjoyed watching Lois play hero and take an active role in the plot.  She is determined, capable, and resourceful, and it suits her nicely.

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I’d rather have seen this played straight, with her able to rescue the Man of Steel.  Roth’s art is good as usual, but he seems to struggle with some of the more fantastic elements once again.  He really does a fantastic job on Lois’s expressions, however.  As is, the yarn feels…unnecessary.  So, this is a forgettable and awkward little tale that I’ll give 2 Minutemen.

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“Rock and Rose”


Our Rose and Thorn backup this month, in contrast, is another solid adventure.  We begin right where the last one left off, with Rose and her would-be executioner fleeing from the 100 gunmen sent to finish the job.  The youthful assassin-in-training, Leo, confesses to the Thorn that his masters had kidnapped his mother and were holding her in their casino barge as insurance…which seems to rather sharply contradict his portrayal last issue.  Leo seemed to need no extra motivation to go after the heroine in that story.

The pair face a running fight against the 100 goons, who all conveniently take the time to mouth partial threats before getting decked.  You’d think they’d learn to shoot first and brag later.  Finally the fleeing duo dive into the water and dodge gunfire beneath the waves.  When they emerge, a police boat happens by, responding to the gunfire, and it turns out that Detective Stone is aboard.  Thorn saves a drowning Leo and gives him to the police, but when the Detective touches her hand, there is a moment of almost-recognition for both of them.  This prompts the Vixen of Vengeance to swim away on her own.  Fascinatingly, we discover that, not only is Rose ignorant of the Thorn’s activities, the vigilante doesn’t quite understand her other half either.

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The next day, Rose turns down a date with her boss, Mr. Adams, who is secretly the head of the 100, to go to a concert in the park (watch out for the alien tree!) with Detective Stone.  With this useful piece of information, Adams orders a hit on Stone, but when the gunsels come to call, the Nymph of Night suddenly surges to the surface and takes control, easily disarming the two thugs.  Rose shakily exclaims that she thought she had forgotten all of the karate and judo her father had taught her, and before the killers can recover, they are swarmed by dirty hippies (what a horribly humiliating defeat).

Slipping away in the chaos, Rose turns into the Thorn once more and heads to the barge where the 100 are holding Leo’s mother.  Once aboard, the Wild Wraith is captured and, with Leo and his mother held at gunpoint, forced to surrender her utility bel…err, “Thorn Belt.”  Suddenly, all of the flash bangs and bombs in the belt go off, stunning her foes, and the Baleful Beauty bashes into them, taking out the killers and rescuing their prisoners.  Apparently, much like Batman (who she is totally not ripping off), the Thorn’s belt can’t be removed without setting off all of the ordinance, unless you press a hidden button.  Clever!  As the tale ends, she tells Leo to thank her by going straight.

This is another really, solidly good adventure in Kanigher’s run on this feature.  Once again he packs a ton into just a few pages, giving us a fun dose of action, but also advancing the overall plot and squeezing in a bit of characterization.  I find it very interesting that the Thorn was able to manifest during a moment of stress in the daytime (which is actually a more accurate portrayal of split personality, to my understanding).  The vigilante’s moment of contact with Stone was also intriguing, and I’m curious what (if anything) will come of it.

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The only real flaw is the sudden addition of Leo’s mother to the plot, which Kanigher absolutely didn’t setup properly in the previous tale, which makes that element feel like it comes out of left field.  On the art front, while I miss Gray Morrow’s really neat and unique style from the previous issue, Dick Giordano does a wonderful job here.  He draws an absolutely lovely Thorn, with a lot of nice detail, especially on her flowing hair, which whips around in combat and is always dramatically framing her face.  His action sequences look lovely, and though there are some rough spots, the whole is of a high quality.  I’ll give this brief but exciting backup 3.5 Minutemen.

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Teen Titans #34


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“The Demon of Dog Island”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy

So far, we have seen, to put it gently, a pretty uneven run on Teen Titans, with a lot of half-baked ideas and no clear direction.  That doesn’t necessarily end here, but this issue did manage to surprise the heck out of me and rise above the material that came before.  I expected another gimmicky, poorly thought-out and poorly executed adventure from the (admittedly fun) cover, but there is a lot more here than you might expect.  This cover, with the dramatic image of Wonder Girl menacing her friends and with the foreboding house looming in the background, is beautifully rendered by Nick Cardy, and it sets a suitably creepy stage.

Inside, the eerie mood is not wasted, as we join the action with a cloaked figure fleeing from a pack of savage dogs on a barren island.  She is then attacked by a hulking fellow named Jed Jukes.  During the struggle, we see that the figure is none other than Donna Troy, Wonder Girl, who easily throws the threatening thug aside.  Jukes is raving about witches and how the house she enters is cursed.  The house in question is a massive old mansion of sinister aspect, but it is inhabited by a kindly old woman in a wheelchair.  We discover that Donna is staying with this lady, Miss Wickersham, taking care of her.  How she knows her is never explained.

