Sunday, July 31, 2011

August 1939: Superman #2; Action Comics #17; Marvel Comics #1

Cover by Joe Shuster

Much like the first issue of Superman, this is mostly reprints.  The stories come from the newspaper strip, and haven't been changed at all except for some rearranging to accomodate the page sizes, and some added colour.  The first story reprinted is unnamed; it's the one where Superman helps a washed up boxer win the championship.  The second is 'Superman Champions Universal Peace', in which he has to stop foreign agents from using a deadly gas.  And finally we get 'Superman and the Skyscrapers', the one where a building contractor is causing deadly accidents on the site of a rival.  Of the three I like 'Superman Champions Universal Peace' the best, but my opinions of the stories haven't changed since I reviewed them a month ago.

The only new material is a short story creatively entitled 'Superman!'.  Superman dukes it out with a would-be crime lord to decide which of them has to leave town.  It's about as good as any of the text stories, but I found myself enjoying it more simply because it's about Superman.

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster): Superman's adventure begins with a lengthy sequence in which he rescues a sinking ocean liner that has been sabotaged. I was immediately struck by the way he just waits around, and doesn't take action until a boat full of rescuers is killed in a storm. Once again Golden Age Superman proves himself to be somewhat less than perfectly heroic. The sabotage ends up being the work of (who else) the Ultra-Humanite, now going by the less awesome moniker of "Ultra". His confrontation with Superman is brief, and Ultra makes his escape as usual. It's another solid if unspectacular Superman story.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep goes to a ranch and picks a fight with a Mexican who is whipping his horses. The Mexican gets fired over the scuffle, and spends the rest of the strip trying to kill Pep. This is passable.  It seems like everywhere Pep goes, people are trying to murder him.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco has been rescued by a gang of thieves, and he uses them to help him get vengeance on Abu-el-Kaf, his former captor. It's a big descent into mediocrity from last month's awesome installment.

'Clip Carson' (by Bob Kane): Clip is in a jungle in India when he sees an old college buddy being mauled by a tiger. It turns out that the man's father was killed by some sort of tiger-man, and it seems that someone's trying to kill him as well. This is a subdued entry for Clip, who barely gets to punch anything or anyone. Disappointing.

'A Lion's Share' (by Capt. Frank Thomas): Two hunters shoot a lion. Then they are attacked by the lion's mate, and shoot it too.  It's utterly pointless and terrible.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex and his pals travel to Istanbul at the request of its prime minister, but it turns out to be a ruse. The PM is under the thrall of none other than the Gorrah of the Sealed City, one of the first villains that Tex Thomson faced way back in his earliest strips (also, he's a cyclops). In true super-villain fashion he survived his seeming death, and has set himself up with a criminal empire. Tex walks right into his trap, along with a newfound Turkish sidekick Ali Baba, and both of them are captured. This is all set-up, but the return of the Gorrah has me intrigued.

Going back and reading my entry on the story where the Gorrah died, I totally called his return.  Go me!

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): This story starts with a good set-up, as Chuck is captured by thieves who plan to force him to hold up stage-coaches; the thieves will take the loot, while Chuck takes the blame. But instead of the story following through with that, Chuck escapes and stops them.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Peril of Ophir' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara is taken to Africa where he goes up against Setap, immortal queen of Ophir, who is trying to regain her youth with a blood transfusion from Zatara's friend. It's another fun story where Zatara displays ridiculous power levels (seriously, he completely destroys a city with a single backwards sentence). We do see him made helpless when blinded though, which is a fairly effective (and much needed) weakness.

Cover by Frank Paul

Some months ago, I despaired of ever reaching this moment.  As much as I enjoy DC and its characters, my love for Marvel is many times higher.  I am super-stoked to have reached this milestone, which may have coloured the review below with some extra enthusiasm.

'The Human Torch' (by Carl Burgos): Marvel Comics kicks off with a bang. The Human Torch is an  android created by Professor Horton, who bursts into flame when in contact with oxygen. Fearing his power, Horton seals the Torch inside a block of concrete, but a slow leak leads to his eventual escape. What follows is a dynamic rampage through the city, followed by the Torch being used by a crook to aid his protection racket, and the inevitable destruction of the crooks at the Torch's hands. There's a certain crudeness to this material when compared to DC's output, but there's a lot of unrestrained energy and dynamism. The Torch himself is a force of nature, despite his naive and unworldly personality.  He has settled down and gained control of his powers by the end of the story, which is a shame, because I'm a sucker for super-powered characters destroying cities.  But this is really fun and exciting material.

'The Angel' (by Paul Gustavson): The Angel is a fairly generic crimefighter, just an athletic dude in a blue and red costume.  We learn basically nothing about him, except that he likes to fight crime.  He goes up against the "Six Big Men", a gang of racketeers. There's a great touch in the opening scenes: a group of civic leaders get together with the mayor to suggest calling in the Angel, only for the Angel to send them a note saying that he's already on the case. The rest of the strip is him hunting them down one-by-one, as well as some double-crossing and in-fighting between the crooks. It's another fast-paced action story that I really enjoyed.

'Sub-Mariner' (by Bill Everett): Namor! I love Namor, but for those of you who don't know anything about him, he's introduced here as the Prince of the Sub-Mariners, a race of people who live under the sea. He can live in air and water, fly, and has the strength of a thousand men. Also, he likes to wreck stuff. This starts in an unexpected manner, much like a horror movie. A salvage ship is investigating a sunken wreck, only for the divers to be set upon and killed by Namor, who then proceeds to tear the ship apart with his bare hands. He takes some corpses back home to his mother, and we get Namor's origin story. In 1920 some humans were bombing the city of the Sub-Mariners. Namor's mother Fen was sent to infiltrate them, but fell in love with their leader Leonard McKenzie and together they had a son, Namor. Even so, the bombing continued, the city was destroyed, and the Sub-Mariners were mostly killed. Fen wants revenge, so Namor begins his quest by wrecking the hell out of a lighthouse. This is a strip about a violent hot-head who has declared war on the human race. Yes, it's weird, but it's also compelling.  Marvel have a willingness to embrace outsiders and non-humans as protagonists that I haven't seen in the other publishers yet.  (Except for Superman, who is an alien, not that you'd know it from most of the stories he's in.)

I'm surprised to see how much of this stuff lasts all the way into the modern era.  Namor's origin here is pretty much as described in Fantastic Four Annual #1. His cousin Dorma is present, as is Emperor Tha-Korr.  Stan Lee did his homework when the character was reintroduced.

