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.

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