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 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.)

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