Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 1939: Smash Comics #1

Cover by Ed Cronin

'Espionage' (by Will Eisner): This strip has migrated over from Feature Comics. The lead character has been renamed from the Black X to the Black Ace, but otherwise this is the same spy comic. You know a story means business when on the opening page a Hitler look-a-like dictator conquers the entirety of South America and sets his sights on the USA. After a few more pages of all-out war, the Black Ace is dispatched to deliver a message to the rebels living under the dictator's yoke. The Black Ace is pursued by a female agent named Mara Hani and her goons, giving us some decent chase sequences through cities and jungles, and culminating in a shoot-out that also involves a jaguar. This is pretty gripping stuff.

'Philpot Veep, Master Detective' (by John Devlin): This is a humour strip about two detectives, Philpot and his sidekick Waldo. Waldo buys a radio, and gets ripped off by a man trying to raise money to help feed starving actors. The main plot isn't the interesting part, though. There's a panel of Philpot sitting in his couch, and right next to him is a dirty big syringe on top of a tub clearly marked "cocaine". There's no reason for it to be there, other than the obvious inference that Philpot's shooting up for recreational purposes. Yep, it's definitely a different era.

'Chic Carter, Ace Reporter' (by Vernon Henkel): Chic Carter lives up to his name, as he spends most of the strip hanging around in swanky nightclubs. In this story he investigates the murder of a nightclub owner by a guy who wants the club for himself. It's basically the same plot that I'm sick of in the cowboy strips, but here it's livened up by some well defined characters and a novel setting. Chic Carter is off to a promising start.

'Simple Simon' (by Ed Cronin): Simon is a not-particularly-bright small town guy who gets mixed up in the kidnapping of King Julius of Slobodka. This is really funny, especially the rude note that the Slobodkans send to the kidnappers in reply to their ransom demands.  Apparently this strip never appears again, but at least I got a laugh out of it.

'Wings Wendall of the Military Intelligence' (by Vernon Henkel): Well, I'd never have guessed that this comic would have a strip about a heroic aviator. When a US major is kidnapped by some evil guys and taken to their island, Wings Wendall flies to his rescue. This one is fairly generic.

'Archie O'Toole' (by Bud Thomas, who may or may not be Will Eisner): This strip has come over from Feature Comics. Archie's country has been taken over by the evil Gil O. Teen, and Archis is thrown in the dungeon. He escapes by eating an apple that turns him invisible, then uses some ventriloquism to get the bad guys fighting each other. This is mildly amusing.

'Hooded Justice' (by Art Pinajian): This strip stars the Invisible Hood, arch-enemy of crime! His real name is Kent Thurston, but we don't learn anything else about him; I assume that he's a millionaire playboy like the other masked heroes, but there's no indication one way or the other. In this story he investigates the theft of some jewels belonging to the Maharajah of Raas. The story is nothing to write home about, and the Invisible Hood has one of the worst costumes I've ever seen. It looks like he's wrapped himself up in a red sleeping bag.

'Clip Chance at Cliffside' (by George Brenner): Clip Chance is a college student who is invited by a friend to spend some time in the country. There's baseball game coming up, and Clip's buddy gets kidnapped by crooks who want to fix the match. Because this is the 1930s, Clip tracks down the crooks, beats the hell out of them and gets back in time to win the game off his own bat. I think I've discovered a new character that I can hate as much as I once hated Pep Morgan.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by Will Arthur): It's another strip from Feature Comics. When some trains are wrecked by a mysterious "ghost train" Captain Cook is called in to investigate. It turns out that the culprit is a rival train company trying to secure a contract to carry oil, and the "ghost train" was actually a plane with a headlight. The wrap up for this was average, but at least the mystery at the beginning was original. And I have no idea what the deal was with Cook's sidekick constantly eating peanuts.

'Mystery at Catalina' (by Jeffrey Spain): This prose story is about a young abalone fisherman named Tony, who saves his old Chinese friend from a giant abalone then gets in a fight with some crooks who are new in town. This is to be continued next month. It's not bad.

'Abdul the Arab' (by Vernon Henkel): Abdul is a stereotypical Arab tribesman. He witnesses the attempted kidnapping of a British colonel's daughter and rescues her, but then gets framed by the same outlaws he just thwarted. By the end his name has been cleared and the outlaws arrested. Again this is average. I spent more time wondering why Abdul's skin is grey than I did thinking about the story.

'Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man' (by George Brenner): Holy cow, the first ever robotic protagonist! Except that in this story it's an antagonist, as this is the origin. The robot is on a rampage, robbing, killing and stealing babies, under the control of a mad scientist. Hugh Hazzard is called in to stop it, and does so by hiding inside the robot while it takes him back to its headquarters. After the mad scientist is dealt with, Hazzard saves the robot from destruction and decides to use it to help him fight crime. The main problem with this story is that we never really see the robot on its rampages. We hear a lot about it in newspaper headlines, but I would have liked to see a bit of that baby-snatching first hand. Still, I like the set-up, and I'm interested to see where this goes.

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 1939: Feature Comics #23

Cover by Ed Cronin

'Charlie Chan' (by Alfred Andriola): Charlie Chan, famous Chinese detective and star of many movies, has come to Feature Comics. In this story he rescues an inventor who has created a formula for "dark light", a substance that can be used to take photos through solid objects. Not only is this tedious but every page has about twenty million panels, which makes it an ordeal to get through. At least Charlie is a distinctive character, although his inability to form a coherent sentence gets really irritating.

'Gallant Knight' (by Vernon Henkel): The armies of Navaria are summoned to aid Charlemagne in battle agains the Tartars, and Sir Neville rides with them. Most of the story involves an ambush and battle with Tartars, but it's not terribly exciting.

'The Clock Strikes' (by George Brenner): The Clock investigates the kidnapping of a millionaire, which is about as stock standard as plots get in the Golden Age. Brenner tries to liven it up by having police detective McDuff take the credit for the case, but it's so offhand that it doesn't matter.

'Jane Arden' (by J.P. McEvoy and J.H. Striebel): Jane Arden wraps up the case and uncovers the murderer, and there's some effective misdirection thrown in at the last minute.  But the artist is getting lazy, and using a lot of silhouettes. It makes it hard to figure out which character is which, a fairly vital thing when you're talking about a murder mystery.

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): Reynolds rescues a girl who has been kidnapped in order to blackmail her father into giving up his ranch.  My hatred for ranches, cowboys and mounties has increased exponentially since I started this project.