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After reading a ghost story of sorts to her elderly charge, Wonder Girl finds herself feeling odd and heads to bed, but the action of the night is not finished yet, as a little later the rest  of the Titans make their way to the house.  Lilith has had a vision of their teammate in trouble, and teen heroes have come to the rescue.  Suddenly, the psychic sees a cloaked figure, but when the others look, there is nothing there.  Then, Speedy is unexpectedly clotheslined from the car, and the group is beset by the Jukes brothers, who once again are carrying on about witches and warlocks.  The team makes short work of them in a rather nice panel, with even Lilith pulling her weight.  Recovering the Boy Bowman, the Titans make their way to the mansion, where they find Donna, seemingly safe and sound.  Yet, despite her protestations that she went straight to bed, Lilith observes mud on her friend’s boots.

The next morning, the Titans are all charmed by Miss Wickersham and spend the day enjoying the beach, though Dick and Lilith both remain suspicious.  Their suspicions prove well-founded after night falls.  The muddled mystic sees Donna sneak out of her room, and when she goes to follow her friend, someone clocks her from behind!  (Adding a new face to the Head-Blow Headcount!)  The team awakes to a cry and finds Miss Wickersham’s poor cat strangled!  I was really surprised to see this in a comic of this era….and just in general.  Hurting animals is always a very dicey thing in storytelling.

The innocent kitty’s death proves there is something untoward going on, which is further confirmed by the scene playing out on the beach, where the sleepwalking Donna has wandered.  The Jukes have surrounded her, and Jed prepares to set his vicious dogs on the defenseless girl, only for his dog whistle to suddenly sprout branches.  The killer canines turn on their masters then, and only the timely arrival of the Titans saves the ruffians.  Meanwhile, Lilith, looking for Wonder Girl, stumbles upon a strange scene on a cliffside.  She sees a man in 17th Century garb conversing with a cloaked figure.  The man declares that he has returned for his companion, but she declares that she is stronger and always was, causing him to dissipates in a ghostly mist.

Back in the mansion, Lilith finds her friend still sleeping, but she also discovers something more sinister, the small noose used to strangle the cat!  This final piece enables the psychic to put the puzzle together.  She declares that Donna has been…possessed!  The mystic explains that such possessions are passed from one victim to another through secret rites, and the new vessel, as they are being made ready, will commit a ritual murder, which explains poor puss’s fate.

The Titans set out to solve the mystery, checking in on the wounded Jed Jukes, who they brought home after the dog attack, only to find him hanging upside down in the cellar!  Lilith, going off on her own again (you’d think she’d have learned by now), checks in on Miss Wickersham (and, let’s face it, in a story involving witches, the old lady with the cat is a prime suspect), only to be garroted by the awakened ancient after making an important discovery!

 

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Look at the magnificently malefic aspect Tuska gave the old woman.

 

Her teammates are attacked by a possessed Wonder Girl, who uses mystical powers to torment them.  Just as all seems hopeless, the mysterious figure from the cliff returns, grappling with the old woman and saving Lilith.  He declares that, this time, he is the stronger, because her time is running out.  He tells his aged antagonist that he won’t give up, because he loved her once, and he is waiting for her innocence to return, before fading away once more.  Intriguing!  At the same time, Robin manages to shatter a window, and the weak dawn light temporarily breaks the spell and brings Donna back to herself.

The day breaks, and Miss Wickersham lies near death, but Lilith has solved the mystery.  She is able to read the crone’s mind and sees that she is really over 300 years old and was once a girl named Magda Drachwyck, who loved a man named Gregori in a small European country.  Unfortunately, there were dark powers abroad in that era, and just before her wedding day, she was possessed by a cult of “Demonids” (really?), murdering her beloved as the evil took hold of her.  Eventually she was forced to flee to this island, and the spell-wrapped house has kept her alive for centuries.  By day, she was a sweet old lady, by night, a vicious witch.  Gregori, for his part, has haunted his former love ever since, waiting for the day that she will die, when the evil will be purged from her soul and they will be reunited.

With the facts of the case revealed, the heroes hope they can solve it, but it seems that, once a possession begins, it cannot be broken unless a token taken from the victim is recovered.  If the original host dies, it will be too late!  Desperately, the kids split up and search the house, but their efforts are for naught.  Finally, Robin discovers one of the stars from Wonder Girl’s uniform in Miss Wickersham’s locket, and Speedy fires it into the sea, breaking the spell.  As the sunsets (and apparently, witches always die at sunset, as everyone knows), the old lady dies, but her freed spirit is greeted by her love, Gregori, and the two are reunited in eternity.

What an unusual story, but what a good one!  Here we see one of those rare instances where Zaney Haney’s overactive imagination is reigned in enough to focus on a single plot and develop a story fully.  It’s comics like this where we see how good a writer Haney could actually be, with his gift for unique characters and unusual situations married to a competently plotted script.  In fact, this is one of the better mysteries we’ve encountered so far, and certainly one of the better supernatural adventures, with a very effective eerie feel, and an enigma that is properly setup before its reveal.  The tale still moves a little too fast at times, and some of the specifics of Haney’s witch-lore are a bit goofy or fuzzy (Demonids?), as are some elements of the setting (how exactly does Wonder Girl know this random old woman?) but he successfully creates an engaging plot out of the broad strokes, even delivering some surprisingly compelling moments along the way.

