Into the Bronze Age: December 1971 (Part 5)

Hello fellow Internet wanderers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age, finishing up our coverage of December 1971. I’m afraid that there is a cloud hanging over our celebration of the joy of classic comics today, as a tragedy has struck the FF community. We recently learned of the death of Cyber Burn, content creator extraordinaire, my constant aide and ally, my dear friend, and all-around great human being. He was an amazing guy, and we are all grieving his loss. I’m going to write more about him and his importance to our community and literally everything I ever created for FF in a future post. At the moment, I don’t have the capacity to do him justice, though I am far from certain that I ever will be up to that particular herculean task.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate one of the things that always brought him joy, one of the things that, for him, as for many of us, served as a refuge from the ugliness and tawdriness of the world around us, the realm of the fantastic, the brighter, more hopeful terrain, of superhero comics. Let’s see what our last books of the month have in store for us.

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #407
  • Adventure Comics #413
  • Batman #237
  • Detective Comics #418
  • The Flash #211
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
  • Justice League of America #95
  • Mr. Miracle #5
  • Phantom Strange #16
  • Superboy #180
  • Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
  • Teen Titans #36
  • World’s Finest #208

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144


“A Big Thing in a Deep Scottish Lake!”
Writer/Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell


DNA Project: “The Torn Photograph”
Writer/Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell


Newsboy Legion: “Kings for a Day!”
Writers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth

The first book in this batch is that misfit, redheaded step-child of the Fourth World titles, Jimmy Olsen, but unlike the bizarre, confusing mixture of ideas from the previous pair of issues, this month the King gives us something much more focused and fun. As you might guess from the cover, this comic sees the Newsboy Legion and our titular cub reporter coming face to snout with an ersatz Loch Ness Monster. In such an aquatic adventure there’s even a chance that Flippa Dippa might actually be useful….but I wouldn’t count on it. The cover image itself is a pretty good one, with a nicely dynamic and exciting central drama unfolding upon it, as the Legion hang on for dear life or leap to safety during their impromptu shipwreck. The whole thing has the King’s trademark energy and excitement. Superman doesn’t quite fit in with the picture, both because of Murphy Anderson’s overwriting of Kirby’s work and because he’s not really part of the dominant scene. That is actually rather accurate, as he plays no role in Jimmy’s plot, but it looks a bit odd to have him disproportionately soaring past as his young friends face pseudo-Nessie’s watery wrath, ‘Sorry kids, I’ve got super-business back in Metropolis, good luck with the monster!’

Not exactly the most creative of titles…

Kirby’s cover is a pretty fair promise of what awaits us within, and our tale begins with a Kirby-tech speedboat racing across the surface of “Loch Trevor,” which is totally not Loch Ness, thankyouverymuch. The pilot of the craft is searching for a supposed sea monster that stalks the waters of the Loch, and he finds it, or rather, it finds him, in rather dramatic fashion, destroying his ship and setting the stage for our adventure. Back in Metropolis, everyone’s favorite corporate shark, Morgan Edge, is raking Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion over the coals for failing to come back with a story. Of course, they have a heck of a story about “The Project,” but they’ve been sworn to secrecy. The King also seems to have forgotten that he last left Jimmy Olsen watching musicals projected onto the clouds of a miniature Universal Monster-themed world, so one would imagine he’s got quite the story to tell himself! Nonetheless, the heinous head of Galaxy Broadcasting casually dismisses the Legion’s claim that their Whiz Wagon was destroyed by a bomb and sends them out to chase down the scoop on the sea monster of Loch Trevor. Man, the gang are awfully forgiving about all of Edge’s attempts to kill them. You think they’d be a tad more insistent about that whole thing. Yet, once they’re out of his office, he opens the secret screen in his desk that we saw in this month’s Lois Lane, but this time he’s not looking at himself. Instead, he orders a hit on the Newsboy Legion!

Meanwhile, all crime everywhere has apparently been stopped, because Superman and the Guardian are spending their time dropping by a “discotheque,” not for charity, not as a benefit, not working a case, but just to “help their attendance.” Oookay? I’m glad they’ve got their priorities straight. Inside, they meet the young woman who is running the place, a girl named Terry Dean, who we saw briefly in #138. It seems she first appeared in a rather interesting sounding issue, #127, wherein Jimmy Olsen goes undercover to expose a slumlord. It’s neat and a little surprising that Kirby is making use of this minor supporting character introduced before his run, though I wouldn’t have minded some editorial reminders here. At any rate, Dean introduces them to a super Kirby-ified band, the San Diego Five String Mob, who are secretly serving Apokolips. They are wonderfully cool looking, in that inimical Kirby style of gonzo gadgets and weird wardrobes. As the malevolent musicians maintain their cover, playing strange music, Dubbilex, the D.N.Alien suddenly appears, bringing with him a warning!

The King cuts away before we see what comes of that, though, and we travel to the skies over Scotland, where Jimmy and the Legion are literally dumped out of a fancy jet in the Whiz Wagon. Scrapper is determined he’s going to fit in, and has dressed the part, complete with kilt and Tam o’ Shanter, but unfortunately, his voice gives him away every time he opens his mouth, which becomes a running gag. On the ground, the gang nearly run over their contact, Felix MacFinney, as they try to stop their careening car, but they manage to do no permanent harm. This whole scene is fun and Kirby actually gives us some fairly charming humor, though we’re also besieged with comically exaggerated Scottish accents at every turn.

Back in the “discotheque,” Dubbilex reveals to the Man of Steel that there is a tunnel under the club that leads right back to the Project, but it is a tunnel the good guys didn’t make! Well, the bad band certainly can recognize a cue, so they prepare to strike…giving us a weird and interesting little sequence. They each play a note, summoning their “Sixth String,” Barri-boy, who is just another guy with a crazy instrument, but he literally brings the house down when he plays! That seems a little inefficient, but it’s still a fun sequence.

Back in Scotland, our neophyte newshawks meet MacFinney’s lovely daughter and engage in some banter while the plan for the monster-hunt the next day. MacFinney also shows them a device he created to attract the marine menace. Nothing suspicious here, nope! The next morning finds them out on the Loch, monitoring Flippa Dippa as he swims in its murky depths. Suddenly, he’s ambushed below the waves by a fellow frogman, and the others prepare to go to his aid, only to find themselves looking down the barrel of MacFinney’s gun! It seems that the Scotsman is actually an Intergang assassin! Fortunately, while Jimmy distracts the gunsel, the little Scrapper Trooper that the full-sized Scrapper brought along slips away and activates the monster lure. The situation is resolved in dramatic fashion, as the creature swamps the boat and seizes MacFinney, leaving the others soaked but safe. When they reach the shore, they find Flippa Dippa there ahead of them, having overcome his assailant, MacFinney’s “daughter,” another Intergang assassin. One wonders, how inept must she be at her job to have been taken out by Flippa Dippa? Confused but very curious, the gang determine to stay in Scotland and solve this monstrous mystery!

This is a fairly fun story, as silly as it is in parts, and the main plot, with Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion investigating the mystery and generally carrying on with their own banter and shenanigans, seems like a good fit for the characters. It’s a premise that serves them well, and I’d be happy to see the book settle onto a course like this. Heaven knows the last few issues have shown it is desperately in need of some direction. In terms of the writing, Kirby’s dialog, rather stilted and awkward in some of his other books, is generally in much better shape in this issue, provided you don’t mind his atrocious Scottish accents. He seems to have a good grasp of the voices of the Newsboys, which isn’t too surprising, seeing as they are his creations, after all. In fact, the interplay between Scrapper and the Scotsman, as well as the banter between the rest of the boys, is often genuinely funny and enjoyable. And then there’s everything Flippa Dippa says…the book’s resident embarrassment has fairly cringe-inducing lines throughout, like: “This ghetto guppie says ‘yeah!'” and “My SCUBA cells are vibratin’, Jimmy.” It is rather funny in an almost meta sense how desperately enthusiastic he is when he discovers that their adventure will involve a body of water, like he realizes how completely pointless he is as a character. Overall, Flippa Dippa aside, this is an enjoyable adventure. The King’s unmatched creativity is once again on display, but all of these different elements fit together much better than the bizarre horror-planet of the previous issues. Superman and the Guardian just sort of casually dropping by the club is pretty goofy, but the Kirby-tech band is so cool that I’m willing to give it a pass. Of course, the King’s art is great throughout, despite Colletta’s inking. I’ll give this promising start to a new adventure 4 Minutemen, with its sillier elements holding it back from a higher score.

P.S.: I’ve been really enjoying the Newsboy Legion stories that have been reprinted as backups in these books. They’re simple but fun.


Teen Titans #36


“The Tomb be Their Destiny”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff


Aqualad: “The Girl of the Shadows”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler/Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo


“Superboy Meets Robin the Boy Wonder”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Al Plastino
Inker: Al Plastino
Editor: Jack Schiff


“The Teenager from Nowhere”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler/Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Mort Weisinger

Well, if this month’s Jimmy Olsen issue was an improvement over the previous one, we can’t really say the same for this month’s Teen Titans, which is rather disappointing. The book continues to limp along without a clear direction and without any real reason for the Titans to actually be involved in its plots. To start with, we’ve got an okay cover, with a hint of mystery to it, though the perspective and layout is a bit wonky. I’m not really sure how those stairs exist in relation to the angle of the floor at the front. While the scene is non-Euclidean, it is also atmospheric, but the context is a bit too vague for it to be entirely successful. Our heroes seem to be hunting this figure rather than trying to rescue him, but he’s turning to dust, which his dialog tells us is….bad, as if they’re out to help him? It’s just not terribly successful.

Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t much better. It picks up where we left off in our last issue, in the purported crypt of the “real” Romeo and Juliet, where Robin, Speedy, Wonder Girl, and the superfluous Mr. Jupiter examine the scene and debate whether Lilith is really the incarnation of Romeo’s star-crossed lady love. They spot a shadowy figure and give chase, only to be temporarily trapped by a cave-in. While they are delayed, the shadowy figure sneaks off with the unconscious forms of Romeo and Lilith (doesn’t have quite the same ring as the original, does it?).

The misshapen figure turns out to be a hunchbacked madman named “Calibano,” who is supposed to resemble Romeo’s cousin of the same name, though I wouldn’t have gotten that from the art alone. As the young lovers revive, this Calibano tells them that Romeo and Juliet were actually part of a love triangle, with him as the third angle. Lilith uses her power of vagueness to learn that it was actually him who killed the original moon-struck Montague, causing Juliet to take her own life. Then, he apparently got trapped in their tomb and put into suspended animation…by…plot? Seriously, that’s not explained at all.

Now Calibano’s convinced that the new couple are the originals reawakened, as he was, and he challenges Romeo 2.0 to a duel, and the brave young man fights a desperate battle while Lilith makes the valuable contribution of…shouting…and…looking worried. It’s just a very impressive showing for a superheroine. As the ancient feud reunites, the rest of the Titans follow the trail of their lost teammate, only to come across the other Calibano leading a water-borne funeral procession. We’re reminded that the police were interested in the Loggia family, and this funereal flotilla out on a foggy night seems suspicious.

