Justice League of America #91 (August, 1971)

It’s summertime!  The most wonderful time of the year — especially if you’re a fan of DC’s original super-team, the Justice Society of America, and the year happens to fall within the range of 1963 to 1985 — ’cause that means it’s time for the annual team-up between the JSA and their pals in the Justice League of America.  1971 brought the sixth of these events that I’d personally enjoyed since becoming a comic-book reader, and the ninth published overall.  And judging by the cover heralding this year’s team-up — more specifically, the two columns of floating heads flanking the dramatic central image by Neal Adams — 1971’s iteration of this beloved tradition was going to offer us something new: for the first time, the featured rosters of the two teams would be identical.  We were going to get two Supermen, two Flashes, two Green Lanterns, and so on — all for the price of one.  (Of course, as heralded by that “only 25¢ Bigger & Better” slug at the very top of the cover, the “price of one” had just gone up a substantial amount.  But more about that in a bit.)  Read More

Superman #240 (July, 1971)

With this issue of DC Comics’ flagship title, the “Sand Superman” saga that writer Denny O’Neil and penciller Curt Swan had initiated with the iconic Superman #233 (“Kryptonite Nevermore!”) moved into its climactic final phase.  In the previous chapter (published in #238, incidentally, as #239 was a giant-sized reprint issue), the Man of Steel had been brought to his lowest ebb yet.  While he’d ultimately managed to save the day in that episode, the victory had been a close one; with his powers still seriously depleted from multiple encounters with his mysterious sandy doppelgänger, our hero mused to himself in the story’s final panel:  “I’m a pretty poor excuse for a Superman these days… and that must change!  I’ll regain my former might — and soon! — or die trying!

Despite these determined words, however, when we turn past Neal Adams’ simple but dramatic cover for #240 to the story’s opening pages, we find that the Man of Tomorrow’s status remains pretty much the same as it was, well, yesterday:  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

Superman #238 (June, 1971)

Please –-” begs a kneeling Man of Steel on the cover of Superman #238, “You’re the only one on Earth who can help –”

No!” replies the figure standing before him with arms impassively folded.  “I am not human!  I care nothing for you and your world!”  The figure is Superman’s doppelgänger in every respect — save that it appears to be made completely out of yellow sand.

If all that you knew about early-’70s Superman comics was what you’d previously read on this blog, you’d still be able to tell that quite a bit had happened since the last issue I wrote about, back in November.  In that heralded first installment of “The Amazing New Adventures of Superman”, a scientific experiment gone haywire resulted in an explosion that  temporarily knocked our hero down and out, but then was revealed to have had the welcome, and apparently permanent, effect of turning all kryptonite on Earth into iron.  The first indication that something rather less welcome had also resulted from the blast came thirteen pages into the story, when Superman experienced a moment of weakness as he flew over the spot in Death Valley where he’d fallen during the explosion.  Two pages later, a figure slowly rose from the desert sands of that very spot, and while this “thing” had a marked resemblance to the Man of Tomorrow, it didn’t yet have a face — so you could hardly expect it to speak, as we now see it doing on Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson’s dramatic cover for issue #238 (which, incidentally, is the first Superman cover since #230 to be neither pencilled nor inked by Neal Adams.  Now you know.)

So, yeah, a lot happened in the last four issues.  Let’s see if we can get you caught up, shall we? Read More

Detective Comics #411 (May, 1971)

As of March, 1971, my thirteen-year-old self was picking up Detective Comics on a fairly consistent basis — but it was a habit I’d acquired only recently (or perhaps I should say reacquired, as I’d been a regular reader of the title before, back in 1965-67).  For that reason, I’d missed writer Denny O’Neil’s first two “League of Assassins” stories, which had run in issues #405 and #406, respectively.  On the other hand, I had bought and read Detective #408, whose lead Batman story, though not scripted by O’Neil, had featured an attempt by the villainous Dr. Tzin-Tzin to eliminate the Darknight Detective at the League’s behest.  So it wasn’t like I was completely unfamiliar with the sinister organization prior to my purchasing issue #411.  Rather, I was intrigued by the little I knew — and though I realized I was coming in late, I was eager to catch up. Luckily, this third installment of O’Neil’s League saga didn’t depend very much on knowledge of the previous two at all — and what little I did need to know, I’d manage to pick up easily through the script’s unobtrusive exposition.    Read More

Justice League of America #89 (May, 1971)

As noted in my recent post regarding Gold Key’s Star Trek, I didn’t get to see the TV series on which that comic was based until it hit my local market in syndicated re-runs, around 1970-71.  And since I started consuming licensed Trek tie-in media (what there was of it) almost immediately upon discovering the show, concurrent with my viewing the television episodes for the very first time, my initial encounters with some classic Trek stories ended up being by way of the printed page, rather than the cathode-ray tube.  That’s because the earliest licensed prose fiction based on the property, a series of paperback books written by James Blish and published by Bantam Books, were collections of short stories adapted from the TV episodes themselves.  Read More