'Rain Bird, Chapter II' (by Robert M. Hyatt): This prose story continues from last month, with Broken Bow on his way to see the Jugardillos to obtain the secret of rain. It turns out that they are strange, ugly little goblin creatures who play with lightning bolts, and Broken Bow must answer their riddles to get a bolt of his own. This is quite decent, with a sad ending that elevates it far higher than just about every other prose story I've read in this blog.

'Big Top' (by Ed Wheelan): This strip just continues to be all over the place. First it's about Red, a kid who is a clown but prefers riding horses. Then the circus puts on a benefit show for sick kids. Then it gets into some loose plot threads from the last story, as everyone finds out who was trying to get the circus closed down. If it could focus on one thing for mor than a few panels it might be passably awful instead of utterly awful.

'Rance Keane, The Knight of the West' (by Will Arthur): Rance takes on a gang of crooks who have robbed a dude ranch. So, so dull.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 1939: Action Comics #15

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster): Clark is sent to write a story about Kidtown, a place where underprivileged boys can go to live in a wholesome environment. It turns out that the owner of Kidtown needs two million dollars, or he'll have to close. Clark still has a million bucks from that time he scammed the crooked oil stockbrokers, and he decides to raise the other million somehow. This leads him to hiring a boat to salvage a sunken galleon, while mobsters pose as his crew to get the gold for themselves. This is alright, but the most notable thing in it is that Superman displays absolutely no regard for his secret identity. I count at least three incidents where he displays obvious super-strength or invulnerability while dressed as Clark Kent. Some gangsters even stab him in the chest, only for the blade to snap off, and they know for a fact that he's Clark Kent. It's a miracle that he's not exposed after this.

Oh yeah, Superman fights about a dozen sharks at once in this story as well.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep is back in the USA, but he doesn't go back to being awesome at every sport ever like I thought he would. Instead he is hired by a warehouse owner to investigate a string of thefts, which turn out to be the work of a murderous gang of crooks. This strip gets ever more generic the further it gets away from its sport comic roots.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco, his father and his uncle have just escaped from slavery. Everyone except Marco gets out of the castle, but Marco is trapped and spends the whole strip running from guards and punching people. Not bad for what it is.

'Clip Carson, Soldier of Fortune' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): Clip Carson and his friend Jim Blake are still looking for the pyramid of the pharaoh Kheoks, They fight through Arabs and sandstorms to reach it, only to be menaced by a mummy. The plot is an average one, but it's elevated by the radness that is Clip Carson. Check him out:

Clip Carson, I love you. Don't ever change.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex is hired to track down a diamond thief, but that plot is a distant second to the introduction of Tex's new sidekick, Gargantua T. Potts. Gargantua is one of those egregious black caricatures you see a lot of from the 1930s, with jet black skin and gigantic red lips. If I try to look past this to the actual character, he is heroic and (speech patterns notwithstanding) he's not portrayed as being stupid. He's at least as smart as Bob Daley, Tex's other sidekick. But it's difficult to read when he's so terribly racist from a modern perspective, and it looks as though he'll be a recurring character. I'm interested to see how this progresses.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): When Chuck rides into a small town he is mistaken for Killer Keefe, a vicious criminal, and has to flee from the law. He ends up taking on Keefe's gang, and once he's managed to catch up with them he deals with them all in four panels. Weak, as usual.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Ice Menace' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara goes up against a mad scientist who is melting icebergs in order to flood cities so that he can blackmail countries into giving him lots of money. The opening scenes of a flooded New York are quite effective, but it's hard to rate the story, because my scan of it is incomplete. What I read was decent, although a bit light on Zatara's usual mystical wackiness.

The incomplete scan didn't really impact my reading, aside from the cut off Zatara story above. Pretty much all I missed were the text pieces and various other single page features that I don't talk about here anyway.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 1939: Superman Daily Strip #91-126

Before I begin, special thanks go to reader and commenter Michael for letting me know that these strips are on the DC website.  I may never have found them otherwise.  Thanks guy!

'The Most Deadly Weapon' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This story started in May 1939 and finished early in June, around the same time as Action Comics #13 and #14 were published.  It starts intriguingly enough with Clark being sent to an inventor's house to witness a display of his new weapon, a gas which can penetrate any gas mask.  I have serious doubts about this inventor, Adolphus Runyan - not only is his name Adolphus, but his demonstration consists of him gassing a monkey in a gas mask to death.  The actual panel is heartbreaking.  Just look at the poor little guy.

But karma is ever diligent, because crooks show up to murder him and steal the gas, with the intention of selling it to an arms dealer in war-torn Boravia.  Superman follows them, and spends a good few strips just throwing bombs at buildings and tearing dirigibles in half with his bare hands.  He retrieves the formula, watches as the arms dealer is killed by gas, stops the war, and as Clark Kent causes the arrests of the murderers.  All in a day's work!  This is really entertaining stuff.

This story is also the first time we get a name for Clark's editor at the Daily Star: George Taylor.

June 1939: Movie Comics #4

Cover probably by Jack Adler

'Blue Montana Skies': This is an adaptation of a movie in which Gene Autry plays a cowboy who goes up against a gang of Canadian fur smugglers. It's often said that if a comic has good art, then you should be able to follow the story through the art alone, without reading any of the captions or dialogue. This story is the exact opposite: you can follow the entire story just by reading the captions and ignoring the art. As I've said before, the adaptations in Movie Comics are all like a badly illustrated synopsis.

'Big Town Czar': This adaptation, on the other hand, is a bit better. It still has the same problem in that the whole thing is told through narration, but this story is told by none other than Ed McMahon, who has a much more engaging voice than the usual omniscient narrator. The story is about Phil Daly, a crime boss whose kid brother is trying to follow in his footsteps. Everything goes pear-shaped when the kid crosses the town's most dangerous gambler. (Hint: never cross a dude with the surname of Luger.) It's one of those grim "crime doesn't pay" stories where everyone comes to a bad end. If it was done today it would be written by Ed Brubaker.

'Terrors of the Tomb' (by Ed Wheelan): Actual comic! This is a one-page epilogue to the story, in which the archaeologists pack up and go home, and convince everyone else in the world that digging up the pharaoh's tomb is a really bad idea. It's as satisfying a conclusion as this terrible series was ever going to get.

'Sun and Sand' (by Ed Wheelan): Another actual comic! This story is about Gerald Crawford, a millionaire's son who is constantly drinking and getting into trouble. After a particularly bad incident he is disowned by his father and divorced by his fiancee, and so he leaves to become a sailor. After 'Terrors of the Tomb' I had written Ed Wheelan off, but this is rather good, with well realised characters and an actual character arc for Gerald.

