Tuesday, April 19, 2011

February 1939: Adventure Comics #36

Cover by John Flanagan

'Barry O'Neill' gets a new creator this month in Ed Winiarski, who replaces Leo O'Mealia.  The story picks up where it left off, with Barry fighting a mind-controlled Inspector LeGrand. He manages to inject him with the antidote and free him, and then he tries to go undercover again, only to be recaptured by Fang Gow.  I was enjoying this strip before, but it seems to have lost something in the switch to a new creator. There was a certain sense of authenticity that's been replaced by more simplistic storytelling and characters.  It's just a little less interesting all around.

'Cotton Carver' (by George Newman) leaves the underground land of Mayala, looking for a path back to the surface. He ends up captured by the White Warriors and taken to their city, where their queen throws him in the arena to fight a giant bull.  Carver escapes, and there's a frankly bizarre chase scene where everyone is inside a red tornado that responds to their will.  This strip is chock-full of ideas, and rolls along at a good clip.  It's fun.

In 'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) Steve is still a crook.  One of his men starts plotting against him, and tries to frame him for killing an FBI agent. But when the agent recognises Steve his memory comes back. It's all set up for the finale next issue. I've enjoyed this story, but the inevitable switch back to Steve as a good guy has come at the right time.

From one amnesiac to another, 'Tod Hunter' (by Jim Chambers) lost his memory last month and was captured by cannibals. His old enemy Paul is there, but after Tod helps the cannibals fight off a rival tribe he is sent to meet an old sorcerer, while Paul is to be fed to a volcano.  Tod hits on the sorcerer's wife, and the strip ends with the sorcerer getting jealous.  As you may have guessed from my description, there's no logical flow to this story.  Things just happen out of nowhere, and Tod himself is a complete nonentity at this point.

'Don Coyote' (by Stockton) was rescued by a knight last issue, and in this installment it turns out that he's a time-traveller from the 20th century.  Okay, now I'm interested.  Stockton gets some good humour out of this guy's huckster routine, and this is easily the best thing that he's done yet.

'Dale Daring' (by Will Ely) is still dealing with ivory smugglers.  I zoned out of this one a little, and I don't feel like I missed anything.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski) is hired by woman to find her father, who disappeared in the Himalayas while searching for a hidden civilisation. Most of the strip is Desmo flying his plane through a snowstorm, and climbing mountains.  He finds the hidden valley by the end, but it's a pretty tedious journey in getting there.

'Stowaway' (by Jack Anthony) is a prose story about a stowaway who is told of all the awful things that happen to people at sea, only to discover that they aren't so bad after all.  I've read worse.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers) has been hired to find a necklace and return it to Chinese authorities. Which he does, despite the interference of some bandits. This is terribly dull.

'The Golden Dragon' (by Tom Hickey) ends its staggeringly long run in a very satisfying manner. The dragon priests are dispersed, the dragon itself is shot dead, and every character gets a little denouement to round out their story. The only thing I didn't like is that everyone stops to explain how the ancient prophecy from a few issues ago was fulfilled; things like that ought to be left ambiguous, I feel.  But for a strip that I couldn't be bothered following at the beginning, this one got better as it went and ended in fine style.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane) were rescued by an old man last issue, and in this installment he tells his origin story. I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, and the old man's tale about washing up on the island, meeting Ichabod Slade and being double-crossed helps to enhance the reality of this world.

In 'Anchors Aweigh' (by Fred Guardineer) Don and Red escape from El Diablo in an absolute bloodbath.  Seriously, these guys kill everyone in sight with rifle, bayonet, and plane-mounted machine-gun.  Now I'm all about this sort of carnage in my golden age stories, but this story needs to wrap up already.

Monday, April 18, 2011

February 1939: Action Comics #10

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster) deals with a prison superintendent who is incredibly brutal to the inmates.  The strip spends a long time in building this guy up and making into the most evil jerk you could imagine.  By the time Superman gets around to giving him what he deserves I was hating the guy, and it was very satisfying to see him brought down.  It's always great when Superman goes undercover, and it was fun seeing him in prison just nonchalantly ignoring the tortures he's subjected to.  And if there were any doubts that Siegel and Shuster are liberals, this strip should squash them; they firmly support the rights of prisoners not to be whipped and jammed in sweatboxes.

'Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter' (by Will Ely) and his partner Rusty go undercover with the Larroway gang to stop their stolen car business.  Things go pear-shaped, as they do in any undercover op, and by the end of the strip Scoop has had to shoot Rusty in the stomach to keep his cover. To be continued! This is a cut above the usual fare for Scoop, and it has a good cliffhanger.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gene Baxter) is playing basketball this month, against a team of roughnecks who injure his leg just as he sinks the winning basket.  The championship is next week, and he's told not to play by the doctor, but of course he ignores the advice and wins the game for his team.  I think it's safe to say that comics are not the ideal medium for portraying a basketball match.  Also, it's safe to say that Pep Morgan is intolerably good at everything and I hate him.  As a final note, this strip comes perilously close to some full-frontal male nudity.  Fred Guardineer needs to watch it with those locker room shower scenes, is all I'm saying.

'Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven) attends the wedding of the Persian princess Shela, who he rescued from bandits a few strips ago.  A jealous suitor tries to kill the groom, but Polo stops him.  That groom is one hardcore dude; he gets stabbed, but soldiers on through the wedding ceremony, and only collapses once it's done.  Also, this strip features the world's worst doctor, and I quote: "No, nothing serious, just a loss of blood. He'll be alright soon." He doesn't even bandage the guy!