Suddenly, Mr. Juptier, who let’s remember has displayed no particular skills or abilities or received any special training up to this point, decides that he’s an action hero, and he and Robin investigate the suspect ships. The pair discover that the casket is a cover for smuggling industrial diamonds (which really doesn’t seem all that worthwhile, really), and overcome a bunch of frogmen in an extended scene where neither of them is apparently troubled by the need to, you know, breath for what one can only assume is a good 15-20 minutes. The marine marvel millionaire hauls himself out of the water to confront Calibano, and is nearly killed, only to have his life saved by the sudden arrival of Don Loggia, who is actually honest, though still a jerk, and who was suspicious of his nephew.

While Robin was being upstaged by a random dude with no qualifications for hero work, the other two Titans arrive just in time to save Romeo…by straight-up murdering the original Calibano! That’s right, Speedy shoots the guy with a sharp arrow as opposed to any of the zillion trick arrows he carries. He shoots him right in the chest, and though the poor fellow is able to stagger back to the crypt, he definitely dies. (Man, the books this month have had an unusually high body count for the era!) The story ends with the characters wondering if Lilith and Romeo are actually the reincarnations of their much more interesting and famous predecessors, and we are told that they are totally in love. Yep, definitely deeply and really in love, a love that is absolutely going to last beyond this issue and will certainly carry significance for years to come. Or not. Yeah, it will probably not surprise y’all to learn that our dear friend, Zany Haney, the anti-continuity cop, completely drops that particular plot thread, and this Romeo guy is never heard from again. It’s just as well, because the whole ‘reincarnated Romeo and Juliet’ angle doesn’t seem super sustainable over the long-haul.

So, what are we to make of this story? Well, much like the previous issue, it’s not an entirely bad tale, by itself, but it isn’t particularly suitable for the Teen Titans, and there is absolutely no reason for these characters to be here. The actual Titans contribute almost nothing to the story, short of Speedy murdering a poor, deformed, and mentally ill fellow. That’s the part of the story that galls me most, as Haney gives Speedy exactly one panel to feel a little bad about missing the sword and shooting the guy straight in the chest, and that is it, as if this wasn’t entirely avoidable if the character was acting in any normal fashion. And, of course, because it’s a Zany Haney plot, this killing will never be mentioned or thought-of again, and that’s terrible on multiple levels.

Let’s also not forget Haney just casually adding a character and a whole subplot to what is arguably the most famous play of all time. It’s not quite as bonkers as it seems, though, as it is very likely that “Calibano” and his plotline were drawn from “Caliban,” a character in another of Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest. In that story of magic and mysticism, Caliban was the misshapen and monstrous servant of the wizard Prospero and was also the unlucky angle of a love triangle. Nonetheless, even if Calibano has respectable origins in another of the Bard’s tales, his presence in this story is weird and a bit disconcerting, especially because the last issue ended with the young couple discovering the apparently mummified remains of Calibano, who was also wearing different clothes. Continuity errors aside, this whole thing is just a bit of a mess. Everything happens at the speed of plot, and the two plotlines end up feeling entirely alien to each other, despite the attempts to connect them with the multiple Calibanos. You could pretty much drop the entire Loggia family plot thread from this issue and lose nothing except for Mr. Jupiter’s inexplicable display of commando skills.

As you might be able to tell, I have just about lost all patience with this whole premise. This whole ‘superhero summer camp’ thing we’ve got going on, with the Titans involved in this vague project with Jupiter, just has nothing to recommend it to me. Lilith also continues to be vague and pointless, only now she is joined in her uselessness by Wonder Girl, who does nothing all issue. I find myself wishing we could see the Titans be, you know, superheroes. On the plus side, the team of Tuska and Cardy continues to be great, really turning out some lovely work with lots of darkly atmospheric scenes that add some drama and mystery to this silly plot. Their work is really deserving of a better story. So, what is the final score? Well, I would probably have given this one 2.5 Minutemen like its first half if it weren’t for Haney having Speedy kill the antagonist with zero justification, logic, or examination. That plus ‘secret agent-Jupiter’ sours the story for me, so I’ll give it 1 Minuteman. Haney is really batting 1000 this month.


“The Girl of the Shadows”


Interestingly, this issue has another little Aqualad backup, which is cool, but it is a super brief one, only running 3 pages. Apparently, this little mini-adventure, by the wonderful SAG team, was actually slated to appear in the cancelled Aquaman #57, and it was put into inventory when that book never materialized. Unfortunately, that also meant that this intriguing little tale and the mysteries that it introduces are never resolved! What a crying shame! Being only 3 pages, there’s really not enough here to judge, so I’ll just share all three pages and offer a brief overview.

It begins with the young Aquatic Ace emerging onto darkened docks, searching for a girl that had intrigued him when he saw her earlier at a concert (don’t tell Tula!). Just as he finds her and she gives him a cryptic greeting, she is confronted by a big man in strange armor who tries to capture the mysterious maiden. The Sea Prince cleans his clock, then asks the girl for an explanation. All she says is that they must “get past the wall — before it’s too late!”, and then she disappears, leaving our young hero to wonder what this strange encounter was all about. So, we are left with a mystery that will likely never be solved, and that’s a shame, because Skeates set the stage for an interesting story, and I would have quite enjoyed it if he had been given a chance to finish it in these pages.


“The Teen-Ager from Nowhere”


That…is a very…generous description of the infamous mythical figure, Lilith.

This month’s Titans issue actually held two original backups, and the second is a solo Lilith story, which is actually a good deal better than you’d probably expect from what we’ve seen of her in the main book. This little tale is something of an origin story, and in just 7 pages Haney gives us more information about Lilith and more reason to care about her than in all of the issues she’s been in up to this point combined. It is still, of course, pretty vague, but that vagueness is at least a bit more understandable here, and the story also seems to promise some answers might be forthcoming.

It begins when a 12 year old Lilith sees a group of men leaving her small Kentucky town to search for the body of a young boy presumed drowned in the river. Suddenly she runs after them and yells that he’s not in the river, leading them into the hills and finally to an old well. They find and rescue the boy, but then they begin to wonder how she knew he was there. The young girl can’t explain her knowledge, and the crowd grows more suspicious until her father finally arrives and takes her home. Back in the safety of her own house, her parents are supportive, but the pre-teen psychic senses that she is actually adopted, and she runs out of the house in search of her origins.

In fact, she runs all the way to the orphanage that once sheltered her, where somehow the matron recognizes and remembers her, despite the fact that she was only one year old when she was adopted. Neat trick! Lilith learns that her powers were apparently shared by her real mother, who brought her to the orphanage after some mysterious trouble relating to her father. The kindly matron warns the strange girl not to dredge up the tragedies of the past, but the youth swears that she will discover who she is, though she is glad when her adoptive parents come to fetch her home.

This is a surprisingly good story for focusing on Lilith, and it shows that she could be a decent character if she was given any development or personality other than “mysteriousness.” The girl’s lack of understanding of her powers or past is much more believable and excusable, as she is just beginning her journey. A 12-year-old not being able to explain a first flash of psychic insight is much more understandable and palatable than, say, a college-age girl doing the same after having lived with such abilities for years. Nick Cardy’s art is just plain gorgeous, as always, and he brings so much humanity and emotion to his characters that you can’t help but sympathize with the lost young girl or her concerned parents. Haney’s writing is positively restrained and thoughtful here, and the final result is a really solid and intriguing backup that actually makes me, of all things, look forward to more stories about Lilith! I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as it isn’t quite strong enough to reach a higher score, .


World’s Finest #208


Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

“Peril of the Planet-Smashers!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell


“The Inside Story of Robotman!”
Writer: Joseph Samachson
Penciler/Inker: Jimmy Thompson
Editor: Jack Schiff


Ghost Patrol: “The ‘Spectacular’ Crimes”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Sheldon Mayer

Oh man, what an awesome cover! How could you pass by the newsstand and not plunk down your quarter to see what kind of story could have such an epic image over its pages? Many of us have probably heard the old saying that the Silver Age Superman could “juggle planets,” but that expression, which captures the casual omnipotence of the character and thus one of the flaws with his portrayal in the era, doesn’t really apply here. Instead, we get a wonderful portrayal of a truly epic feat that feels properly epic. You can see the strain and effort on Superman’s face, like a moment out of the wonderful old Fleischer Superman cartoons, where the Man of Steel would constantly be pushed to his limits to defeat his foes and rescue his friends. It feels heroic and exciting in the extreme, and it is beautifully and powerfully rendered by Neal Adams. In fact, it’s such a cool cover, that I’ve been anxiously anticipating its approach in my lineup, quietly excited to read the story it represents. So, does the tale within live up to that dynamite image? Perhaps a better question is, could anything?

Sadly, although Wein and Dillin give us a good super-story inside, it isn’t quite the amazing epic that our cover promises us. It begins with Dr. Fate helping the police to recover a stolen “thermal-ray,” which is apparently insanely dangerous for a hand weapon, but the technological marvel and its erstwhile criminal owners are a poor match for the master of magic, who simply causes the device’s trigger to disappear! That’s a wonderfully clever and straightforward solution to the threat. However, his heroics are soon interrupted by an emergency call from…the hospital?? Apparently this Dr. Fate is a literal medical doctor, which was completely news to me. I always knew him as an archaeologist, but apparently, his earliest appearances had him sharing his fellow Justice Society member, Dr. Mid-Nite’s profession. Who knew? Surprisingly, what awaits the good doctor at the hospital is not your average case but an ailing alien! The strange-looking being telepathically communicates the mental message that “Earth is doomed!” The medical magician is left stunned, realizing that he must save this creature’s life, or its secret will die with it, and so may the Earth itself!

Meanwhile, our other heroic headliner is hanging out on a satellite above Earth 1, contemplating his magical misadventure from the previous issue. We find Superman lamenting the fact that he has two whole weaknesses in his otherwise invulnerable form. Boo-freaking-hoo, the poor sun-god is only mostly invulnerable! Just then, the morose Man of Steel hits upon the idea of seeking succor from one of his mystical allies and heads out to consult the Mistress of Magic, Zatanna. On the way, he casually disposes of a radioactive dust cloud by sucking it into his lungs and then blowing it into the sun. Yep, clearly he’s not powerful enough! Unfortunately, Zatanna tells the Action Ace that she can’t help him, because her father told her that “to know how our powers work would cause them to stop working!” Now, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that just means that Zatarra didn’t feel like answering a young Zatanna’s questions…I do enjoy Zatanna just casually doing crazy magic as she talks to Supes, almost like she’s rubbing it in.

Having exhausted his options on Earth 1, Kal conceives of an alternative, and he goes to visit his other spell-slinging friend, Dr. Fate, on Earth 2. The Man of Tomorrow arrives just in time to help his fellow hero with his unusual patient, and mage teleports them to his tower and fills his guest in on the plot. Apparently this alien was just hanging out in the sky over a city and was struck by a plane (imagine being the pilot and trying to report that!). I suppose you’ve got to be prepared for things like this when you live in the DC Universe. The Arcane Avenger supernaturally scans his patient’s mind and discovers images of two landmarks, a Mayan temple and Stone Henge, and the heroes split up to investigate the mysterious threat facing the world.

