Wednesday, March 30, 2011

November 1938: Action Comics #7

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Superman joins the circus this month, trying to help a down and out circus manager from having to take crooks on as his partners.  This one's a little silly and kind of seems like a waste of Superman's time, but I like that he helps out the little guy.  This is also the first time we really see the reaction of the general public to Superman, and it just reinforces how impressive and unusual he is.  Plus, he wrestles a lion, which is always good.  Hell, even Lois Lane is palatable in this one.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck helps fend off an attack by his enemies on the Diamond-H ranch.  There's a lengthy shoot-out, and when Chuck tries to draw the attackers away, his horse stumbles and lands him on his head.  I'll say this for it, at least there's something happening.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep is kidnapped by gamblers so that he can't play in a big football match, but he escapes and makes it to the game with four minutes to go.  And because he's so awesome, he wins the match.  What's the deal with Pep Morgan, anyway?  A few months ago he was middleweight champion of the world, now he's playing football in some podunk league.  It's weird.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco and his party are trapped in a town overrun by bandits. Marco escapes and races for help, while the bandits prepare to torture the others for the murder of their leader.  It would be a good cliffhanger if I cared two beans about any of the characters.

'The Diddle Family' (by Paul Gustavson): The daughter has a date, and Jimmy is annoyed because she promised to drive him around.  Blah blah blah, grampa figures out a way for them to ride along on the date without being seen.  It's weird to think of, but I guess going for a ride in a car would have been a big deal in those days.

'Jungle Episode' (by Richard Martin): This is a prose story about two engineers in the Congo who are accosted by native cannibals when on their way to buy supplies. They trick the natives by throwing bullets into a fire, and there's a deeply unpleasant bit where the natives worship them and call them "White Lord".

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex is still in captivity due to his resemblance to the villain El Diablo, but he is freed with evidence provided by his buddy Bob Daley.  In pretty short order he has dealt with El Diablo, which is kind of disappointing, because I wanted this story to run for a bit longer.  The whole thing feels a bit too neat and tidy.

'Scoop Scanlon' (by Will Ely): Scoop deals with a bank robber who is amnesiac after a car crash. That could have been a good story, but it's not explored at all, making this yet another very average yarn.

'Zatara' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara is in South Africa, where The Tigress is robbing diamond mines with her Zulu henchmen.  This is disappointing to begin with, because I thought Zatara and the Tigress were buddies now. The story is fun in the way that all Zatara stories are (i.e. you spend them wondering what ridiculous trick he will pull next) but this one was a little light on the magic.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

October 1938: Detective Comics #21; More Fun Comics #37

Cover by Leo O'Mealia

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Speed tackles a mobster who has murdered an author whose research led her to his hideout.  The little details in this strip are more interesting than the main plot. There's a panel of Speed reading an issue of Detective Comics, which raises all sorts of questions. And then there's the murder victim's secretary, who is seen during the climactic fight wresting a tommy gun from a gangster and socking him in the jaw. She's officially the most impressive female in DC comics yet.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Larry deals with a shonky doctor and lawyer who have hired an acrobat to fake being hit by a car, and thereby blackmail the driver into giving them lots of money. It's as averagely done as you'd expect.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck goes up against a crooked deputy who is intimidating people into committing crimes for him, then shooting them and collecting the reward money. Buck actually gets shot and spends three weeks recovering, which makes this one a little more dramatic than the usual Buck Marshall story.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Bart and Sally are assigned to show Baron von Huldorf (a known spy) around, and tip him off to some unimportant confidential information while keeping the good stuff secret. They end up humiliating him and driving him from the country, but this is just a prologue of sorts, as their actions become the final straw in getting international spy Lorenzo Rica to decide to kill them once and for all. Again it's a pretty good story, as Siegel and Shuster have a knock for taking pedestrian material to a higher level than their contemporaries.

'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): A detective on Fu Manchu's trail turns up dead, and Petrie and Nayland Smith have to go to his house to get his case book. Will they make it before Fu Manchu? This is transitional stuff until the next set piece starts, but it still succeeds in deepening the mystery. And with such a slow build, I'm just dying for Fu Manchu to appear in person.

'The Crime in Stone' (by Gardner Fox): This is a short prose story about a detective investigating the murder of a notorious racketeer. It's one of those where the detective immediately solves the mystery and gets the culprit to confess without even trying, so there's no drama at all.

'Bruce Nelson and the Song of Death' (by Tom Hickey): The story continues, with Bruce still investigating the murders of two showgirls. In this installment someone tries to drop a sandbag on Bruce's head, and he spends the rest of the story solving that mystery; it was Mrs. Warren, the wardrobe mistress. But whether that gets him any closer to solving the real mystery is not yet revealed, as the story's still to be continued.  It's a perfectly decent middle chapter that lets the mystery develop at a natural pace.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers): This has a very simple story this month, as the Crimson Avenger busts up a gang that is digging up graves looking for $50,000 that was buried with a bank robber.  If this didn't feature a guy in a costume, I'd be panning it.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Gardner Fox and Artist Unknown): This gets my attention instantly when Steve is told that his Russian friend Big Jim has been shot. I remember him from a few chapters ago, and I rather liked him, so I had an instant investment here. The shooting was in revenge for when Jim and Steve caught the Fellini gang together, and when Steve investigates he finds the culprits are also smuggling dope via pigeons. So the actual plot isn't that interesting, but the use of Big Jim got me caught up in it. It's too bad the writer had to go and ruin things by using the term "chink" in the narrative captions.  I can almost forgive it when it's in dialogue, because that could just be specific to that character, but if it's in the captions there's no one to blame but the writer.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Slam and Shorty head to Egypt looking for money, and fall afoul of Seth, one of Slam's old enemies and a slave trafficker.  Slam takes him down in a decent action-adventure story, but along the way he has some dodgy interactions with one of Seth's slave girls. She is sent to kidnap Slam and hold him at gunpoint, but seems unable to resist when he takes her veil off and starts kissing her. Then later in the story she comes to his aid and sacrifices her life to save him.  That Slam Bradley must be one hell of a kisser.

Cover by Creig Flessel

'The Masked Ranger' (by Jim Chambers): The Masked Ranger is still after the Night Raiders, but he doesn't get far, because most of the story focuses on the two girls he rescued last issue, and their dodgy uncle.  It's not bad, especially for a Golden Age western, but the title character should be in it more.

'Gary Hawkes' (by Bob Jenney): Gary has become famous after the kidnapping he foiled last issue, and a South American country has hired him to stop a mad colonel bent on dictatorship.  I wouldn't be too worried about this colonel, because even in private where he'd undoubtedly be speaking his native tongue he can barely form a coherent sentence. This one continues next issue.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Wing spends yet another strip needling Von BlarcomBlarcom has finally snapped, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it pans out next issue.

'Touchdown' (by Richard Martin): This is a football prose story in which a player who can't run is called in to replace an absolute champion. For starters, I know nothing about American football, so a lot of the terminology flew over my head. And the conclusion (in which the coach puts a firecracker in the player's pants to make him run faster) is telegraphed from very early on, but treated like a grand revelation after it happens.

'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely): Johnny Law is still in pursuit of the ammunition smugglers, who are escaping in their ship.  At first I thought that there was a big hole in this story's plot, but then I realised that my scan is missing a page, so I can't really review it. I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): This shows the events surrounding King Philip II of Spain's persecution of the Netherlands, and William of Orange fighting back.

'Red Logan' (by Ed Winiarski): Red is in Boronia, where the leader of the nearby country of Blurbia has been assassinated. With the two countries on the brink of war, Red tries to get into the palace, but is captured and put before a firing squad. The stakes may be high, but the storytelling is dull. The only interesting thing is a passing mention of Slam Bradley.

'Ginger Snap' (by Bob Kane): Ginger is fishing in a lake and catching lots of gumboots and such. Then she's using her rod to dunk kids in the water as a way of providing swimming lessons.  How one relates to the other is beyond me.