'Movietown'(by Harry Lampert): Horace is still posing as Vom Hunger in Hollywood, directing his hot dog filled Christopher Columbus movie and scoring with the ladies. The real Vom Hunger escapes from the police and gets beaten up by hobos, but still manages to make it to Hollywood. This is actually quite funny.

'The Oregon Trail': This is an adaptation of a movie serial. It's about a scout named Jeff Scott who is hired to investigate Injun raids on pioneer wagon trains. He joins a wagon train, and it seems like the leader is setting up the raids. To be continued, unfortunately.

'Captain Fury': In this adaptation, Captain Fury is a convict sent to Australia, who escapes and helps some settlers against a crooked businessman trying to force them off their land. It's nice to see a different locale, and Fury himself is a fun (if cliched) character. Not bad.

'Booby Hatch Goes to Hollywood' (by Ken Fitch): In this prose story, continued from last month, Booby and his friends are in Hollywood. They stop a pair of blackmailers, with Booby punching one so hard his jawbone snaps. It's a jarring change of tone for the series, and not really for the better.

'Star Reporter': This adaptation is about a new District Attorney who investigates a murder tied to organised crime. A lot of shenanigans ensue, including the love interest being framed, but it's all fairly unmemorable.

'Streets of New York': In this adaptation, Jimmie Keenan is a newsstand owner whose brother is a hardened crook. He also has to deal with a guy who keeps trying to take over his newsstand, for no apparent reason. Somewhere in the middle of this story it inexplicably becomes about Christmas. And it all ends happily ever after when Jimmie's brother is killed in the electric chair. As you might have gathered, this is a haphazard mess.

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 1939: More Fun Comics #45

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Last month, Wing Brady and the marshal's daughter were kidnapped by goons seeking to hold the girl for ransom. In this chapter Wing and the girl escape. Basic stuff, but as usual with Tom Hickey it's well done. I'm not certain if this story is finished or not, but I suspect that there's more to come.

'Detective Sergeant Carey and the Crimson Cargo' (by Joe Denohee): Carey investigates the murder of the Archduke of Moronia and the theft of his priceless ruby. It turns out that a general of Moronia was the culprit, and I feel like a complete Moronia for wasting my time on this nonsense.

'Biff Bronson' (by Koppy): Biff and his friends find a gold mine in Mexico, but have to deal with the Mexican bandit known as El Capitan. This isn't very good, but it does feature some people being blown up with dynamite.  It's little things like this that get me through this project.

'Incident in China' (by Jack Anthony): In this prose story, an American doctor trapped in China during a war is asked to deliver a wallet full of money to a general. This one is to be continued, but it didn't make much of an impression on me either way.

'Gary Hawkes, Knight of the Skies' (by Rob Jenney): Gary and his reporter pal Scott fly out to sea to cover a battle between an arms smuggling ring and the US coastguard. It ends with these guys in a permanent partnership, which I guess is a better premise than "there's a pilot".

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): This month the crystal shows the reign of Charles II of England. With plagues, fires, war against Holland and tons of religious unrest, this is much more entertaining than most installments of this series.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by B. Hirsch and Russ Lehman): While Bob and his friends are on vacation they get mixed up with some diamond thieves. The only interesting thing about this story is that it treats one of the thieves hitting a girl as a worse crime than diamond thievery. (I agree, incidentally.)

'Rex Darrell, The Flying Fox' (by Terry Gilkison): Rex Darrell tries to take a vacation, but instead he is kidnapped by counterfeiters who are trying to build their own air force. Frankly, the opening caption which describes him as having spent weeks clearing Mystery Island of pirates sounds much more interesting.

'Marg'ry Daw' (by Creators Unknown): Last issue, Luther Daw's death was prophesied by a talking frog statue. In this issue the weirdness escalates, as Luther and Marg'ry have dinner with a mysterious figure with a frog for a head. It's not exactly good, but it is bizarre, and that counts for a lot.

'Red Coat Patrol' (by Wade Hampton): O'Malley goes up against a gang of masked crooks who are using scare tactics to force people to give up their ranches. This is a story with five pages of build-up to a confrontation that lasts five panels, which is never going to be satisfying.

'Radio Squad' (by Siegel and Shuster): In this story Sandy is framed for the murder of a crook and sentenced to death in the electric chair, which is a hell of a hook to kick off with. Sandy escapes, and tracks down Dirk Stevens, the guy who framed him. Their inevitable fight ends when a comically random bear shows up and mauls Stevens to death. I actually laughed out loud when the thing appeared out of nowhere, so mission accomplished Siegel and Shuster.

'The Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): Dennis escapes the bomb planted by Doctor Killmen last issue, and returns to his ship. But the doctor is lurking in the ship's hold, and starts a mutiny. When the mutinous sailors tell Stone that they're taking over, he just cold slaps the leader to the ground, and that's where it ends. I want to find out what happens next, and that's good enough.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 1939: Detective Comics #39

Cover by Bob Kane

'The Bat-Man meets Doctor Death' (by Bob Kane): Now this is a bit more like it. In this story, as you may have guessed from the title, the Bat-Man goes up against Doctor Death. Doctor Death has a plan to poison any millionaire who doesn't pay him lots of money, but he needs to get rid of the Bat-Man first. A series of traps and attempts to kill the Bat-Man ensue, until the Bat-Man tracks down his opponent.  Doctor Death is killed in a fire, and the Bat-Man utters the immortal line: "Death... To Doctor Death!" This is the first Bat-Man story that really effectively captures his mystery and eeriness, and also his hard-as-nails attitude.
We also see the first real use of Bat-Man's utility belt: he stores some smoke bombs in it.

Mind you, he's not too protective of his secret identity.  When Doctor Death puts an ad in the paper addressed to Bat-Man telling him to pick up a parcel from the post office, Bat-Man goes there as Bruce Wayne to collect it.  I expect that other people, possibly the police, would have noticed that ad as well.  And it's not like Bruce Wayne, millionaire playboy, wouldn't be recognised.

'Larry Steele, Private Detective' (by Will Ely): While Larry is looking out of his apartment window he sees a man in the building across the street being murdered for not paying a debt. Larry decides that the best way to get across there is to climb on the girders of a half-finished building, and the crooks also decide that that is the best way to escape. What follows is a shoot-out high above ground level. The novel setting made this one more interesting than its banal plot would suggest.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): What? No Shuster? I suppose he's got too much Superman to worry about his other strips right now. In this story Bart Regan and a guy named Jack Steele go up against a foreign spy who plans to kill a bunch of military officers with bombs during an aerial demonstration. It lacks a lot of the charm that it had during Shuster's run, most notably because Bart's fiancee Sally has been replaced by some random new guy. The heart of this strip was not the intrigue or the plotting, but the interplay between Bart and Sally. Without that, and without Shuster, you have just another generic comic about spies.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers): The Crimson Avenger tackles some kidnappers in what is about the most generic story ever devised by man.

