Monday, February 28, 2011

March-April 1938: New Adventure Comics #25, Detective Comics #15, New Book of Comics #2

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) features Junior Federal Men Club nonsense again this month, but with a twist: it's the JFMC of the year 3000!  This story is absurd.  A bunch of kids find a bound volume of Adventure Comics in the library (yes, in the year 3000), and upon reading it they decide to form their own JFMC club.  Coincidentally, the only criminal in the world just happens to be in the museum with them.  The end of the story is a bit of a let down, but the set-up was so ridiculous that I kind of had to love it.

(You know, these comics read as very alien to me, a mere 70 years in the future from when they were published.  I can only imagine what they would read like to the kids of the year 3000.)

It appears as though we've seen the end of 'Monastery of the Blue God' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Munson Paddock).  The heroes never did get around to finding those gems, or even the eponymous monastery itself.  I'm wondering if this is a side-effect of Wheeler-Nicholson leaving his editorial position, that he's also dropping the writing of all of his strips.  I hope not, because he's one of the best writers of this early period.

Oh no!  'Chikko Chakko' (by Ellis Edwards) is finished!  Where will I get my dose of mildly offensive Mexican humour now?  (To be honest, I actually did enjoy this strip a lot.  Which may make me a racist.)

'A Tale of Two Cities' (by Merna Gamble) ends.  One day I have to read the book, because this comic adaptation was boring as hell.  Some stories are tailor-made for visual adaptation, but this isn't one of them.

'Captain Quick' (by Sven Elven) has also bit the dust.  It was never great, but there was a period in the middle where he was raiding Spanish ships like a pirate that caught my interest.  The strip ends with him in America fighting against Injuns, and one can only presume that he is successful given his all-around invincibility in earlier installments.

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): Speed, along with his companions Doris and Dick Dane, gets caught up in a jewel theft on a cruise liner.  This is the beginning of a continued storyline, which is a shame, because in the current format I much prefer the one-off stories.

'Oscar the Gumshoe' (by Bob Kane): This is a gag strip about an inept detective.  It's notable only for its creator, one Bob Kane.  Keep an eye on this guy, he's going to be significant in the future.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck investigates a stagecoach robbery. He's able to work out by looking at footprints that the main suspect, an Injun, wasn't the culprit, because apparently all Injuns walk with their toes curled in.  I have no idea if this is true or not, but it's the sort of blanket racial stereotype you get in these comics a lot.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Larry is kidnapped by goons, who plan to burn him alive in a rug warehouse, and collect insurance for the fake rugs at the same time.  Despite the whole situation being neatly wrapped up by the end, this is to be continued.  I have no idea how (or why).

'Bruce Nelson in Too Many Crooks' (by Tom Hickey): This continues the latest Bruce Nelson yarn, with Bruce having just shot Parsons and claimed the diamond for himself.  Bruce's supposed criminal turn plays out for a while, with him framing some other crooks for the murder, and making a deal with another would-be thief to fence the diamond in New York.  Of course the other shoe drops by the end of the strip, with Bruce having set the whole thing up to catch the diamond smuggling ring. We'll see how that turns out next month.

'Lightning Strikes Twice' (by Gardner Fox): This prose story is about a man who is struck by lightning, and presumed dead.  He is inexplicably alive, despite the description of his body as charred and blackened, and goes on a crazy rampage.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart and Sally take on Mr. Death, who has been killing diplomats for their role in starting wars.  Alas, he's not as awesome as his name makes him sound, although he does have the patented crazy-face that Shuster draws.  Shuster draws about four facial expressions, and I love all of them.

'Bring 'em In Brannigan' (by Russell Cole): Some bankers are bringing a whole lot of money to a hotel room to make a transaction, but they never show up.  It turns out that they were shown to the wrong room and kidnapped, in an elaborate scheme to steal the money.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo actually has a bit of excitement this issue.  He's involved in a plane crash that was orchestrated by a failed businessman who wanted to steal the gold consignment on board.  There's some shooting, a bit of fist-fighting, and a villain getting thrown over the side of a cliff.  It's a step up from Cosmo's usual nonsense.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): Slam and Shorty are framed for murder in this story, and spend most of it fleeing from the cops.  This one is a step back in the right direction, with an infusion of cross-dressing humour when Shorty poses as a wealthy heiress to draw out the real murderer.  But Slam is still a shadow of his former self, as he gets knocked out by a bottle-wielding thug.  He doesn't even punch anyone, which is a crime.

The last page of the issue is an advert for Action Comics #1, which is coming next month.

