Tuesday, September 20, 2011

November 1939: Feature Comics #28

Cover by Ed Cronin

'Captain Fortune in the Days of the Spanish Main' (by Vernon Henkel): Fortune gets into fight with some pirates in a tavern, and his crewman Pierre is killed. For the rest of the strip he chases the pirates and their leader Captain Clegg, then kills them for revenge. It's as rudimentary as it gets, but at least Fortune has a believable motivation.

'Ned Brant' (by Bob Zuppke): This month Ned is playing ice hockey, and loses the game for his team when he is sent off for punching another player. Isn't punching other players kind of the point of ice hockey these days? Anyway, this was not good.  The only thing I liked about it was that ice hockey hasn't really been touched on before this.

'Rance Keane, the Knight of the West' (by William A. Smith): Rance stops a gang of bank robbers who had staged a diversion to get all the men out of town while they committed their crimes. His new sidekick Pee Wee sleeps through the whole thing, which is hardly the best argument for his introduction.

'The Clock Strikes' (by George Brenner): When D.A. Dan Nolen spends a page promising his wife that he'll retire, there's only one possible outcome:

The Clock proves that Nolen's assistant was bribed to kill him, in a story that I got little enjoyment out of aside from the gleefully cliched death at the start.

'Jane Arden' (by Monte Barrett and Russell E. Ross): Jane is still undercover as a jewel thief's partner, but he's starting to suspect that she's double-crossing him. I honestly can't believe that this story is still going.

'The Dollman' (by Will Eisner): Dollman goes up against Dr. Rodent, a crook who is blowing up cargo ships with bombs carried by rats, then collecting the silver and gold from the bottom of the ocean. This is okay, and it does feature a scene of the Dollman fighting against said explosive-laden rats that looks great.

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): Reynolds deals with some crooks who are smuggling weapons into Canada. So, so boring.

'Barrel Rolls and Tail Spins' (by A.L. Allen): This prose story begins promisingly, with the meeting of a cautious boy and a reckless pilot, but the second half devolves into cliche, with a gang of smugglers. The two halves of the story never really mesh together.

'Slim and Tubby' (by John J. Welch): Benton is booked into another boxing match for the money he needs to save the ranch. It's well worn material.

'Charlie Chan' (by Alfred Andriola): When heiress Donna Grant is kidnapped, Charlie must go undercover as a cook to infiltrate the gang. I was already thinking this story was too long when I got to the "to be continued" caption.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

November 1939: Marvel Mystery Comics #3

'The Human Torch' (by Carl Burgos): The Torch has to stop agents from Mars from stealing the formula for a new type of TNT. But when he discovers that the Martians need the explosive to save their planet, he lets them take it. Like most Marvel stories this is dynamic and action-packed, and it also has a very lengthy chase sequence in the middle. But the Torch has become a fairly bland character. He was much more interesting as a hunted outcast than a respected hero.

'The Angel' (by Paul Gustavson): The Angel must rescue a girl from a voodoo cult. The Angel is also a pretty bland character, but he has the advantage of being a pure human wrecking machine. Sometimes in my comics I just want to see a guy punch some people who deserve it, and the Angel does a lot of that here. He also has a pretty good costume by the standards of the time.

'Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner' (by Bill Everett): With Namor still lurking in the New York harbour, the police decide to lure him into a trap with a pretty girl. Enter lady cop Betty Dean, who actually succeeds in getting Namor's attention. But while he is dragging her out to sea, he stumbles across a naval battle between the US and Germany, and just starts wrecking the German fleet. Betty tries to convince Namor to help the Allies on a more permanent basis, and we'll see his answer next issue.

Namor is still an interesting guy, and his motivations haven't changed much in the last 70 years; he's still a sucker for a pretty girl. Even so, I hope this isn't the last we've seen of him as a villain, because I was hoping for a lot more stories of Namor vs. humanity.

'The Masked Raider' (by Al Anders): A gang of crooks tries to scare off some ranchers whose land has valuable gold and oil deposits. The Masked Raider stops them in exactly the sort of story I was sick of back in December, when I started this project.

