BHOC: SUPER FRIENDS #12

I’ve spoken in the past about how as a kid I was a bit disdainful towards DC’s SUPER FRIENDS comic book series, an adaptation and outgrowth of the ongoing Saturday morning cartoon series. Now, mind you, I watched SUPER FRIENDS dutifully every weekend, but I was also aware even then that the story material was diluted from the true greatness that was the legitimate comic book stories these characters appeared in. Even the name Super Friends annoyed me, as it felt way too kiddie for my 11 year old self–not dignified and serious like Justice League of America. That was a name you could count on, could trust. One that wouldn’t get you labeled as an idiot or a social reject for reading the book (or so I felt–even then knowing that the kids who would sneer at Super Friends wouldn’t accept JLA any more readily.)

And yet, I bought this issue of SUPER FRIENDS on one of my regular Thursday ventures to the neighborhood 7-11 for new comic books and maybe a Clark bar or a Slurpee. Why, you might ask? Simple! I was a sucker for the golden age of comics, and writer and historian E. Nelson Bridwell chose to resurrect a pair of relatively obscure old 1940s DC characters in this issue, TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite. These guys are still relatively obscure even today–though Roy Thomas elevated Dyna-Mite a bit in the late 1980s when he included him among the roster of the Young All-Stars following the demise of Earth-2 and the elimination of the 1940s versions of Superman, Batman, Robin, et al from DC continuity.

For the sake of simplicity, while it didn’t really fit in with the rules governing the DC cosmology at the time, Nelson decided to place the TNT duo’s adventures on Earth-1 in the 1940s rather than the more obvious Earth-2. That didn’t bug me especially–I had already accepted that Air Wave had been a crime-fighter in the 40s on Earth-1 when his son reappeared in GREEN LANTERN some time earlier. In this story, Bridwell reveals that, following their short career in the pages of STAR SPANGLED COMICS, due to the fact that their powers had been derived from experiments with atomic energy, the pair had been contacted by the Manhattan Project to aid in research on the development of the Atomic Bomb. Their powers–typically activated when they touched their grounding rings together–also served to keep them young and vital despite the passage of years. But their atomic power also grew in intensity, rendering them dangerously radioactive. They had been living in confinement all this time, until for no reason anybody can figure, they both burst out of their facilities as the underground bunker where they have lived, and began moving in two separate directions for some unknown purpose.

The pair is still dangerously radioactive, though, and so the authorities call in the help of the Super Friends to try to intercept the two old heroes and get them to return to the safety of their bunker. The team splits its forces oddly, with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman heading after the adult TNT while Robin, Aquaman and the Wonder Twins pursue Dyna-Mite–maybe they figure that he was just a kid sidekick and won’t be as much trouble to handle, disregarding that he’s been alive for decades and is older and theoretically more seasoned than any of his Super Friends pursuers. Anyway, the Super Friends A-team quickly catches up with TNT, but he’s ready to defend himself, leading to a fight. But not much of one–TNT is simply startled to see a flying man since he’s been in seclusion all during Superman’s career. And he’s reflexively giving off radioactive discharges, he’s not trying to hurt anybody. When their bunker was broken open, he and Dyna-Mite realized that coming into contact with one another might set off a chain reaction, and so they both headed in opposite directions and tried to head for remote areas where they wouldn’t imperil anybody with their radiations.

The artist on SUPER FRIENDS was Ramona Fradon, a longtime contributor to the DC line who is probably best remembered for her long tenure on the Aquaman strip, or for being one of the originators of Metamorpho. She also worked on a fondly-remembered revival of Plastic Man in the 1970s. Here open style was a good fit for a series based on an animated cartoon, it was lively and appealing. But to my 11 year old eyes, it wasn’t as sophisticated or as realistic as the work Dick Dillin and company were doing on JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA–so again, it didn’t really appeal to me, though my biases had less to do with the actual work than with that nagging feeling of not wanting to be the butt of others’ ridicule. All of her work in this issue is simple, straightforward and solid.

TNT agrees to go off with Superman to the Bottle City of Kandor, where the hope is that Kryptonian super-science may be able to cure him of his condition. But Batman and Wonder Woman head off to rendezvous with the rest of the team. They’re concerned that, not realizing that Dyna-Mite isn’t a menace, they may accidentally harm him while taking him for a villain. Also of concern is that the fact that Dyna-Mite can’t completely control his building up energies will result in one of the Super Friends getting hurt. Seems to me like you maybe should have considered that before you sent the sidekick, the kids and Aquaman off after him in the first place. Anyway, the other posse of Super Friends have caught up with Dyna-Mite–and Zan’s ability to transform himself into shape made out of water is able to shield them from Dyna-Mite’s dangerous discharges. But they’re completely on the defensive.

Aquaman is particularly useless, as while this battle is taking place at a beach, he relays the fact that there aren’t any sea creatures in the area who can render them assistance. But jayna can transform into any animal, including fish–and after a false start where she doesn’t understand what an Elephant Seal is, she’s able to mimic the form of one and cause a gigantic wave that knocks Dyna-Mite to the ground. After Batman and Wonder Woman arrive and update their fellow Super Friends on the situation, Aquaman suggests that they take Dan to Atlantis, where its scientists may be able to help cure him. And because it’s under the water, his dangerous radiations will be blocked off. And that’s that–except there’s still the mystery of what it was that broke open the bunker TNT and Dyna-Mite were inside in the first place. In the very last panel of the issue, Doctor Mist, one of the international heroes that Bridwell had introduced (who would eventually form the Global Guardians) turns up on a monitor to tell the Super Friends that he knows what it was. To Be Continued! But I wouldn’t find out for close to four decades, as I didn’t come back for the next issue, despite the cliffhanger. I was here for the golden age heroes alone.

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