Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 1939: All-American Comics #4

Cover by William Smith

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): In this installment Red, Whitey and Blooey, along with Doris West, go to Honolulu to face a bunch of foreign agents trying to sabotage a new US battle cruiser. The first striking thing about this story is that it is set in Pearl Harbor; it's very odd seeing Pearl Harbor mentioned in a context that's not to do with its bombing by the Japanese.  That event hasn't happened at the time of this story's publication; I suppose it's analogous to modern-day readers seeing the Twin Towers in comics from the 1980s and 90s.  The enemy agents are also a bit odd to my mind, because they all speak Spanish (or possibly Portuguese, I'm not certain). Were there any tensions between the US and Spain at the time? Or a South American country, perhaps?  I've done a bit of research, and 1939 does coincide with the rise to power in Spain of Francisco Franco, who had some ties to Hitler and Mussolini, so I'll happily chalk it up to that and call it a day.

This is another fun story, and I've just realised that it does something no other stories I'm reading at this time are doing.  Red, Whitey and Blooey all have their own talents, but they're basically just the muscle. Doris pretty much holds their whole partnership together and comes up with the ideas that lead to their success. Without her they'd be useless, and it's refreshing at this time to see a strip where the woman is more competent than the men.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Ben and Professor Alger were about to be swindled by a family pretending to be their relatives. Their plan involves framing Ben for kidnapping their kid, but relying on a kid in any plan is bad news, and of course it backfires on them. It's a all a little too neat and lacking in drama. With that wrapped up the story moves on to Ben meeting an inventor named Pat Ented.  I'm all for a good pun name, but only when coupled to a quality story, which this is not.

'Bobby Thatcher' (by George Storm): Bobby, Tubby and Elmer are looking for treasure, but a crazy old hermit has the other half of their map. Bobby and Tubby get locked in a cellar by the old man, and Elmer sits around on his bum waiting for them to show up, even though he knows the old guy is after them. Elmer has failed his friends at the bro level. As has George Storm for creating this nonsense.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Elby): When his buddy Prop Wash crashes his plain while delivering air mail, Hop goes to his rescue and delivers the mail as well. The only good scene in this thing is when the delirious Prop tries to gun down Hop, mistaking him for a mail thief. Seriously, these guys place a lot of importance on mail. To the point where it's apparently legally required that any pilot carrying air mail must have a firearm. Different times, different ideals, crappy comics.

'Adventures in the Unknown: The Mystery Men of Mars' (by Carl H. Claudy): Still on Mars, Ted, Alan and Professor Lutyens are still captives of the martians, who plan to transplant their brains into robot bodies. Professor Lutyens goes with it, but the other two are none too pleased. Ted's first reaction to every situation is to start shooting, which makes him my favourite character here. Ted and Alan try to escape from Mars, while Robot Lutyens opts to stay behind. This is just so bizarre that's it's entertaining.

'Lesson in Blood' (by Loring Dowst): It's another Jimmy Stone prose story. Jimmy spends this story watching a kid whose dad he sent to the electric chair. The kid is mixed up with a bad crowd, getting high on marijuana and about to commit some crimes. And when Jimmy tries to help him, he gets the crap kicked out of him, and is left bleeding in the rain. Man, Jimmy Stone stories are hard core.

'Spot Savage' (by Harry Lampert): Spot escapes from the insane asylum, while the Duchess and his goons try to kill him. There are some classic unintentionally funny bits in this strip. I particularly liked it when Spot's editor, questioning a woman to find out if she's seen the Duchess, asks "Have you seen anyone around recently who is foreign-like?" But otherwise, this is terrible.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly shows off his drawing talent, and a creepy uncle takes him to his "office" in the bathroom to outline his money-making plan. What follows is a pretty funny play on Ripley's Believe It Or Not ("You Don't Hafta Believe It If You Don't Wanna"). There's very little of Ma Hunkel this month, but it's still one of the best humour strips going.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): This strip spends a whole bunch of time setting it up so that everyone thinks Wiley swapped the blanks for real bullets in last issue's mock battle. And just as the thing is building to a head, and I'm wondering what might happen to the guy, the real culprits are overheard scheming and it's all wrapped up. It's a terribly anticlimactic way to end the story.

Monday, May 30, 2011

May 1939: Superman Daily Strips #55-90; Adventure Comics #39

I'll begin today by catching up with the Superman daily strips.  From this point on they'll be mixed in with the rotation of regular comic books whenever a storyline finishes.

SUPERMAN DAILY STRIP #55-66: 'Jewel Smugglers'

Okay, so now I see why Lois hates Clark Kent so much.  In this story, she's demoted from news reporter to lovelorn columnist and Clark is promoted in her place. Then, when she gets a fortunate lead on a gang of smugglers and drags Clark along with her, he sneaks in at the end and takes her story from her. Yes, Lois Lane is a bitch, but I can't help but feel that Clark Kent aka Superman is laughing behind her back. (Also in this story, Superman beats up some crooks.  Just in case you think this is all newspaper office shenanigans.)  This is a pretty standard Superman story, but the glimpse into the beginnings of Clark's relationship with Lois livens it up a little bit.

SUPERMAN DAILY STRIP #67-90: 'Skyscraper of Death'

In this adventure, Superman investigates the deaths of a number of construction workers. It turns out their deaths have been caused by a the owner of a rival company, which is pretty much what I suspected from the beginning. The guy responsible, Nat Grayson, must be the most paranoid man on Earth. When Superman comes to get him not only does he have a steel vault to hide in, but his house is rigged with explosives at every point, and sensors that allow him to detonate them remotely. I can't imagine the life experiences that lead him to design a home like that. Otherwise, this is pretty bog standard material. The daily strip is losing its lustre the further it gets away from Superman's origin.

Cover by John Richard Flanagan

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): Having been captured by Count Guniff last issue and thrown in a pit full of rising water, Barry and LeGrand spend the whole strip escaping only to get captured again. This is the very definition of filler.

'Cotton Carver, World Adventurer' (by George Newman): When last we left Cotton Carver, he and his friend Volor had kidnapped the White Queen Kothe and taken her inside a strange temple. This story continues the weird pulp fantasy vibe of this strip, as Cotton fights a mace-wielding cat-man in the temple (who afterwards inexplicably joins his party), slides down a tunnel to a land full of archers, and gets involved in a bloody battle to stop them from sacrificing him to their golden god. As the story ends Volor and the cat-man have been shot with arrows, and Carver is about to fight the god Dagan. This is action-packed!

'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster): When some crazy kids murder a gas station attendant, Steve Carson is called in to investigate. He's seemingly unenthused about looking into a murder, but there's one aspect of the case that gets his attention. "Marihuana! The drug that causes the smoker to lose all moral restraint!" Yep, it's gross misinformation time. The story, with Steve going to the local school and exposing the janitor as a dope peddler, is adequate enough. But the premise is based on a completely flawed view of the effects of "marihuana". They can't even spell it right.

'Jack Woods' (by Jim Chambers): Jack Woods? Seriously? This strip finished yonks ago, but he's back for reasons unknown and unwanted.  Jack saves a man from a Mexican bandit called (I kid you not) Scar Tortilla, but the man is none too pleased and chases him away with a shotgun. Later Jack rides into town and takes up a job with a crooked foreman, who tries to frame him for murder. It's at least better than the usual cowboy fare (i.e. those done by Homer Fleming) but I'm still carrying a grudge against cowboy comics as a whole.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Gardner Fox and Don Lynch): Steve investigates a murder committed by a spy who is also a toy store owner. Now this one misdirected me as to the killer's identity, mainly because I completely misread the story; I thought the killer was the one who had been murdered! Going back to the first page, I can see why, because it's written fairly ambiguously.

'Money Makers' (by Frank Thomas): This prose story is a reprint, because I distinctly remember reading it before. The premise is a little cleverer than most of these; a gang of counterfeiters has stolen the plates from the US mint, so that they can print real money and the government can only print fakes. I can see why they're reprinting it, because it's better than what usually passes for a short story in these comics.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): This strip begins a new story, as Desmo's friend Gabby is kidnapped and taken to work as a slave in a gold mine. This sets up the desperate situation pretty effectively, but I don't have my hopes up, because this strip has never gotten past the level of average.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers): While on a mission sailing up the Sang Po River, Tom is captured by the local warlord Hong, who forces him to fight in an arena for the right to join his army. Brent manages to take down Hong in a story so rapid-fire that it reads like a disjointed synopsis. I'm usually all for some breakneck speed, but this glossed over too many important scenes.  This is the last appearance of this strip, and good riddance.  It's been consistently terrible from the beginning.

