Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Retro Review: Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #115 (1971) Review and **SPOILERS**

The Psychic Typewriter

Cover By: Dick Giordano 
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell 
Cover Price: 25 cents 
Cover Date: October 1971 
Publisher: DC Comics


A complaint I commonly receive from the Lois Lane Brigade is that the stories in Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, are too insipid and don’t have any gravitas. I thought that was the reason we liked them! But if you want a more serious, dramatic story, how about one where Lois Lane dies?? Oh ho, suddenly you want another yarn where she marries a Martian ghost? Well, too bad, because we’re gonna dive into Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #115 right now!

Explain It!

By 1970, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane wasn’t selling very well, for obvious reasons. To spruce things up, incoming editor E. Nelson Bridwell updated Lois’ trappings (a change that happened to the entire DC Comics line around the time) and doubled the length of each issue for an extra dime. People weren’t buying Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane…so you gave them more if it? Go big or go home, I suppose. I’m gonna detail every story in this issue, even though two of them are Golden Age reprints.

“My Death…by Lois Lane” 
Written By: Robert Kanigher 
Pencilled By: Werner Roth 
Inked By: Vince Colletta 
Not long before this issue hit the stand, Jack “King” Kirby left a lucrative career at Marvel Comics for the greener, more obsequious pastures of DC. Having taken a beating at the newsstand primarily due to his talents, DC let Kirby do whatever he liked, and he took over languishing title Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, weaving in a complicated tale of biblical proportions that would ultimately come to be known as Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. In support of this plot, other comics, particularly those in the Superman line, inserted some of Kirby’s concepts, which is what we see happening in this first story.
"Er...I'll leave the butt-wiping to close family members."
Here we see the Black Racer, the personification of Death in the Fourth World. We're presented with what is essentially his origin story, crammed into four panels, with Lois shoehorned in for effect. This is definitely one of Jack Kirby’s weirder characters, if only because it’s a black dude on skis. Don’t get too focused on this guy, however, as you will see he isn’t that important to the story. 
Skiers always dress so garishly.
One day, Lois’ boss is hanging out with her at her apartment, when she gets an unexpected package from a secret admirer: a manual typewriter! 
"I'm due to speak at the Chain-Smokers Society."
Later, Lois sets to writing an article intended to be about Extra-Sensory Perception, but finds that her fingers are compelled to type something entirely different… 
"...instead, I've somehow written an article on Emerson, Lake and Palmer!"
…it’s an obituary! And even stranger, it’s an obituary with an exact time of death. Are we sure this isn’t a police report? Compounding the oddness, the time expressed in the piece is twenty minutes into the future! 
Timex.™ When you need to be on time.
Lois races to the location described, attempting to save a life, but she is too late! Or really, she is right on time to see a guy fall from a bridge. The Black Racer zooms by, showing the reader that this fella…he’s not gonna make it. 
"Now I've got to compete in the Country Club ski competition and save the rec center!"
Without a care of her own personal safety or hairdo, Lois jumps into the river to grab the suicidal man, but she is too late to save him. Looks like she knew the guy, which turns out to be an incidental point. Later, back home and dried out, Lois wonders if she might hit the fortune-telling circuit. 
"...though that is exactly what someone with E.S.P. would think!"
Lois is then compelled to tap out another obituary, this time for a famous singer whose time of death is that very moment! Since she has the phone numbers of every singer in Metropolis, Lois rushes to the phone to see if she can listen in on a dying woman’s last breath. 
"Papa John's won't deliver after midnight!"
The vocalist is annoyed by Lois’ late call and hangs up on her. To be fair, Lois did raise the alarm too early…because her watch is fine minutes fast! 
Swatch.™ When you need a more reliable watch than those shitty Timexes.
Lois rushes over to the woman’s penthouse apartment, and uses her purse to break the door down. Inside, she finds the tenant lying on the floor, having succumbed to gas emanating from some artificial logs in the fireplace. This is why you should never mix your chlorine logs with your cyanide logs, folks. 
"I told her, the nugs are too dank!"