'Fighting Spirit' (by Richard Martin) is about a little kid who is bullied, but grows up to be a champion boxer.  He even beats an opponent named Tiger Powers, which has got to be the greatest name ever.  I was ready to dismiss this story, but who can resist Tiger Powers?  Geoff Johns needs to dust that guy off.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily) gets kidnapped and forced to serve as crewman on a ship, only to find that he knows the daughter of the lord who is financing the trip.  Once Tex is freed from slavery, Lord Chester tells him that they're going to investigate stories of an island of savages ruled by a white girl who washed up there as a baby. The ship's captain wants revenge on Tex, and that's the set-up. It's hard to say if this story will be good or not, but this strip has a history of weird plot twists, so I'm optimistic.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming) is still trying to rescue the girl Virginia.  He is captured, then he escapes.  Come on Fleming, retire already.

'Zatara' (by Fred Guardineer) is on the trail of the treasure of Genghis Khan, with the Tigress not far behind him.  It all gets a bit Indiana Jones when they reach the Khan's grave, with three tests to pass, all under the supervision of a sexy lady genie.  The genie has to be killed to claim the treasure, and when Zatara refuses, the Tigress pops out and blows her away. And then a weird thing happens; Zatara splits the treasure with her and they go their separate ways. Sure, Zatara seems a bit sad about the genie's death, but he's more than willing to let the Tigress win despite her treachery.  I tells ya, those two are in True Love!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

January 1939: Detective Comics #24; More Fun Comics #40

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer) gets down to some actual detective work this month, investigating the murder of an art expert by a Persian consul.  Of course, this being a golden age story, a gang of jewel thieves are the real culprits.  This one jumped from suspect to suspect very quickly. There's a lot to be said for a story that moves at this pace, but I did have to pay more attention than usual to follow things.  ( I am also notably retarded when it come to following mystery plots.)

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely) is investigating the deaths of two models who worked exclusively with the painter Du Val. There are a bunch of intriguing questions raised here; why do the dead girls have skin tones exactly matching Du Val's paintings? Why was one of Du Val's paintings in the museum replaced by a fake? It's a rare story that I don't have any idea of where it's going. By the end Larry has found Du Val's secret studio and is at his mercy, so I'll have to wait until next issue for some answers.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven) deals with some foreign agents who are sabotaging factories so that their own countries can get ahead of America. Given that these guys call each other "comrade" it's a good bet that we're looking at DC's first ever Communist villains.

In 'Spy', Bart and Sally go up against Americans smuggling arms into a foreign war zone. Given the time period, and the ship's destination of Spain, this might just be the first DC story to deal with World War 2.

In 'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia), Nayland Smith and Petrie finally come face to face with Fu Manchu, only for Petrie to fall into a pit trap.  I've been anticipating the appearance of Fu Manchu for ages, and I was a little disappointed. He sounds very impressive in the text, but the art doesn't do his description justice.

'The Old Gray House' (by Terry Keane) is about two teenage boys who stop a gang of counterfeiters. It's every bit as dull as it sounds.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers) goes up against a gang of racketeers. Yes, I am a sucker for a costumed adventurer, but only when the actual adventures are decent. This one is pretty boring.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey) is up against a gang of bank robbers led by Gentleman Jeff Virdone, who never carries a gun. Virdone's an intriguing character, but far too much of this story is taken up by a superfluous flashback. It continues next month.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming) takes on a group of gold thieves, one of whom is murdering people who know too much. Buck gathers the flimsiest of evidence to back up his case, but somehow he still gets his man.  At least there were no cattle rustlers involved.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster) is still in 2 billion AD, and I had forgotten that Shorty was killed last issue. Of course, being in the future, death is a temporary setback, and he is soon revived (the first ever DC character to be genuinely resurrected).  This story isn't quite as weird as last issue, but it has its fair share of strangeness. Slam has to fight Iron Fingers, a giant with artificial metal claws, and there is also a really cool aerial battle between Slam and some police, all on rocket boots. This is really creative and a lot of fun, but it ends with Slam and Shorty back in 1938, so I doubt I'll be seeing the same levels of insanity next issue.

Cover by Creig Flessel

'The Masked Ranger' (by Jim Chambers) disguises himself as the crooked sheriff as he continues to try and prove the innocence of a convicted murderer. He's been discovered by the end of the story.  This serial is proving to be yet another generic western where the characters have all the personality of a roofing tile.  A lack of interesting characters is a problem in general with comics of this vintage, but it seems to be a particular thing with the westerns.

'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely) deals with a gang of dope fiends and thieves. It starts promisingly, in a moody scene where Johnnie kidnaps a dope fiend and locks him in a cell until he cracks. But then he beats the thieves by calling the police. Again. For fucks sake, the heroes might as well stay home.

In  'Radio Squad' (by Siegel and Shuster) Sandy and Larry nab some crooks, and are honoured as heroes. But an accomplice of the crooks is pissed, and tries to assassinate them. Sandy Keane has suddenly turned into a hardcore bad ass, charging headlong into gunfire, and uttering the immortal phrase: "What difference does it make whether we die now or forty years later?" If he keeps this up, he's going to become one of my favourite characters.

'Fun on Wheels' (by Paul Dean) is a prose story that I couldn't read due to a blurry scan. It's a continuation from last issue, and a story that I'm positive is reprinted from an earlier comic.

