Retro Comics are Awesome

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Green Lantern #40
October 1965

The Secret Origin of the Guardians
Script - John Broome Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

Yes! This time I shall discover the secret origin of the Oans without fail! But just in case the ancient legend is true -- that my probing could indeed cause the total destruction of the universe -- I've made certain plans to ensure my safety when the cataclysm occurs!


This is a big one. We've had a few stories based around Hal's fellow Green Lanterns and the Corps, but six years into the series John Broome finally gives us some major backstory for the Corps and the Guardians of the Universe, and as a bonus he includes the original Green Lantern Alan Scott in the story in a substantial role. In some ways this feels like an event rather than just another monthly issue.

The story begins on Earth-2 and fills the reader in on who Alan is and what he does, which is fair enough. For readers at the time who only knew about Hal Jordan, this completely different Green Lantern had to have caused a lot of questions. There's a lot of Golden Age GL that I've never been able to read, so I'm assuming when he was last seen in the 1940s he was a broadcaster, as mentioned here, and in the intervening 20 years he's risen to become the President of Gotham Broadcasting. Like Jay Garrick in "Flash of Two Worlds", Alan's life went on, even off-panel. Doiby Dickles is still around as Alan's right hand man, and while the two of them are driving through the city they spot a meteor. Alan attempts to stop it crashing into the city but his power beam has no effect on it. On the other hand, the meteor has an effect on Alan's ring, which is no longer afflicted by an inability to affect wood. The power ring's weakness is gone. Alan's first unselfish thought is to cross the dimensional barrier and tell Hal, in the hope that the weakness of his ring might similarly be removed. But when Alan has crossed the dimensional barrier to Earth-1 and explained what happened to Hal, his ring has regained its weakness. Hal wants to get to the bottom of the mystery, so he suggests that Alan have the ring explain what happened. Turns out that the meteor wasn't a meteor at all, but "a packet of pure energy created ten billion years earlier" containing a disembodied mind.

The prisoner in the beam was Krona, an Oan, an immortal race who did not need sleep or rest, and who had "tremendous natural powers". They lived in something pretty close to paradise, with all the time they needed to work and play and study the mysteries of the universe. However, there is always a serpent in paradise, and in this case it was was Krona, who was obsessed with using his viewer into the past to discover the beginnings of time, despite being warned that such knowledge was dangerous. Here we get the great image that has been seen over and over ever since in various DC books, the giant hand holding a galaxy, or perhaps all of creation. But a "cosmic lightning bolt" destroyed Krona's machine and from this point on, evil was unleashed into the universe. In order to stop Krona his fellow Oans reduced him to "disembodied energy" and sent him out into the universe to orbit forever. Sounds like what they tried to do to Sinestro earlier in the series. This is all a great bit of myth-making and character creation, and it's little wonder that it has been used ever since. And it provides an excellent motivation for the Guardians, who decide to fight evil because one of their own inflicted it on the universe in the first place. They created the Green Lanterns to help them, and ensured that no GL equipment could ever look into the past as Krona's machine had done to prevent future damage of the kind Krona had inflicted. The present-day Guardians are simply the Oans who have aged for ten billion years.

But Krona has escaped. When Alan's power ring contacted the beam, Krona freed himself and passed into the ring. He was the one who temporarily removed the ring's weakness, but when Alan crossed over to Earth-1, Krona was able to escape the ring and regain his power and physical form. When Hal and Alan warn the Guardians, they are already aware of the situation and are coming to Earth to help find Krona, who is hiding from them. There are a few filler pages at this point with the two Green Lanterns fighting natural disasters caused by Krona being nearby that really could have been cut from the story entirely without affecting the plot. But then we get a very interesting development indeed, as the Guardians in their temporary headquarters (where they sit in common wooden chairs behind a table in what looks like a barn to me... strange place to see the Guardians!) fire Hal and put Alan in his place. No explanation is given, and this may be another of those instances where the cover came first and the story came later. Hal does not take this well. The story does not leave us in suspense long, revealing that Krona had taken over Alan's body and "kicked him out" to spy on the Guardians, and when Hal demands Alan take him on in a duel to decide who gets to be Green Lantern, Krona takes him on and beats him within about five panels, wanting to kill him but realizing that his ring protects him from mortal harm. (I love that an editors note here informs the readers that Green Lantern's ring cannot protect him from the destruction of the universe!)

