EP0090: Super Sons of Tomorrow, Batman: The Silver Age Newspaper Strips, Volume 3, and Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, Volume 5

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Damian Wayne, Jonathan Kent, and the Teen Titans faces Tim Drake from the future who wants to kill Jonathan in Super Sons of Tomorrow.

A look at last of the Batman Silver Age newspaper strips from 1969-72 in Volume 3 of the Batman Newspaper Strips.

Hal Jordan teams up with Superman and then the rest of the Green Lanterns in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps Vol. 5: Twilight of the Guardians

Transcript below:

Tim Drake from the future returns to tamper with history. Join us as we take a look at Super Sons of Tomorrow Volume Three of the Batman newspaper strips collection, and then we take a look at Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corp Volume Five, straight ahead.

Welcome to the Classy Comics Podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise, Idaho here is your host, Adam Graham.

Alright, well, we’ll lead off this episode with Super Sons of Tomorrow, and this is a three-way crossover collecting Issues Eleven and Twelve of Super Sons, Superman Issues Thirty-Seven and Thirty-Eight, and Teen Titans Number Fifteen. And the basic plot is that Tim Drake from the future who we talked about a few weeks ago, appearing in Detective Comics, that he returns to once again try and save the future by murdering someone. In this case it’s murdering ten year old John Kent, aka Superboy, and he starts out by disabling both Batman and Superman because he is future Tim Drake aka Future Batman, and then goes after Superboy properly and the Teen Titans get in the way.

Well what did I like about this storyline? Well, I think that like the storyline in Detective Comics, it did really do a good job highlighting the nature of a key relationship – in that case, that between Robin and Superboy, and the way that their partnership helps them and makes them better people. It also suggests that that partnership, that that friendship could cut against or change some of what has been shown as the DC Universe’s future, suggesting that these portrayals are only a possible future, they are a shadow of things that might be – not necessarily of what has to be because of the way they relate to each other. And I think that’s a really good idea. At the same time, if you were a fan of the Young Justice comic series from the 1990s you get a bit of a treat here as we see that Tim Drake is Batman in this timeline is being pursued and followed by the Flash, Wonder Woman and Superman who are Connor, Cassie and Bart from the Young Justice comic series in the 1990s. So that is nice.

Where I think the story has problems is that, I think that the idea that you could bring Tim Drake back after the Detective Comics storyline where essentially he was doing the same thing, but with Batwoman, is really going to the well too often and way too soon after the last time. I also thought he was a little bit more annoying in this one. He doffs the Batman outfit early on in this story to take on the identity of Savior who is going to save the universe and everything from bad things happening by messing with the timeline and killing people. The Teen Titans are also a bit of a problem in this book. The Teen Titans actually end up dividing against one another on the entire question of cooperating with Savior after Superboy is essentially driven by Savior to a point of giving off this great solar explosion, which was the reason that he had this solar flare power which he couldn’t control and was eventually going to lead to killing millions of people. And Savior triggered this so that he destroyed the Teen Titans tower, and the Titans end up divided over whether to follow Tim Drake or not, with two going with Tim Drake and three not going with Tim Drake but trying to catch up to Robin and Superboy to give them time. And even what they’re fighting over because they do get Drake to agree to not kill Superboy. It’s all very vague – there’s a lot of heroes fighting heroes for no good reason. The problem with Superboy is resolved but having followed his story through Super Sons, and also through the Superman and Action Comics story, I don’t think that this problem was really developed enough. It seems like the whole issue was both raised and solved within the confines of this book.

Now it’s time to head back to IDW’s Library of American Comics and their final collection of Batman, Silver Age, Dailies and Sundays covering 1969 to 1972; though I think we have to kind of put an asterisk on that Sundays part but we’ll talk about that in a second. Batman had had a newspaper strip during the Golden Age for about three years and then saw a revival of the strip with the popularity of the 1966 Batman TV series, and the newspaper strip actually outlived the TV series and took on some different changes and tone. This book contains Batman strips going from May 31st of 1969 to August 26th of 1972; however, the Sunday strips were discontinued in July of 1969 so you don’t have too many of them.