'Skip Schuyler' (by Tom Hickey): Skip Schuyler takes a bizarre turn into the sport genre this issue. His army intelligence department's baseball team is taking on the New York Yankees in an exhibition match. Skip has been asked to pitch, but he can't because of an old football injury. But these stories never end there, and Skip risks further injury to play when he finds out that his buddy bet a whole month's pay on the result. What follows is a match that's full of references to classic baseball players, most of which I know very little about. Perhaps this would mean more to an American baseball fan, but to me it's just a generic sport comic.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Rusty and his friends escape from Long Sin, and manage to snag a machine gun in the bargain. Long Sin continues his streak of awesome villainy by sending his men to be gunned down, reasoning that they can capture their enemies once the bullets run out. This strip actually feels like it's moving somewhere now, which is more than I could say before, but it's still notably lacking.  Thank god for Long Sin and his outrageous racist villainy.

'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Fred Guardineer): While out hunting alligators, Don and Red encounter a crazy old man who plans to blow up the Panama Canal. This is reasonably entertaining, with a suitably horrible ending for the villain.

1939 Addendum: More Superman Daily Strips

Apologies for the delay, but I've been ill, and also away from my internet access at work. My regular once-a-day schedule should resume as of now.

SUPERMAN DAILY STRIP #13-30: 'War on Crime'

The second storyline of Superman's daily strip sees him going up against the crooks behind the graft at city hall. Of greater interest here is that we get to witness Superman's decision to become a reporter after he arrives at a crime scene too late to save two people. We also see his first meeting with Lois, although she doesn't really interact with him as Clark Kent yet. I thought that her first meeting with Superman might not jibe with Action Comics #1, but a look back at that issue shows me that nothing is contradicted. Huzzah, continuity reigns supreme! Siegel and Shuster's flair for comedy is on show, as Kent's 'impossible first assignment' as a reporter is to get an interview with Superman. This is fun stuff, and it seems as though Siegel and Shuster have at least as much enthusiasm for this as they do for the comic book stuff. Shuster's art looks better in black and white as well.

SUPERMAN DAILY STRIP #31-54: 'The Comeback of Larry Trent'

In this story Superman saves a washed-up boxer called Larry Trent from committing suicide, then decides to help him get his world heavyweight title back. This being Golden Age Superman, his method is to disguise himself as Larry Trent and fight the matches himself. Most of the story involves Superman fighting boxers and being smug as he belts the life out of them. I'm all for the smug Superman of the 1930s, so I had some fun with this. And even though the end is predictable, I liked seeing Trent step up at the end and win the title himself. I think I'm enjoying this strip more than the comic book.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

1939 Addendum: Superman Comic Strip, January 16-28

Today I'm reviewing the first twelve-chapter storyline from the Superman daily strips, 'Superman Comes to Earth'.  This story ran during January 1939, at about the same time as Action Comics #9, in which Superman was busy tearing down slums and being chased by detectives

The strip is by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and goes into great detail regarding Superman's origin. This had already been covered in Action Comics #1, but only in the most cursory fashion; we learned that he was rocketed to Earth from a dying planet, and that was that. But here we get the story of Superman's parents, their discovery of their planet's impending doom, and the fateful decision to send their baby to another planet.
There are so many firsts in this story. The planet Krypton is named for the first time. Superman's parents, Jor-L and Lora, make their first appearance. We learn that Superman's birth name is Kal-L. It's quite incredible to see all of this backstory unfolding for the first time.

And not only that, but the story is great. It's certainly not as fun or action-packed as other stuff that Siegel and Shuster have done, but it feels like the most emotionally mature story that I have read since I started this project. It's tragic, but hopeful at the same time, and so much better than I thought it would be.

The final strip appears to be taken from panels used in Action Comics #1, and it glosses over Superman's childhood and growth into a man.  He's not discovered by Ma and Pa Kent, but instead by a random passing motorist, who hands him off to an orphanage.  Ma and Pa Kent don't even rate a mention, and now that I think of it they haven't been shown in any version of the character's origin so far.

It's almost a shame that I enjoyed this as much as I did, because I'm not sure if I'll be able to find the other strips. The site I linked to yesterday only has a limited number of strips available, so I'll have to look elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 1939: Action Comics #13

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster): This one starts off in a fairly mundane fashion, as Superman deals with a gang of racketeers who are extorting independent cab companies. The most interesting part of this sequence comes when Superman is leaping through the air with a crook under his arm, and during a struggle the criminal falls to the ground and dies. Superman looks at his corpse and says that he got what he deserved, which is just so completely different to the character as we know him today. Golden Age Superman is a hard son of a bitch.

But just when I was about to write this story off as a pedestrian affair, the mastermind behind the cab racketeers is revealed, a bald criminal genius: the Ultra-Humanite! Yes, he's very much like Lex Luthor, but with one major difference: the Ultra-Humanite is crippled, and has to be carried around by his flunkies. Otherwise he's pretty impressive, managing to incapacitate Superman with electricity. His plane is destroyed, but his body isn't found, so he'll be back. This was fun once it got going.

It has also come to my attention that the Superman newspaper strip started up in 1939.  The Speeding Bullet has archives of this strip, so I'll be trying to keep up with that on a monthly basis as well.  I'm already a few months behind, so I've got some catching up to do.

'Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter' (by Will Ely): Scoop investigates a corpse that has been turned to stone. The victim was part of an expedition to India to steal some gems. Everyone on that expedition was supposedly cursed, and now they are all dying. In reality it's just another member of that trip killing the rest to get the gems for himself. He's even invented a formula that can turn people to stone, which has honestly got to be worth more money than any gems. The best thing I can say about this story is that it successfully misdirected me as to who the culprit was.  It looks as though this is Scoop's final case, as his strip has been cancelled.  I always wondered why this guy was having adventures anyway. He's a reporter, not a detective, but you wouldn't know it from the strip. Apparently he goes on to make some appearances at a different company, but I probably won't be reading those.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep has really left the sports genre behind, hasn't he? In this story he's heading back to the USA on a ship, but lo and behold his enemy Captain Sindra has escaped from jail and is leading a mutiny. Pep manages to stop the mutiny with some help. This is actually not bad. It doesn't make me wish Pep Morgan would suffer from spontaneous human combustion, which has got to be a plus.  I'm starting to feel sorry for the guy.  He probably just wants to get back to America where he can be awesome at baseball and score with cute cheerleaders, and these damned revolutionaries keep getting in his way.

'Test Flight' (by Lieutenant Cummings): In this prose story, a test pilot is flying a plane when the landing gear malfunctions. Then he fixes it and lands. The end.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco and his men were captured by slavers last issue. They don't escape as I expected. Marco is sold to a chinese man, while his father is bought by a Persian merchant. This isn't great, but at least it's moving forward now.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex deals with the Ace of Spades, a masked killer who turns out to be his friend Colonel Rushmore. I think I fell asleep about six times in the course of this story, so I'm not really qualified to critique it.  Time to dunk my head in a sink full of cold water!

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck finally rescues Virginia, and has a few run-ins with the Mexican gunman Wolf. I'm usually terribly bored by Fleming's work, and that's still the case here, but at least this is chock-full of gunfighting and fistfighting.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Swamp of Satan' (by Fred Guardineer): That's a hell of a title to live up to. Zatara goes down to the Carolinas where a plantation owner's family is being menaced by a witch and her son from the swamp. There's some nonsense about the witch being related to them through 'evil blood', and an uncle who is trying to get the plantation for himself. There's even a quite startling scene where Zatara and Tong get gunned down (don't worry, they get better; they're magic!). This is characteristically entertaining stuff. I especially find Tong amusing; all he wants is to punch someone now and then.

Monday, May 16, 2011

April 1939: Feature Comics #21

Cover by Ed Cronin

Momentous occasion time!  This is the first comic in this project that isn't somehow associated with National/DC.  Feature Comics #21 is the first comic published by Quality, who will go on to create a bunch of characters like the Blackhawks, Uncle Sam, and Plastic Man.  Obviously those characters are subsumed by DC much later, but at this point in time they're completely separate.

This begs the question, why is it issue #21 if this is the first Quality comic?  That's because this title existed at a different publisher, Eastern Color Press, under the title Feature Funnies.  A lot of the strips are continued from there, so I'm joining them mid-stream.

'Espionage' (by Will Erwin): The first non-humour feature in this mag is a spy strip starring The Black X, an American spy with an awesome monocle. The Black X has stolen documents that will expose a foreign spy, but he has to make it to Washington with the evidence before enemy agents catch up with him. What follows is a pretty tense cross-country chase sequence, with an effective twist ending. This is alright, and it ough to be, because Will Erwin is actually a pseudonym for legendary creator Will Eisner.

'Jane Arden' (by Monte Barrett and Russell E. Ross): I've come into the middle of this serial, in which a girl reporter is present at the murder of a judge who was about to read a will. The will has disappeared; who is the culprit?!?!?! It pains me greatly to see that this insidious plot device is in use outside of DC.  Wills, you guys.  I'm sick of them.