'Detective Sergeant Carey' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey is staying in a cabin that is said to be haunted. I enjoyed this one, because it's a total Scooby Doo plot (albeit 30 years early).  And Carey's sidekick talks about ectoplasm, which I always thought was a Ghostbusters thing, but I now know is more of an early 20th century paranormal charlatan thing.

'Rex Darrell' (by Terry Gilkison): This is a new strip about an aviator and investigator, known by crooks as "The Flying Fox".  In this story a pirate gang has kidnapped an inventor, as they plan to take over an aircraft carrier that he designed.  The coup goes off well, but Rex beats them by heroically calling the authorities in.  Seriously, there are far too many Golden Age stories that are resolved when the hero calls the police.  It's not a good way to end a story.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by B. Hirsch and R. Lehman): Bob Neal and his crew take on some pirates (they seem to be a big part of the zeitgeist at this point). There's not much to recommend this one, although there is a startling scene in which a captured Bob has lit matches jammed under his fingernails.  The problem with the scene is that he continues along afterwards as though it never happened.

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This begins with a pretty cool riot in the streets, then the plot swerves into being about a jewel thief called "The Mastermind".  I enjoyed the novelty and carnage of the first half, but the second was the usual bland material.

'Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): Dennis Stone captures Capt. Klaugh, then goes after the real leader of the slave traders. A combination of sleepiness and a bad scan mean that I didn't follow this one very well.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

September-October 1938: New Adventure Comics #31; Action Comics #6; Adventure Comics #32

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Barry O'Neill' (by Leo O'Mealia): This strip last appeared in More Fun Comics #29, some seven months ago.  Barry is still trying to rescue Dr. Bonfils from Fang Gow, while the paralysed Fang Gow wants Bonfils to remove a bullet from his spine.  Fang Gow proves his villainy by torturing the good doctor, while Barry blacks up to pass as an Arab so he can infiltrate Fang Gow's lair.  It's a very solid adventure, and it's a testament to it that after all these months (or weeks, in my case) I could still remember what had happened.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers): Tom is delivering ammunition in Singapore when he gets captured by river pirates.  One is an old enemy of his, Barrows, and the others are primitive native tribesmen. Brent and his pals escape, as is expected, and this strip looks to be heading down the usual boring path. Then the natives go berserk, kill Barrows, and start waving his severed head about on a stick. To be continued! Okay Chambers, you've got my attention.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Steve Carson deals with the kidnapping of a wealthy manufacturer's son.  It's as vanilla as this strip can get.

'Dale Daring' (by Will Ely): Dale and her companions make their escape from the bandit hideout, gunning down their pursuers all the while. And remember how last time they had cut the bridge, ending with the cliffhanger of a whole bunch of bandits falling into the ravine?  Luckily for them they fell in the water!  It's the first instance of a hero reassuring the audience that nobody was hurt.

'Cal 'n' Alec' (by Stockton): Cal and Alec are following their treasure map. They find the location and start digging, only to be fired on by a mysterious figure.  This strip isn't even trying to be funny any more, and if it wasn't for the cartoony art style I wouldn't expect it to be.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo is still making his escape from Ben el Hassar and his men, but luckily there's an army of British soldiers around to help out. Desmo doesn't mess about when it comes to killing Hassar, either; he just hops into his plane and guns him down.  But even with that action-packed conclusion, this story is no great shakes.

'Ocean Flight by Mistake' (by Jack Anthony): This is a prose story about a pilot flying to California who accidentally ends up in Ireland. The punch-line is reached half-way through, but the damn thing just keeps going and going well after it should be finished.

'Don Coyote' (by Stockton): Don finds himself washed up on the shore of a desert island where he meets a vicious criminal intent on duelling with him.  Like Cal 'n' Alec, it's just not funny at all anymore, and it's certainly not dramatic.

'Tod Hunter, Jungle Master' (by Jim Chambers): Tod and his posse are leaving the temple with the rubies they stole. But Paul and Hawkins disappear with the rubies, and send their Arab cronies to capture everyone else. At least that's what I think happened, I found this one a little hard to follow.  And not terribly interesting.

'The Golden Dragon' (by Tom Hickey): This strip follows two stories in this issue.  The first belongs to Cockerill, who we last left being attacked by a giant snake.  It turns out he was hallucinating, possibly under the effect of hypnosis, and that he's been captured by the villainous mongol Torgadoff. Torgadoff's evil plan is to make him write a letter, but we don't see what's in it so I'll give his evil mastermind plan the benefit of the doubt for now.  In the other story, Ian and his band had just been attacked by skeletons and nearly wiped out.  In this issue they make their way to a mysterious temple and are about to meet the Abbot. This is the very definition of a filler strip.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Rusty and his friends had just last issue met a big dude with a sword on a tropical island. In this story the big dude leads them into a trap, and the revelation at the end is that there's a white man in charge of the natives.  Isn't there always?

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Fred Guardineer): Red is captured by El Diablo and tricked into leaving a message for Don that will lure him into a trap.  Honestly, I just want to find out the identity of El Diablo and get this over and done with.

Cover by Leo O'Mealia

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This has a story with a surprising amount of prescience. A man arrives at the Daily Star claiming to be Superman's manager, and he has licensed all sorts of Superman merchandise. Of course Clark Kent knows he's a phony, and proceeds to expose him and the actor he has hired to play Superman. Lois gets involved, and once again she is a complete bitch; her method of stealing Clark's story this month is to drug him.  I honestly can't see how Superman can possibly fall in love with her, because she's just intolerable

The Superman merchandise is everywhere in this story, and it's weird to think that this story most probably existed in a world before all of this stuff was a reality. A radio show and a movie are mentioned, as is the Superman Streamline Special, America's Favorite Automobile (I don't think this one was ever made, but it wouldn't surprise me).

Oh, and a young kid wearing a bow tie appears in the Daily Star.  He's not named, but he has Jimmy Olsen written all over him.

 Chuck escapes from the bad guys, only to be captured by some other guys.  Seriously, people getting captured is the only plot twist Homer Fleming knows.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep goes hunting for bears and ends up rescuing a kidnapped boy from a hardened criminal. Then, just to prove what a swell guy he is, he uses the reward money to buy bats and balls for orphans.  It's probably wrong for me to hate such a good guy, but I hate him a lot.

'Pilferin' Pete' (by Russell Cole): This is yet another story where a cop chases a purse snatcher. Cole is just turning in the same story over and over again at this point.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco Polo is still in the town of Kerman, where he witnesses a battle between two groups of bandits, and later saves a woman from being raped. There's a relatively graphic shot of the rapist's corpse with Marco's sword in it, gushing blood like a fountain. There's nothing like a good bit of unexpected gore to liven a story up.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex is flying over Europe when he is forced down by a mysterious plane and captured by the evil Captain Diablo, who is running his own private army. In an effective plot twist, Diablo and Thomson just happen to look identical, and the usual shenanigans ensue; Thomson escapes by impersonating Diablo, but is then arrested by authorities who think he is their enemy.  This one is to be continued, and has some decent potential.

'Scoop Scanlon' (by Will Ely): Scoop takes on a gang of murderers with the help of some hillbillies. It's a fairly average story, but the addition of hillbillies is always welcome.

'Zatara' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara is awesome. In this story the Tigress is at it again, trying to steal the emerald of Egyptian pharaoh Cheops. At first things are going like the average Zatara story, but then the Tigress gets captured by an evil sheik, Zatara meets the mummy of Cheops, and then he leads the pharaoh's undead legions to rescue the Tigress. By the end it seems as though Zatara and the Tigress are best buds, so I'll be interested to see where that relationship goes.  But this story was really good, with some rad scenes and an epic scale.