Krona has captured the Guardians and created a duplicate of Alan's ring so he can escape if he does indeed cause the destruction of the Universe. And once again he is able to see the hand holding creation. But Alan's disembodied mind contacts Hal through his ring, and Hal absorbs him into the ring to double their chances to stop Krona. Hal can't stop him of course, not even when he switches and uses Alan's ring so there's no yellow weakness, but his distraction allows the Guardians to free themselves, destroy Krona's machine and re-imprison Krona, sending him back out into space in energy form. Hal restores Alan to his body, and the two part with Alan headed back to his own universe.

This is a top-notch GL story, I really enjoyed it. I recently bought the reprinted JLA/Avengers crossover, and that story features Krona as the main villain, still causing the destruction of universes as he tries to explore the origins of the universe, and of course Krona has turned up many times throughout GL published history. Future writers will get a lot of mileage out of this story and expand on it, and it's little wonder. I take it that Oa is supposed to be the home planet of the Guardians, given that the race are "Oans", but I think that changes in future. It's good to see Alan finally make an appearance, and I know he'll be back soon in issue 45 (one of the few actual Silver Age comics I own) so there must have been a positive reaction from readers. Both Alan and Hal get a good amount of action and importance to the plot, though since this is his series Hal gets a bit more prominence. I have to admit, Hal's shocked reaction to supposedly being stripped of his position as Earth's GL surprised me, I expected more heroic stoicism from him. Though it's not explained, I presume the Guardians realized all was not as it seemed with Alan and knowing Krona's powers were trying to draw him out with the scenario.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman #81
February 1954

Two-Face Strikes Again!
Writer: David Vern Reed Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

So when Catwoman fell back into her life of crime, I joked that at least Harvey Dent still had his happy ending, because of course I knew this story wasn't too far down the road. I think we've had three ersatz Two-Faces at this point, and I also think the writers really wanted to use a great Batman villain, but didn't want to undo Harvey's redemption, so they kept trying to have their cake and eat it too. Even if I hadn't know from future issues that Harvey Dent would return as Two-Face, every time a fake Two-Face turned up, it seemed clear to me that at some point they would bite the bullet and just bring back the original. And that's exactly what they do here, though they soften the tragedy a bit with no mention of Harvey's wife Gilda. Whether they forgot about her or just left her out of the story, I don't know.

Harvey Dent is walking home one night through downtown Gotham, and the story recaps his past as a lawyer who became a criminal. He spots a robbery and feels duty-bound to stop it, but the premature detonation of the explosives meant to crack open the safe injures Dent's face and destroys the plastic surgery. He snaps, says that it's impossible to perform the same surgery again, and that fate has made him a criminal. He has a duplicate of his famous coin, flips it and when it comes up on the evil side, that seals the deal. He goes on a crime rampage, and as Batman figures out, is robbing other "two faces", men who wear a "second face" in the form of a diving helmet or clown makeup. As an aside, I know that at this point these comics are heavy on plot and light on emotional drama, but it's a shame that Batman and Robin couldn't spare a little time to express some sorrow at what's happened to their friend. They're very matter of fact, and he's just a criminal that needs to be stopped.

They figure out his pattern and come close to capturing him several times, only to be captured themselves and put into the death trap pictured on the cover: a giant replica of Two-Faces coin, set to flip them onto giant spikes. The trap is rigged, with Batman and Robin's weight sure to make their side of the coin hit the spikes. But Batman and Robin avoid death by using their belt radios and the wires they were tied with to set up a negative magnetic field that repelled the spikes. I think I just have to accept this as comic book science and go with it, because despite the nonsense of those tiny radios being able to repel and push a giant coin, it is admittedly a fairly clever bit of quick thinking and action by Batman to avoid certain death.