'Gallant Knight' (by Vernon Henkel): It's another strip I've joined mid-stream. A knight named Sir Neville and his princess companion have washed up near a fisherman's hut. The fisherman sells them out to a guy named Chopak who holds her to ransom, planning to raise an army and usurp the crown of France. This sort of medieval knight genre has fallen out of favour over at DC, so it's refreshing to see one here. And it's better than any of the ones I read over there, as well.

'Big Top' (by Ed Wheelan): Hey, it's Ed Wheelan, perpetrator of 'Secrets of the Tomb' over in Movie Comics. This story is about a circus that gets robbed for ten grand.  While the investigation goes on, a banker promises to invest money in the circus so long as they let him work as a clown. It's better than his Movie Comics work, but that is saying very, very little.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by Stan Asch): This murder mystery story claims that there are clues in the first three panels that will help the reader to solve the case before Captain Cook. Unless I'm completely blind, there are none. (For the record, the butler and the chauffeur did it. Because they were left out of the will!)

'The Clock Strikes' (by George Brenner): The Clock, aka Brian O'Brien, is a masked crimefighter of sorts (although he only wears a mask in the opening title panel, not the story itself). In this story he visits the New York World's Fair (I can't escape this damned place) where he foils a robbery. I couldn't be more bored.

Apparently the Clock is the first masked crimefighter in comic books, having appeared in a whole lot of stuff before this issue.

'Lala Palooza' (by Rube Goldberg): This is a strip about two people who take over a hotel, and it's not particularly interesting. But some of you might recognise the name of the creator, who inspired the name of the Rube Goldberg device. You know how Wile E. Coyote would rig up some ridiculous contraption to capture the Road Runner? That's a Rube Goldberg device. And the top of every page here has a one-panel gag involving a different one each time.  They're quite amusing.

'Richard Manners, The Super Sleuth' (by Fran Frollo): Richard Manners and his buddy Mitch stop a robber who has been making his escapes in an airplane.  It's yet another detective strip where the principal characters are completely devoid of personality.

'Ned Brant' (by Bob Zuppke and R.W. Depew): This is a teenage humour strip, I guess. Brant wins a baseball game, gets in the school play and screws it up, and picks a fight with a guy who is talking about his girl. I've read one Ned Brant strip, and I already want him to die.

'The Mystery of Echo Island' (by John A. Thorne): This is a prose story about two kids who have been kidnapped, along with their inventor father.  They escape, rescue their dad, and beat the crooks using a robot. It's not nearly as exciting as it sounds.

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): Oh no, mounties! In this story, Reynolds and his partners take on an eskimo witch doctor.  This is fairly average, which makes it the friggin Citizen Kane of mountie comics.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

April 1939: More Fun Comics #43; Movie Comics #2; New York World's Fair Comics #1

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Wing and a small detachment of legionnaires are sent to take down El Ben Azda, the latest in a long line of evil Arab bandit chiefs. Wing's buddy is worried that they don't have enough men, but to be honest all Wing needed to bring was himself. When the bandit army shows up, Wing just drops a landslide on their heads and guns down El Ben Azda without remorse. This isn't bad. Tom Hickey is one of the better creators of this era, and his comics are average at worst. He does his best work on lengthy serials, though, not on one-shot stories like this one.

'Detective Sergeant Carey and the Murder by a Ghost' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey and Sleepy investigate a murder in which the prime suspect is a ghost. In actual fact the doctor did it, because (wait for it) he was going to be written out of the will.  The only other suspect was a butler, and I applaud Donohoe's restraint in not going for the Ultimate Cliche Trifecta.

'Radio Squad' (by Siegel and Shuster): Sandy and Larry are assigned to stop a mugger who has been hitting women with a blackjack. Their first plan involves them dressing up as ladies, and there's even a lovely reference back to the last time they did a spot of cross-dressing. This time the plan fails, so instead they stage some fake muggings and leave boastful notes, hoping that the real mugger will follow suit.  He does, and the note provides them with enough clues to track him down. Cue car chase and gunfight! Man, they packed a lot into six pages in the old days.

'Spring Training' (by Terry Keane): This prose story is about a baseball coach whose pitcher slips and breaks his arm. He despairs that they'll never find a replacement until some random dude in the crowd is inexplicably awesome. The end.  Wake me when an actual story happens. The best thing about this is its specific reference to Zatara the Master Magician.

'Gary Hawkes' (by Rob Jenney): Gary is called back to San Columbo in order to help in their war against the equally-fictitious Vulcania. It seems like the idea of war is really entering the zeitgeist at this point, because more and more stories are referencing it. Anyway, Gary gets shot down during a battle, and will have to fight against impossible odds to survive in the next issue.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): In this issue Bobby and Binks witness the reign of Queen Marie de Medicis of France. Apparently she and her advisor Concini were terrible rulers, but exactly why isn't spelled out. That's the problem with this series. It covers the bare facts well enough but never gets specific enough to be entertaining. I'd like to know exactly what Concini did to become so hated by the people of France, but I won't see it here.

'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely): Johnnie is still on the trail of the dope smugglers who escaped last issue. He finds them, evades their ever-so-original spiked wall trap, then beats them by calling in extra police on the phone, which is always my favourite way to resolve a plot.

'Rex Darrell, Flying Fox' (by Terry Gilkison): Rex is looking for ancient Inca treasures, but instead he finds actual Incas, still rocking their spears and headdresses in the 20th century. There's a bit of the old capture/escape routine, but even so, I just didn't care.

'Cal an' Alec' (by Stockton): Cal and Alec finally take care of Slaughterhouse in what I was going to call a decently satisfying conclusion, but if the too-silly cliffhanger here is anything to go by he'll be around next month. This strip needs to move on.

'Marg'ry Daw' (by persons unknown): For reasons I can't remember, Marg'ry and her father are taken to meet Stephen Dean, a half-mad monk with a treasure room full of all sorts of wonders. I don't know where this is going.  Hell, I don't even remember where it's been, so I'm at a bit of a loss to review it.

'Biff Bronson' (by Joseph Sulman): This new strip is about yet another detective.  In this story he deals with a dangerous escaped convict, with the usual fist-fighting. This is as generic as they come.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by B. Hersch and R. Lehman): In this story an escaped madman gets on the sub and causes all sorts of chaos, until he slips and falls headfirst into a propeller. Don't ask me why there's a propeller on top of a sub. It's a wind generator or something, but I didn't quite get what its purpose is. This isn't great, but at least the story is original.  And it does have a dude falling into a giant propeller.

'Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): Dennis is rescued by his crew and recovers from his recent gunshot wound. Then we get a transition into another story, as a storm forces them to land on an island and seek shelter in a mysterious castle. The guy in the castle delivers the following line: "Good evening, gentlemen! I am Doctor Killmen! Welcome to Castle Terror!" Doctor Killmen. Castle Terror. And still these guys decide to stay the night.

Cover by Jack Adler

'Stagecoach' (by Dudley Nichols and Jack Adler): A John Wayne movie illustrated to look a Monty Python sketch? That's something that sounds perfectly designed to amuse me, but the results were less than expected. Probably because it's more of an ensemble cast, and The Duke wasn't in it as much as I hoped he would be . The story involves a stagecoach trying to reach its destination before it's attacked by Apaches, and there are a ton of characters and subplots. The strip never gets around to giving any of them adequate development. Probably the most egregious example is John  Wayne's character proposing to a woman after seeing her for a single panel. I can't judge this as an adaptation, because I haven't seen the movie, but it tried to squeeze too much into too few pages to succeed as a comic story.

'The Saint Strikes Back' (by Derek Twist and Jack Adler): I fully confess that I wasn't able to follow the plot for this one. The Saint is a detective of sorts, and he gets mixed up with a murder over some stolen money orchestrated by a crime kingpin that nobody has ever seen. But with a dizzying array of characters (that mostly look alike with this title's art style) and my noted inability to follow detective stories, I wasn't able to take in the details. It doesn't help that the art style is completely devoid of storytelling, which necessitates every second or third panel being just a big block of exposition.  The one saving grace is the Saint himself, who has what is probably the best dialogue I've read in this project so far.

'Terrors of the Tomb' (by Ed Wheelan): In this comic strip, the archaeologists finally head into the tomb of Pharaoh Amon despite the warnings of the weird Egyptian priest who appeared to them. The evil Stark has drawn the map in disappearing ink, and plans to leave the others to die in the tombs so that he can claim the love of token female Alice West. This really isn't very good. The only notable thing about it is its conviction in pretending to be a movie serial. Every time a new character appears there's a caption telling you the name of the fake actor supposedly playing him.

'Arizona Legion' (by Oliver Drake and Jack Adler): This one's about a cowboy who goes undercover in a gang of robbers at the risk of losing his girl.  It's bad, and at this point I despair at having to read more of these.

'Scouts to the Rescue' (by a bunch of hack script writers and Jack Adler): In which a bunch of boy scouts and a g-man stop some criminals stealing radium from an Indian tribe. This is just awful. It's like reading an abysmally illustrated Wikipedia synopsis.

