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Technically, this is the first comic in this project not to be published by National/DC.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.


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