Sunday, August 14, 2011

September 1939: All-American Comics #8; Detective Comics #32

Cover by Jon Blummer

'Gary Concord, The Ultra-Man' (by Jon Blummer): Awesome, it's a new superhero! In the year 2239, Gary Concord Jr. takes the position of High Moderator of the USA, which I think makes him like a cross between the President and Superman. The position was created by his father, who we are told brought about world peace, and after Junior accepts he gets to read about his dad's true history.

Gary Concord Sr. was born during World War I, a war in which both of his parents were killed. After vowing as a child to wipe out war, he spends all of his time becoming the best damn war-monger there ever was, seeking to learn the ways of his enemy before taking it down. In 1950, another World War breaks out while Gary is in his bunker devising a chemical so deadly that it will force everyone to make peace. His bunker is bombed, the deadly chemicals mix, and as they flow towards him he writes the 'Formula for Peace'. It turns out the chemicals don't kill him, only put him to sleep for a very long time, and grant him super-strength. The story ends as Gary starts to explore the USA of the future.

This was a hell of a lot of fun. It's hard to believe that this is by the same guy as 'Hop Harrigan'.  I'm looking forward to the goofy president/super-hero angle to come in future stories, and Gary Sr.'s origin is pure pulp sci-fi. His methods seem idiotic to me, but I wonder if they were indicative of theories at the time. Certainly his creation of a deadly super-chemical to force peace on everyone is absurd, yet not so different to how the fear of nuclear armageddon affected the Cold War.

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): In this story Red and Blooey (minus Whitey, who doesn't appear at all) help Doris West investigate a plot by the Black Cross to sabotage a new submarine. The Black Cross are thinly veiled analogues to US Nazi sympathizers, and they're a bad bunch. After they capture Doris they spend most of the story burning her toes with matches.  It isn't shown at all, but the implication of it is enough to make them amongst the worst villains seen yet. Red does most of the action here, saving the submarine, chasing down the Black Cross ringleaders, rescuing Doris and even making heart-eyes at her. This is a very solid and entertaining adventure story.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Blummer): While Wash and Ikky fly a cargo of nitro-glycerin, Hop and Gerry get into a dog-fight with smugglers who are trying to shoot them down. You know you've got a good issue of All-American Comics when even Hop Harrigan is decent.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): Remember the suspense last issue, when Wiley had a loose button on his coat, just as the Lubanian General Pomposo was about to visit? In this chapter he's sent to his room, teased mercilessly by his peers, and then throws a bucket of water on Pomposo thinking that it's his fellow soldiers. Against my better judgement I even liked this one. Either All-American Comics is now great, or I'm just in an insanely good mood.  (Also, Pomposo is a really cool name.)

'Adventures in the Unknown' (by Carl H.Claudy and Stan Aschmeier): Professor Lazar shows Ted and Alan his time machine (or as he calls it a "Tempomobile"), but gets so excited that he has a stroke and dies. His Chinese manservant insists that Ted and Alan continue Lazar's quest to travel through time, which they do. This is a transitional chapter, something I generally don't get excited by, and the depiction of the Chinese manservant isn't helping matters. But I'm still looking forward to what's to come.

'Popsicle Pete' (by Sheldon Mayer): Pete and his friends decide to start a radio station, but learn they need $100 for a license. Ho hum.  It's pretty obvious to me that Sheldon Mayer is putting his effort into 'Scribbly'.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly has a new teacher, and gets in trouble when he draws an unflattering cartoon of her in the newspaper. This was fairly cliched until the principal got involved and had some good lines.  I've discovered that 'Scribbly' has been reprinted a lot more than it's contemporary humour strips (at least the ones in the comic books), and it's easy to see why.  A lot of its jokes still hold up.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Ben's scientist friend Pat Ented opens a school in which he hopes to take six delinquent kids and turn them good through kindness. Shenanigans ensue.  It's pretty easy to see where this is going, but it's not terrible so far.

'Syndicate of Schemes' (by George Shute): In this prose story, Jimmy and Phil find a dead body.  There's a bit more stuff going on, but that's what it amounts to. It's continued next month, but so far it hasn't engaged me at all. The most notable thing is a plug for Movie Comics, which is already cancelled.  The axe must have fell on that series very unexpectedly.

'The American Way' (by John B. Wentworth and Walter Galli): Last month Karl's son was deciding whether to enlist to fight in World War I. This chapter is all about that debate, with his mother saying he shouldn't be going to fight their own German people. In the end he decides he must, because the family is American now. I can't say I'm happy to see any pro-war patriotic sentiments in a story, especially when that story is also urging people to cast off their heritage.  It's not badly told, but any story of this kind has an uphill battle in getting me to like it.

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Batman' (by Gardner Fox and Bob Kane): We left Batman last issue on the trail of the Monk, who had kidnapped Batman's fiancee and taken her to Hungary. Batman defeats the Monk in this story, and it turns out that he is a vampire. Or a werewolf, the story claims both things at various times. This one isn't quite so gripping as the last chapter, but the Monk is still a good villain. He'd be great if he could figure out what monster he's supposed to be.  This is the first time we see Batman use a gun, as he kills the sleeping vampires with silver bullets.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): Bart takes on a group of spies who are sabotaging the US navy in a fairly dull adventure. I've talked before about how I miss Bart's fiancee Sally in  this strip. In this one he rubs it in by talking about taking "his girl" to see a movie. Either he's moved on with another woman, or he's still with Sally and she's not allowed to be a spy any more. I can't say I'm happy with either prospect.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): Buck Marshall investigates a group of cattle smugglers who are paying for cattle with counterfeit bills. Weak and predictable as usual.

'Larry Steele, Private Detective' (by Ken Ernst): Larry deals with a fortune hunter who tries to kill a wealthy heiress who spurned his proposal. The culprit is obviously guilty from his first appearance, and his stupidity in revealing his guilt has to be seen to be believed.

'Vanishing Gems' (by Gardner Fox): A detective discovers that a man is stealing jewels from a jewelry factory by firing them out of the window with a slingshot. It's actually kind of an ingenious plan.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator and the Skull-Face Cult' (by Fred Guardineer): Speed goes up against Skull-Face, a weird cult leader who is selling lethal beauty products to wealthy heiresses after taking their money. He's kind of rad with his skull mask and inexplicable giant ape servant. Fred Guardineer can come up with some intriguing stories and situations, but his dialogue is terrible.

'Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo tackles a group of criminals who are killing public figures with ice bullets, which melt after entering the body. Sorry Cosmo, not even your absurd ice bullets can make you interesting enough to care about.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce Nelson investigates the murder of a notorious playboy, who it turns out had a lot of gambling debts. This is about the only strip in here where some real detective work gets done, as opposed to the half-arsed "jump to conclusions" and "follow hunches" methods that the other detectives use. It makes a big difference, but the story is let down by the villain's weak capitulation at the end.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): Slam is hired by a hotel manager to rid his hotel of ghosts, but it turns out that the whole thing was a practical joke being played on Slam. The story was entertaining enough, but it was an incredibly weak ending.  I can't believe Slam didn't punch the hell out of that hotel owner at the end.

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