'Gary Hawkes' (by Rob Jenney) takes up prospecting gold, and has to deal with city thugs who are robbing the prospectors with a machine-gun. Points for doing a story I haven't seen before, but that's as far as my interest goes.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming) shows the events of the Gunpowder Plot with a focus on Guy Fawkes. It's not as interesting here as when Alan Moore does it.

'Red Logan' (by creators unknown) manages to stop the impending war between Boronia and Blurbia. I was enjoying the epic tone of this from last issue, but it's back to the same boring old stuff.  That said, I see on http://www.comics.org/ that this is Red's final appearance.  On that level it's pretty effective, and wraps up his story quite nicely.

'Detective Sergeant Carey' (by Joe Donohoe) solves the murder of a prime witness in a movie theater. Again, points for the novel setting, but this was pretty average. At least it's better than when Carey spent all of his time in Chinatown being racist.

In 'Red Coat Patrol' (by Wade Hampton) O'Malley the mountie is sent to deal with some cattle rustlers. Dear god, are you shitting me? This thing could be the Citizen Kane of golden age comics, but I'll never care because I am sick to death of cattle rustlers.  And mounties.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by Russ Lehman) is in Hong Kong, where the Purple Dragon gang tries to kidnap his girlfriend, also the daughter of the sub's captain, as blackmail for the plans to the sub. Again this is pretty boring, except for one scene where Bob shoots a dog point blank in the face.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey) gets to have a duel with Von Blarcom, one of the men who sent him to prison for three years. He wins the fight, despite the other man trying to plant a knife in his hand to frame him again. But danger looms pretty shortly after that; Wing gets involved in a skirmish between the Foreign Legion and some bandits. Another of his enemies is waiting behind, ready to shoot him in the back during the fight. Quality, as always.

In 'The Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily) Captains Dennis and Klaugh are in a stand-off; Dennis has the governor's daughter, and Klaugh can't attack for fear of her death. It's an unexpected reversal of the good-guy bad-guy roles, except that by the end Dennis has decided to return the girl to her father, giving up his advantage. This could have been interesting if they'd kept going in the other direction.

COUNTDOWN TO BATMAN: 15 days! (Forget the previous countdowns.  Unlike the Batman, I miscalculated.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

January 1939: Adventure Comics #35

'Barry O'Neill' (by Leo O'Mealia) is trying to rescue his friend Inspector Legrand, who has been made into Fang Gow's servant by mind-control drugs. I'm impressed by this serial's willingness to make Fang Gow into a serious threat; yes, he's an egregious stereotype and a Fu Manchu knock-off, but the guy gets shit done, which is more than most of these golden age villains can say. The cliffhanger sees a sword-wielding Legrand menacing Barry, who is armed only with a hypodermic needle, and it's very well done.

'Cotton Carver' (by Geoff Newman) is a new series about an explorer.  Nothing new there.  In this adventure, Carver crashes his plane in Antarctica and discovers an underground valley in which live the remnants of the ancient Mayan empire.  The guy has been there for five minutes and he's leading a revolt against a despotic king, mowing down soldiers with his six-shooters.  This strip's a little more imaginative than the usual fare, and I'm hoping it continues that way.  Carver also mentions a "Doc Jones" who he knows from university, and I am more than willing to declare that this is Indiana Jones. It fits too well, despite being five decades before that character was created.

In 'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) Steve Carson is still an amnesiac criminal, and has been made the head of a gang of crooks. His first act is to confiscate their guns, and he turns them into "gentleman crooks", leading them in a series of bank robberies. It's to be continued next month, and I'm really looking forward to it.  This story has been a welcome change of pace.

It's probably coincidence, but 'Junior Federal Men Club', a series of articles supposedly written by Steve Carson himself, is running a reprint of an old column this month. Because, of course, Steve is now a crook, and isn't available to write a new one.  Well played.

'Dale Daring' (by Will Ely) and her boyfriend Don are trapped on an island with ivory smugglers. This story continues next month, but I can't say that it has much promise.

'Don Coyote' (by Stockton) was left buried up to his neck last issue, and about to be bitten by a cobra. He's rescued by a knight named Sir Goof, and the two are pursued by Arabs. I'm afraid that all of the jokes fall flat here; Stockton and I do not share a similar sense of humour.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers) and his girlfriend are out boating when they're picked up by a slave ship. Which Brent promptly takes apart in the space of about five pages. There's very little of interest in this one.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski) captures the bandit leader he's been chasing and clears the name of his friend, Colonel McAllister. It's as straightforward a conclusion as you can get, and pretty boring as a result.

'Cal 'n' Alec' (by Stockton) have escaped from their captor into the desert, where they find a ghost town and get themselves locked into a jail cell.  It really does feel as though Stockton is writing this as a straight adventure serial, but the art makes it hard to approach it that way.

'Alpine Adventure' (by Terry Keane) is a prose story in which a mountain climber is almost killed in a fall, but is saved when his rope miraculously snakes around a ledge. Whatever.

'Tod Hunter, Jungle Master' (by Jim Chambers) is fighting a gorilla for reasons I can't remember, and he gets dumped on his head and gets amnesia. Then he wanders around for the rest of the story doing not much of anything, and gets captured by some natives. I'm usually a sucker for a good amnesia story, but this is exactly how not to do it.

In 'The Golden Dragon', Ian and his friends infiltrate the temple and rescue Doris from being fed to a dragon. Much to my surprise, the villain Torgadoff is done away with, as Ian kicks him over a railing and into the dragon's maw. The story continues next month, as I guess they have to escape the rest of the bad guys present, but i wonder just what's left to do at this point.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane) are relentlessly pursued by counterfeiter Ichabod Slade. They run into a cave and hit a dead end, but an old man pops out of a secret door to save them. Cliched? Yes, but I want to know who this dude is, so I guess the story's done its job.

