DC Comics Bronze Age Read-through Project: December 1971

Algae cleans up Metropolis, Batman and Robin fight Nazis and the Reaper, we get a new Green Lantern, Ollie considers politics, the JLA take on the youth of America, someone discovers Superman’s Fortress, Supergirl really doesn’t do much, Batman gets beat up by the Creeper, and Superboy leads a pack of wolves. These are the comics cover-dated December 1971.

Superman 246: After Superman picks up some algae from the bottom of the Marianas Trench for an anti-pollution experiment at STAR Labs, Clark returns home in time for a meeting of everyone in his building in which most of them want to get guns in response to the rise in crime. Clark voices his opposition to this idea, but it does no good. Meanwhile, the algae experiment literally goes down the drain and eventually causes trouble for the city as it considers everything to be a form of pollution. While Superman takes care of things, one of Clark’s neighbors is mistaken for a prowler and is shot, bringing an end to the gun issue. In the backup, we learn of the computer that Kryptonians used to determine if a couple could marry.

This issue reprints a story from Superman 40 (May/Jun 1946).

Batman 237: Dick Grayson and his buddies go up to Vermont for a super-hero parade and party, and see a kid dressed as Robin getting beat up. This leads Dick on the trail of the attackers, but is taken out by a man dressed as the Grim Reaper. He ends up landing face down in water, but Batman shows up in time to save his ward. He gets him to a nearby doctor, and we learn that Batman was in town because the doctor, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, recently saw a former Nazi general who has been on the run since the end of the war. Batman manages to stop the Nazi soldiers who are after him, but fails to prevent his death. Meanwhile, Batman realizes that his doctor friend was the Reaper all along.

This issue reprints a story from Detective Comics 37 (Mar 1940) that is actually the last Solo Batman story before the introduction of Robin.

Green Lantern 87: This time out, Green Lantern and Green Arrow split off into separate features. In the GL story, Guy Gardner is seriously injured while trying to save a little girl, so the Guardians have to chose a new backup for Hal. Enter John Stewart, who, despite being an angry young man, also proves that he can handle being a Green Lantern. In the GA story, Elliot S! Maggin’s first ever story, the mayor of Star City is ready to retire, and wants Ollie Queen to be his party’s candidate for the job. After talking it over with his fellow Justice Leaguers, and watching an innocent kids killed during a riot, he decides to accept the offer and run for mayor.

This issue reprints a story from Green Lantern 16 (Oct 1962).

The Flash 211: After watching Iris getting taken out at a roller derby, Flash is called into action when Central City experiences a major earthquake. That is supposed to be geologically impossible, so Flash investigates, and discovers that the source is the roller derby. It turns out that the giant, Amazonian woman in the roller derby is actually an alien, and the roller rink actually sends energy down to earth’s core, causing quakes that will cleanse the surface of the planet so her people can invade and take over. Flash saves the day and has her arrested. In the backup, we learn about a chicken farmer who has been pumping his chickens full of chemicals to make them bigger. Unfortunately, this chemical can make the people who eat the chicken sick. When one person dies, Kid Flash helps to expose the farmer and have him arrested.

This issue reprints Jay Garrick’s final solo Golden Age appearance from Flash Comics 104 (Feb 1949).

Justice League of America 95: The transporter problem from the end of last issue appears to be related to a Zeta Beam from Rann. Superman flies off to investigate. Meanwhile, we learn of a Vietnam vet who gained a mutant power to control people with his voice. He uses that power to control the angry younger people, but he has a hard time controlling them, causing more harm than good. He realizes that the only way to stop them is for them to take him out, so he orders them to attack. He barely survives, but loses his mutant power. Next issue, Starbreaker!

This issue reprints the Doctor Mid-Nite’s first appearance in All-American Comics 25 (Apr 1941), and Doctor Fate’s first appearance in More Fun Comics 67 (May 1941).

Action Comics 407: A pilot crash lands in the arctic, just outside Superman’s Fortress. He is knocked out, but not before memorizing the coordinates. After recovering, he hires an electronics expert to help break into the fortress, and has his son kidnap a hostage to keep Superman away. The kid chooses Clark Kent, who has to figure out how to protect his Fortress, while also handling disaster alerts that come up while he’s a prisoner. The electronics experts turns out to be Luthor in disguise. He kills the pilot, but Superman stops him before he can cause any more damage. This whole situation causes the pilot’s son to decide to reform. In the backup, Superman, on his way home from a mission in another galaxy, is attacked by a small planet that wants to eat him. Fortunately, it can’t process humanoid life forms, so the locals help him escape.

This issue reprints the second half of the Flash/Atom team-up in Brave and the Bold 53 (Apr/May 1964).

Adventure Comics 412: After going a little crazy on a shopping spree, Linda has to go to the back to move some money from her savings account to he spending account, but there is a robbery in progress. She changes to Supergirl, but is unable to stop the robot from escaping. She follows it to a island compound, and meets the man in charge, who has a vendetta against humanity, and bankers in specific. There’s flashback to his son being injured and needing an expensive surgery to save his sight. He went to the bank president, but was denied a loan, so he robbed the bank, and although he had to spend 10 years in prison, his son’s vision was saved. So now he’s taking out his anger in the bankers, specifically the one who declined the loan, but after he sends explosive robots to 2 banks, he learns that his son works at one of them. Supergirl goes after one while he saves his son, but the explosives are so powerful, he is unable to get the robot far enough away without being caught in the explosion. Supergirl stops the other one off panel, and later, her news crew investigate the wreckage and find the body of the criminal. In the backup, Zatara is attacked by some demons in his study while Zatanna practices some tricks with her manager. They go up to see Zatara, and he quickly sends them to a different dimensional world. And since Zatanna isn’t as powerful as her father, she can’t get them back to Earth. As they make their way to a dimensional rift, their only way home, they are attacked by a band of barbarians and knocked out.