'The Masked Raider' (by Al Anders): When a rich guy tries to force a bunch of ranch owners to sell their land, Jim Gardley decides he's had enough. He dons a mask, trains his reflexes, and makes a vow to uphold justice. He deals with the crooks pretty easily, and this is quite fun for a western. Can Marvel do no wrong?

'Jungle Terror' (by Art Pinajian): Perhaps I spoke too soon. This is a one-off story about two guys who go looking for their uncle, a professor who had disappeared in the Amazon jungle. They meet savages, and are also hindered by a rival plantation owner, but manage to rescue the professor and return to the USA. I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for this one.

'Burning Rubber' (by Raymond Gill): In this prose story, a driver is racing in an experimental car that could blow up and kill him at any time.  His girlfriend saves him by having him flagged out of the race, and showing his plans to a car magnate who decides to buy them. It's pretty tedious.

'Adventures of Ka-Zar' (by Ben Thompson): David Rand and his family crash land in the Belgian Congo, where the boy quickly befriends all manner of beasts. His mother dies of a fever, and still later his father is killed by a South African hunter. David defeats the hunters with help from the lion Zar, and soon becomes known in the jungle as Ka-Zar. This is an unashamed Tarzan knock-off, and not a particularly good one.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

August 1939: Mutt & Jeff #1

Cover by Bud Fisher

Hey look, it's my first all-humour title.  Mutt & Jeff is a strip that has already been making appearances in All-American Comics, but I haven't been writing about it because I find that I don't have a lot to say about the humour strips in general.  Writing about other people's jokes isn't something I really want to do.

Historically, Mutt & Jeff was created by Bud Fisher, and is regarded as the first successful daily newspaper strip.  It's about Mutt, his family, and his friend Jeff.  (Mutt's the tall one, and Jeff's the one in the top hat.)  I can't see a unifying theme to any of these strips, except for the occasional get-rich-quick scheme that goes quickly awry.  They just get up to shenanigans with humourous results.

And the strip's are actually funny.  Not laugh-out-loud funny, but I do find a lot of them sort of wryly amusing.  I imagine that if I was actually a part of 1930s culture they'd be even funnier.

About half of the book is filled with Mutt & Jeff strips, while the rest is made up by the spin-off strip Cicero's Cat.  This one is mostly silent, and revolves around the adventures of a cat owned by Cicero, Mutt's son.  A lot of these are just strips where the cat investigates some strange object used by humans, and ends up in a predicament (splashed by water, trapped in a vacuum cleaner, that sort of thing).  The humour value of these varies, but they're a super-quick read, for which I am thankful.

I'm not sure what I'm going to have to say about the next issue.  I see that it goes all the way up to issue #103, which is going to be a hell of a lot of space to fill.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

August 1939: Movie Comics #6

'The Real Glory' (by Jo Swerling and probably Jack Adler): This movie adaptation is about a fort in the Philippines that is under attack by a local warlord. It's probably better written than most of the comics of the time, but (as I have said over and over when reviewing this series) it's hobbled by its format. Every bit of energy or excitement is leeched out of it by stiff, stilted art.

'Rescue on a Bicycle' (by John Wentworth): This prose story is about a child movie star who gets kidnapped by a gang of crooks and taken to a theatre, where he's rescued by an usher. This is okay I suppose, but I'm struck by the implausibility of a three-year-old kid keeping quiet while being snuck out behind some crooks. I have a three-year-old of my own, and it's not happening.

'In Old Monterey' (by Gerald Geraghty and probably Jack Adler): This movie adaptation is about Sgt Gene Autry, who is sent to find out why a bunch of ranchers are refusing to sell their land to the US army to use as testing grounds. (Ranchers! My favourite!) It turns out that a crooked mining company is stirring up unrest against the military so that it won't lose its mines. This is hyper-compressed. I don't think a single bit of the story is told with sequential art. It's a terrible comic.

There is an interesting idea in here, as the usual "oppressed ranchers being forced off their land" idea is flipped around on its head.  Perhaps the movie follows through on it better.

'Movietown' (by Harry Lampert): Horace Hope is finally exposed as a fake, and not really the great Hungarian director Vom Hunger. But his film about Christopher Columbus (with added hot dogs) is about to debut, and cannot be stopped now. What will happen?!? I'll never know, because this is the final issue of Movie Comics. I did want to know where this was all leading, because it had an appealing absurdity to it all, but if that's the price I have to pay for Movie Comics to be cancelled, I'll take it.

'The Phantom Creeps' (by George Plympton and probably Jack Adler): This has got to be a weird movie. It tells the story of Professor Zorka, who has invented A) a huge mechanical man; B) an invisibility belt; and C) a ray that can paralyse an army. A bunch of foreign government want these secrets, but Zorka (like any respectable scientist) decides to take over the world. Shenanigans ensue, until eventually some "hero" blows up the professor's castle and laboratory. I did enjoy this, but only because it's crazy, not because it's good. There are about five movies crammed into the space of one here.  (Which makes sense to me now, because this is actually a twelve part serial condensed into eight pages of comic.)

'The Underpup' (by Grover Jones and probably Jack Adler): I really should hate this. It's a movie adaptation in which a poor girl wins a competition to go to summer camp with a bunch of rich girls. Lots of shenanigans ensue, with the usual rich vs. poor snobbery, a kid with parents about to divorce, and various other cliches. But I found it kind of charming, and now I must hate myself instead for my lack of good taste.

'Sun and Sand' (by Ed Wheelan): While Gerald has joined the French Foreign Legion, his fiancee Jeanne has come to Algiers and caught the eye of a ruthless Arab chieftain. This strip started well, but it's quickly lapsed into mediocrity. It's another story that will never see a conclusion.  Assumption time!  Jeanne is kidnapped by the Arab chieftain and sold into slavery, while Gerald dies in action never knowing the fate of his fiancee.  I can't help but imagine bad ends for all of these golden age characters.

'The Oregon Trail' (by George Plympton and probably Jack Adler): In the final part of this serial, Jeff Scott finally deals with Morgan, who has been destroying wagon trains to keep settlers off the land he wants. It's all crammed in very tightly at the end, with no sense of pay-off. (And a random appearance by Custer.)

'Mutiny on the Black Hawk' (by Michael Simmons and probably Jack Adler): This adaptation starts out as a story of a man trying to free some islanders taken as slaves and get them back to their home, but it ends up with him defending a US fort against a Mexican army. This story has no idea what it wants to be.