Dr. Fate travels to the Mayan temple, only to discover another alien just “sitting” in the sky, meditating, and ignoring him. When the occult hero presses his case, the strange being casually causes the surrounding flora to grow and attack, and the wizardly warrior has to employ his magical might to escape from the plant-based peril, literally blowing up some one of the hungrier heinous herbs from the inside! It’s a nice little sequence, and Dillin renders it well. However, just when Fate is ready to grab his alien attacker, the being simply vanishes!

On the other side of the world, Superman doesn’t have much better luck in England, where the same pattern repeats itself, though with a giant formed from the ground itself in place of the sinister shrubbery that attacked his ally. The sand is too soft for the Man of Might’s blows to have much of an impact, so he tries a different tack, turning the entire colossus into glass with his heat vision, and shattering it with a powerful blow, another really cool sequence, with an honestly clever resolution. Yet, just as with Fate, the mysterious meditator vanishes when approached. What could these baffling beings be up to? Well, as the heroes prepare to regroup, they each encounter strangely sudden natural disasters, with Dr. Fate stopping a rampaging tidal wave and Superman saving a city from an unexpected volcanic eruption.

Comparing notes, the dauntless duo discover that the continents of Earth 2 are being drawn together, and the planet is heading towards an apocalyptic ending! Risking another probe of their injured alien, they discover that he was a member of the Buudak, the “high lamas” of an ancient race, who are seeking an interplanetary Nirvana, one that can only be found through the release of energies resulting from the destruction of the Earth! The heroes confront the alien trio as they prepare their final psychic attack, but both might and magic prove futile. In desperation, the dauntless dyad decide to combine their abilities, and Dr. Fate channels his preternatural power into the Metropolis Marvel, giving him mystical might to match his star-born strength.

The supercharged Superman is able to shrug off the alien’s attacks, smashing their psychic shield, and the terrible trio vanish as their own powers consume them. However, despite their defeat, the world is not yet saved, and the continents continue to converge! The master of magic reclaims his power and forges occult chains, and Superman hauls the rogue land masses back into place! The adventure ends with the world restored and with the Man of Might having decided that his vulnerability is for the best after all because…and see if you can follow this, he was only able to save the day because Fate’s magic could effect him…though one wonders just how often such a situation is going to arise. To be fair, the Kryptonian’s actual last thought makes more sense, as he notes that “a little humility is good even for a Superman.” That is almost certainly true, and in fact, I might say “especially good”.

Muddled moral aside, this was a pretty fun issue. Dr. Fate and Superman make for an unusual team, and it is interesting to see them in action together. They are in many ways opposites in terms of their powersets, with one being a physical juggernaut, while the other is a magical powerhouse. It’s a pairing that we don’t see too often, and I enjoyed the casual yet logical reason behind their team-up. Superman just happens to show up looking for answers, and he drops into an adventure already in progress. Good enough, and it makes the world of DC feel a bit more interconnected. The incredibly powerful alien lamas made for solid antagonists, though I would have liked to know a bit more about them. Their objective, spiritual enlightenment at all costs, is also an unusual one, adding an interesting twist on the standard ‘destroy the world’ plot, but their casual dismissal of the lives they’re about to destroy does raise some questions about their ethos! Our heroes’ efforts make for an entertaining and exciting tale, especially in the first half. Unfortunately, the final confrontation and climax aren’t as successful. Dillin makes the first challenges the team faces visually interesting and fun, especially Superman’s fight with the sand giant, but the last attack isn’t nearly as engaging, though it is serviceable enough. The real problem with this story, and it is a minor one, is that Dillin’s portrayal of that wonderfully dramatic moment from the cover just simply pales in comparison. It’s fairly uninspiring rather than the show-stopping scene it really should be. Still, if the worst you can say about a comic is that it has one moment that isn’t as impressive as its cover, then you’re not doing too badly! In the end, this is a really enjoyable adventure, if not quite as epic and memorable as the cover promised. I’ll give it a strong 4 Minutemen.


Final thoughts


Well, with these three books, we have reached the end of December 1971, and an interesting end it is! This month saw quite a collection of comics, with few high highs but several quite low lows. Nonetheless, we had an unusual number of moderately high scoring books this month, with a lot of them earning 4 Minutemen, even if few scored higher. Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable month of comics, with several pleasant surprises along the way, including Action Comics, Adventure‘s new Zatanna backup, The Creeper’s guest spot, Superman‘s plankton-fueled panic, and more. There were a few real clunkers, though, with the master of madcap plots, Zaney Haney, turning in two terrible tales that even his insane energy can’t save. We’re seeing some books dragging, like Teen Titans, while others, like Jimmy Olsen have hopefully begun to recover, though Kirby’s 4th World work is so wild and uneven, there’s no promise of that. One thing is certain, both Zaney Haney and the King will have something unique and creative for us next month, whether it sinks or swims.

In terms of themes, this has been a fascinating month, with many a book aiming at a significance that its story can’t quite match. Nonetheless, there are some really interesting attempts to tackle heavier ideas in this batch of books, and the social relevance revolution is on full display. We’ve got obvious examples, like Green Lantern / Green Arrow, which attempted to address racism in O’Neil’s usual rather ham-handed fashion, but which did succeed in achieving some real importance by introducing John Stewart, a new black hero who would go on to become an excellent and worthwhile addition to the DC Universe. If his portrayal in this first appearance was rather one-note, his very existence was still rather remarkable. The Green Arrow backup also aimed at relevance, and with a fair amount of success too. That unusual ground that tale trod had to feel particularly revolutionary in 1971, with Ollie questioning how much good a superhero could actually do in light of the social problems plaguing the country. O’Neil’s attempts at verisimilitude and relevance are effective, if rather depressing.

Though the issues that percolate in the background of the story are vague and unexplored, the sense of unrest and tension fits with what we’ve been seeing in many of the other other books that have tried to take on such themes. In fact, we find that this idea has plenty of company this month. Interestingly, we see just that same vague sense of tension, especially among the youth, reflected in Justice League, where we meet an ersatz Jimi Hendrix. Of course, the most fascinating element in that story was its look at the plight of Vietnam veterans, though sadly it was given little more than a glimpse. This issue does recognize the power that music was playing in the counter-cultural movement, a concept which we also see show up in much more fantastic and strange fashion in Superman’s visit to the “discotheque.” Unfortunately, Jimi Hendrix never quite managed managed to rock hard enough to bring down a literal roof.

Nonetheless, we can see how much DC comics have changed in just a year, with so many different teams on so many different titles attempting to engage the tumultuous culture of their day to a degree that was much more rare when we started our journey. One of the most unexpected of these attempts was our backup Kid Flash tale, which featured another wealthy businessman as an antagonist, which is becoming a much more common trope, but which also focused, not on environmentalism as has already become common, but instead on nutrition. That really surprised me, showing up in 1971, as I think of that as a much more modern concern. Heck, I grew up in the 80s, where preservatives and all manner of additives in our super-processed food was just the norm! It’s the carcinogens that make it tasty!

Social relevance wasn’t the only connection to the real world that we saw in our books this month. We also got to see the first appearance of the Rutland Halloween Parade in DC Comics, which was quite entertaining, though that issue did have some problems with tone, combining the light-hearted fun with the heavy drama of holocaust survivors and escaped Nazi war criminals…real laugh-a-minute stuff! Despite its rather schizophrenic tone, it did manage to be an interesting and memorable issue. After all, it’s not every day you see Batman sharing the page with Thor and Spider-Man!

All-in-all, there were a lot of really entertaining reads this month, and we saw a lot of great art in the pages of our various books, even when the stories themselves weren’t quite as good. Pleasantly, even when the main tales tank, I find myself really enjoying several of our backups, like The World of Krypton, Rose and Thorn, and especially the new Zatanna feature. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes out of that one. Despite its unevenness, I’m still excited about reading the rest of the 4th World as it develops. Though there are several runs that I find myself wishing would end, there is still plenty to be excited about. I wonder what next month will bring us!

Well, there’s only one way to find out! I hope that y’all will join me again soon(ish) for another edition of Into the Bronze Age! I’ll be posting a tribute to our fallen friend, Cyber Burn first, and I hope that y’all will join me for that as well and honor his memory. Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: December 1971 (Part 1)

Happy New Year! I imagine we’re all very happy to greet 2021. I know that I’ve never been quite so happy to say goodbye to year, at least! And what better way to start the new year than with Bronze Age comics? Well folks, welcome back to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age! I’m excited to get into the December cover-dated books of 1971. Glancing at the cover gallery, it looks like we’ve got some fun stories in store of us! In fact, we’ve got a pretty darn good set of comics in this batch. There are some fun surprises and some real winners in this set. So, without further ado, let’s get started with what was going on in the world in December of 1971!

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 Cambodian Civil War intensifies, with conflicts between government forces and Khmer Rouge rebels.
  • Soviet space probe Mars 3 is first to soft land on Mars
  • Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujeira, Sharjah, and Umm ak Qiwain form United Arab Emirates and declare independence from the UK
  • President Nixon commutes Jimmy Hoffa’s jail term
  • The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 begins after Pakistani strikes in Northern India, which connected to the Bangladesh Liberation War
  • West German Chancellor Willy Brandt receives the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Multiple bombings and clashes in Ireland that claim several lives, including several IRA members being caught in the blasts of their own bombs
  • The Pakistani Army executes over 1,000 people in a genocidal ethnic and ideological purge of East Pakistan
  • India and Bangladesh win their wars, and Bangladesh achieves independence
  • Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) formed by Jesse Jackson
  • USA and Russia continue nuclear tests
  • Important films released this month included the horrifying A Clockwork Orange, which says something about the zeitgeist of the age, though I hesitate to say precisely what

The Troubles in Ireland escalate a great deal this month, with bombing after bombing and violence abounding. What a terrifying time that must have been for those who lived through it, never knowing if a simple visit to a pub might end in injury or death. On a more positive note, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan this month, thanks in part to the support of India. In the US, things seem to have been fairly quiet as the nation approached Christmas. I wonder what that was like!

This month’s top song is the funky “Family Affair” by Sly and the Family Stone, which is apparently beloved but didn’t really grab me.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #407
  • Adventure Comics #413
  • Batman #237
  • Detective Comics #418
  • The Flash #211
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
  • Justice League of America #95
  • Mr. Miracle #5
  • Phantom Strange #16
  • Superboy #180
  • Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
  • Teen Titans #36
  • World’s Finest #208

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


Action Comics #407


Executive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artists: Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson

Superman: “The Fiend in the Fortress of Solitude”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Atom: “The Challenge of the Expanding World (II)”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler and Inker: Alex Toth
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Superman: “The Planet of Prey!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We begin the month with a rather typical Superman yarn, replete with secret identity drama and over the top super-feats, though Bates manages to make it a readable enough tale out of these conventional ingredients. The cover is pretty much faithful to what we find inside, though the device of having Supes spying the characters outside the fortress and the attendant rock wall makes it a bit muddy. It’s a solid if unremarkable cover, which is fitting for the story within.