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Barry O'Neill' (by Leo O'Mealia): The newly revived Fang Gow captures Jean LeGrand and her father, while Barry and Dr. Bonfils try to survive a water-filled cavern set as a trap.  Again this is solid, and I'm impressed by O'Mealia's willingness to shut up and let the art tell the story. It's almost marred by the appearance of some very awful Chinese dialect, but that character starts talking normally when he reveals that he's a secret agent, so it's all good.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers): I have no idea what happened in this. Our heroes are being menaced by natives, until the pirate leader shows up and guns them down in his plane.  The pirate leader then tries to kill Brent, but Brent escapes and flies off in the plane.  Then he's attacked by a cobra that was in the cockpit.  Then the authorities show up to arrest the pirate leader. What happened to the snake? What happened to the natives that were still there?  It's supposed to be a conclusion, but it's like there's a huge part of the story that's missing.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Steve Carson leads an attack on a racketeer who is holed up with a tommy gun in an abandoned house. After the house catches fire, Steve tries to rescue the criminal, only for the whole structure to fall on him.  It's a good cliffhanger to an otherwise average story.

'Dale Daring' (by Will Ely): This starts a new story, in which Dale and her father return to their South American rubber plantation only to find that it's being run by unsavoury natives who are ready for an uprising. It's not great, but at least I can say that I don't really know where it's going.

'Cal 'n' Alec' (by Stockton): This finally delivers the punchline to the buried treasure storyline, and it turns out that the map was given to them by some guy they know who has never appeared in the strip before. A very poor conclusion.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo also starts a new adventure, in which he agrees to help a British army colonel who has been framed for treason.  Of more interest than the plot, though, is that Desmo's sidekick Gabby asks Desmo why he wears his flight goggles at all times (even to bed). He doesn't get an answer, but I get the feeling there will be one eventually.  Cool!

'Don Coyote' (by Stockton): Don spends this strip fighting the guy he annoyed last time, and survives through dumb luck. It's not bad, but I miss Hash and Hamburger, Coyote's old sidekicks.

'Dot & Danny' (by Romer): This is about two kids who presumably get up to shenanigans and annoy their parents. Their mother tries to pretend she's out when a friend calls, but Dot accidentally gives her away. At least, I think that's the joke, because I'm not sure I get it.  This feature never appears again.

'Ol' Oz Bopp' (by Russell Cole): Oz spends most of this strip talking about what awesome lives the American Indians have, and how he wishes he lived the same way.  I'm still waiting for the punchline.  And it seems I'll be waiting forever, because this is the last appearance of the strip.  It was about an old man doing old man stuff, but mildly amusing. You know what, I'll kind of miss him.

'Professor Doolittle' (by Bob Kane): This sets up a gag where Doolittle keeps going into manholes and coming up with money. It turns out he's playing cards with the workmen down there, which is at least a joke I can understand.

'Hot Money' (by Whitney Ellsworth): This starts strongly with a bank robbery gone wrong, but peters out once it starts to focus on the FBI tracking the robbers down. It continues next issue.

'Tod Hunter, Jungle Master' (by Jim Chambers): Tod is still a captive of the arab Hassim. I was having trouble following this strip last time, but I think I've caught up here. Tod's buddy Paul has turned traitor and is trying to flee with the rubies, while Hassim wants them for himself. That doesn't mean it's good, it just means I understand the plot now.

'The Golden Dragon' (by Tom Hickey): Our hero Ian meets the abbot, who rattles off a few pages of cryptic prophecies and mumbo jumbo.  I'm a sucker for that sort of thing, so I enjoyed this quite a bit. Then we get into some plotting from the evil Torgadoff, and it looks to me as though this strip is heading to a conclusion pretty soon.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Rusty and his pals find themselves as the guest of Ichabod Slade, a white man in charge of the natives on the island. After his intriguing introduction, it turns out that he is just another dull villain creating counterfeit money. And whatever happened to the Chinese dude and his pirates from a few strips ago?  They've vanished from the story completely after a huge build-up..

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Fred Guardineer): Don succeeds in rescuing Red, but El Diablo escapes.  My prime suspect for being El Diablo, Marshall, then goes to great lengths to prove his innocence by showing up as El Diablo's captive. I'm still not convinced!  Also, I love El Diablo.  He's just a guy in a suit with a sack on his head.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

September 1938: More Fun Comics #36

Cover by Creig Flessel

'The Masked Ranger' (by Jim Chambers):  This new strip features the eponymous hero, a masked cowboy who fights crime with the help of his horse Star and his Mexican sidekick Pedro. In this story he goes up against the Night Raiders, a gang who are trying to get both halves of a treasure map. It's really not that much better than the other cowboy serials, but the addition of various pulp hero trappings livens things up a bit. The story continues next issue.

'Three Musketeers' (by Sven Elven): This continues with D'artagnan and Athos still making their mad ride to London. It remains quite exciting.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Wing continues stalking his enemy Von Blarcom, and telling him about the horrors of El Brunda prison. He also finds time to survive an assassination attempt.  This is still really well done, and I actually want to find out how it ends, which is more than can be said for a lot of the other serials in this issue.

'Last of the Killers' (by Tex Horton): This is a prose story about a US State Marshall tracking down a murderer in Tombstone.  It manages to evoke the atmosphere of the old west quite effectively, and this authentic sense of place makes it better than most of the other DC prose stories.

'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely): Johnny Law was last seen chasing arms smugglers into a thick sea fog. There's a bit of a battle on the ocean, and some of the smugglers are arrested, but the bulk of them are getting away in their ship as the strip ends.  To be continued!  This is fairly sedate for a story with a boat chase and tommy guns.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): Bobby and Binks witness the rise of Queen Isabella of France, and the story of Christopher Columbus. It's hard to evaluate this series, because it's more of a history lesson than a story. But I'm usually interested to read them, so it must be doing something right.

'Red Logan' (by Ed Winiarski): Red was being attacked by a shark last issue.  He deals with it, while his friend and Russian stereotype Ivan captures the foreign agents who put him in the water in the first place.  The rest of the strip has them arriving in Boronia and looking around, with the cliffhanger being that the local dictator has been killed.  I honestly never thought a strip with a man knifing a shark could be boring, but I was wrong.

'Gary Hawkes' (by Bob Jenney): This is a new strip about a pilot who has been giving flying lessons to a millionaire's daughter. When she is kidnapped he flies to her rescue, and the usual bland shenanigans take place. This story has nothing new to offer, and I doubt that it's going to do anything interesting in the future.

'Detective Sergeant Carey of the Chinatown Squad' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey is on vacation, but while riding a train he stumbles across a man who has been murdered by a doctor who is really a terrorist leader. It's really not good, and the art features quite possibly the ugliest woman in the history of DC comics to this point.

'Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): The story continues, with Captain Dennis being captured by Klaugh, who is still angry that Dennis refused to carry slaves for him. It's not that exciting, but it does end with the promise of a final confrontation between Dennis and Klaugh. I don't expect much, but that might be the best way to approach it.

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Sandy and Larry deal with a pyromaniac fireman, with the aid of a dog that Sandy rescues from a burning house. I'll say one thing for Siegel and Shuster, they're probably better than anyone else at this time at getting drama from a situation. Any story that ends with the hero wrestling a pyromaniac in a burning building is okay in my book.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by R. Hirsch and Russ Lehmann):  New strip! Bob Neal stops foreign agents from destroying Sub 662, and so becomes its second-in-command.  The only remarkable thing about the story is that it features the first use of punctuation symbols to replace a swear word (in a DC comic, anyway).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

September 1938: Detective Comics #20

Cover by Leo O'Mealia

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Speed investigates the murder of a Chinese tong leader over a cursed jade Buddha. This story would normally be quite average, but the prevalence of yellow peril stereotypes drags it down even further.

'Larry Steele, Private Detective' (by Will Ely): When last we left Larry, he was trapped on an island full of ex-cons, trying to rescue the girl Dolores.  The two of them manage to escape, only for the island volcano to erupt.  The rest of the strip is a mad dash back to Larry's plane as they try to beat the flow of lava. Yes, the whole volcano thing comes out of nowhere, but it does provide an exciting action sequence, and a type of threat we haven't seen yet.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck deals with yet another ranch owner who murders another ranch owner to get his land.  I can't take much more of this.  I'm thinking of just using some stock reviews for this series.  'Rustlers' and 'murderous ranch owner' should cover it.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Bart and Sally are assigned to act as bodyguards for a senator who has said he doesn't want to be guarded, forcing them to protect him in secret. It's a step back to more generic material for this strip, but it does finish with the trademark final make-out panel. And their boss is still just a little too happy to be watching them.