'A Game for Two' (by Paul Dean): In this prose story a man named Baxter buys some priceless pearls, only for a master thief to send him a letter explaining that he is going to steal them. Baxter notifies the police, who then proceed to disguise themselves and capture the thief as he's stealing the pearls. I enjoyed the cocky attitude of the thief early on, but after that things go far too smoothly for the police to entertain me.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator and the Perfect Crime' (by Fred Guardineer): Scientist Doctor Oldbourne kills his partner by blowing tobacco in his face, then substituting the chemicals he was working on with explosives. It's supposedly the perfect crime, but Speed Saunders keeps on keeping on until Doctor Oldbourne is under arrest. This isn't a great story, but I love the way it plays up Speed using a dictaphone to record Oldbourne's confession; it's made out to be the most ingenious idea ever, when really it should be tactic #1 for every detective.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce is still investigating the murder of Lily Gravet, and to be honest I remember nothing of what went before. It turns out that The Butler Did It, which is about par for the course. It's too bad, because this was once a great strip, but now it seems a bit lacking.

'Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): This one certainly got my attention, as a mystery man destroys a church and kills thousands of people. He later does the same thing with a battleship and a dam. Eventually Cosmo tracks him down, and discovers a mad scientist with a disintegrator ray. A freak accident causes the ray to destroy itself, and the madman dies in the ensuing explosion. This was relatively epic, and is easily one of the best Cosmo stories to date.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): This is another one with an intriguing start, as Slam receives a mysterious letter telling him to stay out of Hawaii. Of course this just fuels his desire to go. The pay-off to this is much less interesting than the set-up, as it turns out that the letter was sent by a woman whose father has been kidnapped, and she decided to use reverse psychology to get Slam to come to Hawaii and help her. After that it's a fairly straightforward action/adventure rescue mission. The only bit of originality comes when Slam is menaced by a leper. But despite the opening, this is one of the weaker Slam Bradley stories.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 1939: All-American Comics #5

Cover by Walter Galli

'Red, White and Blue' (by Jerry Siegel and William Smith): I don't know if Siegel wrote the previous strips here, but I didn't notice a change for this story.  It opens with Blooey winning a turkey in a raffle, and at this point I was wondering where the hell it is going. He sells the turkey and uses the money to invest in a gold mine. You'd think that the guy taking his money being called "Mr. Shill" would tip him off. The shares are bogus, and it turns out that Mr. Shill is involved with the Yellow Army, a crackpot militia group trying to take over America. Again I found myself enjoying this mostly because of the interplay between the characters. But wouldn't you know it, last issue I praised this strip for having female agent Doris West be the brains of the outfit; this issue she isn't even there.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Ben and his inventor friend Pat Ented (yes, I know) create a thought recording machine and go around using it on people. They expose a crooked landlord, a man trying to marry a woman for her money, and a politician pretending to be poor. I'm actually enjoying this, but a lot of that rests on me waiting for the situation to go pear-shaped, which it hasn't yet.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): Last issue Wiley wrote a scathing letter to one of his superiors, Baxter. This month they're practicing baseball together, and Baxter pitches the ball right on Wiley's head. I'm struggling to see the point of this whole series, but at least it's taking up fewer pages this issue.

'Adventures in the Unknown - The Mystery Men of Mars' (by Carl H. Claudy): In this installment Alan and Ted spend the whole time running away from martians as they try to escape the planet. This strip really needs to introduce a new story element, because I'm getting pretty tired of it at the moment.

'The American Way' (by John Wentworth and Walter Galli): This is an adaptation of the stage play by George Kaufman and Moss Hart. It's about a family of German immigrants who move to Ohio. Most of the story is the father extolling the virtues of America, and it does get tiresome after a while. It ends with a political rally that turns into a riot, so perhaps it won't be as blindly patriotic as it seems.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Elby): While out flying Hop spots a house on fire and goes to help. He ends up having to fight off a crazy caretaker who lit the fire, and does so with the help of a young kid named Gerry. But what's this? Gerry's a girl?!? What hijinks may ensue from this startling development!

'Bobby Thatcher' (by George Storm): Bobby and Tubby were locked in a cellar by the crazy old man last issue. In this chapter Elmer rescues them and they race to get to their boat before the old geezer. This is another strip falling into the boring captures and escapes routine.

'Spot Savage' (by Herry Lampert): Spot and Foto escape from the insane asylum and go to confront the Duchess, international master thief. This one looks like it's heading for a conclusion (god I hope so).

'Lesson in Blood' (by Loring Dowst): Last month Jimmy Stone tried to steer some young crooks onto the straight and narrow, and got beaten up for his trouble. This month he keeps at it, watching as they rob a deli under the supervision of their mentor "The Weasel". One of the crooks has an improbable change of heart, the baddies are arrested, and everything turns out great. It's an uncharacteristically upbeat ending for what has been a grim, bleak series. All in all I prefer the ones where the main characters get brutally beaten.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly is on summer holidays, and wants to get his old job as a newspaper office boy back. Gus Hunkel gets an idea, calling all the local papers and asking after "Scribbly Jibbet, the famous midget cartoonist". Of course this leads to Scribbly being mistaken for said famous cartoonist. This is by far the best humour strip going around at the time.

'Popsicle Pete' (possibly by Sheldon Mayer): In this strip, a kid wins a "typical American boy" contest and gets flown to New York to represent a popsicle company. This continues next month, but to me it feels like very thinly disguised advertising.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 1939: Action Comics #14; Adventure Comics #40

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster): This one starts out as the usual sort of Siegel and Shuster story, with Superman taking on a company that's using inferior materials to build subway tunnels. But at about the halfway point he is chasing some thugs when they suddenly turn their car invisible to escape. From there the story switches gears, and becomes a confrontation between Superman and the crippled genius known as the Ultra-Humanite. I was getting a little bored at the beginning, having read Superman's social crusader bit one too many times already. But I'm a little more interested in the Ultra-Humanite, who nudges things in a more traditionally super-heroic direction. The confrontation, and his subsequent escape, makes it feel like the series is building to something.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gene Baxter): Pep is still on a ship heading back to the USA. The first part of the story sees him fighting a goon left over from the mutiny attempt last issue. The second part is completely unrelated, and involves the rescue of a plane crew that went down during a storm. It's not great, and doesn't add up to a cohesive story, but I've noticed that I feel like I know Pep a lot better than most of the other action heroes in these strips. Reading all those stories with him playing football and baseball and goofing around have provided me with an actual background for the guy, which is more than can be said for his contemporaries.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco's father and uncle (as well as his pet cheetah) were sold into slavery last issue, so this time around he has to rescue them. What results is a lot of Marco hiding in a haystack and watching his dad get whipped. The escape attempt doesn't come until the last page of the story, and the escapees are spotted at the very end. It's alright, but given the situation I feel like it should be a bit more tense.

