Monday, January 31, 2011

September 1937: Detective Comics #8

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): In this installment, Speed has an interesting moral dilemma.  After he chases down a criminal and is forced to spend time with him in a ship's crew, he finds that the guy is really not so bad, and is making a better life for himself as a seaman.  But it's his duty to arrest the dude, even though he doesn't want to.  However, as is the way with Golden Age stories, any internal conflict is done away with when it's discovered that the criminal is really innocent.  Moral dilemma averted!

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Holy crap!  I don't know what happened, but this formerly mediocre strip just got good.  There's a very creepy story here about a mad scientist kidnapping celebrities to dissect them and create the perfect man.  Yes, it's a Frankenstein riff, but what's the entire comic book industry but riffing on other people's ideas?  It has one of the most effective splash pages I've seen in this era yet, and a decent cliffhanger.  Larry, you've got my attention.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Even this strip gets quite macabre this month, as Cosmo investigates the theft of corpses from a local morgue.  It turns out that the mortician is trying to bring them all back to life, and the whole thing is attributed to the catch-all motivation of insanity.  There's really no point to it, but I've gotten used to that with Cosmo.  Oh, and for a guy with Master of Disguise as his major gimmick, he uses no disguises in this story.

'Claws of the Red Dragon' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey): Argh! The kidnapping story ends in this issue.  The final installment begins well enough, with the threat of Sigrid's dismemberment followed by an all-out brawl between some Chinese Tongs and Lu Gong's criminal band.  Then, after the fight is done and all of the main bad guys have escaped, it slips into a shit-ton of exposition about the Jade Dragon that Lu Gong was hunting for, and the treasure it provides directions to.  About this point I started to get a sinking feeling, then lo and behold, there's a trailer for the 'New Adventures of Bruce Nelson'.  So much for a satisfying conclusion!  I was looking forward to the end of this and the prospect of something more interesting coming along.

'The Laughing Mummy' (y Gardner Fox): This is a prose story about a detective investigating strange murders in a museum that are connected to the mummy of an Egyptian princess.  Of course the museum curator is responsible, because he's the only other character in this story, and his motivation makes no sense at all.  Like the 'Cosmo' story above, we can blame it all on insanity.

'Bloodhound Brown' (by Russell Cole): This story features a guy who masquerades as a detective and goes around telling fanciful stories.  It's mildly diverting in the way that all of Cole's strips are.  At least they always look good.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart and Sally protect a French envoy, only to find out that his would-be killer is impersonating him.  Which is all well and good, but it's hard to invest in these things without some background.  We never find out why anyone would want this French envoy dead, or even who the killer was.  I realise that the creators only had a few pages to work with here, but I feel like these are major story elements to be left out.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck solves a murder case involving a boundary dispute between ranch owners.  Ho hum.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): This story opens with Slam stopping a bank robbery in a single panel.   The man responsible soon escapes, and Slam and Shorty have to chase him to the mountains of Kentucky.  Enter the hillbillies!  There are the usual hi-jinks with feuding families, and I was starting to feel like this would be an average installment.  But when Shorty finds himself held at gunpoint by a teenage hillbilly girl, then proceeds to seduce her, things really picked up.  Siegel and Shuster never get credit for this, but they are great at comedy.  The next strip promises Shorty's villainous rival, and that will definitely be a hoot.

It should also be pointed out that Slam Bradley and Shorty sleep in the same bed, in matching pyjamas.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

August 1937: More Fun Comics #24, New Adventure Comics #19

Cover by Vin Sullivan
The absurdity levels skyrocket in 'Marty McCann' (by Ed Cronin).  In the last issue he beat the number one contender for the world heavyweight title.  In this issue, through yet another series of ridiculous events, he beats up the actual champion.  There's something quite charming in the brazen stupidity of it all.

'Radio Squad' (by Siegel and Shuster) features a strange story about a guy named Harry Owens, who wanted to be a radio announcer but has ended up as a policeman.  He practises his announcing skills over the police radios, and gets simultaneously fired by the police and hired by a radio station.  It's an adequate story so far as these things go, but it's almost presented like Harry Owens is a real person.  He could be this guy, but there's no mention of a radio career on that page.  The time-frame matches up, at least.

'Doctor Occult' this month is another pretty good one from Siegel and Shuster.  A bunch of guys have been turning up dead in mysterious circumstances, with the letters H.D. on their forehead.  The culprit is a painter, who is killing them by painting them into lethal situations.  It's a well-used story element, but I just love the touch that he is signing all of his victims.

Speaking of which, the H.D. in question is Henri Duval, who the more attentive among you may remember as the star of one of Siegel and Shuster's earliest strips.  That version of Henri Duval was a swashbuckling musketeer-type character, and has no overt connection to this painting murderer, but it's still odd that they would recycle the name.