Cover by Many Creators
I don't have a scan of this book, but it seems to reprint elements from More Fun Comics #15 and 16, and New Comics #11.  And no, I'm definitely not re-reading them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

March 1938: Detective Comics #14

Cover by Creig Flessel

I've just noticed that Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson is no longer listed as Editor and Publisher.  With Whitney Ellsworth having left recently as well, that leaves Vin Sullivan as the sole editor of the DC line.  At least that means I won't have to type Wheeler-Nicholson's name any more.

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): Speed Saunders has another weird story this month.  He's in an African jungle, trying to help Doris Dane find her father, an aviator who has been missing for months.  Doris gets captured by cannibals, and is rescued by Speed before she can be eaten alive.  The cannibals are ruled by a white man, and it is not until the very end of the story, after the cannibals have fled and Speed has spent a good page beating this guy up, that it is revealed that he is the aviator they were looking for.  It's the main focus of the story, but it's just thrown in as an afterthought, which comes across as very lazy and haphazard writing.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck is dealing with yet another rustling scheme.  I am just begging for this strip to finish.  This is the first ever Buck Marshall strip in colour, which I hope isn't a sign of its growing popularity.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Larry Steele wraps up the kidnapping plot by blasting the door down and shooting every criminal in sight.  I admire his direct approach, even if it didn't make for a particularly interesting story.

'Bruce Nelson in Too Many Crooks' (by Tom Hickey):  This story is quite complex by the standards of the time, with numerous characters on a cruise ship trying to steal a diamond.  There's a romantic subplot going on, with a criminal love interest who wants to go straight, as well as a group of proper crooks.  And the cliffhanger, where Bruce shoots the guy who the diamond rightfully belongs to, was unexpected and intriguing.  The 'Bruce Nelson' strip is turning out to be one of the most consistently good things around.

'Oil from China' (by Gardner Fox):  Huzzah, it's another two-page prose story! Again, it's a simplistic tale of Chinese folk being smuggled into the US in oil drums.  The opening, with a ship's crew having found a severed arm in the water, was engaging, but the rest fell flat.

'The Black Case' (by Russell Cole): This is a fairly straightforward mystery about a man killing his cousin to inherit his money.  I didn't even have to concentrate too hard to follow it, which is a miracle for Cole's stuff.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): A villain steals a ray gun and takes it to his castle to sell it to the highest bidder.  It's an adequate story elevated by a good dose of super-villainy.

'Hot Trail Hogan' (by Russell Cole): In which the eponymous detective catches jewel thieves who are posing as the police assigned to guard a ruby.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo takes on a group of racketeers who are in the poultry game.  I realise that this was probably some serious business rooted in actual fact, and that there were undoubtedly dangerous men doing this sort of thing, but the fact remains that this is a chicken racket.  And it's pretty hard to take that sort of thing seriously in fiction.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): Slam heads up north looking for a miner who has disappeared.  It's a fairly simple plot, with crooks having kidnapped the man to get him to sign over his valuable mine.  But Slam is extra cranky, which is usually fun.  It's still not as good as it was, though.  I miss the formula that Siegel and Shuster were using in the early days of this strip.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 1938: Detective Comics #13, More Fun Comics #30, New Adventure Comics #24

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): This story  is total nonsense.  It starts well enough, with Speed on the hunt for the only witness who can testify in a murder case.  After that Speed is shot by the murder suspect's goons, but survives due to his bullet-proof vest.  So far so good, but once it gets into the courtroom all story logic goes out the window.  The murder case at the start of the story is completely abandoned in favour of Speed accusing the man who shot him, and then out of nowhere he's exposing the judge as a corrupt official. None of this flows logically, and it's undoubtedly the worst Speed Saunders strip so far.  Gardner Fox goes on to become a significant figure in DC history as the creator of the Golden Age Flash, Hawkman, the Justice Society, the Justice League, and the whole Earth-1/Earth-2 multiverse thing.  But that's in the future, and here he's just turning out a crap Speed Saunders story.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): When we last left Larry, he'd crashed his bullet-riddled car into a tree. Of course he's unscathed, and he spends the rest of the strip trying to catch the kidnappers in another car chase.  He even survives yet another crash, and I'd say that two car crashes in the space of four pages has got to be some sort of record.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo goes undercover in a circus to figure out who is sabotaging the trapeze act.  It turns out to be a love-sick clown, who gets his comeuppance when he is ripped to shreds by a tiger.  Cosmo actually uses his disguise gimmick in this story, which he hasn't done for ages.  And of course, the circus owner is an old friend of his, because Cosmo is old friends with everybody on planet Earth.

