Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 1980 (wk 2, pt 1)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around August 28, 1980.

Action Comics #513: It feels like the late 90s idea of riffing off the Silver Age for a "Neo-Silver" approach, wasn't actually original to the 90s. This Wolfman/Swan story features the return of Superman Island, which was an island shaped like Superman that Superman had thrown into space for reasons he doesn't want publicly known. At the opening of the story, it's heading back to Earth! Two hoods know the secret, so Lois is trying to track them down to keep them from talking, but H.I.V.E. wants to know what they know. Turns out Superman Island has a core of Kryptonite. Luckily, a group of friendly aliens have made the island their home and use Kryptonite as an energy source, so they are eager not to let any of it get away. The aliens help Superman defeat H.I.V.E., then Superman gives the island a super-push toward a planet the aliens can settle on. In the Airwave backup, our young hero teams up with the Atom and his inexperience and lack of caution get them both in trouble.

Adventure Comics #477: DeMatteis and Orlando have a really desperate Aquaman going to the mayor of New Venice to get his help (how?) to find Mera. This seems particularly pointless since Aquaman had previously said he would help the Mayor find his brother and didn't, and the people of the city are upset due to his recent attacks on them while controlled by Poseidon. A little girl asks for Aquaman to help her cousin. Cal Durham whose a former henchman of Black Manta and now can only breath water. He tells him Manta is again up to no good. They go to check it out, but are captured. Manta and his crew of dissaffected and marginalized surface folk plan to attack Atlantis. Starman wasn't dead, but also his series wasn't ending (yet), just changing direction. Levitz and Ditko have him going through a number of almost Starlin Cosmic trials to rescue Mn'Torr. This is the best installment of this in a while. The Plastic Man story manages to work in roller-skating and disco, and swipes at 70s pop songs Pasko must have found annoying. Staton's art is up to the semi-comedic challenge as always.   

Brave & the Bold #168: Burkett and Aparo bring us a Team-Up with Batman and Green Arrow. This could be tricky, because Green Arrow can be seen as a low rent Batman with a more limited schtick, but by 1980, they have distinctive personalities. Green Arrow volunteers Batman to appear a charity benefit performance of escape artist Samson Citadel, a reformed criminal who Green Arrow took set on the straight and narrow. When crimes are committed requiring the skills of an escape artist, Citadel falls under suspicion. Batman investigates and discovers a hypnotist who has been mesmerizing folks to commit his crimes for him. Green Arrow confronts Citadel who he saw leaving the scene of a crime and realizes he's hypnotized. Ultimately, his appeal to his friend breaks the spell, while Batman escapes from a deathtrap in full Houdini style. In fact, the last page is Batman describing step by step how he made the escape. 

The backup story continues Nemesis quest for justice. Spiegle's art works well for the pulpier fair.

Detective Comics #496: The "dollar" days of this title are over, and it returns to being a normal-sized comic, meaning we only get a Batman lead story and a Batgirl backup. Fleisher and Newton bring back the Golden Age Clayface who has appeared since 1968 (in his single, previous "Earth-One" appearance). Batman drops in a Horror Film Exposition held aboard a luxury yacht belonging to actor/director John Carlinger. Batman seems familiar with and enthusiastic about Carlinger's films, which is a surprising bit of characterization. Anyway, when this event is televised in the psych hospital of Basil Karlo, the original Clayface, he's offended he wasn't invited. So offended he kills a nurse and two other people to sneak onboard and attempt to kill Carlinger. Meanwhile, we learn that Carlinger is in a dispute over money with his production partners. Then, Clayface show's up and starts trying to murder people--specifically those partners. After a tussle with Clayface, Batman realizes the truth and uses that knowledge to trick Clayface, who isn't Basil Karlo, after all. Fleisher delivers a nice (if simple) little mystery here worthy of the title "detective comics" and it's good to see Basil Karlo back.

The Batgirl story by Burkett and Delbo has her facing off with a Dr. Voodoo (no relation to Brother Voodoo, who is also a doctor) who is using music to put people into a trance state to do his biding. Batgirl does some good observation to figure this out, and use some sound equipment to break Voodoo's hold.

Green Lantern #134: Wolfman and Staton have Dr. Polaris thoroughly defeat Green Lantern. He takes the power ring and leaves Jordan in the Arctic. Jordan plans to make his way to a national geographic research station--on foot. This section portrays Hal Jordan as a badass, walking across the ice, battling a bear and a wolf, and going snowblind before reaching his destination in his torn uniform. (Wolfman supplies the idea that the Green Lantern costume, made for space, is protection against the cold to a degree to make this work.) When he's back in California, he seeks out his friend Tom Kalmaku for help, who seems to contemplating suicide due to work setbacks. Jordan slaps him around, and the two set out to somehow defeat Polaris. 