In 'Anchors Aweigh' Red and Don are captured by El Diablo and sentenced to be shot by firing squad. That's about it. At least El Diablo showed up this time, in all of his bag-headed glory.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

January 1939: Action Comics #9

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster) really surprised me this time around, because the events here are a direct result of him demolishing a city block last issue.  Superman is a wanted criminal now, so an ace detective (nick-named 100% Reilly because he always gets his man) has been brought in to capture him. This is the first time that Superman's secret identity plays a large part in the story, as Reilly and another rival detective do everything in their power to learn it as they vie for the $5000 reward on offer.  This one is a lot of fun.

'Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter' (by Will Ely) stumbles across the murder of a stool pigeon by the Larraway Gang, who then go on to perform a jailbreak for some buddies. To be continued!  I'm not sure how these plot threads will link up, and I don't really care.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gene Baxter) rescues a professor from an icy pond, then wins an ice boat race. Honestly, this isn't even a story, it's just a bunch of random shit happening.  There is no point to it at all.

'Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven) and his friends are celebrating their victory over the bandits from last issue. It's mostly Marco talking to the girl Shela and her betrothed Karma, followed by a tournament that Marco intrudes into and wins.  In other words, this is a downtime story, but it's heartening to see some characters displaying an actual personality in this series.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily) is still dealing with Dr. Kichung and his plan to transplant human brains into apes. While Tex rescues the ubiquitous girl in peril, the regular apes rise up in a revolt and kill Kichung and his servants. I'm all for a good fictional ape riot, and this one was an oddly satisfying conclusion.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming) spends this entire story trying to rescue a girl that his enemies have kidnapped. Remember when this story was about Chuck Dawson trying to get revenge on the men who killed his father? Because Homer Fleming certainly doesn't.

'Zatara, the Master Magician' (by Fred Guardineer) goes up against a mad Tibetan monk, who has gathered a small army of hypnotists to help him conquer the world. As usual this is rollicking good fun, as Zatara fights his way past the various flunkies one by one until engaging in psychic battle with their leader. And the villainous Tigress is there as well, once again teaming up with Zatara even though they're supposed to be mortal enemies.  Those two are so getting married.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reading Schedule: January-June 1939

It looks like things are going to broaden out a bit in 1939.  Already in the following schedule there is the introduction of Quality and their various superhero books, and DC are introducing more books as well.  But still no Marvel!

January 1939
            Action Comics #9
            Adventure Comics #35
            Detective Comics #24
            More Fun Comics #40

February 1939
            Action Comics #10
            Adventure Comics #36
            Detective Comics #25
            More Fun Comics #41

March 1939
            Action Comics #11
            Adventure Comics #37
            All-American Comics #1
            Detective Comics #26
            More Fun Comics #42
            Movie Comics #1

April 1939
            Action Comics #12
            Adventure Comics #38
            All-American Comics #2
            All-American Comics #3
            Detective Comics #27
            More Fun Comics #43
            Movie Comics #2
            New York World's Fair Comics #1
            Feature Comics #21

May 1939
            Action Comics #13
            Adventure Comics #39
            All-American Comics #4
            Detective Comics #28
            More Fun Comics #44
            Movie Comics #3
            Superman #1
            Feature Comics #22

June 1939
            Action Comics #14
            Action Comics #15
            Adventure Comics #40
            All-American Comics #5
            Detective Comics #29
            More Fun Comics #45
            Movie Comics #4
            Feature Comics #23
            Smash Comics #1

Also, I have been doing a bit of math to figure out how long it's going to take me to get to the 1960s, which is where I really want this project to reach.  At the current rate of one book a day (give or take) it's going to be approzimately 32 years, and that's unacceptable.  If I can ever get it to three a day, that will make it 8 years, which I think is great.  But given that it takes me about an hour to two hours to read these golden age monstrosities, that's not likely to happen.  I need World War 2 to start so that the paper drives can shorten the page count.

December 1938: More Fun Comics #39

Cover by Creig Flessel

'The Masked Ranger' (by Jim Chambers): The Masked Ranger rescues a man who has been falsely accused of murder from a lynch mob, and then gets involved with the machinations of a renowned gambler. No doubt the two plots are connected somehow. There's an adequate mystery being set up here, but it's not particularly interesting me.  The novelty of the cowboy wearing a mask is fading.

'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely): Johnnie Law stumbles across a diamond smuggling racket, and defeats the smugglers with the time-honoured tactic of calling the police.  At least this time he did it with a phone he had installed himself in the smugglers' cave.

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Sandy and Larry investigate a "monster" that has been killing people. Two great danes are the real culprits, as well as the master who trained them. This was not bad, and at the very least it had me wanting to see the mystery's solution. I figured it would be an animal of some sort, but I was convinced that it would be the usual ape.  Great danes are a great untapped resource as far as fictional animal maulings go.

'Fun on Wheels' (by Gardner Fox): This is a prose story continued from last issue (which I was unable to read due to a bad scan).  It's about a bicycle salesman who is trying to prop up his business, marry a girl, and stop the crooked politicians in his town. I'm certain that this is reprinted from an earlier issue. I remember enjoying it then, but without having read the set-up from last issue it's not quite as much fun this time.

