In May, 1971, DC Comics continued to chronicle the ongoing saga of the war between the god-worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips in three new releases: Mister Miracle #3, Jimmy Olsen #139 — and Lois Lane #111.
True, the progenitor of that cosmic saga, Jack Kirby, neither wrote, nor drew, nor edited the third of the comic books listed above; indeed, he may not even have served as an informal consultant in its production. Nevertheless, the latest episode in the continuing adventures of “Superman’s Girl Friend” leaned heavily on concepts developed by Kirby for Jimmy Olsen, with a plot centered on an attempt by the minions of Darkseid, Lord of Apokolips, to assassinate Lois’ mighty beau. And why not? Whatever else Kirby’s Fourth World was, it was clearly part of DC’s shared universe, with especially strong ties to Superman’s corner of that fictional world; after all, in his guise of Clark Kent, Superman even had a minion of Darkseid for his boss. It only made sense, therefore, that the cosmic conflict at the heart of Kirby’s four series (which included Forever People and New Gods in addition to Jimmy Olsen and Mister Miracle) would eventually spill over into the rest of DC’s line — and that any stories resulting from such a spillover would and should “count”, continuity-wise, every bit as much as did the King’s.
At least that’s how my thirteen-year-old self saw the matter, fifty years ago; and since I was then avidly following any and all developments in the Fourth World saga, that was enough to get me to pick up my first issue of Lois Lane in almost five years.
Such, at least, is my working theory, here in May, 2021. There’s just a bit of a problem with this version of events, however, in that it would have been hard for me to know in May, 1971 about LL #111’s tie-in to the Fourth World, prior to actually picking the book up and perusing its contents. Nothing on the cover hints at any Apokoliptican shenanigans, and DC wasn’t running its “Direct Currents” coming-attractions column, at this particular point in time. Nor were there any references in contemporaneous letters columns or in DC house ads that might have given me a clue what.the lead story in this issue was really about — none that I’ve been able to locate, anyway.
So… maybe it was the mini-versions of the Justice League of America that first attracted my attention. I was a regular buyer of JLA in this era, and the cover’s “Gulliver’s Travels” take on the team could have intrigued me enough to pull the comic out of the spinner rack and flip through its first few pages.
And, OK, sure. I suppose that Lois’ recumbent, bikini-clad form, fetchingly but tastefully rendered by romance-comics veteran Dick Giordano, may also have caught my eye. As already noted, I was thirteen years of age; for the record, I was also (and still am) a cisgendered, heterosexual male human. Happy now?
In any event, whether it was because of the little JLAers, or Lois’ little bathing suit, or some mix of both factors, I did ultimately decide to give Lois Lane #111 a closer look — and when I did, I didn’t have to scan any further than page 2 to spot the story’s earliest references to Darkseid and Apokolips. That’s when I decided to buy the comic, I suspect, though I’ll obviously never know for sure.
So. what did I actually get for my fifteen cents? Let’s take a look…
Ugh. Poor Lois, having to put up with the unwanted attentions of these boorish young men, when all she wants to do is find a quiet spot to… think dreamy thoughts about a different man. Okayy…
The way that the “Justice League” is introduced at the bottom of page 1 is obviously supposed to mislead us as to their true size, er, nature — too bad the cover’s already given away the surprise, huh?
Well, at least you can’t say that the cover was misleading. Giordano may have left out Lois’ pink beach blanket, but he otherwise nailed this scene. (Actually, the whole business of tying our heroine down with “anesthetic twine” is over and done with so quickly that it seems likely the cover was drawn, or at least conceived, before the story itself was.)