The adventure begins with a small plane in peril, as its pilot struggles to bring it in for an emergency landing in the frozen north. In fact, as it noses in for a crash landing, we discover that the misplaced plane has actually touched down at the foot of the Fortress of Solitude! Fortunately for the pilot, Superman happens to be at home and rushes the fellow to an Alaskan hospital (one imagines Iceland would be closer to the North Pole). However, it turns out that this seemingly innocent airman is actually a notorious criminal the Metropolis Marvel once put away. The hero remembers his face, but too late, as the scofflaw had already stolen a plane and escaped.

Unbeknownst to Superman, the flying fugitive, Michael “King” Andrews has gotten away with the knowledge of the location of the Fortress of Solitude, and he proceeds to plot to rob the place as his revenge, recruiting his son, Mike Jr., who is living at a reform school. In a relatively effective bit of characterization, we discover that the boy is actually starting to turn his life around, enjoying the trust he’s earned at the school, but he feels like he can’t let his father down. Of course, the kid’s possible redemption doesn’t seem to have sunk in all that well, as he happily kidnaps Clark Kent at gunpoint for his father. I guess his qualms aren’t all that serious after all. Kent, playing possum to protect his secret identity and thus establishing the pattern for this story, is brought to an abandoned airfield, where they meet the third member of this criminal conspiracy, a mysterious electronics expert that Mr. Mild-Mannered realizes is wearing a disguise!

The quartet fly to the Fortress of Solitude, with “King” putting all the others to sleep, even his own son, remarking that a criminal can’t trust anyone. Once there, the electronics expert, Slesar, disables Superman’s security, and they break in (somehow without the gigantic key). Apparently the man-sized keyhole passes entirely through the door, which rather seems to defeat the purpose! Once inside, they lock Clark up and leave the boy to guard him, but a series of emergencies popping up around the globe force the undercover hero to create various distractions, allowing him to slip out and save the world, flying all the way around the globe, putting out fires and saving submarines (poaching in Aquaman’s domain there!), all in a matter of seconds, which is just plain ridiculous.

The power level of the Silver Age Superman certainly seems to be back to its full extent, and it is just plot-breaking. If the Man of Steel can zoom around the entire Earth and carry out various incredibly complex tasks, all in under ten seconds, than he certainly could have just zoomed away and captured the intruders without giving away his identity. This kind of thing rather bothers me. I’m fine with Superman using his super speed to zoom across a room and back faster than the eye can see, but when he does that on a planetary scale, it’s just too much!

Anyway, overblown power levels aside, the adventure comes to a head when “King” tells his son, worried about an apparently trapped Clark Kent, that he was just going to kill the reporter anyway, as ruthlessness is also required of a successful crook, a sentiment that “Slesar” shares, unfortunately for his partners in perfidy. The electronics expert reveals himself to be…Lex Luthor! It isn’t all that much of a surprise, but the revelation is still fun, and Luthor is truly nasty here, as he’s planted a bomb in the Fortress and plans on killing both the Andrews pair in cold blood to keep them from warning the Man of Tomorrow! “King” isn’t one to take such things meekly, however, and the two shoot it out, with Luthor”s lethal laser laying his foe low. That gives us another on-panel murder! The Comics Code Authority folks must have been asleep at the switch.

Just then, Superman returns and captures his nemesis (with a tap!), disposes of the bomb, and comforts the young Mike, who now sees the error of his ways and wants to avoid his father’s fate. Interestingly, the tale ends with the Action Ace asking Luthor if he truly hated him enough to sacrifice his own life to kill him, and Luthor’s sullen reply, “You know the answer to that, Superman” shows a surprisingly vicious portrayal of the character, which is striking.

Well, this was a solid, if unremarkable, story. The plot was pretty simple, with the secret identity antics, though fun to see thanks to Curt Swan’s lovely pencils, not terribly interesting to read. Yet, the different unique elements help it to stay entertaining. The understated arc of the young hoodlum, Mike Jr., and his discovery of his rotten father’s true character leading to his transformation is actually quite effective. Bates does a lot with those characters with very little “screen time”. Luthor’s plot and his cold ruthlessness are also an interesting addition, really marking him as an effective and threatening villain. It helps that he straight-up kills “King”, which is still a rarity in this era. Swan’s art is good throughout, and Superman’s side trips are quite striking. The ultimate result is a fine read that I enjoyed better than I expected. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as it is a little above average thanks to the subplots.


The Planet of Prey


This month’s backup is a lot more creative than our headline tale, resulting in a clever and interesting little sci-fi superhero adventure. It begins with the Action Ace returning home from a mission in space when he encounters a strange planetoid that veers into his path. When he approaches it, he finds himself besieged by the telepathic ‘squawking’ of a flock of alien avians. They swarm about the Man of Steel, but he easily and relatively gently dispatches them. Heading down to the surface, he discovers that the seemingly barren world has suddenly transformed into a miniature copy of Krypton, complete with micro-sized versions of his birth parents, Jor-El and Lara! They beckon him down, but Kal-El realizes they obviously can’t be his parents and heads back into orbit, feeling strangely drained from the effort.

And this brings me to the small but crucial detail that really made me appreciate this yarn. Bates throws something strange and intriguing at his hero, but he still has Superman behave like a rational, intelligent person rather than a gullible idiot. In the typical version of this type of plot, characters who have seen illusions masquerading as loved ones hundreds of times seem to instantly and foolishly believe the evidence of their eyes and ignore the impossibility of the situation, doing intensely stupid things as a result. I really enjoyed that Bates didn’t go the way I expected when I saw fun-sized Jor-El. Instead, our Kryptonian traveler is confused and suspicious, which is the rational response to such a sight, and I appreciate that type of logical consistency.

What gorgeous work Swan did on the faces of Kal’s parents! He really packed a lot of personality into these two.

Anyway, once back in space, the Metropolis Marvel looks down to see that the world has now turned into a scale version of the Earth, complete with a tiny crumbling Metropolis and bite-sized Jimmy and Lois trapped within. Even then Superman doesn’t just rush in like a moron, but perplexed, he lands nearby, and then the trap springs! The illusion vanishes and the very soil seems to reach out to swallow him as the gravitic pull of the world suddenly increases a thousandfold!

In another clever moment, the Man of Steel tries to emulate the Fastest Man Alive, trying out his friend The Flash’s vibrating trick to escape. It isn’t enough, but just then he begins to hear telepathic messages of hope, and the alien birds from the beginning of the story arrive and break him free. They explain that he is now vibrating at their wavelength, enabling them to communicate with him. They tried to warn him off earlier, but he thought it was an attack. Apparently they live in a symbiotic relationship with this strange, predatory planetoid, which uses psychic illusions to lure in unwary spacefarers in order to consume them. Superman wonders why they would deprive themselves of sustenance, but surprisingly, they inform him that it was a purely mercenary action, as they have learned that the world becomes unhealthy for them when it consumes sentient life!

What a fun, creative, and unusual story! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I love that Bates told a story that maintained psychological realism and logical consistency, creating actual. reasonable motivations for his protagonist instead of having things just happen ‘because of plot.’ Even better, the central concept, although not completely unique, is interesting, and he really does keep you guessing as the adventure unfolds. I also love that last touch, that the alien creatures saved our hero, not because of altruistic motivations, but simply out of self-preservation! It’s a simple story, but it’s quite well crafted with a lot of small but significant creative touches. The art, of course, is lovely, and Swan gets to stretch his creative muscles with the alien creatures, doing a good job of rendering the different scales of his hero and the illusions. I’ll give this brief but high quality little outing 4.5 Minutemen!


Adventure Comics #413


Supergirl: “The Walking Bombs!”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Bob Oksner
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editors: Joe Orlando and Mark Hanerfeld
Cover Artist: Bob Oksner

Hawkman: “Earth’s Impossible Day!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Zatanna: “Zatanna the Magician!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler/Inker: Gray Morrow
Editor: Joe Orlando

Robotman: “The Robot Ghost!”
Penciler/Inker: Frank Bolle
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

Our Adventure Comics headline tale this month is an odd collection of elements that don’t quite fit together. It has some really charming touches, though, and Albano manages to give this Supergirl adventure some unique personality for the Maid of Might. All of this lies underneath a striking but strange cover. Our central image is pretty arresting, but it also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We’ve got a four-armed robotic walking bomb dressed up in a suit, apparently robbing a bank. If you were to take way the extra appendages, this would work reasonably well, capturing a moment of shocking discovery. However, if you think about the image for a minute, it make so no real sense. If you’re trying to pass off your android as a person, why in the world would you give him an extra set of arms? Other than that detail, which continues to bother me in the story itself, it is a nice-looking cover, which communicates the peril reasonably effectively.

The story begins with Linda Danvers rushing through town on some vital errand…specifically, she’s trying to get to a sale at a department store! In a fun detail, she thinks to herself that she can’t use her super speed to beat the rush because it wouldn’t be fair to the other shoppers. We join the disguised Girl of Steel as she tries on some different outfits, and the fashion themes of this book continue as Art Saaf indulges his inner fashion designer. Unfortunately, our young heroine indulges in a bit too much bargain hunting and has to head to the bank, only to discover that the place is being robbed! What’s more, the thief is a four-armed robot of all things! The Girl of Tomorrow ducks into a convenient alley and begins to change, only to discover that she’s got an audience in the form of a resident bum, who is quite happy to extend her hospitality. She is in too much of a hurry to find a handy telephone booth like her cousin, so she shoves the voyeur’s hat down over his eyes and completes her transformation into Supergirl. This whole exchange cracked me up. This is a hilarious and fun little scene that adds a sense of whimsy to the tale.

Once inside the bank, the Maid of Might is confronted with the towering android, who announces that if she interferes with his heist, he will blow the surrounding city blocks to smithereens! Just then, a young boy attacks the bank-robbing bot for stealing his mother’s deposit, and when the machine is about to strike the kid, it suddenly hesitates, and instead returns the money. How odd! Having no real choice, Supergirl lets the android escape in a flying sphere. She trails the fleeing felon to a secret underground lab, smashing in to find a turtleneck-wearing mad scientist who traps her in an electrical cage. The mastermind warns the Girl of Steel that if she breaks out, it will set off bombs in San Fransisco! As an aside, I hate it when writers mix real American cities with the usual DC geography. It blurs the lines of the setting, in my mind.

At any rate, our villain starts to monologue, and it is at this point that the major discordant note of the story enters the equation. The machine-making mad scientist tells his superheroic guest his tale of woe. His name is Robert Meekly, and he was a banker whose son suffered an accident that left him blind. The boy’s only hope was an operation that would cost $25,000, an astronomical amount for his hapless father. Meekly tries everything to raise the money, but his last hope, the president of his bank, refuses his loan, despite the fact that he’s served faithfully for 15 years. So, the desperate father does what he has to do and steals the money, going to prison as a result, but not before he gets his son the operation. To make things worse, while he was imprisoned, his wife took his son and disappeared.