In the backup story by Sutton and Rodriquez, Adam Strange is being tortured by Kaskor and his men. Strange tricks them to make his escape, but the base is going to explode for some reason, and he only gets out via zeta beam. A beam that returns him to earth! 

House of Mystery #286: This issue is rougher than the last--and the last was not top shelf DC horror. Jameson and artists Hasen and Bulnandi take us to the distant future of 2023 where a cop gets a cybernetic arm following a vicious attack by a criminal, then gets obsessed with seeking revenge and makes himself judge, jury, and executioner--because he's got a mechanical arm, and he can! The punchline is he programs the arm to seek out evil and--wait for it--the hand strangles him! The next story is a perfunctory "mummies curse" yarn by Kelley and Patricio. One savvy archeologist figures out the mummy is degrading its ability to move with every attack, so he figures he'll let it get his colleagues first, then he'll be in the clear. He's almost right, but the mummy catches him on a pier. It isn't strong enough to finish him, but in their struggles, they tumble from the pier and the archeologist is hung on the bandages. 

The last story is kind of a Twilight Zone thing. A aging man in the 1890s, regretting he is in tough financial straits and never able to provide for his wife in high-style, crosses a bridge into a peculiar purple smoke and is transported back in time three decades. As a young man, he resolves to become rich, even if that means selling to both sides in the Civil War. The Confederates pay him off after a deal, but he has to flee the union forces and is shot crossing a bridge into that same magical fog. He collapses dead back in the 1899, and drops his much fought for sack of loot--which turns out to be Confederate money.


Dick McGee said...

The bionic-arm-strangles-owner story actually sounds halfway clever. At the very least it's an unusual riff on the commonplace cautionary tales about not teaching your AIs to judge humanity by the standards we claim to follow.

GL suits being insulated supertech environmental gear sounds reasonable right up until you consider the bare head problem. I guess that ridiculous little domino mask projects a field that keeps your brain from freezing or something? If it can protect your secret identity it must be able to prevent lethal hypothermia, right? Make me wonder if Green Arrow is wearing one of Hal's spares, since no one seems to recognize Ollie either.

Trey said...

I guess in spaceflight, the ring's aura protects the head. In the Arctic, he winds up separating the green onsie from the black part of the uniform and wrapping it around his head, which would is at least lampshading the issue, I guess.

Dick McGee said...

Seems reasonable. Makes sense that the suits do something useful or they wouldn't have the whole Corps wearing them. If it was just for visual identification (like a police officer's uniform) the rings could simply project them as an image when you're on duty.

Hal is frequently shown just having the ring change his clothes into his suit and vice versa, but they don't revert when he's unconscious or the ring's taken so maybe the ring physically transforms his clothing each time?

bombasticus said...

A lot in this week. I like the notes on the Return To Superman Island . . . these retrospective efforts sometimes seemed more experimental than nostalgic, as though they were testing the edges of what still worked well enough to be incorporated into the world they were defining. A decade later it would already be codified into the ironic "remember all that wonderful goofy stuff we would do as kids?" pose but this feels more straight ahead.

Suddenly I realize that at that moment Wolfman and company probably would have classified the era of comics they were working as "long silver age." After all, this was still Earth 1 with an unbroken continuity from the Schwartz revolution. (The limits of Bridwell's method become clear beyond the Weisinger office, but that might be a deeper Untold Tale.)

Cary Burkett is suddenly fascinating as an outsider who got off the bus.

I was laboring under the assumption that the GL uniforms were a ring construct and so should theoretically vanish when he gets knocked out or loses control of the ring . . . but I guess this isn't the case because he gets knocked out a lot and doesn't instantly revert to civilian togs. Does the ring simply switch outfits in and out of "wardrobe space?" Can his wallet get lost in there? Clearly another Untold Tale waiting to be told.

bombasticus said...

Aha, Mr McGee beat me to it! I seem to recall the mask's stickiness (and probably some kind of anonymity field) relies on the ring, which is how Kane managed to draw it without any visible attachment. Knock him out, the mask is still there but can theoretically be removed. Again, a great Untold Tale.

Trey said...

You're quite correct. The idea of a "Bronze Age" (which was getting long in the tooth by this point in our modern reckoning) had not yet gained wide currency in 1980. In fact, the direct sale indie guys figured if there was any new age of comics, it was starting then, and they were at it's forefront.

This issue has it that the mask is a ring construct, but not the whole uniform. Even the mask takes hours to "dissipate" interestingly.