After smashing a window for the sheer joy of destruction, Lois rushes to the singer and…oh…oh, my… 
You've certainly started my breathing! Rrowrr.
The Black Racer glides again! 
"Now I think I'm fated for a little Arby's."
Back at home, Lois is freaking out quite a bit. She zones in on her possessed typewriter, and in a very Tales of the Unexpected-style scene, the keys turn into little skulls! 
A simplification of the standard Querty keyboard.
Again impelled to type out an obituary, Lois is horrified to find that this one..is her own! 
"But first, let me punch up this obit a little."
This is a job for Superman! Unfortunately, Lois observes that he’s thousands of miles away in the Arctic, helping out some Inuit people. I love this scene because it makes Superman seem so bumbling: he melts a glacier, then turns the resulting tsunami into steam with his heat vision. And the announcer is like “He’s in complete control of the situation!” This is like watching the New York Yankees on the YES Network. 
"Now he's gathering all the wrinkled suits in the world, and straightening them with the steam!"
Remembering that the hyper-specific obituary she wrote for herself explained that she died in her apartment, Lois figures she can skirt destiny by heading out for the evening. 
"The obituary made no mention of me eating glass, either. I'd better cover my bases!"
She takes in a film, but halfway through the picture the theater catches fire! Thinking only of others, Lois Lane worries that the moviegoers will trample each other. 
"This is the last Whitesnake concert I go to, this time I mean it!"
Aaaand then she nearly gets trampled herself. Some neighbors in Lois’ apartment building see her on the floor, and give her a hand getting back home after rifling through her pockets.
Gee Lois, maybe you should have exited the theater instead of playing FIre Director.
Superman shows up to put out the blaze, because there are no other first responders in Metropolis. While doing his thing, Superman remembers that Lois is just around the corner and plans to drop in on her. 
"I wonder if there's anything good on my DVR?"
Despite her best efforts, Lois wakes up in her apartment, where she is fated to die! This is when the reader learns that the whole thing is a plot by Intergang, a mob family controlled by Apokolips, that will ultimately destroy Superman! A very complicated, improbable plot. So I guess the idea is that the typewriter could foresee the deaths of the other two people because of its connection to the Black Racer? At any other time, this would just be an ooky-spooky comic book story, but cramming the Fourth World into it creates the need for science fiction. 
"Nothing Apokolips attempts has ever failed!"
Superman flies in through Lois’ open window (and doesn’t smash through it like on the cover, unfortunately), to find that Lois’ throat is too dry and she can’t speak. Examining the typewriter, Superman finds himself also forced by unknown forces to type out…his own obituary?? I think this thing needs to be taken to the typewriter repair place. 
"Hmm...'extinguishing fire' doesn't really play, does it? How about 'suppressing the fatal blaze?'"
Using his power of being Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Superman realizes that what he typed used every letter in the alphabet, except for the letter J. And he was about to write an article about the fire he’d just extinguished at the Jewel Theater. Intergang set that fire to get Superman in the area at the right time, but there’s no way they could have known Lois might be there…in any case, why would they have assumed Clark would use Lois’ typewriter for his article? Couldn’t he fly back to his house, or to the Daily Planet office? 
"I also count thirty-two bobby pins on Lois' dresser."
Things wrap up really quickly from here: Superman grabs the typewriter and flings it into the upper atmosphere, detonating it with his heat vision. He confirms that the explosion contained elements that might have killed even him…so, Kryptonite? It would have to be Kryptonite or magic, right? 
"That poison bomb has exploded harmlessly into the atmosphere where it will bother no one."
Superman flies back to Lois’ apartment, where they cuddle up in the most awkward way. It looks more like Lois is snuggling with a cardboard cut-out of her Kryptonian crush. The last panel is another shot of the Black Racer flying by, ready to return to his mortal guise as veteran Willie Walker. This is the funniest part of the character to me: the idea that the personification of Death is a part-time job, or some kind of superheroic deed that should be handled during working hours. You just have to imagine the long line of souls shifting from foot to foot, grumbling and looking at their watches before Walker clocks in every day for his skiing gig.
Catch the Black Racer next week on the slopes at Mount Grant!

