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.

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