A little less than half a century ago, in the letters column of Lois Lane #119 (Feb., 1972), reader Karl Morris of San Diego, CA commented favorably on the title’s recent use of elements from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World mythos, but expressed concern that writer Robert Kanigher might be treading on dangerous ground: “Unless he keeps a very close check on Jolting Jack, Rapid Robert might find himself out of sync with Kirby’s Fourth World. (Though God only knows how anyone keeps up with it!)”
Not to worry, responded LL‘s editor, E. Nelson Bridwell: “…the way we keep up with the Kirby epic is that yours truly proofreads all his mags when the artwork comes in from California, where Jarring Jack lives.” From there, Bridwell segued into a plug for the then-current issue of New Gods (#7) which, though obviously well-intentioned, arguably gave away more of that comic’s monumental Big Reveal than Kirby, or most of his readers, might have wished. But, hey, water under under the bridge; and besides, that’s not why we’re bringing all this up.
Rather, we’re taking this opportunity to inform (or maybe just remind) our faithful readers that E. Nelson Bridwell, in addition to his duties as Lois Lane‘s editor, was Jack Kirby’s official liaison with DC’s editorial offices in New York. That meant that, as his lettercol response to Karl Morris indicated, he was generally the first person at DC to read Kirby’s stories as they came in. And that included all of Kirby’s stories — not just the ones for Jimmy Olsen, which bore the singular distinction of being both a Fourth World book and a “Superman family” title, but those for New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle as well. Bridwell was in a unique position to understand how those three latter books — all of which had by mid-1971 established themselves as being set in Superman’s home city of Metropolis and its environs (at least when the action was Earthbound) — were, month-by-month, steadily enriching the mythology of the whole DC Universe — especially that corner of it belonging to the Man of Steel. Perhaps another editor might have ignored all that; but Bridwell was a continuity maven who relished the interconnections between individual stories as well as series, and thus he appears to have found the opportunity to play in Kirby’s sandbox irresistible.
And so, while Lois Lane‘s first foray into the Fourth World — issue #111‘s “The Dark Side of the Justice League!” — had kept to the relatively safe paths laid out by Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen stories, the next two would roam further afield, incorporating characters and concepts introduced in New Gods and Forever People, respectively.
The first of these, #115’s “My Death… by Lois Lane”, crafted by the regular creative team of Robert Kanigher (script), Werner Roth (pencils), and Vince Colletta (inks) — with an uncredited Murphy Anderson on hand as usual for the inking of Superman/Clark Kent head shots — got the ball rolling on page one with the appearance of a couple of characters who had thus far appeared only in a couple of issues of New Gods:
Paraplegic veteran Willie Walker and his sister, Verna Johnson — as well as Willie’s Source-empowered alter ego, the Black Racer — had both been introduced in New Gods #3 (Jun.-Jul., 1971); their second joint appearance, in New Gods #4 (Aug.-Sep., 1971) was actually less substantial than their third here in Lois Lane, at least if measured by the number of panels and amount of dialogue given to each. And neither Willie nor Verna will make another appearance until the eleventh — and last — issue of New Gods,* which represents Jack Kirby’s last involvement with these two characters, as well as with the Black Racer himself (with the exception of his drawing the latter’s entry for DC’s Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe in 1985). In other words, Lois Lane #115 comprises a significant percentage of the Black Racer’s character history, at least in the original era of Kirby’s Fourth World, despite the fact that Kirby himself likely had little (if anything) to do with its production.
That said, the Black Racer’s role in this story is mostly incidental, with the main action involving an uncanny typewriter that’s mysteriously delivered to Lois’s apartment. Over the course of one night, the reporter is compelled to type up stories detailing the untimely deaths of two people, both of which almost immediately come true — and then to write her own obituary. Of course, it’s all part of a plot by Inter-Gang to kill Superman, using technology created by the scientists of Apokolips; meanwhile, the Black Rider, acting in his capacity as a harbinger of death, simply flies around on his skis, observing the murders and saying ominous things. In the end, Superman foils the plan before the evil typewriter can explode and (theoretically) kill him as well as Lois — though the identity of the perpetrators remains a frustrating mystery:
The following issue brought Lois Lane‘s third Fourth World tie-in tale, and more appearances by Kirby-created characters — at least one of whom would play a decidedly more substantial part in the proceedings than had the Black Racer.
