Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 1)

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Hello dear readers, and welcome to another installment of Into the Bronze Age.  I imagine that many of you out there are thunderstruck by the results of the American presidential election, no matter who you favored.  This entire election has been bizarre beyond words.  Many of you likely feel like the world is spinning madly out of control.  Perhaps some of you are feeling pleased and hopeful.  Whatever the case, I imagine we could all use a break from politics and from a national discourse that has grown ever more poisonous and vicious.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about politics.  I’m neither going to lament nor cheer.  No, instead, I’m going to publish this post about, of all things, 1970s comic books.  What a thing to do at a moment in history that, whatever comes, is sure to be remembered for years.  Yet, it’s at times like this I think that these silly little superhero books can do us the most good.  They are bright, hopeful, and they espouse, at their best, the only true heroism, the self-sacrificial love that marks the highest apex of human virtue, mirroring as it does divine virtue.  They remind us that we are at our best, not when we are doing for ourselves, but when we are doing for others.  They are a good escapist refuge from an ugly and uncharitable world, but they are also a reminder that humanity is capable of good things, beauty, joy, and laugher.

So, without further ado, welcome to September 1970.  Let’s see what awaits us within, shall we?

This month in history:

  • Palestinian terrorists hijack ten different planes during what is known as the “Black September” civil war in Jordan
  • Psychedelic drug evangelist and all-around wack job Timothy Leary escaped from prison
  • IBM announces System 370 computer
  • USSR launches Luna 16; returns samples from lunar Sea of Fertility
  • President Nixon requests 1,000 new FBI agents for college campuses
  • Unrest and conflict continues in Ireland

We have a tie between two extremely awesome songs at the top of the charts this month, with both Edwin Star’s “War” and Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”  These are two very different songs, but they provide a nice cross section of the time.  “War” is certainly a very striking piece, given the conflicts filling our list above.

It is certainly an interesting month in history, with all kinds of crazy things going on.  I learned a lot reading about this month, and I was fascinated by both the Black September conflict and the bat-guano insane life of Timothy Leary.  The guy was like a real-life supervillain.  It’s very interesting for those of us on the path to the Bronze Age that we see evidence in this flurry of skyjackings of the trend we heard about all the way back in Batman #219.  Clearly calling this period “The Golden Age of Skyjacking” is rather appropriate.  The Space Race continues as well, giving us something a bit more positive happening in the skies, but there are still signs of unrest everywhere.  Well, enough of all this real-world drama, let’s talk about some superheroes!

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #392
  • Batman #225
  • Brave and the Bold #91
  • Detective Comics #403
  • G.I. Combat #143
  • Green Lantern #79
  • Justice League #83
  • Showcase #93
  • The Flash #200
  • World’s Finest #196

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

Action Comics #392

action_comics_392“The Shame of the Super Son”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Once again, this issue follows what is becoming a familiar pattern.  The Headlining Superman tale is just goofy Silver Age fare, but the Legion backup is just plain good.  The Superman tale continues the Saga of the Super Sons and repeats many of the silly domestic farce elements that annoyed me with the last one.  Once again, everyone seems to just spend all day and night in their costumes, even when doing the most prosaic and pedestrian activities, giving us some really unintentionally funny panels.  I’m actually reminded a bit of the Tick…

In our last issue, we ended on the cliffhanger of Superman apparently taking away his goofus of a son’s powers with gold kryptonite.  He makes this pretty huge choice with ridiculous suddenness, deciding that his hard-luck screw-up of a teenage son, or, you know, a teenager, was too dangerous and incompetent to have super powers.  Apparently Clark doesn’t remember what it was like to be 13 or so.  After all, I know I know I certainly didn’t have everything together at that age…of course, I still don’t, but that’s neither here nor there!  This issue picks back up with the elder Supes as he returns home, sullen and silent.  His son runs off as soon as they are home, justifiably angry at his father for, you know, stripping his powers away permanently without so much as a heads-up.  I have to say, this surprised me a bit.  I was sure that the previous issue’s cliffhanger would be a cheat of some sort and that this one would reveal the kid’s powers weren’t permanently lost just because he’s a klutz, seeing as how that would be insane and incredibly cruel.  I was certain that this issue would reveal it was all just a lesson for the boy, but no, Kanigher amps up the crazy by barreling ahead quite earnestly.

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And Kanigher cranks up Superman’s jerk dial a dozen more notches, as the Man of Tomorrow wordlessly brushes past his wife, who can tell something is wrong, and locks himself in his study, while the wife, increasingly panicked by his complete freaking silence, repeatedly demands to know what happened to her son.  Wow, you’re just bad all around at this family stuff, aren’t you Supes?  So, what does Mrs. Man of Steel do?  She runs across the street to the neighboring mansion of Batman and asks him for help.  In so doing, she interrupts the Caped Crusader lounging in his den, watching TV in full costume.  That’s got to be one of the most ridiculous images in the book, but it has plenty of competition.

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Check out Batman’s swinging 60s den!