Cover by Creig Flessel
I'm struggling to find something to say about this comic, to be honest.  There are no new strips, no strips ending, and nothing really noteworthy going on.  Everything is just chugging along as before.  Normally I'd chime to say what's going on in 'Federal Men', but I'm tired of writing about how that strip has become a pale shadow of its former glory.  The only other thing going on is that 'Don Coyote' and 'Cal 'n' Alec' are back after a bit of a hiatus, and they're now being done by a guy named Ray Burley, who is not the originator of either strip.  Both were originated by Robert Leffingwell and continued by Bill Patrick, and among the better humour strips, but now they've lost a lot of their distinctiveness and flavour.  I'd probably be happier if they had just disappeared for good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

July-August 1937: More Fun Comics #23, New Adventure Comics #18, Detective Comics #7

Cover by Vin Sullivan
There's a new strip this issue: 'Marty McCann, Champion of the Navy', by Ed Cronin.  It's about a member of the US Navy who gets into an argument with the number one contender for the boxing world heavyweight title, and ends up beating him in a match.  It's mostly page upon page of two guys beating the hell out of each other, but not bad for all that.  At the very least it's a break from cowboys and detectives and such.

In other news, it turns out that in 'Doctor Occult' (by Siegel and Shuster) the title character was not dead, just drugged.  So his claim as the first ever resurrected comics character has been retracted.  He beats the Lord of Life this issue, and it must be said that Siegel and Shuster aren't the sort of creators who drag out their stories too much.

Cover by Creig Flessel
There's more from the Junior Federal Men Club this month.  In a remarkable display of gender equality, apparently girls can join as "auxiliary members".  But what do I know, maybe this really was progressive for the 1930s.

'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) is once again quite sedate, although there was a glimmer of interest when a man was strapped to a torpedo and fired from a moving train.  But where are the giant robots and atomic tanks and burning skyscrapers I once loved so much?

'Steve Conrad' (by Creig Flessel) continues to surprise me, having moved from being one of the most forgettable strips to one of the most memorable.  Steve has a fistfight with the Devachan this month, and the large, impactful panels seem like they've been influenced by Siegel and Shuster's work on 'Slam Bradley'.  I hope there are other creators taking notice as well.

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): Speaking of which, this month Slam Bradley and Shorty go undercover as life guards to investigate the disappearances of people swimming in the ocean.  The actual plot is kind of a dud, because it's a whodunnit where the culprit doesn't even appear until he's exposed.  It makes up for it by being super-funny and entertaining.  It even opens with Slam having the time of his life, stopping a man from drowning by punching him in the jaw.  And next issue: hillbillies!  It's going to be awesome.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Once again, I'm amused that everyone on the planet is a close personal friend of Cosmo.  This time he investigates the murder of a pianist, and like the 'Slam Bradley' strip above the mystery is a total cheat.  Unlike Slam Bradley, there's nothing else of merit here.

'Claws of the Red Dragon' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson): Bruce Nelson finally meets the mastermind of the kidnapping scheme, Lu Gong, who has got to be the chattiest bitch in villain history.  I swear there's a panel where his word balloon takes up a quarter of the page.  Next month is the conclusion to the strip, and I have to give Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson some props, because all of his strips have ended in a relatively satisfying manner so far.  Many others just keep chugging along with no end in sight, but he finishes his stories when their natural time is up.

'Rifles on the River' (by Guy Monroe): This is a prose story about some soldiers fighting bandits who steal an armoured train.

'Gumshoe Gus' (by Bill Patrick): I don't know what has happened to Bill Patrick. I used to really like his strip 'Don Coyote', which really was one of the better humour strips in these comics at the time, but 'Gumshoe Gus' isn't all that funny.  Perhaps it's the focus on a single character, as a lot of what made 'Don Coyote' work was the interplay between the three main cast members.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart and Sally capture a plane manufacturer who shot down a zeppelin to stop it from hurting his business.  There's a little more tension to their relationship this month, but it's far from the focus I hoped it would be.  Also, this was almost certainly inspired by the Hindenburg disaster, as that had happened just a few months before this issue went on sale.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck arrests a guy who killed the local ranger for not letting his cattle graze more.  Or something.  I confess to being very uninterested in cattle ranch politics.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Larry keeps driving back to New York, only for his pursuers to push a car down a hill on top of him.  He tracks them down with the help of the FBI, and I quite literally fight to stay awake.

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): Speed Saunders tracks down a cowboy who got kicked out of the rodeo, and was shooting the performers for revenge.  It's a long way from the waterfront for Speed, which could be a boon, except that it makes him just like every other generic detective out there.  I think he should stick with his gimmick for the most part.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Schedule: July-December 1937

It looks like more of the same here, with DC's core three books chugging along.  I can't wait for some variety in 1938.