The ghostly Gregori’s hopeless, dogged persistence in the face of his former love’s loathsome actions is touching, and their final reunion is quite moving because of that, especially considering how little time we spend with them.  In fact, that final scene has a good deal of power for a comic like this.  Lilith is probably the most useful and likeable here of any story we’ve seen so far, actually justifying her place on the team and not being unnecessarily cryptic.  In terms of the art, Tuska does a solid job throughout, although he really (presumably with Cardy’s help on the inks) blows me away in a few key scenes, delivering wonderful emotional and character work on faces, like Gregori’s on the cliffside and Miss Wickersham’s as she garrotes Lilith.  This is simply a surprisingly good read, and as such, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.


World’s Finest #204


“Journey to the End of Hope!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

We’ve got yet another odd one to cap off this post’s comics.  This issue is a strange mixture of thoughtful, creative elements with a plot that doesn’t really take advantage of them.  It has a relatively interesting cover, with the beautifully rendered central figures, courtesy of Neal Adams, plainly setting up the problem of the piece.  It’s unusual and it’s also honest enough, and, notably, it was probably a very proactive visual in 1971.  I can’t imagine there were many comics showing guns being pointed at protesting kids around that time.  This is a statement on the times that must have been more shocking in that era than it is today.  The tale within does turn on just this issue, after a fashion, and it begins at just such a protest, with Superman flying over a college campus, observing the tense standoff between students and guards.  At the moment, the sides seem to be behaving themselves, so the Action Ace heads to the office, where Perry White hands him an assignment, a human interest piece wherein the reporter will get a date through a computer dating service.  Strangely, after Clark has his marching orders, the editor wonders why he did this, noting that he hates computers.  Odd!

At the same time, in nearby Greenwich Village (what is it with O’Neil and forcing Superman into New York?), the former Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, gets a similar assignment from her mentor, I-Ching.  In a curious foreshadowing of the modern day, Clark and Diana find that the computers have matched them together.  In a rather nice scene, they chat about how they do make a certain amount of sense together, but their talk is interrupted by a trio of toughs.  These unwitting thus try to mug them, only to get their clocks cleaned by Diana.  It’s fun seeing Clark sit back and let his date do the heavy lifting.

World's Finest 204-06Smarting from their defeat, the punks decide that they must have revenge, and one of them draws a gun.  Unaware they’re being chased, the couple stop by a radio studio, which is supposed to be the first part of their date (which seems like a weird choice), but when they open the elevator doors, they find, not the office they expected, but a bleak, blasted landscape!  Suddenly, the not so wondrous woman is unable to breathe, and the Man of Steel realizes that there is very little oxygen in the atmosphere.  At super speed, he finds a pocket of air underground and carries his date to safety.  Building her a shelter, the Kryptonain, who doesn’t need air, sets out to see what is going on here.

World's Finest 204-11Finding a bizarre, golden tower, the only sign of life on this desolate world, he charges in, smashing past defenses, only to find himself face to circuit with a robot, built into the structure itself.  The machine explains that this is the future of the Earth, 2171, one hundred years in his future.  Apparently, an event in Superman’s time lead to the destruction he has observed in this future.  Notably, the android explains that this is just a possible future, and one which might be prevented if the catalyst event is altered.  Realizing this, the mechanical man developed time travel capacity (how convenient!), allowing it to bring forward agents that could affect such change.  To that end, it was the machine that manipulated events in the past to bring the two heroes together, which just seems unnecessarily complicated.  It then shows Superman a clip of the defining moment, a college protest which turns into a riot, during which someone will be killed, someone who, otherwise, would prevent this future.

Just then, on the robot’s monitors, the Man of Steel observes that pack of punks from earlier, who have stumbled through the same time-slip as the heroes and who are now rushing towards Diana’s shelter.  Inside, they menace the martial-arts mistress, until the Metropolis Marvel arrives and defeats them with ludicrous ease.  One can only assume that criminals in the DC Universe are just amazingly stupid after these idiots attack the invulnerable, super strong demigod with their bare hands.  After the thugs are disabled, Superman and Diana share a moment that threatens to turn romantic.  Just before it does, Clark breaks away.  It’s an interesting little scene, and I rather wonder if it ever gets followed up during this era.

World's Finest 204-22 - CopyAfter rescuing the former Wonder Woman, the Man of Tomorrow heads back to the robot’s citadel, only to find it running out of energy.  Gathering the other three unwilling time travelers, Superman desperately races to get back through the time rift before it closes, just barely making it.  Grabbing Diana, he races off once again to reach the site of the destined riot, and the two split up to try and calm things down.  Their efforts are for naught, though, as one of the hot-headed students throws a Molotov cocktail, blowing up a car, and the guards open fire.  In the aftermath, Diana finds a kid safe and sound who matches the description of the future-bot, only for Superman to discover a dead guard who also could be the one.  Desperately, the heroine asks her partner which one is their target, only for him to respond hopelessly that they’ll never know until it’s too late!

That’s quite an ending!  It’s a bold move from a writer known for bold moves, with the situation left unresolved and a reasonably subtle delivery (for O’Neil) of his message.  There are some fascinating ideas at play here, as well as a really interesting reaction to contemporary events, but the plot really needed another pass to tighten the story up.  It’s unnecessarily convoluted, and we spend way too much time with the random thugs who want to shoot Wonder Woman.  They add nothing to the plot or to the development of the story’s themes.  I think this would have worked much better if the heroes had been summoned to the future more directly (if the machine can manipulate people’s minds to arrange a date, it could have done the same thing to just get those two to show up in the same place) and then spent more time on campus for the final crisis.