The Dark Knight (not so dark here) gets the story out of his friend, who has NOW decided to be remorseful for ruining his son’s life (a little late there!).  Next we get a montage of scenes where the former Boy of Steel gets humiliated in various ways, all while continuing to wear his costume as he engages in even more normal activities.  He nearly drowns while swimming (in a cape!), has to pick up his date on a Bat-bike (the pedal-powered kind), and gets one-uped by Bat-boy.  There’s a lot of silly in these pages.

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Things take a turn when Superman is ambushed by a bunch of criminals from the Generic Gang who happen to have gotten their hands on the most plentiful element in the Silver Age DC Universe, kryptonite!  The Super Son, having lost his powers, is somehow unaffected, and he manages to free his not-so-super father.  I’d have sympathized if he had left him to the crooks.

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This prompts a change of heart in the Man of Tomorrow, who brings his son to the Bottle City of Kandor for his 14th birthday.  While there, they don a set of bracelets that, supposedly signify their bond.  When they come back to the Fortress, they discover one of the dangerous zoo animals escaped , and Superman doesn’t seem to have the power to stop it.  His son belts the beast and discovers that his powers have returned.  Apparently, the bracelets actually gave the elder’s powers to the younger.  The issue ends with father and son reconciled and the Man of Steel, now powerless, retiring and letting his son take over the family world-saving business.  It really seems like he got there the hard way.

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Well, this was a bonkers issue, picking up from the last bonkers issue.  Superman really comes off pretty terribly, both with his ridiculously abrupt and insanely severe punishment of his son and with his callous treatment of his justifiably frantic wife.  The ending would be heartwarming, if it wasn’t made necessary by the Man of Steel’s being inhumanely cruel in the first place.  In the end, this is more or less what you might expect of such a story.  It’s ludicrously Silver Age-y , and I had to check again to make sure it wasn’t really written by Bob Haney.  The domestic farce in this one was even worse than the previous one, and there’s little goofier than the entire set of super families hanging out and swimming in their own pool, all in full costume.  That kind of zaniness costs this issue a half Minuteman over the previous one.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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“The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”

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As usual, the Legion backup is great fun.  This one is an offbeat issue, though it certainly employs the standard Legion formula of the apparent enemy within.  I think the Legion must spend more of their time fighting each other and chasing “traitors” than doing anything else.  Imagine how much more they could have gotten done if they weren’t always worried about secret double agents in their midsts!

The issue begins with two of the lady Legionnaires, Saturn Girl and Princess Projectra, heading out on a mission to capture a “space renegade” (good band name), Pozr-Du.  You’ve got to love these Legion names.  On the way, Saturn Girl reveals a new costume, which I suspect points to a larger trend of linking fashion and female characters.  This is something I’ve noticed in some Supergirl comics I’ve read around this period (some of the only ones I’ve encountered).  I wonder if DC was attempting to bring in and engage more female readers with such an emphasis on costume design and the like.  I know the Supergirl book actually had costume design contests and the like.  It makes a certain amount of sense, and I think it’s a rather nice effort on DC’s part, if perhaps a bit heavy handed.

Well, when the girls find their quarry, they are ambushed by the renegade and blasted out of the sky, unconscious!  When they awaken, strangely enough there is no sign of Pozr-Du.  He didn’t bother to capture them or even finish them off, though they landed right in his lap.  Mystified and discouraged, there is nothing the pair can do but return to Legion HQ, which looks a bit different than I remember.  However, once there, things taken an even stranger turn, as their ship is snagged in an “energy-grappler” and Cosmic Boy, manning the defenses, claims never to have heard of them!

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The lovely Legionnaires are captured by their former teammates, and despite their protestations, Cosmic Boy and the others tell them that the Legion has never had members named Princess Projectra or Saturn Girl.  To prove their legitimacy, the heroines demand to be taken to the trophy room where they can produce evidence of their accomplishments, but when they arrive, they find their mementos are missing!  This provides us with a fun little glimpse of the Legion trophy room, complete with some really cool looking creatures and objects.

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Just then, two new members arrive to check out the intruders, Prince Projectur and Saturn Lad!  They demonstrate their powers, and the flabbergasted femmes begin to feel rather hopeless.  Interestingly, both of these guys are wearing almost the exact same costumes as their female counterparts, and it just looks plain ridiculous.  Just a slight redesign on them to give them something a bit more dignified and masculine would have done wonders.  At the very least, give them pants, for heaven’s sake!  This is like the unironic 70s predecessor of the Hawkeye initiative, and it does unintentionally illustrate how silly the average female comic character’s costume is.

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Anyway, fashion disasters aside, our two heroines find themselves prisoners, floating suspended in the middle of a chamber in a detention sphere.  The pair discuss their situation, and I really enjoyed the matter-of-fact way these two unflappable ladies calmly assess the possible explanations of their predicament.  They are experienced enough at this kind of thing to immediately recognize that there are a number of possible explanations.  They could be on an alternate Earth, the weapon they were struck with could have put them into a dream state, or many other even stranger possibilities.  I liked this.  It makes sense that experienced heroes would have a frame of reference for even something as crazy as finding out that none of your friends remember you.

