Wednesday, August 10, 2011

September 1939: Adventure Comics #43

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'The Sandman' (by Bert Christman): When Wesley Dodd goes vacationing to a lonely island in the south seas he gets caught up in the conflict between some pearl fisherman and the native head-hunters. He's barely in this to be honest. Most of the story focuses on the pearl fishermen and their desperate battle against the savage hordes, with the Sandman showing up at the end to strafe the natives in his plane and save the day. It's quite good, in large part due to the art. Christman uses a lot of large, bold panels for the action scenes, and it makes all the difference from the usual cramped Golden Age style.

Despite this entertaining installment, it seems to me that the Sandman strip is struggling to find its identity. It started as pulp noir, with the trench-coated detective solving street level crimes. Now he's an aviator getting involved in exotic island adventures, his trench-coat swapped for a sleek wetsuit. He was a lot more distinctive in his original incarnation.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): A mysterious masked man is bombing Paris landmarks and demanding money, and Barry and Inspector LeGrand are called in to investigate. Barry is on fire in this story. He calculates mathematically that the machine being used to blow up the buildings must be at the Eiffel Tower. He demonstrates his powerful singing voice by shattering a glass. He even identifies that an anonymous letter was written by "an Oriental" - a typed letter in flawless English, no less! It turns out that the culprit is Barry's arch-enemy Fang Gow, and he's thrown in jail by the end of the story. This really rings false to me, because last time he was the villain it was a 40 part serial, which is a fucking big deal. You don't throw the guy's return away in a one-shot.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Wayne Boring): Steve Carson investigates a case of poisoned cough medicine, and finds that the culprit is an employee who has been hired by a rival company. It's adequate enough, but Boring's art is still a little rough.  It should be noted, though, that the villain is killed by falling into a vat of boiling cough syrup.

'Test Dive' (by Terry Keane): In this prose story a submarine blows up during its first test drive, and a young lieutenant makes it to the surface to a rescue ship so that the crew can be saved. It's rudimentary at best.

'Socko Strong' (by Joseph Sulman): Last month Socko and his friends were investigating an island of prehistoric creatures. This chapter starts off awesomely with a man-eating stegosaurus, but then wastes the rest of the story with the characters running from earthquakes and rockslides. Needs more dinosaurs.

'Don Coyote of the 16th Century' (by Fred Schwab): Don and his 20th century buddy get ousted by the old king, and sail off to adventure in Africa. It's a transitional strip, and not a particularly funny one.  Oh, hold on, it's not transitional, it's the end.  No more Don Coyote, who has been with us from very close to the beginning.  It's no great loss at this point, but there was a time when this was my favourite humour strip. That was several creators ago, as this strip swapped hands a number of times.  Under Schwab it was alright, but never a stand-out.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo and Gabby investigate some missing planes in the Bay of Bengal. The build-up is very good here, as Desmo lands on a skull-shaped island, finds some arrow-riddled corpses, and is followed by vultures. It gets a little more pedestrian once he's taken in by Count Ogreoff and his pygmies, who plan to hunt him for sport. To be continued! In this story's defense, this is the first time that I've seen "The Most Dangerous Game" used as a plot in the Golden Age.

'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Bart Tumey): Don and Red go up against a devil-worshipping doctor and the tribesmen he has tricked into serving him. It's not as good as it sounds. Don beats him by using some magic tricks of his own to get the natives on his side, in a sub-par story.

'Skip Schuyler' (by Tom Hickey): When movie star Lorraine Brent comes to Fort Morrison to shoot a movie, Skip is unimpressed. But during a speedboat stunt she is knocked out, and he goes to her rescue, and they make out James Bond style. It's a nice change of pace.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Last month Steve was captured by Chen Fu, and placed under a big scythe that's about to cut him in half. In this chapter he escapes, kills a bunch of henchmen, and meets up with Rusty. One thing that Bob Kane does well that pretty much no-one else is doing at this time is blow-by-blow fight scenes. A lot of other artists gloss over these things in a single panel, but Kane draws them out, and as such his fight scenes are really entertaining.

'Cotton Carver: The Revolt of the Pirates' (by Gardner Fox and Ogden Whitney): In the nation of Marlanda, Cotton Carver helps King Marl fight of a rebellion by bombing the hell out of his enemies. A lot of potentially exciting stuff happens, but it's very dry in its execution.

As a side note, I just realised that every page was in colour.  This is a pretty big deal, as most of the Golden Age comics have a middle section full of black-and-white comics, or pages where the only colour on them is varying shades of red.  I kind of liked it, as a way of identifying which strips the editors thought were the crap ones.  But it's also nice to see everything in colour.

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