Now this book does begin with a story that picks up some plot threads from a story that really started back in Volume Two where a criminal stole Bruce Wayne’s identity. And in the course of that Bruce Wayne’s double dated a woman whose family used to be rich but is now just socially prominent even though they don’t have any money. Her name was Paula Vanderbroke – such a great name for a character who’s, well, broke. At any rate Bruce is back in his old life and she expects him to marry her. Unfortunately, Bruce doesn’t have any interest in marrying Paula, so she sets out for revenge on him because he dared refuse to marry her. And so she and her weak-minded brother set out on a series of crimes, and she uses the caverns that their grandfather used to smuggle into Gotham in order to rob Bruce Wayne. And she’s actually able to carry off a couple multi-million dollar robberies against Bruce Wayne, and in the course of those robberies she nearly gets herself and her brother killed at least a couple of times. And of course she ends up discovering Bruce Wayne’s true identity of Batman, and she has plans for vengeance with that.

This is an interesting strip. In one way Paula’s just absolute mono-mania and how insanely focused she is on revenge is itself a bit entertaining and interesting. That said, this story actually goes on from May 31st to December 25th, and so there are some repetitive bits in there in terms of some of the robbery attempts, and there’s also a whole sequence with Batman actually considering the idea of allowing Paula to get away with her crimes, in order to keep his secret identity secret, with Dick arguing against it. It was an interesting morality situation with Robin actually being the moral compass. I have trouble believing Batman giving it as much consideration as he does. Of course, per the Silver Age conventions, when a villain learns the hero’s identity that character is ultimately doomed; so it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Paula does end up dying, though it’s in a particularly strange and gruesome way which I won’t explain.

And that leads into the next story where it’s almost like the writer intentionally gives Batman some comeuppance because of the December 25th strip when Robin comments on Paula’s death, Batman says, “A life of a crime invites such tragedies, Robin!” And then in the December 26th strip Batman is hit in the back, square with a wrecking ball from a crane because the crane operator wasn’t paying attention. So, make of that what you will. At any rate, Batman ends up in a really precarious situation: his back is broken and he needs surgery, but the only surgeon who can help him lives in Mexico and refuses to fly in an airplane. Well, folks, this is a job for Superman who comes into the strip as a guest star, providing some super-powered assistance to get the doctor to Gotham City, and do other things to help with Batman’s recovery. He also goes undercover pretending to be Batman so that the criminals of the City won’t just decide to go hog-wild knowing that Batman’s out of action. It’s a good story, it makes really good use of Superman. In some ways it does call to mind some of the 1940s radio episodes of Superman, so I like this story quite a bit.

Next up is The Circus is Still Not For Sale, and this story ran from March 20th to September 7th of 1970, and it involves Batman and Robin helping the owner of a small circus who is receiving some very hostile threats in order to get him to sell the circus. This is actually a pretty standard story and there are a lot of points where this drags on. It goes nearly six months which feels too long for this sort of story. It’s not bad but it does feel a bit padded. One reason for this though is that there was a change in writers in the middle of the run of the strip. On July 18th 1970 Whitney Elsworth, the longtime writer of the Batman strip an d previous writer of the Superman strip stepped away, and Nelson Bridwell became the new writer.

So it may have been padded out a bit to give Bridwell the chance to plan for his own stories which would begin with Everything Will be Different which runs from September 8th 1970 to January 8th 1971. And this takes the events of the comic book where Dick Grayson goes off to college and Batman moves out of the Bat Cave and out of Wayne Manor as Bruce Wayne to the centre of the City to start Victims Incorporated. And one of the first people to come in is a mother concerned about her runaway son, and he ends up teaming up with Green Arrow because the kid has run away to Green Arrow’s home city.