'Clip Carson, Soldier of Fortune' (by Bob Kane): Man, Clip Carson is so rad. Just look at the guy.

He jumps into a fist-fight with some Arabs while still smoking a pipe. He's the coolest. In this story he meets an archaeologist who has been marked for death because he knows where to find a treasure hidden in the Great Pyramid. The story's basic, but Clip himself is stupidly entertaining.

'A Tough Spot' (by Terry Keane): A secret service man smashes a dope ring on board a ship. Yep, that's really all there is to it.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex Thomson's international adventures are over, so he's taken to advertising his services in the newspaper. He is summoned to the aid of a girl who has overheard secrets that she needs to tell the government about, but when Tex goes to see her he is knocked out. What follows is a slightly weird sequence where he wakes up in a hotel bed and everyone claims he came in drunk the night before. It's a big fake-out of course, and Tex finds the girl wrapped in bandages by the doctor next door. The rest is all foreign agents and not very interesting, but the middle sequence was quite well done.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): After a long chase and gunfight, Chuck finally rescues Virginia and sees the bad guys turned over to the police. After that he says he'll be "drifting along", which seems to me like the story is over. Except for, ooh let me think, what happened to Chuck getting revenge on the guys that killed his father? Perhaps putting them in jail is enough, but it's a plot point that hasn't been addressed in months, and was the only thing even remotely interesting about this strip.  I'd love to see it end right now, to be honest, but given that this is the first time the strip has been in colour I doubt that it's over.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Fountain of Youth' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara is hired by a millionaire to find the fountain of youth, so he and Tong head down to South America in search of it. They find it in a lost Incan city guarded by tribesmen, a dead woman who yet lives and sits in judgement, and a shrivelled up guy who has lived for centuries and cannot die. This is good stuff, and ends in about the only satisfying way that it could.

Cover by Creig Flessel

'The Sandman' (by Larry Dean): The Sandman has already made his debut in New York World's Fair Comics #1, but here he begins his run as a regular feature by investigating the kidnapping of a movie starlet by the villainous Tarantula. It's an effective introduction to the character, showing a bit of his life as millionaire Wesley Dodd, as well as the mysterious Sandman. Somewhat dodgier is the panel describing him changing into an all-black outfit while the art shows him wearing orange, yellow and green. And the plot is almost an afterthought; the identity of the Tarantula ends up being some guy who appeared in a single panel. It makes up for it with atmosphere, but only barely.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): Barry and LeGrand were captured by the foreign agent Guniff last issue, and he is about to set them on fire.  Some army flyers come to their rescue, and it's yet another plot where the protagonists win without doing a thing. I miss Fang Gow, racial stereotyping and all.  Now that I mention it, I'm seeing a lot fewer Asian caricatures in the comics at this point.  I'm aware that they'll be back in full force in 1942, but for the moment I'm getting a nice reprieve.

'Federal Men' (by Siegel and Shuster): Now nobody can accuse Steve Carson of letting someone else do his protagonising for him. In this story he tracks down some counterfeiters and gets them arrested. It's not awful, but I think I can add counterfeiting to the list of Golden Age plots I have officially had a gut-full of.

'Jack Woods' (by Jim Chambers): Jack foiled a robbery last month, and has been framed by the local crooks. In this issue he evades the law and exposes the true identity of Wolf Rucker as a wanted man before shooting him. It's not great, but at least it's over; I'm too used to Homer Fleming's westerns, where everything drags out forever. Jim Chambers is much more to the point.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): In this installment Desmo rescues his friend Gabby from slavers. There's not much else to the story than that, but it's well paced and a relatively enjoyable read.

'Don Coyote' (by Fred Schwab): I can't remember where this left off, but in this story we're back with Don's friend from 1940, who succeeded in dethroning the king and has been ruling for a couple of years. There are some decent laughs to be had as he gets the medieval folk to build all of the things he recalls from his own time.

'Bulldog Martin' (by Bart Tumey): New strip! Bulldog stumbles across some crooks fixing a horse race, and then spends the next few pages pounding the hell out of guys until the problem is solved. Against my better judgement I found that I enjoyed this. Tumey's art is clear and attractive, and again the pace is enough to disguise the thin plot.

'Money Makers' (by Frank Thomas): This prose story is continued from last issue, and also reprinted from a much earlier DC comic. Alas, it involves counterfeiters, which I've already told you that I'm sick of. It's still better than a lot of the other text pieces, but I certainly didn't need to read it a second time.

'Socko Strong' (by Joseph Sulman): This is one of the most schizophrenic stories I've read. When it starts, Socko is a boxer and Jerry is his photographer pal. After Socko knocks out the champ during an argument and Jerry captures the moment on photo, the champ's managers have them knocked out and put on a ship headed for "Brazitinia". Then we get a few pages of our heroes doing forced labour on the ship, before they sink it. Then they float on the ocean for a while before finding an island. Then Socko fights the natives and is made the chief's bodyguard. It's a crazy pace, and I hope it keeps up in the next installment, because who knows where the story will end up.

'Skip Schuyler' (by Tom Hickey): Skip is sent to Hawaii to inspect a new explosive, only to find that the inventor's daughter has been kidnapped, and is being held to ransom for the formula. The story is customarily well-told by Hickey, but at the end it all wraps up just a little too neatly. Skip just breezes through the whole situation without any obstacles at all.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Having set up a confrontation between Rusty, his pals and the forces of Long Sin, it's like Bob Kane just throws his hands up in the air, gives up, and has the island explode. It shouldn't work, but it does, as everyone shoots everyone else in a mad dash to the only plane on the island. Rusty and his pals escape, Long Sin and his cronies are killed, and against all odds this has a satisfying end, even though it's obvious that Kane was making it up as he went along.

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Bart Tumey): Don and Red face pirates this month, led by a bruiser named Taurus the Bull. Newcomer Bart Tumey provides another fun story, with a good villain, some action, a dude getting eaten by a shark and Taurus getting eaten by a giant octopus.

May 1939: Superman #1; Feature Comics #22

Cover by Joe Shuster

This is another momentous occasion: the first time in this project that I have read a comic devoted entirely to a single character.  I must say that it was very cathartic reading a comic entirely filled with super-hero stories. No detectives, no cowboys, no mounties, and no secret agents, just cover-to-cover Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. This is exactly the sort of comic that made me want to start this project in the first place.