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Unable to determine exactly what is going on from their cell, the ladies plan an escape, and they do so in clever and dynamic fashion.  The cell stretches with their movement, and since their captors failed to take their flight rings, thinking them fake, they fly in opposite directions, straining the bubble’s elasticity until it breaks.  Free once more, Princess Projectra has a plan.  She tells Saturn Girl to stay hidden while she looks for answers.

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In search of just that, she visits the quarters of a particular Legionnaire, her boyfriend, Karate Kid.  The Princess demands answers, and tries to remind Val of their relationship, including a really sweet little flashback to the first time they said “I love you.”  To attempt to spark his memory, the lovely illusionist kisses her erstwhile beau.  He still insists he doesn’t know her, but suddenly he collapses!  In another really clever move, the Princess applied a drug to her lips that would knock him out when she kissed him.  With the Kid unconscious, she applies a small device to his neck, hoping that it will answer her questions.

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Returning to Saturn Girl, Projectra is challenged by her male counterpart.  However, she has begun to suspect the truth, so she creates an illusory monster that threatens her, and the startled “Prince” leaps to her aid, letting her real name slip out in the process.  She unmasks him as Brianiac 5, and the jig is up!

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Slimer, no!

It seems that the new megacomputer Brainy built spit out a prediction that a Legionnaire was in danger of cracking under pressure and endangering her teammates, and it named Projectra.  The device was still experimental, so they weren’t sure that they could trust it.  They devised a training exercise to test their teammate’s reactions and combat fitness, throwing her into a completely bizarre situation.  Saturn Girl was the proctor and used her powers to cancel her partner’s out.  Chameleon Boy was Pozr and Sun Boy played the role of Saturn Lad.  Fortunately the clever Princess used one of Brainy’s inventions to discover that Karate Kid was lying and began to unravel the setup after that.

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Everyone congratulates her on her performance, and she is reunited with Val, who apologizes for putting her through that ordeal.  That’s nice and all, but I have a feeling he’s going to face an ordeal of his own in payback!  We also see the office of Legion Leader taken over by Mon-El, which is a fun little addendum to the story, adding a little peek into the organizational functioning of the team.  Things like that are neat in small doses, adding a certain amount of fleshing out to the concept.

The reason for the test is a bit stretched, as it really seems like there is probably a simpler way to figure out if Projectra is about to crumble than to subject her to an elaborate and extreme test that could have caused even a sane person to lose it.  Still, by the standards of the high melodrama that usually accompanies internal Legion stories, it rather fits.  The most important thing is that it is a fun tale, entertaining and rather surprising.  The different explanations the ladies propose are so reasonable and utterly common in comics that I never considered that it was all a hoax.  What’s more, the portrayal of the two protagonists was quite good, both of them coming off as competent, brave, and resourceful.

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It’s interesting that they went through their entire adventure without any violent action, yet the story was plenty entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed getting to know Princess Projectra in this yarn, as I hadn’t really encountered here much before.  As is often the case with these Legion backups, this short adventure packs a great deal in just a few pages, and does it with aplomb.  It doesn’t feel rushed, and there’s plenty of excitement while also providing us with a bit of character development.  That’s impressive.  Its also worth mentioning that I really enjoyed the art in this issue.  Win Mortimer turns out some great looking, classic DC house-style work, and he does some several really cool page and panel-breaking layouts.  So, slightly disturbing costuming aside, I’ll give this one an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

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That’s all for today, and I hope this post and these stories bring some lightness and some fun into your day.  On a day like today, that’s a good thing.  Join me (hopefully) soon for the next two tales in our journey Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 1)

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Well, last month was a bit of a letdown, but this month promises to be a bit more interesting, with more Aquaman and more of the fun Manhunter debut!  Join me as we forge a little further Into the Bronze Age!

This month in history:

  • 2nd San Diego Comic Con was held (of note probably only in this context)
  • Rubber bullets used for the first time during the Troubles in Ireland
  • France performs nuclear tests
  • 1st computer chess tournament held
  • Peruvian Airlines jet carrying 45 US exchange students explodes
  • Jim Morrison is tried in Miami on “lewd & lascivious behavior”
  • Venera 7 probe launched for Venus
  • Unrest continues at home and abroad, with bombs and riots in the US and Ireland

Well, both the Troubles in Ireland and the Space Race continue, and although it was a quieter month in the US, things were obviously still not peaceful.  I imagine it will be some time before we stop seeing these events in our monthly roundup.

This month’s chart topper was “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by the Carpenters, a sweet, sappy song that is something of a contrast to the rage in the air all over the world.  Even in a burning world, love endures, I suppose.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #391
  • Aquaman #52
  • Batman #224
  • Detective Comics #402
  • The Flash #199
  • Justice League #82
  • Phantom Stranger #8
  • Showcase #92
  • Superman #229
  • Teen Titans #28
  • World’s Finest #195

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

Action Comics #391

action_comics_391“The Punishment of Superman’s Son”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Ordeal of Element Lad!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Okay, I was astonished to find that the headline tale was NOT written by Bob Haney.  It features the Super Sons, after all, and it is full of all kinds of Haney quality Zaniness!  Of course,  that means this is an odd one, Haney or no Haney.  It is pretty hilarious in spots and just ohh so very goofy throughout.  The Super Sons stories are always pretty out there, and this one is no exception.  Interestingly enough, Wikipedia is all kinds of wrong about these oddball characters, maintaining that the first appearance of the Super Sons was in a Haney-penned story from 1973.  Apparently this 1970 feature wasn’t the first appearance either, though, as that was in 1965.  There you go kids; that’s why your teachers tell you not to trust Wikipedia!  Anyway, let’s jump right into the madness, shall we?