As is, the resolution is really rushed, and the dramatic, weighty declarations of doom delivered by the future-bot are undercut by the random arrival of the three thieves.  On the positive side, it’s really fascinating to see the more sophisticated treatment of time travel that this comic employs, with the concept of possible futures and alternate time-lines.  That’s a relatively later development of the genre, and one not often found in lighter fare.  I’m sure O’Neil wasn’t the first to use this device, but I don’t think it was particularly wide-spread by ’71, making his use of it here innovative and impressive.  O’Neil also does a good job writing both Wonder Woman and Superman, which makes sense given his experience with both, and their interaction is really interesting.  Dick Dillin’s art is a bit uneven at times, but once again, his work here proves superior to that on JLA, with some really dynamic and also some really subtle work in action scenes and character moments.  He produces a few panels that are downright magnificent.

Perhaps most notably, this issue seems to be a clear commentary on the then recent shootings at Kent State, which loom large in the American zeitgeist of that era.  It’s interesting to see such a major event echoing into comics this way, and O’Neil’s take on it is really quite impressive in the little space he devotes to it.  He presents the perspective of both sides in the conflict, with the kids frustrated at their lack of reception by the powers that be and the guards on edge because of abuse they’ve taken from the kids.  Yet, he also illustrates the overly aggressive attitude by some of the guards.  The final thrust of the piece, focusing on the lost potential of young lives ended, even if doing so in the most dramatic way possible, is really rather thought-provoking..  I suppose in the final analysis, I’ll give this off-beat issue 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s flawed, but it is really fascinating.

minute3.5

 


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

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

After a quiet period, we got not one but two new additions to the Headcount this month.  In this post, we have a brand new addition to our prestigious club, with Lilith of the Teen Titans making an appearance.  That means that we have most of the Titans team on the wall.  We’re only missing Speedy and Mal!  I wonder if they’ll join the gang before the end of the era.


Final Thoughts:


With these three issues, we wrap up August 1971, which proved to be an important and memorable time in the Bronze Age, featuring a number of stories that would go on to have major implications for the DC Universe.  First we saw the reappearance of Two-Face after decades in obscurity, and even though his story wasn’t quite the triumphant return that will greet the Joker in a few years, it was a still a fun adventure and marked an important re-connection of Batman to his history and rogue’s gallery.  Despite the issue’s weaknesses, it still displayed a sophistication of art and characterization that marks the continuing growth and evolution of the Bat-books, which in many ways seem to be ahead of the rest of the DC Universe.

Even more noteworthy, this month saw the debut of the landmark drug story arc of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  That comic, which was much better than I expected it to be, was an absolute bolt from the blue when it appeared.  It’s hard to recapture it’s significance over 40 years later, but despite it’s awkwardness and the clumsiness of some of O’Neil’s writing, we can still admire his attempt to grapple with something so very troubling and perilous in his world.  The popularity of the issue, despite its obvious flaws, is indicative of just how much it resonated with audiences at the time.

Of course, one of the major problems with that story are revealed in the fairly innocuous second appearance of Speedy this month, in Teen Titans, wherein he is his usual happy-go-lucky self, with no trace of a drug habit or the trauma that was supposed to have caused it.  Denny O’Neil’s loose attention to continuity leads to some significant dissonance between the portrayals.  Worse than that will be the ongoing portrayal, where Speedy, I imagine, will likely continue unaffected (not least because he’s under the pen of one of the least continuity sensitive writers working at the time, Bob Haney).  This undermines oen of the great strengths of shared-universe storytelling.

In the wider DC Universe, it seems that signs of unrest are everywhere, even showing up in the background of The Flash.  Once again, the pressures on campus and the continuing generational conflict is center stage in some of our stories.  These themes take two very different forms that remain similar in some notable ways.  While the Robin backup focuses on drop-out culture and the rebellion against authority and the World’s Finest issue focused on the unknowable cost that follows the loss of a young life, they both also put narrative effort into presenting a balanced portrayal of both sides of their pictured conflicts.  The DC writers seem to be making efforts to create a reasoned approach to these themes, even while courting younger readers, which makes sense given the more conservative nature of the company.  Still, it is an admirable effort at creating understanding, even if only in small ways.

This month also saw Mike Sekowsky depart Adventure Comics and DC Comics in general.  While I’m not sorry to see him go from Supergirl, it is a shame that we never got to see Sekowsky really develop his own series, with both of his self-authored ideas falling flat.  It’s especially lamentable that his excellent Manhunter 2070 concept didn’t take off.  It’s a little bittersweet to see one of the defining architects of the DC Universe ride into the sunset.

Whatever else it was, this was certainly a memorable month of comics, and it gave us some unexpected gems, like this issue of Teen Titans.  I hope that y’all have enjoyed this leg of the journey as much as I have!  Please join me soon for the beginning of our next month.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 4)

DC-Style-Guide-1

“Ping! Ping! Ping!”  Mother Box says, “Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!”  Clearly New Genesis technology is so advanced as to have developed excellent taste.  As proof, I’ve got a smattering of classic comics for you, including the next chapter in Jack Kirby’s epic Fourth World Saga!  It’s an honestly intriguing trio of books on the docket in this bunch, so let’s jump right 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 #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


Mr. Miracle #3


Mister_Miracle_Vol_1_3

“The Paranoid Pill!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We start off on a great foot, with this Kirby classic where the King is starting to hit his stride with his unusual superhero.  Ironically, this is probably one of his Mr. Miracle run’s weakest covers, while also being one of his more memorable stories.  The crowd in the image looks suitably maddened, but the perspective is a bit wonky, and the coloring job lets it down, with the mixture of single color and full color characters being a bit distracting.  And why in the world is our hero completely white?  The composition feels unbalanced and crowded by the title, though it effectively captures the feel of the issue.