Actually, you can probably figure that out by yourself from the splash page…
Yes, that’s Darkseid’s decidedly sadistic deputy, Desaad, making his debut appearance outside of a Kirby-crafted comic book. This ought to be interesting…
Yeah, “what sinister secret does he leave behind?” We’ll tell you all about it in a future post… for now, suffice it to say that that shot of Morgan Edge’s face remaining in his mirror when he turns away is much more than a bit of poetic symbolism.
In the space of two panels, Edge calls Lois “beautiful”, and Lois refers to Tina Ames as “lovely” — leaving little doubt that, in Bob Kanigher’s world, regardless of what a woman’s other attributes and accomplishments might be, her physical appearance will always be top-of-mind.
Before Dave Stevens can even complete delivering his piece, the lights suddenly go out in the studio, and a group of the 100’s hired killers — attired in what I assume are supposed to be theater ushers’ uniforms — descend on the set, intent on silencing the “crusading columnist” for good. Luckily for him, however, Lois’ absent boyfriend chooses just that minute to show up. (Evidently, the Metropolis Marvel’s power set includes impeccable timing.)
Having made almost instantaneous work of these goons, Supes has time to embrace Lois, and even compliment her on her new perfume, before Morgan Edge horns in on his time:
Superman’s wondering why Morgan Edge is suddenly playing nicey-nice with him is an excellent question, especially if one knows (as we readers do, but Superman doesn’t) that Edge is secretly a leader of Inter-Gang, who are quite definitely still keen to eliminate the Last Son of Krypton. But Kanigher doesn’t have time to pursue that question, at least not in this issue, and neither does Superman — rather, he has to attend to the more immediate and pressing mystery: where’s Dave Stevens? Did he flee the 100’s assassins while no one was looking, or has he been taken?
Following a hunch of Lois’, Superman flies her and Tina to a place Dave might go “to hole up a while” — a “teenage clubhouse”, started by Dave “to keep the teenagers off the streets and out of the clutches of the 100!” Unfortunately, Dave’s not there; but Lois and Supes leave Tina to wait there anyway, just in case he does show up, while they continue the search elsewhere.
Before they can even clear the teen center’s doorway, however, Lois spies one of the 100’s drug dealers pushing drugs to some kids on the other side of the street. (You kind of get the idea that, now that the Comics Code allowed DC and other publishers to portray the sale and use of illegal narcotics, they were determined to work ’em in whenever they could.) Superman promptly uses his heat vision to burn the stuff out of the pusher’s hands, declaring, “No sale!” (To which the pusher responds, “Owwwww —“.) And then…
“Look out! It’s the Devil’s Deputies!” Lois seems to know who these guys are — but as far as I know, these “infamous cyclists” have never been seen in her series before now. Therefore, I’m inclined to believe that Kanigher just invented the name as an easy stand-in for the real-life Hell’s Angels. As to what they’re doing in this story… well, simply from the present context, you’d expect them to end up being associated with the 100, wouldn’t you? But, word to the wise, you’d best hold that thought…
With their tires melted, the Devil’s Deputies come after Superman and Lois on foot, swinging heavy chains. Why do they think they have a chance in hell (sorry) against the Man of Steel? Their leader (whose tires have mysteriously resisted Big Blue’s heat vision) shouts something about having heard that “Supes ain’t the power-guy he used to be!” An editorial footnote helpfully explains that the cyclist must be referring to the events of Superman #242, in which the hero temporarily lost his powers — a nice nod to recent continuity.