July 1937
            Detective Comics #6
            More Fun Comics #23
            New Adventure Comics #18

August 1937
            Detective Comics #7
            More Fun Comics #24
            New Adventure Comics #19

September 1937
            Detective Comics #8
            More Fun Comics #25
            New Adventure Comics #20

October 1937
            Detective Comics #9
            More Fun Comics #26

November 1937
            Detective Comics #10
            More Fun Comics #27
            New Adventure Comics #21

December 1937
            Detective Comics #11
            More Fun Comics #28
            New Adventure Comics #22

June-July 1937: New Adventure Comics #17, Detective Comics #6

Cover by Creig Flessel
As I was reading the latest installment of 'Captain Bill of the Texas Rangers' (by Homer Fleming), it occurred to me that he has been trying to arrest the same damn gang of rustlers since the beginning of time.  The guy needs to hire Buck Marshall over from Detective Comics, because that guy goes through a different rustling outfit every four pages.

'Nadir, Master of Magic' (by Bill Ely) is a new strip about a magician detective.  His origin mentions the tragic death of his parents which inspired him to fight crime, so I guess he's a sort of Indian Wizard Batman.  His first adventure sees him trying to solve a pearl theft, and surviving a murder attempt on his own person.  Despite the premise, Nadir doesn't use any magic so far, and the whole thing ends in fairly limp fashion, to be continued next issue.  Still, I love Nadir's business suit and turban outfit.

Ever since the strip a few months ago where the Devachan went murderously nuts, 'Steve Conrad' (by Creig Flessel) has been a lot more interesting.  This month Steve breaks a giant vulture's neck with his bare hands, and he's taking over from Steve Carson of 'Federal Men' as the raddest action hero of New Adventure Comics.

Speaking of 'Federal Man', the Junior Federal Men Club is now in full swing, with instructions being issued to its members.  I didn't think this was so bad last time, but now it comes across as a little creepy, like someone trying to construct their own personal child militia.  But then I've never been sold on patriotism or any of that sort of thing.  The good intentions of the 1930s can look a little odd when viewed from a modern perspective.

The actual 'Federal Men' strip (by Siegel and Shuster) is a fairly bog standard story about a jewel thief.  It feels like a really long time since this strip was the best thing around.

Checking in quickly with the resident novel adaptations, I'm getting quite absorbed by H. Rider Haggard's 'She' (adapted by Sven Elven).  On the other hand, I honestly can't keep track of 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens (by Merna Gamble).  It bores me to tears, and seems to gain nothing from being adapted into a visual medium.

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): This strip has gone crazy this month, with what might be the very first intelligent ape story in DC history.  Anything with apes and mad scientists usually piques my interest, and this one had the right sort of manic energy to pull it off.  One thing to note, though, is that Speed is now seemingly back with the Harbour Patrol; I suppose he was rehired rather quickly after getting fired a couple of months ago.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): This strip sees Larry's plane being shot down while he's on his way to Hollywood to investigate the celebrity disappearances.  Unremarkable stuff.

'Cosmo, Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo foils some diamond smugglers.  Man, there are jewel thieves all over comics in the 1930s.

'The Claws of the Red Dragon' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey): In this extra-long installment, Bruce Nelson is recaptured and about to meet the guy in charge of all the Chinese villains in this strip.  I fully expect some outrageous stereotyping next month.

'Tropical Trouble' (by Gardner Fox): This is a prose story about a secret agent sent to rescue another agent in Honduras.  It sets up a mystery about why the hero, a desk clerk, is even sent on the mission, then doesn't bother to answer it.

'Gumshoe Gus' (by Bill Patrick): Gus goes undercover as a crazy hobo to find a criminal hiding in the nut-house, and by the end of the strip he's in his own padded cell.  I'm not sure if this is a punchline or the set-up for a continuing story.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): The new status quo begins, with Bart Regan and his fiancee Sally both working as spies.  And magically all of the romantic tension from the previous strips has gone, and they're working together in perfect harmony.  It's a waste of a promising set-up.

'Mr. Chang' (by Ed Winiarski): Our resident Chinese sleuth deals with a mad scientist who is creating giant slaves by injecting people with chemicals.  It seems to me like the mad scientists in these strips are all starting to get a little crazier, and I heartily approve.  This is the final appearance of Mr. Chang, and he goes out as the least racist portrayal of a Chinese character in these comics so far.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): 'Slam Bradley' is once again very good, as Slam and Shorty go to Mexico to stop a bandit gang.  There is a definite formula to these strips, and it's followed every month.  Shorty always goes undercover, Slam always wins by punching a guy super-hard, and there's always a gag at the end with Slam getting the girl and Shorty missing out.  I also love the standard opening page, usually a full page shot of Slam Bradley just brutally wrecking some random villains.  So far the formula is working, and I anticipate this strip more than any others.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

June 1937: More Fun Comics #22

Cover by Vin Sullivan
I'm usually quick to praise the work of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, but not everything they do is great.  Case in point: the latest installment of 'Radio Squad'.  The long-running storyline here has involved policeman Sandy Keane just flat out arresting all of the organised crime bosses in town and hauling them off to court.  We've had months of court room drama, where it's become obvious that the court itself is so corrupt that Keane is never going to win.  And then it just ends when, without any previous set-up, the local governor just walks into the court, declares everybody corrupt, then tells them they're all going to jail.  With no evidence and no real trial.  It's a particularly egregious example of how abruptly and nonsensically some of these stories end.