As you’ll note from the credits, the story’s artwork was by Lois’ regular team of Werner Roth (pencils) and Vince Colletta (inks). What the credits don’t tell you is that in each and every appearance of Superman/Clark Kent in this story — including those of the evil Lilliputian clone version we see here — his face has been inked not by Colletta, but rather by Murphy Anderson, whom regular readers of the blog will know did similar duties on Jimmy Olsen during this period. (There, however, Anderson’s remit also extended to the series’ titular star, as well as to other members of Superman’s traditional supporting cast, such as Perry White; here, at least, the “main” art team of Roth and Colletta seem to have been trusted to be able to keep Lois herself “on model” without Anderson’s assistance.) If I recall correctly, my younger self appreciated the presence here of Colletta, who was at this time inking all of Kirby’s Fourth World books, for the degree of visual continuity with Kirby’s work that it offered; conversely, I don’t remember noticing Anderson’s Super-interpolations at all, probably because the stylistic contrast between Roth and Anderson wasn’t nearly so great as that between the latter and Jack Kirby.
As for the script of “The Dark Side of the Justice League!” (and yes, that title pretty definitely contains a pun), it was by Robert Kanigher, the once and future DC editor who seemed to be all over the publisher’s line as a freelance writer during this period, working in a variety of genres. According to an editorial note in a later letters column (that of LL #122), however, the idea to include concepts from Kirby’s Fourth World in Lois Lane came not from Kanigher, but rather from the book’s editor, E. Nelson Bridwell. Bridwell, who’d been the assistant editor to Mort Weisinger back when the latter was editing the entire “Superman family” of books as a single feudal kingdom, was in this era serving as a coordinator for those same titles, which at Weisinger’s retirement had been divided up among multiple editors; these included Julius Schwartz, Murray Boltinoff, Mike Sekowsky, Jack Kirby, and, of course — in the instance of Lois Lane — Bridwell himself. His duties included handling the letters columns for all the Super-titles, but he also seems to have been more deeply invested than any other single editor or writer in developing and maintaining continuity across the various books — a commitment which appears to have extended into integrating the various new concepts and characters Jack Kirby had introduced via Jimmy Olsen and the other Fourth World titles into the rest of the “Superman family” in general, and into Lois Lane (the only title over which he had actual autonomy) in particular.*
Regardless of who was driving the introduction of Fourth World concepts into this story’s script, however, they start coming in as early as the first panel on pages 2 and 3. Indeed, they arrive in such density that it’s easy to imagine the whole thing being a little baffling to any reader who hadn’t been following Jimmy Olsen.
But there was new information here even for those of us who had been reading JO faithfully, and so already knew that Superman had at some earlier time donated cellular tissue samples to the U.S, Government-run “Project”, some of which had subsequently been stolen by that enterprise’s Darkseid-directed rival, the “Evil Factory”. To wit, this story was the first inkling we’d been given that Superman’s cohorts in the Justice League of America were also willing participants in this state-sanctioned exercise in aggressive genetic experimentation. Indeed, it was the first time that the Fourth World mythos had touched upon the continuity of any DC hero outside the “Superman Family” microcosm (and it would pretty much be the last time, too, until Batman’s team-up with Mister Miracle in 1974’s Brave and the Bold #112; but I digress).
We’d even seen, courtesy of Jimmy Olsen #135, that the Evil Factory had created multiple tiny replicas of Superman; but Kirby had so far been rather cagey regarding the question of whether or not these clones possessed all the same super-abilities as the Man of Steel. By contrast, the creative team for “The Dark Side of the Justice League!” demonstrates no such circumspection, not only portraying the tale’s tiny Supes as having the same powers as the original, but also showing his minuscule teammates as similarly gifted — even those who, like the Flash, had received their abilities via an accident, rather than having been born with them.
And how in the (fourth) world have the Evil Factory’s Simyan and Mokkari been able to duplicate the real-life JLAers’ unique equipment, such as Green Lantern’s power ring, or Hawkman’s anti-gravity belt and wings? Um, you got me on that one.** Moving on…
I think it’s fair to say that, in this era, DC was hoping to attract romance comics readers (i.e., girls) to Lois Lane, along with the traditional audience for superhero material (i.e., boys). Which may help provide context for the above scene, in which we see professional journalist Lois wasting her employer’s time (not to mention their office supplies!) by typing up moony notes about Superman while she’s presumably on the clock. Evidently, this is the kind of thing that DC’s editorial and creative personnel — almost all male, and largely middle-aged — thought girls wanted to read.