'Booby Hatch Pinch-Hits' (by Kenneth Fitch): This prose story is about a guy called Booby Hatch (yes, really) who is awesome at basketball, terrible at everything else, and really wants to be an actor. This thing is really scattershot. There's basketball stuff, with Booby being left off the team by a vindictive teacher. There's Booby's dreams of being an actor, revealed when he appears in the school play. There's his romantic choice between a glamourous girl and a nerd. Somehow, and it's shocking I know, none of it works. And this is a series...

'King of the Turf' (by George Bruce and Jack Adler): Holy shit, what a depressing movie. A drunken tramp, who was once a big-shot in horse-racing, meets an eager kid and together they buy a horse and win a bunch of races. There's the usual shenanigans with bookies and fixed races. It turns out that the kid is the son of two millionaires, but his real dad is actually this tramp guy. As a favour to his ex-wife, he makes his son hate him by fixing a race and punching him in the mouth. Then he's back to being a drunken bum, while the kid goes back to his parents who he ran away from once already.  It's bleak.

Cover by Vin Sullivan and Fred Guardineer
(What's with the blonde Superman?)

Okay, so in 1939 there was a big fair in New York, with the theme being "The World of Tomorrow".  National Periodicals (aka DC Comics) did some promo comics for the fair, and this is the first of them.

'Superman at the World's Fair' (by Siegel and Shuster): This is less of a story and more of a promo piece.  On the one hand it serves to promote the New York World's Fair, by showing Superman having adventures in and around the various exhibits. On the other it's a promo for Superman himself, as there are a number of set pieces designed specifically to showcase his powers. The plot is virtually non-existent, as Clark and Lois are sent to cover the fair. During the trip Superman stops a runaway train, finishes an exhibit to benefit sick kids, stops some jewel thieves and rescues a stuntman whose parachute hasn't opened. It doesn't have much focus, but Superman gives his most impressive displays of power yet, and the speed with which it rockets from set piece to set piece is engaging.  Plus, newsflash: Lois Lane is still a bitch.

'Chuck Warren Goes to the New York World's Fair' (by Tom Hickey): Chuck Warren (a previously unseens character) seems to be a sports star, in a similar vein to my old pal Pep Morgan. In this story he and his buddies are supposed to run a relay race at the world's fair, but they get into all sorts of trouble on the way there, including an incident with some bank robbers. The eventually arrive, win the race, and set a world record.  I think I like this guy about as much as I like Pep Morgan.

'Butch the Pup' (by Fred Schwab): Butch the Pup has migrated over from whatever comic he's in to make an appearance here. Much like the Superman story, this is nothing more than an exercise in showcasing the various exhibits.

'Ginger Snap' (by Bob Kane): Once again, it's a story with Ginger and her father touring the fair. At least this one has a punchline at the end (albeit a terrible one). I'm already a bit tired of reading the same type of story over and over again.

'Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter' (by Will Ely): Scoop actually has a real story, as he helps an aviation exhibitor whose rivals have threatened him not to show his new designs at the fair. This isn't great, but I'm just happy to have read something with a plot.

'A Day at the World's Fair' (by Creig Flessel): Yep, it's another story where some random dudes just walk around and point at exhibits. The highlight has got to be Democracity, City of the Future!  But man, if I see that friggin' Trylon and Perisphere again, I'm going to hurl.

'Slam Bradley at the World's Fair' (by Siegel and Shuster): This one almost falls into the same trap as the other stories in here, but it does have a plot about two rival gangs going after a box full of money. Why the first gang thinks sewing a piece of paper with the money's location on it into Shorty's jacket is a good idea is anyones guess. Still, this lacks the humour and action of the usual Slam Bradley strips, and replaces it with a lot of pointing and exclamations of wonder.

'The Sandman' (by Larry Dean): Could this be the first appearance of Wesley Dodds (or Dodd, the story is undecided), the Golden Age Sandman? It certainly seems that way.  He's introduced here as a millionaire playboy inventor who is also the Sandman, a vigilante in a gas mask whose primary weapon is a gun that fires sleeping gas. He's certainly a striking visual; at this point, I'd rate his look higher than that of Batman (keeping in mind that Batman undergoes a lot of development before he reaches his iconic look). The plot involves some spies trying to get a hold of a ray-gun that Dodds invented by masquerading as secret service agents. This is decent stuff.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the World's Fair Exhibit' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara is sent into China to retrieve the Jade Necklace of Princess Ti-Lo, so that it can be put on display at the fair. With that token reference to the fair out of the way, we get a standard Zatara adventure, and not one of his better ones. I measure the success of a Zatara story based on the wackiness of the powers he uses, and in this story he doesn't do anything outside of his usual bag of tricks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

April 1939: All-American Comics #3

Cover by Sheldon Mayer

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): Red, Whitey and Blooey are sent to California to hunt down a ring of gun smugglers, while their lady friend Doris works undercover. Again, there's a liveliness to this strip that makes it fun to read. I think the ensemble cast helps it a lot.  There are a ton of strips that focus on a single heroic character, and they often come across as bland. But with three main characters you're bound to get some more distinctive personalities.

'Spot Savage, the All-American News Hound' (by Harry Lampert): Spot is still in the loony bin, and when his buddy Foto comes to rescue him he gets thrown in there as well.  The events of this strip get more ludicrous with every installment, but that's okay in a humour strip.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Elby): Hop, Prop and their mechanic Ikky get a job flying planes for a movie studio.  Ikky gets distracted by movie starlet Tootsie Queen, and proceeds to screw up every single stunt.  (Ikky better watch himself anyway, because Tootsie Queen is the biggest transvestite name I've ever heard.)  I'm counting the days until I never have to see Hop Harrigan again.  But I see that the kid has a wikipedia entry, so he must stick around for a while.

'The Mystery Men of Mars' (by Carl Claudy): Man, this strip is chock-full of plot. The Earth-folks are taken by the Martians to a museum, where they are going to be preserved in alcohol and put on display.  But through the universal language of maths, Professor Lutyens learns to communicate with them. Then there's a whole sequence with a machine that learns to speak English, which then explains the history of Mars. (Quick version: there were martians that lived above ground and below ground, the upworlders killed the others, and now all the martians are brains living in metal bodies). This is still entertainingly weird, and it doesn't get bogged down in any one thing long enough to become boring.

'Bobby Thatcher' (by George Storm): On the opposite side of the plot-progression spectrum, this strip sees Bobby and his pals taking a break from treasure-hunting to go to school and daydream about all the things they want to buy.  Come on you kids, get on with with it!  School will have been a waste of your time once you're millionaires!

'Death's Sweepstakes' (by Loring Dowst): Continuing from last month, Jimmy Stone takes down a gang of counterfeiters.  Man, this story is grim.  It has Jimmy getting punched in the mouth, witnessing the agonising death of a counterfeiter, and gunning down another of them (remember that he's, what, about ten years old?). Then he rescues his buddy Phil, whose feet have been burned by the crooks to make him talk. When I saw that the protagonist of this series was a kid I expected it to light and fluffy, but instead it is hardcore.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Professor Mattix's fake nephew is still trying to swindle him, only to find out that Ben Webster has all of the money.  Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm positive that the whole set-up of this strip hinged on Mattix not knowing that Ben was giving him the money. It's sloppy (unless I'm wrong, in which case I'm sloppy).

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut, Richard Rick): Wiley gets involved in a plot to kill American cadets. Some foreign spies swap out blank ammunition for the real thing, so that when the cadets have a mock battle they'll kill each other. This strip has a strangely disjointed quality that makes it difficult to follow.

There is the usual range of humour strips as well, but I'm not going to get into a lot of detail with those, because describing other people's jokes is always excruciating.  The best of them is probably 'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer), and this month's installment is notable for introducing Ma Hunkel.  Here she's a large, powerful housewife who preaches peace but spends most of her time shouting and hitting people to get them to stop fighting.  In later years she becomes the original Red Tornado, one of the first super-hero parodies, so I'll be keeping an eye on her.

Monday, May 9, 2011

April 1939: All-American Comics #2; Detective Comics #27

Cover by Jon L. Blummer, Harry Lampert and Sheldon Mayer

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): Now that they are secret agents, Red, Whitey and Blooey are sent on a mission to stop foreign agents from stealing America's helium supplies. (Apparently it has other uses than making your voice high-pitched and blowing up balloons.) There's some shenanigans involving a psychic who grants Red telepathic powers for a day, but not a lot is done with it. Other than that this is a straightforward story, albeit an entertainingly told one. Like Siegel and Shuster, William Smith has figured out a good mix of action and humour.

