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.


  1. For another take on Marvel Comics #1 -

  2. Seems like you were a bit less enthusiastic about this comic than I was, especially regarding the Human Torch. You also pay extra attention to the art, which admittedly is a failing of mine; I tend to focus on the story over the visuals. I'll be checking out some more of your blog, for certain.