And the issue is definitely a good one, though it suffers from some of the Kirby-as-writer excesses we’ve been noting.  Having learned at the Stan Lee School of Exposition, where the only thing better than text is yet more text, the King overwrites throughout, starting with the first scene.  A number of silver androids, called “animates,” swarm through a Boom Tube into an empty room, where they set up an office, and the caption declares that “Sometimes, there are things that take place in empty rooms that defy belief, and so go unnoticed!”  Think about that for a moment, as written.  I don’t think that something taking place in an empty room is escaping notice because it “defies belief.”  It might just be because the room is…you know…empty.

mr miracle 03-01 the paranoid pill

Nonetheless, we discover that these silver creatures are artificial constructs, all animated by a single mind, a creature that was once a man but has now become a being of pure energy.  This being is Dr. Bedlam, who slowly takes possession of one of his animates, molding it into the shape he wore in life.  Despite the overwritten dialog, this is a pretty cool scene, and there is a nice air of menace to the whole tableau.  What’s more, while this type of sci-fi concept is pretty common in the genre today, popping up in modern shows like Babylon 5 and the like, it strikes me that it must have been much more groundbreaking in 1971.  I can only think of one example in comics that predates it (though there may be more), and that is NoMan from the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and I can’t think of any well-known sci-fi novels before this point that explored the idea of beings of pure energy inhabiting temporary bodies.  The use of actual brain transplants and such parallels are much more common and date back to the beginning of the century, as early as the John Carter novels (1927).  Yet, this seems pretty original.  Once again, Kirby is just casually tossing out fascinating and innovative ideas that could easily support much larger works.

mr miracle 03-02 the paranoid pill

The unique Dr. Bedlam, after taking possession of his body, dismisses the rest of his animates and, with super overly dramatic dialog, picks up the phone and calls Scott Free!  I quite like Bedlam’s design, in keeping with many of the other Apokoliptians we’ve seen so far, but bearing his own sinister identity.  His call finds Mr. Miracle in his usual position, strapped into an elaborate trap and preparing an escape.  It’s a great splash page of wonderful Kirby art.  Scott and Oberon have a fun back and forth as the escape artist asks his assistant to get the phone, completely unconcerned about the nearness of a rather messy death.  Poor Oberon.  This job can’t be good for his blood pressure.  Casually escaping the trap with a full second to spare, the hero answers the phone and receives a challenge, which he accepts.

 

After the call, Scott tries to explain what Bedlam is, offering that he is pure mental energy, making him very dangerous, but adding that Mother Box is fortunately able to guard against such psionic assaults.  What follows is a fairly cool sequence that doesn’t get enough explanation.  Mr. Miracle conducts a seance of sorts with Oberon in which he contacts Dr. Bedlam and experiences a mental attack, and using Mother Box, weathers the storm.  It’s a creepy and suitably imaginative scene, but the purpose and motivations behind it are really unclear.  Does Scott do this to head off an attack he expects, or is this just a way to show Oberon Bedlam’s power?  Kirby’s slightly muddy writing doesn’t clarify.  Yet, the scene does have the effect of establishing the power and threat of the bad Doctor, which is something.

 

After scaring poor Oberon half to death, Mr. Miracle takes to the sky and heads to a high-rise where he is to meet the Apokoliptian.  There, Bedlam offers the escape artist a choice, either surrender to his citizen’s arrest, or escape from a trap of his devising.  It’s never made clear why Scott would show up in the first place, but he is the kind of guy that likes to face danger head-on, so I can at least partially hand-wave that.

mr miracle 03-12 the paranoid pill

Anyway, the Dr. tells the slippery superhero that all he has to do is descend through the 50 stories of the building and walk out through the front door, but to make things interesting, he shows his foe the substance of his trap, a concoction he calls the Paranoid Pill, which he drops into the building’s ventilation system.  Soon the drug does its work, turning the everyday inhabitants of the office building into madmen, and the tower is full of “an army of unreasoning, unpredictable, unstoppable enemies!”  Mr. Miracle lashes out, but Dr. Bedlam simply abandons his animate, which is a nice touch, a villain that cannot really be fought.

 

mr miracle 03-13 the paranoid pill

A great page, absolutely full of menace.

 

Kirby provides a wonderful illustration of the Paranoia Pill taking hold, with people panicking and running wild throughout the building, and it isn’t long before a gang of maddened men burst into the office that traps our hero.  Sensibly, Scott tries the window, only to find it charged with “cosmi-current,” leaving him only one way out.  He flies along the ceiling in a great sequence, dodging the ad-hoc attacks of the panicked populace flooding the halls.  He narrowly escapes into the elevator, only to be attacked by a gun-totting citizen and forced to flee a host of ricocheting rounds on the 45th floor.