'Doctor Occult' on the other hand is a lot more interesting.  He was killed in the last story, and this one opens with his funeral.  And yes, he is actually for real dead.  Then of course the villainous Lord of Life brings him back with a ray gun, with the threat that he'll die again without regular monthly zaps.  Which makes Doctor Occult the first ever DC character (and possibly the first ever comics character) to die and then return to life.

'Jungle Fever' by Ed Winiarski has made the jump over from New Adventure Comics, but it needn't have bothered, because this is the last installment.  The main characters were still wandering around the island and getting shot at by the locals, and as usual I like to think that they were brutally murdered and never heard from again.

Monday, January 17, 2011

June 1937: Detective Comics #5

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): This issue gets off to a cracking start, with the best 'Slam Bradley' strip yet.  It opens with him just cold punching his former schoolyard bully, and from there he has to go undercover as a school teacher.  Among other amusing tidbits, we learn that he was actually called Slam Bradley in the 6th grade, so that could very well be his real name.  He's probably the worst schoolteacher ever, as the only solution he has to any problem is to punch it or yell at it.  But this is really fun stuff,  and I'm enjoying the running gag where Slam gets the girl at the end of the strip, while his sidekick Shorty is rather less well rewarded.  Next month we are told that Bradley is facing off against Mexican bandits, which promises to be great.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck foils a robbery this month, which is at least a break from the incessant string of cattle rustlers.  But the mystery is kind of ruined as soon as a guy named Kane shows up.  His name is Kane, of course he's the culprit!

'Claws of the Red Dragon' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey): Bruce Nelson has finally found the kidnapped girl Sigrid, so at least there's some plot progression.  But it's still very generic compared to how it began.

'Winged Death' (by Fredric Wells): This is a text story about a detective investigating airplane sabotage.  I swear it took me longer to read this thing than the rest of the issue combined.

I haven't mentioned these before, but Russell Cole (aka Alger) has a short and supposedly humorous detective strip in each issue.  I honestly can't figure out the point of this one at all, or even how the mystery is solved.  I feel that way about a lot of Alger's work, where I either don't get the joke or don't understand the ending.  Is it a lack of context due to the many decades since this was published, or a deficiency on the part of the creator (or possibly myself)?  Who knows.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): 'Spy' takes an interesting turn this month.  Bart Regan's fiancee Sally is still stalking him on his missions, trying to get him to confess that he still loves her.  At this point I want to advise Bart to get the hell out of there, because that is one seriously fixated woman.  By the end she's become a spy herself, so we're getting a format change, with two leads who are romantically involved in a sort of antagonistic fashion.  It could be good.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo disguises himself as a Portuguese sailor to foil dope smugglers as boringly as possible.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): This is a new strip about a detective who is investigating missing celebrities.  It just sort of ends mid-stream with no real conclusion or cliffhanger, so I guess it continues next month.  But it's not as though the creator has provided me with a compelling urge to read it.

'Speed Saunders' (by Creig Flessel): After getting fired last issue, Speed Saunders now seems to be working as a private detective (although he still specialises in water-based crimes, just like Night-Boat).  This month he foils gold robbers who are hiding the gold inside dead fish.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

May 1937: New Adventure Comics #16

Cover possibly by Creig Flessel
This may be the final appearance of 'Hardluck Harry' by Bill Carney.  It's a funny animal serial about Harry, who gets kidnapped onto a ship's crew, and his adventures trying to escape with the ship's cook, who is an outrageous Chinese caricature.  I'm actually not really sure what type of animals they're meant to be, possibly dogs or bears.  It was reasonably humorous, and even the cook's ridiculous accent became endearing after a while, simply because it's so over the top.

In 'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster), Steve Carson puts a stop to smugglers sneaking Chinese people into the country, but of greater importance is the proper establishment of the Junior Federal Men Club.  As I predicted, they're asking for money.  Still, given the social crusading that Siegel and Shuster often do in their stories, I sense a genuine desire on their part to create a group of youngsters dedicated to helping the country.  Perhaps I'm a sucker, but it feels sincere to me.

'Detective Sergeant Carey' (by Joe Donohoe) has been captured by some Chinese criminals this month.  I don't blame them personally, given the frequency with which he throws the word "chink" around.  I'd be perfectly happy if he never escaped.

