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.

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