'American Ace' (by Paul J. Lauretta): Perry Wade rescues a woman during a bombing raid, then flies her to her sister and grandfather's farm. When he tries to leave himself, he is shot down and badly hurt, and must be nursed back to health.  At times this feels like it wants to be a serious war comic, but it's full of fake countries and situations that undercut the tone.  This is the last American Ace story, and I'm going to imagine him a happy ending where he marries the woman he rescued and has a peaceful life on the farm.  You know, once the whole World War 2 thing blows over.

'Siegfried Suicide' (by David C. Cooke): The only American soldier in a company single-handedly takes out a bunker, allowing his allies to win an important ally. The end quite sickeningly states that he's better than all of the others, because he's American. Dreadful.

'Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great' (by Ben Thompson): Ka-Zar stops a white hunter from capturing animals, and fights off a vengeful leopard. It's not particularly interesting.  There's some foreshadowing for the return of the guy who killed Ka-Zar's parents, but he's another generic white hunter type, so it's not like the story will be significantly different.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

November 1939: Superman Daily Strip #163-258

This story ran in the newspapers from July 24th to November 11th.  In it Superman must protect the visiting royalty of Rangoria from assassination by terrorists from their own country.  It's a basic set-up, but where this succeeds is in the myriad subplots it introduces.  Not only must Superman stop the assassination of Princess Nadia, but he ends up saving her publicly as Clark Kent as well.  This leads to him being forced by the assassins to help them, and of course the usual misunderstandings with Lois Lane result.

Speaking of Lois, she's acting almost like a normal human being in this story.  She even goes so far as to invite Clark on a date, which is a startling turnaround from her usual attitude, but things go quickly back to normal when he has to duck out in secret as Superman.  There are added complications from Princess Nadia, who is also madly in love with Superman.  The romantic entanglements are enough to fill a decent-sized story, but thankfully there's also time for Superman to punch terrorists and throw tree trunks at cars.

If I have one criticism, it's the same one I levelled at Siegel's 'Red, White and Blue' story in All-American Comics earlier today: his women can be completely irrational.  When Superman tells the princess that he has no time for romance in his quest for justice, she flips out and tries to stab him with a knife.  And then, well...  I'm going to have to post this one.

Superman's forgotten power: super-spanking.  And of course she's still in love with him afterwards.  Yes, the past is an alien landscape, folks.

November 1939: All-American Comics #10, Double Action Comics #2

Cover by Sheldon Mayer

'Red, White and Blue' (by Jerry Siegel and William A. Smith): With the aid of machinery that can create lightning anywhere in the city, a mysterious figure known as the Master takes over New York, and places it under the rule of fascists and Nazis. Red has to infiltrate the city, and together with Doris capture the Master.

This strip is quickly becoming a vehicle for Red to be the action hero, with the others just hanging around while he does everything. There's also an incredibly chauvinistic attitude running through the whole thing, as Red dismisses everything that Doris says. Admittedly she says some stupid things, but it's weird that such a formerly cool and competent character is suddenly wanting to look at hats in the middle of a war zone. The story almost redeems itself at the end when she defeats the Master, but then undercuts it when she claims she'd have been helpless without Red.  I was enjoying this for its apocalyptic atmosphere, but the sexual politics going on here are pretty awful.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): Wiley is exonerated of his court-martial, and then goes on to fight Baxter in a boxing championship. I can't quite figure out why I don't hate this strip anymore.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Elby): Last issue Hop had to fly a sick sailor to hospital, leaving Gerry behind on the ship with a poet. Hop my young man, here's a nugget of wisdom for you: never trust a poet with your girl.  He succeeds in his mission and returns for her, only to find that he has to take the poet back with him as well. Again, Hop is angry, and all the more interesting for it. It's a sad state of affairs when I'm more interested in the romances than the action.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Ben and Professor Mattix are still trying to teach reform school kids to be good, and Ben's latest idea is to give them classes in boxing, wrestling and baseball taught by world champions. The idea works, and everything is going well until the neighbours decide they don't want young crooks in the neighbourhood. It's alright, but I don't buy that the kids would use their free time to study reading and maths.