But that was then, and the Man of Tomorrow is all better now. He promptly immobilizes the charging Deputies, whipping their chains around their legs with a single blast of his “tornado breath”…
The “superbike” is soon out of Superman’s sight — but not out of the range of the hero’s other super-senses. Homing in on the distinctive scent of Lois’ new perfume, he follows his nose…
Happyland? My fourteen year-old self had indeed read Forever People #4 and #5, and thus I was familiar with the place. I was nevertheless surprised to see it show up here, since the storyline in that Fourth World title was still very much in progress when this issue of Lois Lane came out. Assuming that the events in the two titles were happening at roughly the same time (a large assumption, I’ll admit), it seemed possible that Superman might even run into his old acquaintances from FP #1, since those young gods of Supertown were still trapped within the sinister so-called amusement park at the close of issue #5’s installment.
I’ve written in earlier posts that I don’t believe that Werner Roth’s talents were particularly well-suited to the storytelling requirements of the superhero genre. I’m tempted to expand on that sentiment here, by wondering if the artist found what this story’s script asked of him to be a real stretch.
I won’t, though.
If there’s a sequence of images to be found in a Bronze Age “Superman family” comic that’s more bizarre than those last three panels above, I’d love to see it.
Also, I have to wonder — was Murphy Anderson required to ink the different stages of Superman’s giant growing eyeball, or did DC figure Vinnie Colletta was capable of keeping the eyeball “on model” without assistance?
And what about the next page, when Supes’ whole head becomes an eyeball? Is that eyeball by Roth/Anderson or Roth/Colletta? Comics art experts, what say you?
Desaad may be one of the most important and fearsome New Gods to ever come from Apokolips, but he’s evidently no match for a human journalist trained in the ancient Kryptonian fighting art of klurkor. Right on, sister!
And the never-named leader of the Devil’s Deputies appears to be another servant of Apokolips (presumably a human one rather than a New God, since Dave decks him so easily despite having no knowledge of klurkor — but I could be wrong.). So… does that mean the motorcycle gang were unaffiliated with the 100, and all that business with the latter organization’s assassination attempt against Dave at the WGBS studio earlier in the story was completely unrelated to Desaad’s plan to destroy Superman? Um, I guess so.
I’ve read that Kanigher once claimed that he had no idea what he was going to write whenever he sat down at the typewriter, and if any story he wrote over his long career seems to have been scripted almost completely on the fly, it’s this one. (Well, this one and Justice League of America #84.)
“Could it be Darkseid…?” Right on the money, Big Blue! And pretty darn impressive for an apparently random guess.
Left unanswered here is the question of exactly what Superman has been experiencing over the last four pages. The narrative captions’ use of the term “mindmirror” suggests that it’s all been in his head — but if that’s true, how could Lois see his transformations, as seems to be the case on page 14? And either way, how could Desaad’s technology affect the invulnerable Kryptonian in the first place? Are we supposed to assume that the energy powering his toys is akin to magic? These are New Gods, after all… but in asking such questions, I’m probably putting more thought into this story’s plot than Kanigher, or even Bridwell, did. So we’ll move on along.
Superman, Lois, and Dave all head back into town to rendezvous with Tina at the teen center, and then they all celebrate by dancing to some groovy sounds. (At least I think Supes is dancing. It’s kind of hard to tell.)
And the story’s last two panels bring us the first appearance of Darkseid in a non-Kirby comic book — surely an even more historically significant milestone in DC Comics history than Desaad’s parallel debut. It’s just too bad that the story it occurs in couldn’t be a bit more worthy of the distinction — which isn’t to say that “Hall of 1000 Mirrors” lacks all entertainment value. I suspect you agree, or you wouldn’t have read this far, right?
Actually, I do want to give Kanigher credit for being on point with Darkseid’s and Desaad’s characterizations, even if the limited space given to both villains didn’t provide much opportunity for him to get them wrong. Somebody had clearly read Forever People #4, if nothing else, and whether that was Kanigher or Bridwell (with Kanigher working from his notes) doesn’t really matter; either way, it worked.
