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Ed Love

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Subj: Re: Reading JLA 1971--Part 3
Posted: Wed Aug 29, 2007 at 11:06:47 am EDT
Reply Subj: Reading JLA 1971--Part 3
Posted: Tue Aug 28, 2007 at 09:26:03 am EDT

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My thanks to Gernot, Brian, Commander, Ian, TJ, Omar--I appreciate the input. It must get tedious for you folks to keep reading my endless criticism and disappointment with much of JLA's early-70's output, and I'm certainly not sparking much discussion of same (though I suspect much of that is due to relatively few of you having ever seen these issues--if somebody reads a year's worth of Kamandi or Conan, I'll have nothing to add too).

So let's see if there are any gems amidst the dross. F for Friedrich, D for Dillin.

There's one. #94 "Where Strikes Demonfang" on sale August 26, 1971.

Wow. Neal Adams is guest artist for pages 1, 5 20 and 22, all views of Demonfang, the enforcer for Ra's Al Ghul. His closeups of Demon's face are striking. Great start.

Wow. We pick up right where the teaser left us, with a sniper drawing down on a trio of Leaguers. Batman and Arrow mesh flawlessly to nail the sniper, another fang at work. I'm tired of contrivances demanding the League initially act like the Mighty Heroes, unnable to cross the street without shorting out the traffic light on the corner. And Dillin has raised his game in this issue: some nice views of Batman in action. Though I have to ask when I see Batman swing DOWN at me, parallel to rooftops--what's the Batrope attached to? We're on the waterfront, two-story buildings abound. Is there nonetheless a convenient gargoyle-on-skyscraper for him to loop?

Wow. Merlyn the archer is the next contestant/assassin dispatched to nail an unnamed JLA target. The story is remarkably taut, fast-paced and engrossing, almost devoid of Friedriching, though he wrote it. Page 5 practically gives the target away but if you moon over Adams's art, you may miss the, ahem, clews. This story suggests some hands-on editing, or maybe F just wanted to try something different. It works!

Wow. Arrow tells us how Merlyn embarrassed him early in his career. Batman actually trails Merlyn; 'bout time he acted more like Sherlock Holmes and less like John Ritter. Only Aquaman feels like a tenth wheel, but there's a fun reason for that too. There's an unmasking of sorts, a cool face off when the target is revealed (read it!), yet another closing teaser involving a misfiring transporter and Adams's striking last page of Demonfang.

Wow. One of the best JLA books ever. Its tone is cool, efficient and compelling; I wanted to finish this story. Love to see more of this.

#93 Annual on sale September 7, 1971

Reprints JLA #s 13 and 18. Odd choices of pedestrian stories. #13 turns on Aquaman's bromides, offered as encouragement to his colleagues in their fights against enhanced robot duplicates, inspiring them in each case to win. This is every bit as corny as F's lectures, but the refreshing difference is Gardner Fox, presumably the writer, didn't drive the points home like stakes through a heart with captions telling us why Arthur was precient in his choice of cliches, and how each reinforced teamwork.

Your attention is better directed to DC Super Spec #6, on sale in July, 1971, a 100-pages-for-50-cents marvel, with the detailed, utterly involving wraparound Neal Adams cover of the JLA/JSA, the type of thing Alex Ross loves to do today, and the reprinting of JLA #s 21 and 22, a truly wonderful battle royal, filled with traps and escapes and some very capable villains, led by Felix Faust.

#95 "The Private War Of Johnny Dune" on sale October 26, 1971

Finally, F creates a textured villain. Dune is not "the Zapper", who was simpler than the average Mighty Mouse villain. He's a Vietnam combat vet who learned under fire that his shouts could control others. He's a mutant--yep, he'd be right at home in X-Men. He wants to do good--and has a pathological need for control. Oh yeah, he's black, but happily he sports no race-villain name like "Black Mind Zapper" or "Negro Necromancer". When outmanuvered in his bid to run for mayor, he gets pissed, and takes over a college campus.

And we're off. There are some missteps: Canary is yet again on monitor duty, and Superman oddly addresses her as "pretty bird". The transporter snafu from the end of #94 proves a non-event, and we're back to Mighty Heroes capering when Arrow and Atom get beaten up--by a tall college kid. How gratifying to see Batman and Canary later tag team this clown and wrap him up in seconds.

It's striking how F missed the boat with Canary--he never gave her any personality, or really anything to do but be the damsel in distress. She's defined entirely by her relation to the male Leaguers: she's Ollie's squeeze, she's a Batman-level fighter (but still only drawn by D to deliver "karate chops") and the de-facto League secretary who looks at satellite screens. She was front and center only for the silliness of issue #89, the Harlan debacle, where she mustered no more than simply being blond. When I recall that the Canary of the JSA in the '40s was a scrapper, always in the vanguard of the fight, belting thugs and frequently deriding them for their inability to box, well, it's a shame.