This issue reprints a Hawkman story from The Brave and the Bold 44 (Oct/Nov 1962), Detective Comics 178 (Dec 1951).

Detective Comics 417: The Creeper is robbing drug firms of monofragilic acid in the hopes that a scientist can cure him. In reality, the scientist plans to duplicate the serum that created the Creeper, and then kill the original. This plan backfires, and with Batman’s help, the Creeper wins. Also, the scientist manages to poison the Creeper, but it appears that rather than killing him, it turns the Creeper back into Jack Ryder. In the backup, the subject of a movie called “The Stepfather” is killed at the opening of the movie. Barbara Gordon, already in attendance, rushes off to investigate as Batgirl. A muzzle flash from the gun that killed the mobster illuminated the face of his step-son. But when Batgirl investigates, she determines that it couldn’t have been him. Meanwhile, the step-son and his “associates” are aware that she is hiding in his garage.

This issue reprints a Casebook Mystery from Gangbusters 40 (Jun/Jul 1954), and a Sierra Smith story from Dale Evans Comics 1 (Sep/Oct 1948).

Superboy 180: An alien probe lands on the moon, somehow turning Superboy into a werewolf. Meanwhile, a Warlock is in town with plans to corrupt the town’s most moral citizen, Jonathan Kent. Hjinks ensue, Superboy inadvertently works with a pack of wolves to drive out the Warlock, and they all live happily ever after, until the backup. In the backup, Clark realizes that someone is trying to kill his rich uncle. Rather than explain this to is parents, he acts completely out of character, and asks for a trial adoption with his uncle. Then he is forced to act reckless to save his uncle from various assassination attempts without revealing his secret identity, until he his sent back to Smallville, at which point Superboy is able to solve the case.

This issue reprints a Legion story from Adventure Comics 301 (Oct 1962).

This month started out strong, then went downhill pretty quickly. Superman was a great read. Len Wein was very good at writing Superman stories, and this was just part of his first stint on the title. He’s got a few more issues, and then he’ll come back in 78 or 79. This was also the introduction of STAR Labs, and the first time since I started this project that we actually got Clark’s address (not the first time ever, as is pointed out in the letters page). Batman was not only a good story, but was also part of an unofficial DC/Marvel crossover, where a few stories from both companies take place during this festival. Even the Golden Age reprint was enjoyable, which I only read because I really haven’t read any pre-Robin stories before. The GL/GA book was also pretty great. I didn’t like John Stewart much in the GL story, which means Denny did something right, and it was interesting to see Guy Gardner before he became an a—hole. Elliott S! Maggin gets his first story in the GA feature, and also appears to be possibly making a status quo change. Then again, that’s hard to tell, since there is only one more issue of new stuff before GL/GA becomes a backup feature in Flash.
Speaking of the Scarlet Speedster, this is where things started going downhill for me. While the Kid Flash story was good, the Flash taking on alien who is using a roller derby to destroy earth? Well, at least it was original, if not well executed. On the plus side, this was my first opportunity to read a Jay Garrick story from the Golden Age, so I took the opportunity, and found it to be my favorite story of the issue. And it is the introduction of Rival, who comes back in JSA, so that was a nice little bonus.
The Justice League story was super boring. Took me forever to get through it, mostly because I didn’t feel engaged. And I don’t know if it is because I’m reading it 40+ years later, but I’m really getting tired of Mike Fredrich using the book to preach about social issues rather than creating stories as a means of escape from those same social issues. It really stands out here because he focuses so much on the social issue, that the rest of the story suffers.
The stories in Action were pretty good, but the first story spends several pages changing the main point of the story from “protecting the Fortress” to “performing super rescues while protecting his secret identity.” Supergirl really didn’t do much of anything in her story, but the Zatanna story was enjoyable, with great Gray Morrow art and Len Wein scripting.
The Batman/Creeper story wasn’t bad, and was dedicated to Steve Ditko (Creeper creator), but relied on back issue notes rather than flashback for the character history. This wouldn’t have been bad except that the issues noted were from several years earlier, and may not have been easy to obtain in 1971. The Batgirl story didn’t really have much happen, and ends in a weird spot, but does manage to set up the mystery, and gives a slightly humorous nod to “The Godfather.” The Superboy stories were even more boring than the Justice League issue. Bob Haney wrote the first story, which was just weird. And the backup used a Silver Age trope that has always annoyed me. There is no reason why Clark couldn’t tell Jonathan and Martha about his plans. This would have saved them a lot of heartache thinking that their son wanted to leave them.

And that brings 1971 to a close. A very up-and-down year full of up-and-down months. I’m hoping for less “social issue” stories in 1972, and more entertaining stories. Here is what I do know is coming: Superman gets a new 2 new super-villains, one of which will return several times throughout the rest of the Bronze Age; Supergirl gets her own title, causing a temporary format change in Adventure Comics; and issues will drop down to 20¢, but that means we lose the reprints.

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