Okay, now just hold on a minute…apparently our mad scientist learned robot building and bomb making…while working in a bank? Really? I know that super-science is easily accessible in the DC Universe, but come on! This is just ridiculous! Well, balmy bona-fides aside, the unfortunately named Meekly has come to deserve a less harmless name, as he now plans to get his revenge by robbing and blowing up banks across the country. He leaves our hobbled heroine to carry out his sinister scheme, and she prepares to escape, only to discover that her on-again-off-again powers are conveniently off again. Despite this limitation, the resourceful Supergirl manages to short out the electrical cage with a hair pin, which is another fun touch.

She interrupts Meekly’s machinations, only for him to try to strangle the powerless powerhouse! Even without powers, Linda is no pushover, and she breaks free. Then her powers return just as conveniently, and she smashes through the robotic roughnecks, but not before the mad Meekly manages to release some of his death machines, targeting two banks. The Maid of Might tells the irate inventor that his son is actually the teller at one of those banks! Meekly suddenly realizes his terrible mistake and agrees to help Supergirl stop the walking bombs. They split up, and he does indeed manage to capture his robotic bomber, but it blows up before he can dismantle it. While searching the wreckage, the authorities find the medal that Meekly was constantly playing with, and they realize that it was a little league award for his son.

Well, on that cheerful note, our tale ends, and we find ourselves with a discordant mixture of elements that just don’t really add up to a coherent whole. We’ve got a charming, off-beat opening, a tragic origin for our villain that doesn’t match his eventual M.O. at all, and then that downbeat ending. The banker-turned-supervillain mad scientist just doesn’t make any sense, but the basic plot is pretty straight-forward and works reasonably well. I find the little details of Supergirl’s shopping spree and changing challenges quite charming, and Albano seems to have a solid handle on her characterization. It seems that some of the themes that we’ve seen in this run of the series are continuing, with an ongoing emphasis on fashion and a uniquely feminine touch to some of the plots. That’s interesting, and I still find myself wondering just how much of the book’s contemporary audience was female and how well this focus worked. Despite those positive elements, I am already getting tired of the disappearing superpowers gimmick. I’d like to see more made of this or it wrapped up already. On the art front, Saaf’s pencils are quite pretty throughout, and he injects a ton of personality into his characters. I suppose this more or less all evens out, and I’ll give the whole kit and caboodle an average 3 Minutemen.


Zatanna the Magician


The highlight of the book and, quite possibly, the month, is this brief backup tale with Zatanna. It’s great fun, and boy is it gorgeous with Gray Morrow doing the art chores! It begins with our heroine’s retired father, Zatarra, researching “the realm of the supernatural” when he is ambushed by some spectral spooks who creep out of the woodwork in his study. Meanwhile, the Maid of Magic herself is in the basement talking to her manager, Jeff, trying to convince him that she should use legerdemain instead of her actual magical powers in her stage show. In a fun little sequence, Zatanna explains that, while real magic is very easy for her, almost like cheating, illusion takes skill and practice.

The pair head upstairs to get some coffee, only to be ambushed by her mind-controlled father, who banishes them into another dimension! The Mistress of Mysticism finds her powers outclassed and unable to transport them back, so they go in search of a natural “dimensional juncture” or meeting place between dimensions. She whips up a flying carpet, and away they go. Unfortunately, they suddenly find themselves under fire by a gang of barbarians. They land, and Zatanna whips up a sword and shield for Jeff, who objects that he doesn’t know how to use them. In a great sequence, the pair manage to hold their own for a few minutes but eventually get overwhelmed. Our tale ends with both dimensional exiles unconscious and in the hands of the barbarians, who remark that “the Master” will be pleased with them.

This is a great little story, just full of interest and color. It gives us an intriguing, all-too brief glimpse of the daily life of the magical pair and sets up an equally intriguing adventure, with Zatanna swept away into strange environs by her bewitched father. There’s some good action, some creative designs, and some nice character touches, with some good banter between The Maid of Magic and her manager, all packed into only 7 pages. Also, I’m tickled that the manager apparently gets his wardrobe from the same place as the ever-fashionable Geoff from Supergirl’s supporting cast, as he is dressed in the height of groovy 70s fashion. Of course, bringing all of this to life in inimitable style is Gray Morrow, who’s work is just plain lovely, while also being dynamic and full of energy. There’s never a panel where the characters are simply still and static; someone is always moving or interacting, with hair waving about or clothing in motion. It’s pretty impressive. The whole makes for a great story, and the only real problem with it is that there should be more of it, which is a great problem to have! I’ll give this delightful little adventure 4.5 Minutemen. I feel like Zatanna is a character with a lot of potential, but I’ve never really read a solo story with her, so I am quite looking forward to seeing more of her adventures!


Batman #237


Executive Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

“Night of the Reaper!”
Writers: Dennis O’Neil, Bernie Wrightson, Harlan Ellison
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Screaming House”
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencilers: Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson
Inker: Bob Kane
Letterer: Jerry Robinson
Editor: Vincent Sullivan

Our Batman issue this month is, as usual, a cut above the average stories we’re seeing. It’s a pretty cool tale, with a fun setting and a surprising subject, though it has a bit of a tone problem, bouncing between spooky and funny, light hearted and heavy. We’ve got a pretty good cover, which is not much of a surprise from Neal Adams. It features a nice, menacing figure threatening Robin, creating good tension and interest, though the red background is a bit overpowering, I think.

The comic itself begins with a really striking splash page, featuring Batman pinned to a tree with a stake! How could this be? Well, it will be a little while before we get an answer, as we jump to a delightful two-page spread featuring Robin and three of his friends (who never get named, oddly enough), visiting the comic-famous Rutland Halloween Parade, which provided an opportunity for backdoor crossovers between DC and Marvel Comics in the Bronze Age. This real world phenomenon was a superhero themed event in Rutland, Vermont, which local writer and comic fan Tom Fagan, promoted in both DC and Marvel comics, featuring many attendees dressed as their favorite comic heroes, including comic book professionals. In the 70s, beginning with Avengers #83, both DC and Marvel creative teams began to use the event as a setting for unofficial crossovers between their characters. This Batman yarn is the second such and the first from DC.

Robin and his friends, who are apparently subtle cameos by comic creators (left to right, I think) Bernie Wrightson, Gerry Conway, and Alan Weiss, which is a really fun detail that I didn’t know until I started researching these “crossovers”. One of these friends, Alan, if my identification is correct, is a bit wacked-out because he’s been up for three days cramming for exams (and maybe taking stimulants more powerful than coffee!), and he’s obsessed with the floats. Also in attendance are costumed revelers dressed as such mixed Marvel and DC stars as Captain America, Hawkman, Havok, a bespectacled Aquaman, and a portly Man of Steel, among others. Unfortunately the festivities are interrupted by a fight, as three men jump a parade-goer dressed as….Robin! Dick and his buddies (minus the distracted Alan) charge over to even the odds, a concept that I always appreciate in fiction. Mr. Terrific would be proud!

Though the good Samaritans’ hearts are in the right place, they’re a bit outclassed, and soon Dick’s buddies get bashed, and he’s left to handle the situation by himself. He’s also got to do it without giving away his secret identity by fighting too well. He gets two of the toughs, but then Alan stumbles into him, giving the third an opening. Suddenly the Teen Wonder finds himself kissing pavement as the punks escape (I’m going to say that this doesn’t count as a Headblow for the Headcount, as Dick maintains consciousness). The roughed-up Robin replacement reveals that he doesn’t know what caused the attack, leading the real Robin to conclude that someone may have actually meant to target him, as the gunsels seemed like professionals. Slipping away, he dons his costume and starts to investigate, soon stumbling upon the transfixed Caped Crusader from our opening scene.

Tremblingly, the horrified hero approaches the tree, only to discover that the hanging form is not his pierced partner but a pegged party-goer in a Batman costume. As the Teen Titan tries to gather his wits, he’s attacked by the grim reaper, or at least a reasonable facsimile! Robin dodges a blow but trips on a rock and plunges over the cliff-side, striking his head on the rocks below (Man, Dick is really not coming off too well in this story, is he?). Fortunately, Batman arrives in the nick of time and pulls his imperiled partner from the drink before he drowns. The Dark Knight takes his sore sidekick to Tom Fagan’s house, where there is a Halloween party in full swing.

There Dick is treated by an aged German physicians, Dr. Gruener, who helps the Masked Manunter explain what he’s doing in Rutland. Apparently the doctor is a survivor of a concentration camp, a camp run by an escaped Nazi war criminal nicknamed “The Butcher.” They suspect that he’s hiding nearby, as the doctor having learned his former tormentor was in town. They hope that, since the Nazi was obsessed with masquerade parties, the superhero shindig of Rutland might lure him into the open. However, to complicate matters, Schloss, “The Butcher”, stole some gold from his fellow Nazis when he fled the sinking ship that was the Reich, and his former friends have found him as well and have dispatched a hit-squad to handle him.

That’s Tom Fagan in the top panel, who apparently always stayed in character during the parade

Leaving Robin to recover, Batman heads out into the party to search for his quarry, and here we get some more fun cameos. Not only do we see a rather homemade Thor costume, but we also see Spider-Man, or rather, “Webslinger Lad.” In addition to the mighty Marvelites, Denny O’Neil himself is chatting with Thor, while Len Wein, looking like Cain from House of Mystery, provides snide commentary nearby. This is another great little meta touch. However, if you notice it, it does detract a bit from the search for a Nazi war criminal. On that subject, the Dark Knight heads outside, and finds the reaper’s latest victim with the help of the still dazed and confused Alan. While continuing his search, the Caped Crusader notices a light in the tower of Fagan’s house, a light being used as a signal. The Masked Manhunter ambushes a few of the Nazis hunting his target in a sequence that is a bit cooler in premise than in practice, as Adams’ art doesn’t quite capture the action like you’d expect, but he makes up for it in the following pages. Batman hauls one of the assassins out a window and dangles him off a roof to interrogate him. The fellow confesses that they planted a bomb in the traitor’s car, which explodes, killing “The Butcher”, despite Batman’s best efforts. It’s a really rather spectacular sequence.

The Dark Knight is angry and frustrated, and when Robin tries to comfort him, he lashes out, telling his partner that the case isn’t over, as the Nazis don’t account for all of the killings. But he knows who does. The Gotham Guardian sets out on a grim business, tracking down the Reaper, who he finally confronts, calling him by name….Dr. Gruener! The Holocaust survivor acknowledges the truth of Batman’s declaration, explaining that he simply couldn’t let “The Butcher” get away without getting his revenge, revenge for his entire family who died in the camps. He reported his discovery of the Nazi to the authorities, but then he thought better of it and tried to kill anyone who he thought might get in the way of his exacting his own revenge, like the Dynamic Duo. The Masked Manhunter struggles with his sympathy for the Doctor and his quest, but he ultimately rejects the sentiment, proclaiming that no man has a right to play judge and jury by himself (which is a nice character moment and a key component of who Batman is).