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Essentially, this is Goofus and Gallant, the super hero edition, with the oddly doppleganger-ish children of the World’s Finest duo standing in for the titular pair.  We join Superman and his son, the incredibly creatively named Superman Jr. (Really?  Not, you know, Superboy?) as they discontentedly watch Batman and HIS equally creatively named son, Batman Jr.  The young Dark Knight is getting the Metropolis Medal of Valor in recompense for his deeds of daring do in the great city.  The Man of Steel and his son look on unhappily, with Super-Dad really bucking for ‘Father of the Year’ as he berates his son for not being as good as Batman’s boy.  Later, they head home to the “secluded, adjoining homes of Superman and Batman in the country between Metropolis and Gotham.”  And, just for the record, it was at that moment that I began to suspect that this issue was written by a 10 year old.  Seriously, there are a lot of concepts here that seem like something my little nephew would come up with, the fevered dreams of playground storytelling.  I realize that these comics were pitched to younger readers, but there’s a bit of a difference between what a kid would think is cool and what a kid would come up with if left to his own devices.

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Anyway, at the door the super pair are met by “Mom,” who is conveniently wearing a wig and has her face in shadow.  This is actually a funny and clever little element of these Super Sons stories.  They always had the mothers’ faces in shadow and they tried to keep their identities fuzzy.  It’s hilarious that they’d go to that much trouble for these stories they’ve already labeled as ‘imaginary,’ and which don’t have many other concessions to logic or consistency.

Well, here we see a few more moments of the type of domestic farce that I love so very much, with the Super-Family sitting down to eat in full costume.  Fortunately, it’s not the focus of the issue.  It’s just a bizarre little side feature, as if Ross Andru just forgot that these characters have civilian identities after the first page.  Either way, Superman continues to play ‘disappointed Dad’ and is fairly ugly to his son as he takes off to retrieve a special singing alien plant.

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We get an admittedly cool sequence as The Man of Tomorrow recovers the plant from a creature of flame, intending to bring the vociferous vegetable home to display on Earth.  The idea of a singing plant is not a new one, and it’s a cool enough sci-fi concept.  Yet, this story goofies it up by having the sounds the bush creates be genre and instrument specific.  This alien life-form plays “rock, marimba, strings, piano, cello, [and] steel band.”  Sure.  Just think about that one for a moment.

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The Boy of Steel demonstrates his Goofus bona fides by burning the vocal vegetable to a crisp by flying too fast when he’s sent to deliver it.  This earns the poor schmuck a real tongue lashing from his father, combined with a healthy dose of parental guilt.  You really do feel for this poor kid (apparently only 14), as his various screw-ups throughout the issue are all accidents, and he’s really trying to do his best.  He reminds me a bit of Jerry Gergich from Parks and Rec.  To top things off, Batman and son just casually drop by to brag about how awesome they are.  I swear, the whole thing reads like parody.  If this were written today I’d think it was really clever satire!

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Super goofs are the worst!  Also, smug Batman better watch out or he might find himself thrown into the sun…

The Super Sons hang out, with the Boy Detective trying to cheer up his super pal, including offering to let him ride his “Bat Bike.”  Ha!  Well, all of his efforts are to no avail, and then the two of them each attempt to stop a group of robbers with a nifty subterranean tank that looks more than a little like the Transport Modules from the old Ninja Turtles ‘toon (maybe the crooks work for Krang!).  The Boy of Steel blows it again, being fooled by fake Kryptonite, while Batman Jr. cleverly outwits the thieves…at least, if you don’t think about it too hard.  He finds the tunneling tank in a lake, hiding out from the authorities, so he plugs up its air snorkel, which is currently UNDERWATER, with a handkerchief.  This, somehow, causes the gang to surface, despite the fact that the snorkel was already blocked by being, you know, UNDERWATER!  It’s just a ridiculous little oversight that adds to the silliness of this issue.  Did you guys even bother to READ this thing before you sent it to press?

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Afterwards, we get another dose of domestic farce as all of the heroes sit down to a family dinner, still in costume, to celebrate Superman Jr.’s birthday.  Yay.  For his gift, the elder Superman decides to take his son to the Fortress of Solitude for the first time in an attempt to heal the rift between them…the rift that he has totally caused for being a jerk to his well-meaning son.

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Unfortunately, Goofus, I mean Superman Jr., screws everything up when he’s left alone in the Fortress.  He accidentally trashes the place, which seems to be the final straw.  The issue ends with the Dad of Steel locking his son in a booth and dropping in a piece of gold kryptonite to permanently take away his powers.  There’s actually something of value there, as the Super Father faces the fact that his son is more or less a danger to everyone on Earth because he’s such a huge clutz, but he’s also only 14…and who wasn’t a screwup at that age?  In other words, it immediately sinks into bathos or “narm.”  I’m sure we’ll see some type of turnaround next issue, but that’s where this merry-go-round of craziness ends.

