Superman #242 (September, 1971)

With this issue of Superman, the story arc begun eight months earlier in the iconic #233 (“Kryptonite Nevermore!”) came to a close — and the revamp of the Man of Steel inaugurated in that issue by writer Denny O’Neil and editor Julius Schwartz was at last complete.  But before we dive into issue #242’s “The Ultimate Battle!”, written by O’Neil and illustrated by his usual artistic collaborators, Curt Swan (penciller) and Murphy Anderson (inker), we’ll need to back up one month to take a look at issue #241’s “The Shape of Fear!”, by the same creative team — which not only leads right into #242’s concluding chapter of the “Sand-Superman saga”, but also follows directly from the previous chapter in issue #240 — which, of course, also happens to be the last issue we posted about on this blog.

As you may recall, that installment had ended with a moment of great personal triumph for Superman, who, though his powers had been thoroughly leeched from him by his mysterious sandy duplicate,  had yet managed to save both himself and I-Ching (the mentor of Diana Prince, as seen regularly in Wonder Woman) from a vicious attack by the Anti-Superman Gang.  But as we’ll soon see, the note of optimism with which that chapter ended is about to turn decidedly sour… Read More

Batman #234 (August, 1971)

Over the course of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams’s classic early-’70s collaboration on Batman, the team was responsible not only for introducing one major new adversary (Ra’s al Ghul) to the ranks of the Darknight Detective”s greatest foes, but also for reclaiming and refurbishing of two vintage baddies who’d fallen out of favor in recent years.  The second of these restorations to appear, “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!” (Batman #251 [Sept., 1973]), is doubtless the best-remembered of the two, due to its ultimately having had such a dramatic impact not only on the Bat-mythos, but on the DC Universe as a whole — rehabbing what had become a joke of a character (no pun intended) during the camp “Batmania” era of the mid-Sixties into the comics medium’s quintessential avatar of psychopathic evil — a character arguably more popular than all but a small handful of DC’s best-known superheroes, and one with enough cultural gravitas for screen portrayals of him to have earned Academy Awards for two different actors.

I didn’t buy that one.  Read More

Green Lantern #84 (Jun.-Jul., 1971)

Although writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams had begun their tenure on Green Lantern in 1970 with a run of grounded stories featuring more-or-less realistic antagonists, as they moved into their second year they appeared more willing to incorporate the sort of colorfully code-named and costumed supervillains that had been the series’ bread-and-butter prior to their own advent.  Already in GL #82 they’d brought back Sinestro,  the renegade ex-Green Lantern; and now, two issues later, they were drafting yet another veteran foe back into active service — although you couldn’t tell that from the cover, which (like #82’s before it) gave no hint of who the story’s main bad guy actually was.  While O’Neil and Adams (and their editor, Julius Schwartz) may have decided that it was a good idea to include more old-school superhero genre elements in their storytelling, they evidently didn’t think putting a returning villain’s puss on the cover would have much if any impact on the book’s sales.  Read More

Batman #232 (June, 1971)

Panel from Detective #411. Text by Denny O’Neil (and, presumably, Julius Schwartz), art by Bob Brown and Dick Giordano.

Last month we took a look at Detective Comics #411, featuring the first appearance of Talia al Ghul, and the first mention of her father, Ra’s.  As we noted at the time, despite that story giving the appearance of being one chapter in an extended story arc dating back to the first appearance of the League of Assassins in Detective #405, with the next installment already lined up for the very next issue of Batman, #432 (per a blurb in the story’s final panel), that wasn’t writer Denny O’Neil’s original intention at all.  Rather, as he’d later tell fellow Bat-writer Mike W. Barr in an interview for Amazing Heroes #50 (July 1, 1984), Talia was created specifically “to serve the needs of that plot and that story [i.e., Detective #411’s “Into the Den of the Death-Dealers”], with no thought that she would ever appear again, or that she would have a father, or any of that stuff.”  But somewhere in between the writer’s original conception and the story’s final published form, someone — perhaps Detective and Batman editor Julius Schwartz — had another idea; and the League of Assassins story arc, rather than concluding tidily with its third installment (fourth, if you count Detective #408’s “The House That Haunted Batman!”), instead became just the prelude to what was ultimately a much more influential saga, that of Ra’s al Ghul, “the Demon’s Head”.

But whence came Ra’s al Ghul?  Read More

Justice League of America #65 (September, 1968)

When last we left the non-costumed, non-codenamed, but nonetheless quite formidable supervillain T.O. Morrow — at the conclusion of the first half of 1968’s Justice League of America-Justice Society of America summer team-up extravaganza — he’d just managed to kill all the current members of Earth-Two’s JSA (some of them for the second time that issue), and was preparing to head back to his home world of Earth-One to similarly wipe out the JLA — secure in the knowledge provided by his future-predicting computer that the only way he could be stopped was if the Red Tornado intervened; and since the Red Tornado was 1) his own android creation, and 2) also dead, he was sitting in clover, as the saying goes.  Read More

World’s Finest Comics #161 (October, 1966)

Fifty years ago, in August of 1966, I picked up my first “80 Page Giant” issue of World’s Finest — a collection of reprinted stories featuring “Your Two Favorite Heroes — Superman and Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder (wait, isn’t that three heroes? oh, never mind) — in One Adventure Together!”  It wasn’t my very first issue of the World’s Finest comic itself, however, and if you’d asked me what the main difference was between the then-new stories regularly appearing in that book and these vintage tales, I would have said that the new stories looked like the ones in the other new comics featuring the “Superman family” (Action, Adventure, and Superboy, as well as the Man of Steel’s eponymous book), while these reprinted stories looked much more like the old Batman stories I’d been reading in paperback as well as comic book reprints.     Read More

Batman #185 (October, 1966)

When I first began reading Batman comics, in August, 1965 (my initial issue, as I posted about around a year ago, was Detective #344), the character’s “New Look” — as developed by editor Julius Schwartz, with the help of artist Carmine Infantino and various writers — had been in place for well over a year.  Nevertheless, by the time August, 1966 rolled around I had managed to achieve some familiarity with the Caped Crusader’s pre-1964 “old look” as well.  This was thanks to several factors.  For one thing, the animated opening credits of the Batman television series were based mostly on the older look; more significantly, the huge success of that show led to an expansion in the reprinting of older Batman material.  And so, within a few months of the TV series’ January, 1966 debut, I had become the proud owner of two Signet paperbacks reprinting old Batman stories in glorious black and white, as well as an “80 Page Giant” issue of the Batman comic itself featuring tales of similar vintage in full color.     Read More