Monday, January 10, 2011

May 1937: More Fun Comics #21

Cover by Vin Sullivan
There really isn't much to write about with this issue, as most of the strips are just carrying on with their business.  There is one new strip, 'Johnnie Law' by Will Ely.  Johnnie Law is a policeman who saves a young  boy from a fire set by an arsonist, and I'm about as enthused by this as I am by everything else I talk about that isn't by Siegel and Shuster. 

Speaking of which, there is the latest installment of 'Doctor Occult'.  Last time (in an installment that I missed) he apparently saw a woman he thought long dead, and now he's checking her tomb.  He finds it empty, and not long after that he goes and gets himself killed, so I'll be interested to see how that pans out.  It's a far cry from the level that this serial was operating on just a few issues ago, but that's still one hell of a cliffhanger

Oh, one more thing: 'Brad Hardy' did not finish in More Fun Comics #19, as would have me believe.  It seems that the information on that site is not entirely accurate, at least so far as Golden Age comics go, so I'll be taking any future such announcements with a grain of salt.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

April-May 1937: More Fun Comics #20, New Adventure Comics #15, Detective Comics #4

Cover by Vin Sullivan

More Fun Comics #20 is yet another issue of that series for which I couldn't find a scan.  Taking a look at its contents, it looks like I missed very little.  There's the last installment of 'Pelion and Ossa', a funny animal strip about a bear and a penguin by Pete DeAngelo.  Something called 'Bobby and Scotty' reappears for the first time since issue #9, but I don't remember it at all.  And I won't need to, because it never shows up again.  'Lieutenant Leeds' is a strip by Alex Lovy that seems to be a one-off.  It's almost a relief that I get to skip these issues, but on the other hand it makes it nigh-impossible to get into a good rhythm with the strips.  It's no coincidence that I'm enjoying New Adventure Comics and Detective Comics more than this series.

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Jungle Fever' by Ed Winiarski debuted in the last issue, but I hadn't paid enough attention to talk about it.  In part two the main characters Red and Curly go to an island to find a plantation (for reasons I couldn't figure out).  Along the way they help put down a mutiny, but there are forces on the island that aren't friendly to them.  Standard island adventure strip stuff for the time.

'Steve Conrad' (by Creig Flessel) has been another fairly boring island adventure strip, but this one features the main villain, the Devachan of Dolorosa Isle, on a one-man murder mission through Steve Conrad's ship. He even goes so far as to lash a corpse to the wheel with a knife still in it.  It's the first time that this strip has been remotely memorable.

Apparently we've seen the last of 'Slim and Tex' by Alex Lovy, a strip about two cowboys who worked on a ranch and got up to hi-jinks.  At the beginning it was about their rivalry for the affections of the lady owner of the ranch, but by the end it was tied up in a plot about a rich girl visiting the ranch, and the goons trying to kidnap her.  And damn it, I need to bring these comics to work with me, because I can never remember whether they ended on a cliffhanger or not.

I don't know what this says about me, but now that 'Captain Quick' (by Sven Elven) has shifted his mission from the rescue of his lady love to straight-up raiding Spanish galleons for booty I'm much more interested in it.

To be honest, I felt much more engaged by all of the strips in this issue.  Perhaps I was just in a charitable mood, or perhaps I'm getting more used to the way these stories are told.  These comics are vastly different to the majority of the others I've read (mostly from the 1960s to the present), and in the beginning I felt like I was doing a lot of work to keep up.  Now they feel a lot more natural to read, and we'll see if that helps my enthusiasm level in the future.  There wasn't even a 'Federal Men' strip this month, so it's very unusual that I found myself so engaged.

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Speed Saunders' (by Creig Flessel): Speed investigates a murder involving rival sugar cane plantations.  It seems that even the creators have recognised the limitations of the water police set-up, because this strip has little to do with it, and Saunders is even fired from his job during the story.  That's probably because this strip was created by E.C. Stoner, but last issue Creig Flessel took over.  I'm interested to see if he sticks with it and changes the format.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo tackles jewel thieves in Bombay.  I really can't muster any enthusiasm for this strip.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): Buck takes on rustlers.  Again.  Fleming is either terribly unimaginative, or he's taking the piss.  There just has to be more to he can deal with, you know?  Some Injuns, maybe?

'Claws of the Red Dragon' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson): The plot thickens as various murder mysteries pile on top of each other. I'm hoping the strip really holds my hand as it goes along, because I'll never keep track of it myself.

'The Evil Oak' (by Gardner Fox): This prose story is a murder mystery where the culprit has his hideout inside a tree.  I've read a few of Fox's sword and sorcery yarns, and he tells a decent story.  This was good by the standards set so far.