'Popsicle Pete' (by Sheldon Mayer): Pete and his friends draw in lots of business playing music in an Italian restaurant, and the owner offers to buy them the radio broadcasting license they want. I was amused by the owner continually jacking up the price of his spaghetti as more people came in, but that's about it.

'Adventures in the Unknown: A Thousand Years a Minute' (by Carl H. Claudy and Stan Aschmeier): Ted and Alan are still in prehistoric times, where they help a caveman recover from a leg wound, shoot a triceratops in the eye, and throw a poisoned piglet into a giant snake's mouth. There's not a lot of cohesion to what's going on, but I'm still enjoying it well enough.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly's editor sends him to a farm for his Christmas vacation, and his brother follows by air mail. Again, this is just mildly amusing.

'Death's Playground' (by George Shute): Phil and Jimmy go undercover in a factory to root out a saboteur. This is fairly uneventful, and the gripping cliffhanger is a description of how a lie detector works.

'The American Way' (by John Wentworth and Walter Galli): As Martin Gunther and his wife celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, their grandson decides to join a Nazi youth movement. When Martin goes to stop him, one of the young Nazis hits him on the head and kills him. I was all set to compliment this tragic ending, until the last panel ended with a rendition of 'The Star Spangled Banner'.  Too much cheese and patriotism for my tastes.

'Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man' (by Jon L. Blummer): Gary Concord is trying to find the secret of his father's formula for peace, but his enemies are after it as well. He's outfoxed by a very sexy lady named Stella Tor, and when he goes to retrieve the formula she attacks with poison gas. This was slow to get going, but the cliffhanger is a good one.

 Cover by John Richard Flanagan, reprinted from
Adventure Comics #37

Double Action Comics #2 is something of a curiosity.   First off, I have no idea where the numbering continues from.  DC did a good bit of retitling of books in their early days, but their line was very stable by 1939.  I don't have a copy of this comic, but a bit of research tells me that it's a reprint book featuring some strips that were cancelled a fair while ago.  I'm talking about things like 'Sandra of the Secret Service', 'Dr. Occult', and the interminable cowboy strip 'Jack Woods'.  There are things in here that I can barely remember, and I was only reading this stuff six months ago.  And given the intensely serial nature of early DC comics, I have no idea what the audience for this one-off reprint book would be.  What do you do with a single part of Sven Elven's adaptation of 'The Three Musketeers'?  It's baffling.

November 1939: Flash Comics #1, Superman #3

Cover by Sheldon Moldoff

'The Flash' (by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert): College student Jay Garrick gains super-speed after inhaling the fumes from "hard water", and does what any man his age would do: uses his newfound power to impress a girl and win a football match. In the second half of the story that girl's father is kidnapped by crooks for the secrets to his atomic bombarder, and the Flash must stop them. This is pretty enjoyable, with a light, breezy vibe that carries it along. Jay is made endearing by his complete ineptitude before gaining powers, and I was surprised to see that he spilled the hard water as a direct result of smoking a cigarette. The weak link is Harry Lampert's art, which goes for cartoonish exaggeration (not surprising given his work in Movie Comics) but just ends up looking sloppy.

'Cliff Cornwall, Special Agent' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): Cliff Cornwall investigates the disappearance of some missing army planes in Alaska, with the assistance of Lys Valliere, a girl he meets after crashing his plane. The banter between them is okay, but the story really falls down when the villains are defeated without Cliff ever meeting them.

'The Hawkman' (by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville): When weapons collector Carter Hall receives a glass dagger in the mail he has a vision of a past life: he was Prince Khufu, engaged in battle with the sorcerer Hath-Set over the life of his love Shiera. Hath-Set captures and sacrifices Khufu, but with his dying breath Khufu prophesises that he will live again and have his revenge. Carter Hall awakes from his dream, meets the modern day Shiera, and battles Hath-Set to the death using ancient weapons and wings made of the gravity-defying ninth metal. This has a really strong mythic vibe, and as such feels much more epic than the average super hero story. The problem is that the character's story feels like it's already over after Hath-Set's death, but I'll see what direction they take it, I suppose. It's a good start so far.