'Detective Sergeant Carey' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey investigates a psychic who is hypnotising butlers, maids and chauffeurs so that they can help him rob their wealthy employers. In what may be a bit of parody, there's a situation where Carey is getting beaten up, and he wishes he'd called the police earlier. Then a policeman arrives to help anyway, because he was looking for Carey to give him a parking ticket. I can't work out if this is a piss-take or a lazy cop-out.

'Red Logan' (by Ed Winiarski): Red was last seen being lined up by a firing squad in the country of Boronia. He manages to escape and prove that he's not a spy, but makes an enemy of a munitions salesman in the bargain. As troops from a neighbouring country invade, Red is blown up with a big grenade by his new found nemesis. This one is pretty unremarkable in its execution, but at least the scope is fairly epic.

'Red Coat Patrol' (by Creig Flessel): This is a new strip about Constable O'Malley, a mountie.  This is the second ever DC strip about mounties, and I remember that the first was deadly dull; as a general rule, mounties are good only for comedy sketches, and not for genuine drama. Anyway, O'Malley deals with a fur thief pretty handily. The only remarkable thing about the story is a torture sequence, where the thief talks about O'Malley's beautiful body, and wants to "have the pleasure of making him squeal like a pig!"

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): The crystal shows Bobby and Binks the events of the Spanish Armada, and its defeat by a smaller English fleet. And then at the end, after Binks says a few things to put these events into historical perspective, Bobby just randomly mentions that Shakespeare was around doing stuff at the time as well. Come on kid, stay focused!

'Gary Hawkes' (by Bob Jenney): Gary deals with a movie director who is arranging for the deaths of his stunt pilots as a way to bring his studio into disrepute, over revenge for something or other.  Again this story is very dull, which seems to be par for the course for this issue of More Fun Comics.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by R. Lehmann and Russ Hersch): Bob and his crew are tasked with defending a shipment of silver on its way to China. The scan of this story was very blurry, and besides that it was getting late and I was utterly knackered.  I see that Bob had to wrestle a giant octopus, so I'm really disappointed that I couldn't read this one.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Wing manipulates one of the men who framed him into shooting another, and is about to have a confrontation with the third.  I thought that the third guy was disposed of already, so it's disappointing to see him back in the story already.

'Buccaneer' (by Bernard Bailey): Dennis Stone is wounded in a duel with Captain Klaugh, and his crew work to get him off the ship while the battle still rages.  Now I love a good sword-fight, and will watch any terrible movie with a bit of swash and buckle in it, but this can't even hold my interest.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

December 1938: Detective Comics #23

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Speed goes skiing, and gets involved with a murderer who kills people by throwing ski poles at them (as evidenced in the cover above, in which the seemingly outmatched murderer has brought a ski pole to a gunfight). The plot itself is pretty straightforward, but I'm amused enough by the murder weapon to get some fun out of it.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Larry is framed for murder by some thieves, and has cleared his name by the end of the story.  Average.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck investigates a series of murders made to look like suicides, committed by a guy who wants the victims' land for its gold deposits. It's a little more original than the usual Buck Marshall stuff, but just by a smidgen.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers): The Crimson Avenger goes up against a mad scientist who is using zombified slaves to kill the local crime lords so that he can take over.  This is yet another story in which the hero wins by calling the police, which I'm getting heartily sick of.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce is invited back to his alma mater to help his old football coach stop a betting ring that is trying to fix the next game by rubbing out his star player.  I was with this one until the actual football started, and then it was like the strip was written in a different language.  I did enjoy seeing something of Nelson's past, but the football stuff sailed right over my head.

'Railroad Riddle' (by Gardner Fox): This is a prose story about a train robbery that is foiled by an FBI agent. It's impossible to care about anything that happens in this story. It spends a good page describing the train and the gold inside, but it doesn't introduce any of the characters until the story is almost over.  Such a banal plot needs some interesting people in it, but these are the most underdeveloped ciphers possible.

In 'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Celebrities are dying of mysterious heart attacks, and Bart and Sally investigate. As is the way with such things, an evil scientist is responsible, using radio waves to stop the hearts of his victims. The signal is sent to a button placed on the victim's clothes, which leads to a pretty funny scene of Bart calling Sally on the phone and frantically telling her to undress.  Also, Crossover Alert: Bart contacts the Daily Star, which is the newspaper that Clark Kent works at.

'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): This strip has a really short installment this month, as our heroes investigate a Chinese barber shop which they believe is Fu Manchu's hideout. Pretty much nothing happens here, but at least it happens atmospherically.

'Cosmo, Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo deals with two killers who are trying to off the heir of a gold mine so that they can claim it themselves. The opening's quite moody, but otherwise it's the same old same old for Cosmo.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): I got a rush of nostalgia from this story, as it opened with Slam punching a guy in the face. That's where any resemblance to previous Slam Bradley stories ends, because this one is just insane. Slam and Shorty make the acquaintance of a scientist with his own time machine, and together they travel to the year 2,000,000,000 AD. There's a strange city guarded by death rays, and Slam and Shorty are taken inside to meet a plant man, a bird man and a regular dude, all of whom are slated to be executed for gambling on the anniversary of the removal of the Prince's tonsils.  Some guards show up, there's a lot of chasing, the plant man kills some people with deadly flowers, and Slam and Shorty are captured by the guards. To be continued!  It's all very surreal, and the motives of the future characters are hazy. It's easily the weirdest thing I've read in this project so far, and that has me intrigued.  A lot of the Golden Age stories I've read have this sort of stream-of-consciousness, fever dream quality to them, but this is the first time that I have encountered it in this project.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