'Spot Savage, The All-American News Hound' (by Harry Lampert): Spot is still investigating the Duchess, a European swindler who is actually a man and has just arrived in America with a pretty girl at his side. Spot tries to warn the girl, but his insistence that the Duchess is a man gets him taken away to the looney bin. I'm not feeling this one yet.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Elby): In this story Hop saves his buddy Prop from crashing his plane when he passes out due to eating rich food. I had an inkling that this series was going to be terrible.

'The Mystery Men of Mars' (by Carl Claudy and Stan Aschmeier): Alan, Ted and Professor Lutyens have arrived on Mars, and it's not long before they are the prisoners of some bug-like aliens. These guys are seriously weird, and they keep measuring Ted's skull, so it's no wonder when he starts shooting at them. I'm usually a sucker for the weirdness in these strips, but this one has no logical flow to the story.

'Bobby Thatcher' (by George Storm): Bobby and his friends find an old map and go looking for treasure. This one hasn't shown me anything but cliches so far.

'Death's Sweepstakes'(by Loring Dowst): In this prose story Jimmy Stone and Phil Hackett investigate lottery fraud. This one is continued next month. The relatively more well-rounded characters here would elevate this story if it wasn't for the interminable explanation of lotteries and gambling in America in the 1930s.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Professor Mattix is still spending money on poor people, but he is noticed by a crook who pretends to be his nephew. Against all logic I find myself wanting to see how this pans out.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): Wiley accidentally gives an officer a black eye just before his girlfriend is about to arrive. Lieut. Richard Rick should give up comics and focus more diligently on his military career.

Cover by Bob Kane

'The Bat-Man in The Case of the Chemical Syndicate' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): After weeks of anticipation, I have finally reached the first appearance of Batman (or, as he's referred to throughout this story, The Bat-Man). Perhaps I built this moment up in my mind too much, but it's a little disappointing. The character doesn't have the same initial impact that Superman had.  Whereas Superman had no predecessors as far as the comics go, Batman had a number of inspirations, the Crimson Avenger being one of them.  The plot here is about Batman and Commissioner Gordon investigating some murders perpetrated by a businessman trying to get sole control of a chemical plant. Again, it's nothing I haven't seen before.  And the "twist ending" is the best. It's almost certainly unfair of me to judge this from my vantage point in the relative future, but the shocking revelation of this story is that Bruce Wayne is Batman. This might have worked back in the day, but it's just impossible for me to take seriously.  The one thing this story has going for it is atmosphere, and some striking visuals for Batman. The design is already strong. The best thing is that even with the story's shortcomings, I absolutely know that better things are coming.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Speed investigates a mysterious murder, and finds a red crescent on the collar of the victim, the sign of the Kurdistani Killers.  The victim and another man had accidentally become sworn members of this cult, and are being hunted down after refusing to do murder.  This is probably Speed's easiest case ever, because the culprit is a woman wearing dirty big red crescents all over her dress.  Seriously, this is the dumbest murder cult ever.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): Yep, it's yet another murder of a ranch owner. I perked up a little when there was mention of a murderer called "The Terror", and Buck pulls out some tracking skills to rival Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride.  But in the end it's still a Buck Marshall story.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart's flying solo in this issue, as he goes up against a spy ring that's been killing members of an investigative committee with exploding bananas.  This strip is notably lacking without Sally acting as a counterpoint to Bart.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers): The Crimson Avenger tackles a surprisingly complex investigation involving a double murder over an unpaid gambling debt. Even the denouement has a nice little twist.  This is easily the best Crimson Avenger strip so far.

'Death on the Airwaves' (by Gardner Fox): This prose story is about a failed entertainer who is killing radio stars by fitting their microphones with poison gas. It's exactly the same plot that Bruce Nelson was investigating a few months ago.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce is in New Orleans investigating the murder of a French woman. There's a lot of voodoo involved here, and not many answers to the questions raised. This continues next month, where I hope events become clearer.

'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): In this chapter Petrie and Nayland Smith talk to a priest whose return to China could spark widespread conflict.  The priests daughter sees someone with green eyes and that's as much plot progression as we get this issue. We do learn that Fu Manchu has a boss, though, which sort of weakens his mystique, I feel.

'Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo goes undercover to stop a gang smuggling Chinese people into America.  This story is just full of racist "me velly solly fliend" type dialogue, with racial slurs thrown in too boot. It's terrible.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): Slan and Shorty track an escaped criminal to Switzerland, where they engage in lots of skiing shenanigans before arresting the guy. It's very lacklustre by Slam's standards.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

April 1939: Adventure Comics #38

Cover by John Richard Flanagan

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): Having disposed of Fang Gow last issue, Barry starts a new adventure. His investigation of the murder of a French major leads him to be captured by a spy ring led by the villainous Count Guniff. As I feared would happen, this strip has become frighteningly generic now that Fang Gow isn't in it. I'm holding out hope that Count Guniff is a vampire, but I don't like my chances.

'Inspector Kent of Scotland Yard' (by George Newman): When his old enemy The Raven steals secret plans for the Volker Line, Inspector Kent is called in to help. What follows is a straightforward spy story where Kent retrieves the plans without much difficulty, but the spectre of World War 2 hovering in the background gives it a little more tension than it otherwise might have had.

'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster): Steve Carson investigates the murder of a judge, in which the culprit is a man the judge sentenced to life in prison. This man had escaped years ago, disguised himself with plastic surgery, and set himself up as the judge's business partner, which is a pretty elaborate revenge scheme right there. But it's blatantly obvious from the first panel he appears in that this guy is the murderer. Carson doesn't even do any detective work, he just gets handed the relevant information by his colleagues. It's a pretty weak story all around.

'Tod Hunter, Jungle Master' (by Jim Chambers): In the last issue Tod was caught up in a battle between two wizards, and found himself allied with the one named Torog. In this installment he helps overthrow the other wizard in a very offhand and anti-climactic manner. After returning to the surface he comes across some murderers who can lead him to his friends, but when the local authorities catch up with them they arrest Tod as well. There are all sorts of problems with this. The evil wizard from the last few strips isn't even defeated, he just vanishes between panels.  And didn't Tod have amnesia? He remembers the names of his friends just fine now. This serial hasn't had a logical flow for months, but it doesn't matter now because I'll never have to see it again.  Tod was shot trying to escape in the final panel of the story, so I have to assume that he is dead.  Hooray!

'Don Coyote' (by Stockton): Don and his time-travelling friend from the 20th century depose the king and take over. I'm still reasonably amused by this, and there's even a little bit of world-building going on.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Gardner Fox and Don Lynch): Steve Malone goes after a gang of crooks who have robbed an armoured car and escaped to sea. There's a bit of action as Steve infiltrates their ship, but it's still a pretty dull affair.

'Emergency Case' (by Jack Anthony): This prose story is about a doctor who has to drive his car over an icy river to get to a little girl who needs an operation. This isn't much better than the usual fare for these stories, but at least the situation and genre isn't one I've seen in this project before.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): On the way back from his last adventure, Desmo sees Tartars attack a village and kidnap a girl. Of course he goes to her rescue, and ends up fighting a knife-wielding Tartar on top of a cliff.  That bit of actions livens things up a bit, but the rest of the story is not very good. I just want to know why Desmo wears that helmet all the time.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers): Tom is still undercover, investigating the mysterious destruction of a number of ships. He ends up captured by the culprits, and forced at gunpoint to pilot a ship to Hang Kow, but he has a Cunning Plan: crash the ship into a dirty big rock. This being the Golden Age, such a stupidly direct plan actually works, and the authorities are along shortly to arrest the crooks.  That doesn't mean it's not a boring story, though.

'Skip Schuyler' (by Tom Hickey): Skip goes down to the fake South American country of Vendazia to deal with the revolutionary leader Pancho Velez and his cool sombrero. As is usual with Tom Hickey's stuff, there's a sense of authenticity that's missing from a lot of other Golden Age strips. There's even a scene where Skip gets tied up and whipped in the face. The plot is nothing out of the ordinary, but the little details make it just a bit better than average. It's a rare Golden Age story that would feature a line like this one: "All I've got to do is nip a revolution in the bud and save the good old government of Vendazia for the American bankers and industrialists."

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Long Sin and his pirates finally arrive on the island, and within a couple of pages he has thrown a knife into the throat of a mutineer, captured Rusty and his pals, and allied with the counterfeiter Ichabod Slade. Now that's an effective villain. I still don't care much about this strip, but it's much better when he's in it.  Yes, he's a terribly racist portrayal, but it's taken so far over the top that it almost works as a parody.

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Fred Guardineer): Wow, this strip doesn't mess about. Don and Red are in Shanghai on the trail of bandit leader Wang Ku, and the sheer amount of plot in this story is insane. In the space of six pages we get bandits ambushing and capturing Don and his soldiers, Red rescuing the soldiers, Red rescuing Don from Wank Ku's boat (including some gunfighting), and a battleship blowing that boat to smithereens. This story won me over with sheer breakneck pace.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

April 1939: Action Comics #12

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster) is at his belligerent best in this story, as he tries to enforce road safety after a friend of his is hit by a car. Siegel and Shuster are no strangers to activism in their stories, but in this one you can feel just how angry they are. Superman completely flies off the handle as he smashes the cars of traffic offenders, destroys a manufacturer of substandard vehicles, and terrorises the mayor until he starts enforcing the speed limits. If you're looking for an example of Golden Age Superman's tendency to be a bully, this is one of the best.