'Bruce Nelson in Murder in the Clouds' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey): Bruce is still investigating the mystery of the exploding planes.  He solves it pretty handily, and the culprit is of course the guy who was just a little too late to catch the plane last issue.  You can generally pinpoint any murder suspect in these comics by finding the first character that the author clears of suspicion.

'Dental Detective' (by Gardner Fox): This is a prose story about a diamond thief who hides his stolen booty inside his false teeth.  It's not very good, but I'm stoked that it's only two pages long.  I can't wait until these text pages are dead and buried (or at least replaced with letters pages).

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart and Sally are tasked with dissuading a politician's son from his gambling habit.  Which they do by robbing him at gunpoint, after Bart offers this immortal phrase: "He won't listen to reason. And so now for violence!"

'The Pine Road Mystery' (by Russel Cole): This is less of a who-dunnit and more of a how-dunnit.   The culprit is obvious from the beginning, but the mystery of how he could kill a man at a time when four other people saw him sleeping is the main focus (answer: he used a wax dummy).  I've mentioned before that I have trouble following Cole's mysteries, and with this one the reason is easily apparent: this strip has over a dozen characters featured, all introduced in rapid succession.  It served to muddy the mystery somewhat, but it muddied the storytelling as well.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck Marshall started off dealing with rustlers, and now he constantly investigates murders.  In this strip, his adversary is a murdering rustler.  I suppose it was inevitable.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): Slam and Shorty foil the hijacking of a ship.  Not only is the strip losing its potency, but Slam himself gets knocked out twice in the course of this story.  As the stories get blander, so the hero loses his awesomeness.

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Dr Occult' (by Siegel and Shuster) investigates a fortune teller, who is possessed by a demon while holding a seance. It's actually quite tense and gripping, with some creepy art.  This has been one of the most consistently good strips for some time.

'Hooves of the Tartar Horde' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Alexander Nikitin) is a new strip depicting the Mongol conquest of Otrar in Persia.  It's set up as a continuing story, but as far as I can tell it doesn't continue after this.

It also looks like 'Spike Spalding' (by Vin Sullivan) has come to an end.  Which is fine, because the main plot involving Spike's resemblance to the king of a foreign country, and the political machinations that ensued, was wrapped up last issue.  This installment sees Spike back in the USA and unhappy about having to go back to school, and there are some plot threads being set up for the future, but it's not a bad place to end.

'Buzz Brown' (by Creig Flessel) is a new strip.  Buzz is a half-eskimo kid who gets picked up in the ocean by a tough sailor.  Both of them get blown out to sea in a storm and picked up by a ship that is headed to Singapore.  There's not much here to interest me.

It's cancellations all around here, as it also seems that 'Little Linda' (by Whitney Ellsworth) is done.  It started off with Linda as an orphan girl having various adventures, until she eventually got adopted by a rich dude.  In the current storyline she has run away to live with lumberjacks, and there is a film crew making a movie there.  Of course Linda looks exactly like the star, and has been performing as her stunt double, and the whole thing ends with Linda about to be taken to Hollywood to become a star herself.  Which is nice, because she's quite a sweet and likable character, and this has been a fairly enjoyable strip.

'Pirate Gold' (by Sven Elven) is also finished.  It ends with the heroes rescuing their lady friend from the Chinese villains, which I guess is as much closure as I need.  To be honest, I could never remember what was going on in this strip from one issue to the next.

'Hope Hazard' is a one-off strip by Alex Lovy.  Hope, the daughter of a secret agent, inherits a mansion and gets involved in the mystery of a stolen diamond.  It's not bad, and the mystery is clever enough that I'll probably nick it for my D&D game.

Cover by Creig Flessel
This is the first issue that I've noticed Whitney Ellsworth is no longer listed as an associate editor.  He's been there from the beginning.  That leaves Vin Sullivan as the remaining associate editor, with Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson still the man in charge.

'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) starts promisingly with Steve Carson on an adventure, and no damn kids in sight.  Then it ends with a kid rescuing him and joining the Junior Federal Men Club.  I think I've reached the point where I actively hate this strip.

'Boomerang Jones' (by Stan Babcock) is a new strip.   Jones is an adventurer who gets hired by an explorer to accompany him into the jungles of Borneo.  They get mixed up with a gang which has kidnapped the daughter of a rubber plantation owner, and the whole thing is wrapped up in this story.  Apparently, we never see Boomerang Jones again.

'Steve Conrad' (by Creig Flessel) goes from being attacked by giant turtles to falling into a pool full of crocodiles.  The last panel asks the dramatic question, "Can Steve be saved?!?", but given the way he's bearhugging the fuck out of a crocodile, I'm more worried for their safety.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

January 1938: New Adventure Comics #23

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Steve Conrad' (by Creig Flessel) just gets crazier and crazier.  Steve spends most of the strip punching alligator men in a bid to stop his girlfriend Myra from being forced to marry their king. Then, completely out of nowhere, a horde of giant turtles attacks everybody.