It begins with another retelling of Superman's origin, although it skips the stuff on Krypton with Superman's parents from the newspaper strip.  There is a small retcon here once we get to Superman's arrival on Earth. In earlier versions of the story he is found by an unnamed "passing motorist", but here he is specifically found by Ma and Pa Kent. They still send him to an orphanage, but for the first time we see them returning to adopt him, and also get a glimpse into his childhood as his powers develop.  Superman's altruism has been taken for granted in earlier stories, but we see an important scene here as Ma and Pa Kent tell him that he must hide his true identity while using his powers to help people. The origin sequence ends with Clark at the graves of his foster parents.  It's a whole lot of new material that gives the character some added depth.

Next we see Clark Kent applying for a job at the Daily Star newspaper, and this is where the continuity of the comic books and the newspaper strips diverge. In the strips Clark is told that he can have the job only if he gets an interview with Superman.  In the comic book he has to get the scoop on a mob attacking the county jail before the editor will hire him. I could probably reconcile the two if I wanted, but at this point I'm reluctantly willing to declare the continuities separate and call it a day.

Once Clark Kent has his job we move into another plot, where the guy who was about to be lynched at the county jail tells Superman about a woman who has been wrongly sentenced to death, and tells him who the real culprit is. At this point it was starting to sound familiar to me, and that's because this is a set-up for the first Superman story from Action Comics #1. Superman finds the real murderer, a night club singer named Bea Carroll, and carries her away.

From there on the book is almost all reprints.  First up we get the Superman stories from Action Comics #1 and #2. To refresh your memories, Superman saves the woman from the electric chair, has a few other adventures unrelated to the story, then takes a crooked weapons manufacturer to South America and forces him to enlist in the army. With the new opening material, and the fact that Action Comics #1 leads right into issue #2, this is a very long and satisfying story. Even without that initial impact of seeing Superman for the first time it has a lot of energy and holds up quite well.

The story from Action Comics #3, in which Superman forces a mine owner to confront the poor conditions in his mine, doesn't fare quite so well. It hinges on the mine owner deciding to take his high society dinner party into a dangerous mine for a lark, and also on his guests all believing that it's a great idea. Such stupidity, even from wealthy twits, stretches credibility a little too far.

The story from Action Comics #4 also has its problems. It's the one where Superman masquerades as a footballer to expose a corrupt coach. But the opening with a hit-and-run motorist has no bearing on the plot, and Superman only stumbles on the football story by going through a train window for no apparent reason. I already remarked last time I read this on Superman's startling decision to drug the footballer he's posing as with a hypodermic needle, but I noticed this time that he keeps the guy sedated in bed for days. Modern day Superman would give this guy a lecture he'd never forget.

Siegel and Shuster love a good fan club, as the Junior Federal Men Club has shown, and now they're starting up the Superman of America. It's the usual stuff, with badges and a membership certificate, but what I'm interested in is Superman's Secret Code. Apparently he's going to have a secret message in Action Comics from now on, so I hope I can decipher it.

The issue finishes with a text story in which a detective tries to arrest Superman only to find Clark Kent instead. Kent spends the story quietly making fun of the guy and capturing a murderer as Superman when no one is looking. It's not bad, and more entertaining to me than most of the prose material has been.

Cover by Lank Leonard

It should be noted at this point that I was in a terrible mood while reading this comic, so the reviews might be excessively negative. You've been warned.

'Jane Arden' (by Monte Barrett and Russell E.Ross): Jane is still investigating the murder of Judge Stephens and looking for whoever hid his will. There's some effective misdirection from all sides, and enough legitimate suspects that I have no idea who did it. The problem is that I just don't care who did it.

'Lena Pry' (by Creators Unknown): Lena has been kidnapped by "ghosts" who are actually her neighbours. One of them wants to marry her, and one of the group coming to her rescue wants to marry her as well, but the only thing they value about her is her cooking ability. This would have no entertainment value if it weren't for the characters all talking like hillbillies.

'Rance Keane, The Knight of the West' (by Will Arthur): When Rance stumbles across a guy who is being eaten by coyotes, he rescues him and discovers that the man was left there to die by a guy named Moseby. Moseby had forced him to sign over his ranch, the usual western genre shenanigans that I'm already sick off. Needless to say, Rance hatches a plan to get Moseby put behind bars, and that's the story. And to think that I used to like westerns.

'Espionage: A Black X Story' (by Will Eisner): The Black X's Hindu servant Batu has been captured by a spy ring, and is being tortured, but he's able to contact the Black X via telepathy. The Black X comes to his rescue, and shatters the spy ring with gusto, just pummeling them all into submission. (They never should have talked smack about his monocle. It's rad.) There's not much to this story, but it's well paced and pretty good fun.

'Big Top' (by Ed Wheelan): I vaguely remember this one from last issue, but all I remember is that's it's about a circus, which is no help at all. It seems there's a rival owner sabotaging the circus. His accomplice is the announcer, who gets crushed by a falling beam and knocked unconscious. There's a banker who is working as a clown for some reason. And two characters want to get engaged. It's all a bit choppy, as none of these disparate plot threads seem to relate to each other at all.

'The Clock Strikes' (by Geo. E. Brenner): The Clock investigates the supposed suicide of the local District Attorney, and through some astute detective work manages to trace the murder back to the mayor, who was about to be exposed for graft. It's not bad, but I'm puzzled that The Clock only wears his mask in two panels, and we only see it from behind. For the rest of the strip he's just plain old Brian O'Brien, which makes his adventures seem a lot more banal.

'Ned Brant' (by Bob Zuppke and W. Depew): This another one that has slipped my mind completely. It's also incredibly disjointed. It starts with Ned fighting a guy for reasons I can't figure out. Then on the next page he's going camping with his pals, and by the end there are some shifty characters in the caravan next door. At this point I'm not even certain if this is a continuing story or a series of one page gags.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by Stan Asch): Cook is on the trail of Koffler, a notorious jewel thief. This is okay, but the end is very ambiguous. Everyone acts like Koffler was blown up by his own bomb at the end, but it seems to me like he escaped. I guess the cops could just be wrong, and Koffler will be back, but it does make them look pretty stupid.

'Rain Bird' (by Robert M. Hyatt): In this prose story, two Indians are sent to the mysterious Jugardillo people to ask for rain. This is all set-up, establishing that Broken Bow is the brave one who was sent on the quest, and Weetah is his less brave companion. It's a relatively decent premise, and continues the trend of the continued text stories being better than their one-shot counterparts.

