Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 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 September 25, 1980.

Action Comics #514: Everywhere computers are going haywire and causing trouble. After noticing the pattern, Superman traces the problem back to the Fortress of Solitude. There, he's bedeviled by his own robots and security measures, but fights his way through to the culprit: Brainiac. Brainiac is rebuilding himself after his last encounter with Superman and Supergirl and needs the help of the Fortresses computer to reprogram parts of his brain. When, he gets done, he says they won't meet like this again, shakes Superman's hand and flies off. It's a whiplash shift, and it made me wonder for a moment if their was a missing page or at least panels. But no, Superman explains that he used his powers while Brainiac was distracted to pull a Doc Savage move and reprogram Brainiac's brain for good. An interesting twist by Wolfman in an otherwise ho-hum story, one which will lead to a short "new direction" for Brainiac. Short, because he's only got only 3 more appearances over as many years before he gets his new, more robotic redesign.

The Air-Wave/Atom backup makes the Sunspotter out to be a super-powerful villain, but it isn't enough to keep him from being defeated, and it isn't really enough to make this feature interesting. Sunspotter does have sort of a Marvel vibe and design, though; he reminds me of some one or two appearance Marvel Team-Up foes. Next issue promises a solo Atom story (presumably still by Rozakis and Tanghal). We'll see how that one goes.

Adventure Comics #478: This issue will be the last of the 3-way split in Adventure. Each of the features is getting sent off to another title. But here, DeMatteis and Giordano/Mitchell finish their Black Manta storyline--sort of. Manta and his army of the disaffected attack Atlantis, but Aquaman escapes from the cell where Manta left him in time to rally the Atlantean troops and give an impassion speech to Manta's forces, many of whom desert and take an offer of sanctuary in Atlantis. Mera recovers from her illness and arrives in time to stop Black Manta, and Cal Durham is with her. Cal finally gets to tell Aquaman what he's being trying to tell him for 3 issues: that's not really Black Manta!

Levitz and Ditko have Starman succeed in saving M'ntorr from his own people, but M'ntorr is then exiled to the physical universe. He tells Starman he's proud of him and regenerates Starman's destroyed staff before deciding to die anyway. I have a hunch the follow up in DC Comics Presents will be more tying off loose ends than continuing the story. The Pasko/Staton/Smith Plastic Man has Plas up against a group of former criminals turned P.I.s who are acting like criminals again to prove they haven't "lost their touch." They also happen to look just like the Marx Brothers. Honestly, I'm surprised Plastic Man lasted as long as it did, not because it's terrible, but because I feel like it was very much out of step with what comics readers wanted in 1980.

Brave & the Bold #169: Barr and Aparo have Batman investigating Angela Marcy, faith healer of the Marcy Temple, after the suspicious death of her husband. Zatanna is an attendee of the temple and a believer. She tags along to prove Batman wrong. It turns out Raymond Marcy was killed by a mobster he refused to use his healing gift on. Angela's powers are a fraud, though her assistant has been faking the most dramatic cures without her knowledge. The killer is brought to justice, and Batman suggests Angela Marcy open a mission in Gotham's slums instead of a temple. A solid, if unremarkable team-up yarn. 

The Nemesis backup continues not to do much for me, other than I appreciate Spiegle's art. But hey, it graduates to a Batman team-up next issue so we'll see where it all winds up.

Detective Comics #497: In the lead story, Conway and Newton take Batman out of Gotham to track a gangster to Baja California. In one difficult night, Batman's mission intersects the disparate lives of several individuals, and leaves most of them better off--even when his actions interfered with their plans. It's a clever concept for a story, though I don't feel like it comes together as well as Conway might have hoped. 

The Batgirl backup is more interesting. Barbara Gordon is a suspect in the murder of Representative Scanlon, there appears to be a frame-up. The only way to alibi herself is to admit to being Batgirl. Her father has mysteriously disappeared, so she's on her own. Barbara is arrested in the issues cliffhanger ending. Delbo's art seems not up to his Wonder Woman standards here, though. 

Green Lantern #135: I just don't feel like this Dr. Polaris story needed 3 issues. It's decompression before decompression was a thing. Well, not really decompression, perhaps, but more not getting to the point. Polaris has conquered the world and a ringless Hal Jordan and his pal Thomas go to try and stop him somehow. Polaris recognizes them but spends so much time toying with Jordan that our hero has time to mentally call his ring back. Polaris keeps absorbing magnetic power so he doesn't think it matters. GL changes strategies, though, giving Polaris more power so that he becomes one with the magnetic field of the universe (or something) and disappears.

