Men Don’t Make Passes…

The early years of  Comics’ Bronze Age was an exciting and formative time for me as an occasional reader of DC comics.  I was a Marvel fan primarily but I’d followed Kirby’s violent and scary Fourth World  tetralogy and was sampling the revamped Superman stable. This morning’s post feature no DC Giant comics, per se, but looks at the period when World’s Finest, like other DC books in 197-1972, expanded its page count to carry Golden Age reprints.

A feature cleverly named “Bureau of Missing Heroes/Villains” presented characters from the Forties who hadn’t been reintroduced in the Schwartz/Fox titles of the Sixties, like Tarantula or Tweededum and Dee. Also, the traditional World’s Finest team of Superman, Batman and Robin had been ousted and WF was a Superman team-up book, like DC Comics Presents in the late 70s and early 80s.

One of my favourite, star-spanning Neal Adams covers

This issue was, yet again, bought for me as an eight-year-old during my stay in Stonehouse Hospital. It was only for  a week in late May, 1972, but my mum and dad thoughtfully brought me a couple of comics from the hospital cafeteria every day.

Peril of the Planet-Smashers teams Superman with the god-like Dr. Fate against a trio of alien lamas who want to destroy the Earth in their quest for enlightenment. I’ve been critical of  Len Wein’s penchant for Silver Age nostalgia but he crafts “plain vanilla” comics superbly. He’s the only real equal to Roy Thomas in DC’s Seventies stable.

Wein not only throws in a cameo for Zatanna– the second time I’d “met” the Maid of Magic- he’s also thoroughly researched Fate, mentioning1940s enemy Mayoor and depicting the Wonder Wizard’s civilian occupation as a surgeon. I think this is the only time I’ve seen Kent Nelson in that role but it’s one that was authentically “Golden Age”. The enigmatic Dr. Fate has a real impact in this Dillin/Giella production, as he would in Wein’s JLA/JSA stories. If it wouldn’t have damaged the Bronze Age Justice Society irreparably, Dr. Fate would have made a legendary Leaguer.

The Inside Story of Robotman: my introduction to the Golden Age Mechanized Marvel. This is a murky, atmospheric short; other Robotman stories are bright, colourful adventures with dull plots. But I still prefer the manic Cliff Steele of the Doom Patrol.

The Spectacular Crimes: the only story I’ve ever read about the Ghost Patrol: three  spectral pilots with shape-changing powers. Think Deadman crossed with Elongated Man. This is a slight, breezy adventure by Infantino.

The WF team are reunited (sans Teen Wonder) for issue 211:

Another striking (if misleading) Adams cover. V much like the figures bookending the logo.

Fugitive From the Stars: a typical preachy, heavy-handed effort by the overrated Denny O’Neil. Militaristic aliens come to Earth to retrieve a beautiful female criminal who is really a peace protester.  Batman goes to Kandor to retrieve her while Superman engages the warlike aliens.

The story opens with a lyric from  Bob Dylan’s 1965 song “Desolation Row” -it feels both a self-conscious gesture and at the same time, really unhip, given it’s seven years old already. The tough guy dialogue is also grating: ” While you were serenading yourself with lip music, I tunneled beneath you!”  However, the World’s Finest team work well together, even if The Batman has the lion’s share of the limelight.

Supergirl has a brief cameo where she’s either a tiny figure or her back is turned to the “camera”; given the scarcity of her appearances in Dillin’s JLA, I wonder if he simply disliked drawing her? The art has a hyper-realistic feel that lifts the reheated Star Trek plot.

The Harlequin: this reprint is one of my favourites, introducing the Golden Age  Green Lantern‘s “loving enemy”, the Harlequin.  Like Timely’s Miss America, the Harlequin wears glasses but her “mocking, gleaming spectacles” give her hypnotic powers. Armed also with a battering-ram mandolin, secretary Molly Maynne attempts to win the interest of the superhero she feels is her “match”.

Molly is a victim of male prejudice and thwarted romantically because of her athleticism. Aside from her passionate, reckless personality, we can also assume she has the technical skills to create her gimmicks.  Her costumed identity is initially a radio drama character. She then comes to life in a cinematic sequence when the Harlequin figure on Molly’s calendar crashes through a window.  Despite a dramatic climax with an explosion in a department store, Molly Maynne lives to fight another day. She has a heroic streak, ultimately aiding the JSA against the Justice Society but will only snare her man many decades in the future.

In the 70s, the Harlequin was an alternate identity for Bob Rozakis’ campy Joker’s Daughter and then a murderous villainess in late 80s Infinity Inc. Incidentally, after all the brouhaha about Earth-2‘s gay Alan Scott, it’s worth noting that Roy Thomas had toyed with introducing a gay male Harlequin (possibly also the stand-up comedian character mentioned in Amazing  Heroes?)

But with her ability to control men, her weakness for punning and her habit of ending up behind bars, Molly Maynne reminds me of another tricky red-head:  Doctor Who’s old lady, Professor River Song!

The 52- page era of DC ended because sales had declined,  by comparison with Marvel and the experiment rebounded, leaving the House of Ideas as top dog for years. As we’ve seen, however, the Golden Age reprints became the selling point of the Super-Spectacular line.  Our next post will check out the collapse of the Super-Spec era as we revisit 1975, stopping off in 1980…

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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