The pair struggle, but their fight comes to an unexpected and tragic conclusion when Alan wanders back into the scene, still dazed and confused. He bumps into Gruener as the older man is running across a dam, prompting the desperate doctor to prepare to kill him, only to see the Star of David the young man is wearing and finally realize that he was himself becoming a monster like the one who destroyed his family. Staggering blindly backwards, the doctor falls to this doom on the ground below as Batman looks helplessly on. It’s a really well-executed moment, and Adams’ art is superb.

This is a good story, though it is a bit uneven in tone, with moments of comedy, clever cameos, horror, and tragedy all fighting for space and balance. You can certainly have comedic beats in a story that tackles serious themes (the Marvel movies have turned that into an art form), but it feels incongruous here, especially because the transitions between those moments are a little too sharp and because O’Neil is dealing with just about the heaviest of heaviest themes, the Holocaust. Once again, he deserves some credit for tackling a pretty dark and serious topic for this era of comics, and he does some good work with it, making the camp survivor, Dr. Gruener sympathetic and tragic in fairly little space. Apparently it was Harlan Ellison’s idea to write a story on that subject, which is why he gets the credit at the beginning of the issue.

On the lighter side, all of the cameos and the Rutland setting itself are really fun. I can only imagine what a thrill it was as a young fan to see Thor sharing the page with Batman, even if only as a joke. It would be several years before there would be any official crossovers between DC and Marvel, so this would have been an exciting and almost unprecedented experience. Of course, Adams’ art is quite good, moody and dynamic, really delivering on the tension and action in many scenes, but there are also a few places where his figures or poses end up looking a tad odd, which is unusual for him. All-in-all, this is a good and entertaining read, even if it doesn’t quite come together. I’ll give it a solid 4 Minutemen.


That will do it for this set of stories, and a fine set it was! I hope that y’all enjoyed my coverage as much as I enjoyed writing it! Please join me again soon for the next batch of books as we continue our voyage Into the Bronze Age!


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

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

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Justice League of America #87


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Avengers #85


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Avengers #86


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

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

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

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Poor Pietro, perpetually in over his head…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Into the Bronze Age: June 1970 (Part 2)

DC-Style-Guide-1

 

Welcome, and thank you for joining me as we write another chapter in this history of the Bronze Age!

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

  • Action Comics #389
  • Aquaman #51
  • Batman #222
  • Detective Comics #400
  • The Flash #198
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77
  • Justice League #81
  • Phantom Stranger #7
  • Showcase #91
  • Teen Titans #27
  • World’s Finest #194

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

Detective Comics #400

Detective_Comics_400.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“A Burial for Batgirl!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ahh, Neal Adams back on Batman.  This is how it should be.  And in addition, we get a great, classic Bronze Age character introduced in this issue!  Prepare to meet the macabre, menacing Man-Bat!  The introduction of this grotesque mix of monster and man is something that really wouldn’t have flown in the Silver Age.  He’s a bit too much of a horror character, but his advent represents the loosening reins and the increasing creativity of the Bronze Age!  I really do like this character, having first met him on that greatest of Bat-worlds, Batman: TAS, in an excellent set of episodes.  His first appearance here isn’t quite so awe-inspiring as that desperate flight across Gotham from the inaugural episode of the show, but it’s still pretty good.

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This milestone issue (I bet Bob Kane and co. had no clue that their creation would go on to headline a book for anything close to 400+ issues!) starts with the quiet eerie looking scientist, Kurt Langstrom, working on an oversized display about bats in the Gotham Museum of Natural History.  Once the curator leaves, Langstrom begins his real work, experimenting with the genes of bats in an attempt to give himself super senses and the ability to “see” in the dark through sonar.  This whole setup is a bit odd.  Why exactly is this guy working at the Natural History Museum?  The TAS setup with him working at a zoo made a bit more sense to me, as did his motives.  In the show, he’s after a traditional mad scientist end, trying to ensure mankind’s survival through acquiring the characteristics of bats.  In comic logic, that’s about as common as a sunny day.

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This is a wonderfully creepy sequence where Adams economically communicates a lot about the unhealthy fixation of the doctor.

Either way, Langstrom is not the only one seeking an advantage in the dark.  Our scene shifts to an underground location elsewhere in the city where the ‘Blackout Gang’ are looking for a score!  They wear thermal goggles and practice silent tactics for their cappers, but Batman still manages to find them when one of them drops a tool and sets up a clatter.  Though Batman is used to fighting in the dark, the punks can see, whereas he has to rely on his training.  They scatter, and he only manages to recover the device, an “ultra-sonic cutting tool,” which can carve through concrete silently.

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The crooks are disheartened, as they figure that Batman will find a way to trace the signal from such gadgets, endangering their plans.  Their leader decides to turn this to their advantage by laying a trap.  Meanwhile, Dr. Langstrom’s experiments have borne unexpected fruit!  He suddenly finds his hearing and sight grown to painful sensitivity!

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If you’re a scientist and you wear a cape, chances are your future isn’t going to include a healthy social life…

He realizes that he’s succeeded, giving himself a natural sonar as well, which, interestingly enough, is exactly what Batman is working on.  The Dark Knight creates an artificial sonar system to guide him in the dark, preparing for his next encounter with the gang.

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Unfortunately, our resident mad scientist has discovered some rather…unpleasant side effects.  He is turning into a….Man-Bat!  Dun, dun DUN!  He panics and begins working on a way to reverse his condition, but he’s interrupted by the collision of our two plots.

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That’s a beautifully creepy reveal.

The Masked Manhunter tracks the gang to their new target, the Natural History Museum!  He confronts them with quite a surprise when he can suddenly “see” in the dark.  Yet, the Blackout Gang is unreasonably clever.  Their leader deduced that Batman might develop some type of sonar device, so he brought along a secret weapon…ping-pong balls.  That’s right, ping-pong balls.  They toss the balls into the air, and their chaotic bouncing and rebounding deafens the Dark Knight.  The gang dogpiles the detective while he’s “blinded.”

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Detective400-18.jpgJust as it seems that they will do what any number of supervillains have failed to do, an eerie screech is heard ripping through the night, and horrifying help arrives.  Man-Bat smashes into the gang, tossing them around like ragdolls and giving Batman a chance to catch his breath.  The two make short work of the hoods, and the Caped Crusader thanks his unlikely savior.  Yet, when he turns his penlight on the monstrous Man-Bat, he sees his terrifying visage, taking it for a mask.  Ashamed, Langstrom, still in possession of his faculties, smashes the light and disappears in the night!

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This is a beautifully drawn tale, of course.  I love a lot of the shots of the Man-Bat, and I really like the all-black design of the thieves.  They make for a nice contrast with the other characters.

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The story itself isn’t quite as strong.  It’s a fine adventure, but the ping-pong ball deus ex machina is a bit silly.  That’s a very specific guess on the part of the gang leader.  Langstrom’s motivations are also fairly weak.  He’s trying to grant himself an ability that Batman doesn’t have?  Really?  Well, seeing as Batman has no abilities, that shouldn’t be that hard!  Either way, it’s a slightly uneven story, notable mostly for the introduction of a really neat character rather than the plot itself.  Adam’s design for Man-Bat is just excellent, evoking the horror comics of yesteryear with a wonderfully creepy realism, insofar as a giant man/bat monster can be realistic.  I’ll give this 4 Minutemen, largely on the strength of the art and the concept.

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“A Burial for Batgirl!”

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We have another Batgirl backup this month, and it is an interesting enough beginning to a tale.  This chapter finds Barbara Gordon pulling up to the library of Hudson University, having just arrived in town to attend a Edgar Allan Poe festival, when she suddenly hears a cry for help!  She quickly darns her ‘working clothes’ and races to investigate.  Inside, what should she discover? Why it’s a dirty hippy in love beads running for the exit!  That’s quite suspicious, if I do say so myself.  He lunges out with a desperate punch, but Batgirl is not so easily stopped, so she flips him against the wall.  Gathering her thoughts, she takes note of a strange smell, something that could be ether.  Unfortunately, while she is trying to identify the tell-tale odor, the hippie regains his feet and blinds her with a nearby fire extinguisher.

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Once recovered, our heroine rushes outside, only to see her escaping hippy having encountered some other pursuers.  A number of college students are chasing him, and they even begin to kick the poor sucker once Batgirl lays him out.  Suddenly, a voice orders them to stop.  Dick Grayson steps out of the night and takes the heroine to task for not helping the hapless hippy, saying that he thought she had a reputation for sticking up for the underdog.

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We pick the story up back at the police station, where the top cop fill her in on the details of the case.  The hippy is Hank Osher, a student radical, one of the bully-boys chasing him was Jack Markham, an acting major, and the man whose cry for help Batgirl answered too late, was Amos Willard, the University’s business manager.  We even get a helpful visual aid to sort out the plot quickly and efficiently.  It isn’t the most dynamic story-telling move, but it’s a nice way to cover a lot of ground quickly, which is necessary in a tale this short.

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Apparently it all started with the proposed sale of a plot of woodlands that the school owned.  Willard was in favor of this, but Markham violently opposed it and threatened him.  Sensing that there is more to this than meets the eye, Batgirl interviews the imprisoned suspect, who claims he is being set up.  The masked girl begins to investigate, and we get a wonderfully sexist moment where she wonders if she is just being led astray by her “girlish heart responding to his big blue eyes.”  Great.

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Well, she decides to pursue the case one way or the other, and remembering the strange smell from the library, she thinks she knows where to look for more clues.  While investigating a building under construction, someone knocks her out with…that’s right, the classic head-blow!  That’s another one for this month!

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Babs awakens to find herself bound and gagged as a mysterious figure reenacts Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”  Yep, the mysterious figure is walling her up with bricks in a hidden alcove of the partially constructed building!  Dun, dun, DUN!

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That is certainly a nice, dramatic ending, no doubt about it.  This story, brief as it is, is interesting.  We don’t really get enough to establish the mystery properly, but there are the bones of a decent one, an enigmatic murder, a framed patsy, and a clever villain.  It has potential.  We’ll see what the next issue holds.  What is perhaps the most intriguing element of this story is the glimpse of social tensions in the hippy character, the student rabble-rouser, who is rebelling against the system…for reasons.  While his motivations are about as clear as an actual hippy’s, it’s telling that O’Neil is framing him as the victim here.  The whole thing feels a bit deeper than the desperate pandering towards youth culture that used to show up in Haney’s Teen Titans stories.  All-in-all, I’ll give this one a 3.5.

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Flash #198

Flash_v.1_198.jpgCover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Call It… Magic!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Vince Colletta

Just look at that cover.  A hero praying is the central image, a sincere plea to the Almighty forms the design.  Can you imagine something like that showing up today?  The Big Two are way too worried about offending somebody to put so unambiguous a reference to religion in so prominent a spot, methinks.  I found it charming, though we’ll see inside that it isn’t quite as simple as it appears.

