Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 1939: Action Comics #13

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster): This one starts off in a fairly mundane fashion, as Superman deals with a gang of racketeers who are extorting independent cab companies. The most interesting part of this sequence comes when Superman is leaping through the air with a crook under his arm, and during a struggle the criminal falls to the ground and dies. Superman looks at his corpse and says that he got what he deserved, which is just so completely different to the character as we know him today. Golden Age Superman is a hard son of a bitch.

But just when I was about to write this story off as a pedestrian affair, the mastermind behind the cab racketeers is revealed, a bald criminal genius: the Ultra-Humanite! Yes, he's very much like Lex Luthor, but with one major difference: the Ultra-Humanite is crippled, and has to be carried around by his flunkies. Otherwise he's pretty impressive, managing to incapacitate Superman with electricity. His plane is destroyed, but his body isn't found, so he'll be back. This was fun once it got going.

It has also come to my attention that the Superman newspaper strip started up in 1939.  The Speeding Bullet has archives of this strip, so I'll be trying to keep up with that on a monthly basis as well.  I'm already a few months behind, so I've got some catching up to do.

'Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter' (by Will Ely): Scoop investigates a corpse that has been turned to stone. The victim was part of an expedition to India to steal some gems. Everyone on that expedition was supposedly cursed, and now they are all dying. In reality it's just another member of that trip killing the rest to get the gems for himself. He's even invented a formula that can turn people to stone, which has honestly got to be worth more money than any gems. The best thing I can say about this story is that it successfully misdirected me as to who the culprit was.  It looks as though this is Scoop's final case, as his strip has been cancelled.  I always wondered why this guy was having adventures anyway. He's a reporter, not a detective, but you wouldn't know it from the strip. Apparently he goes on to make some appearances at a different company, but I probably won't be reading those.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep has really left the sports genre behind, hasn't he? In this story he's heading back to the USA on a ship, but lo and behold his enemy Captain Sindra has escaped from jail and is leading a mutiny. Pep manages to stop the mutiny with some help. This is actually not bad. It doesn't make me wish Pep Morgan would suffer from spontaneous human combustion, which has got to be a plus.  I'm starting to feel sorry for the guy.  He probably just wants to get back to America where he can be awesome at baseball and score with cute cheerleaders, and these damned revolutionaries keep getting in his way.

'Test Flight' (by Lieutenant Cummings): In this prose story, a test pilot is flying a plane when the landing gear malfunctions. Then he fixes it and lands. The end.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco and his men were captured by slavers last issue. They don't escape as I expected. Marco is sold to a chinese man, while his father is bought by a Persian merchant. This isn't great, but at least it's moving forward now.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex deals with the Ace of Spades, a masked killer who turns out to be his friend Colonel Rushmore. I think I fell asleep about six times in the course of this story, so I'm not really qualified to critique it.  Time to dunk my head in a sink full of cold water!

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck finally rescues Virginia, and has a few run-ins with the Mexican gunman Wolf. I'm usually terribly bored by Fleming's work, and that's still the case here, but at least this is chock-full of gunfighting and fistfighting.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Swamp of Satan' (by Fred Guardineer): That's a hell of a title to live up to. Zatara goes down to the Carolinas where a plantation owner's family is being menaced by a witch and her son from the swamp. There's some nonsense about the witch being related to them through 'evil blood', and an uncle who is trying to get the plantation for himself. There's even a quite startling scene where Zatara and Tong get gunned down (don't worry, they get better; they're magic!). This is characteristically entertaining stuff. I especially find Tong amusing; all he wants is to punch someone now and then.

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