At 10 pages, this story feels like it ends very abruptly. Two-Face is captured and his crime spree ended. The original is finally back, and though I enjoy the return of a good villain, it's a bit sad that Harvey Dent has gone bad after years of being cured, and the story really needed the characters within the story to be sad about it as well. Not a one of them expresses any regrets at the situation, and Gilda is conspicuous by her absence. It's not a bad Two-Face story, and I do like that Batman recognizes that his methodology has changed. And it's pretty amazing that Harvey Kent (as he was named back then) was healed back in Detective Comics #80, October 1943, meaning that he's been reformed for over a decade of real time before the writers gave in and had him revert to a life of crime. That's forever in comic book terms.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Finishing up Batman #81....

The Boy Wonder Confesses!
Writer: David Vern Reed Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Stan Kaye

How are they going to write their way out of this one? And even in the service of some convoluted scheme, is it wise to associate Bruce Wayne with Batman, and Dick Grayson with Robin as far as the citizens of Gotham are concerned? But that's how this story begins, with Dick walking into school late and confessing to his entire class that he's Robin. And not only that, he puts on the costume and performs a bunch of dangerous stunts that only Robin could do. The press naturally immediately determine (correctly) that Bruce must be Batman, and the story nicely reminds us that this isn't the first time this has happened. So what is going on here?

It's all about Mr. Camera, a villain from a year ago who (unsurprisingly, given his name) uses cameras in his crimes. He claims to have filmed Batman changing into costume with one of his hidden cameras, and though he goes to prison, he leaves the threat of exposing his identity hanging over Batman's head. Bruce's idea is to preempt this by doing it himself, setting up a situation where Bruce is revealed to be Batman and then disprove it, so that when Mr. Camera reveals the truth it will be like the boy who cried wolf, and no one will believe it. He does this by appearing as Bruce on the street while "Batman" is on the roof across from Robin. The Batplane flies off, there's no sign of Batman when the press check out the rooftop in case it's a dummy and a recording, and Robin is still across the street. The press fall for it, and as Batman later explains to Robin it was done with a snowman and "self-disintegrating uniform". Dick's confession is accepted as a hoax, done to impress a girl. And in the end it was all for nothing, Mr. Camera's film is found and it's too dark to see, so there was never any threat.

I just can't buy this one at all. It's a nice scene when Dick confesses and proves who he is that left me wondering how and why this was happening, and the setup with the threat of exposure by Mr. Camera is a fine dilemma for Batman to solve. But I'm just not buying that everyone would happily accept that it was all a hoax. The secret would be out, and someone would do a lot more digging into Bruce and Dick's lives. Any association of those two with Batman and Robin is a bad idea, because it puts the idea of who they are in people's minds. And the tech solution is way too pat and convenient. Even by the standards of this series, I don't find this story plausible.

The Phantom Bandit of Gotham City!
Writer: Bill Finger Art: Dick Sprang

We're back to some great Dick Sprang art, all done by him with no inker this time. When "the phantom bandit" is able to rob locked vaults and armored cars with no sign at all of how he does it, Vicki Vale is assigned to follow the story. Batman and Robin are on his trail as well. A clue at a crime scene leads them to the Polar Bear club, where a masked Swami is the main entertainment of the evening. Bruce figures out quickly that the Swami's mind-reading act is a scam, helped by his assistant who goes through the crowd with a hidden microphone and picks up secrets. Batman comes close to catching the Phantom Bandit several times, but he manages to escape.

We get a rare pairing of characters in this story. Bruce is away at one point, so Vicki and Dick Grayson go to the club to learn what they can. Batman is watching when he sees Dick's room hit with sleeping gas through the AC. The story doesn't say why he's involved at this point when he wasn't earlier, though the dialogue implies that Dick let him in on Vicki's plan. We get the old "Acro-Batman" term for the first time in a LONG time (I haven't missed it) as Batman gets himself across the street via flagpole and awning to crash into the room and capture the Swami and his assistant. The Swami, to no one's surprise, is the Phantom Bandit. The explanation for the Bandit's ability to open any lock doesn't really make sense... his assistant carried a soft wax mold and would make impressions of keys, but that doesn't account for vaults with combination locks.

