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.

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