December 1938: Adventure Comics #34

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Barry O'Neill' (by Leo O'Mealia): Barry is still faffing about in the tunnels beneath Fang Gow's headquarters, while Fang Gow sells Jean Le Grand to an Arabian oil sheik in exchange for a drug that can enslave people.  Again, this is a cut above the usual fare.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers): Brent is made captain of a ship delivering gold ingots, but the first mate leads a mutiny and tries to sell the gold for himself. Brent deals with him eventually, but I'm not certain if this story is finished or not. It could be, but the end was so abrupt that I feel like there should be more to it.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Steve Carson still thinks he's a criminal due to the bump he got on the head a few issues ago. It seemed like he had come to his senses last issue when he stopped a fellow crook from killing a cop, but it turns out that he just didn't want the gang to be chased as cop-killers (although I suspect he's faking his criminality at this point). They flee the scene, and we get another cameo from Sandy and Larry of 'Radio Squad' fame; Siegel and Shuster are the only guys building cross-title continuity at this point in time. Then the crooks vote on Steve to be their new leader, except for one who wants to shoot him instead. To be continued!  Again, this one was entertaining.  It's good to see this once-great strip getting back to some good stories.

'Dale Daring' (by Will Ely): This strip makes use of the worst plot twist ever. When Dale and her boyfriend Don go looking in caves for pirate treasure, they fall into a pit. When they awaken they have an adventure with centuries-old pirates only to find... it was all a dream!  Terrible.

'Cal 'n' Alec' (by Stockton): Cal and Alec are still being forced to work by a bully with a gun, but when they beat him up he lets them go.  Only they're in the middle of a desert where they'll probably die.  It all sounds pretty grim when you lay it out like that, but it's actually a lot of slapstick and attempted humour.  Not that I found it particularly funny.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo is still trying to solve a murder and stop some arms smugglers in India. After a vigorous brawl he captures a prime suspect, who leads him to the real culprit. Or something along those lines.  I was totally zoning out while reading this, which speaks volumes about its ability to hold my interest (or my reading comprehension, take your pick).

'Don Coyote' (by Stockton): Don is left for dead in the desert, captured by Arabs, buried up to his neck in sand, and about to be bitten by a cobra.  Even by his standards he's having a bad day.

'Mutiny!' (by Jack Anthony): This is a prose story about, you guessed it, a mutiny.  There's not much else to it, although it does take place off the coast of Australia. It might be the first time my country has been mentioned in a story.

'Tod Hunter, Jungle Master' (by Jim Chambers): Tod is captured by the scientist Bates, quickly escapes, and is then menaced by a giant gorilla. In the cliffhanger he's about to fight it with a knife, which promises great things for next month's installment.

'The Golden Dragon' (by Tom Hickey): The bad guys try to feed Doris to their pet dragon.  The strip is something of a bloodbath as one of our heroes (Reilly) sword-fights his way through a whole load of goons, but I'm really just waiting for that dragon to do something.

'Rusty and his Pals' (by Bob Kane): This starts pretty grimly, as ridiculous Asian stereotype Long Sin, having bailed out in a longboat from his sinking ship, has his wounded crewmen thrown overboard to lighten the load. The rest of the story is about Rusty and his friends escaping from the counterfeiter Ichabod Slade on the island, but it's pretty lacklustre after such a  brutal opening.

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Fred Guardineer): Don and Marshall spend the majority of the story fleeing from natives in a sequence that has nothing to do with the main plot at all. El Diablo is barely mentioned here, and he certainly doesn't appear (unless he's Marshall, which he totally is!!!).  This strip needs to get back to its focus pretty quickly.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

December 1938: Action Comics #8

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Superman is just crazy in this issue.  The story starts normally enough, with Clark Kent witnessing a delinquent being sent to jail, and Superman helping the kid's friends stop their lives of thievery.  That's when some of Siegel and Shuster's simplistic political views come forward, as Superman blames all this juvenile delinquency on the slums where these kids live.  His solution to everything at this point is to hit things, so he just demolishes the entire suburb in the hope that the government will rebuild it with nicer apartments.  Never mind the poor folks that he just made homeless for a few weeks.  Never mind the likelihood that a nice house is pretty unlikely to solve their problems.

Still, there's something visceral and cathartic in how Superman deals with things.  I can't deny that I loved watching him outrace a bullet, and destroy entire city blocks with his bare hands.  Siegel and Shuster have a very effective method of setting up some social injustices, and getting a satisfying story out of Superman bludgeoning them into submission.

I was surprised to see Superman being fired on by the US army in this story.  It makes sense perfect sense given his destructive rampage, but Superman being pursued by the military isn't something I'm used to seeing. I'm hoping they continue with it for a little while.

I also love the way Superman gets around by running along power lines.  It looks ridiculous, but it has a lot more character than flying.  Oh, and New Power Watch: he uses super-hearing for the first time.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck spends most of this installment running from his enemies, with a couple of gunfights thrown in for good measure.  The cliffhanger sees a lady friend of his kidnapped. A kidnapping in a Homer Fleming story?  Say it ain't so!

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep is skiing this month.  The guy he's in competition with has a sister who is constantly rude and dismissive to Pep, which endears her to me no end.  But because this is a Pep Morgan story, and he cannot fail at anything, by the end of the story he has saved his opponent from falling into a chasm and looks to be getting romantic with the formerly hateful sister.  To be honest, I'm just glad to see a Pep Morgan story with some plot elements beyond the sporting contest.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco is rushing for help, as his friends and the girl Shela fight off a horde of bandits.  He returns with Shela's father and an army to disperse the bandits, and there's really not much else to it.

