Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August 1929: Smash Comics #3

Cover possibly by Gill Fox

'Espionage starring Black Ace' (by Will Eisner): Once again Eisner begins his story with a war montage, depicting the current strife in Europe. When the president sends out freighters to bring all US citizens home for their own safety, an unnamed foreign nation decides to sink them as part of its plan to seize Alaska (I'm not sure how that works, but I'll let it slide). The Black Ace infiltrates the submarine crew assigned to destroy the ships, and with the help of another American he takes control of the sub.  This is a cracking good yarn. The backdrop of World War II gives it a sense of real urgency, the action set pieces are great, and there's some pathos as well with the sacrifice of Ace's American buddy. This is really good stuff. (Also, Black Ace takes on the submarine crew while shirtless and wearing a monocle. He's rad.)

'Chic Carter, Ace Reporter' (by Vernon Henkel): Chic is sent to Mongolia to find Dennis Courtney, a missing millionaire sportsman. It turns out that he is being held for ransom by a Mongolian warlord. Chic rescues him in a fast-paced action story that's reasonably fun.

It's interesting that these two stories have both been set around real-world events. The previous story was rooted in the war in Europe, and this one features the Japanese occupation of China. It's a far cry from DC's use of fakes and analogues.

'Abdul the Arab' (by Vernon Henkel): Abdul rescues a British man (who has the formula for the strongest metal known to man) from an Arab warlord. There are some weird story-telling glitches in this that mar an otherwise adequate story.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by William A. Smith): Cook investigates a robbery, which turns out to be the work of a mad scientist and his ape. This being the Golden Age, the ape has been given a human brain, and can talk and wear clothes. Despite some entertaining trappings, this story is a mess. The guy whose house was robbed is prominently set up to take a role in the story, but then never appears. The mad scientist starts banging on about a lost airmail pilot who had never been mentioned before, and has a death ray out of nowhere. Cook's investigation doesn't flow logically at all. It's all over the place.

'Invisible Justice' (by Art Pinajian): Invisible Justice goes up against a gang of crooks who are using a submarine to rob ships in New York harbour. This is mediocre at best, but Invisible Justice's new invisibility power makes it a bit livelier than his stories have been previously.

'Clip Chance at Cliffside' (by George Brenner): Since beginning this blog, I have developed a seething hatred for cowboys, ranches and mounties. I can safely add footballers to the list. In this story Clip is selected in the team at the expense of Ray Snort, who tricks him into going out after curfew, where he is seen by the coach and suspended. There's also a subplot about crooks trying to steal Clip's playbook so that they can use the inside knowledge to bet on the game. I zoned out around the time of the first forward pass. Alas, the story continues next month.

'John Law, Scientective' (by Harry Francis Campbell): John Law! Scientective! Law is a detective who uses science to solve his crimes. In this story he investigates some murders at an airport, where planes have been exploding. The general manager turns out to be the culprit, but he has no apparent motivation at all. There's also a mysterious gunman in the story who shoots anyone who knows too much about the murders, but he's not caught by the end. The whole thing feels unsatisfying.  (Any relation between John Law and Johnnie Law, the detective who appeared in More Fun Comics and was last seen being blown up by a bomb, is probably coincidental. Though I wouldn't be surprised if Roy Thomas has linked them at some point.)

'Mystery at Catalina part 3' (by Jeffrey Spain): This story finally finishes, as the old Chinese man Sun Wang helps stop a gang of crooks who are using a fake movie shoot as a cover for their dope smuggling. The supposed hero, Tony, does bugger all. This is okay, but it's certainly been stretched out over too many issues.

'Wings Wendall of the Military Intelligence' (by Vernon Henkel): Wendall infiltrates the organisation of the Hooded Terror (who looks a hell of a lot like Cobra Commander), and stops his plan to blow up the Panama Canal. This is average stuff, even if the villain does look cool.

'Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man' (by George Brenner): Hugh and Bozo the robot deal with some spies who have stolen the plans to a new torpedo bomb. This is okay, and it's livened up considerably by an aerial dogfight between the crooks and Bozo. If only the robot didn't have such a stupid name I might enjoy this strip more.


  1. It seems you breezed through John Law too quickly to give it the credit it deserves. This was pt. 1 of an ongoing serial pitting John against The Avenger. The general manager, like the mechanic who attacked John in his office, was a patsy of The Avenger. Though it's true that we never learn how The Avenger made the manager his patsy, we do know that the mechanic was being blackmailed, so the manager was probably being coerced in a similar fashion.

  2. And, yes, Espionage was totally rad.

  3. Yeah, it took me a while to figure out that John Law was an ongoing serial. In my defense it's usually past midnight when I read these things, and with about ten stories in each comic there's a lot to keep track of. I think I give this strip some better attention as it progresses.