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.

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