 

Unfortunately he leaps right into the arms of another crazed crowd, who, in their delusional state, mistake him for a demon.  The carry him along and lock him into a trunk, which they bind closed with rope and chains before deciding to dispose of this “demon” by chucking him down the central shaft of the building.  The comic ends on wonderful cliffhanger, with the trapped Mr. Miracle plummeting 45 floors to his doom!

 

This is a great issue, featuring a really unique and fitting challenge for the character.  The tower-turned-death-trap is a big enough threat to fill the comic (and then some), and the trope of innocents turned into threats is always a good twist to throw at a hero.  Kirby does a great job with the art throughout this issue, but his work on the crowds is just fantastic.  They’re individual and varied, as are their reactions to the gas itself.  Mr. Miracle’s desperate race through the high-rise makes for good action, and it’s nice to see him use his wits to escape rather than just plot devices and “Applied Phlebotinum.”   Bedlam makes for a good villain, and his gimmick is suitably creepy and outlandish.  Once again, I find myself in awe of Kirby’s creativity and the casual way in which he pours out innovative concepts.  Other than the overwritten sections and the lack of clear explanations, this is a good, solid adventure tale.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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Superman #241


Superman_v.1_241

“The Shape of Fear!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Superman’s Neighbors”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Stan Kaye

“Superman’s Day of Truth!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein

Here we are at the penultimate issue of Denny O’Neil’s innovative but rather weird run on Superman.  This comic is no exception to that description either, featuring a strange mix of elements.  Beginning with the cover itself, which is, of course, beautifully illustrated by Neal Adams, the issue is full of rather odd choices.  I like the image of the monster dragging our defeated hero and his doppelganger away, but the design for the monster itself is a bit curious, with its tail coming out of the center of its back rather than out of its tailbone as you might expect.  Also note the sign referencing New York.  Randomly, this story seems to be set in New York rather than Metropolis, down to including several New York landmarks.  Strange settings aside, it’s a solid enough cover, if not exceptional.  You can’t help but wonder what could defeat two Supermen.

The story itself begins where last issue left off, with the former Man of Steel, now just the Man of Flesh, having defeated the Intergang assassins.  I-Ching offers to complete the ceremony to restore the hero’s powers, but Superman refuses!  In a surprising and rather moving twist, Clark has a crisis of doubt.  He’s tasted what it’s like to be a mortal man (ignoring for the nonce that he’s experienced that TONS of times over the course of his career), and he sees now a chance to be free of the loneliness and crushing responsibility of being Superman.  It’s a great moment, but O’Neil doesn’t give it enough space to breathe.  No sooner does it begin than it is already ending.  I-Ching emphasizes that “one does not choose responsibility!  It is often thrust upon one!” and “To refuse it is to commit the worst act of cowardice.”  Despairing, the Kryptonian relents, and tells the old mystic to work his magic.

superman 241 p_004

I-Ching draws Superman’s spirit out of his body and sends it soaring off to find his dusty duplicate.  When the hero’s soul-form encounters his double, it drains the creature of its stolen powers, leaving it weakened and helpless.  When his spirit returns to his body, the Man of Steel finds himself full powered once more and rushes off to test himself.  He smashes a meteoroid, races around the Earth, and then spots a purse snatcher upon whom he can test his powers.  Faster than a speeding bullet, or a running thief, for that matter, the Action Ace builds a complete jail cell around the startled man in the middle of the street.  The people of Metropolis aren’t too pleased, and thus begins a display of classic Super-dickery.

 

superman 241 p_015The hero has suddenly become overbearing, brash, and more than a little selfish, and he begins to handle even the most minor of crimes with outlandish responses, like when he picks up a speeding car and deposits it on top of the Empire State Building (like I said, we’re suddenly in New York).  He also meets I-Ching up there at the blind man’s request.  The mystic points out this strange behavior and tells Superman that he thinks the Man of Tomorrow suffered brain damage when he was mortal, which enrages the hero.  Unable to convince the Metropolis Marvel that something is wrong, I-Ching turns again to magic, all the while talking about how it is a really bad idea because he doesn’t really know what he’s doing.  I knew they should have contacted Dr. Fate!

superman 241 p_014

The martial arts master conjures a spell to track the Sand Superman, and when he and Diana Prince find the weakened creature, they learn its origins.  Apparently it’s a being from the “Realm of Quarrm,” which I-Ching helpfully describes as “a state of alternate possibilities!  A place where neither men nor things exist…only unformed, shapeless begins!”  Sure, why not?

superman 241 p_016

The explosion that destroyed the world’s kryptonite ripped a hole between dimensions between Earth and Quarrm, and the energy that leaked out mingled with that of Superman as he lay stunned in the sand, eventually giving form to the formless.  Each time the two got close to each other, the Sandman gathered more and more power from his opposite number.  In a desperate bid, I-Ching plans to use this creature to drain Superman once more, but unbeknownst to them, a new tear has opened, and more energy begins to leak into this world.