'A Chump at Oxford' (by Charley Rogers and probably Jack Adler): This is an adaptation of Laurel and Hardy movie. Those guys are funny, but this is pretty good evidence that performance can make or break a gag, because I didn't find this comic remotely funny at all. But I'd bet good money that the movie is really amusing.

And that's the end of Movie Comics. The first DC comic to ever be cancelled, and deservedly so, it was a terrible idea with terrible execution.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

August 1939: Adventure Comics #42; All-American Comics #7; Detective Comics #31; More Fun Comics #47

Cover possibly by Creig Flessel or Chad Grothkopf

'The Sandman' (by Bert Christman): Wesley Dodd gathers three of his old navy buddies together to stop the murder of another friend of theirs. With the addition of some friends and a past, Dodd suddenly feels like a real character. The aerial dogfight that climaxes the story is decent as well. I was also surprised that Dodd's friends are well aware that he is the Sandman, and that he allows them both to take on the Sandman identity for this adventure. This strip will improve greatly if it keeps on this direction. 

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): Barry rescues Inspector LeGrand, then stop's Krull and his gang from blowing up the French fleet with mines. It's an adequate wrap-up to this story-line, with a good variety of action scenes.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Wayne Boring): Steve Carson single-handedly arrests a gang of bank robbers, which isn't really interesting at all. This is the first credit for Wayne Boring, who is a major name in early DC history. At this point I can see that his story-telling is really solid, but his art lacks the character and energy of Joe Shuster.

'Jack Woods' (by Jim Chambers): Jack Woods guns down the bank robbing gang from last issue, and rescues the boy they had captive. The story ends when a mysterious stranger shows up to arrest Jack for murder. I love how Jack's friend leaps to his defense: "He just shot up one o' the worst mobs around here. He ain't no murderer!" Yep, the fact that he just killed a bunch of dudes is great evidence in his favour.

This appears to be the last we see of Jack Woods.  I can only assume that he is arrested for murder and hanged, which is an ignominious end for the character who starred on the cover of the first DC comic ever.

'Socko Strong' (by Joseph Sulman): When last we left Socko and Jerry, they were aboard the legendary ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman. In this issue it turns out not to be a ghost ship, but the ship of Charles Starwin, on his way to return a prehistoric man to his island home. Once they reach the island they are menaced by dinosaurs, and it's rather quaint the way the dinosaurs are depicted. I'm especially fond of the stegosaur with the poisonous bite. This strip never makes any sense, but it's always enjoyable.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Gabby is captured by the Thuggees from last issue, and Desmo goes to his rescue. I appreciate the use of the Thuggees as villains, but otherwise this is a fairly standard adventure. And will we never learn why Desmo wears that damn helmet?

'Quest in India' (by Terry Keane): Continuing from last issue, a group of explorers find the hidden temple of the Lasbas in the Hindu Kush, only for a crazed priest to blow it up with dynamite so that they can't desecrate it. This turned out better than I was expecting.

'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Bart Tumey): Red and Don are still trying to find the culprit behind a submarine base that threatened the security of the Panama Canal. When they're captured they are taken to meet Cato, an Asian man who dresses like Napoleon, and is also the head of the Mayenese army. There's a little bit of humour with Cato, but it's still a below-average story.

'Skip Schuyler' (by Tom Hickey): Skip is in "The Orient", and rescues a young boy during a bombing raid. The boy leads him to a laundry, where a beautiful foreign correspondent is being held for ransom. This is okay, and I enjoyed Skip's relationship to the kid. I just feel like there's more story to tell here, even though it's obviously over.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Rusty and Steve are captured by Chen Fu, who wants revenge on them for killing his most trusted lieutenant. Chen Fu goes for the classics, putting Steve in a deathtrap with a spiked floor and a giant scything blade. This is just silly enough to be enjoyable.

'Cotton Carver in the Pit of Dagan' (by Gardner Fox and Ogden Whitney): Cotton is still trying to find his way to the surface. He rescues his friends from cultists, gets chased by dinosaurs, and finally finds refuge in the city of Marla. Fun stuff, especially when Cotton sets fire to a carnivorous brontosaurus.

Cover by Stan Aschmeier

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): Red, Whitey and Blooey go up against a munitions manufacturer who is hiring people to cause trouble at the World's Fair, trying to make the countries involved go to war with each other. This is fun as usual, but the bad guy's plan does involve trying to get France and England to go to war over a stink bomb and a knocked over statue. He's not exactly the sharpest villain I've ever seen.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Last issue Ben's thought projector was stolen, and this issue he discovers the culprit - the maid did it! This storyline has taken a definite swerve into cliched territory.

'Bobby Thatcher' (by George Storm): After their boat was smashed in last issue's storm, Bobby and Elmer swim to shore, but they can't find Tubby. He is eventually found after a long search, and the whole town celebrates. It's a bit flimsy for a whole chapter of an adventure strip.

'Adventures in the Unknown: A Thousand Years a Minute' (by Carl H. Claudy and Stan Aschmeier): Ted and Alan arrive back on Earth, but when their mechanical man Elmer is rusted by salt water they are unable to prove that they went to Mars, and everyone thinks they're crazy. Except for Dr. Lazar, who's obviously a bit mental himself.  It's decent enough, but it certainly didn't live up to the awesome title (or the cover).

'The American Way' (by John Wentworth and Walter Galli): This chapter starts out light-heartedly, with Martin Gunther's daughter Lisa about to be married, but it takes a grim turn when World War I begins, and his son Karl must decide whether or not to go to war. With the over-patriotic nonsense out of the way, this is becoming a decent family drama.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Elby): Hop is giving Geraldine flying lessons. The first goes badly when she brings her dogs along, and Hop has to knock her out with a fire extinguisher. But she learns her lesson, and later rescues Hop and her father from a flood. This is sort of charming, and the courtship of Hop and Gerry is a strange one. "Oh mother, Hop's adorable! He hit me with the fire extinguisher today!"

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): Oh no! There's an inspection from the Lubanian Embassy, and WILEY HAS A LOOSE BUTTON ON HIS DRESS COAT!!!!!

'Criminal's End' (by George Shute): Jimmy stops some foreign agents from sabotaging a US ship. This was adequate until the nauseating exchange at the end of the story. Phil: "You can't win when right is not on your side, Jimmy. Always remember that." Jimmy: "I won't forget, Phil. An American just can't forget that!" I realise that I am reading All-American Comics, so I should expect this stuff. Doesn't mean I have to like it.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly does his best to get a picture of an elusive writer who has never been photographed or sketched. Amusing as always.