This strange tale begins with a group of teenagers, described throughout the issue as “teen-agers,” sneaking into a mist-shrouded cave, looking for our titular Scarlet Speedster.  When they find him, he is acting very strangely, holding a pigeon and speaking simplistically, almost…childishly.  In fact, he insist that his name is not “Flash,” it is Barry!  How bizarre!

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We eventually discover that the Sultan of Speed has lost his memory and reverted back to his eight year old self.  The kids seem to blame themselves, and they convince our hero to keep hiding in the cave when it becomes apparent that he can’t access his speed.  The ‘teen-agers’ decide that they have to protect the speedster until he recovers his senses, and we get a flashback that explains what happened.  It’s actually quite touching how they are willing to risk their own lives for confused champion.

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Barry, utterly exhausted from his last adventure (nice little nod to continuity), as running THROUGH SPACE will definitely take it out of you, slept late into the day.  Iris didn’t want to wake him, so she left a note telling him she’d be out of town for a few days on an assignment and reminded him that he had promised to visit the children in the Central City Orphanage.  I like the domestic check-in for the Flash, as well as the plot logic nod, recognizing that if Barry was missing for any length of time, Iris would have done something, had she been in town.

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Anyway, the Scarlet Speedster thrills the youth with his speed tricks, but a trio of ‘teen-agers’ are not so easily impressed.  Desperate to reach these kids, Barry reveals how painfully unhip he is.  He does offer to do all kinds of amazing things for them, like whisk them away to Paris or other distant lands, yet these jaded kids act like they get such offers every day.  Really kids?  A superhero offers to zip you to the City of Lights, and all you can do is yawn?  Man, kids these days!

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Well, they finally ask the Crimson Comet to take them to their old neighborhood, where he even builds them a brand new clubhouse in record time!  These kids don’t know how good they’ve got it!

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It is at this point that the plot takes its turn and we meet our antagonists.  Apparently a gang of thieves who had pulled off a big robbery had stashed their loot in that abandoned lot, and they jumped the hero when he accidentally uncovered it.  The Flash managed to get the kids to safety, but a ricochet grazed his head and scrambled his brains a bit, thus his current confusion.  It strikes me as a bit off that the Fastest Man Alive could be tagged by any bullet, even a ricochet, if it wasn’t the first round fired.  After he knew he was being shot at, he, fast as he is, should have been able to casually stroll to the other side of the city before they could so much as pull the trigger another time.  Yet, I suppose that’s a common problem with the portrayal of superspeed.  Such characters really tend to move at the speed of plot.

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Cut back to the present, where the vengeful villains have discovered our hero’s hideaway.  They toss in smoke grenades, and the befuddled Flash doesn’t know what to do, but while the kids prepare to protect him with their lives, Barry begins to do the one thing he can…pray!  He pleads with God to make him truly the Flash as the kids claim, and suddenly he whips into quicksilver motion!  He takes the thieves out in a blur of super-speed strikes, but the cave begins to collapse, and the Scarlet Speedster takes another crack on the head.  Just like that, he comes back to himself, remembering who he is in classic comic-book fashion.

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The adventure ends with the Fastest Man Alive bidding a fond farewell to his newfound young friends.  Exhausted all over again, he collapses into bed, where Iris discovers him when she returns home.

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This is a tale that I really didn’t care for when I read it the first time, but as with several of these Flash issues, I’ve got a lot more appreciation for it on this second reading.  It’s simple but charming, and I like the earnest, wholehearted plea to God.  That’s a nice moment, and it is left ambiguous whether his prayer is answered or whether he simply is able to will himself into super-speed.  That’s the right way to go, as anything else would be excessive.  This is definitely a study in contrast to modern comics, though, with a hero, even a brain-damaged one, making any type of openly religious statement.  In the end, there isn’t a whole lot to this issue, though I like several of its story beats.  Fortunately the child-like Flash doesn’t hang around long enough to be annoying, though that could easily have happened.  I like that the kids feel responsible for what happens and react so strongly in their efforts to protect Barry, though one wonders why they didn’t just tell the police, ‘hey, the Flash is hurt over at the cave!’  Ahh well, one way or the other, I’ll give this gentle-hearted tale 3.5 Minutemen.

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“Call It… Magic!”

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Hey, we get something different this month, a Zatanna backup!  I like this character in general, and though her concept is patently ridiculous, she still somehow works.  I think she works best in a setting like this, with a co-star, rather than holding down a story by herself.  Mystic types always need non-mystics to explain things to, after all.  I’ve read her original appearances from the Silver Age, where she guest-starred her way through the nascent DC Universe, and I’m wondering if this might be the start of a new set of such appearances.  Either way, I’m glad to see her, and although she and The Flash make for an odd pairing, this is an engaging little adventure.  It helps that Don Heck really does a wonderful job with the art chores for the backup, drawing a particularly fetching Zatanna.

This tale opens with one of Zatanna’s perennial magic shows, just as she is calling for a volunteer from the audience.  She picks out Barry Allen, who she of course knows is the Flash, just to tease her friend.  She promises to make him disappear with a kiss (look out Iris), yet when she she lays her lips on him, it is she who vanishes!  Where could she have gone?

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We jump across the barriers of time and space, watching as Zatanna is drawn through them as well, to discover that a sorcerer in a parallel dimension has summoned her to aid him in a desperate moment!  This wizard, named Namba, was attacked by by an old foe, a demon named Xarkon.  The nicely designed infernal foe takes control of Namba’s body, just as the Mistress of Magic arrives.

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She tries to use her magic to separate them, but the strain was too great.  It seems she cannot risk using her magic on the supernatural antagonist without hurting the magician she was summoned to help.  Meanwhile, Flash does not take her disappearance lightly.  He races home to his cosmic treadmill and homes in on the vibrations that he felt as the Mystic Maiden was sucked away from him.  I like the cosmic treadmill, as goofy of a concept as it is, as it just fits into the ‘world of wonder’ vibe that characterizes a good Flash story, just like a good Superman story.  Anyway, the Scarlet Speedster unfortunately arrives in hot water!

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The inhabitants of this strange world are now under the sway of Xarkon/Namba, and they attack the hero on sight.  The Fastest Man alive isn’t a pushover, though, and he quickly slips out of their grasp.  Then we get a nice little moment where he tries to communicate his peaceful intentions by creating a peace sign, which only scares his superstitious (probably justly so, seeing as they live in a world chock-full of magic) attackers.  The kicker is that Flash is a bit disappointed by this result, as “playing the Batman isn’t my role.”  That’s a cool little moment of characterization squeezed into the brief adventure.  The kind-natured, fair play minded Barry Allen doesn’t really enjoy scaring folks.  I like that.

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The story races (sorry!) to its conclusion as the Crimson Comet speeds in to challenge Xarkon, only to be waylaid by magic!  Fortunately, his presence provides the distraction, and inspiration, that Zatanna needs.  She breaks the spell on Namba…with a kiss!  It’s, honestly, a bit weird, and the justification weirder still.  Apparently Namba brought her to him because she was kissing Barry at the time, and a kiss is just what he needed…okay…some guys will go to any lengths to get a date!

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It’s a bit odd for a conclusion, and I can’t help but feel like it isn’t quite giving Zatanna the respect she deserves, especially as Namba “thanks” her with a kiss as well.  It seems vaguely sexist, but then again, it’s a comic book from 1970, so no big surprise there.  I like that we end with Barry helping the Mistress of Magic finish her trick with a little help from his own brand of super speed magic.

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In the end, this is a fun, though necessarily brief, backup.  I like seeing Zatanna, and even though Flash really doesn’t have any impact on the plot, I enjoyed his portion of the tale as well.  This was an unexpected surprise, and the art had a really nice quality to it that I can’t quite put my finger on.  I know that Zatanna is due to join the Justice League sometime soon, so it will be neat to see how that gets built up across the DCU.  It’s interesting how long it took her to become an established character.  She was introduced in 1964, and she had that set of stories, though I don’t think she showed up anywhere else for a while after that.  Here she is in 1970, but she won’t really “make it” until she joins the Justice League in 1973.  That’s a good nine years from her introduction to the point when she hit the big time, insofar as she ever has.  Well, I’ve wandered away from the story itself, which I will give an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_77.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ohh man, I wasn’t looking forward to this one.  Here we continue Denny O’Neil’s death-march into social relevance.  After the last issue being even worse than I remembered, I was pretty unenthusiastic about this month, but it was better than the previous one in some ways, yet, it was worse in the logic of the actual plot.  We still have  moments of teeth-grindingly bad characterization from Hal and self-righteous speechifying from Ollie, but there is perhaps less of each.  The art is, of course, beautiful, and the central action set-piece is really striking, but as one should expect from this series, subtlety and nuance are endangered species, nowhere to be found.

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The issue opens with our hard-traveling heroes winding through the mountains of some Appalachian town with their sightseeing Guardian in the back of the truck.  For some reason, the juxtaposition of that image cracks me up.  The trio starts taking fire from a group of locals who think they are working for someone unfortunately named “Slapper” Soames.  The heroes leap into action and pretty quickly disable their attackers.  Here we have one of those rather odd moments that this series provides in spades, as the locals don’t recognize either of these world famous superheroes.  I know they’re from a backwater town, but come on!  We also discover that Green Lantern’s ring is somehow malfunctioning.  Uh-oh!

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So, what in the blue blazes is going on here, with folks from this small town shooting at random passers-by?  Well, the short version is that this is a ‘company town,’ a mining town pretty much owned by a man named Slapper, and he runs it like his own little kingdom.  Honestly, I might turn villainous too if my name was ‘Slapper.’  These miners are sick of being oppressed, and they decided to revolt after a local singer/songwriter who spoke out against conditions got arrested for no good reason.  So, armed revolt was the only option instead of, you know, going to the feds or…almost anything else?  Yep, seems so, because in O’Neil’s corner of the DC Universe each and every inhabitant has his melodrama knob turned up to 11.

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The Green Team begins to debate what to do about this situation after they hear the miners’ tale of woe, and here we get this issue’s obligatory terrible moment of characterization for Green Lantern.  The townsfolk tell our heroes that this Slapper fellow is acting like a tyrannical monster, and Hal is so incredibly rigid and immature in his thinking that he immediately takes the bad guy’s side, just because he’s in charge.  I get it, O’Neil, Hal respects authority; sometimes that’s bad.  Yes, I understand, but he also isn’t a child.  He can tell the difference between someone in a complex social situation like the fat-cat from the last issue and someone who is effectively running a concentration camp!  At the least he should be willing to investigate the situation since, you know, he is a superhero and all.  Instead, he’s apparently willing to ignore this entire mess, including the band of armed citizens hiding in the hills.

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In case this scene wasn’t annoying enough just on account of Green Lantern’s naivety, Green Arrow immediately responds by invoking Godwin’s Law, yet again.  That’s two, O’Neil.  Yep, Ollie’s response is, ‘hey, Hitler was in charge too!’  Interestingly enough, in case you missed the subtle moral dilemma here, the Archer’s ridiculous comparison actually proves prophetic.