The Sutton/Rodriquez Adam Strange yarn likewise feels like a study in taking so long to get to the ending that the ending feels flat. The story title, though, is "The Zeta-Bomb Maneuver" which references the ST:TOS episode "The Corbomite Maneuver." Strange pulls exactly the same sort of trick as Kirk in that episode when he bluffs the existence of a super-weapon called a zeta-bomb to defeat the rebels.

House of Mystery #287: The Micheline/Bercasio story must have inspired the cool Kaluta cover, but doesn't really have anything to do with it. An Arctic weather outpost is plagued by mysterious deaths where the bodies are found drained of blood. Oh, and there's that coffin that's there with them nobody can explain, so already several of the remaining crew are thinking vampire. In the end, one guy, the skeptic is left, though he manages to kill the vampire, he is bitten and finds himself transformed here in the middle of no where with no blood to drink. 

The other two stories aren't quite as good, but not terrible. DeMatteis and Cruz give us a story of an old woman who is domineering toward the niece she supports because she is secretly jealous of her youth. She makes a deal with a very chipper Devil for a second youth, and for a while lives it up. Then, she realizes she's been tricked and is aging back to childhood. Her niece takes charge of her life and finances and sets out to treat her as cruelly as she feels she was treated. The last story by Oleck and Saviuk seems overly complicated in that it makes the slaughter-happy treasure-seekers attacking Native American-appearing folk aliens instead of--well, Europeans. Captain Jurok is convinced there is a city of gold, so he leads a side mission without approval of his superiors to find it. They are taken captive and forced to toil as slaves in that hidden city of gold. Jurok escapes, but dies of exposure, though not before being found by his people. They leave the planet, never noticing the shackles he wore were made of gold.


Dick McGee said...

To be fair, I'd pretty skeptical of an arctic vampire myself. I mean yeah, there are some really long stretches where the sun isn't a problem, but how does a bloodsucker survive the rest of the year when it's never properly night? And that's not even allowing for the difficulty of finding prey, or freezing solid because your pseudo-metabolism doesn't inherently generate heat, or (if you got turned while there rather than moving in) what you're supposed to use for graveyard earth in your coffin. Ice cubes? :)

"Zatanna is an attendee of the temple and a believer." What does "being a believer" even mean in this context? She believes the gal is a real healer rather than a sham? Big deal, Z herself can cure anything she likes by saying "Htlaeh tcefrep ot em erotser!" or somesuch. Hardly worth helping stuff the donation plate just because someone else can do the same trick. Does she believe in whatever supernatural entity the scam claims is powering things? Again, Z knows plenty of supernats, including real Powers That Be like the Specter.

Of course, the Specter does raise the obvious question of what religious faith even means to DC characters. You'd have to be delusional to actually be an atheist, but you'd also have to be crazy to believe there's one all-powerful deity in charge of anything, and the only sensible approach is transactional worship. A deity that can't or won't empower me isn't worth worshipping unless it's threatening all those who don't follow it, in which case that's propitiatory worship, not faith. And given the "believe or go to Hell" message of the demonstrably real Christian entity behind the Specter, it definitely falls into the second category. Probably not the message corporate wants to send there. :)

It's enough to make you root for the Saint of Killers - not that he needs any help.

Trey said...

All good points. In this context, being a believer means she believed in Marcy's power of healing and her goodness. In one of those she turned out to be correct, in the other not, though in the world she lives in neither belief was outrageous.

bombasticus said...

No cult is authentic enough to cure Zatanna's disease of taste. I like to think of her raised by imaginary friends and the equivalent of Italian Vogue so her ideas about what adult ladies wear around town are charmingly busted.

For some reason I had assumed that the horror books like House of Mystery were dollar anthologies at this point so it's kind of shocking to see they keep squeezing in multiple quick hits at the $0.50 price point. They must've used these as tryout titles . . . the equivalent of Tharg's Future Shocks, pitch me 8 pages and if you fail, I filled the slot and didn't bet the farm. But if it's any good, we have an insatiable appetite.

Trey said...

Yeah, it is surprising. HoM is only 32 pages here. It largely seems to be the same authors showing up again and again. There were likely some tryouts, but it mostly seems to be the guys looking to pick up some extra case. Some (Kashdan, I think, at least) seems to work both horror and war.

JB said...

Ugh! Now I really want to know how Batgirl gets out of this jam!