'Frozen Hazard' (by Richard Martin): This is a prose story about a pilot in Canada who is forced down by a snowstorm. It didn't particularly hold my interest, and very little has happened in it so far. It continues in the next issue, so perhaps it will get better then.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex tackles an Asian mad scientist this month, and this guy's scheme is one of the classics: he's transplanting human brains into apes!  This one is really entertaining, but I'm a sucker for any story where a man puts an ape into a lethal headlock. This one continues next issue. (Plus, what's with all the jodhpurs in this story?  They're everywhere.)

World of Stamps: According to this article, the Post Office Department has "many plans to cultivate stamp-mindedness among the young".  I just wanted to be the first person to use the phrase stamp-mindedness in the 21st century.

'Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter' (by Will Ely): Scoop helps some federal agents deal with a group growing crops of marijuana. Despite gun battles and a burning house this is still pretty dull. It seems as though Will Ely has a knack for sucking the drama out of any situation.

'Zatara' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara is in India this month, where he tackles a rebel army that has kidnapped the prince. Again, the plot is simple, and the fun comes from Zatara's absurd powers. At one point he transforms himself and his sidekick Tong into a pair of hawks, and we see one wearing a top hat and another with a turban.  He even summons a hail of bullets to scatter the rebel army. I think I'm actually enjoying this strip a little more than Superman.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

November 1938: More Fun Comics #38

Cover by Creig Flessel

'The Masked Ranger' (by Jim Chambers): This wraps up the Night Raiders plot. It was building quite nicely, I thought, with the various characters gradually heading towards a final conflict, but then it all finishes in the space of two pages, with barely a shot fired.  It's a disappointing conclusion.

'Gary Hawkes' (by Bob Jenney): Gary Hawkes also wraps up his first storyline, in which he's been hired by the nation of San Columbo to fight would-be dictator Colonel Rodista.  Rodista is a cold bastard, ordering the bombing of every surrounding village just because he's in a bad mood. Gary goes undercover and becomes his confidante, then kidnaps him at gunpoint and takes him to the authorities.  Everyone is happy, but I can't help but wonder about Rodista's army, which is still out there and intact. Surely one of his lieutenants would take over?

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Sandy and Larry are fired up for adventure by a cop movie, and then disappointed to be assigned by their chief to help set up his wife's party. But as is the way with such things, the swami who is providing the entertainment is a jewel thief, and the boys get their excitement after all. This is fairly average by this strip's standards, but it was enjoyable seeing Sandy and Larry on their time off.

'Fun on Wheels' (by Gardner Fox): This is a prose story, but I gave up on it due to the blurry scan I have. I don't need my eyeballs exploding over this nonsense. It's to be continued next month, so maybe I'll be able to catch up with it then.

'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely): Johnnie Law tackles a group of bank robbers who killed some cops. The entire strip is Johnnie and his partner Helen just laying into these guys, pummeling and shooting them into submission. That sort of thing can work if the situation is set-up well enough, but there's no background here.  We just know the bad guys are bad because we're told they're bad, and that makes it much less satisfying when they get wrecked.

'Rex Darrell' (by Terry Gilkison): This is another story I had to give up on. These blurry scans are murder.

'Mob Fury' (by Creators Unknown): This is a one-off story about a deputy who has to get a wanted man away from an angry mob who wants to hang him. It's alright.  I wouldn't mind more of these stand-alone stories.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): This depicts the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. It would be nice if this strip could get away from English history for a while.

'Detective Sergeant Carey' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey investigates a string of disappearances at a museum, only to find the curator is collecting test subjects for his immortality experiments. This story barrels along from one crazy moment to the next, and it works on that basic level. It's not really good, but it is eventful.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by R. Lehmann and Russ Hersch): Bob Neal deals with some ammunition smugglers in Central America. The story is pretty average, and it has some pretty outrageous South American stereotypes, and the obligatory femme fatale who falls for the hero and then gets killed.  It's not over-the-top enough to get away with the cliches.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Wing finally makes some progress with his revenge. He's been needling Von Blarcom for months, and now the guy finally snaps and beats Wing, who just takes it. Of course there's another officer present, and Von Blarcom is arrested and sent to jail. With one down, Wing and Frenchy move on the next victim. This one's still holding my attention.

'Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): Captain Stone leads a raiding party on Captain Klaugh's ship to rescue some slaves.  The battle is still going when the strip finishes, so I suppose we'll see how it ends next issue. Again, there's nothing remarkable here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

November 1938: Adventure Comics #33; Detective Comics #22

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Fred Guardineer): Don and Red rescue Marshall from El Diablo's men, and are subsequently chased by them for the rest of the strip.  There's a train chase, some hiding in swamps, gunfights, shovel fights, and by the end of it Red is believed trapped in the train at the bottom of the swamp, while Don and Marshall are about to be macheted by a native. This isn't bad.  Still, I'm convinced that Marshall is El Diablo.  Everyone is talking about him being innocent, but I'm not fooled.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers): Brent investigates the murder of a curio collector over a diamond.  There's a ridiculous plot hole in this story: one moment Tom is about to be shot by a henchman, the next he is confronting a group of suspects and revealing the murderer.  It's very poor storytelling, unless I'm missing a page in my scan (and I don't believe I am).

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This strip takes an unexpected turn this issue.  The last installment finished with a burning building collapsing on Steve Carson's head.  His fellow agents believe him dead, but he is actually thrown clear, with partial amnesia from a bump on the head.  And because he's carrying a gun, and knows a lot about crime, he believes that he must be a crook.  So Steve becomes a gangster, and spends the rest of the strip helping steal some furs.  Alas, his decency reasserts itself by the end of the strip, and he's about to be shot by the lead gangster.  To be continued!  This was a fun story, if a touch silly. But I always like seeing characters undergo random personality changes induced by head trauma.