Teen Titans #32 (Mar.-Apr., 1971)

Back in December, I wrote about the departure of Dick Giordano from his position as an editor at DC Comics.  Giordano’s last day on staff at the publisher appears to have been November 4, 1970 — but, since the processes involved in producing periodical comic books don’t stop (or start) on a dime, the fruits of his stewardship would continue to appear in the titles he’d supervised for another few months, even after he was no longer the editor of record.  The same principle had of course applied at the beginning of his tenure at DC; and thus, just as Giordano’s first issue of Teen Titans (#15, May-Jun., 1968) had featured a story almost certainly procured by his predecessor, George Kashdan, the first issue edited by his successor, Murray Boltinoff, would present a tale that had actually been written and drawn under Giordano’s direction.

Well, mostly written and drawn under Giordano’s direction.  While the story in Teen Titans #32 is solely credited to writer Steve Skeates and artist Nick Cardy, its actual provenance is… rather more complicated. Read More

Detective Comics #408 (February, 1971)

There’s an interesting story behind Detective #408’s lead Batman feature (and cover story), “The House That Haunted Batman!”.  Or perhaps we should say, in the interest of total accuracy, that there are four of them.

Back in 1998, in the 1st issue of Comic Book Artist, editor Jon B. Cooke published “The Story That Haunted Julie Schwartz”, a collection of interviews with four of the personnel who’d been involved with producing this classic Detective story:  editor Julius Schwartz, writers Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, and penciller Neal Adams.  The funny thing about it, though, was that in spite of the interviews’ brevity (the entire article ran only two pages) the four veteran comics pros’ recollections differed in certain details, lending the whole enterprise a Rashomon-like quality.

This much, at least, the quartet could agree on:  Quite early on in their professional careers, longtime friends Len Wein and Marv Wolfman wrote a Batman story together which they hoped to sell to Julius Schwartz.  Somewhere along the line, Neal Adams took an interest in the as-yet-unbought script and ended up drawing it in his spare time, on spec — a remarkably generous gesture, considering how busy the artist was (not to mention what his time was worth).  Ultimately, despite the irregularity of the process, editor Schwartz did indeed buy the completed 15-pager, and scheduled it for the next available issue of Detective ComicsRead More

Justice League of America #87 (February, 1971)

Some fifteen months ago, I blogged about Avengers #70, which featured the first full appearance of the Squadron Sinister.  Regular readers may recall my sheepish confession in that post that, despite how blindingly obvious it is to me now that these four characters were homages to/parodies of (take your pick) DC Comics’ Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern, in September, 1969 my then twelve-year-old self didn’t pick up on the joke at all.

Nor was I aware that this comic book was one half of a “stealth crossover” of sorts between Marvel Comics’ Avengers and its counterpart title over at DC, Justice League of AmericaSaid crossover apparently had its origins at a party at which comics writer Mike Friedrich suggested to a couple of his cohorts, Roy Thomas (the writer of Avengers) and Denny O’Neil (then the writer of JLA), that they each present a “tip of the hat” of some sort from the super-team book they were writing to its rival, in issues coming out in the same month.  Thomas and O’Neil both agreed, and Avengers #70 and JLA #75 were the results.  But while the inspiration for Thomas’ Squadron Sinister was all but self-evident (though of course not to me, or to the other fans who chimed in after my September, 2019 blog post that they hadn’t caught on either), the relationship of the supposed Avengers analogues in O’Neil’s story — evil doppelgängers of the Justice League called “the Destructors” — to their Marvel models was obscure to the point of opacity, with the parallels being limited to such bits as having Superman’s dark twin refer to himself as being as powerful as Thor.  (Um, sure.)  I didn’t actually buy JLA #75 when it came out, but I’m all but 100% certain I wouldn’t have realized what O’Neil was up to with such subtle shenanigans, even if I had.  Read More

Flash #203 (February, 1971)

When I originally started buying comic books back in 1965, The Flash was one of the first titles I picked up;  over the next couple of years, it was one of my most regular purchases.  But my interest in the title fell off sharply following the end of Carmine Infantino’s tenure as penciller, and as of December, 1970, I hadn’t bought an issue of the Scarlet Speedster’s own title in over two years.  I still liked the character, and enjoyed reading about him in Justice League of America and elsewhere (I’d especially relished seeing him win his third race with Superman in World’s Finest #199, published just a couple of months previously), but his solo series had lost its appeal for me.

Until Flash #203 hit the spinner rack — and its stunning Neal Adams-Jack Adler cover grabbed me by the eyeballs, not letting me go until after I’d plunked my fifteen cents down on the Tote-Sum counter and taken that bad boy home.  Read More