'Popsicle Pete' (possibly by Sheldon Mayer): Pete is interviewed, and after saying in the interview that he thinks girls are silly he is inundated with hate mail. Average.

Cover by Bob Kane
'The Batman' (by Bob Kane): Batman's fiancee Julie is hypnotised and abducted by a mysterious hooded monk, and he must pursue them to the monk's castle in Hungary. This is the first great Batman story. Not only does it really hammer home that weird creature of the night vibe, but it has his first really good adversary in the Monk, who looks cool and has every trick in the super-villain book. The batarang makes its first appearance here, as does the bat-plane (which is more of a helicopter, but never mind). The introduction of Julie Madison as Bruce Wayne's fiancee humanises him a little, though I do wonder whether he plans to tell her about Batman even after they're married. My only misgiving about this story is that Batman runs away from a giant ape instead of fighting it, but there's always next issue, because this is to be continued.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): Buck goes up against a gang of bank robbers, and gets a confession out of them by going undercover. This is a solid story by Buck Marshall standards.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): Bart investigates the theft of America's new "mystery plane", and it turns out the man assigned to guard it is the leader of the thieves. This was decent enough until Bart just pulls a machine gun out of nowhere to capture the crooks. As he says to his boss, "we're pretty busy protecting our country from its enemies who bore from within!" Make sure to get the comics that bore from within as well, Bart.

'Larry Steele, Private Detective' (by Ken Ernst): This one gets off to a good start, with businessman Amos Velvet telling Larry about the death threats his wife has been receiving, just before getting a phone call telling them that she has committed suicide. It turns out that Amos himself was the murderer, as he'd been forcing his wife to funnel money from her charity work into his business. Larry, you should have slapped the cuffs on this guy the second you saw his little Hitler moustache. This is a pretty good mystery story, with solid motivations and a couple of neat misdirections.

'Newspaper Nightmare' (by Gardner Fox): In this prose story two newspapermen are murdered by their publisher, who placed a poisoned needle in their typewriters. This is a murder mystery in which there is exactly one suspect, and all of the relevant information that could help the reader solve the crime is withheld until the end. I've always believed that a mystery story should be solvable by the reader, so this one gets a fail.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator and the Mammoth Mystery' (by Fred Guardineer): This one has a cracking start, as Speed investigates the murder of an explorer who was killed with a gigantic elephant tusk. The investigation leads to a circus and a jealous animal trainer. The clues are all there, but the murderer's motivation is virtually non-existent.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce is lured out to a party at an old friend's house, while the man who set that up raids Bruce's safe for evidence that would convict him of murder. Bruce gets wise and stops him. It's an adequate story, but a long way down from the height of this strip.

'Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): This is pretty good for a Cosmo story, as he investigates a doctor who is stealing the brainpower of other brilliant men, adding it to his own and leaving them as vegetables. It does, however, feature the most amazing panel of exposition I have ever seen in my life.

Sven Elven: paid by the word

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Slam and Shorty go up against a zoo keeper who is murdering the people who torment his animals. It's a lacklustre installment for the usually great Slam Bradley.

Cover by Fred Guardineer

I don't have a copy of this issue.  The only thing that I seem to be missing is the final installment of Cal 'n' Alec.  To be honest, that strip has been on life support for ages, so I won't be sad to see it go.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July-August 1939: Smash Comics #2; Action Comics #16

Cover creator is unknown

'Espionage' (by Will Eisner): This strip delivers the goods again, as the Black Ace has to retrieve the plans to the X-Beam (a beam that can completely disable a plane in flight) from two crooks trying to sell it to Russia or Japan. Just about every spy story at this time is using fake countries, but this strip isn't afraid to name names, and it feels far more grounded because of it. This story also has a great conclusion, as the two crooks turn on each other and end up locked in a death struggle as they fall from their plane. Good stuff.

'The Lone Star Rider' (by George Brenner): This is an origin story for the Lone Star Rider, a sort of generic cowboy do-gooder. When he was a kid the Black Gang attacked his father's ranch and killed his mum and dad (in a pretty entertaining shoot-out scene). The story is as hackneyed as they get, but it's rare that the death of the hero's parents is gone into in such detail, so it felt somewhat fresh.

'Abdul the Arab' (by Vernon Henkel): Abdul is asked by the chief of police in Baghdad to investigate rumours of a rebellion against British rule. The villain is a sultan named Siddi Ben Yusuf, and this story seriously covers every possible cliche that a story with a sultan as a villain could have. But it romps along from plot point to plot point with such enthusiasm that I couldn't help but enjoy it.

'Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man' (Wayne Reid): Hugh Hazzard is called in to rescue a banker's daughter, who has been kidnapped and held for ransom by a gang of crooks. He defeats them with the help of his robot Bozo.  I was pleased to see that Bozo's deadly baby-stealing rampage from last issue hasn't been forgotten, and that there are people who oppose his reactivation. Otherwise this is an average story, with none of the weirdness I expected from a Golden Age robot serial.

Captain Cook of Scotland Yard'(by William Smith): Cook is in Paris, so naturally he goes up against an art thief who steals the Mona Lisa. The story is hampered by some very shoddy story-telling on the art side, and the thief's plan makes absolutely no sense.

'Invisible Justice' (by Art Pinajian): After the Invisible Hood starts wishing that he could really be invisible, he hears a radio report about the kidnapping of a scientist who was researching (wait for it) invisibility. He goes to rescue Professor Dorn, who douses his hood and cloak in invisibility formula. The Invisible Hood beats the crooks (by calling in the FBI, not through any heroics of his own), but he's too late to save Dorn. He should have known; any time a scientist invents something unique and groundbreaking, he is guaranteed to be dead by the end of the story. The story serves its purpose by giving the Invisible Hood his gimmick, but it does kind of paint him as a pathetic figure. When he gains invisibility and exclaims that it's the greatest moment of his life, it really makes me wonder if the guy does anything but dress up in a sleeping bag costume and fight crooks.

'Clip Chance at Cliffside' (by Scott Sheridan): Two crooks decide to fix a baseball game by burying wires that will knock out anyone who steps on them while running around the bases. Clip foils their plot purely by accident, because he doesn't run in the right place. Terrible.

'Mystery at Catalina' (by Jeffrey Spain): This story continues from last issue. In this chapter the abalone fisherman Tony is lured into becoming a movie star by a gang of crooks posing as film-makers. It's continued next month, and I have absolutely no idea where it's going.