Of course, back in 1971 I likely took the accuracy of the characterizations for granted. At the time, I was probably more appreciative of the final panel’s confirmation that yes, Darkseid still does consider Superman a threat, and wants to kill him — especially since Darkseid seemed to have lost interest in the Man of Steel over in Jimmy Olsen, not having taken any direct action against him in a while. But the main reaction that I recall my younger self having to the conclusion of this story when I first read it fifty years ago is disappointment — perhaps even mild indignation — due to the story having ended with Happyland still a going concern. Sure, it was great that Superman had survived this latest attempt on his life, and rescued Lois and Dave and all of that — but as far as I was concerned, he hadn’t done his damn job as a superhero so long as all those poor Metropolis citizens abducted by Glorious Godfrey’s Justifiers in Forever People #3 were still being imprisoned and tortured by Desaad and his minions, as I had to assume must still be the case.
Luckily for me, my distress would be allayed in less than two weeks, with the release in early October of Forever People #6. And luckily for you, faithful reader, we’ll be discussing that very story here on this blog, in even less time than that. So stay tuned…
There was more new material yet to come in this issue of Lois Lane, but before we readers of September, 1971 could get to the latest installment of “Rose and the Thorn”, we had to read — or at least flip through — a ten-page story reprinted from a 1949 issue of Sensation Comics, featuring “Dr. Pat”.
It’s interesting to me that editor E. Nelson Bridwell, with years of old Lois Lane stories to choose from , decided to also feature vintage DC heroines whom most of the book’s current readers would most likely have never heard of. Beginning with issue #15, the title would alternate reprints of two such strips, the other being “Lady Danger” (about a young newspaperwoman) — though the odd “Lois Lane” tale would occasionally appear as well.
As with so many other reprints I encountered during this era, I have no recollection of what I thought of this “Dr. Pat” story when I first read it. My guess, however, is that I resented the space being given to a story that was in no way about a costumed hero. After all, my main interest in reading about Lois Lane was that she was Superman’s girlfriend. Rose and the Thorn were OK — the Thorn wore a costume (and a skimpy one at that, increasing the feature’s appeal for fourteen-year-old me). But a woman physician? I just wasn’t interested, despite the splash page’s introductory caption’s assurance of the good doctor being “as lovely as she is capable”. (Though in my younger self’s defense, I’d almost certainly have been just as disinterested in reading about a male doctor, unless he regularly donned a mask and/or cape.)
Re-reading the story today, however, I’m struck by how forthrightly feminist it is, especially in the context of the era. Yes, as drawn by Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia, Dr. Pat Windsor is gorgeous; and yes, the male characters (along with the omniscient narrator) comment on it. But the story makes it clear that this is the guys’ problem, not hers. When a tall, dark, and handsome fellow asks her if she ever expects to fall in love, she answers him thusly:
At the end of this 10-pager, over the course of which Dr. Pat has saved the day twice with a minimum amount of male assistance, we see her driving away from yet another politely rebuffed would-be suitor. And the story never suggests that there’s something weird or broken about her for doing this, or for prioritizing her professional calling over romance in general.
I was curious to see who’d written this one, since the reprint’s splash page only provides a credit for the art team. So I consulted the Grand Comics Database — and was frankly gobsmacked to see that the script was attributed to… Robert Kanigher.
Yes, the same Robert Kanigher who wrote the preceding story, in which both Lois Lane and Tina Ames are defined by their looks and their relationships with men at least as much as by what they do for a living.
Kind of makes you wonder what happened to the guy, doesn’t it?
And we’re still not done with the Bob Kanigher goodness, folks, as we now come to the latest episode of his creation, “Rose and the Thorn”, now featuring the artwork of Dick Giordano. But before we launch right into “Computed to Kill”, we’ll need to set things up via a quick look at a couple of sequences from Lois Lane #115’s “The Computer Crooks”, from which the present installment is continued.
In this earlier episode, readers made the acquaintance of a highly advanced piece of technology which the 100 had stolen from their rivals at Inter-Gang:
As an editorial footnote elsewhere on the page explained: “Though not as compact or as powerful as a Mother Box (like those in Forever People, New Gods, and Mr. Miracle), K.A.R.L.** is built by the same technology, and has a kind of life.” To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time (and perhaps also the last) that the “Rose and the Thorn” backup feature had referred directly to anything related to the Fourth World mythos (outside of occasional appearances by Morgan Edge, of course).