'Johnny Thunderbolt' (by John B. Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier): As a baby, Johnny Thunder is kidnapped and taken to Badhnesia, where he is imbued with magical powers by the Priests of Aissor that will manifest on his seventh birthday. Later he is smuggled out of the country and ends up back in America, where he much later discovers that by saying the magic words "cei-u" (which sound exactly like "say you"), he gains the power to make anyone do exactly what he says. This includes stopping in mid air, and being blown away by a strong wind. The priests of Aissor try to get him back, but his powers prove to much for them. This is fun, but it ends before it can really get going. If the creators get creative with Johnny's powers this could be a lot of fun.

'Warfare in Space' (by Gardner Fox): Billy Morton is a scientist in Jupiter in the year 2139. His father was killed by the space pirate Ralph Farnham, and now he has developed a weapon that he believes can gain him his revenge. When Farnham attacks again Morton goes up into space alone to face him, and that's where this chapter ends. It's a solid story, and I'm amused by a vengeance-driven hero who has dialogue like "Golly! That's swell!"

'The Demon Dummy' (by Ed Wheelan): Harry Dunstan is a ventriloquist who uses his dummy to voice all of his darkest thoughts. He is engaged to Madge Devere, but the detective Jim Devlin wants her as well, so he has Dunstan framed for murder. Dunstan takes his dummy with him to prison, where it seems to take on a life of its own, constantly voicing a desire to "moider tha bum" - said bum being Devlin, who has gone on to marry Madge. Eventually Devlin is found guilty of his crime, and Dunstan is released only to find that Madge has died in childbirth, and that he can't get revenge on Devlin because he's now in prison. To be continued, though it could end at this point and I'd be satisfied. There's more going on psychologically in this story than most of what's around at the time, and it manages to be funny and tragic at the same time. I really liked it, which is miraculous coming from Ed Wheelan.

'The Whip' (by John B. Wentworth and George Storm): A hundred years ago, El Castigo was a hero to the poor people of Mexico, taking it to the corrupt rich with his bullwhip. Now the poor need help again, and bored socialite Rod Gaynor takes up the mantle of the Whip to aid them. He also puts on an outrageous fake Mexican accent, which for some reason I find very funny. This isn't great, but there's a certain zest to it It could just be all the Spanish).

Cover by Joe Shuster

Once again, Superman is full of reprints.  We get the Superman stories from Action Comics #5 (the one where Superman saves people from a breaking dam) and Action Comics #6 (the one where a guy pretends to be Superman's manager).  There are also two colour reprint of stories from the Superman daily newspaper strip: the one where Superman puts a stop to a crooked orphanage, and the one where he stops European jewel smugglers.  My opinion on them hasn't changed in retrospect, so I won't go into them here.  Read my original reviews if you're that interested.

The issue has two prose stories.  The first is 'Death By the Stars' (by Bert Lexington).  In it a man fakes his own death to prove the validity of the zodiac, only for someone to murder him while he's in suspended animation.  It's not bad, and it ends with the perfect line: "I can predict what's in his future: the electric chair!"

The second is 'Good Luck Charm' (by Hugh Langley), in which a prisoner escapes from jail in the belief that his good luck charm has helped him... until it gets caught in some machinery and strangles him to death.  It's an okay twist ending story, more in line with the sort of stuff I've read in Marvel comics from the 1950s.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

November 1939: More Fun Comics #50, Detective Comics #34, Adventure Comics #45

Cover by Fred Guardineer

Hey look, a milestone! I'd love to be able to say that I have read the first fifty issues of More Fun Comics, but in terms of availability this is the hardest of the DC Golden Age titles to get a hold of.  Even so, I'd say I'm ahead of 99.9999999% of the world's population in terms of issues of More Fun Comics read (or is that endured?).  It's something to be proud of.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Wing's unit is posted in the most inhospitable fort of the Foreign Legion. When Arabs cut off their relief force in an effort to starve the legion out, he must gather his men and ride to the rescue. Good old Wing Brady, you can always really on him for a solid start to this comic.