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Sneaking into Morgan Edge’s apartment (for some reason), Diana calls Superman to lure him into their trap.  When he arrives, his dusty duplicate drains some of his powers, but the headstrong hero manages to escape.  Meanwhile, a shadowy figure watches from a soundproofed room.  Mysterious!  Down on the street, fate takes a hand as nearby in Chinatown a parade is underway and the energy from Quarrm seeps into a statue of an “Oriental War Demon,” which suddenly comes to life and runs amuck.  The Man of Steel stops his flight in order to investigate, showing that he is still somewhat himself, only to be drained once more and fall from the sky, to collapse helplessly at the mercy of the Quarrm-demon.

superman 241 p_022

There’s a lot going on in this issue, and you have to give O’Neil credit for creativity.  He’s certainly telling new stories.  Whether or not they’re also good stories…well, that’s a different question.  In this case, there are definitely strengths that recommend this yarn, like the moment of mature emotion that grips Superman when he is faced with the prospect of a normal life.  It’s just a shame that this dilemma isn’t given more (or any) development because it has a lot of potential.  Also, despite how time-worn the Super-dickery trope is, at least it is given a fairly reasonable explanation here, as the Man of Steel took a blow to the head while he was vulnerable.  How do you force a demigod to get help if he doesn’t want it?  There are some weaknesses here too, though, including a general sense of disconnectedness between the different elements of the plot.  I-Ching’s vaguely defined abilities and general inscrutableness don’t help matters, really.  The sudden return of Superman’s powers once again illustrate how over-powered he is in the Silver Age.  I find myself hoping that, once this arc is finished, O’Neil will leave him at least a little weaker.

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Curt Swan’s art is largely great, as usual, but I’m noticing that in the current iteration of Superman, he tends to draw the character’s legs as too short and stumpy at times.  His work on the demon is alternately nicely rendered or a bit cartoonish.  The creature’s design in general and the sudden injection of Chinese elements into the tale seems a bit incongruous, despite the involvement of I-Ching, because these events seem to have nothing to do with him.  Thus, the fact that the Quarrm energy just happens to inhabit a Chinese demon statue ends up feeling rather random.  So, in the end, this is a solid continuation of the story, even if it doesn’t quite come together successfully.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Phantom Stranger #14


Phantom_Stranger_Vol_2_14

“The Man with No Heart!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Spectre of the Stalking Swamp!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga

What a cover!  That is a wonderful composition, with the incredibly menacing swamp monster rising from the water, his shape only partially defined and gloriously creepy in its uncertainty and inhumanity.  Apparently muck monsters are just in the zeitgeist over at DC at this time!  It’s a great scene, very fitting for a monster story with the blissfully unaware couple in the foreground, though I’m not entirely certain what I think of the Phantom Stranger’s outline hanging out there in the background.  This is especially true because, unusually, this cover does not relate to our headline tale.  Instead, this is an image from the Dr. Thirteen backup.

Nonetheless, I think any kid with an interest in horror or the supernatural would be hard pressed to resist the lure of that image.  Inside, despite the disappointment of not finding the Phantom Stranger locked in combat with shambling swamp monster, we still find a gripping and arresting story.  It begins on a stormy night in New York (Again with New York!  What happened to Metropolis or Gotham?), where the Phantom Stranger pays a visit to a somewhat Lex Luthor-looking fellow named Broderick Rune.  Interestingly, Rune doesn’t react the way most do when they see the Stranger, instead seeming positively pleased to see him, and as the mysterious wanderer steps into the man’s penthouse apartment, we see why.  Suddenly, the Spectral Sleuth is caught in a glowing pentagram, and “sorcerous fumes” knock him out!

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A Hindu servant named Rashid arrives and we discover that this is all part of a plan, just as the wealthy rune topples over from what is described as “the final attack.”  Both the Stranger and his captor are rushed to a private hospital, where a hesitant doctor performs a bizarre transplant, stealing the Ghostly Gumshoe’s immortal heart and giving it to the ruthless Mr. Rune.  The procedure is a success, but while under, Rune dreams that he is confronted by the Stranger, who demands the return of what is his.  There’s a nice little back and forth about the importance of a soul above all else that is reminescent of Christ’s question, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” 

 

When Rune awakens, he is panicked, but things continue to get more bizarre!  Two thugs trying to dispose of the Spectral Sleuth’s body, only to discover their bag is empty when they try to dump it.  Just then, the Stranger appears behind them, and shock of the confrontation shatters their minds!  Meanwhile, Rune recovers, but he is plagued by visions of his mysterious adversary.  Finally, he decides to try and escape his guilt by heading to a castle in Europe.

 

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 15This gambit seems to have worked for a time, but on another stormy night, Rune once again sees the Stranger stalking out of the darkness.  In desperation, his servant, Rashid, who had originally trapped the mysterious hero, tries to conjure another spell to banish his spirit.  Unfortunately, his power is not up to the task, and in the midst of his incantations, the Stranger appears!  Despite the loyal Hindu’s desperate efforts, when Rune flees out into the storm, the Spectral Sleuth follows, and the stolen heart stops beating!  Finally, Rune’s allies find him, dead, and lacking a heart!

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This is a really good Phantom Stranger story, taking full advantage of the mysterious nature of the character and supernatural trappings of the setting.  You can ask questions about how the Stranger’s heart was able to be taken in the first place, but given the way things worked out, I’m rather inclined to think that this undertaking was always intended to end like this.  The story tackles rather similar themes of guilt and conscience as the Edgar Allen Poe classic, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with its protagonist who is slowly driven to desperation by the knowledge of his crime.