'Chic Carter, Ace Reporter' (by Vernon Henkel): Chic Carter really claimed his territory as a high-society detective last issue. In this story he's investigating the murder of a munitions magnate on a cruise ship, but it's not quite as distinctive as his previous outing. At least the murderer has a decent motive, and gets a somewhat ironic death.

'Wings Wendall of the Military Intelligence' (by Vernon Henkel): Wings Wendall has a mediocre adventure involving some foreign agents trying to get plans to a new plane. Of more interest is the last panel, which teases Wing's encounter next issue with a villain called the Hooded Terror. Master criminals wearing hoods are really the in thing in 1939.

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster): It looks as though Siegel and Shuster have it in for gambling this month, with Superman utterly demolishing every gambling den in Metropolis in the space of 13 pages. He's really vicious in this story, just threatening to kill anybody who doesn't do what he says. It gets the job done, but it's certainly not the Superman I grew up with (which is by no means a bad thing). At least he resorts to a clever trick at the end, gathering all of the gambling leaders in town, asking them to draw a card, and threatening to kill whoever draws the ace of spades unless they leave town. Of course he has given everyone the ace of spades, and they all clear out leaving Metropolis free of gamblers. I usually enjoy the stories where Superman just busts up on whatever social injustice the creators have it in for that month, and this is no exception. Superman-as-bully is fun to read.

Also, I believe that this is the first time the city of Metropolis is mentioned by name.

Elsewhere in the comic is the Superman of America page, with various Superman fan club bits and bobs.  It includes a secret message from Superman in code, which I have included (and translated) below.

Superman's Secret Message:

Supermen of America are opposed to all evil and injustice.

Words to live by!

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep is asked by his rich friend Mr. Smith to act as a bodyguard for his daughter, who has been threatened by kidnappers. Pep deals with the kidnappers easily. There are early signs that one of the crooks isn't too happy with life as a kidnapper, but that goes nowhere, and leads to a pretty average story.

'The Adventures of Marco Polo' (by Sven Elven): Marco has escaped from slavery, but he is pursued relentlessly, even after fleeing into a deadly swamp. It all culminates in a last stand battle with his back to a cliff, but just as Marco is shot through the hand with an arrow, a mysterious rescuer drops some rocks on the head of his foes. This is pretty tense, and all the more enjoyable for it.

'Clip Carson, Soldier of Fortune' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): When last we left Clip Carson, he was being menaced by a mummy in an Egyptian tomb. His characteristic response is to unload his pistol at the thing, revealing it to be a robot. Even when the Pharaoh Cheops returns from the dead he's skeptical, and it turns out to be a British police sergeant in disguise. Clip exposes the fake, punches his way through a whole bunch of Arabs, and escapes with some of the treasure. This isn't high literature, but it lives up to the title Action Comics better than any other strip in here. Bob Kane has a knack for fun fight scenes.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex brings down a spy ring in France that is being helped by the chief of the local secret service. It's rudimentary stuff. I was more interested in seeing how they played Gargantua T. Potts, Tex's new black sidekick. He's not as prominent as his introduction last issue led me to believe he would be, mostly being used for comic relief. He's the most interesting thing in the comic, and even has some humourous lines. It's a racist portrayal for sure, but as bad as it makes me look he's probably my favourite character in this strip. At least he has a personality.

'Treasure Hunt' (by Jack Anthony): This prose story continues from last issue, in which Hank and Tubby went looking in a cave for pirate treasure. In this chapter they encounter an escaped convict and capture him, which is about the least interesting place this story could have gone.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck is ambushed by crooks and framed for the murder of a ranch owner. I want to say that it's getting ridiculous how often people try to kill or frame this guy, but to be honest I'd probably do the same thing. Perhaps these crooks have been reading the same terrible stories I have?

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Terror from Saturn' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara encounters a strange invader from Saturn, and is transported to that planet as a typical specimen of mankind. Once there he proceeds to terrorise the king with his magical powers until he agrees to make peace with Earth. This is enjoyable as most Zatara stories are, and I was interested to see that the aliens look almost exactly like the Martian Manhunter.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 1939: Feature Comics #24

Cover by Ed Cronin

'Charlie Chan' (by Alfred Andriola): After the terrible first installment of this strip, 'Charlie Chan' redeems itself with a pretty decent story. Charlie is on a cruise ship trying to catch the infamous jewel thief Grissac, and there is no shortage of potential culprits. Normally I dislike it when a Golden Age comic introduces too many characters at once, but here I was able to follow things and keep track of everybody.  Perhaps I'm just happy because I picked out all the clues and pegged who Grissac was early on, but I quite enjoyed this.

'Rance Keane, the Knight of the West' (by Will Arthur): Rance Keane goes to see an old friend, who has returned from "The East" to run his father's ranch. But Rance figures out that it's an impostor, who has the real guy tied up in a shack. It's the standard "guy tries to steal other guy's ranch" routine, but it's well told, and the impostor angle isn't one that's been played much in the westerns so far.

'Jane Arden' (by Monte Barrett and Russell E. Ross): Crikey mick, everywhere I turn it's jewel thieves. Jane is hired to catch a jewel thief, and to do so she goes undercover as a crook to make contact with a notorious fence. This is a solid spy story.

'Big Top' (by Ed Wheelan): Hal wants to marry Myra, but the movie studio that he works for has a clause in his contract that he can't get married. The rest of the story is just them talking to the other circus folk about it, which isn't the most exciting thing in the world.

'The Clock Strikes' (by George E. Brenner): The Clock investigates a crook who has sold bad stocks, then murdered his customer after he complained to the police. This is one of those irritating stories where the good guy makes his plan and pulls it off with no difficulty whatsoever.  There's no dramatic tension at all.

'Gallant Knight' (by Vernon Henkel): Sir Neville's adventures take a fantastic turn, as he is kidnapped by a sexy witch in the forest and taken to toil in the mines of the Shadow World. By the end he has led a revolt and escaped. It could have been great, but it was lacking in that weird dream-like quality that the best Golden Age fantasy stuff has.  This is the last we see of 'Gallant Knight', so I assume he dies at some point during the Crusades.

'Slim and Tubby' (by John J. Welch): The ranch has boxing champ Davey Noyes as a guest, but after putting on a rowdy party he gets into a fight with local cowboy Benton. This is set-up for them to have a proper match in the next issue, but it didn't make me care who wins.