In May, 1971, the last story my younger self would have read that featured Lois as a character was most likely the lead tale in Superman #238, published the previous month, which showed her becoming the hostage of a group of hardened criminals who were threatening to set off an explosion far beneath the Earth’s crust, thus wreaking untold ecological damage, all in search of a scoop. By pointing this out, I don’t mean to imply that the news story we see Lois pursuing here, regarding the need of economically struggling families for affordable, quality day care, is less important than the one she was after in the earlier tale — indeed, it’s probably a lot more relevant to most readers’ lives (now as well as then) than Superman #238’s made-up crisis — but the difference in tone in how these two stories handle Lois’ journalistic endeavors is nonetheless striking.
It’s evidently a slow day for crime and other crises in Metropolis (as well as elsewhere in the world), since Superman has leisure to swing by the location his girlfriend is working today, just to say hi — although, as so often happens, where Lois is working turns out to be a place Superman is needed, anyway.
Just like the Evil Factory, Intergang (sometimes, as here, spelled “Inter-Gang”) is an Earth-based arm of Darkseid’s extraterrestrial operation, introduced by Jack Kirby in Jimmy Olsen.
I have to confess, I find the last part of this scene, where the women Lois has been interviewing show her some sisterly support, to be actually kind of sweet. However, my warm fuzzies are somewhat offset by my dismay at what looks to me like a concurrent lapse in professionalism on our heroine’s part.
The following day finds Lois shooting a piece in Metropolis Park, her subject “an anonymous donation of wild animal statues“. Once again, Superman makes a fly-by — and once again, Lois feels compelled to call out a warning: “Beware of those statues!”
“Poor Lois!” thinks Supes. “Overwork’s making her flip!”
But in the very next instant, the statues come to life, and attack the Metropolis Marvel. Taken by surprise, Superman gets knocked around for a few moments; but he quickly recovers, and then…
As we’ll learn in the very next panel, Superman has been driven stark raving mad by Lois’ kiss. Unfortunately, Roth and Anderson’s rendering of his face in close-up doesn’t manage to convey a level of distress much beyond what you’d expect if the Last Son of Krypton had gotten himself caught in his zipper.
A couple of pages before this, Kanigher’s script made a point of telling readers that this particular section of Metropolis Park is “temporarily closed to the public”, so we don’t have to worry that there might have been kids on that carousel Superman just smashed, or that anyone else in the immediate vicinity might be harmed or killed as the Man of Tomorrow runs amok. But presumably this section of the park isn’t that large, and sooner or later, Superman is bound to wander past its boundaries. Right?
Lois’ very first call is to the Project, a federal government initiative conducting advanced genetics research at a secret complex located near Metropolis. Wouldn’t it make sense to call in the Metropolis Police Dept. before that? Maybe the National Guard? Especially since, at this point, Lois has no reason to suspect that the calamity that’s befallen Superman has anything to do with genetics or cloning.
Also worth noting here: it appears Lois visited the Project with Superman to voluntarily donate her tissue samples. That’s in marked contrast to the experience of Jimmy Olsen, who evidently had his samples harvested without his knowledge during a medical exam at the Daily Planet, Frankly, the handling of this idea in LL is decidedly less creepy than Kirby’s take in JO — so, points here to Kanigher and/or Bridwell.
As to when this story takes place in relation to Jimmy Olsen, it seems a fair bet to say that Lois’ call to the Project comes after the events of JO #138, published the previous month,in which the complex and its environs (including the entire city of Metropolis) were almost blown sky high in a nuclear explosion. Interestingly, according to an introduction written by former Kirby assistant Mark Evanier for Jimmy Olsen Adventures, Vol. 1, Kirby had originally intended for that particular storyline to run for one more issue, but changed his plans after a phone conversation with Bridwell in which the two discussed “some cross-continuity plans with the other Superman books”. This is pure conjecture on my part, but I wonder if Bridwell’s intention to feature the Project/Evil Factory concepts so prominently in May’s issue of Lois Lane led Kirby to wrap up his own narrative in Jimmy Olsen a month earlier than he’d originally planned.