'Dale Daring' (by Will Ely): Dale and her friends are being attacked by the workers of their rubber plantation.  The workers have been lied to by the foreman Blakely, who wants the plantation for himself.  This one wraps up a little too tidily, as the heroes just get Blakely to confess to the natives, and they throw down their weapons and beg forgiveness.  Just a page ago they were ready to drink some blood!

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo is still investigating the framing of his friend Col. McAllister.  His methods are dubious at best.  When the man with the evidence they need is murdered, and Desmo finds a scrap of cloth in his hand, he takes it to an alchemist for answers.  An alchemist.  All this guy does is mix some chemicals, and suddenly he has an exact description of the murderer!  Yes, it gets results, but it makes NO DAMN SENSE.

'Don Coyote' (by Stockton): Don got a lot of reward money for the guy he beat up last issue, so now he's taking a trip around the world to Arabia.  There are actually some decent gags in this one, so hopefully Stockton has figured out what he's doing now.

'Cal 'n' Alec' (by Stockton): Cal and Alec accidentally shoot a man's hat, and he forces them to work for him for a month to pay it off.  But when the month is up, there's still more interest to be worked off...  Again, this is a little funnier than Stockton's previous strips.  Either he's getting better, or I'm getting accustomed to his sense of humour.

'Hot Money' (by Whitney Ellsworth): This continues from last month, as an FBI agent captures the fugitive bank robbers.  Honestly, I expect more from a story whose main character is called Ace Diamond.

'Tod Hunter, Jungle Master' (by Jim Chambers): Tod and his friends escape from the bandit chief Hassim, only to hide out in the cabin of an old white dude who collects skulls.  This guy has got to be bad news, but he's a welcome diversion from the boring main plot.

'The Golden Dragon' (by Tom Hickey): This focuses mostly on the villains, as Torgadoff plots to give Doris as a sacrifice to the actual dragon he has in the basement.  Yep, this strip just got a whole lot more interesting.

'Rusty and his Pals' (by Bob Kane): Rusty and his friends escape from the evil counterfeiter Ichabod Slade. Meanwhile, we actually do go back to villainous Asian stereotype Long Sin on the pirate ship, which is about to be wrecked in a storm. I'm glad to see that whole thing hasn't been brushed aside.

'The Lucky Ring' (by Spencer Trent): This is a one-off story about aviator Jim Donegan, and the ring he wears that always seems to bring him and his wife together, even in the Amazon jungle.  It's kind of sweet, but perhaps it just struck me in a favourable mood.

Cover by Jim Chambers

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Slam goes up against an old enemy, a Chinese crime lord called (ahem) Fui Onyui.  I don't know what to make of this, because on the one hand it's rife with casual racism, but on the other it's a tense story that places Slam Bradley in a very tough predicament.  If it wasn't for the former I'd have no reservations in marking this highly.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely): Larry Steele fulfills his cliche requirements by getting caught in the rain and seeking shelter in a nearby ominous house.  The house is home to a mad scientist seeking the secret of eternal life, and his insane test subjects. This one is so hackneyed that I almost had to enjoy it for its audacity. To be continued!

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers): The Crimson Avenger is now a fugitive, with a large reward on offer to whoever finds out who he is.  The reward is being offered by the Crimson Avenger himself, in his guise as Lee Travers the newspaper publisher, which seems very counter-productive for a man trying to maintain a secret identity.  It all comes to a head when several different groups fight over some papers that are supposed to contain his ID, but in the end the papers are blank.  It's a perplexing conclusion, and I can't even fathom why they would have no information on them.  Wrong information would make sense, but nothing at all?  It's weird.

'Bruce Nelson and the Song of Death' (by Tom Hickey): This story line ends pretty well, though it's not without problems.  The build-up to Billie Bryson singing the "Song of Death" was quite tense, and made all the better because she's had time to develop into a rounded and likable character.  But the mystery was basically solved last month already, and the clues Bruce follows weren't available to the reader until the very end.

'A Sticky Clue' (by Gardner Fox): This is a prose story about a jewel thief who is undone by his love of chewing gum.  Not bad as these things go.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Bart and Sally are sent to rescue a missing spy from a foreign embassy, only to find that he has turned traitor.  This one is very funny, as the two spies each try their own methods, and mock each other when they inevitably fail.  The revelation of the agent's treason is pretty well handled too.

'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): The plot jumps forward quite a bit, skipping over a meeting with Fu Manchu's mysterious slave girl in the opening synopsis.  The rest of the strip shows Dennis and Nayland Smith preparing to infiltrate an opium den in disguise.  What we get is still quite good, but I have to say that I would have been much more interested in the scene that was skipped over.

'Cosmo, Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo deals with some jewel thieves who have posed as police to steal a diamond necklace.  And miracle of miracles, he actually uses a disguise this time, which he hasn't done in forever.

'Inspector Kent of Scotland Yard' (by George Newman): Kent deals with a jewel thief who has posed as a policeman to steal a diamond necklace.  Sound familiar?  It should, it's the exact same damn plot from this month's 'Cosmo'.  This the last we ever see of Inspector Kent.  Thanks for stopping by, inspector!

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Speed solves a murder with three suspects. This one had a pretty ropey clue at the centre of the mystery, so it didn't really hold together for me.