'Mr. Chang' (by Ed Winiarski): Mr. Chang is back, and I've noticed that his speech patterns are now much more in the vein of other Asian characters of the time.  It's a shame, because I liked seeing a Chinese guy portrayed as speaking perfect English.  He's still shown to be very clever and respected, but the dialogue grates on me.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): "Only a maniac or Slam Bradley would have attempted it!"  The latest 'Slam Bradley' strip kicks off with that awesome line, and I'm very pleased to see that Joe Shuster is back on the art.  It's still the best strip I'm reading, but it doesn't quite have the magic of that first installment.  Slam's character has softened quite a bit, but I was enjoying it more when he was being a jerk to everyone under the sun.  I'm thinking that a large part of the success of this strip is the inclusion of humorous elements.  The other action strips are played straight, but Slam'sSiegel and Shuster doing a lot of that sort of stuff.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

March-April 1937: New Adventure Comics #14, Detective Comics #3

Cover by Whitney Ellsworth
With the departure of Tom Cooper and all of his strips, there's a lot of real estate to fill in New Adventure Comics this month.  None of the new arrivals fill me with enthusiasm, but here's a rundown.

'Jungle Fever' by Ed Winiarski is... honestly, I don't know.  I read this comic last night, I don't have it with me now, and I can't remember a damn thing about it.  I'll get back to this with the next issue.

'Monastery of the Blue God' is by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Munson Paddock, the team that worked on the excellent strip 'The Blood Pearls'.  Again, it's Wheeler-Nicholson engaging in exploration of Asian cultures, as is his tendency.  This one doesn't have the distinctiveness of 'The Blood Pearls' to set it apart, though.

There is also a bunch of filler gag strips that aren't really worthy of comment, and a crossword puzzle. I feel like the text pages are expanding, too.  Lord, give me strength.

'She', the adaptation by Sven Elven of the H. Rider Haggard novel, has an honest-to-god nipple in it.  These sorts of things always surprise me in old comics, but they shouldn't, because I have no idea what the 1930s were really like.

'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) is a showcase for the Junior Federal Men, which becomes a sort of fan club.  It has a bizarre set-up where Steve Carson, having been shot by a kidnapper, sends a couple of pre-teen boys to deal with the problem.  Which they do, of course; they are Junior Federal Men, after all.  I was expecting to see an ad at the end of the strip asking kids to send in money for various rubbishy bits and bobs, but that was mercifully absent.  I don't expect it to stay that way.

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Speed Saunders' (by Craig Flessel): Speek is back after last issue's absence, and he's still putting a stop to water-based crime.  This time, he's protecting a woman from thugs who want her father's top secret type-writer plans.  Yes, that's right, they want the top-secret type-writer plans.  I couldn't make this shit up if I tried.

'Hope Hazard, G-Woman' (by Alex Lovy): This is a new strip about a female federal agent.  Investigating missing planes (it's important you see, because they were carrying air mail!), she finds an underground kingdom ruled by a big fat villain called Xavier.  And it has the dreaded 'to be continued', so I guess we'll be seeing more of Hope Hazard.

'Cosmo, Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Oh god, there's more of this.  This time around Cosmo is up against the seaman's union, who are trying to stop a wealthy ship-owner from delivering a speech.  The weird thing about this strip is that every damn person on the face of the planet seems to know Cosmo personally.  It's bizarre.

'Claws of the Red Dragon' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey): Bruce Nelson is still investigating the kidnapping he witnessed in the creepy Chinese restaurant back in Detective Comics #1, punching many Asians along the way.  This one has lost all of the atmosphere and eeriness it had in the initial installment.

'Shooting Story' (by Capt. E.R. Anthony): Oh no, the short stories are making a comeback!  This is about a detective who chases down a criminal who took a shot at him for no reason.  Or something, I was kind of annoyed that I had to start reading these things again.

'Spy' (by megastars Siegel and Shuster): Bart's fiancee is about to marry someone else to teach him a lesson, but the bad guys stop the wedding and kidnap her.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming):  There are yet more cattle rustlers.  Come on guy, expand your rogues gallery!

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and... Jim Bettersworth?):  Wait, where's Shuster?  Is he seriously staying on 'Spy' and abandoning 'Slam Bradley'?  Because this one was a massive step down in quality.  I think a lot of the character of the strip comes from Shuster, particularly the way he draws faces.  He has exactly one heroic face, and it is the most motherfucking stoic face you ever saw.  And Bettersworth just doesn't match up, to the point where Slam Bradley feels like a totally different character.

Monday, January 3, 2011

February-March 1937: New Adventure Comics #13, Detective Comics #2

Cover by Whitney Ellsworth
It seems as though 'Don Coyote' (by Bill Patrick) has abandoned the one-off joke format for a slightly more dramatic serialised story, in which Coyote and his friends flee England and the wrath of the king, only to wind up sold to a slave ship.  It's a little disappointing, because I liked the strip the way it was.

It looks as though this is the final installment of 'The Blood Pearls' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Munson Paddock).  This was one of the more memorable strips in the series, mostly due to the outright villainous nature of Baslyn, the main character.  All of the other serials focus on square-jawed heroes, but this one is about a guy who sells a Chinese woman into slavery to obtain the valuable blood pearls, and the karmic retribution that stalks him afterwards.  The distinctively distorted art and the unusual protagonist raised this serial to a level above those around it.