'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) is back to showing Junior Federal Men Club nonsense.  In this strip a bunch of girls prove that they're good enough to join the JFMC.  I suppose it's a worthwhile message to be sending, but it really does feel as though Siegel and Shuster are trying to further a cause rather than tell exciting yarns.

'Robin Hood' (by Sven Elven) is a new strip about the eponymous English hero.  I don't know if this is an adaptation of an existing tale or not, but it doesn't really match with any versions that I know about.  In this chapter we see Robin Hood meet a bunch of wardens in the King's forest.  They mock him, and bet him that he can't even draw his own bow.  Robin answers the challenge and shoots down a deer, but is then arrested for hunting the King's game.  This one is quite well done, especially by Sven Elven's usually tedious standards, but I suppose that he does have some good material to work with.  (As a side note, "The Adventures of Robin Hood" starring Errol Flynn came out in May of 1938, a good few months after the start of this strip.)

Bill Patrick seemed to have disappeared for a few months, but he's back in this issue with 'Monty of the Mounties', a one-off strip about a Mountie on the trail of a dangerous criminal, who arrives just in  time to see said criminal being beaten by his wife.  What would a Golden Age comic be without a dose of good old domestic abuse comedy, eh?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

January 1938: More Fun Comics #29

Cover by Vin Sullivan

'Doctor Occult' (by Siegel and Shuster) takes on the ghost of a murderer, who is going around strangling all of the people that witnessed his execution.  It starts very creepily, with a particularly striking depiction of the murderer (called Ed Murphy, believe it or not) being zapped in the electric chair.  But the ending is a fizzler, as Occult just whips out his magic talisman and banishes the ghost when it comes to get him.

There's a staggeringly long 8-page humour strip called 'Blister', in which a small boy tries to help people and gets in all kinds of trouble.  It's far too light-weight for the amount of space devoted to it, but on the other hand those eight pages just zipped right by.  It's a welcome relief from the denser strips and text pages.

It looks as though 'Barry O'Neill' (by Leo O'Mealia) is making the switch over to New Adventure Comics, but he doesn't appear there until issue #31, at least according to  That's a good 8 issues away, and I have enough trouble keeping up with the strips already.  'Barry O'Neill' is yet another fairly standard modern day adventure strip, which is made slightly more memorable by its villain, Fang Gow.  Admittedly, Fang Gow is a very thinly veiled Fu Manchu analogue, with all of the yellow peril connotations that brings with it.  But he's got some villainous flair, and he's been around since the strip started waaay back in New Fun #1 (or at least since I started reading it with issue #2).  The story here ends with Barry having rescued his lady-friend Jean LeGrand, but with a paralysed Fang Gow about to force a captive doctor to fix his spine.

'Pep Morgan' (by Creig Flessel) is moving as well, with its next appearance being in the upcoming Action Comics #1.  This is a sports strip, in which Pep is super-awesome and all-American and just spends all of his time beating other people at stuff.

'Woozy Watts' (by Russell Cole) makes its last appearance.  This is Cole's only serial, in which millionaire Woozy is trapped on a desert island.  And when we leave him, he's still there, as his lawyers debate what to do about his disappearance.  This is chapter 19, and there has been almost no plot progression at all.  Still, it had Cole's very enjoyable art.  He's probably the best humour artist in these comics right now.  And I kind of like that it ended with lawyers arguing, and no conclusion in sight.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

January 1938: Detective Comics #12

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Speed Saunders' (by Creig Flessel): Speed is ambushed by Indians on his way through Mexico, and convinced to help them against crooks who are tapping their oil pipelines.  At this point it's getting pretty obvious that there's no unifying theme to Speed's adventures, because he couldn't get further away from his gig as a harbour policeman than the Mexico desert.  And for a guy who makes his living on the water, Speed makes a hell of a cowboy.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): For some reason, we get a double dose of  Larry Steele this issue.  The first installment continues from last issue, in which Larry was captured by mobsters.  Of course he escapes, then guns down a whole room full of them (and let me tell you, nobody can wreck a room-full of villains like a Golden Age hero).  In the second story he's called in to investigate the strange behaviour of a wealthy man's daughter.  While trailing the men who are harassing her, his car gets riddled with bullets and he crashes into a tree.  And come to think of it, he got shot and put in hospital in the first story, so it's a bad time all around for Larry Steele.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey): This strip has come up with the goods again, with another surprisingly involving instalment.  Nelson is called in to investigate a plane that has been blown up, only to discover that someone has been extorting millionaires and killing them if a large sum of money isn't paid.  Nelson suspects a man named Ward, but knows he's too smart to get in court.  Ward is the obvious suspect, but there's enough doubt thrown on the matter by the end that I don't know what's going to happen in the next issue.