'Biff Bronson' (by Al Sulman and Joseph Sulman): Biff and Dan go up against a crazy wax museum owner known as the Mastermind, who is using actual corpses as his wax statues. This is good for a Bronson story, though I'm not particularly optimistic about the hinted return of the Mastermind.

'King Carter' (by Paul J. Lauretta): When Carter's friend Red is run over by a local tyrant prince, Carter seeks revenge. It turns out that the prince is planning to overthrow British rule, and in the course of fighting him Carter is sealed behind a brick wall, chased by a tiger, and menaced by cobras. The non-stop action is fun, but it's hard to overlook the bit where Carter refers to the prince's henchmen as monkeys.

'The Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): Dennis Stone is still helping the prince of Natria prepare to oust his usurper. This is mostly set-up, but it's effectively done.

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): Sandy and Larry tackle a gang of car thieves. It's a decent story, and I liked the scenes of the two mocking their chief and his absurdly high requirements.

'Anything for a Story' (by Terry Keane): In this prose piece a reporter in desperate need of a story tracks down an escaped convict who is hiding out in the country. It's okay, and the end is quite satisfying.

'Lieut. Bob Neal in Peril' (by Bob Hirsch and Russ Lehman): Bob and his crew test out an underwater drill and a device that can turn water into oxygen. There are lots of complications, but it's hard to get excited over some testing.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): This installment tells the story of Peter the Great, one of Russia's earliest rulers. It's starting to degenerate again into a flood of names and genealogies, but Peter's willingness to work as a peasant at the end is a humanising touch. This strip would benefit greatly if Fleming treated the people in it as characters.  But it's too late for that, because this is the last installment.  This strip has been running since issue #1, the very first comic DC ever published.  But I have no special attachment to it, so allow me to heartily declare: "Good riddance, Magic Crystal of History!"

'The Flying Fox' (by Terry Gilkison): The Flying Fox seems to have finally captured the leader of the air pirates this issue, but I thought the same thing last time. It's hard to keep this stuff straight when the strip is so uninteresting.

'Detective Sergeant Carey and the Avenging Ghost' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey investigates the murders of some jurymen, who are being killed by the father of a man they sent to the chair. It has a solid plot, and is therefore streaks ahead of Carey's usual output.

'Sergeant O'Malley of the Red Coat Patrol' (by Jack Lehti): O'Malley deals with a guy who is setting fire to his own land to collect the insurance.  It has too many mounties.

'Bulldog Martin' (by Bart Tumey): Bulldog and his black sidekick Jonah take on a gang trying to raid Switzerland's gold reserves. The only thing of note in this story is Jonah's outrageous speech patterns, and they're nothing to be proud of.

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Batman' (by Gardner Fox, Bob Kane and Sheldon Moldoff): Still in Europe following his adventure with the Monk, Batman goes up against the Duc D'orterre, a mad French scientist who has used a ray to burn the face off of the brother of a woman (named Karel) who scorned him. This is a solid story, spiced up with some unexplained weirdness. I don't know why the Duc has a garden full of flowers that have faces, and the story isn't helping me either. But it's a memorable scene.

The only thing I didn't like is some nonsense with Batman's secret identity. He meets the girl Karel as Bruce Wayne, and after hearing her story he leaves the room and returns five seconds later as Batman. That Karel and her brother don't know his identity instantly is stretching the bounds of credibility a little too far.

Speaking of Karel's brother (who had his face burned off with a ray gun), he looks exactly like the Question.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): Bart impersonates an ambassador from the fake country of Bolaria, and is captured by enemy agents from Luxor. It's decent enough.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): Buck helps a man who is framed for murder track down the two real culprits. This story was quite effective in obscuring who the real murderer was, which puts it a long way ahead of Homer Fleming's usual level of quality.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Gardner Fox and Don Lynch): Steve goes up against a gang of laundry racketeers in a fairly routine story.