As in the last issue of More Fun Comics that I reviewed, this is the last we'll see of Tom Cooper's work.  That means an end for 'Jim Gale and Co.', 'Castaway Island', and 'Captain Spiniker'.  None of them were left on particularly pressing cliffhangers, and the only one I'll miss is 'Captain Spiniker'.  I'm more interested in finding out how they fill the space next issue, to be honest.

There's a mammoth twelve page story called 'Foe of the Borgias' (by Sven Elven) that is a fairly rudimentary swashbuckling yarn, but it's notable for the size and impact of the art.  With the extra pages, Elven is free to indulge in larger panels and splash pages, and it really shows off his work nicely and gives the story a bit of extra excitement.

In 'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster), Steve Carson spends his time going up against dope traffickers.  It's pretty tame by the standards of this strip, but the blatant drug references surprised me.  I guess I'm more used to the comics of the Silver Age, where this kind of thing was glossed over or ignored except on very rare occasions.

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): This strip is still very entertaining.  Slam isn't quite as much of a jerk as he was in his first outing, but the story does open with him beating the hell out of a steel worker just for fun.  When the steel worker is murdered Slam is implicated, and the story kicks off from there.  It doesn't quite pack the punch of the first Slam Bradley story, and it does recycle a couple of the gags, but it's still a rollicking good time.  I wish everything in these comics was as good.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck investigates a bank hold-up.  Unsurprisingly, the bank owner is responsible.

'Gumshoe Gus' (by Bill Patrick): Gus investigates the disappearance of a millionaire's duck, only to find that it ran off to chase Donald Duck.  I guess Donald was a big pop culture icon at that point in time, but this is a very strange conclusion.

'Bret Lawton' (by Creators Unknown): Lawton is still investigating murders in a Peruvian mine.  It looks like he solved them as well, but the culprit isn't anyone I remember from the rest of the story.  This is the last we'll see of this strip.

'Bart Regan' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart is still having problems with his ex-fiancee messing up his undercover work, and now she's marrying some other dude to make him jealous.  Who can understand women?

'Mr. Chang' (by Ed Winiarski): Mr. Chang is a Chinese detective who goes up against a narcotics ring.  It's notable for portraying Chang as heroic and able to speak perfect English, but his assistant doesn't fare so well, uttering sentences like "Servant velly glateful for words of praise flom masta!"  Not a word of that was altered by me, I'm afraid.

'Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo is back, foiling counterfeiters with his powers of disguise.  It's still dull.

'Claws of the Red Dragon' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey): This was very good last issue, but this time it has lost a lot of its creepy atmosphere.  But it's much better as a detective story than the other strips in here, and that counts for something.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

January-February 1937: More Fun Comics #18-19, New Book of Comics #1, Detective Comics #1

Cover by Lots of People
New Book of Comics #1 is yet another comic that I've been unable to find a copy of, but my research tells me that it is a hardbound collection of various bits and bobs from More Fun Comics and New Comics.  My general plan with collected editions is to reread the comics included at the time the collection is released, but with this one it seems that nobody knows exactly what was in it.  Which suits me, because I don't really want to read any of this stuff again unless it's the strips by Siegel and Shuster.

Covers by Vin Sullivan
I'm also missing More Fun Comics #18, and from what I can tell it contains the last thrilling installment of 'Buckskin Jim', a strip of which I can remember very little off the top of my head.  Jim wore a coonskin hat, and there was an unfriendly Injun who kept causing him trouble, or something.  It's by Tom Cooper, who manages to be dreadfully dull on all of his adventure strips, and yet quite amusing on 'Captain Spiniker'.

I did read More Fun Comics #19, which is kind of a non-event.  'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey) and 'Sandra of the Secret Service' (by W.C. Brigham) have both started new adventures, which means I missed the conclusions of their previous ones.  And it's probably unkind of me to have bad-mouthed Tom Cooper above, because all of his strips end this issue, leaving their plot-lines unfinished.  'Sea Gold' was one of these, and it's another that I can never remember anything about.  'Along the Main Line' was his strip about the adventures of a couple of train drivers, mostly involving hijackers and the like.  'Midshipman Dewey' was his naval adventure strip, and it ended with poor ol' Dewey in the clutches of an African tribe; I hereby pronounce him dead off-panel.  I can't find much about the guy on the Internet, but it looks like he doesn't do much work in comics after this, if any.  I'll miss 'Captain Spiniker' in a sort of mildly apathetic way, I guess.

'Brad Hardy' by Tom Hickey also ends this month, with no resolution in sight.  It's one of those Flash Gordon pastiches, with not much to recommend it.  The strip ends as nondescriptly as always, with the two main characters standing around congratulating each other about shooting a snake.