I liked this one. It was pretty obvious that the Swami would turn out to be the Bandit, but I enjoyed the good mix of costumed adventure and undercover work, and the chance to see Vicki and Dick working together, something we rarely see. Speaking of Vicki, it's good to see that she's still around from time to time, and hasn't vanished like Linda Page or been written out like Julie Madison, even though there's no indication that she and Bruce are still dating.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Detective Comics #204
February 1954

The Man Who Could Live Forever!
Script: Bill Finger Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Stan Kaye

A well-dressed, seemingly bulletproof older man robs a jewelry store, and the bat-signal summons Batman and Robin. I like the little glimpses of Bruce and Dick's lives out of costume that we often get, and here they're playing ping-pong when Bruce spots the signal through the window. Bruce is a good adoptive dad, other than the whole "expose the kid to potential death on a daily basis." They meet Gordon at the shop where the owner describes this "Odo Neval" and Batman and Robin go after him and witness his ability to survive electrocution firsthand. Research at the Gotham museum reveals a recently acquired 500 year old manuscript with a drawing of Neval, said to be a scientist of ancient Atlantis who made an elixir of immortality and terrorized Europe for ages. Batman is very matter of fact about the whole thing. "Whether or not Neval is really immortal, he's a crook and must be caught!"

The story shifts gears a bit here as Neval offers to sell his elixir to Gotham crooks for $100,000 each, and this motivates them to really crank up the criminal activity. After catching some of these men and learning what's going on, Batman disguises himself and infiltrates the gang. A couple of things happen here that I really liked as Batman's eye for details that others miss clues him in to the truth, and Robin, who has fully bought into the idea of the elixir, drinks it and is convinced he can't be hurt and is free to take as many risks to rescue Batman as he likes. And Neval has to play along, because the elixir is fake and he knows it, but shooting Robin would blow his whole scheme to scam the other crooks. In the end it's being cut with a piece of flying glass that does indeed let the crooks know that Neval and an accomplice were lying. Batman figured it out when he spotted a vaccination mark on Neval's arm. The historical manuscript was a forgery, and the attempts on Neval's life were carried out by his accomplice, in on the whole scheme.

It's a fun scam by one crook on a bunch of other crooks that could probably only work in a comic book. The twist in the story is of course that it's all a scam, but with comics being a genre where beings with supernatural powers are common, it's perfectly plausible that an immortal Atlantean could show up and cause trouble for Batman. These days it would probably lead to a crossover with Aquaman or something. It seems like Bill Finger mixes up the terms immortal and invulnerable here. Immortal has more to do with the length of life rather than one's inability to be harmed, or that's how I read it. Regardless, this was a good one and I really enjoyed it.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Detective Comics #205
March 1954

The Origin of the Bat-Cave!
Script: Bill Finger Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Charles Paris

While digging to lay some new electric wiring in the Batcave, Robin runs across on old piece of Indian pottery. A later examination of it leads to some recalling of the past as he and Batman speculate about the origin of the cave, which has clearly been around and in use for at least 300 years. At this point, it is established that Bruce bought the house after he adopted the Batman identity, and we get what is the first account of Bruce discovering the cave by falling into it. We've seen this adapted in some form into several of the live-action movies and it's certainly been a part of numerous comic book retellings. As in the first telling of Batman's origin from Detective Comics #33 in November 1939, where Bruce declares the bat crashing through his window "an omen", he similarly thinks here "A tremendous cave - and full of bats! An omen - if I ever saw one!" It does make me wonder what house Bruce was sitting in when a bat crashed through the window and gave him the inspiration to become Batman, when this story establishes that he already had the idea before buying his house. It's not an insoluble continuity snarl for those who care about such things, but it does go to show how likely it is that Bill Finger was working from memory rather than referring to the actual issue.

I enjoy going over continuity, because I enjoy seeing these characters and their history built, story by story. It's not a complaint, it's enjoyable to have all of these old stories at hand to consult. At any rate, we then see the secret entrance in the old barn behind the house, as we've seen many times before, with the cutaway drawing of the cave and the house and grounds. Other aspects of the cave are discussed before Bruce and Dick take the pottery to a museum for evaluation, where the inscription on it intrigues them still more. "Death to the man of two identities!" There's only one way to solve that mystery: a visit to Professor Carter Nichols, with his "time travel via hypnosis" methods! Only this time even Professor Nichols has been updated, using both hypnosis and a time machine to send the two back in time. I wonder what brought that change about?