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So, what do we make of this non-Haney batch of zaniness?  Well, I’m not really sure.  It’s just so goofy and silly that I certainly can’t enjoy it the way I do your average adventure story, but it is also undeniably vivacious and full of energy in a way that last Superman story simply was lacking.  It is clear that Kanigher isn’t thinking too deeply…or at all…about this tale, but it is fun and you really can’t help but feel sorry for the Super-Loser.  It does seem like the basic concept suffers from a lack of creativity, with the Super Sons just being carbon copies of their fathers, but there are neat moments interwoven with the ludicrous ones, though the latter outnumber the former.  This is a very Silver-Agey tale, though somehow less obnoxious than some of the others we’ve waded through.  I suppose it is just so wacky that it comes back around again and is fun.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s final effect is silly, but entertainingly so.

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“The Ordeal of Element Lad!”

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In the backup position this month we have the continuation of the excellent Legion story from the previous issue, and just as in that comic, this story absolutely steals the show.  It suffers from its brevity to a degree, yet it still manages to deliver a great espionage adventure.  Bridwell really came through with this two-parter, giving us a fascinating setup, solid if limited character work, exciting twists and turns, and a level of sophistication that really stands in marked contrast to the childish fare that seems to populate the pages of the Superman books.

You can see Bridwell struggling with his limited space to a degree, but the way he’s structured the two separate episodes helps to mitigate these restrictions.  For example, our perspective shifts a bit with this issue, and characters who didn’t get too much focus in the previous story get to carry most of the action in this one.  Unfortunately, Timber Wolf and Karate Kid still get rather short shrift, falling between the cracks a bit, but I suppose that type of thing is bound to happen in a team book with a big cast, especially when page real-estate is at such a premium.  The real stars of the issue are Element Lad and Saturn Girl, and we join the latter at the beginning of the story right where we left her, deep in the belly of the beast, having infiltrated the science labs of the tyrannical President Peralla.  The previous issue’s mild cliffhanger ending is continued as the scientist’s assistant declares that she knows the young Legionnaire.  Fortunately, she doesn’t know her as a Legionnaire!  It seems that this girl, Marli Zhorg (gotta’ love these Legion names) was a schoolmate of Saturn Girl’s but hasn’t kept up with her fellow Saturnian’s exploits since the old days.  Thus, she thinks that Imra is just another scientist looking for a job, happily assuming that her college buddy has no more qualms about working for a dictator than she does.

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Yet, though her cover is intact, the psychic heroine faces another obstacle.  She can’t telepathically smuggle the secrets of the ‘Humanoid’ super soldiers out to her teammates in the presence of another mind-reader.  Thinking quickly, she sends a seemingly innocent message ‘in the clear’ to Brainiac 5 that nevertheless appraises him of the situation.  It’s a nice display of her resourcefulness.  Meanwhile, the rest of the team is meeting with Masrin, the rebel leader, under the guise of being fellow operatives from the Dark Circle.  As they try to figure out how to fight the seemingly unstoppable Humanoids, Brainy discovers a trace of their substance on Karate Kid’s hand and rushes to conduct an analysis.

Just then, the loyalist forces attack, and a desperate battle ensues, a battle that will be hopeless unless the young Coluan can solve the mystery.  In a fun and fitting little sequence, Brainy solves the puzzle in the time it takes Element Lad to complain about his tardiness.  It’s a nice little character moment, demonstrating Brainiac 5’s competence, coolness, and also indicating the touch of arrogance that comes from knowing you’re the smartest being in the room.

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With the secret in his possession, Element Lad begins a herculean labor, single-handedly dispatching the Humanoids by converting their bodies into various elements, all while making the rebels believe it is their new weapons carrying the day in order to maintain their cover.  The sequence is nicely illustrated by Mortimer, and the Legionnaire displays a creative use of his powers as he destroys the creatures.

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The effort leaves him so drained that Timberwolf has to carry him when the rebels advance, but even so, he keeps up his attack.  Soon they are storming the capitol itself, and Saturn Girl sends them inside information, handily dispatching her former friend when she realizes what the young heroine is up to.  Brainy uses his force field belt to penetrate the city’s defenses and smash their controls, allowing the rebels to sweep in and providing him with a nice action sequence in the bargain.

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Masrin is more concerned with securing the treasury than with the capture of Peralla, and he pulls a Scrooge McDuck (minus the charm and whimsy) as he examines the wealth of the planet.  Here we see the culmination of the solid character work that Bridwell manages to weave into this fast moving story, as the rebel leader’s vices are displayed in several subtle ways amidst the action.  We see it when he shouts cornball lines during the battle that make the heroes roll their eyes, as well as in his casual disregard for his men in the previous story.  His vices prove his undoing, in classic fashion, as his greed provides the opening the Legionnaire’s need to take care of him.  The team convinces Masrin to hold back most of the treasure and only offer a small portion to his troops.  When he does so, Element Lad uses the last of his energy to transmute the gold and jewels into simple lead and stone.  The rebels turn on their disgraced leader, and a better man takes his place.