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): Arg, Mounties. And not only is this a story about mounties, but it has one of my least favourite plot devices ever - the guy who first reported to the police about there being counterfeiters in the area turns out to be the counterfeiting ringleader! I can't for the life of me even figure out why he would do such a thing. It's baffling, and I hate it.

'Slim and Tubby' (by John Welch): Speaking of crap that makes no sense, in this story a girl named Judith falls in love with Roger after he becomes poor, but when it turns out he's still rich after all she runs off to start dating his fat buddy. Only in comics, folks.

'Gallant Knight' (by Vernon Henkel): The plot of this is pretty good; Princess Alice has been kidnapped by the rebels, and Sir Neville has been mistaken for a rebel by the king's men. So he taunts the king's men and leads them a merry chase to the rebel hideout, and while they're attacking it he sneaks in, kills the rebel leader and rescues Alice. But the pacing is super-fast, with too much of the action covered in narrative captions.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

May 1939: Movie Comics #3

Cover by Jack Adler

'East Side of Heaven' (by William Conselman and Jack Adler): This is an adaptation of a Bing Crosby movie, in which he plays a singing cab driver who gets involved in a dispute between a millionaire and his daughter, who are fighting over the daughter's baby. Bing ends up with the baby while everyone else is looking for it, and hijinks ensue. It's mildly amusing in spots, but that's the extent of it.

'Movietown' (by Harry Lampert): Actual comic! While the real Vom Hunger is convicted of a whole bunch of crimes, his impostor in Hollywood is directing a Christopher Columbus movie in which Columbus discovers Foogie Foogie Island, a land of plentiful hot dogs. The absurdity levels here are high, and that suits me.

'Mexicali Rose' (by Gerald Geraghty and Jack Adler): This is a movie starring Gene Autry the singing cowboy, playing Gene Autry the singing cowboy. He takes on a corrupt oil tycoon who is selling bad shares, with the help of a mexican bandit. Standard stuff, but as usual with this series the story is poorly told.

'Booby Hatch and the Midsummer Night's Nightmare' (by Ken Fitch): In this prose story Booby Hatch is in a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream which goes horribly wrong when he disappears looking for a lantern. This is supposed to be a comedy, but as it didn't muster a laugh from me I deem it a failure.

'Terrors of the Tomb' (by Ed Wheelan): Actual comic! The evil Professor Stark has succeeded in leaving his colleagues in the catacombs to die, and now resurrects the Pharaoh Amon. Stark is taken to a tribunal of ancient pharaohs and judged, and we never see him again. This wraps up the main plot with no involvement from the supposed heroes, who the pharaoh rescues. Weak.

'Four Feathers' (by Lajos Biro and Jack Adler): This movie is about Harry, a reluctant soldier who quits the service just before his regiment is sent to fight in Egypt. He is branded a coward by his comrades and fiancee, each of whom gives him a white feather. Harry has to perform four brave deeds so that he can return the feathers and win back his wife-to-be. I really like the premise for this one, but it's just hopelessly handicapped by the way this comic is put together. It really is impossible for a story to be effectively told with airbrushed movie stills.

'Mystery in the White Room' (by Alex Gottlieb and Jack Adler): This is a hospital murder mystery, and my legendary inability to follow mysteries is in full force here. I lost track of the characters halfway through. You'd think that the use of actual photos would make characters' faces more distinctive and memorable, but instead they're all kind of fuzzy and hard to distinguish.

'Spirit of Culver' (by Whitney Bolton and Jack Adler): Young Tomn Allen, whose father died in a war, gets his chance to go to a military academy. He begins the story with a healthy contempt for the military and a hatred for the senselessness of war. He's a guy I can get behind! But by the end he's embraced patriotism and military tradition, and I don't like him as much as I did.

'The Mikado' (by Sir Arthur Sullivan and Jack Adler): This is an adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan play, and quite entertaining at that. For the uneducated masses out there who don't know this story (like me), it's about a guy who runs away from an arranged marriage to an old woman and becomes a wandering minstrel. He falls in love with a younger woman who is engaged to her foster-father, and from there all sorts of entanglements ensue. I found it amusing even in this form.  I imagine I'd like it even more as a stage play with the music present.

'Navy Secrets' (by Harry Gates and Jack Adler): In which a girl and a sailor get caught up in spy shenanigans, only to reveal to each other at the end that they too are spies.  Perhaps it has something to do with me starting to fall asleep as I read this, but the basic premise of the plot didn't seem to make much sense.  The girl spy was engaged at the start of the story, and by the end she's getting married to another guy, but there's nothing in between to indicate why she'd change her mind like that.  I guess it's a victim of being compressed and truncated in this fashion.

At this point I thank every power known to man that I'm halfway through this series already.  God bless you, apathetic readers of the 1930s!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

May 1939: More Fun Comics #44

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Wing starts a new story this month. When an important marshall visits the camp of the French Foreign Legion, Wing is tasked with showing his daughter around town. Some Arabs kidnap her to hold her for ransom, and Wing is taken as well and thrown in a cell. This is lighter on action than usual, with much of the strip taken up by Wing wining and dining the girl. Against my better judgement I rather liked it, as the dialogue is quite engaging, and it's a nice departure from the formula.
'Detective Sergeant Carey and the Clue of the Lipstick' (by Joe Denohee): When the DA's daughter is kidnapped by crooks who want her to convince her father to drop a case against a big crime lord, Sergeant Carey must beat them all up to save her. The story's blandness is not helped by the use of my favourite old trope - the hero is saved by calling for back-up!  One of these days a detective is going to resolve a situation all on his lonesome, and I'll be stunned when it happens.

'Biff Bronson' (by Joseph Sulman): Biff and Dan stumble across some crooks hiding out. Biff is one hardcore dude, as he picks them off one by one, strangling them from behind. It turns out that the crooks have a stolen treasure map, and when Biff returns it to its rightful owner he is invited on the expedition to dig up the treasure. It's a generic set-up with bland characters, but if Biff keeps up the stone cold ninja commando dispatching of bad guys I might enjoy it.

'Cave-In' (by Terry Keane): Some miners are trapped in a cave-in. The miners are rescued. Move along, there's nothing to see here.

'Gary Hawkes' (by Rob Jenney): Gary was shot down in the enemy nation of Vulcania last issue, and now he and his pal have to make their way to the border as they are chased by soldiers and the like. It's a bit more exciting than the usual Gary Hawkes strip, but it glosses over too much of the action without ever building any tension. The situation should feel desperate, but it never sells the idea that Gary is in danger.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): This month, the crystal shows Bobby and Binks the story of Cardinal Richelieu and his rise to power in France. As usual it's all very bland and textbook, as Fleming is incapable of finding an angle to make the story engaging.  If your comic book story is told mostly n captions, then it's probably not best served being a comic.