Arrow gets to shut Dune down by firing firing a big toilet plunger onto his gob---yeah, this story is a letdown after #94's but it's still moving in a good direction, if only for the absence of the Corporation, the Proof Rock and other favorite metaphors of F.

And, and, this issue offers the memorable ad for the six-foot poster of flying Superman and the Superman "Right-On Target", each with Kal flashing a peace sign and looking about as believable as Jack Webb in a mohawk. There's also origin stories of Dr. Fate and Dr. Mid-Night (25 cents, remember?) and a short letter from soon-to-be editor Bob Rozakis. In all, it's worth a look.

Next time we wrap up 1971 and glide just a bit into 1972 with the Starbreaker trilogy.

> My thanks to Gernot, Brian, Commander, Ian, TJ, Omar--I appreciate the input. It must get tedious for you folks to keep reading my endless criticism and disappointment with much of JLA's early-70's output, and I'm certainly not sparking much discussion of same (though I suspect much of that is due to relatively few of you having ever seen these issues--if somebody reads a year's worth of Kamandi or Conan, I'll have nothing to add too).
While I've not read a bunch of these, but for the ones I have, my experience just doesn't jibe with yours. I've never found Dillin's art to be anything but stupendous, that he not only reflects changes in styles in the characters' particular books (such as the Adams'ing of Green Lantern and Batman) to powerful yet clear action scenes, beautiful women. I'd take him over many of the hot artists today who don't seem to grasp that each panel tells a story and should be clear as to the point of the scene that it illustrates.

Some of it I think is just the basic assumptions. You say Friedrich is only a few years older than his target audience, so I have to ask what you think the target audience is? Because I'm thinking it's around 11-16/17 whereas Friedrich is in college. While he is indeed only a few years older than the high end of that target audience, that's a very, very significant gap in years. Because of that and changes in styles and sensibilities, I don't really expect an adult reading a book written 30 years ago aimed at kids to get the same thing out of them (then there's the added nature of the issues being originally read a month or two apart as opposed to the next day). But, what we expect out of comic stories, how continuity is treated etc is completely different nowadays. I've noticed with reading a lot of the books from the 70's that captions were definitely often over-written, over the top, and frequently described exactly the action going on in the panels (a carryover from the 40's when artists weren't the illustrators they were by the 70's and a writer couldn't count on the artist to draw a scene coherently. Ironically, we're at the point where such captions pointing out what should be obvious are often needed again. But, one can see where the idea to rid themselves of captions came from). And when we're talking about slang (as well as other styles and sensibilities from decades ago), again it calls for giving some leeway, that it's like looking at old photographs and wondering what you were thinking to dress that way, to do that to your hair.

It's not to say that the flaws aren't there, but I just don't see them as being as important or glaring as you say. It's like your average movie reviewer, they are no longer approaching movies to be fun, but for them to meet critical criteria under close up analysis that is often more significant to the reviewer than the targeted audiences. The primary purpose of the story to entertain seems lost. A possible romance between Batman & Black Canary? Why not? Batman was not the brooding dark hero then, but a man who had conquered his demons and iconic superhero. Why harp on that and not the fact that BC would even then have been around 50 and that she's attracting the attention of two very verile heroes about two decades her junior!

See, when I read #82 as a teen (bought from a used-book store, not quite that old), what struck me was how cool it was that closest counter-part of Dr. Mid-nite, a hero not really given much time in the JSA-JLA crossovers, was Batman! Suddenly, Dr. Mid-nite is a lot more way cool than he is often shown to be and I eagerly looked forward to any appearance by him.

I also liked how the crossovers tended to imply that things happened on Earth-2 that we didn't see, these people lived lives and such that happened in between panels. The JSA didn't just sit around waiting for the JLA to come calling again. When Hourman would feel guilty for always dismissing the Red Tornado as a machine after his later sacrifice, it was one of those things that I chalked up to the fact we just don't see the JSA on a month to month basis, we don't get to see the subtle changes in relationships between characters over time.

So, when I read #92, the relationships between the Robins and the older generation didn't strike me as odd. Least not as any more odd than our under-30 male heroes having the hots for a woman at the half-century mark. Regardless of his experience, Robin is still junior to his JSA comrades (and he doesn't really have any more experience than them, he started younger but still approximately the same time as the rest of them, their experience is the same. He should be better than they were at his age, but they aren't that age any more). I have no problem with them still seeing him as being Batman's junior partner and their first new member in decades. Instead I found the story of the alien to be touching, excited to see the two teams (with the golden-age Atom!) taking on Solomon Grundy, and discovering that not only did Neal Adams design the adult Robin costume, but that it was the Earth-1 Dick Grayson that wore it first! Again, just way cool.

Golden-age hero and villain encyclopedia: www.geocities.com/cash_gorman


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