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Like Poe’s own brand of Gothic horror, this tale is wonderfully atmospheric, with menacing oozing from every panel, and the oppressive threat of outer night seeming to press against every scene.  Aparo’s art is fantastic, bringing Rune’s selfish self-confidence to life, as well as his growing terror.  The looming menace of the Stranger is wonderfully rendered as well, and our mysterious hero has rarely scarier.  It’s short, but tightly plotted and effective.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, an excellent supernatural thriller.

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“The Spectre of the Stalking Swamp”


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Our Dr. Thirteen backup sadly doesn’t live up to our wonderful cover either.  It presents a rather unusual tale for the Good Doctor, though it is also a pretty entertaining one.  It starts in the swamp, right enough, with a young couple out for a walk.  The youthful Romeo’s efforts are interrupted by a strange sight, a green monster arising out of the swamp! The creature scoops up the frightened girl and carries her off into the murk.  The next day, the local sheriff, Rufus Taylor, explains the mystery to Dr. Thirteen.

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The boy who witnessed the abduction is now comatose from shock, but he and the girl are not the only victims of this monster.  Apparently people have been disappearing for weeks.  According to local legend, a hundred years ago a settler got separated from his family and wandered off into the swamp, where the essence of the bog infused his body, turning him into the specter that haunts the silent spaces.  Thirteen, of course, is having none of this, and he insists on going out into the wild to investigate.

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That night, the monster attacks his boat, and the Ghost Breaker disappears, apparently broken himself!  Despite his strict orders, his wife follows him, persuading the sheriff to help her, and they find the doctor’s boat.  Maria manages to convince Rufus to continue the search, even though he insists it’s hopeless, and they stumble upon a strange sight deep in the swamp, a gleaming domed city. Finding their way inside, the pair discover the populace moving like zombies, blank-eyed and listless.

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Upon a throne in the city’s center, the encounter the swamp monster, actually a man called Professor Zachary Nail, who is wearing a suit designed for “protection against the filth outside–the polution that infects your dying world!”  Nail has created his own Eden in the swamp and kidnapped the locals to populate it.  When the sheriff bravely tries to capture the madman, the Professor shots him with a bizarre ray, which converts the lawman into a plant!  Shades of Batman: TAS!

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Nail takes the terrified Mrs. Thirteen for a tour of his city, explaining that the place is powered by a nuclear reactor (!), and that he has hypnotically controlled the populace so that they are utterly subject to his will.  He then leads her to her husband, who is also under his power.  The Professor orders Dr. Thirteen to take his wife to the “Submission Room” (which doesn’t sound too pleasant), but the strong-willed Ghost Breaker resists his control.  In an overly written sequence, Thirteen throws off the brainwashing and attacks Nail.

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Just then, the foliage of the swamp starts growing exponentially and begins to smash the dome.  The Professor runs off in an attempt to save his Eden, but the Thirteens have better sense and begin to evacuate the place.  They get the placid populace out just in time, as the vegetation of the wilds reclaim the city, destroying it utterly.  Know-it-all Dr. Thirteen theorizes that the waste from nuclear reactor must have caused the plants to grow super fast, but Maria thinks maybe Mother Nature was exacting her revenge “for the crimes he committed in her name!”

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This is a solid and entertaining story, if quite rushed.  It is not, however, really a Dr. Thirteen-style story.  This character is best suited by relatively conventional mysteries with exceptional or sensational trappings, and this type of science fiction yarn is a little out of his wheelhouse.  He doesn’t even really solve the mystery here.  The villain just captures him and conveniently explains his plans.  The actual plot is an interesting one, and the eco-terrorist villain archetype is one that will emerge more often in the future, most notably when R’as Al Ghul is given his chance to shine in future issues.  Clearly the concept of radical action on environmental issues was in the zeitgeist, which is interesting.  I rather thought the spread of such characters was a more recent development.

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Poor Sheriff Rufus, despite looking the part, surprisingly didn’t conform to the usual trope of the small-town Southern sheriff.  These characters in fiction tend to fat, incompetent, and corrupt.  Rufus, on the other hand, was brave and apparently honest and dedicated, even losing his life trying to perform his duties.  I’m so used to the tropes that I was surprised by this.  We can give credit to DeZuniga and Wein for subverting expectations there.  Wein, for his part, is a bit overly purple in his prose, especially in his narration, throughout, but the writing isn’t bad.  On the art front, Tony DeZuniga does a solid job, and some of his character work is really quite good.  We don’t really get a good sense of the city, though, which might have more to do with the lack of space than anything else.  His design for the swamp monster is effective considering what we eventually learn of it, but it certainly isn’t as cool as Adams’ cover version, sadly.  On the whole, I feel like his style is a good fit for these types of horror/suspense comics.  So, all-in-all, I suppose I’ll give this rather cramped and odd tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s enjoyable but forgettable.

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P.S.: Notably, I think that this concept of a futuristic city hidden in the swamp will be recycled in the first Swamp Thing run, though I can’t remember which issue.  That run, of course, was begun by Len Wein, for a bit of synchronicity.

 


Eco-terrorists, Chinese demons, and energy beings, oh my!  A fun set of books, these, and I had a good time going through them.  There is certainly plenty creativity in this batch, whatever their quality.  I hope that y’all enjoyed reading my commentaries and that y’all will join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Next post, we close out August 1971!  Be there, or Mother Box will be disappointed!  Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!