'Swift Justice' (by Gardner Fox): In this prose story, a wealthy man is murdered, and the butler did it. Kudos to Gardner Fox for his originality!

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator and the Spy Mystery' (by Fred Guardineer): Speed is called in to investigate a spy ring that is stealing plans and smuggling them in a plane to Mexico. It's not bad.

'Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo must deliver a treaty to a foreign nation while avoiding enemy spies. I couldn't really bring myself to care, but it is one of those rare stories where Cosmo does actually use a disguise.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Nelson and his guide Mambu were captured by tribesmen last issue, and now Nelson meets their "White Goddess", an American woman who has been heavily drugged. Nelson tries to rescue her and escape in a solid story that concludes next month.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): After turning in a criminal for a $5000 reward, Slam and Shorty take a trip around the world. It all goes horribly wrong when they get caught up in a war between Luthor and, uh, Twerpany. What follows is an amusing series of events where they go from one exploding vehicle to another, get captured by both sides, and just generally have the worst day possible. It's a lot of fun. And while Mart Bailey is no Joe Shuster, he's really finding a groove on this strip.  He draws Shorty well, and that's really the number one requirement.

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'The Sandman' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): Sandman tackles a lounge singer who has faked her own kidnapping to claim the insurance money. This one gets pretty convoluted at times, and it's never enjoyable enough to reward the effort of following it.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): Last issue the strip's arch-villain Fang Gow died, and just to emphasise the point we get his funeral here. But it's obvious by the way the creators are trying to sell his death that he is actually alive, and sure enough he rises from suspended animation a few days later and gets back to his favourite past-time, kidnapping Jean LeGrand. Barry goes to her rescue, and is menaced by lions in the cliffhanger. This one is full of cliches, but it does them pretty well.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): When a racketeer named Rutska accidentally kills an innocent man, Steve Carson must hunt him down. This one was pretty boring until the end, when Rutska tries to swing away from the police on a power line and is electrocuted. Meanwhile, Steve is lying unconscious after a blow to the head, which is a huge fall from grace for the guy who used to kill every crook in sight.

'Socko Strong' (by Joseph Sulman): When Socko is hit by a car and loses his memory, a crooked gambler convinces him to throw his next boxing match. Socko's pal Jerry goes for help, and what we get is a genuine crossover between Socko Strong and Biff Bronson from More Fun Comics. Socko and Biff spar with each other, and Biff returns Socko's memory by punching him really hard. This would have been pretty dull, but I'm a sucker for a crossover.

'Trial by Water' (by Frank Thomas): A sailor's ship sinks in a storm, and he has to save his dog and swim to shore. Decent enough for what it is.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): A British mining camp in India is beset by cutthroats, and has also fallen victim to cholera. It's an interesting twist on a familiar plot. The execution isn't that great, but at least the idea was a good one.

'Skip Schuyler' (by Tom Hickey): Continuing from last issue, Skip rescues the pilot he was looking for from a drink-crazed Eskimo. The Eskimo is much more disappointing than he sounds, but the story is okay.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Rusty and Steve lead a police raid against Chen Fu, who is killed in the attack. Steve decides to marry his girlfriend, and invites Rusty and his pals to live with them, but they leave for new adventures instead. This story tries to claim that Rusty, Tubby and Specs are all orphans, but that rang false for me. Checking back in the first installment, when the three of them sneak away from home to sail away on a raft, Rusty says "I only hope that Pop doesn't catch me!" Bob Kane, you have failed at continuity.

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Bart Tumey): Don and Red take on 'Satan's Sister', a female ship captain who is smuggling arms to those who are attacking China from the north. With an unusual villain and a surprisingly good ending, this is one of the better strips in the issue.

'Cotton Carver' (by Gardner Fox and Ogden Whitney): Last issue the pirate queen Deela swore allegiance to her enemy King Marl. Her pirate lieutenants are none to pleased, and Cotton must help her destroy their rebellion, which he does by using battle tactics he learned on Earth. This would be much more enjoyable without the smug 'Earth tactics are best!' attitude that it develops.