Before turning the virtual page to view the sight now greeting Lois’ disbelieving eyes, let’s take a moment to marvel that our heroine has been able to catch a little much-needed shuteye, in spite of the incessant sirens that must surely have been blaring all night long. That’s assuming, of course, that Superman’s maddened rampage continues unchecked; but why wouldn’t we assume that?
A “liquid extract” made from Superman’s cells? Why would osculatory contact with such a substance drive the Action Ace loco? Oh, well, we know those Apokolips scientists are really, really smart, right? So let’s just roll with it.
Evidently, the Project personnel who arrived at Lois’ office didn’t want to disturb her slumber, so they just dropped off this bag with some instructions. Gosh, that’s so… considerate?… of them.
Um, “miniature Lois Lanes”? If the Project wanted to whip up a fresh batch of clones, it seems to me they might have picked a more formidable set of tissue samples for the source material — Superman’s, maybe? But, whatever. I guess we should be glad that the bag in which they sent Lois’ “mini-me’s” (hey, who knew that DC had that one first?) had a crappy clasp; otherwise, it might not have opened when Lois fell, and the little Loises (Loisi?) would have just stayed put, regardless of what depredations the faux Justice League might be visiting upon poor Lois No. 1.
So “Kryptonite Nevermore!” really just refers to Green K, and not any of the other colors? Good to know!
Gee, they make it look easy, don’t they? Maybe a little too easy — but I guess that klurkor stuff is a really efficient fighting system.
The only evil Leaguer left to contend with is the Flash, and he’s felled after he runs past Lois and kicks dust in her face, causing her to sneeze and knock him off his feet. (No, really.)
“… you may lose your life!” This last-minute attempt to gin up a few extra seconds of suspense hardly seems worth the trouble. Seriously, is there anybody out there (either in 1971 or in 2021) who wonders, even for a moment, if Lois is willing to take that risk? Or worries that if she does, she’s done for?
And now we see what the berserk Superman has been up to ever since Lois last saw him, the day before — he’s still “rampaging” in Metropolis Park. Which, let’s face it, must strain even the most generous credulity past its breaking point. There’s no way that the Man of Might wouldn’t have completely leveled the park, and most of the rest of Metropolis, by now. And where the hell are the cops, the army, et al.?
OK, so maybe Superman left the park at some point, flew into space and spent a few hours harmlessly knocking around some asteroids, then came back right before Lois showed up. Or maybe he was never really all that “berserk” to begin with; rather, some inner voice restrained him, keeping him from leaving the park or even doing much damage while he was there. (I mean, he hasn’t even managed to take out that bridge Lois is standing on yet.) Or maybe…
Y’know what? Let’s not do this. Rather, for once, let’s just recognize some seriously sloppy plotting for what it was. To do so doesn’t mean we think the creative personnel responsible for it were “bad” people, or even bad at their jobs on a day-in, day-out basis, Indeed, we can acknowledge that they were honest craftsmen turning out disposable entertainment to make a living, probably not thinking much past the next month’s rent or mortgage payment, and certainly never imagining that their efforts would be subject to dissection a half century later by, say, some retired librarian with lots of time on his hands. That still doesn’t mean we’re required to craft a rational “explanation” to bail ’em out. (Though if you’re the kind of fan who enjoys doing that sort of thing as a creative exercise, then go for it, and more power to you.)
Yeah, I’m afraid you’re back to square one, Lois. Otherwise, DC would have to rethink the whole premise of your series!
We’re not told what becomes of the itty-bitty evil JLA clones, so let’s just presume that Superman simply dumps them all into that trash can one of the ‘lil Loisi has already used for “Aquaman” disposal, and then carries them off to the Project to be locked away forever. All, that is, save for the Atom — who, if you’ve forgotten (as Kanigher and Bridwell seem to have), didn’t participate in the original assault on Superman, because he’d been sent on a separate mission to infiltrate the Pentagon! Gee, I wonder what happened there? Guess we’ll never know, as I think it’s safe to assume that, after fifty years, that particular tale will remain untold (unless it’s in the realm of fan fiction).