'Counterfeit' (by Vin Sullivan): This prose story starts with an intriguing premise: counterfeiters have swiped the plates from the US mint and replaced them with fakes, meaning that while the crooks can print legit money, the US government can only print counterfeits.  Sullivan goes to the trouble of setting up the mystery of how they stole the plates, then never bothers to resolve it, or even give a good explanation for how the FBI tracks the crooks down.

'The Adams Case' (by Russell Cole): This is a mystery story featuring the usual nonsense about inheritances.  As usual, I find Cole's mysteries very hard to follow.  They do make sense when I take the time to go back over them carefully, but something about his work makes it hard for my brain to latch on to.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart and Sally are still in Paris.  They are given a mission to eliminate an international assassin, but the weird thing is that they express discomfort at the idea of having to kill him.  They're spies aren't they?  Aren't they trained for that sort of thing?  It seems a weird bit of super-hero morality to apply to this genre.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo has to deal with some shenanigans involving a newspaper editor seizing on an argument between his publisher and a politician to put the paper out of business.  (Money from a rival publisher is involved.)  Boring as ever.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): Slam and Shorty go undercover as lumberjacks to investigate a suspicious drop in productivity.  Sure enough, the foreman is trying to drive the price down so a rival can buy the company cheaply.  It's another humourless and lacklustre episode, and it doesn't even open with Slam punching someone on the first page.

Hey, there's no 'Buck Marshall' this month!  Gods be praised!

Reading Schedule: January-June 1938

Here are the books that I have ahead of me for the first half of 1938:

January 1938
            Detective Comics #12
            More Fun Comics #29
            New Adventure Comics #23

February 1938
            Detective Comics #13
            More Fun Comics #30
            New Adventure Comics #24

March 1938
            Detective Comics #14
            New Adventure Comics #25
            New Book of Comics #2

April 1938
            Detective Comics #15
            More Fun Comics #31
            New Adventure Comics #26

May 1938
            Action Comics #1
            Detective Comics #16
            More Fun Comics #32
            New Adventure Comics #27

June 1938
            Action Comics #2
            Detective Comics #17
            More Fun Comics #33
            New Adventure Comics #28

I estimate about two weeks before I reach Action Comics #1, which I'm really looking forward to.  Not because the books are going to get magically better at that point (I really don't think they will), but because I am a raging Continuity Nerd, and I'm going to enjoy watching the Superman mythos get built up.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

December 1937: New Adventure Comics #22

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) sees Steve Carson outsmarting a guy selling forged stamps in a rather forgettable adventure, but at least the Junior Federal Men Club are nowhere to be seen.

It seems like we've seen the last of 'Vikings', by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Anthony Blum.  The strip ends with the main character Ivar rescuing his love Sundgrid and sailing away from his enemies.  A reasonably satisfying conclusion to a middling strip.

It's also the end of 'She', the adaptation of the H. Rider Haggard novel by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Sven Elven.  I'm not sure I really get the ending, to be honest.  So She takes her reincarnated lover to her personal flame of youth, that has kept her young and alive for centuries.  To show off how it works, She bathes in the flames.  But then She is withered and dies?  It doesn't make much sense, but I'm not inclined to go back to previous issues and piece it together.  Perhaps I'll figure it out when I read the novel, which I plan to do, because this adaptation was quite intriguing.

There's a new strip called 'G-Woman' (by Creators Unknown) about a female secret agent, but it seems as though this is its only appearance.  She claims to be the only female agent in the USA, so I guess she's not in the same continuity as 'Sandra of the Secret Service'.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

December 1937: More Fun Comics #28

Cover by Vin Sullivan

'Sandra of the Secret Service' (by Will Ely) starts a new story, in which Sandra takes a cruise with her reporter friend Michael, and a wealthy debutante's jewelry goes missing.  Much like the 'Wing Brady' strip from More Fun Comics #27, it's mostly romance.