“The Shakespeare Clue” feat. Lady Danger 
Written By: Robert Kanigher 
Art By: Bob Oksner 
Here’s a reprint from the Golden Age of comics, a story featuring Lady Danger. The introductory caption reads: “Meet a heroine of the past…Valerie Vaughn, alias Lady Danger! She debuted in Sensation Comics #84 (December 1948)–with this very story! We plan to give you some of Val’s best and most exciting adventures as a newspaper woman in future issues of Lois Lane. This first one is called…’The Shakespeare Clue!’” The gimmick behind Lady Danger is that she routinely puts herself in, uh, dangerous situations––because men keep telling her how incapable she is! Valerie is essentially the female version of Marty McFly from Back to the Future: you can get her to do anything if you call her “chicken.” 
"I also don't think you're good enough to make me lunch. Prove me wrong, daughter!"
To spite her father, Valerie heads over to the City Press to get a job. There, someone laughs at her and says she can’t be a reporter, so she storms off to the office of her Private Eye pal Grath for some leads. 
Looks like this guy saved a bundle by painting his own office door.
Inside the office are some menacing hoods that don’t appreciate Ms. Vaughn just barging in on them. One of them pulls a rod, and Grath takes a moment to tell Valerie how little he thinks of her. Never one to avoid pummeling someone, even in the face of death, Valerie winds up her purse for a swing! 
"With my dying breath, I'll clobber the crap out of you!"
Then she wallops the guy holding the gun! At this, Garth springs into action and socks the other attendant thugs, which impresses Valerie not one bit. 
"And yer mudder's ugly, too."
The hoodlums get away, and Garth explains that he’s planning on tailing them back to their boss. The nefarious fellows were trying to scare him off the “Greer case,” and no she can’t come with! After Garth leaves, his telephone rings…and I just bet that Valerie is gonna answer it! 
"I'll answer any telephone. I don't care whose it is."
The call is from Rita Greer, assumedly of the “Greer case.” Though she knows nothing about this case, and it could be about mistaken tax fraud, Valerie leaps at the chance to weasel in and plays it off like she’s Private Eye Grath’s assistant. 
"And then I'll take away his candy!"
Once Valerie gets to the Greer mansion, Rita shows her a note written by Albert Leeds, secretary to her uncle, wherein her confesses to killing him. Well, the details of this “Greer case” sure developed quickly! Leeds’ letter tells Rita to get rid of Grath or he’ll kill her too! Valerie focuses on the first part, which alludes to something she can’t put her finger on… 
"I can't shake it, I fear this case is a bust!"
…perhaps something maybe at the lower right of the panel… 
"What is this nonsense about 'Shakespeare?' And who is that, anyway?"
…something labeled for clarification… 
Ding ding ding.
Some crook shows up and pulls his gun on the two women, so Lady Danger throws a bust of William Shakespeare at his face. 
"Have a pleasant Midsummer Night's DREAM!"
The bad guy is dying slowly of a cerebral hemorrhage, but more importantly the bust broke, revealing a note! It’s a ledger that somehow shows that Uncle Greer had an appointment with gambler Wolf Lupas the night he was murdered. Rita surmises that Leeds probably stole the bank’s money to cover gambling debts. There was a bank robbery too? This case just gets more and more interesting. 
This mystery has more notes than a Fallout: New Vegas quest.
Valerie heads out to track down Wolf Lupas, who owns the Hungry Wolf club, according to a taxi driver. 
"If you want to see Frankie the Fish, he owns an Arthur Treacher's."
The Hungry Wolf has an awning that looks like a menacing wolf’s head, which is pretty damned awesome. Just as Valerie enters the nightclub, Grath walks into Wolf Lupas’ office within the club, his gun drawn! 
"Thinking about it now, I should have informed the police that I'd be here."
Lupas’ guys overcome Grath, tie him up, and chuck him in the basement. There, along with a couple of other guys in cheap suits, is Uncle Greer’s secretary, Leeds. Lupas intends to bump ‘em both off because, uh…well, I’m not clear on exactly why at the moment. Valerie gets an appointment with Lupas by saying some seriously incriminating shit. 
"And bring me a pastrami sandwich too. I'm starving."
Now, Lupas has everyone, and it’s here that we learn Grath’s first name: Gary! That’s unfortunate. 
"I don't. I just wanted to kill you myself."
After some gentle prodding from Valerie, Leeds and Lupas spill the beans on the whole plot, which is, er… 
"And he made me wear these women's glasses, too!"
…um, well it seems that…uh… 
At the end of this criminal plot, somehow no one got paid.
…ah, they all plotted to, uh…the point is, the bad guys have the good guys over a barrel! Lupas’ men draw their guns and ready themselves to shoot Grath, Leeds and Valerie––dead! 
Is crying a normal reaction to utter confusion?
She throws a tear gas pellet that she’d had secured in her purse, throwing the room into chaos! I know this pellet was referenced earlier in the story, but I like how it’s just considered normal that a woman would have a terrorist’s device in her handbag. 
"The one substance that bullets are powerless against!"
While Leeds and Grath are still bound, Ms. Vaughn beats the hell out of everyone. 
"That punch was okay, but let me teach you a proper uppercut when you untie me."
After Lupas and his men are made compliant. Valerie checks in with Gary for some moral support, and the son of a bitch still acts dismissively towards her! For crying out loud, she just saved your life, man! 
"...I'll stay in the most gilded fucking ballroom you've ever seen!"
In a righteous fury, Valerie storms down to the City Press, where they publish her bombshell report, along with an unusually large author’s photo.