Upon arriving in the past the two are immediately thrown into a action as they save a frontiersman from two Indians. The man is named Jeremy Coe, who spies on the local Indians by disguising himself as one of them, and he uses the future Batcave as his headquarters, complete with a secret entrance through a nearby tree. He broke his leg when his horse threw him, but Batman and Robin get him to safety. He was able to spy and learn about the Indian war plans and report them, but now with something big brewing, his broken leg prevents him from learning about the big campaign, leaving the colony in danger. Batman decides to take his place and get the information, but first he and Robin make several improvements to the cave, including a periscope to spy above ground, and a winch to lower Coe's horse into the cave to he can be hidden too. Batman also starts a crime lab and trophy room, because heaven forbid that Coe keep things nice and simple. We've got to do them Batman's way! Get that ego in check, Bruce!

I do like Bruce's simple wonder at the whole time travel adventure. He gets the gist of the attack plans even without knowing the language by studying a map, but rain washes away his red skin dye, and he resorts to his Batman costume and various utility belt tricks to try and hold the Indians off. In the end he makes bat-shaped smoke signals to get Robin to come running with a horse and escape. With the Indians following they have no choice but to take Coe and run for it, with the Indians destroying the cabin above the cave. All that work to turn it into a frontier bat-cave goes up in smoke. Coe is returned to the fort, and Bruce and Dick find themselves returned to the present day. In a great little final panel, Robin wonders what I often have, did these events really happen or were they just hypnotized? The arrowhead that Batman put in Coe's trophy room in the past is found buried in the Batcave floor. It all really happened after all.

I like these time travel stories. They're pure fantasy wish fulfillment of walking in another time and having adventures. I haven't kept up with how many we've seen over the years, probably a dozen or more at this point. I chuckled a bit at Bruce's ego in this story, thinking to himself about "the legend of Batman" and insisting that Coe's cave be organized just like his, as much as possible. There are some continuity glitches here, but nothing major, and it's all just good fun.

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Batman #82
March 1954

The Flying Batman!
Writer: David Vern Reed Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Stan Kaye

We've seen a story with a similar theme and the exact same title in Detective Comics #153 from November 1949. That story turned out to be "all just a dream" in which Batman was able to use a prototype set of wings to fly and fight crime. This story is less sci-fi and more fantasy as Batman is given actual wings for a brief time... possibly. Batman and Robin patrol the city and spot someone who starts to run when he sees them, dropping a gas bomb to divert them. Suddenly the throws off his cape and reveals a pair of wings. The man divebombs both and drugs them in passing, rendering them unconscious. When they wake, they're on another continent in "the lost valley of the bird men" who need Batman's help to defeat the Gravio family who are trying to horde all supplies of the serum that allow wings to be grafted onto men in this valley.

So Batman is given wings (bat wings rather than feathered ones, of course!) through this process so he can help defeat Count Gravio. He has eight men to capture, and he gets some of them with a barrage balloon and net, and a few others by distracting them with a Batman shaped kite that Robin flies, which also lets him take out an anti-aircraft gun. He's captured ultimately and put in a giant birdcage, his wings paralyzed temporarily, but he and Robin escape and capture the rest of Gravio's crew, after which his wings are removed, and when he and Robin wake up, they're right back on the streets of Gotham. Just like the previous story, Robin wonders if it could all have been a dream, and Batman can't answer the question.

Batman occasionally makes forays into the fantasy genre, and this story blends that with his usual crime-fighting. The "was it a dream?" question is used possibly to avoid having to justify some of the crazier events in the story. It may or may not have happened, the writer is saying, and we'll let you the reader decide. I think taken in isolation I would not like the story given that it's so far outside Batman's usual urban crime setting, but in a book like this that collects so many different Batman stories, I think I appreciate that it's different, even if the story itself doesn't generate a lot of enthusiasm. I do like slightly unnatural or supernatural events around the edges of Batman's world, even if I want a more grounded main setting, so on that level it works.

525th Batman story.

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Continuing Batman #82....