The pair decides to aid the miners, who plan to assault the local robber-baron’s headquarters to free the singer (is this what happened to Jason Quest?), only to discover that this headquarters is less ‘small town jail’ and more ‘fugitive fortress from D-Day.’  That’s right, this small-town robber-baron is holed up in a blockhouse surrounded by concertina wire, watch towers, and a minefield!  Sure, why not.

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All of a sudden, Green Arrow, who has fought against all kinds of terrible odds as a honest-to-goodness superhero, completely chickens out, right after his impassioned speech about helping these yokels.  He says their attack is going to be suicide, and he refuses to participate…despite the fact that he and the man with the magic-freaking-wishing ring could easily take down the small-town tyrant without anyone losing their lives.  In fact, perhaps they could, you know, do this themselves, since this is pretty much right in their bailiwick as superheroes, rather than help an angry mob take on armed soldiers.  No, instead, our heroic archer sits back and watches as men armed with shotguns and pitchforks charge a machine gun.  It’s only after they start dropping like flies, you know, because they are charging a machine gun, that he decides to get off his green-clad backside and help.  He fires a smoke arrow to cover their advance, which would have been great before several men had been shot.  Sorry Ollie, but you just lost the moral high ground from which you’ve been pontificating.

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Better late than never…except for all those men who are dead…

Before the attack actually begins, we do a quick check in with our antagonist and watch the Emerald Crusader charge his ring.  His inner monologue is really quite painful to read, evincing the moral sophistication of a particularly dim and immature 12 year old.  He even goes so far as to say he would have backed our clearly villainous villain in earlier days, just because the guy is in a position of authority, legitimate or not.

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I sympathize; justice is hard to weigh, but here’s a hint: it’s a pretty safe bet that the guys murdering innocents aren’t on the side of the angels…

Green Lantern gets involved, and his ring makes swift work of the defenses, until it shorts out on him again, and then we get a moment that irritated me quite a bit, almost as much as the infinitely more asinine moments that surrounded it.  The Emerald Gladiator gives a big speech about how he’ll have to rely on his fists, and this is what he’s been missing, finding out what he’s really made of…as a man!

That’s all well and good, except that he’s done this in practically every. single. issue. of his series for the last several dozen issues.  I can’t count how many times the Lantern would make a big to-do about not using the most powerful weapon in the universe so he could punch someone with his fist and prove he’s “a man.”  I’m quite certain of this, because the trope quickly began to gall me as it buried what made the concept fun and interesting in the first place.  So, yeah Hal, you’ve gone a whole three days without punching someone in the face!  You clearly need to prove yourself.  If that’s the case, you’ve got some really deep emotional problems.  When did this turn into a grim, naval-gazing postmodern comic where all the “heroes” are mentally ill?  Although…that would explain Hal’s apparent lack of a moral compass…

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This page is like a movie star, beautiful, but stupid.

Ahh well, I understand what O’Neil was trying to do, tying that moment into the whole ill-executed crisis of conscience that will haunt the character throughout this series, but in context of the book that existed just a few months ago, it rings false.  The idea is developed further as Hal realizes that the reason his ring has been failing is that he’s lost confidence, concentration, and clarity of purpose.  I actually like that move; it’s just a shame that the story doesn’t earn it.  In addition, the Guardian tells him that his fellows have decided to reduce his power while he’s on “walkabout.”  Thanks guys.  At this point, Hal is struck by gas rockets, which leaves him wandering wounded and out of the fight.

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Because, despite his ability to juggle multiple super powered heroes in JLA, this is the best way that O’Neil can manage to provide any dramatic tension at the climax of this tale when he’s got this mismatched pair of characters. Even de-powered, Green Lantern really shouldn’t’ have any trouble with random mooks with guns, and if he was allowed to continue his attack for another moment, the issue would be over.  It feels a bit forced.

On the plus side, we get a nice, if slightly heavy-handed scene with the vacationing Guardian saving a little girl.  He begins to wonder if he has underestimated humanity as the child’s helplessness moves him.  There is something of value here, as the immortal being of pure intellect begins to interact with beings of emotion, to slowly be reminded of a truth that we imagine his race once knew, perhaps when the universe was young.  He begins to realize that there is more to weighing and judging matters of justice than logic can entirely supply.  It’s a promising vein of storytelling, and I’m curious to see how well it is mined.  If memory serves, I was not particularly impressed with the treatment this idea received on my first reading, but we shall see.

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In the meantime, Green Lantern’s absence leads to the surviving rebels getting captured, along with the Emerald Archer.  It’s revealed that, surprise surprise, the bad guy’s thugs are actually Nazi war criminals, somehow smuggled into this small-town to work as muscle for this random robber-baron.  Sure.  That’s important, just in case you hadn’t gotten yet that this bad guy is, in fact, really bad.  Anyway, it is also revealed that the head rabble-rouser was actually the villain’s plant.  Slapper wanted to force the miners into a confrontation so he could break their spirits and keep them enslaved.  That’s not a bad twist, but the guy didn’t really get enough characterization for it to matter.

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Lantern and Arrow eventually recover, and they make quick work of Slapper and his bully-boys.  Rather fittingly, despite his (belated) heroics, Ollie is entirely ineffectual and quite doomed until Hal shows up.  The story concludes with the Emerald Archer throwing a big bucket of cold water on whatever happiness this ending might have supplied, as our heroes continue their journey in search of America.  It looks like next issue will feature some more biker movie rejects.  Oh joy.

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Well, I suppose I let my feelings about this issue come through pretty clearly already, probably too clearly!  It frustrated me at several points, and the ham-handed characterization, as well as the irrational story beats, really got on my nerves.  I think that the bones of this tale could have actually been an excellent plot for someone like The Question, Batman, or the classic Vigilante (I think that would have made for a great story!).  Unfortunately, as with many of the adventures that will populate the coming pages of this book, this one is simply not well-suited for its protagonist pairing.  The lack of attention to recent continuity, when even the fairly Silver Age-ish Flash is doing a better job, is surprising as well.  Hal’s continued stupidity is probably the worst element of the tale, though I think the heroes’ inexplicable inaction before the miners’ assault is a pretty close second.  In addition, there is less here that is valuable, conceptually, than the first issue.  I think the days of the Pinkertons beating up striking miners were pretty far gone, even in 1970, though I suppose I could be wrong.  It doesn’t have quite the weight, despite the much higher stakes, as the previous issue.  All-in-all, I’ll give this annoying story 1.5 Minutemen.
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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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And we have ANOTHER addition to the wall of shame this month.  Neither Batgirl nor Robin are coming off all that well in their backups.

 

Well, that’s it for this week’s issues.  Thanks for joining me, and please visit again when we’ll have JLA and other other goodies to peruse!  Let me note that this coming week is the last week of the semester, so I’m likely to be insanely busy.  The following week I’ll be presenting at a conference out of state, so please don’t fret if it takes me a bit of time to get to the next installment.  I promise I won’t forget it.  Until then, keep the course, Into the Bronze Age!

 

DC Defenders

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Hello Freedom Forcers!  This is my first post in quite some time, but I assure you I have not been idle in the intervening months…and months…and months….*ahem*  Well, I haven’t been too idle.  I have been hard at work on more than a few projects, and I am just now finishing up my Pulp Adventures mod, featuring the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Green Hornet, plus many more!  Be on the lookout for the release of this love letter to the classic pulp heroes in the next few months.  Once I finish that project, I’ll be revisiting a few previous undertakings, including the DC Universe According to Grey!  What follows are some ruminations and some little bits of fun on the subject of my sprawling version of the DC Universe.

I have recently been reading through a number of DC books, including classic issues of Detective Comics, Adventures Comics, The Brave and the Bold, and others.  All of this four-color goodness has really set my mind on fire to get back to my DC Universe mod and start telling stories set in my all-time favorite comic setting.  To that end, I’ve been toying with the hundreds of story ideas and half-finished plots that are lying around my hard drive in various stages of completion, and after hearing something interesting on The Who’s Who Podcast, of Aquaman Shrine and Firestorm Fan fame (say that three times fast!), I decided to play around with an old concept that didn’t make it into the first release of the DCUG.

One of the hosts of the show, the Irredeemable Shag, mentioned his ideal superhero team, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was, in large part, note for note the same team that I had created for a campaign in the DCUG.  I’ve got a few missions written, but nothing was finished when I released the mod.  However, it is on my list of campaigns that I want to finish when I return to my sprawling pet project.  You see, years ago I watched the JLU episode “Wake the Dead.”  In it, the Timmverse presented a DC version of the classic Marvel team, the Defenders, who took on a mystical threat.  The team included my personal favorite hero, Aquaman, and I found the idea of a DC team that including the Sea King and dealt with mystical threats to be pretty intriguing.  Now, I know what a few of you mega-DC fans are saying, ‘that team already exists, and it’s called Shadowpact!’  Well, I have to admit that I know next to nothing about them as a team, and even less of them as individual characters.  I’m afraid they don’t interest me much in any event.

On the other hand, given Aquaman’s connection to Atlantis, it makes sense for him to be involved in sword and sorcery type tales occasionally.  So, I created my own version of the team featuring a number of second string character for whom I had a soft spot, and I penned a story arc for them that promises to be great fun.  The team featured:

As I started to think about these stories once again, I got an itch to throw part of the team into the Rumble Room and see how they played together.  I took some screenshots, and I’ll share them with y’all now:

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I began by choosing a subset of my nascent mystical team.  So many choices!  It’s getting hard to find anything among the huge roster of the DCUG these days!  I’m pitting my team against a semi-random assortment of villains on a fantasy-style map.

picture016Heroes assembled!

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Matchstick is undaunted in the face of evil!

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The heroes move out in search of some villains to vanquish.

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And the villains find them!  Yes, that’s obscure Hawkman villain I.Q.!  Will his technological marvels be enough to stop our stalwarts?

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He uses one of his hi-tech devices on Blue Devil…  picture028But it isn’t enough!  Ouch, that’s going to hurt!

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But I.Q. has distracted the heroes while the rest of the villains arrive, led by the powerful sorcerer Wotan!

picture033Zatanna finds herself surrounded!  Which spell to use, which spell to use…

picture037The Mistress of Magic drives them back with a burst of dinw…errr, wind!

picture035Aquaman uses his telepathy on Wotan, hoping to stun him and disable his defenses.

picture039Zatanna prepares to finish off the Trickster, but Wotan prepares another spell!

picture042The Shade enters the scene, stunning the Nuclear Man!

picture045Meanwhile, Aquaman squares off with his half-brother…

picture047And Firestorm is airborne again!  Perhaps a little creative transmutation might be in order…

picture052The Battle rages on!

picture053Aquaman corners The Shade!  Let’s see that nightstick save him now!

picture063And Firestorm provides the coup de grace!

The heroes won the day, though Zatanna fell to the villains.  I think I’ve got the beginning of a good team here, and I am looking forward to completing their campaign over the summer when I return to the DCU!  I hope that y’all enjoyed this little bit of silliness as much as I did!