'Devil's Head' (by Robert M. Hyatt): In this prose story two brothers go sailing in a storm. Jed is burly and tough, while Derry is slighter and more sensitive. Jed is constantly at Derry for being a coward, but when their ship crashes Derry gives his life to save his brother and shows him what true courage is. This is actually really well done, and I did not see that end coming.

'Ned Brant' (by Bob Zuppke): Ned and his pals arrive at a gold mine, where his father and a couple of government agents meet them. It turns out that crooks are stealing gold from the mine, and Ned takes them down with his elite football skills. I'm developing an instant hatred for all of these sportsman adventurers.

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): The criminal Jules Reynard escapes to wreak havoc, and Reynolds goes after him. The end is great, as Reynard fires his gun at Reynolds's plane, while Reynolds just flies the burning plane right into the guy. Hardcore.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 1939: Superman Daily Strip #127-162

In this storyline, Superman investigates an orphanage that is being excessively cruel to the children.  Garth Ennis hit upon the perfect formula for Punisher stories during his run on the character: introduce some bad people, show us exactly why they need to die, then spend a good few issues showing the Punisher kill them all.  Siegel and Shuster, when doing their social crusader bit, hit upon a very similar formula for Superman some sixty years earlier.  In this story they introduce the orphanage and its owner, show him being really nasty to some lovable kids, then let Superman loose on him.  It works pretty well here, even though most of the story involves Clark Kent's investigations.  And Superman is fairly subdued as well.  He's been shown before to just haul off and wreck everything in sight, but here he just does a lot of sneaking around.  Even when he catches the guy in charge of the orphanage he knocks him out with a neck pinch; I was hoping he'd get punched through a glass window or something.  But even with a mellow Superman, this is pretty satisfying storytelling.

July 1939: Movie Comics #5

Cover probably by Jack Adler

'The Man in the Iron Mask' (by George Bruce and probably Jack Adler): This adaptation of the movie, itself an adaptation of Alexander Dumas's novel, is surprisingly quite fun to read . The problem with Movie Comics is the format itself (the comics are made up of airbrushed movie stills) rather than the stories, and this is proof that good source material can overcome the other limitations.

'Sun and Sand' (by Ed Wheelan): In the last issue, Gerald Crawford was a drunk whose fiancee left him, causing him to flee America to find himself. In this installment he becomes a crew member on a ship, meets a stowaway named Phil, and together they leave the ship in Algiers and join the French Foreign Legion. I had really enjoyed the first part of this story, and this was pretty good as well. I'm still surprised that the Ed Wheelan who created 'Terrors of the Tomb' could also make this.

'Movietown' (by Harry Lampert): The great Vom Hunger arrives in Hollywood, but everyone just dismisses him as a hobo. Meanwhile Horace Hope (who has been masquerading as Vom Hunger) is overheard by a reporter admitting that he's not really the great director at all. There are no laughs to be had here, just some plot progression.

'The Girl and the Gambler' (by Joseph Fields and probably Jack Adler): A mexican bandit makes a wager that he can woo a dancer named the Dove, but it turns out that she's in love with an American croupier. The bandit goes to great lengths to win his bet, including blackmail and an attempt to get the American killed. The resolution is clever, and it has a great closing panel.  (Which I really wanted to reproduce here, but I forgot to scan the picture.  Curses!)

'The Family Next Door' (by Mortimer Offner and probably Jack Adler): This is a comedy about a family that invests in some land only to find that it's worthless, only later to discover that it's not worthless after all. There are a couple of great panels in this thing, but it's full of unresolved subplots and has too many indistinguishable characters.

'5 Came Back' (by Jeremy Cady and probably Jack Adler): This one's about a plane full of different people that crash lands near the Amazon River. When headhunters come for them, they discover that the plane can now only take off with five passengers, so a bunch have to stay behind. And then they choose to commit suicide rather than face the headhunters! This is grim stuff, and I get the feeling that it could be a great movie. But it has too many characters in too short a span to work as a comic.

'Scream Test' (by Ken Fitch): It's another Booby Hatch prose story. In this one he films himself in a romantic scene with a dummy, and also films some athletics event to show to his friends. Of course there is a mix-up with the films, and supposed hilarity ensues.

'The House of Fear' (by Peter Milne and probably Jack Adler): This adaptation is about a detective investigating the mysterious murder of an actor in a theatre. It's another story with a huge cast and a small page count, a problem which this comic seems unable to avoid.

'The Oregon Trail' (by George Plympton and probably Jack Adler): This story continues from last issue. Jeff Scott is a cowboy investigating some missing wagon trains. The culprit is a gang led by a businessman named Morgan, and by the end of the story Scott is on a stagecoach that the bad guys have chased over a cliff. No matter where I go, the cowboy stories are terrible.

'Wolf Call' (by George Waggner and probably Jack Adler): A spoilt rich kid is sent north to Canada to oversee a radium mine, and a rival corporation does it's best to discourage him so that they can buy the mine themselves.  Stock standard stuff.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 1939: More Fun Comics #46

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Having rescued the commandant's daughter from kidnappers last issue, Wing leads a group of policeman back to their island to take them on. This is a solid yarn, with some naval adventure, a trek through the jungle, and a shootout. Tom Hickey really is one of the most dependable creators around at this time.

'Detective Sergeant Carey and the Mystery of the Missing Model' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey and Sleepy investigate the murder of an artist, who was involved in the smuggling of paintings and killed by his fellow smugglers. This one features one of my most-hated story conclusion, in which the hero summons back-up to deal with the baddies, but at least in this one he did so while in danger himself.

'Biff Bronson' (by Joseph Sulman): Biff and Dan are hired to protect some pearls on a cruise to England, but Biff is framed for the murder of their owner. Needless to say he has caught the culprit by the end. This isn't a great story, but as a good-natured adventure yarn it does well enough.

'Incident in China' (by Jack Anthony): This prose story continues from last issue, in which an American doctor in China is tasked with delivering a million dollars to a general to help him fight against an invading army. In this installment he evades the enemy soldiers and delivers the cash. The Golden Age doesn't really do twist endings.

'Gary Hawkes, Knight of the Skies' (by Rob Jenney): Gary takes on a gang of crooks who have been making their getaways in a light plane. The whole "crooks with planes" plot has been pretty common of late.  This is the last we see of Gary Hawkes, which is a very good thing.  I really don't need to read the adventures of the umpteenth nondescript aviator.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): In this installment we see the reign of James II of England. It's another dull illustrated textbook.