The Man Who Could Change Fingerprints!
Writer: David Vern Reed Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

Lew Farnum escapes from prison and blackmails a doctor into helping him with a scheme. I love the angles on these panels by Dick Sprang, from the ground level shot of Farnum climbing into the delivery truck, to the high angle of the Batmobile, to the extreme shot up the side of the building as Batman and Robin climb to a high ledge. It's that last one that got my attention here. They interrupt a prowler at a printing plant and discover wanted posters for Lew Farnum. Meanwhile Farnum has had not only plastic surgery (which has healed remarkably quickly, too quickly to be believed if the dimwitted hoods he shows his face to had any sort of brains!) but has changed his fingerprints as well, something that had been believed impossible. Farnum offers to have the "Doc" do the same for every crook there, for a fee of $20 grand each. If all of this seems familiar, you're not wrong. If not for the magically quick facial reconstruction, I might have bought into the idea, but that had me questioning what was going on here.

Farnum tests his new appearance and fingerprints by going to a police academy briefing by Batman. They're convinced that he must be Farnum because of how he behaves, but his fingerprints don't match. The crooks are delighted that Batman looks foolish and are all in on the facial and finger reconstruction. A captured crook with a bandaged face gives Batman the chance to infiltrate the mob, where he is to undergo the fingerprint altering procedure. As is often the case, it's Batman's quick thinking and observation of the tiniest details that clue him in to the fact that this is all a scam. Farnum just wanted the loot from the other crooks and had hired someone to pretend to be him with plastic surgery and new fingerprints. Batman saw Farnum's fingerprints were unchanged when Farnum handed him a glass of water before the supposed fingerprint-altering procedure, which would in reality have electrocuted him to keep him from learning of the scam. Having just been looking at the fingerprints recently, he was able to recognize the real article.

The basic concept presented on the splash page, that of being able to falsify and change a previously foolproof method of identification, is a strong hook for a story. However this is not an original plot, this is essentially exactly the same plot as the Odo Neval story we just saw, where a pair of crooks scams all the other crooks with promises of something impossible in exchange for a hefty sum. It works well despite that, and it's all down to the details. The far more down to earth idea of changing fingerprints works better than immortality, and the scene where "Farnum" taunts Batman during Batman's lecture in front of all the police is a great bit of brass on the part of the crook, which makes for a dramatic scene and really sells the scam. I think if David Reed had simply alluded to more time passing between the escape and the uncovering of the supposedly plastic surgery-altered face of Farnum, it would have solved my only real problem with the story. Despite that, this is another solid Batman story that I enjoyed a lot.

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Finishing up Batman #82....

The Olympic Games of Crime!
Writer: Bill Finger Art: Dick Sprang

Gang boss "Dimples" Drew is tired of crooks bickering over who is the best at their crime specialty, so he decides to hold "an Olympic Games of Crime" right in Gotham City. When someone points out that this will attract Batman's attention, he's got that figured into his plans. Crooks come from all over to compete, leading to a major crime wave in Gotham. A clue from a watchman who was attacked and information from some captured crooks lead Batman to decide to disguise himself and enter the competition. He takes on the persona of Lefty Lanning, but Dimples had prepared for this possibility by putting a chemical on each crook's hand that can only be seen through a special lens fitted to his glasses. Since "Lefty" doesn't have it, he knows it's a disguised Batman.

So Bruce participates in various competitions, including marksmanship (shooting at a dummy costumed as Batman, natch!), safecracking, second-story climb, etc, and does very well. But then Dimples announces that Batman is among them, in disguise, and the next competition is to determine who he is. Dimples' right hand man knows who he is and figures he and Dimples will split the loot. Bruce is forced to throw a match on some oily rags to create smoke and conceal himself, after which he uses the Batman dummy to good advantage to distract the crooks while he calls in the police and Robin. Robin takes the Batplane to the site and uses the jets to keep the crooks from escaping until the police arrive. Batman rubs in his victory to Dimples by writing it on the scoreboard: "The Law Wins! Crime Loses!"