'Doctor Occult' (by Siegel and Shuster) fights vampires with the incredibly practical method of watching what grave they crawl out of, then waiting until daylight and staking the fuckers while they sleep. In defiance of all genre conventions, it goes without a hitch.  Of particular note is that one of the vampires is described as 'a bat-man', and all of them wear capes not entirely dissimilar from Batman the super-hero.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

December 1937: Detective Comics #11

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): Speed is back to his job on the waterfront, as he deals with anarchists who are trying to trap the US Navy fleet in New York harbour by blowing up a submarine filled with TNT.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Larry gets himself captured by Nick Orsatti, a mobster who is trying to kill the man under Larry's protection.  I'm thinking that the recent jump in quality was an anomaly.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo has a decent installment this issue, as he foils a man who faked his own murder to cover for the misuse of his ward's inheritance.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey): 'Bulleye' is the latest adventure of Bruce Nelson.  It's a simple one-off where Nelson stops some thugs from robbing the safe of a watchmaker, but the centrepiece is a quite well-executed gunfight in the dark that ends with Nelson shooting a jar of acid over his attackers.

'Incident in Algiers' (by Whitney Ellsworth):  This prose story is about a detective seeking a man in Algeria who committed murders in the USA.  It starts as a convincingly exotic little page-turner, but is marred at the end by some dodgy humour and an overly neat ending.

'The Willow Lane Mystery' (by Russell Cole): This story involves the theft of some gold owned by two brothers, the culprit of which is very obvious.  Still, I prefer the obvious mysteries to the impossible ones.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart and Sally are menaced by another anarchist who wants revenge for the plot they foiled last issue.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck deals with another murderer. The cowboy strips have got to be the worst things around at this time.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): Slam goes undercover in an aerial circus to discover the secret of some planes that have gone missing.  This is probably the dullest installment of this strip yet.  Shorty and Snoop don't appear, so it's quite humourless.  It's not bad as a straight action strip, but well below the usual standard.  And just to prove that Slam is the ultimate ladies man, the female antagonist falls for him just two pages after he kills her husband.

Monday, February 7, 2011

November 1937: New Adventure Comics #21

Cover by Creig Flessel
I've been fairly disinterested in 'Captain Bill of the Texas Rangers' (by Homer Fleming) ever since it began, like, a million years ago.  Part of the reason is that Homer Fleming draws every damn character the same, and when they're all white dudes in cowboy hats it makes things 100% harder to figure out who is who.

'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) has gone beyond a joke.  Again we're subjected to the exploits of the Junior Federal Men Club, in which some kids trail a guy just for the hell of it, and it just so happens that he's a crook.  I have so many problems with this thing, not the least of which is that it's taken over what used to be a great strip.  And pity poor old Steve Carson.  Only a year ago the guy was blowing up submarines and piloting giant robots.  Now he's the administrator for a kid's fan club.

This month's 'International Good Neighbor Club' mentions the threat of war in Europe and Africa, which is the first rumblings we hear about World War II in these comics.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

October-November 1937: Detective Comics #9-10, More Fun Comics #26-27

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): Speed captures a racketeer with the help of a hobo who is actually an undercover cop.  Despite my amusement over one panel of Saunders hiding in a rubbish bin, there's not much of interest here.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): The current storyline seems to have finished, but it never was explained just why the mad scientist's wife wanted her husband to dissect all those people to create the perfect man (although I guess the more pruriently minded can come up with a reason without too much thought).  It's a major plot point, and was even flagged up as something to be explained later, but it never was.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo stops a murderer who is killing radio stars in order to extort money from the broadcast station.  It's yet another dull Cosmo story, despite the awesome opening with the grim reaper in the first panel.  And once again, despite being billed as the Phantom of Disguise, Cosmo doesn't use his gimmick to solve the crime at all.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey): Bruce Nelson's adventures continue in a storyline called 'The Blood of the Lotus'. To be honest, it might as well be a totally different character.  There's no sign of Sigrid, who Bruce had hooked up with in his last adventure.  Instead, he now lives with a Chinese assistant called Sing Lee.  This is actually quite good.  Bruce  is hired to investigate the disappearance of a girl who has joined the Lotus cult.  The strip is still written by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and drawn by Tom Hickey, but it feels very different.  There's some nuance to the characters that's well in excess of most other strips I'm reading.  Even Sing Lee manages to be funny without being offensively stereotyped.

'Death at Latitude 30' (by Whitney Ellsworth): This prose story is about treasure hunters who find a whole lot of sunken treasure, only for the head of the expedition to start murdering everyone.