Even Siegel and Shuster dropped the ball this month, with 'Dr. Occult' backing away from its recent awesomeness by returning him to his role as a plainclothes supernatural detective.  I miss the big armies and the magic belt.

Cover by Vin Sullivan
The real news for this entry is that I have read Detective Comics #1.  Before I start with the review, here's a little history lesson.  Earlier, I had wondered why this issue had appeared in house ads several months before it actually hit the stands.  I recently bought DC Comics: A Year by Year Visual Chronicle, and that book has the answer.  It turns out that DC (or National as it's known at the time) was not doing all that well financially at the end of 1936.  The boss (Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson) wanted to start up a third title, the aforementioned Detective Comics.  He didn't have enough cash, so had to partner up with a couple of rich dudes, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz.  Together they published the title through the newly formed company, Detective Comics Inc.  Later in 1937, National went bankrupt, and Detective Comics Inc. bought up all of its assets and became what will later be known as DC.  And it turns out that all of this is on Wikipedia, which makes me look like a complete doofus for not figuring it out earlier.

But, on to the comic itself.  It definitely has a different feel to New Adventure Comics and More Fun Comics.  The strips are longer, and with each one working in the detective/mystery genre it all feels a lot more focused and cohesive.  There are so many strips in the other two books that I can't keep track of them all, but this already feels a lot easier for my brain to handle.

'Speed Saunders' (by E.C. Stoner): This is the opening feature, about a special operative of the harbour police.  In this story Speed Saunders investigates a group who are smuggling Chinese people into the USA and throwing the sick ones overboard to die.  Their leader is called Captain Scum, but otherwise it's an unremarkable story.  It is better for the extra length, though, because I never would have been able to follow this in two page installments over the course of several issues.  I gather that Speed Saunders was brought back in the late 90s in some issues of JSA, so I'll be keeping an eye on him.

'Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): I recognise Sven Elven from his rather dull interpretations of classic novels in the other two DC titles.  Cosmo is a freelance investigator who uses his power of disguise to capture a jewel thief.  Again, I'm glad this one was over in one hit.

'Bret Lawton' (by Creators Unknown): This story has no credits at all, so I don't know who did it.  Lawton is yet another detective, investigating some mysterious deaths in a Peruvian mine.  There's the obligatory crazy Incan priest, but I'm not too interested in this one.  Alas, it is to be continued...

'Claws of the Red Dragon' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey):

'Gumshoe Gus' (by Bill Patrick): Bill Patrick also does 'Don Coyote', one of my favourite humour strips.  This is in a similar vein, with a blundering detective who has a very high opinion of his own abilities.  The jokes are obvious but well done, and it's a nice break from the more serious tone of the other strips.

'Bart Regan, Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): This is about federal agent Bart Regan, who is reassigned to become a spy.  Complications arise when he has to break up with his girlfriend, and she stalks him and gets involved with his undercover mission.  Alas, it's the more subdued side of Siegel and Shuster.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): This is pretty forgettable.  Buck is a cowboy detective investigating some rustlers, and thank god that it's over in this issue because I just couldn't bear to read about evil cattle rustlers any more.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): And now we come to Slam Bradley, the latest Siegel and Shuster masterwork.  This is without a doubt the best thing I've read in this project so far.  I actually legitimately enjoyed it.  Slam Bradley is a private investigator like all the others, but he differs from them by displaying an actual personality.  He is a total jerk who hates everyone and only likes to fight.   There's comic relief in Shorty who is very eager and wants to be Slam's assistant (naturally, Slam completely hates him).  There's a bit of a love interest, but Slam is seen in one panel kissing her, and the next uttering the immortal line "See you again--maybe!"  The art is big and bold, and the large panels of Slam Bradley swinging Chinese villains by their pony tails are certainly striking.  I'm not sure if it's the accumulated effect of reading so many banal Golden Age adventure serials, but this is great (admittedly, I do have a high tolerance for the casual racism of the times).

Schedule: January-June 1937

With 1936 done and dusted, it's time again to post my reading schedule for the next six months worth of comics to read.  Here goes!

January 1937
            More Fun Comics #18
            New Book of Comics #1

February 1937
            Detective Comics #1
            More Fun Comics #19
            New Adventure Comics #13

March 1937
            Detective Comics #2
            New Adventure Comics #14

April 1937
            Detective Comics #3
            More Fun Comics #20
            New Adventure Comics #15

May 1937
            Detective Comics #4
            More Fun Comics #21
            New Adventure Comics #16

June 1937
            Detective Comics #5
            More Fun Comics #22
            New Adventure Comics #17

As with 1936, things continue apace with More Fun Comics and New Adventure Comics, but the inclusion of Detective Comics promises to liven things up a little.  I'd rather like to get another publisher into the mix soon, but I don't have anything scheduled until 1939, when Marvel and Archie get into the super hero game.