This is pretty much a Batman solo story. Robin is in it, but just barely, and his main role is firing the jet engines on the last page to trap the crooks. This story is all about Batman in among his deadly enemies in the criminal underworld. He's tried this disguise routine too often, the crooks know his methods at this point. If Dimples had been smart, he'd simply have shot him and been done with it, but playing it too clever results in Batman being able to rely on his quick thinking to find a way out of the trap.

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Green Lantern #41
December 1965

The Double Life of Star Sapphire
Script - Gardner Fox Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

She is two people in one body -- Carol Ferris and Star Sapphire -- the woman who was chosen to be Queen of the Zamarons -- with neither one aware of the other's existence.

I get used to modern-day Carol Ferris having a ring and her own mind when she becomes a Star Sapphire, so it's always interesting to go back to the original concept where it's a possession and a second personality rather than Carol with a power ring. That's an interesting open-top flying vehicle she has as the story opens, and I wonder what the point of that rather than an actual plane was? In any case, the bars twist of their own accord, Carol loses consciousness, and Green Lantern has to rescue her. He takes her home and summons her family doctor, who says she'll be fine after some rest. Later, under compulsion, Carol leaves her home and travels to Ferris, where she recovers the Star Sapphire from Hal's invisible power battery and transforms (and I love Carol's facial expression Gil Kane drew in that third panel, bottom row on page 4). Turns out Carol was attacked, and that's what caused her vehicle to malfunction, but while she didn't realize that, the Star Sapphire persona does. When Hal shows up to recharge his ring she overpowers him and leaves, promising to return and marry him after she's dealt with the threat to her life.

Hal recovers, charges the ring, and follows her to find her being attacked by rock, stone, and ice objects. A Zamaron stops Hal from interfering and informs him that after Carol rejected their offer to be queen, a new queen named Dela Pharon was chosen, but now there are dissenting factions on Zamaron. Some favor the new queen and some want Carol instead, and the solution is to have them fight it out. Carol wins and is ready to be queen and marry GL, who tells her he can't abandon Earth and violate his trust as a GL. The Zamaron says "hey, fight it out" to decide. Violence is first and best with the Zamarons apparently. Carol wins by trickery and Hal agrees to travel to Zamaron and marry her, after which he will resign as a Green Lantern. Last issue, end of series, it's been fun.... nope, Hal figures out in time that it wasn't Carol who beat him, it was Dela Pharon (because all Star Sapphires look alike) and he engages in some trickery of his own to defeat her and escape being married to the wrong woman and having to resign.

So what would Katma Tui say to Hal resigning for love? I suppose it would be more "resigning to keep his word", though I don't see any reason he couldn't base his life on Zamaron as well as Earth, given how easy interstellar travel is for a Green Lantern. The Hal/Carol/GL two-person love triangle is amusing, but the Hal/Carol/GL/Star Sapphire love quadrangle (if there is such a thing) can get confusing when trying to figure out who is after who. I like the Zamaron plotlines, despite the silliness of picking a queen based on appearance. In an odd way, it puts Carol on a more level playing field, power-wise, with Hal. That whole situation works better in the modern day now that it's voluntary of course, but it's still interesting to see the early depictions.

One more note: there are actual credits on the splash page of this issue. I don't think that's been common up to this point. I went back and checked and is seems to have started around issue #39 maybe?

Challenge of the Coin Creatures
Script - Gardner Fox Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

A crook who is out of jail after serving time for robbery heads to find his hidden loot: old rare coins. When he finds them, the figures on them have come to life and claim to have been given this life by an old Roman sorceror. They offer to help the crook gain compensation for is financial loss (since the coins are now worthless) and they help him with a crime spree. When GL tries to stop them, one reveals that their mission is to stop him. They are pretty much immune to the power ring and after a few pages of fighting they beat him, and shrink down....

... entering the power ring where we see Myrwhydden! Yep, I had no idea that he was behind this. Nice surprise villain return by Gardner Fox. The evil wizard had found a way around being silenced by GL and used the coins to capture him so GL could free him from his imprisonment in the power ring. But Hal, knowing he was losing, went with the Trojan Horse approach and put his consciousness inside the Roman warrior (though if his ring can't affect them, I don't know how he was supposed to do this). This was telegraphed on page 7 in the first panel, though it's not clear what's happening until after the fact. Hal defeats Myrwhydden by surprising him and then erases his memory, so Myrwhydden ends up wandering the world inside the power ring wondering who he is and where he is. Seems like Hal could have taken him to prison on Oa or something.