As for the little league of Lois Lanes, we can probably assume that Superman safely returns them to the Project as well, all tucked away in that handy bag (but mind that clasp, Clark, especially when you’re in flight!), so that they can take up their new lives as… what? What sort of meaningful existence can these tiny young women possibly have, going forward? Here, as in Jimmy Olsen, despite all the references to their representing “human life”, the clones created by both the Project and the Evil Factory are in fact treated as being less than fully human — as being rather more like the Superman robots that the Man of Steel used to rely on in the Weisinger days, or the S.H.I.E.L.D. LMDs (Life Model Decoys) over at Marvel. Ultimately, this raises a huge ethical issue — one which Kirby’s work largely evades through sheer inventiveness and narrative momentum, but which the more restrained approach to comics storytelling of Kanigher, Roth, and company can’t quite as easily surmount.
But if E. Nelson Bridwell and his creative personnel had any sense of their own stylistic limitations when “doing Kirby” (and they probably didn’t), it sure didn’t stop them from trying. Having taken the plunge with “The Dark Side of the Justice League!”, they’d return to the Fourth World several more times before the end of 1971. Rarely if ever reprinted, and largely forgotten today, these stories form an odd little addendum to Kirby’s great, unfinished opus — a modest foreshadowing of how the Fourth World would ultimately be integrated into the larger DC Universe by writers and artists other than the man who’d created it. We’ll be looking at more of these tales in the months to come.
The last eight story pages in Lois Lane #111 were given over to the latest installment of “Rose and the Thorn”, a backup feature that had begun running in the first Bridwell-edited issue of LL, #105. This strip’s titular character (or, if you prefer, characters) was a revamp of a Golden Age villain, the Thorn, who’d first appeared in Flash #89 (Nov., 1947), courtesy of writer John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino. Like the first Thorn, the new version appearing in Lois Lane suffered from multiple personality disorder; her secret identity, a sweet young woman named Rose, had no idea of her double life as the prickly Thorn. Unlike the original, however, this new Thorn was a hero, rather than a villain. Rhosyn “Rose” Forrest was the daughter of a Metropolis police detective who’d been killed by a criminal organization called the 100; her nocturnal activities as the Thorn were all in the aim of avenging her dad by bringing the 100 down.
All of the Rose and Thorn stories appearing in Lois Lane to date had been written by Robert Kanigher, and illustrated by the team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. As of #111, however, the latter duo were off the book; the new artist, who’d end up only ever drawing this one installment of the feature, was Gray Morrow — an artist who seemed to be popping up all over DC’s line in this era, much in the vein of Kanigher (though Morrow was decidedly less prolific).
I’m not certain whether or not my younger self even realized that this was Morrow’s first outing on the strip, since I hadn’t seen any of the previous installments — but if I had, I definitely would have considered it a step up, art-wise (sorry, Andru-Esposito fans).
Just going by the first page, of course, it seems like this would also have to be Morrow’s last outing (and Kanigher’s and Bridwell’s, as well), as the Thorn appears to be, well, dead. But appearances can be deceiving…
Young Leo’s “old man” turns out to be the late Leo “the Lynx” Lester — formerly the 100’s top executioner, before “a fink betrayed him to the fuzz” — or at least that’s the story Leo II is told. With his dad’s old gun in hand, Leo heads out to find and kill the Thorn — an act which he figures will allow him to succeed his father as number one hitman.
As she slaps a pair of thorny handcuffs on Leo, Thorn tries to tell the kid that he shouldn’t expect the 100 to try to rescue him; rather, his fate may be just the opposite: “The penalty for botching a contract is death! As an example to others!” But Leo’s not buying it.
Hmm, these 100 guys seem pretty theatrical, don’t they? I mean, that carousel camouflage is a whole lot of trouble to have gone to, especially if they had any expectation of Leo actually being successful in his attempt to execute Thorn himself.