'Radio Squad' (by Siegel and Shuster): Sandy and Larry arrest a kid who is taking potshots with his rifle at the building across the street. After that is sorted out the shots start up again, but this time a crook is the culprit, trying to kill an enemy and get the kid to take the blame. This is well done, if a little obvious.

'The Flying Fox' (by Terry Gilkison): Rex Darrell is still going up against the same gang of sky pirates from last issue. In this installment he rescues an inventor from them, but their leader manages to escape. This is pretty tedious stuff.

'Cal an' Alec' (by Fred Schwab): Cal and Alec, still in the ghost town in Death Valley, fix up an old car and try to drive it back to civilisation. After a test drive they turn back to get their stuff, then crash because Cal didn't fix the brakes. Cal and Alec have been trapped in this town for so long that it's starting to feel like the island from Lost.

'Marg'ry Daw' (by Creators Unknown): Last issue Marg'ry and her father Luther were confronted by the Speaking Frog, who seems to just be a guy with a giant frog hat covering his head. Luther beats him up and unmasks him, but the mystery is not yet revealed to the reader. As usual this isn't very good, but the sheer weirdness of the Speaking Frog is sort of compelling.  But the mystery will never be resolved, because this is the strip's last appearance.  The weirdest thing is that nobody even seems to know who wrote and drew the damn thing.

'Lieut. Bob Neal in Peril' (by B. Hirsch and Russ Lehman): Bob stumbles across a mysterious submarine base in the Panama Canal, and blows it up, but by the end he doesn't know whose base it was. To be continued! This wasn't a great story by itself, but it sets up the mystery well enough.

'Sergeant O'Malley of the Red Coat Patrol' (by Jack Lehti): O'Malley goes up against some generic crooks in a generic story. It's generic.

'The Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): Dennis and his crew are thrown into the ocean by the evil Doctor Killmen, and have to survive. It's there.  (General sleepiness may have contributed to the last two reviews.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 1939: Detective Comics #30

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'The Batman' (by Bob Kane): After Batman witnessed his death in a fire last issue, Doctor Death returns with a scheme to steal some diamonds. It's kind of a low rent plan for a master criminal, but nevertheless I found myself enjoying Batman's investigation. Bob Kane has really figured out how to depict the character at this point, and the story is littered with iconic images. It's too bad that the story falls down a little bit at the end, with some out-of-left-field nonsense about Doctor Death being disguised as a jewellery fence. Still, not even that weak ending can ruin a story where Batman kicks a dude so hard his neck breaks.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming); This month Buck investigates two ranch owners, Morgan and Vail, who are feuding because Vail is stealing Morgan's cattle. It turns out that neither is to blame, and that the local gambling den owner is setting it up so that he can kill Vail and take his ranch. This is standard Buck Marshall material, but what makes it extra shitty is that the whole thing hinges on Slade trying to frame Morgan for shooting Vail.  Slade forgets that Morgan has no trigger finger on his right hand, EXCEPT THAT MORGAN IS POINTING AT VAIL WITH THAT FINGER IN THE VERY FIRST PANEL HE APPEARS IN. That is some amateur-hour bullshit right there.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): Bart takes on a mad scientist who is using a mind control machine to manipulate politicians so that he can become the despotic ruler of the USA. This is a fairly dull story with none of the charm that this strip used to have. I don't care about the mad scientist's plot, I just want to know where Sally has gone. You know, Bart's fiancee, who he made out with on the last panel of every story? She's gone, completely, and it's lame that they did it with no explanation at all.

'Larry Steele, Private Detective' (by Will Ely): Larry gets shot by a pair of bank robbers, who go on to commit a bunch more robberies until Larry finally catches them. It's as boring as it sounds.

'Shadowed' (by Frank Thomas): This prose story is about a detective who is investigating a gang of counterfeiters. He is captured, but manages to escape and arrest them. The villains in this story have got to be the most stupidly over-confident dummies that I've read in this blog so far. I understand that it's the whole point of the story, but there's only so far you can go before it becomes irritating.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator and the Crossbow Mystery' (by Fred Guardineer): Speed investigates the murder of a writer. This guy was also a collector of old weapons, and was killed by a crossbow. It turns out the maid did it, as she'd just been named in the will, and thought that the weapons would be worth thousands of dollars. Speed arrests her and claims that she killed for nothing, because the whole collection was worthless. Sure thing Speed, a 13th century crossbow and an ancient Aztec sacrificial dagger is of no monetary value whatsoever.

'Bruce Nelson and the Racketeers' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce takes on a gang of Chinese tea racketeers, and leads their rivals as they hijack the latest shipment and throw it in the ocean in a reenactment of the Boston Tea Party. This is alright, but let down at the end when it completely glosses over the climactic action scenes in a single caption.

'Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo gets involved with a guy who is being sent threatening notes if he doesn't send his blackmailers $200,000. It turns out that the guy is faking the notes and trying to escape with his insurance money. It's a bit more cleverly told than the average Cosmo story.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): After the classic Slam Bradley opening of him punching some random crooks, Slam and Shorty see a woman being dragged off to an insane asylum. Slam decides to investigate, and he goes back to another old standby when he decides that Shorty will have to act crazy until he gets thrown into the looney bin. It's very funny stuff, even if it does slip into cliche when we learn that the owner of the asylum wants the girl to die so that he can inherit her fortune. There's even a little bit of Siegel and Shuster's patented social crusading, when we're shown the way the patients are mistreated. It's played for laughs, but there's no doubting what the creators feel about the situation.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 1939: Adventure Comics #41; All-American Comics #6

Cover by Leo O'Mealia

'Sandman' (by Larry Dean): The Sandman takes on a narcotics gang on a ship, Under Siege style, while protecting a plucky girl reporter. The only thing that the Sandman really has going for him is a cool visual, but in this story he spends most of the time shirtless in a scuba mask.  It doesn't quite have that same noir effect.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): With Barry missing and presumed dead, Inspector LeGrand and his French accent take centre stage. LeGrand is in Tunis, and the French fleet is about to arrive, so he investigates a suspicious salvage ship and finds an old enemy aboard. He's captured, and about to be thrown from a plane when the strip ends. I confess to not really following this strip; I've let my reading slide in the last couple of weeks, and I'm finding that I can't remember what was going on in previous installments. Even so, I felt that this story was lacking without Barry there to drive it.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and the Shuster Shop):  Hmmm, it looks like Joe Shuster is getting busy enough that he needs to hire some flunkies to pencil his non-Superman strips.  It still has a similar feel to Shuster's work, so that's okay.  This one has a cracking start, as a whole city drops dead during a snowstorm. Steve Carson is sent to investigate, and discovers that the culprit is a religious fanatic using poison gas to scare people into following him and donating money. It's a shame that such a great opening led to a fairly boring conclusion.