'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): This strip continues, as Petrie and Nayland wait to be attacked by one of Fu Manchu's assassins. The tension is built very effectively until the assassin shows up to drop a poisonous centipede through the window. This is still very creepy and rather good.

'Give and Take' (by Gardner Fox): This is a prose story about Chinese criminals stealing a ruby, and a detective who steals it back.  These stories don't disappear until the 1960s, do they?

'Bruce Nelson and the Song of Death' (by Tom Hickey): This begins a new story, in which Bruce investigates the mysterious deaths of two Broadway singers, who both keeled over when singing the exact same song. The story doesn't get far here; it's just set-up to introduce all of the suspects. But as is usual for Bruce Nelson stories, the characters are a little more well-rounded, which makes up for the slow pace.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers): This is a new strip about a masked crime fighter, very much in the tradition of the Shadow and the Green Hornet.  Lee Travis is the wealthy publisher of the Globe Leader newspaper, but he is also the crime fighter known as "The Crimson", aided by his Chinese servant Wing. In this story he goes up against a crooked lawyer who is using fake witnesses to get his clients off the hook. The plot twists in this story are relatively complex; I had to read it twice to figure out what was going on, but the Crimson's plan is actually pretty clever. It's not bad, and I'm happy to see some more super-hero type characters appearing.  I gather that he and various other heroes with the same name make a lot of appearances in modern DC comics, so this is another guy I'll have to keep a close eye on.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo takes on a group of thieves who steal a boat, forge papers to make it look like a legitimate sale, then use the boat to traffic dope. This is another strip I'm fairly tired of.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This is a pretty bizarre installment. Slam has learned how to be a magician, and because he's a total jerk about it Shorty decides to leave for a while. Slam uses his new found powers to terrorise a corrupt politician and force him to quit.  It's very weird watching Slam doing the sort of stuff usually reserved for Zatara over in Action Comics. I kept expecting a reveal that he was an impostor, or at least a moment where the magic is done away with to restore things back to normal. That moment does come at the end, when Slam gives up practicing magic despite the fact that it helped him immensely in this story. This was so different from the usual Slam Bradley story that I just couldn't help but be intrigued and entertained by it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

September 1938: Action Comics #5

Cover by Leo O'Mealia

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Superman has to save a town from a burst dam, which is mostly an excuse for him to show off his powers to the reader.  Of greater importance is the beginning of the Clark-Lois-Superman love triangle.  Lois is a complete bitch in this story, to the point where she sends Clark on a wild goose chase so that she can steal his story.  Despite the fact that Clark is basically a nice guy, she treats him like dirt.  But perhaps there's a cultural disconnect going on here for me, because all of the so-called admirable heroes of the Golden Age are aggressive men of action, and Clark is very passive.  I like him, but I'm gathering that not many people of this era would.  But this is where Lois starts falling hard for Superman, even going so far as to plant a kiss on him, and that's a lot more significant than seeing Superman outrace a flood. (Not that the latter isn't exciting, because in relation to the other stories in this issue it really is.)

'The Diddle Family' (by Paul Gustavson): This humour strip is about a boy and his grandfather who feign incompetence to get out of cleaning the house.  It's a policy I've lived my life by.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck captures a sniper and is about to get him to spill everything he knows, but then gets himself captured by the sheriff. Fleming's last cowboy strip was nothing but an endless series of captures and escapes, so I'm hoping this is a one-time deal.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep wins a yacht race. There's absolutely nothing else to this story.

'Phil the Floater' (by Russell Cole): This is about a hobo who steals a chicken then gets caught by the police. Honestly, these stories are just getting simpler and simpler.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco fights the giant snake from last issue, then spends the rest of the strip recuperating in a Persian town. I suppose that the whole point of this type of strip is the depiction of exotic locales and cultures, so I can forgive the leisurely pace here.

'Valley of the Past' (by Richard Martin): This is a prose story about two cowboys who are inexplicably attacked by a dinosaur.  This one registered more highly with me than most of the previous text stories simply because of its subject matter.  This sort of genre mash-up will become the bread-and-butter of the comics industry in years to come, but at this point it's still unusual.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex is in the Middle Eastern country of "Nestralia", where he gets involved with revolutionaries trying to kill a girl who knows too much.  I was kind of bored by this, but it picks up when Tex has a sword fight with the leader of the revolutionaries. He even loses the fight, which isn't common for Golden Age heroes. (Don't worry kids, he gets rescued and the baddies are arrested.)

'Scoop Scanlon, Star Reporter' (by Will Ely): Scoop goes up against "Gentleman Jack", a bank robber who donates his stolen money to charity.  This one is continued next month.  It's good to see a villain with a relatively complex morality.

'Zatara' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara faces an ancient Egyptian sorcerer named Amen-Hotep in a story that's a hell of a lot of fun. Again (to my disappointment) he doesn't do any backwards talking, but the magic he uses is clever and his duel with Amen-Hotep is really engaging.  The bad guy's name was familiar to me, so I thought he must have appeared again after this, but it just turns out that there are a few Egyptian pharaohs with the same name.

Monday, March 21, 2011

August 1938: New Adventure Comics #30

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Fred Guardineer): Don infiltrates a ship that's been supplying guns to El Diablo, and proceeds to pistol whip, punch, kick and explode everything in sight.  If there's one trait I admire in these Golden Age heroes it's the ability to dish out some serious consequences, and that's definitely on display here.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers): Jim has arrived in Stambul, where he deals with a gang that's kidnapped the local consul and taken his place as their first step to taking over the city. The story is unremarkable, but Chambers draws the hero with the biggest damn forehead I ever saw.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Steve Carson catches a murderer with the help of the Junior Federal Men Club.  Is it wrong that I wanted all of those kids to die?  Because I am so sick of them.

'Nadir' (by Will Ely): Nadir is sailing with a friend in the South Seas when they are attacked by river pirates. (With speedboats, might I add.)  He beats them with hypnotism, but later on they get their revenge, and the strip ends with Nadir strangled and about be bundled into a car. It's the usual stuff, but at least the cliffhanger is pretty good.  Or it would be, if it was ever resolved, because this is the last we see of Nadir and his rad turban.  And it looks like he just got totally killed by pirates, which is at least a memorable way to go.

'Cal 'n' Alec' (by Stockton): When last we left Cal and Alec, they had just found a gold mine. But, as will happen, an outrageous Mexican stereotype gets mad at them and attacks them with dynamite, sealing the mine.  It's unfortunate, but you know, I seem to remember that these guys found a whole lot of gold a while ago and were already filthy rich.  Don't these writers know that they should never ignore the continuity?!?

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): In the last issue Desmo and his sidekick Gabby had infiltrated the bandits led by Sheik Ben el Hassar, but this month their scheme goes awry when Gabby drops his wallet and the Sheik sees his real street address in Brooklyn. Honestly, I'm more interested in Desmo's permanent headgear than the actual story.

'Deep Sea Gambling' (by Terry Keane): This is a prose story about a deep sea diver who bets his partner that he can stay underwater longer than him.  Yes, there's a bit of life-threatening stuff later on in the story, but at least the author here has realised that he only has two pages to work with, and has kept it appropriately small scale.

'Tod Hunter, Jungle Master' (by Jim Chambers): Tod Hunter had just found a priest inside a giant statue, who had been using it to control the natives for years.  After throwing the priest off the top and killing him, Tod uses the statue to order the natives to free his friends, then makes his escape. A happy ending, except for the one member of his party who is plotting something. To be continued!  (As if I care.)

'Robin Hood' (by Sven Elven): This strip continues the business with the knight Sir Richard, as he confronts the Abbott he owes money to and tricks him into lowering the debt. The focus on Richard instead of Robin and his men in this installment sucks a bit of the life out of it, I'm afraid.  And that's the last installment, which is a shame.  There have been other adaptations far more boring than this that ran for ages (I'm looking at you, 'A Tale of Two Cities').