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The team, their mission successfully completed, is extracted, and the tale ends with Element Lad waking up in the infirmary after his heroic efforts, being congratulated by the others.  His valiant, unyielding perseverance throughout the issue was really quite impressive, and it’s pleasant to see the fellow get his due, especially because he’s a character that I don’t know well.  I like seeing new (to me) characters come out strong, and I always enjoy seeing underdogs (and Element Lad rather seems like one to me) make good.  He really does carry the issue, though, and his endurance in the face of his increasing exhaustion is a great heroic note for the character, even if it’s all we have time to learn about him.

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So, there you have it, an excellent Legion adventure, full of fun, intrigue, and energy,  with personality and character packed into every rare spare moment.  I didn’t even mention the romance subplot where the rebel officer’s girlfriend was revealed to be in love with someone else.  That type of extraneous element could easily just feel tacked on and unnecessary, but it is indicative of Bridwell’s apparent desire to see that nothing is left hanging.  Instead of being a distraction, it is handled with a light enough touch to add just a little extra flavor to the tale, occupying no more than a single panel and fitting in organically.  Once again, we see the power of visual storytelling, as a single word balloon and a meaningful glance tell us everything we need to know about the way things stand.

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The story isn’t perfect.  It’s just too short to be entirely successful.  The setup for the yarn remains impressive, though it doesn’t get as much exploration as we might like.  The final resolution, disposing of both Perala and Masrin, as well as the general threats to the world, as quickly as it does is a tad unsatisfying.  Nonetheless, the dramatic irony of Masrin’s greed-triggered fall helps to ameliorate this feeling.  On the whole, if the only complaint you can level against a story is that you wish there were more of it, you’re doing pretty well.  I’ll give it a solid 4 Minutemen, like it’s previous iteration.  I am really enjoying these Legion tales, and I’m looking forward to the next one!  They really help make these Action Comics days more enjoyable.

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Aquaman #52

aquaman_vol_1_52“The Traders’ Trap”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Never Underestimate a Deadman”
Writer: Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Editor: Dick Giordano

Well, back to Aquaman’s aquatic adventures, and happy I am for the return!  I really love this run, as I’ve remarked before, and though this isn’t the best one of the bunch, it’s still pretty darn good.  This issue is graced with another beautiful Nick Cardy cover, one that embraces the visual daring and creativity of the art within.  Once again, the SAG team deliver an innovative story that is breaking away from the standard formulas, along with really lovely and unusual art.  Imaginations continue to run wild, and the flurry of creative concepts keeps flying as the team further fleshes out this strange world.  What’s more, this story provides a really surprising and rather challenging moral dilemma for its protagonist.  In short, this book continues to encapsulate the best things about the Bronze Age.

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Another beautiful, trippy Aparo splash page

Before we rejoin our hero and his silent girl friday, the SAG team tosses out another concept to populate this bizarre world, a new and interestingly designed race of aliens, quite ugly but also fairly unique.  They have an advanced ship that looks a bit like a fugitive from Star Trek, and they are apparently on the hunt for slaves!  They approach the blue colony sphere…thing…from the last issue and spot the Sea King and his companion fighting off a horde of the natives.  The giant-headed aliens are impressed with the scrappy pair’s prowess, so they decide to capture them.

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Trapped in a force field, the Marine Marvel and the girl are brought aboard the alien ship and imprisoned in glass tubes with the rest of the day’s ‘catch.’  Aquaman deduces that the strange beings are telepathic and have highly developed brains, what with their huge melon-heads and all.  It seems telepathy is a common feature in the life forms of this bizarre land, a nice little bit of internal consistency that doesn’t get remarked upon but which makes the setting feel more fleshed-out and believable.

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Then we get a moment that I really enjoyed, one of those ‘Aquaman-is-awesome’ scenes that this series does so well.  While the glass prisons are enough to hold most life forms, the Sea King is not so easily cowed.  Held in his cell by powerful mental force, Arthur proves once again how much raw willpower he can muster as, inch by agonizing inch, he forces his arm to move until he shatters the cylinder and escapes.  Then he proceeds to wipe the floor with the big-brained bozos, casually remarking that though they may be smart, they aren’t too much in a fight.  It’s a really great sequence, and demonstrates how well the SAG team handle the character.

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I LOVE this panel with Aquaman cleaning three of the aliens’ clocks at once!

The Marine Marvel smashes a door control to cut off reinforcements and makes his way to the bridge, still desperate to follow the telepathic ‘pull’ that had drawn him to that blue colony in the first place in the hopes that it would lead him to Mera.  Some experimentation allows him to discern the workings of the controls, and the inclusion of that scene helps to illustrate the attention being given to the telling of these tales.  It makes sense that an alien ship could not be instantly piloted by a stranger, so seeing Aquaman actually pressing the wrong buttons as he’s trying to figure it out is a nice nod to logical consistency and their efforts to create a believable universe.  As Aristotle said, impossibilities (like men breathing under water and traveling to other worlds) can be accepted, as long as the are believably possible impossibilities.