“The Suicidal Swain” feat. Lois Lane, Girl Reporter 
Written By: Don Cameron 
Art By: Ed Dobrotka 
Here’s another Golden Age reprint, this time actually featuring Lois Lane. It’s from Superman #28 (May 1944), and it looks almost like it could have been drawn by Joe Shuster…but it’s not. This story really showcases Lois’ ability as a reporter…I mean her tendency to fling herself headlong into peril.
"Remember that piece on Mrs. Gladstone's rhododendrons?"
The Chief—not yet Perry White in the comics—gives Lois an assignment to cover a suicidal guy standing on a ledge downtown. In the newspaper game, we call this the “vulture beat.” 
"Or maybe the ground will be made of rubber. I'm just trying to make light of a bad situation."
Lois gains access to the scene, because a litany of cops, firemen, and psychiatrists have failed to bring the guy in from the ledge. While they use proven intervention techniques like offering cake and ice cream, the man wails about some lost love being the impetus for his self-annihilation. 
"But we haven't even offered you a teddy bear yet!"
Lois Lane climbs out onto the ledge with the poor sap, for some hare-brained reason! 
"Now that I'm out here, I do get the thrill of it."
Even the dopey cop thinks this is a pretty foolhardy idea. 
Hey buddy, I'll handle the lame sexual innuendo around here.
Lois introduces herself to the jumper, who explains that he has nothing to live for because the woman he loves fed his gift of chocolates to her dog. Hey buddy, don’t be so upset! Chocolate is poison to dogs, so the canine is probably dead now. 
"The weird part is, she ate the kibble valentine I intended for Barkley."
Ms. Lane uses some reverse psychology on this fellow, but in being demonstrative, breaks the ledge and starts falling! See that, ladies? Don’t ever be insistent or emotional about anything! 
Shoddy craftsmanship becomes a societal problem.
Catching a banner on the way down, Lois is able to swing over a little bit towards an awning, which she breaks by falling through it. 
Unfortunately, that awning was not rated for bodacious boo-tay.
This goofy police officer can’t help but bust Lois Lane’s chops a little, moments before she dies. 
Meet the worst cop in America.
Luckily, not all police officers are useless, and a team of them are able to catch Lois in a net just before she strikes the ground. Seeing that she’s safe, the jumper tells Lois that he changed his mind about splattering the sidewalk, though she seems a lot less interested now that he’s standing on terra firma.
"Call me when you feel like killing yourself again."