'The Johnson Mystery' (by Russell Cole): A detective investigates some missing pearls. It being by Russell Cole I expected it to be a comedy, but it's more of a straight mystery story.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart and Sally rescue a fellow agent from a foreign embassy.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck deals with a string of murders committed by guys trying to get control of a ranch.  In the early days Buck was dealing with rustlers, and now it's murderers.  It's like Homer Fleming gets one idea and rides it into the ground multiple times before moving on to something else.  Also, Racism Watch: one of the victims has a black horse called Nig.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): I was kind of underwhelmed by this month's installment, in which Slam comes up against the Human Fly, a burglar who can scale buildings.  Slam seems kind of subdued, not at all his belligerent self, and the humour falls a bit flat.  I was expecting to love Shorty's rival Snoop, who wants to replace him as Slam's assistant, but he didn't amount to much.  I suppose the long run of top-notch quality couldn't last.

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): Speed  is now billed as an 'Ace Detective', so I'm wondering if he's dropped the waterfront gimmick entirely.  In this story, Madge Allen inherits an estate and is menaced by a banker.  Suspicion is thrown on a mysterious Hindu who follows her throughout the story, but he's actually a good guy who owes her a favour.  Oh yeah, Speed Saunders is in this as well.  We learn that he apparently still lives with his mother.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Holy shit, Larry Steele lives with his mother as well!  He also gets involved with a millionaire who owes a heap of money to a gangster.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo is in India this time, helping excavate a tomb.  There are shenanigans with a curse and an evil high priest, and it's much more interesting than the usual fare for this strip.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey): This isn't quite as good as last issue's installment, but it does come to a satisfying conclusion as Bruce Nelson demolishes the Lotus, rescues the girl, and exposes her uncle as the mastermind behind the whole mess.  I should note here how much of a difference it makes for a character to have some back story.  Bruce Nelson's history gets a good fleshing out here, and all of a sudden he feels like a proper character, as opposed to the ciphers that populate most of the other strips.

'Green Death' (by Vin Sullivan): This is a prose story about a detective investigating the murder of a man who was killed by Indian cultists for a valuable gem.

'Handcuff Harry' (by Russell Cole): In which the titular detective solves the mystery of an employee leaking info to robbers about large cash transfers.  As usual, the info that the detective uses to solve the crime is in no way evident to the reader.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart and Sally foil an anarchist who is trying to blow up a cruise ship.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck is after bank robbers this time, and at least this strip has a few gun fights to liven things up. It also has a mystery which plays fair, even if it is super-obvious.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): This is another subdued installment, as Slam tackles a boxing manager who is killing fighters in the ring with a death ray.  I'm surprised to see that Snoop (from last issue) is still hanging around. I would have thought that this would result in the strip getting funnier, but in fact the opposite has happened.  It's starting to feel just a little more generic.  It's still better than everything else, but the gap is getting smaller.

Covers by Vin Sullivan

I don't have a scan of More Fun Comics #26, so I can't talk about it.  My scan of issue #27 was also super-blurry, so I skipped the text pieces and gamely soldiered through the rest.

'Doctor Occult' (by Siegel and Shuster) tackles the cult of a snake-god in this issue, but of more interest is the supernatural powers he seems to have developed.  All of a sudden he's willing himself onto the supernatural plane, and increasing his size with a thought.  I don't remember him ever displaying powers like this, except for that one awesome story where he had a cape and a magic belt.  Despite it coming out of left field, it makes him more interesting, so I'm all for it.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey) takes a weird turn this month.  Having dealt with a bunch of arms smugglers last month, Wing has a lot of spare time on his hands, so we get a detour into romance comics territory, with a focus on the relationship between Wing and his girl Lynn from the first story arc.  It's unexpected, but it's like watching the medium grow up bit by bit.

The 'Ivanhoe' adaptation (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Raymond Perry) finally comes to an end, but the climactic joust between Ivanhoe and Brian is strange.  Brian just drops dead for no reason, without Ivanhoe ever touching him, and the only explanation is that he was 'a victim of his own passions'.  I have no idea what that means.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

September 1937: New Adventure Comics #20

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) has been completely taken over by the Junior Federal Men Club at this point.  This strip is about a bunch of kids helping to foil a bank robbery, in direct contradiction to the club edict that its members should never attempt to arrest a criminal.  What we're getting here is less a story, and more a piece of advertising, and it's really quite irritating.

'Steve Conrad' (by Creig Flessel) is once again quite fun. His girlfriend Myra has been captured by the Devachan, but the villain and his captive both get caught by the Alligator Men, who actually ride alligators.  Myra is wed to their king, but when Steve shows up to stop the wedding she orders him thrown in jail for some reason. It's a good cliffhanger.

Otherwise there's not much going on, but it's occurred to me that I should explain why I'm covering Detective Comics in more detail than New Adventure Comics and More Fun Comics.  The reason is the sheer volume of stories in the latter two titles.  Detective has maybe eight strips per issue, and they all come in at a decent length.  New Adventure Comics and More Fun Comics have a lot more, and many of them are just two pages per issue.  I'd go mad trying to find something to say about them all.  But I'm going to list all of the ones in this issue of New Adventure (not including those above) as a way of showing you the current status of the book.