November 1939: Pep Comics #1, Top-Notch Comics #1

Cover by Irv Novick

'The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary' (by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick): After Joe Higgins' father was killed during the infamous Black Tom explosion in World War I, he vowed to protect his country from further attacks, and designed a special suit to become the Shield. It makes him super-strong and super-fast, and basically unkillable.  He's also an FBI agent, and the first overtly patriotic super-hero. In his first outing he smashes a spy ring. I couldn't find a lot to get excited about in this story. The Shield himself is bland, and his invulnerability got annoying after a while.

'The Comet' (by Jack Cole): Scientist John Dickering discovers a gas that allows him to jump great heights when injected into his bloodstream, but it also causes his gaze to disintegrate anything he looks at (except for glass). He decides to use his power for good as the Comet, wearing a glass visor to control his eye beams, and in his first outing he takes on a gang of crooks who are distributing poison so that the beneficiaries of large insurance policies can bump of the insured party and claim the money. This one started off fairly dull as well, but around the time the Comet started disintegrating every crook in sight it got a lot more interesting. The conclusion made no sense, but the Comet himself is so ruthless that I want to see more of him.

I'm wondering now whether this story influenced the creation of Cyclops from the X-Men.  It's probably unlikely that Lee ripped it off directly, because this comic came out over 20 years before the X-Men debuted, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that the idea was subconsciously floating around in his head.

'Sergeant Boyle' (by Creators Unknown): Boyle is an American who has joined the British army. In this story he and his men get caught behind enemy lines, then kill Germans for six pages. This is the trend for Archie war comics. It's basically Nazi-killing pornography.

'The Queen of Diamonds' (by Lin Streeter): In the hidden Diamond Empire, a strange man calling himself The Rocket crash lands and is taken prisoner. Struck by the queen's beauty he submits to becoming her slave, and ends up fighting off a rebellion on her behalf. The lead character, known only as The Rocket, has a nobility and humility that is rare in the Golden Age. He also punches a lion unconscious, which is always a plus.

'Fu Chang, International Detective' (by Joe Blair and Lin Streeter): Fu Chang is a Chinese detective in San Francisco, His gimmick is that he has a set of magic chessmen that he can bring to life to aid him in his cases, which so far amounts to nothing more than sending the miniature men to spy on his suspects. In this story he goes up against a man who murdered a sailor, then framed the father of the woman he wants to marry. It's not great, but the chessmen angle is interesting.

'Murderer's Brew' (by Will Harr): In this prose story, a doctor is caught in a cabin with murderous fur thieves, and poisons them with some spiked whiskey. This isn't bad, and the twist at the end was logical and satisfying.

'Bentley of Scotland Yard' (by Maurice Gutwirth): This one starts promisingly, with Bentley saving a young heiress from a werewolf. But in the end it turns out that the werewolf is just her godfather in a costume, which is less than satisfying.

'The Press Guardian' (by Jack Binder): Ace reporter Flash Calvert is assigned to cover the robbery of a cafe. He is captured by the crooks, but rescued by the Falcon, an absurdly dressed hero. The story is dull, and the Falcon may have the worst super-hero costume yet.

'The Midshipman' (by Will Harr and Edd Ashe): Midshipman Lee Samson rescues a girl from a plane crash in the water, then ends up in a bitter rivalry with her boyfriend. It culminates in a boat race that Samson wins despite his rival smashing his boat with an oar. Normally I would hate this sort of thing, but I was surprised to see Samson collapse with exhaustion after winning the race. It's a small touch, but not the sort of thing I've seen much of in this type of comic, where the heroes are usually infallibly masculine.

'Kayo Ward' (by Phil Sturm): Eddie Ward stops a fight manager from being beaten up, and then becomes a boxer. It's not very interesting, though Ward is kind of endearingly thick.

Cover by Creators Unknown

This issue opens with a full-page ad of Rang-a-Tang the Wonder Dog fighting a giant squid. I think he's becoming my new favourite character.