'Rusty' (by Bob Kane): Rusty and his pals escape the pirate ship and make for a nearby island where they meet a big native with a sword. The only thing this strip has going for it is that the main characters all have distinct personalities. But when they amount to Plucky Kid, Kid With Glasses and Fat Kid, that's not saying much.

'The Golden Dragon' (by Tom Hickey): This strip has its most exciting and eventful episode yet. Thrill, as our heroes pack!  Gasp, as they travel! Yes, it's filler for the first half, but the last scenes feature Cockerill, who was captured last month, being thrown in a cell with a giant snake. I'm not sure who the story wants me to root for, though, because I seem to remember Cockerill as a traitor and potential rapist. Uh, go snake? Oh, and I finally paid attention, and know what the heroes of this strip are up to: they're looking for the lost treasure of Genghis Khan.  Actually writing about this stuff is a great aid to my memory.

'Don Coyote' (by Stockton): Don Coyote was thrown in prison last issue, and this month he escapes. There's a touch of suicide humour, but other than that it's mostly slapstick, which takes a very talented artist to pull off in comics. Stockton isn't that artist, I'm afraid.

'Dale Daring' (by Will Ely): Dale and her friends hold Li Hoang hostage as they escape the Mongol village. Of course they are pursued, and the strip ends as the pursuing natives are sent tumbling into a chasm by Our Heroes. It's a weird cliffhanger that leaves the villains as the ones being threatened.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

August 1938: Detective Comics #19; More Fun Comics #35

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): This is a fairly average story about counterfeiters, but in its defense I didn't pick who the ringleader was.  Looking back there was only one suspect, but it still surprised me when he was revealed.

'Inspector Kent of Scotland Yard' (by George Newman): This is a new strip.  Kent goes up against the super-criminal known as The Raven, who steals a top-secret invisibility formula.  This is pretty decent, but I suspect that my opinion is coloured by a weakness for the trappings of super-hero fiction.  Throw in a colourfully named villain and an invisibility formula and I'm bound to mark a story up.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): This has an unusual opening for the era.  This is the first time I've seen a strip open with an extensive back story.  It explains how a group of convicts came to be marooned on a desert island some twenty years earlier. A plane crashed on the island some years later, and the convicts killed all of the crew except for 14-year-old Dolores, who the convict leader planned to marry when she became old enough.  The story hits the present when Larry Steele lands there, but there's really not much to it from there.  The convicts convince him to fly them back to the USA, he starts to bond with Dolores, and then it's "to be continued".

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This strip has its best installment yet.  Since the last story Bart and Sally have quit the spy game and are getting married.  But as is the way of things, they're summoned urgently half-way through their ceremony to deal with female saboteur Rosa Rinaldo.  This gives the story a bit of an edge in the dialogue, with Sally constantly making snide remarks about the interrupted marriage.  The majority of the story as they chase Rosa Rinaldo isn't out of the ordinary, but the finale really is something else.  Rosa has a mirror that can fire destructive rays, and, well... I'll let the picture speak for itself.

That there is my favourite panel yet.

'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): Nayland Smith explains the ways in which Fu Manchu kills his victims as he and Petrie make their way home under the constant threat of death.  The suspense is really building effectively here, and Fu Manchu manages to be a compelling figure without yet having made an appearance.

'A Dead Case' (by Gardner Fox): This prose story is about a detective investigating the theft of corpses from the morgue. The culprit is a scientist who is trying to bring them back to life.  The subject matter is more in my wheelhouse than most of these prose stories, but this is still not very good.

'Bruce Nelson and the Coolie Smugglers' (by Tom Hickey): This installment is quite basic, being mostly made up of an aerial dogfight followed by Bruce exposing the leader of the smuggling ring. Usually this is one of my favourite strips in the issue, but this one didn't excite me.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo saves a gold shipment from some bandits. The only notable thing about this story is that there's a character who specifically hasn't met Cosmo before. Trust me, for this strip it's unusual.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Gardner Fox and Artist Unknown): Steve deals with a gang of bank robbers, with the help of his Russian friend Big Jim.  Big Jim turns out to be a fun character, and the action scenes are better than average. This isn't too bad.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Slam and Shorty head to a city of ape-men in Africa to rescue a museum curator.  This is fun stuff, and just reinforces that Slam Bradley is probably still the most consistently good strip I'm reading now.  And to top it off, Shorty finally gets the girl at the end.  Hooray!

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This story gives us a healthy dose of cross-dressing humour as Sandy and Larry go undercover to catch the robber of Lover's Lane.  Siegel and Shuster have proved that they can do very good comedy before, and they've produced another amusing story here.  (Also, the chief gives a big speech about how obedient Sandy and Larry are, forgetting how last issue they stole another cop's squad car.)

'Bloodhound Brown' (by Russell Cole): This is another of Cole's tiresome chase sequence strips. It's just panel after panel of dudes following each other.

'Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): This continues its story, in which Captain Dennis Stone just informed his crew that he doesn't want to trade in slaves any more.  His crew backs him up, but he has made an enemy of the villainous Captain Klaugh. It's a reasonably effective piece of set-up for future stories.

'High Stakes' (by Richard Martin): This is the second part of a prose story in which two foreign correspondents are trying to get important documents over the border in some sort of German-like country. With a bit of extra space to develop, it turns out much better than the usual fare for these stories.

'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely): Johnnie Law is trying to capture some ammunition smugglers, but they get in their boat and sail away as a fog rolls in.  To be continued!  It's all set-up, and dull set-up at that.

'Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): This is a strip in which two kids look into a crystal that shows them historical events. This time it details the reign of Henry VII, and the two guys who pretend to be the Earl of Warwick to drum up support and overthrow him. It's more interesting for the events it depicts, rather than the actual execution as a story.

'Red Logan' (by Ed Winiarski): Red is sent overseas as a foreign correspondent, but runs into trouble on the ship with some agents who are trying to kill a foreign secretary and take his top secret documents.  It's average stuff, but the cliffhanger has Red being menaced by a shark, and sharks make everything better.

'Detective Sergeant Carey of the Chinatown Squad' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey deals with a crazy murderer on a plane, which is at least a relief from his usual racist antics in Chinatown.  This strip has shifted over from New Adventure Comics.

The Fun Stamp Club: There is an article in here about stamps.  WHAT THE HELL, DC.  I thought we were past this nonsense.

'The Three Musketeers' (by Sven Elven): D'Artagnan and his companions are tasked to deliver a secret letter from the Queen to the Duke of Buckingham in London. The evil Cardinal's forces dog them at every turn, and it's a relatively tense read as the musketeers fall one by one.  Elven's work is much better when he's adapting other people's stories.

'Jack Woods' (by Jim Chambers): Jack is on the trail of cattle rustlers, and after a confrontation with them he's badly wounded. To be continued!  Honestly, it's like these cowboy strip have exactly one plot.  And to top it off, the strip doesn't appear again until Adventure Comics #39.  I'll have forgotten everything that's happened by then.

'Marg'ry Daw' (by Stan Aschmeier): This wraps up its kidnapping plot in a pretty poor fashion. Ace reporter Jack Kane is introduced and does all the work of exposing the kidnappers, leaving Marg'ry to make a one-panel cameo at the end.  It's bad form when the main character has absolutely nothing to do with resolving her own story.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Wing and his buddy Frenchy are still trying to get revenge on the men who sent them to prison for three years. Wing pretends that he has gone crazy so that he'll be allowed some leeway, and proceeds to stalk one of his enemies.  This is pretty good stuff, with some tense build-up.

'Sandra of the Secret Service' (by Will Ely): Sandra is trailing some thugs who have kidnapped an ex-crook to force him to give them his money. But the ex-crook tricks them and makes his escape. Sandra, being a girl, does nothing but summon the police.  And apparently this is the end of the series, and I'll never find out if Sandra catches that dude.  I'm going to assume that he's caught by a man, because even in their own strips the female characters are pretty ineffectual.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

August 1938: Action Comics #4

Cover by Leo O'Mealia

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Superman begins his adventure by chasing down a hit-and-run driver, but is quickly sidetracked into a plot by a crooked coach to hire thugs to help him win his next football match.  Superman decides to go undercover in the opposing team, and in a jaw-droppingly uncharacteristic moment, knocks the player he is to impersonate out with a hypodermic needle.  Superman spends the next few pages being awesome at football and beats the thugs with ease.