This is a pretty good story. Green Arrow is a really solid guest character in this story, and it’s got a lot of then-contemporary issues in terms of violent radicals on campus and how they try and get people involved and other people to take the fall for them. And Robin does end up playing a role in this story, and there’s also some setup for the next storyline which would run from January 9th 1971 to April 14th 1971, and this one would be I Am Man-Bat, and it is about Kirk Langstrom who has been changed into Man-Bat and wants Batman’s help to change him back. And he’s somewhat annoyed by Batman no longer being in the Bat Cave and he actually stows away in the back of the Batmobile, hoping to get Batman’s assistance. And the story doesn’t end with a resolution, and it’s kind of left to dangle until later on in the year but it makes a good beginning and it does set things up for the eventual resolution.

And then we get into Too Many Riddles, Too Many Villains which ran from April 15th to October 5th of 1971; and this was just a really fun story because essentially you have all of these villains who have got together to thwart Batman, with the Riddler seeming to be the front person for the group because riddles are being used to set the stage. And they’re using actually quite a few, like Lewis Carroll who wrote Alice in Wonderland – those sort of riddles, so they’re a little better than the sort of riddles you would get on the TV show with a bit more cleverness if you don’t know all of the Lewis Carroll answers. However, Alfred does and is able to provide that sort of assistance that Robin generally provided like in the comics and on the TV show. And it’s great to see so many villains in the strip, and is, of course, surprised that there is a Mr. Big behind it who’s actually a villain who has not been seen at this point in the comics for quite a few years.

This was, like I said, a very fun script. The one thing I’d criticize it for is that it really…there’s no real explanation for how all of the cities’ villains were talking about the Joker, Penguin, Riddler – all of these very strong criminal personalities take a back seat to this person. And it’s never explained how they all came to do that, though of course you could say the same thing about Tom King’s War of Jokes and Riddles. It’s never explained why all of these villains thought they had to pick a side in this particular war. But, that said, this is a 1971 comic strip story so I’ll give it some slack on that, particularly since I think they did do a really good job with the villains and they were pretty clever with who the Mr. Big was, and introducing that into the story. I also like that we got to see some Batgirl in this book, which we…this is the only story we see her in, so that was nice to see her in this one anyway.

Then we get to The Hideous Newlyweds, and the plot is that Kirk Longstrom and his fiancée are getting married and sending out invitations. However, Kirk has not been cured and Batman reveals that he is still Man-Bat; and then we get the shocking reveal that his wife-to-be is, I guess, Woman-Bat. So, if you’re a bride who has ever tried to cover up anything at a wedding you can just look at the bright side and say ‘At least I didn’t try and cover up the fact that I was a half-human, half-bat creature.’ This one’s weird and silly but it’s a pretty fun story.

Next up we have The Secret of Grandma Chilton’s Scrapbook, and this one ran from November 5th to January of 1971 to January 28th of 1972, and in this story the son of Joe Chill discovers that his Dad was the criminal who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, and also finds through the scrapbook that Bruce Wayne is really Batman, and that through Bruce Wayne’s hunt for Joe Chill that Joe Chill was killed – though he wasn’t killed by Batman. The newspaper strip remains faithful to the comics which portray a situation where Batman frightens Joe Chill and he runs and tells some of his criminal buddies, “Oh no! Batman is after me!”
“Well, why is Batman after you?” they ask.
“Well because I created him when I killed his parents!”
And this so enrages his confederates who are like, “We’ve had so much trouble with Batman and it’s all your fault!” And they end up killing him. Nevertheless, Joe’s son blames Batman, wants to get revenge and blackmail, and you get a pretty standard story out of that.