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Well, once he arrives back at the colony, we encounter the most interesting moment in the story.  Our hero realizes that the girl is still trapped, and he faces the choice of what to do with her.  He knows he is going to be charging into battle against overwhelming odds as he pursues his quest, and he also knows that the colonists are likely to kill the girl on sight because she was the one who fired on them.  Yet, if he leaves her behind, she is liable to become a slave…or worse!  It’s a compelling and puzzling moral dilemma with no easy answer, and Aquaman himself doesn’t instantly know what to do.  He wants to do what is best for the girl, yet what that might be isn’t easy to discern.  His decision is made quickly, but at least we are shown that he sweats over it.  He chooses to leave the girl behind as he continues to search for a way home.

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Now, I’m far from convinced that this was the right choice, and it is actually rather troubling to me that Aquaman abandons her.  While I rather think that Skeates intends it to be thus, it seems that, at the least, Arthur should have woken her up and asked her what SHE wanted.  Of course, given her beliefs, she might not have ‘spoken’ with him, even if he had done so.  It is truly a difficult situation, as he could not take her home, her life wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel in the new colony, and our hero knows nothing else about this weird world.  As he remarks, at least she is safe, for the moment.  Nonetheless, it is vexing, and the fact that this simple four-color adventure book had me puzzling over a moral conundrum is a testament to its quality and to its uniqueness in the current crop of comics.

Aquaman52_13.jpgWell, to turn back to our tale, the Sea King attempts to fight his way into the colony, but he is felled by a…*gasp* head blow!  Yep, poor Arthur gets a second spot on the Head-Blow Headcount wall.  I’m afraid it won’t be his last, either.  I will say this for the noggin knock, though, at least these alien inhabitants of this land might actually have the strength to knock our hero out with one shot, unlike the average humans who tend to do so.  Either way, his captors decide to carry him to the “Extermination Chamber”!  Dun dun, DUNNN!

What a great place for a scene shift.  We check in briefly with Mera and Vulko, who are monitoring Black Manta as he circles Atlantis.  Suddenly, the Manta-ship disgorges two divers, but what are they up to?  Well, we won’t find out this issue, as our scene shifts again, picking back up with our hero on his way to his dreadfully named destination.  He makes swift work of his three guards in a nice, dynamic sequence, and he realizes that he’s reached the source of the strange ‘pull’…but there is nothing there!

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Just then, Mera snaps and cries out that she needs her husband (calling him “Aquaman” instead of Arthur, which always bothers me as it seems quite unnatural), and in response, the startled Sea King suddenly finds himself growing…and growing…finally appearing in front of a very surprised Sea Queen!  What is going on?  Well, we’ll actually get our answers in the Deadman backup!

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It’s a surprising and intriguing ending, though I really dislike Mera’s panicked outcry.  The modern portrayal of Mera has its problems (for one, she’s now trained as a warrior and assassin and quite blood-thirsty…just like every other character Geoff Johns reimagines), but at least she’s a fiery, independent woman.  I like my Mera with more spirit, more moxy.  She should be no-one’s damsel in distress, especially with all the power she is packing.  Still, like I said with the last issue, I do enjoy the idea that both husband and wife are desperate to be reunited.  It’s sweet.  This outburst pushes things too far, though.

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The more interesting element is, of course, the controversial (to me, at least), choice that our hero makes this issue.  It is handled briefly, and the action moves right along, yet it is a really compelling moment that tells us about the character.  What do y’all think of his choice, readers?  What should Aquaman have done with the girl?  Feel free to weigh in through the comments.

Once again, the story suffers a bit from brevity, but it still manages to present us with a complete adventure, while also keeping us on the hook by raising as many questions as it answers.  Throughout Aquaman comes off as pretty awesome, powerful, capable, indomitable (other than that one head-blow…), and driven, yet still concerned about the girl who has fallen in with him, despite his own considerable problems.  I think the issue itself may not be quite as strong as the last one in all respects, but the episode with the choice provides enough interest and depth to push it up to the next level in my estimations.  Thus, I award it a very respectable 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Never Underestimate a Deadman”

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This Deadman backup provides a fun and interesting, if a bit uneven, conclusion to our main adventure, and it is followed by an Aquaman epilogue that I will cover in this section.  Neal Adams is in fine form, so the art is beautiful, but unfortunately, he is also handling the writing chores, and his prose tends to be a tad purple.  He also makes some rather odd choices with his captions, as when the boxes constantly urge the hero to hurry.  Still, it’s a fun yarn.

It opens with Deadman and the strange, dimension hopping Tatsinda arriving back on Earth after a stomach churning journey.  The Deceased Detective commits something of a faux pas by telling his now cat-shaped companion that he liked her better in the other world.  They encounter the Ocean Master moping about his betrayal of the man who he has come to realize is actually his brother, Aquaman.  In a really nice bit of characterization, there is an element of pride even in Orm’s remorse, a certain epic grandeur that reminds one of Milton’s Satan in a funny costume.  It is not just that he betrayed his brother, it is also that he failed to save him, and the failure itself, a failure to enact his will, is, perhaps, what galls him most.  It’s actually a wonderful character beat, and I think it captures something about Orm that is true about most great villains.  The central sin, the original sin, and the one that leads to worldly greatness both good and bad, is pride.  It must be the defining characteristic of any would-be world-conquering villain.  Magneto or Lex Luthor would be nothing, despite their individual causes, if they were not backed up by towering pride and will to back it.