This is the second month in a row that Superman has spent the majority of the story in disguise, and it somewhat dilutes his impact. He's also getting involved in the same types of stories as all of the other characters; the only difference is that he can outrun trains and physically overpower everyone he comes across. I'm looking forward to him getting into some more fantastical stories.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck steals his horse back, then makes the horses of his pursuers stampede. I was okay with this strip when I thought it would be Chuck seeking his vengeance, but it seems to be going in tedious circles like Fleming's other serials.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep wins a diving contest, is winning a freestyle swimming race before he has to turn back and rescue another swimmer with cramp, and saves two boys from going over a waterfall in their canoe. The moral of this story?  Pep Morgan is awesome at everything.

'Bad Bill' (by Russell Cole): In this story an ornery varmint just hauls off and starts shooting everyone in town for no reason.  I'm not sure if it was supposed to be funny, but I laughed anyway.  He's beaten when his first victim reveals he had a bullet proof vest on, but that doesn't help the other people he shot.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): After surviving last issue's sandstorm, Marco Polo finds time to engage in some horseplay before the strip takes a sharp turn into a fight between two lions and a giant snake.  That's quite the non-sequitur.  For the record, the snake wins.

'Legion Loyalty' (by Capt. Frank Thomas): This is a prose story about a French Foreign Legionnaire rescuing his friend from an Arab warlord.  It was set up to be a decent action/adventure yarn, but in such a short space there's no time to set up any jeopardy for the protagonist.  He just fulfills his mission without a hitch, and there's no good drama in that.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Surprisingly, Tex is still in the Sealed City hanging out with the Gorrah.  With little in the way of explanation, they are suddenly menaced by the evil Rabb Khazan, who Tex defeats by dressing his friends up as the ghosts of the dead Gorrahs of the past.  It's hard to get invested in this when the new villain is just there, with no explanation for why he even wants to attack the Sealed City, or where he came from, or even who he is.  In other news, I believe that Tex Thomson is the first DC character to wink at the audience in the last panel of a story.

'Scoop Scanlon' (by Will Ely): Scoop takes down a gang responsible for bombing his newspaper office in vengeance for exposing their boss as a crook.  And once again there's no drama and no jeopardy, because the good guys always win without even half trying.

'Inspector Donald and Bobby' (by Leo O'Mealia): Donald and Bobby encounter a protection racket menacing the local shops, and Bobby takes it on himself to fix things. He sends a note demanding protection money to the head of the racket, and the ensuing confusion causes the racketeers to kill each other.  It's yet another generic strip.

'Zatara' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara comes up against some goons who kill a nightclub owner and kidnap his girl for the combination to his safe.  Compared to last issue Zatara barely does any magic at all, and none of it is in his patented backwards-speak.  Disappointing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

July 1938: New Adventure Comics #29

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Fred Guardineer): Don and Red continue to search for the South American crime lord El Diablo.  (You know he's bad news, because whenever they mention him the local police chief starts shouting frantically.)  There's the usual sleuthing, and a pretty good bar fight; it's actually not too bad.  But if Mr. Marshall of the American Embassy isn't El Diablo I'll eat a bag of dicks.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers): Jim deals with a mutiny and some diamond thieves aboard his ship in the most basic of adventures on his way to "Stambul".  Is this an old-timey word for Istanbul, or a patented fictional comic book city?  (It looks like my first instinct was correct.)

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This strip is back on form.  I love how Steve Carson saving the presidential candidate from assassination is a minor event before the main plot starts.  In this story, an evil triumvirate is trying to take over America by undermining its principles.  It's high stakes stuff in a similar vein to the way the strip started, and I'm happy to see Carson back having adventures and punching dudes again.

'Nadir, Master of Magic' (by Will Ely): This is continued from last month. Still rocking his awesome turban, Nadir deals with a movie producer who is trying to kill an actress who spurned him. It's notable for having the first silent fight scene that I've encountered so far in this project.  Also, Nadir seems to believe that if he kicks a man out of a twenty storey window it counts as suicide.

'Cal 'n' Alec' (by Stockton): Cal and Alec are complaining that nothing interesting happens to them anymore (oh, really?) when they find an abandoned gold mine. I'm not even sure if this strip is supposed to be funny any more.  It's been cycled around through so many creators that it has lost a lot of its identity.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo and his friend Gabby infiltrate the tribe of Sheik Ben el Hassar, trying to find a girl he has kidnapped.  In doing so, Desmo gains the favour of the Sheik, and the displeasure of the other tribesmen.  The only thing that really entertains me about this strip is that Desmo wears his flight helmet and goggles absolutely everywhere, even to bed.

'Gold Fever' (by Jack Anthony): This is a prose story about a gold prospector who everybody thinks is crazy because he claims to have millions of dollars worth of gold in his shack.  After he murders someone, the authorities track him back to his shack, and after an avalanche they find he really does have the gold. These stories are becoming a colossal waste of time.

'Tod Hunter, Jungle Master' (by Jim Chambers): Tod rescues his friends and they make their escape from the tribesman and their evil empress.  On the way they try to steal some rubies from a statue, but Tod falls inside and finds a priest living there. This is all a bit inspired by "She", I think, but without the eeriness and alien quality that story possessed.

'Don Coyote' (by Stockton): Don is hoodwinked by a thief, who steals his horse and purse, and leaves him to be framed for stealing a pig.  The punchline has him all locked up, but apparently this story is to be continued.  Like 'Cal 'n' Alec' this strip used to be funny, but I just don't know any more.  It's also by Stockton, which is a thing with these two strips.  It seems that whoever works on one also does the other.

'Robin Hood' (by Sven Elven): Robin Hood meets a knight who is down on his luck and in need of money, and a priest with an abundance of gold.  Anyone with even a minimal knowledge of the Robin Hood stories can see where this is going, but it's by far the most entertaining series I've seen from Sven Elven.  It's probably due to the strength of the source material, but it's very fun and jaunty.

'Dale Daring' (by Will Ely): Dale is in a tough spot, about to be doused with boiling oil by the grandfather of one of her old villains.  Of course she's rescued by her boyfriend Don Brewster, and they take the villain Li Hoang captive.  But other than the potentially gruesome torture scene, nothing here stands out.

'Rusty and his Pals' (by Bob Kane): The villainous Long Sin and his crew have taken over the ship and put the crew overboard in a boat. But the kids Rusty, Specs and Tubby are still on the ship, along with their friend Steve, who they rescue from walking the plank. This story isn't helped by Long Sin's ridiculous accent, or by me constantly wondering if Bob Kane actually drew it.

'The Golden Dragon' (by Tom Hickey): I really have no idea what the continuing story is here.  A few Americans and a band of cossacks are in Mongolia for reasons I can't recall.  But just when I was thinking this would be another forgettable installment, their camp is attacked by skeletons, who make off with some of the cast. I'm pretty sure they'll turn out to be guys in suits, but it's still worth it for the initial thrill of seeing friggin' SKELETONS.  Awesome.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

July 1938: More Fun Comics #34

Cover by Vin Sullivan

There's very little of note going on in this issue.  But a look at tells me that Stan Aschmeier, not Bob Kane as credited, is the penciller of 'Marg'ry Daw'.  I find it pretty amazing that even this early in his career Bob Kane is using ghosts and taking the credit.  I figured he wouldn't start that nonsense until Batman had blown up, but I guess not.

'Cap'n Jerry' makes its last appearance, and I honestly can't remember a thing that happened in it.  The aforementioned can't even tell me who created the thing, which shows you how significant it was.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey) starts a new story.  Wing and Frenchy have just spent three years in the French Foreign Legion's toughest prison between strips.  After one of their friends was murdered by other members of the Legion, they got in a fight and ended up being locked away.  And now, they're back for revenge!  It's a strong set-up.  And Frenchy continues with his new defining character trait of being a hot-headed drunk.  The only problem with this strip is that it ends on a cliffhanger threatening Wing's life: in a flashback!  Gee whiz, I wonder if he'll get out of this one!