The strip ends with a one-panel ad for the new 'Batman' strip, which features our first glimpse of the character.  DC must have had some inkling of what they had on their hands here, because they hyped this strip like crazy.  Pretty much everything I've read in the last week or so has featured a Batman ad in it somewhere.

When last we left 'Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter' (by Will Ely), his cover in the Larroway Gang had been blown. In this story he gets shot, and the gang goes into hiding.  There's some shenanigans about Larroway getting plastic surgery, and Scoop recovering from being shot, but it's all pretty superfluous by the time the cops get around to arresting the gang.  A lot of stuff happens here, but when it has no bearing on the story's conclusion you can't call it a success.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer) is still in South America, where he foils the assassination of the presidente (don't ask me of what country, because it's as vague as it gets).  Again, this is well out of Pep's area of expertise. His sporting adventures were usually pretty lame, but at least they were unique to him.  And while I'm talking about that, in this story Pep's strength is described as super-human.  So he's totally been cheating at sports this whole time
'Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven) and his crew have finally left the Rajah's palace and ventured back into the desert, where they unsurprisingly start dying of thirst.  There's a lot of nonsense about Marco sacrificing his own well-being to keep his pet cheetah fed, even going so far as to feed it camel's blood.  Yep, that's just how to raise a tame pet who is absolutely no danger to those around him.  Still, this is a welcome change from the interminable series of stories set in the Rajah's palace.

'Escape' (by Richard Martin) is a prose story continued from last month, and features the adventures of two reporters as they escape from behind enemy lines in a plane.  These dead-straight prose stories are murder. Has no one invented the plot twist yet?

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily) has just won a tournament, and gotten unwillingly engaged to an island princess. In doing so he attracts the ire of the high priest, whose machinations (as well as those of his twin brother) drive the rest of the story.  By the end the priest is dead, and Tex is heading away from the island, having been released from his obligation to marry the princess.  Total copout, Baily.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming) is still on the trail of the kidnappers, lead by the mysterious Cougar.  The Cougar mustn't have read the Evil Overlord List, because all of his minions wear masks. This is convenient for Chuck when he decides to infiltrate the gang, and that's where we leave him. By the standards of the average Chuck Dawson story this is alright, but by any other standards it's terrible.

'Zatara' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer) is asked by a scientist to explore the mysterious Fourth Dimension, where he gets caught up in a war between two tribes of blue-skinned humanoids.  After some behind-the-scenes manipulation he manages to unite the tribes. This is not very good for a Zatara story. The most notable thing comes at the end, when the two queens of the rival tribes engage in a full-on lesbian kiss to seal the peace treaty.  It's definitely not something I expected to see in any mainstream comics before the 1990s.  Fredric Wertham must have had a fit.

Monday, May 2, 2011

March 1939: All-American Comics #1, Detective Comics #26, More Fun Comics #42, Movie Comics #1

Cover by Sheldon Mayer

Technically, this is the first comic in this project not to be published by National/DC.  It was published by All-American Publications, who go on to create a number of important characters in the early 1940s, with Green Lantern and the Atom being the most well-known.  DC purchases them in 1946, and so their characters become part of that stable.

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith and possibly written by Jerry Siegel) is about three old friends, one who joined the Army, one the Navy and the other the Marines.  They meet up while on leave, get involved in smashing a spy ring, and are invited to join G-2, the US spy organisation.  The main plot is fairly average, but the characters are infectiously enthusiastic, and the art is clean and dynamic. This could go places.

There are a few pages of a humour strip called 'Mutt and Jeff' (by Bud Fisher), which seems to be about two guys getting up to general shenanigans. Fishing, painting, that sort of thing. It's mildly amusing.  I see that it's reprinted from newspaper strips, which makes sense; there are four pages of this, and each one is a new strip.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Elby) is about an orphan kid who runs away from his farm in an old plane, saves a guy in a tangled parachute, and gets a job as a pilot. I assume that the usual aviation-style adventures will follow, which has me SO! THRILLED!  Still, this isn't such a bad start, and once again the art is quite clean and effective.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer) is about a kid who returns from vacation to find that his girlfriend is now dating a big-shot soldier.  This one is apparently continued from a comic called The Funnies, but it doesn't read that way.  It's a decent introduction, with some effective gags.  I'm happy to see Sheldon Mayer's work again, because he was one of the better cartoonists in the early days of DC.

'Mystery Men of Mars' (by Carl Claudy and Stan Aschmeier) is about two students who are recruited by a German scientist to accompany him on a trip in his space ship to Mars. Most of this strip is taken up by the scientist rattling off various scientific theories that may have been plausible in 1939 but are just plain crazy now. The trio have just landed on Mars when the story ends, so there's not a lot of plot progression, but the characters are distinctive and enjoyable, despite the scientist's absurd accent (or perhaps because of it).

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger, not the same Alger who's been working for DC already) is about a kid who is given thousands of dollars to help his kindly grandfather, but with the stipulation that he isn't able to tell him about the money. There's some mild hi-jinks as Ben buys his grandfather stuff on the sly, but it's not particularly engaging. This is another newspaper reprint, and it definitely reads like the continuation of a story rather than the beginning.  Each page begins with a recap of everything that just happened, so this was obviously not written with this format in mind.

'Bobby Thatcher' (by George Storm) is about three kids who go camping and get lost in an old abandoned house. It must be a law that one member of every kid gang is a fat kid called Tubby. 

'A Real American' (by Loring Dowst and Sheldon Mayer) is a prose story about a kid named Jimmy Stone, a very patriotic orphan who helps smash a spy ring. Afterwards he is taken in by the secret agent he helped, who plans to let him help on his cases. I sense a series... The story was no great shakes, but at least Jimmy Stone himself is a relatively well-defined character.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick) is about a kid who goes to boot camp and gets hassled by the drill sergeants.  It's pretty weak so far.

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster) is captured by a weird cult of artists who are fascinated with death.  This one starts off in super-creepy fashion.  Slam and Shorty are asked to pose in front of artists, only to see that every one of them has depicted them dead in various gruesome fashions. Eventually Slam and Shorty are subjected to all manner of death-traps, as the artists are inspired by their reactions to each near-death experience.  Of course  Slam escapes, and spends a good two pages or so just pounding the hell out of them. It's another very solid story.

'Steve Malone. District Attorney' (by Gardner Fox and artists unknown) investigates a murder, in which the motive is that the murderer was going to be written out of the victim's will.  This is literally the FIFTY-EIGHT THOUSANDTH time I've seen this motive during the course of this blog.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey) tackles a pair of criminals that have holed up in an abandoned house.  It's a pedestrian yarn until Nelson reveals that one of the criminals is actually the bank robber Virdone, who was thought killed a few issues ago. It's a revelation that comes pretty much out of nowhere. This was already a below-average Nelson story, and this sort of nonsense isn't helping it.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers) deals with a gang of criminals, one of whom is dressing up as the Crimson Avenger to put the heat on the crime-fighter. This is the sort of thing I normally eat up, but here it's just a bit of window-dressing on the average 'hero busts up some crooks' story. If you ever find yourself wondering why Batman took off and the Crimson Avenger faded into obscurity, it's because the Crimson Avenger is crap.

'Disguise' (by Paul Dean aka Gardner Fox) is a prose story in which a jewel thief is caught by the police because the make-up he used to disguise himself was left at the scene of the crime.  And apparently there are only three jewel thieves in the entire world smart enough to use a disguise.  Yep, sure.  Makes perfect sense.

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely) goes undercover to investigate corruption in two rival cab companies. It all culminates in a large brawl and shoot-out between thugs and plainclothes policemen that is wrapped up in a single panel and a narrative caption. It's exactly how you shouldn't resolve a climactic action sequence.

In 'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia) Petrie and Nayland Smith investigate a clergyman who was involved in the Boxer Rebellion, and who has attracted the interest of Fu Manchu.  As usual this is heavy on atmosphere, but I'm getting tired of waiting for something to happen.  Fu Manchu needs to show up and do something impressive really shortly.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven) deals with two crooks who blow up a ship and escape with its gold shipment.  Cosmo is holding to its usual standard of mediocrity.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster) gets off to a cracking start. Siegel and Shuster display their trademark disregard for major landmarks, as the US Congress Building is blown to smithereens. It's all the work of a mad scientist with radio-controlled missiles, and it's not long before he's destroyed the US Treasury as well.  Then he makes comic book history by strapping Sally to a missile; it's the first time in DC history that a woman gets strapped to a phallic symbol!  The mad scientist is stopped and Sally is saved by Bart, and it's another pretty good story.

