Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 1939: All-American Comics #4

Cover by William Smith

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): In this installment Red, Whitey and Blooey, along with Doris West, go to Honolulu to face a bunch of foreign agents trying to sabotage a new US battle cruiser. The first striking thing about this story is that it is set in Pearl Harbor; it's very odd seeing Pearl Harbor mentioned in a context that's not to do with its bombing by the Japanese.  That event hasn't happened at the time of this story's publication; I suppose it's analogous to modern-day readers seeing the Twin Towers in comics from the 1980s and 90s.  The enemy agents are also a bit odd to my mind, because they all speak Spanish (or possibly Portuguese, I'm not certain). Were there any tensions between the US and Spain at the time? Or a South American country, perhaps?  I've done a bit of research, and 1939 does coincide with the rise to power in Spain of Francisco Franco, who had some ties to Hitler and Mussolini, so I'll happily chalk it up to that and call it a day.

This is another fun story, and I've just realised that it does something no other stories I'm reading at this time are doing.  Red, Whitey and Blooey all have their own talents, but they're basically just the muscle. Doris pretty much holds their whole partnership together and comes up with the ideas that lead to their success. Without her they'd be useless, and it's refreshing at this time to see a strip where the woman is more competent than the men.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Ben and Professor Alger were about to be swindled by a family pretending to be their relatives. Their plan involves framing Ben for kidnapping their kid, but relying on a kid in any plan is bad news, and of course it backfires on them. It's a all a little too neat and lacking in drama. With that wrapped up the story moves on to Ben meeting an inventor named Pat Ented.  I'm all for a good pun name, but only when coupled to a quality story, which this is not.

'Bobby Thatcher' (by George Storm): Bobby, Tubby and Elmer are looking for treasure, but a crazy old hermit has the other half of their map. Bobby and Tubby get locked in a cellar by the old man, and Elmer sits around on his bum waiting for them to show up, even though he knows the old guy is after them. Elmer has failed his friends at the bro level. As has George Storm for creating this nonsense.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Elby): When his buddy Prop Wash crashes his plain while delivering air mail, Hop goes to his rescue and delivers the mail as well. The only good scene in this thing is when the delirious Prop tries to gun down Hop, mistaking him for a mail thief. Seriously, these guys place a lot of importance on mail. To the point where it's apparently legally required that any pilot carrying air mail must have a firearm. Different times, different ideals, crappy comics.

'Adventures in the Unknown: The Mystery Men of Mars' (by Carl H. Claudy): Still on Mars, Ted, Alan and Professor Lutyens are still captives of the martians, who plan to transplant their brains into robot bodies. Professor Lutyens goes with it, but the other two are none too pleased. Ted's first reaction to every situation is to start shooting, which makes him my favourite character here. Ted and Alan try to escape from Mars, while Robot Lutyens opts to stay behind. This is just so bizarre that's it's entertaining.

'Lesson in Blood' (by Loring Dowst): It's another Jimmy Stone prose story. Jimmy spends this story watching a kid whose dad he sent to the electric chair. The kid is mixed up with a bad crowd, getting high on marijuana and about to commit some crimes. And when Jimmy tries to help him, he gets the crap kicked out of him, and is left bleeding in the rain. Man, Jimmy Stone stories are hard core.

'Spot Savage' (by Harry Lampert): Spot escapes from the insane asylum, while the Duchess and his goons try to kill him. There are some classic unintentionally funny bits in this strip. I particularly liked it when Spot's editor, questioning a woman to find out if she's seen the Duchess, asks "Have you seen anyone around recently who is foreign-like?" But otherwise, this is terrible.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly shows off his drawing talent, and a creepy uncle takes him to his "office" in the bathroom to outline his money-making plan. What follows is a pretty funny play on Ripley's Believe It Or Not ("You Don't Hafta Believe It If You Don't Wanna"). There's very little of Ma Hunkel this month, but it's still one of the best humour strips going.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): This strip spends a whole bunch of time setting it up so that everyone thinks Wiley swapped the blanks for real bullets in last issue's mock battle. And just as the thing is building to a head, and I'm wondering what might happen to the guy, the real culprits are overheard scheming and it's all wrapped up. It's a terribly anticlimactic way to end the story.

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