Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1980 (part 1)

 I'm continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis. This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 8,1979.

Batman #320: O'Neil suggests that when there isn't enough crime in Gotham, Batman scans the international papers for international crimes to solve. He's off to Italy to deal with murders of priests. This is sort of a giallo in the confines of the comics code.

DC Comics Presents #18
: I've always liked this 70s Zatanna costume. It's a shame they've never done an updated version. This team-up with Superman, Zatanna, and her dad by Conway and Dillin, again emphasizes Superman's vulnerability to magic, and suggests its due to his nonearthly origin and therefore complete lack of Homo magi genes. However, Superman recalibrates his a spectrometer device he has to detect magic "at the far end of the spectrum" with smaller wavelengths even that cosmic rays.

Detective Comics #448: This is the inheritor of the Batman Family setup. The Batman story by Burkett and Newton features the Spook, a character I only knew from the Who's Who. Batgirl actually helps out a street gang while lamenting her recent failed bid at Congressional re-election in a story by Harris and Delbo. Harris aided by unexpected but welcome art by Schaffenberger has Robin taking down kidnappers targeting his college's campus. The other two features are more humorous tales of a Gotham City cop on the day of his retirement and a Elongated Man yarn. This may be the best issue this week.

Flash #282: Continues from last issue, Bates and Heck have the Flash escaping form the deathtrap Reverse Flash left him in. Meanwhile, Reverse Flash is toying with Green Lantern back in 20th Century Central City. Somehow, the yellow of Zoom's costume is such that Green Lantern can't catch him even when he is dressed as the Flash, which makes Green Lantern seem pretty weak.

G.I. Combat #218
: These three Haunted Tank stories make me feel like I don't like the Haunted Tank very much. Not any worse than the other war comics this month, I suppose, but some variety might have helped.

Ghosts #85: This issue has a conceit of all of it's stories being based on true events which was absent from the last issue. The stories are a bit better this time around too, with more creative use of the ghost conceit: a murder is run down by a ghost car in a junkyard, a fiery ghost of a man pushed into a volcano comes for his murder and his faithless wife.

Jonah Hex #33: Hex is witness to a family tragedy while trying to take out some outlaws in this tale by Fleisher and Eufronio Reyes Cruz. Both the father and son make some boneheaded decisions, so it seems like tragedy was inevitable, honestly.

Justice League of America #175
: Conway and Dillin are channeling Marvel and Roy Thomas' Vision stories with "But Can an Android Dream?" Red Tornado frets about his lack of humanity and reconnects with his sort of foster daughter and former girlfriend to form a family. Doctor Destiny provides some menace. A solid issue for the time.

Men of War #25: Continuing from last issue, Gravedigger gets to save FDR, then for his trouble gets given another deadly mission that would have otherwise gone to the Unknown Soldier. I guess that's a win? We got more of Rosa's origin, but also the indication he might not be truthful. This character piqued my interest, and I like Grandenetti's art. It's a shame there wasn't more of it.

Secrets of Haunted House #21: More EC-esque yarns. The first is a perplexing yarn about a ghost that isn't. I would say it was dumb, but the plot-twists indicate Carl Wessler put some thought into it, for better or worse. The second is a cautionary tale about the the highstakes world of rural scorpion fighting. The last is sort of the Island of Doctor Moreau, but not quite. 

Superman #344: Superman stories of this era like to throw magic at him a lot. Maybe it's the presumed vulnerability? In this Wein/Levitz story drawn by Swan, Superman combats Dracula and Frankenstein for the life of a young medium. Superman uses heat vision and super-pressure to turn a hydrogen balloon into a miniature sun to get read of Dracula, but not before Frankenstein robs a bakery delivery truck.

Weird War Tales #84:
The goofiest tale this issue is by Mike Barr and Charles Nicholas wherein the ghost of Woodrow Wilson prevents the assassination of DeGaulle by Nazi saboteurs. In the other two stories a Russian general sells his soul for victory in WWI, only to get killed in the Revolution, and American troops from WWII getting transport to Camelot to loosen up the sword in the stone with explosives. 

Wonder Woman #264: Conway and Delbo have the Gaucho employing robotic rheas (roborhea) to bedevil Wonder Woman. I think that says it all, really.


Dick McGee said...

Going by the descriptions this crop seems goofier than average even for DC in 1980, which is saying something. A few specific thoughts:

Surely those were rheas (which are native to South America) in Wonder Woman rather than ostriches (which are found in Africa). I mean, if you're going to make robotic ratites in the first place you don't want them to look out of place. That would be silly.

Red Tornado getting angsty about not being human always reminds me of Vison at Marvel, or maybe vice-versa. It is a very strange coincidence that two different red-skinned android characters both appeared for the first time in 1968. Hard to be sure who was copycatting who.

I think we're going have to agree to disagree on Zatanna's costumes there. I prefer the fishnets, and the one here always makes me think she's Lois with yet another set of temporary superpowers and a costume to match.

I'm guessing the Spook isn't going to be seeing much page time any more, given the word's usage as a racial slur - which was, if anything, more prevalent in 1980 than it is today. The origins of its use as a slur are interesting in an awful way. Only dates back to WW2 and the formation of the Tuskegee Airmen, so a relatively recent piece of bigotry.

Trey said...

Well, the 80s were a whole decade, and these comics were actually published in 1979. After two months worth of titles, I am fairly confident this is exactly how goofy DC was at the tail-end of '79.

Could be rheas, you're right. I didn't actually re-read the issue for this since I had read it a few months ago. I just flipped through the pages and saw the birds.

Yeah, I'm aware of the racial slur "spook," but I don't know that's what tanked him, given (as you point out) that would have been more of an issue in the 80s. Today I would say "intelligence agency operative" is the context I hear the term used the most these days, but it's pretty rare in any context. Still, the unfortunate associations are certainly enough to keep him in a low profile.

I feel like Red Tornado and Vision are just a coincidence given how close they were temporally. As I alluded to in the post, I do feel like this facet of RT characterization was borrowed from the Vision. The title of the issue even echoes "Can An Android Cry?"

Dick McGee said...

Oh, I wouldn't be at all surprised if DC called them ostriches in Wonder Woman. Comics in that era weren't exactly noted for rigorous scientific accuracy - always so important when deciding what species of robotic bird to use in a story about a South American cattleman-become-roboticist-supervillain. :)

Red Tornado and Vision make me wonder if maybe a few of the staffers from each company were sharing a table for lunch at some restaurant sometime in 1968 and a general concept just kind of cross-pollinated. I seem to recall that happening other times if the apocrypha is to be believed.

FWIW, I don't recall DC becoming less goofy as the Eighties went by, perhaps peaking in the Crisis reboot - or just before it, depending on how seriously you take the event.

JB said...

I’ve only recently begun to connect the similarities between RT and Vision now that I’ve been watching Marvel’s WandaVision shows. Never read much Vision (or Avengers) back in the day, but I had a few comics with Tornado. My daughter even saw an old RT comic recently and said “oh, look: Vision!”

We’re there comics in 1880? Wow!