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I’ll add, at the risk of sidetracking this commentary even further, that Ocean Master’s costume, though here it looks about as good as it ever does, is just a lost cause.  The light purple, almost pink cloak and pants, the whole color scheme…it just doesn’t have the dignity the character needs.  The later redesign that adopted a more serious color scheme looks world’s better.  The modern version is, like almost every single New 52 costume, overdesigned, but it has some good elements.  I like the scales that echo and reflect Aquaman’s armor, but the whole thing just doesn’t quite come together.  I think one more pass would get it right.  Unlike many folks, I actually quite like the helmet.  I think it is distinctive and interesting.  The new version refines it nicely, but I think it has always been a good trademark for the character, making the design pop.

Well, anyway, Deadman grows tired of listening to Orm’s monologuing as the fate of the world hangs in the balance, so telling Tatsinda to hang tight, he grabs the reins of the villain’s body, and uses him to infiltrate the aliens’ ship.  I bet you had forgotten all about these guys, huh?  Well, helpfully, we get a quick recap, and the invaders obliging explain their plan to “Orm,” since he is, after all, their ally.  They are going to flood the world with radiation from all of their emitters, and this will reduce the inhabitants’ intelligence, making them nice, tractable slaves.

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The ghostly hero decides to smash their devices, and by jumping from opponent to opponent, he makes some progress, but the aliens shut their brains down to thwart him (That has to be a VERY specific skill.  How often would it come in handy?  I mean, other than going to see a DC movie?).  Unable to use the aliens, Deadman begins to flit across the globe, controlling various animals to smash the devices, but he realizes that to get the central device he needs help, namely, Aquaman!  We discover what has happened to the Aquatic Ace.  Apparently the invaders don’t believe in taking life (an interesting touch), so to fulfill their bargain with Orm, they just shrunk the hero down, and he is now trapped in a microscopic realm on Mera’s ring.  Intense concentration can reverse the effects (sure, why not), so Deadman snags Vulko in order to prompt Mera into such an effort, and this triggers the Sea King’s return.

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Yet, is it all for naught?  The Dead Detective realizes that the time limit has expired!  Fortunately, it seems that his efforts were enough, even without destroying the central device…or were they?  Tatsinda tartly informs the smug spirit that it was, in fact, she, who saved the day.  She swam out to the ship and sabotaged the device so that it backfired, stupefying the aliens and forcing their withdrawal.  This is an unexpected and fun twist.  I enjoy Tatsinda’s self-satisfied recounting of her deed, and she also coolly informs our hero that no lady, no matter what her form, cares to be ignored.  It’s a fun little ending, even if it is a bit of an anti-climax.

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To add to the fun of this issue, the team also provides us with an accounting of the creation of these interlocked tales, which is, in and of itself, an enjoyable and interesting read.  I’ll reproduce it below so y’all can enjoy it as well.  Essentially, it was a collaborative idea that all the creators contributed towards, the story evolving as it was told.

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Anyway, the story itself was a good read, and Deadman’s frantic efforts made for good adventure fare.  In the end, these aliens just didn’t seem like that great of a threat, and that rather lowered the impact of the story.  I think that this is the weakest of the Deadman chapters, and the weakest chapter overall, especially considering the weight and enjoyability of the Aquaman section from this issue.  Still, those are pretty high marks to hit, and the tale deserves an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

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The epilogue reunites our two submarine superheroes, and the couple discusses the strangeness of the recent ordeal while also bringing the returned king up to date on Black Manta’s odd behavior.  Mera notes that she is, in a sense, the goddess of this bizarre microscopic world and speculates about other such places.  We know from the Atom that they abound, making the DCU Universe even more packed with life and wonder than is apparent.  It’s a neat concept, and it rather reminds me of the medieval idea that God would waste no space in creation, thus, every element and every area must have its life, its wonder, and its purpose.  It’s a lovely vision of the universe, and, though it raises endless questions, is great for a world of wonders such as this.  The issue ends with Aquaman calling out Manta and promising further adventures to come!

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Well, I am going to stop this post here, letting these two issues stand alone.  I’ve decided to start treating multi-feature books as multiple entries since their writing takes just as long as do multiple individual issues. That will also hopefully help me keep up a more rapid and consistent pace.  I’m trying to use this blog to discipline myself in writing, in part as training for my dissertation writing which is coming up soon, so hopefully this will aid that objective.  I’m also going to try to rein in my issue commentaries a bit, as they’ve grown more than I had intended, so you may look for more restrained summaries in the future.  As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments, and I hope you will join me next week as we tread further on our journey Into the Bronze Age!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Poor, poor Aquaman.  He becomes the second hero to make a return appearance on the wall of shame.  At least this time, it might make some sense.  I have to say, I expected we’d see even more entries, but I suppose we aren’t even a year in yet, are we?  Clearly, this trope is alive and well in the Bronze Age.