'Speed Saunders' (by Fred Guardineer) goes undercover to expose some gamblers who are fixing college basketball games.  Honestly, doesn't he have some real crimes to solve?  Do Americans really give a shit about college basketball enough to bet on it?

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey), fresh off a long-running storyline, takes a breather with a one-off story where he is sent to the Casbar in Algiers to arrest a criminal who is too powerful for the local police. It's a decent enough piece of exotic action/adventure.

'Detective Sergeant Carey' (by Joe Donohoe) is summoned to the local aquarium to investigate reports of someone prowling around, but I'm pretty sure there are pages missing in my scan. What I do have sees Carey and Sleepy wandering around the aquarium and engaging in some dubious comedy, which ends with Sleepy getting bitten on the arse by a crocodile.  But this strip is usually terrible, so I don't mind not seeing the conclusion.

In 'Radio Squad' (by Siegel and Shuster) Sandy and Larry capture a cop-killer, and discover that he has a young cousin who worships him like a hero. They get the kid into a foster-home, but he's a trouble maker, and still involved with his cousin. This is Siegel and Shuster getting on their social crusader kick, and while this isn't one of their best efforts, it still made me want to see how the kid's story panned out.

'Gary Hawkes' (by Rob Jenney) thwarted a drug shipment last issue, and now the head of the dope ring is out for revenge.  This is one of those stories where the villain starts out with a plausible plan to kill the hero (in this case, wait until he walks out of a building and throw a shit-ton of grenades at him), and once that fails he gets less and less threatening with every turn of the plot. When the villain is cowering in a shack while the hero drops bombs on him from a plane overhead there's never going to much tension in the story.

In 'Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming) we continue with the life of Oliver Cromwell.  Fleming has a way of sucking the life out of any historical event.

'Rex Darrell' (by Terry Gilkison) investigates Mystery Island, where he finds a gang of smugglers and counterfeiters.  This story couldn't include more stock elements if it tried.

I couldn't read 'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely) due to a blurry scan, but when last we left him he'd been cemented into a bathtub and thrown into the ocean.  From what I can gather here he's rescued, freed from the bathtub, and gets back on the trail of the crooks who put him there.  This is not very good, but that bathtub scene sure does stick in the memory.

'Cal 'n' Alec' (now possibly by Fred Schwab) escape from jail, but are still in the desert and in need of water.  Meanwhile, their tormentor from a few strips back grabs some guns and decides to track them down. This has made the switch over from Adventure Comics, and seems to have change creators once again as well.  At this point I think it just needs a good mercy killing.

'Marg'ry Daw' (by creators unknown) heads out west on a train with her dad for a holiday. A strange Indian man predicts that the train will crash, and convinces them to leave with him. He turns out to be right, but this guy is totally suspect.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by B. Hirsch and Russ Lehmann) deals with jewel thieves. I despair of this sometimes, I really do.

In 'Red Coat Patrol' (by Creig Flessel), O'Malley goes after some kidnappers, and by the end he's been blown up in a fiery explosion. It's a boring strip with a great cliffhanger, but it probably shouldn't have me rooting for the death of the main character.

'The Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily), aka Dennis Stone, is freed by the governor at his daughter's request, only to be shot as he is leaving.  Baily has the ability to create some really unusual plot twists, but on this strip he's just not using it.  Come on man, more craziness!

Cover by Jack Adler and Emery Gondor

This is without a doubt the strangest comic I've encountered during this project so far.  In essence it contains a number of movie adaptations interspersed with articles and original strips revolving around the movie theme, but it's a lot weirder than it sounds.  Mostly this is due to the art.  It's not illustrated in comic book style, but rather put together using still images from the various movies, which are airbrushed over by a guy named Jack Adler.  The finished product looks a lot like the animations Terry Gilliam used to do for Monty Python's Flying Circus.  So it's hard to take any of this seriously.  Not only does it look weird, but the storytelling is almost nonexistent, and it just cannot portray action scenes at all.  As a result the bulk of the stories are told in narrative captions.  Here's an example below (and yes, that's Cary Grant on the left).

Despite all that, I found myself enjoying it. Yes, the inadvertently amusing art style helped with that.  But I found that the stories breezed along, and I was done with this much more quickly than the regular style comics.  It's a nice breather from the serials and heavy action I'm getting elsewhere.

The movies adapted were 'Gunga Din', 'Fisherman's Wharf', 'The Great Man Votes' and 'Son of Frankenstein'.  (Look them up on IMDB, because I ain't about to summarise them here). Of these I enjoyed 'Son of Frankenstein' the most; at least the adaptation managed to convey some sense of atmosphere. There's also an insipid adaptation of 'Scouts to the Rescue', a serial about boy scouts searching for treasure while being menaced by counterfeiters that is to be continued next month.

There are some genuine comics here as well.  'Terrors of the Tomb' is a serial about archaeologists digging up an Egyptian temple.  One of them is evil, and has hypnotised the fiancee of the hero to do his bidding. It's not great.  'Movietown' (by Harry Lampert) is about a small town kid who gets mixed up with a famous Hungarian director, with faintly amusing results.

So this one's a mixed bag, but it's different enough from everything else that I'm enjoying it.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

February-March 1939: Detective Comics #25; More Fun Comics #41; Action Comics #11, Adventure Comics #37

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer) investigates the murder of a young man that is made to look as though he died in a sledding accident.  This one starts promisingly with some genuine detective work, but it's very hard to take the conclusion seriously when The Butler Did It.  Surely this shit was cliche even back in 1939?

'Larry Steele' (by Will Ely) was captured by the murderous artist Du Val last issue. He's rescued by other policemen and manages to track Du Val down and arrest him before he can kill again. This one could have been interesting; Du Val's desire to paint on human corpses is a creepy one, but it's not really played out at all.  He's treated like every other generic killer in a golden age story, when he ought to have been far more disturbing than that.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming) investigates yet another murder to do with someone who wants ownership of a ranch. 

In 'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster) Bart and Sally are tasked by the President to smash a spy ring (smashing being the only legitimate way to destroy one).  Nothing stands out about this one, although it does obliquely reference World War 2.

In 'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia) Nayland Smith rescues Petrie from the death trap he fell in last issue.  I was hoping for more from Fu Manchu himself in this installment, but he barely appears.  The build-up to his arrival was intriguing, but at this point I'm ready for him to take centre-stage already.  Nayland-Smith and Petrie aren't exactly the most captivating guys to read about.

'Secret Service Man' (by Gardner Fox) is a prose story about a secret agent tasked with retrieving important papers from an enemy agent. It's strictly by-the-numbers.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers) tackles a rubber magnate who is staging plane crashes and collecting the insurance.  The Crimson Avenger is very much dealing with the same low-level stuff that every other golden age detective deals with, and his stories need to get a bit crazier to gather my interest.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey) deals with Gentleman Jeff Virdone's gang, only to find that a month later another gang has sprung up using exactly the same methods.  I'm not sure where this is going, but it was notably less engaging than previous Bruce Nelson strips.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven) investigates a kidnapping, and does so boringly.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster) and Shorty decide to enrol in college, only to get embroiled in the machinations of the murderous registrar. Slam is even more irritable than usual, which makes for a very funny strip.  There's also a lot of comedy to be had from the fact that neither Slam nor Shorty finished high school, and are academically hopeless.  The registrar's plan doesn't make a great deal of sense, to be honest, but for me that stuff was secondary to the humorous elements.

Cover by Creig Flessel

'The Masked Ranger' (by Jim Chambers) wraps up his current storyline, in which he clears the name of a falsely accused murderer, and finds the real culprit.  This is as rudimentary as it gets, and it also looks like we've seen the last appearance of the Masked Ranger for a while.  I cannot complain about that.

'Detective Sergeant Carey' (by Joe Donohoe) investigates the death of a deep sea diver, who was cut open while salvaging treasure from a sunken ship. Of course it was murder, with the ship's engineer as the culprit, trying to scare everyone off and claim the treasure himself. This is better than usual for Carey, with a pretty cool underwater knife fight to liven things up.

In 'Radio Squad' (by Siegel and Shuster) Sandy Keane solves a murder committed by a man who was about to be written out of the victim's will.  It's one of those ironic twists, where the guy was dying of a heart attack anyway before the killer poisoned him.  Even with that addition we're still looking at about the most hackneyed murder mystery motivation there is.

'Bank Robbers' Defeat' (by Terry Keane) is a prose story that I was unable to read. These blurry scans are a blessing and a curse.

'Gary Hawkes' (by Rob Jenney) was also near-impossible to read. From what I could understand he's testing a new plane for the army, and there are some bad guys trying to shoot him down. It didn't look like I was missing anything.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming) deals with the story of Oliver Cromwell, but again this was a story I could barely read. At the very least it's allowing me to get through this issue faster than usual.