It seems to me that the number of strips in More Fun Comics and New Adventure Comics is getting down to a tolerable level, so I'm going to start covering them in a more comprehensive fashion.  Because, you know, I don't have enough on my plate as it is.

Monday, March 14, 2011

July 1938: Detective Comics #18

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Speed investigates the murder of a diamond merchant, which is about as bog standard as these mysteries get.  Hint: he was murdered for diamonds!  By the guy who likes diamonds!

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo heads to Texas for a holiday, and ends up investigating a murder for which a friend of his is the prime suspect.  Cosmo has a foolproof investigation method: find the nearest shifty-looking Mexican and beat him until he confesses.  Guaranteed to work every time.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Larry was falling into a pit trap when last we left, having been captured by some kidnappers.  The rest of the strip is as paint-by-numbers as it gets.  Larry escapes, sends a friend to call the police, then stalls the kidnappers until they arrive.  Just once it would be nice to get something with more than a single dimension.

'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): Petrie encounters a mysterious girl who hands him a message to deliver to Nayland Smith.  This strip still has an eerie, otherworldy quality that I'm enjoying.  Normally I dislike the strips that are told in nothing but narrative captions, but this being an adaptation of a novel makes it feel more authentic that way.  It also helps that the quality of the writing is well above the usual comic strip of the time.  I'm pretty sure they're lifting the text directly from Sax Rohmer.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Bart and Sally keep trying to propose to each other while investigating the theft of a giant ruby.  Which is weird, because as far as I recall they've been engaged since the first issue.

'The Golden Key' (by Gardner Fox): This is a prose story about an art thief who steals a painting by rolling it up inside his hollow cane.  As is often the case, what we have here is a mystery story which is absolutely impossible to solve; the protagonist is privy to a whole lot of information that we are never shown.  I suppose there's only so much you can do in two pages, though.

'Bruce Nelson and the Coolie Smugglers' (by Tom Hickey): This story continues from last issue.  In the first part, Bruce had been framed as a smuggler, and was on the run in his plane with his native buddy Ungi.  In this chapter, they find the hangout of Del Rio, the actual smuggler, but their plane runs out of gas during the inevitable dogfight.  During the crash Nelson is injured and Ungi nurses him back to health in a cave (there's a lot of massaging, oil, and calling each other "big boy" at this point). A somewhat pointless fight with a snake takes up a whole lot of time, before Nelson and Ungi make their move against Del Rio.  And are promptly captured.  As usual, Bruce Nelson holds my interest more than most other strips.  There's nothing particularly outstanding about this one, but it does have a certain air of authenticity that's lacking elsewhere.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Gardner Fox and Artist Unknown): This is a new strip that is written by Gardner Fox.  It's a mystery as to who pencilled it; I certainly can't find anything on the web.  The eponymous hero investigates the murder of an ambassador in this story, which was adequate enough, but I found it harder to follow due to some weird placement of the word balloons.  They were often placed to be read from right to left in each panel, so I found myself reading the dialogue in the wrong order.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Slam and Shorty are embroiled in a whole lot of shenanigans involving an experimental plane.  I've never read a strip before with so many swerves and double-crosses.  There's really no comic relief to speak of (usually the life-blood of any good Slam Bradley story) but it makes up for it by being one of the most unpredictable reads so far.  Also, it has a mad scientist, and at this point Shuster draws the best damn mad scientists in the biz.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reading Schedule: July-December 1938

Here's a look at the comics I'm going to read for the second half of 1938.  It's pretty much just a continuation of what I'm doing already.  The next batch is where things are really going to kick off, because a bunch of companies join the super-hero game in 1939.

July 1938
            Action Comics #3
            Detective Comics #18
            More Fun Comics #34
            New Adventure Comics #29

August 1938
            Action Comics #4
            Detective Comics #19
            More Fun Comics #35
            New Adventure Comics #30

September 1938
            Action Comics #5
            Detective Comics #20
            More Fun Comics #36
            New Adventure Comics #31 (becomes Adventure Comics)

October 1938
            Action Comics #6
            Adventure Comics #32 (was New Adventure Comics)
            Detective Comics #21
            More Fun Comics #37

November 1938
            Action Comics #7
            Adventure Comics #33
            Detective Comics #22
            More Fun Comics #38

December 1938
            Action Comics #8
            Adventure Comics #34
            Detective Comics #23
            More Fun Comics #39

June-July 1938: New Adventure Comics #28, Action Comics #3

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Fred Guardineer) is a new strip.  It features members of the US Navy getting involved in the business of South American crime lord El Diablo, and right off the bat it endears itself to me by including something resembling a super-villain.  The action is adequate, but at least the Navy setting hasn't been tapped out yet.

'Tom Brent and the Dope Ring' is a new strip by Jim Chambers.  Tom Brent is a seaman, whose friend is killed by a ring of dope smugglers.  He manages to get the ring arrested, despite their attempts to frame him.  It's the standard stuff, but it does have one startling observation to make: apparently, waterfront cafes are the "root of all evil".

In 'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) Steve Carson is still investigating a kidnapping perpetrated by master criminal The Cobra.  It's gratifying to see Steve back to his old self, as he strangles a cobra with what appears to be his tie.

Cover by Leo O'Mealia

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Superman rescues some trapped miners, then goes after their boss for not keeping his mine up to safety standards.  This is where Superman-as-social-crusader really comes to the fore.  Whereas modern Superman might be more concerned with global threats, this is a guy who just wants to make sure a single mine is safe for its workers.  His plan involves getting the boss down into the mine to see the conditions his workers face every day.  It's not as thrilling as the previous two installments, but there is still a certain visceral satisfaction in seeing the wealthy mine owner brought down.  It's pretty easy to imagine a lot of adult readers back in the day having the same reaction.

'Scoop Scanlon' (by Will Ely): Scoop investigates a murder at a dance palace, and finds a girl who is getting men to take her driving so that her pals can rob them.  When Scoop's sidekick Rusty says "good story, eh Scoop?" at the end, even he doesn't sound convinced.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Middleweight boxing champion, major league baseballer, now automobile racer.  Pep earns the ire of some thugs when he refuses to throw a race.  Despite sabotage, another racer trying to knock him off the track, and some dudes just cold shooting at him, Pep wins, and also manages to catch the crooks afterwards. This is exactly the sort of guy I would have hated in high school.

'Shifty Simpson' (by Russell Cole): This is a humour strip, in which Shifty steals a purse and has a very hard time finding a private place to look inside it. When he finally does get a look inside, he finds a note from the police.  It's fairly amusing.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco fights a tiger with a spear, then cuts its head in half with a sword.  Note to Sven: more of this please.

'Sports at Sea' (by Dick Lawlor): This is a prose story in which a ship is caught in a storm.  To be honest, the author's insistence on describing the sun as a "fiery planet" was distracting me the whole way through.  Truly, our science powers have come a long way since 1938.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): When last we left Tex, he and Bob were in the secret Sealed City as guests of the one-eyed Gorrah.  As could be expected the Gorrah's a bad guy, and tries to have them killed.  But Tex escapes, finds the real Gorrah, and together they defeat the impostor.  Only he's beaten when he falls into one of his own traps, a pit filled with water. And might I add that it was shallow enough that a man could touch the bottom?  Come on you guys, he's totally not dead, never mind what the caption says!

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck, last seen being held at gun-point, escapes and spends most of the strip running from, punching and shooting his pursuers. But: oh no! They're planning to use his horse for something crooked!  Wake me if a robot shows up.