“The Computer Crooks” feat. Rose and Thorn 
Written By: Robert Kanigher 
Art By: Dick Giordano 
Rose and Thorn was the back-up that ran through this series during the 1970s. I used to skip these as a younger feller, primarily because I didn’t have anything close to a complete run, so I was lost on the continuity. The idea is that mild-mannered secretary Rose, when asleep, turns into the vengeful Thorn, who seeks to eradicate “The 100,” a gang of a hundred people that killed her father. Considering she dispatches up to fifty people per back-up, Thorn often has to branch out and get revenge on other criminals and hoodlums.
"Hey man, we don't tell you how to do your job."
So it is in this story, when she has her sights set on a bunch of drug dealers––drug dealers who are supported by The 100! So this still counts! 
They’re all at a drive-in theater showing a documentary on Superman, which makes this the worst drive-in in all of North America. The scene juxtaposes a still of the popular character against the high-kicking action of Thorn laying the smack down and, frankly, just makes the whole panel confusing.
Superman, played by Norm Macdonald.
Once she’s done the hard work, Detective Tommy Stone rushes in to steal a smooch, but Thorn drops a smoke capsule in order to make her escape. 
It's the fuzz! Better ditch your stash.
Though based on the way Detective Stone is squinting, she may have dropped mustard gas and not harmless mist. 
Looks like some of that artificial log gas from the first story leaked into this one.
The next day, the head of The 100 and his assistant Rose—see how wacky this whole get-up is? The guy’s secretary is the alter ego of the dame that killing all of his men! Anyhow, they see an offer from reporter Lois Lane for Thorn to come down to the studio and do a television interview. The boss agrees that this is a good idea, then he gets a cryptic phone call about caskets, and condolences…well, he is a mortician, so I guess it checks out. 
"Allow me to bark the Lord's Prayer into the telephone in remembrance!"
After his invitation to dinner is rebuffed by Rose, the boss heads down into a secret underground base where an evil scientist has created the Thorn Destroyer! The 100’s boss promises a big reward after the demonstration that evening. 
"Before then, try to 'de-dungeon' this place a little bit, yeah?"
What is the Thorn Destroyer, you ask? A golden robot stolen from the 1939 World Fair’s Westinghouse exhibit, that looks like a combination of a slot machine and a vacuum cleaner. It’s named K.A.R.L., but we never do find out what that stands for, so make up your own name. I’ve gone with “Kreative Assassination Robot, Limited.” 
"I am a smart...robot, because I have a...very good...brain."
The scientist prods K.A.R.L. into action, and oh boy, it’s gonna be explosive, I bet! 
Cue Godzilla theme music.
Firing a red ray from its single eye, the robot lurches and jerks, emitting a grinding sound that just tells you something important is about to happen! 
Then, K.A.R.L. issues a piece of paper… 
Your fortune: You will spend too much money on a novelty.
…that contains a plan to take down Thorn. So this thing is essentially a glorified carnival fortune teller. The scientist explains that K.A.R.L. can be asked any question, not just ones specific to killing Thorn. 
"It says here that I should set up a candlelit dinner and play Seal's 'Kissed By a Rose.'"
The boss asks the machine what person it cannot kill, and when it names the scientist, he shoots that nerdy fellow right in the face! 
"But that's just a factory bug!"
Later, Rose is at the cemetery, laying flowers on her father’s grave, when Tommy Stone comes walking up. He notices that Rose looks awfully familiar when she scowls. 
"She is beautiful when she's angry, though."
That night, Rose goes beddy-bye, and while snoozing she makes the switch. I like that we actually see her change, and not just because it’s a scene of a woman in her underwear. They could have made this a supernatural thing, with Rose snapping into Thorn in a flash, but the situation is more realistic than that, despite being absolutely unbelievable and ludicrous. 
"I always try on a million things and end up wearing the same old outfit."
Chronic perambulator Detective Stone is strolling along, when he is beset by a couple of gun-wielding crooks! He’s able to knock them out, then a woman being chased by two goons comes running over for a big ol’ hug. Wait a minute, it’s a trap! The woman in Native American garb pins Stone’s arms to his sides while the thugs aim their guns squarely at the detective. 
"The contract says you're to receive one hug!"
Then the Thorn rushes in and kicks everyone’s asses! 
You have all been Thorned.
In the last panel, we see who has been employed to enact K.A.R.L.’s dastardly Thorn-eradicating plan: Poison Ivy! Which makes sense; the whole plant theme of the two character, you know.
"Hold on. I want to flirt with this robot a little more."

Taken all together as one issue, this is a pretty good value for a quarter. Sure, the stores range from dumb to confusing, but none of them are “bad,” per se. And the first one even has some connectivity to DC Comics continuity, if that’s your bag. It’s interesting that three of the four stories are written by Robert Kanigher, from two ends of his long career. I wonder if he had any say about the reprinted material included in this issue. I have a feeling that at least the idea for the first story preceded Jack Kirby’s arrival at DC, it could just have easily been pre-arranged by any murderous mob. But here, we get a chance to see the Black Racer slaloming around his appointed rounds, which is always a kick for Bronze Age comic book fans.
"Guess it's another evening of making out with my television."

Bits and Pieces:

It turns out Lois Lane isn't psychic, she doesn't die, and Superman doesn't smash through her window. I'm most pissed-off about that last part. An uneven collection of stories, two of them Golden Age reprints, that make up a pretty decent package. For a quarter, this could have occupied half of a Saturday.


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