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.

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