'Jack Woods' (by Jim Chambers): In this story Jack stumbles across a gang of bank robbers. They  have kidnapped the son of an old guy named Stomp, who is supposed to play the fiddle at the dance that night. The robbers want him to play a certain song while the sheriff is on  the dance floor, so they know when the best time is to rob the bank. This one is to be continued next month, but short of the Infinity Gauntlet showing up I can't see this keeping my interest.

'Socko Strong' (by Joseph Sulman): Socko and Jerry joined an island tribe last month. In this story Socko beats up the toughest tribesman and wins the chief's daughter, but his refusal to marry her sees them condemned to death. They escape with the aid of a movie projector, and end up on the Flying Dutchman, the famous ghost ship. This isn't great, but I do enjoy the way it bounces from island tribesmen to spooky ghost ship without missing a beat. It is a bit ludicrous that Socko would rather die than be married to a hot island girl, though.  Dude has issues.

'Don Coyote' (by Fred Schwab): Don Coyote's friend from the 20th century is still trying to invent modern technology in the middle ages.This month he's trying to make a radio. I'd been enjoying this series, but this story's lame punchline was less than impressive.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo is called in to investigate some attacks on British army bases in India. It turns out to be the work of the Thuggees, a fanatical religious cult who were in an awesome Indiana Jones movie. This one rollicks along nicely, with a fun pace and intriguing villains. It's not bad.

'Quest in India' (by Terry Keane): This prose story is about a professor and his buddies who go in search of a hidden temple in India. There is the usual shenanigans in which one of their servants is murdered by the forces trying to stop them from reaching the temple. This continues next month, and it uses the cliches entertainingly enough to pique my interest.

'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Bart Tumey): Wow. This strip starts as a standard tale of espionage, as Don Kerry and Red are kidnapped by master spy Sin Yen for the secrets to America's radio-controlled torpedo. My attention was slightly roused when Sin Yen unleashed his man-ape hybrid, and Don smashed a table over its head. Then shit gets real, as Sin Yen lets loose his BOA-SPIDER. Half snake, half spider. It's creepy, it's awesome, and it's so cool that when the vicious Octo-dile  (half crocodile, half octopus) appears a page later it's kind of underwhelming. But this story is a hoot.

'Skip Schuyler' (by Tom Hickey): Skip is called to help an old friend, a farmer whose community is being targeted by cattle rustlers (oh no!). These rustlers are using a plane to herd the cattle to the highway, where a group waits to drive them into cages. It's a well-executed plan, but Skip puts a stop to it by blowing up their plane. Everyone acts like this has solved the problem, but seriously, this is a gang of cattle rustlers that shoot people with tommy guns. They're a serious outfit, and I've no doubt they can afford another plane.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Rusty and his pals, having just escaped from an exploding island, spend a few days at sea before being rescued and taken to London. They get a brief interlude before the opium ring leader Chen Fu decides to get revenge on them for killing Long Sin. This isn't terrible, but it's a bit disheartening when one villain dies and another who is exactly the same steps in.

'Cotton Carver and the Land of Thule' (by Gardner Fox and George Newman): Carver is still trying to find his way to the surface of Earth. In this chapter he finds himself in the city of Thule, where he must slay the evil Scarlet Seeress with the magic sword Malar. It's standard 'chosen one' fantasy stuff, but they're the kinds of stories I grew up on. This one cracks along at a good pace, and I enjoyed it.

Cover by Sheldon Mayer

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): Red, Whitey and Blooey spend this strip trying to stop some Japanese spies from sabotaging a dam. Normally this strip is a fun romp, and for the most part this story lives up to that, but it almost falls down by hinging on a staggering coincidence when Doris West just happens to say exactly the password the spies were looking for. It's not enough to completely ruin the story, but it's exactly the sort of lazy convenience that irritates me.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Ben and Pat Ented are still going around town using their thought recorder to stir up trouble. This was a lot of fun last time, but at this point the law of diminishing returns has set in. Things pick up later when the projector's plans are stolen, but it does seem like a fairly tired place for the plot to go.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): Wiley thwarts some guys trying to fix his baseball match, and also hangs out with the girlfriend of his rival Baxter. If there's a point to this strip I'm completely missing it.

'Adventures in the Unknown: The Mystery Men of Mars' (by Carl Claudy): Ted, Alan and their robot helper Elmer all escape from Mars, and most of this story is about their trip back to Earth. There's a spot of drama with their re-entry, but by the end they've landed in the ocean and a boat is there to pick them up. This is all fairly dull after the bizarre goings-on in previous installments.

'The American Way' (by John B. Wentworth and Walter Galli): Martin Gunther, German immigrant in America, through honesty and hard work builds his cabinet-making store into the largest factory in the county. The whole purpose of this strip is to show how great the ideals of America are, and I'm utterly allergic to this sort of patriotism (not just American patriotism, either; I hate it here in Australia as well). This just isn't the kind of story that I'm ever going to like.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Elby): Last month Hop rescued a girl named Geraldine from a forest fire. This month she's kidnapped by goons who want to blackmail her rich father. Hop rescues her in some weird helicopter/plane/car thing. This is boring, and made even boringer by the promise that Hop will be baby-sitting Geraldine next month as well. Yay?

'Bobby Thatcher' (by George Storm): Bobby and his friends escape in a boat from the old man trying to get their map, but in the fog they are hit by a steamboat. That's what those kids get for starring in a crappy comic.

'Spot Savage, the All-American Newshound' (by Harry Lampert): The Duchess, international master thief, is beaten when a fat guy faints and falls on him. The end.

'Criminal's End' (George Shute): In this prose story Phil and Jimmy are investigating saboteurs who are trying to destroy a US naval ship. This one pours the pro-American, pro-Democracy stuff on really heavily. Before I found Jimmy's uber-patriotism kind of charming, but it's really getting to me here. This one continues next month, and I hope that there's more plot and less flag-waving.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly has been mistaken for a famous midget cartoonist by the local newspaper editor, but ends up coming clean and becomes the first famous kid cartoonist. It was a lot funnier with the midget angle, to be honest.

'Popsicle Pete, the Typical American Boy' (by Art Helfant): Pete, who last issue won a contest, spends this story touring around New York and meeting the famous boxer Jack Dempsey. Then he goes home. Wake me if an actual story shows up.