The surprise villain made the story enjoyable, but Hal's solution doesn't seem like it should work, given the rules the story sets up. Still, it's a short story that doesn't outstay its welcome, and I enjoyed it.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Green Lantern #42
January 1966

The Other Side of the World!
Script - Gardner Fox Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

So we've got a storyline apparently continued from Hawkman and Atom as Zatanna goes from book to book looking for her father, the Golden Age character Zatara the master magician. Interesting, and not something we've seen a lot of up until now. Zatanna has gone to the ruins of Ys, where a blue flame periodically spells doom for random figures who have stumbled upon it. Her spell malfunctions, and the story cuts to Hal, who has to cut a fishing trip with Tom short to deal with a pirate attacking Coast City. When he recharges his ring, he recites the Green Lantern oath backward. I immediately of course made the connection between Zatanna's backward recitation of spells, but it's not immediately clear why it happened, either to the reader or to Hal. Other strange things happen... Hal goes to fight the pirate and has trouble with his gold sword, but a power ring shield stops it cold, shattering it, when the ring should be ineffective against yellow.

And then in the middle of the fight against the pirate (who can "run on air" with his boots and has a gun that fires small objects that turn into large ones, such as pebbles that turn into boulders) GL is contacted by Zatanna. He's never met her before, and she explains that she's been searching for her missing father, and that both Hawkman and the Atom have already tried to help her. She decided to search the lost land of Ys, and was drawn into "the other side of the world", a place of eternal present, a place where it is constantly "now". All the people drawn in over the centuries by the blue flame are still there. The sole original inhabitant is the Warlock, a magic-user who wants to escape because he's bored with his unchanging world and wants new experiences. He can see into Earth from his home, and decides that only GL's power ring can free him. He sent the pirate to lure Green Lantern to him, which explains the magical weapons and boots.

That's a ton of exposition to deliver in the middle of a fight, I have to say.

Zatanna takes Hal to "the other side of the world" where they spend some time figuring out how their powers work in this strange place. The Warlock's army is sent to take GL's power ring, which he cannot get to work, so Zatanna has to fight them off. She's weakening when Hal finally figures it out... and this is about as lame as it gets, but he has to put his ring on his left hand instead of his right. I don't think which hand the ring is one has any bearing on how it works...

Hal beats the army and he and Zatanna head to deal with the Warlock. The two are stalemated in terms of power, but the Warlock makes a bargain. If GL will give him his ring with no tricks, he'll tell Zatanna about her father. He does just that and then attempts to use the ring to leave, only to have it freeze him into place. Though Hal had sworn not to command it, Zatanna gave it the command when she grabbed Hal's hand and pleaded with him not to give up the ring.

I don't think the fate of the Pirate is ever given, I assume he vanished when the Warlock no longer needed him. I can't say I got much out of this story. There are elements that I enjoy about it. It's a crossover with other books, emphasizing the shared universe of DC's characters, and it involves a Golden Age character. Did Gardner Fox write Zatara back in the 40s? Was this inspired by bringing Jay Garrick, Alan Scott and the other JSA-related Golden Age characters back? I always enjoy seeing the 1940s characters return in the 1960s. On the other hand, there's a ton of explanation needed to make this plot work and I'm not sure it's delivered well by having the action grind to a half for a few pages while Zatanna lays out the plot. So it's a bit clunky in the way it's handled. Zatanna needing to speak her backwards spells normally to get them to function works, but Hal having to switch the hand he wore his ring on does not. I get what Fox was going for here, doing things the opposite way they were normally done, but switching hands is just silly. But to be fair, I'm not sure what the opposite of using willpower to make the ring respond would be, so it feels like the path of least resistance to just pick something and go with it. Get the story out the door, there's a deadline. This also isn't Hal's usual genre, sword and sorcery rather than sci-fi, so that contributes to the feeling of something being off. The story works, and is not without merit, but it's one of my least favorites of the series so far.

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