While the main action of the story involves the Thorn’s busting up of a couple of the 100’s capers with no connection to K.A.R.L., the narrative returns to the kind-of-living computer for the very last panel:
This was only Poison Ivy’s third appearance, following her initial forays against Batman in issues #181 and #183 of the latter’s namesake series, a whole five years earlier. We should note here that this is very much the original conception of Ivy, without the plant-based powers and ecological motivations that most modern readers associate with the character; rather, she’s simply a beautiful criminal whose name allows her creator — Robert Kanigher, of course — to make jokes about the Caped Crusader needing to “beware of Poison Ivy”, lest he become “infected” by the “contagious” vlllainess.
Or, at least that’s what he could do in those two 1966 Batman stories. Here, with no Gotham Guardian in sight, Ivy’s only reason for being included seems to be Kanigher’s desire to get both of his plant-inspired female creations into the same story. Nevertheless, we should still welcome her back, since if DC didn’t keep using the character through this decade, she might have been completely forgotten; and then we’d never get the more interesting iteration of Poison Ivy that will emerge in the late 1980s.
For now, however, we’ll go with what we’ve got — straight into Lois Lane #116’s “Computed to Kill”:
This opening scene, which puts Rose Forrest and Lois Lane at the same place at the same time, is a good example of how Kanigher (and Bridwell) were were attempting to keep this title’s two features closely connected during this period.
A short while later, back at the 100’s hideout, K.A.R.L. (now sporting a new, green look) finally provides Poison Ivy with the perfect plan for taking out the Thorn…
If you noticed the name of a certain fantasy illustrator (and occasional comics artist) in the credits on page 1, and wondered what that “special ‘thank you'” to Jeffrey Catherine Jones was all about, have a look at the unfinished sculpture of the Thorn in the third panel above. According to yet another lettercol response from E. Nelson Bridwell, Dick Giordano used one of Jones’ actual works as the “model” for the piece.
Jumping ahead to the next evening, Rose Forrest reads an ad in the Daily Planet placed by the sculptor, P. Maleyun (whose name must surely be a play on Pygmalion), offering the Thorn $100 an hour to pose for him. Wishing that she were the Thorn, so that she could give that money to charity, Rose falls asleep… only to reawaken almost immediately as her alternate personality, who of course sets out to answer the ad.
First, however, Thorn runs into some of the 100’s hoods, whom she deduces are fencing guns to kids. This has nothing to do with the rest of the story, but it allows our storytellers to get a little action in at this ten-page story’s halfway mark…
But the 100 has no intention of giving K.A.R.L. what he wants. Rather, they toss the gold-plated Thorn out the window, and into the river below — where she sinks like a stone…
It’s about time Poison Ivy got into the action, even if it’s on the next-to-last page. Seriously, all we’ve seen her do so far is pretend to be the representative of a prospective art buyer. That was worth $50,000 to the 100? No wonder Inter-Gang is giving them so much trouble.
Is this tale’s conclusion, as afforded by the unfortunate end of K.A.R.L., the would-be Lover Box, a poignant one? Or is it merely maudlin? How about just plain silly?
Honestly, I could go with any one of those three — maybe even “all of the above”. So, go ahead, faithful reader — make your own call.
*The Black Racer, sans Willie Walker, made one additional appearance prior to New Gods #11, in a “Young Gods of Supertown” story, published in issue #8, which was probably intended to predate his mysterious “union” with Willie in the Fourth World’s internal chronology.
**What does the acronym “K.A.R.L.” stand for? Kanigher never says, either in this story or its follow-up. But in a later letters column response to that query (coincidentally, the very same response to Karl Morris that we quoted from at the beginning of this post), editor Bridwell opined: “We believe it stands for something in the language of Apokolips.” Works for me, Mr. B.!