'Johnnie Law' (by Will Ely): This one starts off intriguingly, as a mad scientists is drugging people and sending them out to commit crimes. He sends out a suicide bomber to get revenge on Johnnie Law, and the last panel seems to show him blowing up. I love me a good cliffhanger, so this is well in excess of the average quality of a Johnnie Law story.

And now it gets even better, because I just found out that this is the final appearance of this strip.  Alas poor Johnnie Law, blown up by a brainwashed suicide bomber.  We hardly knew ye, and wish we never had.

'Cal 'n' Alec' (by Fred Schwab): Cal 'n' Alec are still in the ghost town, where they try to cook a rabbit and fix up an old car. This is going utterly nowhere.

'The Flying Fox' (by Terry Gilkison): On an island off Central America, some crooks masquerade as Rex Darrell while killing natives to get their treasure. The real Darrell stops them in yet another very boring adventure.

'Marg'ry Daw' (by Creators Unknown): I'm not quite sure what's going on here. Marg'ry and her dad are talking to a man who is about to tell them about a talking frog before he is shot dead. They are then taken in by a rich guy, who possesses said talking frog in his treasure vault. It gives out some cryptic clues, one of which seems to indicate that Marg'ry's father is marked for death. None of this really follows logically, but it is intriguingly weird.

'Lieut Bob Neale of Sub 662' (by B. Hirsch and Russ Lehmann): When a ship crashes into a plane, Bob goes underwater to rescue the crew. It's pretty straightforward stuff.

'Radio Squad' (by Siegel and Shuster): Sandy and Larry get mixed up with an invisible crook who is stealing jewels. I was waiting for a twist here, but it never comes; the culprit really is a crook who can turn himself invisible.  But the set-up is well-executed, and I can hardly complain about the story making too much sense.  He's beaten by dousing him in paint, in what is probably the best strip in this issue (which is admittedly saying very little).

'The Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): Captain Dennis and his crew are still the guests of Dr.Killmen, in Castle Terror (honestly, they must be idiots). They find that Killmen is keeping a prince captive there, but they're all captured and left behind as the castle is set to explode. I don't know about you, but if I owned a place called Castle Terror I'd never blow it up. This is made enjoyable by the sheer unashamed villainy of Dr. Killmen.

Looking back at that review, I can see that it's pretty negative.  That's because More Fun Comics is probably the worst of the title being put out by National at this time.  It really only has Wing Brady from the ever-reliable Tom Hickey, and Radio Squad, which is my least favourite of Siegel and Shuster's strips.  Everything else is mediocre to terrible, and a chore to get through.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

May 1939: Detective Comics #29

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'The Bat-Man' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): This month the Bat-Man (I'm going to call him that so long as the actual comic does) goes up against some jewel thieves, and there's not much more to be said about that. The plot is of very little interest, so it's the little details I have to focus on. The first is in the introduction, which says that the Bat-Man is "Bruce Wayne, bored young socialite". The Bat-Man hasn't had an origin story at this point, and from that description you'd get the idea that he's a rich kid playing super-hero to keep himself entertained.

The Bat-Man doesn't have any gadgets at this point, but he does use a silk rope an awful lot in this story to swing from buildings. He even has to twirl it around his head like a lasso before he throws it. We also see the first "batmobile", although it isn't named as such. It's just a simple red car of the 1930s, with nothing to distinguish it from any other random dude's vehicle.

If it wasn't for the gift of hindsight, I wouldn't be getting into this strip at all. About the only thing it has going for it is that the Bat-Man looks cool.

'Speed Saunders Ace Investigator and The Dope Ring' (by Fred Guardineer): Speed is hired by a newspaper owner to investigate a dope ring, and it turns out (surprise!) that the newspaper guy is the head of that very ring. There are shootings galore and a treacherous femme fatale, both of which help to push this just slightly above mediocrity.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): Buck Marshall goes up against yet another guy trying to kill a ranch owner to get his land, but this story has a decent hook at the beginning, as Buck is seemingly mistaken for a criminal and thrown in jail. It turns out to be a plot by the sheriff to get Buck undercover, and it puts this on a level much higher than the usual Homer Fleming story.  Which is to say, the prospect of reading it didn't have me ready to break out the razors.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): When a ship from Baralia is blown up in a US harbour the two countries threaten war. Bart is assigned to stop this, which he does by tracking down the real culprit, the ship's captain. Sally is not in this story at all, and as a result it lacks a lot of its usual charm.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers): This month the Crimson Avenger tackles a gang of knife-wielding Arab jewel thieves. This story is seriously disjointed. At one point the Crimson Avenger is hit by a car and put in hospital, but in the very next panel he's up and about and ready to fight some crime. The conclusion is similarly weak, as the Crimson Avenger leaves just as the police are arriving to arrest everyone.  Say what you want about Superman, but that dude sticks around to clean up his own messes.

'Human Cargo' (by Jack Anthony): This is another reprint of an earlier prose story, the one where the discovery of a human leg in the bay leads to the a gang smuggling Chinese people into America. Obviously DC don't want to pay anyone for these anymore, and I don't blame them.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce and his partner Lane are investigating the murder of Lili Gravet, a woman with a fascination for black magic. There's a certain creepy atmosphere to this strip, but far too much of it consists of Nelson and Lane talking to each other about the various suspects. They've made absolutely zero progress by the time the strip finishes. It will continue next month, but I guarantee I'll have forgotten what they talked about by the time I get to it.

'Doctor Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): Petrie and Nayland Smith are still protecting the old missionary Eltham from Fu Manchu. One of Fu Manchu's goons is stalking the grounds, and even beats up a mastiff, but I don't feel like this story is going anywhere.

'Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo goes fox hunting with yet another of his endless list of lifelong friends, only to find out that this friend is deep in debt to a man who wants his house and his daughter.  The bad guy pulls out every cliche trick in the book, even haunting the house like a Scooby-Doo villain. Despite all of these hackneyed shenanigans, this story somehow manages to be better than most Cosmo stories. It was probably the fight Cosmo has with a suit of armour. Or maybe the scene where he shoots a glow-in-the-dark cat.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): This month, Slam is bequeathed a million dollars in the will of a man he once saved. But there's a stipulation: he has to spend the night in a house full of all the family members whose inheritance he has taken without being murdered. A decent mystery follows when the murders begin, though it's a little light on humour, and it turns out the killer is Ronald, the obligatory drunken son. As usual, Slam is the best thing in Detective Comics.