Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DC Super Stars #10 or "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bronze Age"

The 1970s and early 1980s, the period known to comics fans and historians as the Bronze Age, is often dismissed as a low point in the history of comics.  The rap on the era is that the mainstream comics of the day were bland, uninspired, and unimaginative.  However, I find just the opposite to be true, and Bronze Age comics are among my all time favorites. Part of this is because I was a kid at the time, and these are some of the first comics I ever read, but even today, as a middle aged man with slightly more sophisticated tastes, I can still enjoy these stories for their wild imagination and, in some cases, inspired silliness. With sales of comic books slipping on the news stands, and the direct market either not yet existing or still in its nascent stages, publishers, in order to lure readers, seemed willing to  throw almost any wild concept up against the wall to see if it stuck, experimenting with all kinds of styles and genres and twists on old concepts.  This is the era of "relevance" in Green Lantern/Green Arrow; Jack Kirby's Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, The Eternals, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Devil Dinosaur; Kobra; Tomb of Dracula; Conan the Barbarian; The Warlord; Prez; The Green Team-Boy Millionaires; Swamp Thing; Howard the Duck; the Super-Sons, and dozens of others, many rightly forgotten but many that have come to be considered classics.
Now, although it's generally agreed upon that the Bronze Age came to a screeching halt with DC's universe realigning mini-series Crisis On Infinite Earths in 1985, there is a little dispute as to when it actually began.  Quite a few people date the beginning of the age to the publication of Giant Size X-Men #1 and the debut of the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men in 1975, while others have it beginning right on the heels of the Silver Age when Jack Kirby left Marvel to create the Fourth World over at DC.  For the purposes of this and future discussions of the Bronze Age, I'll be going with the latter  start point.  I read one article that termed the interim between the end of the Silver Age and Giant Size X-Men the "Weird Age," but for my money, it was all pretty weird. 
Just tonight, thanks to Mike Carroll, who brought this to our regular Wednesday night meeting of cartoonists, I read what just might be the quintessential Bronze Age comic: DC Super Stars #10, featuring Strange Sports Stories.  In front of reprints of sports themed stories from Strange Adventures and Green Lantern, which has GL sparring with an alien boxer, the issues sports (pun fully intended) an all-new lead story entitled  "The Great Super-Star Game," written by Bob Rozakis, with art by Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin, which tells the tale of a baseball game between teams consisting of super-heroes and super-villains.

The story starts with married villains Huntress and Sportsmaster having a little spat.  Convinced that villains can never win against heroes, she's ready to switch sides.  Sportsmaster comes up with a plan to prove that villains can win--at baseball, if nothing else.  Huntress is to recruit, or, more accurately, kidnap, a team of super-heroes, while Sportsmaster gathers together a roster of villains.  After shanghaing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Plastic Man, Uncle Sam, Robin, and one other who's slipped my mind, the villains bring them to a baseball stadium filled to capacity with a crowd of hostages to face off against a team of villains that includes the Joker, Lex Luthor, Amazo, the Tattooed Man, and the Matter Master, among others. 
By the eighth inning, the villains are behind, but Sportsmaster is determined to win, even if he has to cheat. Though both sides had agreed not to use their super powers, he encourages the villains to break the pact and use any means they have to in order to prevent the heroes from winning.  Of course, with the villains using their powers, the heroes are free to use theirs as well, and ultimately, they emerge victorious.  At one point, Green Arrow draws his fabled bow to shoot down a baseball that had been given wings by the Matter Master, thus preventing the villains from scoring a run--a sequence of panels that pretty much epitomizes the sheer brilliant goofiness of this entire story. 
Now to save space, the story skips straight to the eighth inning, but, for those who really have to know, a text page gives a full play by play of the entire game.  I can just imagine reading this aloud in the style of a real play by play announcer, and in fact, I did do my best Harry Carey impersonation on the first inning. HOLY COW!
Big thanks to Mike Carroll for sharing this with me.  I may just have to track down a copy of this gem for myself, as it truly embodies just about everything that critics hate, and that I love about the comics of the Bronze Age.

1 comment:

  1. This was reprinted in miniature form with a different cover. The cover had the line up of teams facing each other down, with uncle sam in the center, on a yellow background.

    Can't seem to find a copy of that online. Any idea what the title of that reprint was?