'Captain Jim of the Texas Rangers' (by Homer Fleming): An old Texas ranger takes forever to capture rustlers.

'The Golden Dragon' (by Tom Hickey): Two Americans have adventures in Mongolia.

'Goofo the Great' (by Russell Cole): A regular humour strip about a stage magician, and probably my favourite of Cole's various creations.

'A Tale of Two Cities' (by Merna Gamble): Adapts the Charles Dickens novel, and is dreadfully dull as a comic strip.

'Vikings' (by Anthony Blum and possibly Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson): This is about a bunch of Vikings having adventures, and not nearly as fun as it sounds. Even when it's Vikings vs. Druids.

'Cal 'n' Alec' (by Ray Burley): A cowboy humour strip that was funnier when Bill Patrick was on it.

'Dale Daring' (by Will Ely): A strip about a female adventurer.  It's novel, you see, because she's a woman.

'Monastery of the Blue God' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Munson Paddock): An American soldier and his fiancee hunt for jewels in Mongolia, while other foreign spies try to stop them.

'Laughing at Life' (by Vin Sullivan): A regular collection of one panel gags that are occasionally funny and often inscrutable.

'Don Coyote' (by Ray Burley): A humour strip about a medieval knight that was also funnier when Bill Patrick was on it.

'She' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Sven Elven): A quite good adaptation of the H. Rider Haggard novel.

'Chikko Chakko' (by Ellis Edwards): A humour strip about a Mexican, full of the usual jokes about Mexicans.  It makes me laugh, but you'd never see anything like it around today, and rightly so.

'Detective Sergeant Carey of the Chinatown Squad' (by Joe Donohoe): A detective has adventures in Chinatown, and uses the word "chink" in every sentence.

'Ol' Oz Bopp' (by Russell Cole): A humour strip about an old man and his various observations.  Can be funny, can be indecipherable.  Much like old people in real life.

'Sandor' (by Homer Fleming): A jungle boy in India fights against the evil Rajah.  Seems like it's been going forever with no forward momentum.

'Captain  Quick' (by Sven Elven): An English sea captain fights against the Spanish.

'Nadir, Master of Magic' (by Will Ely): A magician fights crime in a suit and turban.

'Just for Fun' (by Russell Cole): A regular humour strip with no set cast or premise.  It's just Alger's usual comedy, which is either amusing or baffling.

That's twenty regular features per issue, so you can see why I don't cover them all.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

September 1937: More Fun Comics #25

Cover by Vin Sullivan

'Sandra of the Secret Service' (by Will Ely) wraps up its plot with the Brain, a Cobra Commander style terrorist. After Sandra calls in a US patrol boat to investigate, they fire torpedoes at the Brain's island with nothing else to go on but her say-so.  The islands are blown sky-high, the villains are killed, and the strip ends with the words "Good old USA!"  I couldn't have parodied it better if I tried.

In 'Doctor Occult' (by Siegel and Shuster), the title character faces off against a mad scientist who can turn people into bronze figurines.  What a lucky coincidence that Occult possesses just the mystical charm he needs to turn the process back on the villain!

In this month's Fun Club text piece, the 'How to Have Fun' section details the construction of a slingshot that fires arrows.  This thing sounds seriously deadly.

'Mark Marson of the Inter-Planetary Police' (by Tom Hickey) finishes up its first storyline.  The final installment is a fizzer, as the heroes find the scientist they were looking for in a cell, locate a bomb they can't defuse, then run like hell before it explodes.  I shouldn't have expected more, because this strip has been about as dull as it's possible for a Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon type of strip to be.  Alas for me, it seems to be continuing with a new story arc next issue.

'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely) begins a new story about the evils of marijuana, which apparently turns people into crazed murderers.  I don't know about everyone else, but my experiences with marijuana lead me to believe that murder would be far too much effort for any stoned person to bother with.

Allow me to describe the series of events in this issue's 'Radio Squad' (by Siegel and Shuster).  First, Sandy Kean sees a package fall off the back of a truck.  He takes the package and chases the truck to give it back, using his siren to get the driver's attention.  What a swell guy!  The truck speeds up when the siren sounds, arousing Sandy's suspicions.  So what's the next course of action for any reasonable police man?  Why, ram that fucker off the road of course!  Eh, who am I to argue, the guy was a criminal so it got results.  (At this point I'd like to point out that Sandy Kean is totally a porn star name.)