I like the retelling of the comic book story. The revenge plot isn’t so great but it’s not bad and it’s an enjoyable strip overall. And this is probably the last strip that I can really say that about in this book. The strip may have been based on DC Comics characters but it was syndicated by The Ledger Syndicate, and The Ledger Syndicate and DC got into a dispute. So, Ledger decided, you know what, we’re going to keep writing Batman but we’re going to bring our own artist on and our own writer. So they had Bridwell’s scripts through January 28th and used them, but they had their own anonymous artist do it…do the art on them. And after that their own anonymous writer took over the writing chores. No one knows who wrote or drew the rest of the book after January 28th and I know the reason why. If I had had anything to do with this I would not have told anyone.

One of the nice things they do with the reprint is in the first part of the book that you can see the art that the regular artist, Al Plastino, had drawn for it, and it is much better that what ended up running for the strips through January 28th. January 29th we get the story Dick Grayson Kidnapped. This particular story ran until March 7th of 1972 and it’s a pretty simple story. As the title implies, Dick Grayson gets kidnapped and held for ransom, and it’s up to Batman to rescue him. The execution of the story is not really good: the dialogue is bad and whoever’s writing it is not really clear on who knows whose identity because Barbara Gordon is in this but not as Batgirl. And like everyone else in this particular section it’s…she’s really horribly written.

Then we get another series of strips from March 8th to April 3rd or 1972, and this one is Dick Grayson Skyjacked, and this is more a situation where a plane that Dick Grayson is flying on is skyjacked and he deals with it. This one is not as badly written as the Kidnapped story. The art is not very good and the story overall just doesn’t do a lot for me. It’s not horrible but really not worthy of the Batman title, and it’s worth noting that Robin does not appear in costume in this story.

And then we get to the ultimate indignity, the story The Duo Becomes a Trio in which Bruce Wayne informs Dick Grayson that they are adding another member to their team – Galexo, and in fact they will no long…they’re not bringing Galexo on to help them, they’re actually joining with Galexo and doing whatever Galexo wants them to do. And so Batman becomes a secondary character in his own strip. So Galexo is effectively taking over the Batman strip. Galexo is kind of a Flash Gordon-type character but on Earth, and he’s trying to stop some strange cosmic plot or it could be an Earth-based plot, and it involves using nuclear weapons. It’s a really convoluted, confusing and not all that engaging story from this point forward. In fact, it really does get so bad that other newspapers which run the Batman strip abandoned it until you finally get to the April 26, 1972 Issue of Stars and Stripes Newspaper, and the editors write in, “Batman lovers are going to have to look in some other papers to see how their ugh hero makes out! Stripes editors thinks this story and drawing has been too poor to continue since something mysterious happened to the artist that used to do the strip. May 1st we are going to start running Sesame Street daily instead of Batman.”

So, it got so bad that Stripes said, “You know, we’d just rather run Sesame Street instead”, and they even felt the need to put an ‘ugh’ in their comments. And that was actually on April 29th, the last Batman strip in the Silver Age published in the United States. However, I give the Library of American Comics and the folks at IDW credit for continuing to research and finding that this strip did actually continue to be syndicated overseas for several more months, and they found that the story was continued in the Straight Times in Singapore, which essentially took the entire six daily strips, cut one particular strip out, and I think they also cut a panel and made a single Sunday story which took the story all the way through August 26th of 1972. And the book ends still with that storyline with Galexo unresolved. That’s the downside.

One the positive side, the story was so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to care much about it, but I appreciate the dedication of researchers who are like ‘We are going to track down the Batman strip even though as many as we can find, even though it is tripe because it is Batman tripe and it is our job to research it.’ I salute you for your dedication. Overall, I think the book is interesting. I think most of the strips prior to the whole Ledger going of the rails thing are actually pretty good. There were some issues and we’ve kind of talked about that, but particularly when Bridwell took over you got a Batman strip that was pretty much everything I would have hoped a Silver Age Batman strip would be. And I won’t judge the book too harshly based on the latter, really poor quality Ledger strips because these are really just being published for completeness and to have as much as possible because the last strips that DC actually was cooperating on in any way were January 28th of 1972. And like I said, I appreciate the effort for completeness.