'Zatara, Master Magician' (by Fred Guardineer): This strip is pulling out all the stops. Wealthy men have been getting murdered by a gang called Death From Above, who gun them down from their airplanes (extra awesome points for the skull and crossbones on their plane).  Their leader is The Tigress, who we met last month, and she's been using her feminine wiles to get herself written into the wills of the victims before they're murdered.  Zatara manages to defeat them, although he can't capture the Tigress. I honestly don't know why, because the guy can do anything.  If he can teleport people, turn them to stone, and summon a plane out of thin air, I don't see why he can't stop this woman from running away (unless it's because she's a sexy lady, in which case fair play).  Nevertheless, this is diverting enough.  At the very least I enjoy seeing what ludicrous trick Zatara is going to pull next.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

June 1938: Detective Comics #17, More Fun Comics #33

Cover by Creig Flessel
'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): This strip has a new artist in Fred Guardineer.  It doesn't make a lot of difference; the up-side of so many Golden Age heroes having bland personalities and appearance is that there's no huge shift when strips change creators.  In this story, goons kidnap the daughter of an inventor and hold her to ransom for his plans.  Speed rescues her in a fairly rudimentary fashion, and a big deal is made of his knowledge that snakes won't cross a rope made of hair.  It sounds so dubious that it just has to be true.

'Oscar the Gumshoe' (by Bob Kane): This is a one-page filler strip, in which Oscar is tricked into calling out a police squad by a gang of kids.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Larry is asked by a Hollywood buddy of his to go with him to look at an abandoned castle.  They stumble across some thugs holding a girl for ransom, get captured, escape, and by the end of the strip they have fallen into a trap door.  Again, this is very standard material, with little to liven it up beyond the setting.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo is caught up in the world of international intrigue.  An old friend of his (naturally) has invented a Very Big Cannon, only for the plans to be stolen by foreign agents.  Cosmo does his thing at a Russian ball, chatting up the duchess who also happens to be the one with the plans.  It's about as good as Cosmo ever is, but at least by dabbling in the spy genre it generates some interest.

'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): An adaptation of the 'Fu Manchu' stories by Sax Rohmer begins in this issue (I believe that this is an adaptation of The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu).  It's weird for me seeing Fu Manchu in a DC comic, as I usually associate him with Marvel's Master of Kung Fu.  Even so, this is actually quite absorbing, as detectives Petrie and Nayland Smith investigate a murder connected to the evil Fu Manchu, "the Yellow Peril incarnate in one man!"

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Bart and Sally infiltrate the Hooded Horde, an organisation bent on taking over the USA.  With some colourful villains and some decent dialogue between Sally and Bart it's quite entertaining. This is definitely a strip on the upswing.

'Disaster on the Diamond' (by Gardner Fox): This prose story is about a betting syndicate that assassinates a baseball player to protect its winnings.  There's really very little that can be done with these two-pagers.

'Bruce Nelson and the Coolie Smugglers' (by Tom Hickey): On holiday after the Omar Diamond affair, Bruce finds himself in South Africa being asked to track down some smugglers.  At first he refuses, but pretty soon he's been implicated in the whole thing, and is on the run.  Most of the strip involves a desperate plan to get gas for his plane, which a is a surprising diversion from the main thrust of finding the real smugglers.  This story plays against expectations quite well throughout.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Cattle rustlers.  Nothing to see here.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Slam is investigating the murders of radio singers, who are being killed with exploding microphones.  The culprit for this one is bleeding obvious.  There's a little bit of comedy when Shorty becomes a radio singer.  There's also the introduction of his twin brother Sporty, but that quickly goes nowhere.  A fairly average installment.

Cover by Vin Sullivan
'Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily) is a new strip about pirates (one of the big genres of the day, it seems).  It involves a guy who kills his captain for harassing a woman, and then takes over the captain's position.  It's hard to muster up any enthusiasm for this one.

'Cap'n Jerry' (by R.A. Burley) is yet another pirate strip.  In this one, Jerry meets another captain who is mistreating some natives.  This one at least has a suitably reprehensible villain, but it's still quite average.

There's one more new strip called 'Marg'ry Daw' (by Stan Aschmeier), which is about a little girl who gets involved in the plots of some crooks led by her professor uncle.  Little girl adventure strips are also fairly common at this time, probably spurred on by the popularity of Shirley Temple.  But once again, this is uninteresting.

The real star of this issue is the latest installment of 'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey).  Wing's sidekick Frenchy has "like all Latins" a weakness for drink and girls.  So of course, Frenchy gets drunk, sexually harasses Wing's girlfriend, and gets in a big punch-up with Our Hero.  It's completely irrelevant to anything, but entertaining nonetheless to watch Frenchy go off the rails.

Monday, March 7, 2011

June 1938: Action Comics #2

Cover by Leo O'Mealia
'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This story continues from last month, as our hero jumps off an eighty storey building just to torture information out of a thug.  He finds out that a munitions manufacturer has been fomenting war in San Monte, and threatens him into taking a boat to that country.  Once there, Superman forces him into enlisting in one of the armies, so that he can see the war firsthand (and later repent of weapons manufacturing).  While this old-fashioned bout of psychological torture is going on, Superman finds time to save Lois Lane from execution as a spy, and to get the two rival army leaders into the same room to settle their differences face-to-face.  He's not quite as busy as he was last issue, but it has to be said that the guy gets results.

The most notable thing about this story is that the character of Superman is very different than the modern iteration.  He's basically a bully, getting his way through physical threats and strong arm tactics.  This is a version of the character that can threaten to rip a man's heart out, and it's believable that he might do so.  He actually does pick up a man and throw him several miles; we don't see the end result, but it's a safe bet that he's at least seriously injured.  He's also very willing to get involved in humanity's affairs and solve their problems, a stance that the modern Superman has specifically spoken out against. Yes, his solutions are simplistic, and their applicability to real life is dubious at best, but this is the world of Siegel and Shuster, social crusaders.  It's evident from their work that they really do believe that one man can make a difference, so I guess that a Superman can make a really big difference.

'Scoop Scanlon' (by Will Ely): Scoop is sent on an assignment to cover the story of a millionaire's yacht, caught in a storm off the coast of Connecticut.  He endears himself to me instantly by declaring this risk to human life as a great opportunity for his career, but by the end he's diving into the water to rescue a girl.  Then at the end he's happy that his partner got good pictures, so it's hard to see this guy as a hero with no ulterior motives.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep is on his way to being a great baseball player, but he has a 'glass arm' from an old injury, meaning that he can't throw for beans.  Of course he overcomes his handicap with grit and determination by the end, but I'm just puzzled as to what this guy's career is.  Last month he was a boxing light heavyweight champion, and now he's a major league baseballer?  This guy must be the greatest sportsman in the history of the DC universe.

'Elmer the Eel' (by Russel Cole): This is yet another story where a cop chases a crook through various scenes and set pieces.  This must be Cole's new thing, and as pointless as these stories are, I enjoy them for how quick they are to read.  It's a relief to get to something like this, as opposed to the strips with large amounts of dialogue and captions.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco's band deals with some bandits, and holds their leader hostage to get safe passage to Iran.  Like most of Elven's work, I find myself losing interest in this one.  When do we get to the bit where he meets Doctor Who?

'South Sea Strategy' (by Captain Frank Thomas): This is the continuation of last issue's prose story.  In this installment, Bret Coleman and his buddies rescue a white girl from cannibals.  The end.  It's as basic as it gets.  I was expecting a little more from a two-parter, to be honest.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex and his pal Bob are in search of a lost city. They find it, as well as its leader, the Gorrah.  The story cleverly sets him up as the usual yellow peril Chinese villain, only to reveal that he's a yellow-skinned cyclops. There's not much else going on here, but I thought that reveal was well done. To be continued!

'Inspector Donald and Bobby' (by Leo O'Mealia): In this story an ex-cop goes missing, and his son gets enough help to find him and arrest the dope smugglers who captured him.  Rudimentary stuff.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Dawson is still trying to get revenge on the guys who stole his father's ranch.  If Fleming's other strips are anything to go by, he'll be at it for years to come.

'Zatara' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara deals with a crook who killed his brother to get the family farm.  There's some Scooby-Doo nonsense with a fake ghost, and the murder victim is called Jim Hendrix, but otherwise there's not much else to this one.  Zatara's sidekick Tong is another racial stereotype, but being Indian he's at least one we haven't seen before.