“Now — do you believe me?” Thorn asks her captive. But Leo’s not exactly quick on the uptake — he’s convinced the carousel hoods were just there to back him up. “They were shootin’ at you — not me!”
The final, pseudo-psychedelic panel on page 5 seems to be there primarily to remind us of the dual nature of our heroine, since Rose Forrest otherwise doesn’t appear in this episode. Still, it’s a nice opportunity for Morrow to show off a little.
“Schizoid” was, of course,absolutely the wrong word to use to describe multiple or dissociative personality disorder — but people did it all the time during this era, even more than they do now.
Per the foregrounded figures shown in the first panel above, I’m pretty sure that we’re supposed to believe that all of the carousel hoods were thrown clear of the wreckage caused by our heroine’s concussion-thorn, with none of them being killed or even seriously injured (though the story doesn’t expressly say so.
The “Detective Stone” who’s just arrived on the scene is a regular supporting character in the feature, and a love interest for Rose. But Danny (his given name) has barely shown up when Thorn ditches him, setting off a smoke-thorn for Thorn and slipping away into the night with Leo…
It’s not at all clear why Thorn believes that Leo was coerced into accepting the contract on her — prior to this last scene, Leo has appeared to be quite highly motivated to follow in his dad’s infamous footsteps, with no further enticement seeming necessary. But since he evidently does have some other, as yet unknown reason for coming after our heroine, Kanigher has a reason to continue his story into the next issue, whereas otherwise it seems he could have wrapped everything up in this one.
Still, though thirteen-year-old me enjoyed this episode of “Rose and the Thorn” (especially Morrow’s artwork) back in May, 1971, I wasn’t interested enough in learning Leo’s ultimate fate to return in June for the next Lois Lane. Nevertheless, I’d hate to leave you wondering how everything turned out — so here , briefly, is the tale’s resolution, as presented in LL #112:.
As they continue their flight from the 100’s gunmen, Leo tells Thorn that the organization is holding his mother hostage on a casino gambling barge. The two fugitives ultimately manage to escape, bur are separated. Leo is briefly in the protective custody of Det. Danny Stone, but takes a powder so he can attempt to rescue his mom on his own; he fails, of course, and is captured and then held prisoner alongside her as bait for Thorn. Thorn takes the bait, but outwits and defeats the hoods. It all wraps up with these two closing panels:
These panels (and the rest of the story from whence they come) were pencilled and inked by the new regular artist on “Rose and the Thorn”, Dick Giordano. Giordano was, perhaps, a less visually distinctive artist than Morrow, but I found his work almost as appealing (and still do). In any event, I was happy to see it whenever I bought an issue of Lois Lane — even if I only did that when a quick perusal of the issue’s contents on the stands confirmed that the lead story had something to do with the Fourth World. Indeed, if I’m going to be honest, I was always pleased to have a chance to catch up on Rose and the Thorn and her/their quest for justice, even if I followed her adventures only intermittently.
What was that? You’re wondering if my appreciation of this solid if unspectacular backup feature might have had just a little something to do with the Thorn’s green leather outfit, which bared rather more skin than was customary for superheroines of this era? Um, well… you see, I was thirteen years old at the time, and… oh, you know the rest.
*One Kirby creation for Jimmy Olsen, new Daily Planet owner Morgan Edge, had been almost immediately picked up on by most of Kirby’s fellow Super-editors; for the most part, however, Edge was portrayed in their books as simply an abrasive boss who disliked Superman, with only occasional references made to his darker nature as an active agent of Darkseid. The main exception to this rule would come in, you guessed it, Lois Lane, and will be the subject of future posts.
**The duplicate power ring business was actually called out a few months later in the letters column of LL #115, by reader Rich Morrissey. Bridwell’s editorial response to Rich was that “the tiny Green Lantern had a ring which stole some of the power being broadcast by GL’s bosses, the Guardians, to his ring — draining just enough so the loss would not be immediately noticed.” Hmm, that just might work. Nice save, Mr. B!