Overall, I will give the book a rating of Somewhat Classy, while the Ledger strips towards the back have some issues and you do have some moments when Whitney Elsworth was writing where the stories feel a bit padded. There’s a lot there to the light fans of the Silver Age and early Bronze Age version of Batman. While Al Plastino’s art isn’t quite as good as Neal Adams or Jim Aparo, it’s still pretty solid art overall, and this makes it a fun and appealing read. So, particularly if you got the first couple volumes, this one is a good one to pick up.

Now we turn to Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corp, Volume Five: Twilight of the Guardians. And there are six Issues in this book: we get two stories, there’s a two-Issue story and then a four-Issue one. The first one is Mind Games which is actually a team up between Superman and Hal Jordan, and this goes back to the recent Superman Volume we reviewed which involved Superman meeting up with Parallax and also Sinestro. And Hal Jordan is following up on that in this Issue. And it appears that Parallax is back and is in control of Superman, which leads to a fight. The story is actually pretty good; it has a little bit of a twist and you do get a bit of an exploration of the relationship between Superman and Hal Jordan. It’s not a great story but it was OK.

Then the next one we have is Twilight of the Guardians, and essentially you have a few guardians who are helping out the Green Lanterns, and then you have some that are scattered throughout the galaxy. Well, the Controllers go ahead and they kidnap all of the remaining Guardians, and it’s up to the Green Lantern Corps to go and rescue them. Now there were some things I liked about this story. You had, for example, a husband and wife Guardian of the Universe which is not something I’d seen before and I kind of enjoyed that and I liked those two characters. They also had a kid from Xudar which is kind of a beak-faced people who had a long time Lantern who was disgraced. Their ring, though, ended up going to Xudar and this Xudarian girl was recruited into the Green Lantern Corps, and she is so much energy and you don’t get to see much of her but she really looks like a lot of fun as she’s going through training.

I think what they were going for with the story was really this sense, because you get all of the Earth-based traditional Green Lanterns who’d been around for a while. You’ve got Guy Gardner, you have Hal Jordan, you have Jon Stewart and you have Kyle Rayner all teamed up, like you’re watching an old Western and they’re going to have a showdown with the Controllers. And I think they were trying to build that sense of camaraderie, that sense of team… I don’t think it really works as well as they were going for, even though I could see what they were going for. And even the Controllers as villains – they’re really just deep into continuity and there’re quite a few little talky bits that just don’t really work at all for me.

And the way it ends really does point to something with Robert Vendetti’s run on the Green Lantern Corps, it’s this tendency – and I think you saw it with Kyle Rayner no longer being the White Lantern and becoming a Green Lantern again – this idea of trying to restore old status quos. And I think as an exercise for the whole story it really was not all that worthwhile. So, this was not the worst thing in the world but I’m going to give Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps: Twilight of the Guardians a rating of Not Classy.

To recap, we gave Super Sons of Tomorrow a rating of Not Classy as it repeats a plot from Detective Comics Volume Five, doesn’t really add anything interesting although there’s some good insight into the relationship between Damian and Jon, while also showing the Teen Titans to really be a mess and not well put together as a team or as a book. I would give a rating of Somewhat Classy to Batman, The Silver Age Newspaper Strips, Volume Three. Despite some padding in the early strips and despite the syndicator putting out a really inferior quality product towards the end of the book, there’s still a lot for fans of the Silver and early Bronze Age Batman to enjoy. And finally we gave a rating of Not Classy to Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps Volume Five: Twilight of the Guardians. Not really a bad book but pretty uneven quality, and really a drive towards reestablishing old status quos just for the sake of it.

Alright, well that’s all for now. If you do have a comment email it to me classycomicsguy@gmail.com; follow us on Twitter @classycomicsguy; and be sure and rate and review the show on iTunes. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.

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