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.
COUNTDOWN TO BATMAN: 6 days