'Rex Darrell' (by Terry Gilkison) was also unreadable. There were some pirates that kidnapped some kids, Darrell was flying a plane, and he rescued the kids and punched lots of pirates.  The usual golden age fare, by the looks of it.

'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely) is (you guessed it) too blurry to read. From looking at the pictures, he is captured by gangsters who take him to see a guy who looks like the Kingpin. Later he wakes up in a bathtub full of ice, so I'm wondering if they stole one of his kidneys or something. Then he's transported in a truck and left on the beach as the tide comes in.  Things look bad for Johnnie Law!!!

In 'Red Coat Patrol' (possibly by Greig Flessel) the mountie O'Malley uses his wits to capture a gang of robbers. Mounties, you guys.  They bore the shit out of me.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by B. Hirsch and R. Lehman) could not be read. About all I could figure out was that Bob saved a girl from a burning building. The rest was beyond my comprehension.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey) is about to be shot in the back by his enemy Pytlak during a battle with Arabs, but is saved by Le Maire. They force Pytlak to stand in front of their charge against the Arabs, and he is killed. Wing finally has his revenge, and the story ends in fine style. The story of Wing's revenge for being wrongly imprisoned has been the highlight of More Fun Comics for months now, but it's wrapping up at about the right time.

In 'Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily) Dennis Stone is captured and due to be put on trial for piracy. The governor hatches a pretty ingenious plan to try Dennis in secret, so that he can't expose the governor's connections to the slave trade in front of a jury. It's a good plan, except for the part where he brings Dennis in to tell him the plan within earshot of his daughter. It's about the dumbest thing I've seen a villain do during this project, and there's some stiff competition.

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster) spends this strip destroying the lives of two guys selling worthless stock in an oil field. He buys up all the stock, works the field himself to find oil, sells it back to these guys for a million bucks, then sets the oil field on fire leaving them without a cent to their names. DO NOT FUCK WITH SUPERMAN.  New Power Watch: He uses his x-ray vision for the first time here.  No explanation, it just comes out of nowhere.

'Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter' (by Will Ely) is still undercover in the Larroway Gang,and when last we left him he'd just shot his pal Rusty dead. I was wondering how they'd get out of this, and the best that can be said is that I didn't see this coming: Scoop shot Rusty on his belt buckle, which stopped the bullet. Don't these gangsters wonder why there's no blood? Anyway, Scoop is discovered when Rusty stupidly leads the cops in an attack on the gangsters, and during the confrontation Scoop is shot by Larroway.  I hope he's wearing a big belt buckle, or he could be history!

Shit gets serious in 'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer), as he gets shanghaied by gun smugglers. This is well out of his usual comfort zone of being awesome at every sport ever, and I almost felt sorry for the guy.  But then he escapes, swims to shore, and alerts the Mexican authorities (all of whom wear sombreros). I'm already formulating fanfic in which the arrested captain returns to get his vengeance after Pep's sporting career is ruined by a blown knee.

"THE BATMAN! This new thrilling adventure strip starts in the May issue of DETECTIVE COMICS! Don't miss it!" Don't worry enthusiastic ad copy, I won't!

'Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven) is still hanging around at the Rajah's palace.  They go hunting leopards this month, and they kill some.  What is this, a D&D session report?  Because it sure as hell isn't a story.  Ah well, at least Marco got some good XP.

'Escape' (by Richard Martin) is a prose story about two reporters who are sentenced to death for spying in a small European nation, and then escape.  There's not much to be said about this, because it's to be continued next month. That said, it doesn't compel me to read the next chapter, so it's a failure on that level.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily) arrives on the island he was looking for last month, just as the local white female ruler of the natives decides that she requires a mate.  You can see where this is going...  Even after fulfilling some prophecies Tex has to fight a shark to prove he is worthy of her hand, and I am always a soft touch when there's a shark involved in a story. This one was hackneyed, but enjoyably told all the same.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming) finds out about the Cougar, who is apparently the mastermind behind all the bad guys in town, He's on his way to see this guy, but takes a detour to rescue the girl that was kidnapped. Not that I knew what he was doing on first reading - he mentions Virginia, but I thought he meant the state, having forgotten about said kidnapping. And there's nothing in this installment to indicate what he means. Fleming needs to learn how to write an effective "Previously On Chuck Dawson" paragraph.

'Zatara' (by Fred Guardineer) foils another magician who is trying to get the plans to the Panama Canal. Usually this would be a banal storyline in any other strip, but Zatara is a guy who can turn an attacker into a door, then lock the door so he can't get away. It's imaginative little touches like that that make this strip so much fun to read.

Cover by John Richard Flanagan

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski) was captured by Fang Gow last month, and now he has been tied to a block while water drips on his head. Apparently this torture will drive him mad, but I wonder how; people go out in the rain all the time, after all.  But forget that, because the French police arrive and take out Fang Gow's gang, and the old villain is gunned down by an unnamed extra and falls into the water.  Then they bomb his headquarters just to make sure.  But Barry knows a thing or two about how a story works; they never found Fang Gow's body, so he's convinced the villain will be back. This is pretty good, and I'm very pleased by Ed Winiarski's willingness to move the plot forward so quickly.

'Cotton Carver' (by George Newman) is still trying to reach the surface with his new buddy, the dwarf Volor. They are captured by the White Witch, escape, take her captive, and are chased into a mysterious temple. To be continued!  This strip is not bad; it has just the right air of weirdness and mystery to keep me hooked.

In 'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster) Steve Carson wraps up the loose ends from his days as an amnesiac crook. It's a few pages of him rounding up his former accomplices, and nothing noteworthy. But I scoff at his assertion that this was his strangest case yet; I figure the time he piloted a robot built by mad scientists would trump it.

'Tod Hunter' (by Jim Chambers) met a weird old sorcerer last month, who in this installment enslaves him. He sends Tod to kill his enemy Torog, but Torog reverses the spell and decides to use Tod in his own plan to gain the throne. As Tod Hunter stories go it's alright, but that's not saying much. Again, there's some weirdness creeping in that I hope becomes a staple of the golden age.

'Don Coyote' (by Stockton) is still hanging around with the time-traveller from 1940, who decides to go to the king and take over with his modern gizmos. Things go badly, and by the end he's about to be tortured. This is still funnier than the strip has been in a while.

'Dale Daring' (by Will Ely) and her pals finish off the gang of ivory smugglers that have been troubling them for a few issues.  This is about as boring as a strip with gunfighting in every panel can possibly be.  Luckily it's the final time I have to see Dale Daring.  I always get a warm sense of accomplishment when one of the lesser strips is cancelled.  I've read every Dale Daring strip there is, you know?  Who else can say that?

In other news, I've been noticing that the cartoonist Alger hasn't been around much.  This issue has a 'Goofo the Great' strip that is apparently the final one.  I suspect that I won't be seeing Alger ever again and that's a shame, because his idiosyncratic style was a lot more appealing than the current crop of one-page gag artists going around.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski) has found his way into a Lost World, where he finds the professor he was searching for.  Along the way he fights a crocodile, and mows down some giant cannibals with a machine gun. More of this kind of insanity I can get behind.

'Gun Runner' (by Terry Keane) is a prose story about an arms smuggler who refuses to do business with a General Martinez; Martinez plans to bombard a city, which would kill lots of women and children. The "arms dealer with a heart of gold" routine requires a lot of convincing for me to buy it, and this two-pager isn't able to do that.

'Tom Brent' (by Jim Chambers) deals with some smugglers with the help of the Chinese authorities.  Dull.

'Skip Schuyler' is a new strip about a spy by Tom Hickey. The name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? This one gets off to an interesting start, as Ian and Doris from 'The Golden Dragon' (recently married) show up to tell us how awesome Skip is. The rest of the strip fails to back that up, as Skip foils a couple of spies who are trying to steal some plans, the most hackneyed spy story there is.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane) finally deal with Ichabod Slade, disguising the old man they just met as a ghost so that he can scare Slade. But with one story over a new one begins, with the nearly-forgotten ship captained by Long Sin about to land on the island.  I'm so bored of this story right now, but I'm hopeful that the arrival of Long Sin will liven things up.  At least I'll be able to complain about what a crazily racist portrayal he is.

In 'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Fred Guardineer) Don and Red finally capture El Diablo, revealing that he is really Von Stolz. Wait, who?  I don't remember this guy, and a quick perusal of the previous installments reveals to me that this is the first time he has ever appeared.  Fred Guardineer, this is bullshit.  You can't set up a mystery about the identity of the main villain then introduce said identity in the final chapter of the story.  That, sir, is what we call a cheat. Very poor form.  On those grounds I refuse to eat a bag of dicks, as I promised to do if my guess for El Diablo's identity was incorrect.  The story wasn't playing fair.