'The Wizard, The Man With the Super Brain' (by Edd Ashe): The Wizard is Blane Whitney, a super genius in service to his country. His super smarts were evident from a young age, and he was brought to the attention of the president, who gave him the following contradictory advice: "You must be careful never to use it for bad, only for good... Dedicate your life, as your ancestors dedicated theirs, to the service of your country!" At this point I should mention that Blane Whitney's ancestors were all great patriots, some of whom I assume to be genuine real-life dudes (my knowledge of US history is cursory at best). After the origin story is out of the way, the Wizard uses his many gadgets and his super brain to stop agents of Jatsonia from blowing up a US submarine fleet. This isn't terrible, but the Wizard is so sickeningly brilliant at everything that I hate him completely. When the captions tell me "He is a clean cut young man, and is also popular with the ladies," that's when I mentally check out.

'Scott Rand in the Worlds of Time' (by Otto Binder and Jack Binder): Any strip that begins with a time car already in motion has got to be good. Scott Rand and Professor Meade travel back to Rome in 200 AD during a Viking attack, and save a Viking from death. Of course, in true Bill and Ted fashion, he joins their crew. Then in ancient Egypt they rescue a princess who was about to be sacrificed, and she joins as well. Then they teach the new crew members English. Then they go back to prehistoric times and blow up some dinosaurs. This is really just a string of events rather than a story, but it's still very enjoyable. I hope they just keep on picking up new crew members wherever they land.

'Swift of the Secret Service' (by Creators Unknown): Swift, a secret service agent, helps his dad investigate a murder. The killer was the victim's nephew, and also the beneficiary of his insurance payout. There's a nice bit where the killer murders his uncle with a sand-filled sock, then washes it out and wears it the next day. Aside from that, it's fairly generic stuff.

'Air Patrol: Sky Raiders of the Western Front' (by Joe Blair and Ed Smalle): Ben Johnson is an RAF pilot seeking vengeance against a German U-Boat captain for the murder of his childhood friend, in what may very well be the most implausible origin story I've ever seen. Seriously, Ben and his friend Jack are fishing in a schooner when a German submarine just happens to surface and shoot Jack for no reason. It's absurd. The rest of the story is fairly poorly executed aerial dogfight, and Ben still hasn't caught Von Schiller at the end.

'Murder Rap' (by Ken Fitch): Police detective "Lucky" Coyne rescues a woman from racketeers. This is loaded with action, but the characters don't explain why they're doing anything until the very end. Sometimes that can work, but it didn't here.

'Lucky Coyne, Undercover Man' (by Ken Fitch): Okay, so Lucky Coyne is in the comics as well. In this story, he and his female partner infiltrate a gang of jewel thieves. The story doesn't identify them at first, and the fact that they are undercover agents is presented as a twist ending. It's at least a little more experimental than most other Golden Age stories, but it doesn't have much else to offer.

'The Mystic' (by C.A. Winter): The Mystic is a crime-fighting stage magician. In this story, a gang of racketeers seeks revenge on him. They throw the Mystic and his fiancee into the river in a coffin, and he escapes. And that's it. The crooks get away, and are not dealt with. It's a very unsatisfying conclusion. The Mystic himself has no special powers; he really is just a stage magician.

'The West Pointer' (by Ed Wexler): Keith Kornell grows up in poverty, but because he is awesome at everything, he becomes a cadet at West Point. After a training montage, he gets in a fight with an upperclassman and wins his respect by punching him a lot. I struggle to think why I'd ever be interested in reading about cadets.

'Manhunters' (by Jack Cole): This is another series by Jack Cole about true crime stories. Here the focus is on the scientific techniques used to capture some crooks who are forging checks. I have zero interest in this sort of thing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

November 1939: Blue Ribbon Comics #3

Cover by Charles Biro

'Rang a Tang the Wonder Dog' (by Will Harr and Jack Binder): With this story the creators have figured out how to make a wonder dog work in comics. Rang-a-Tang and Hy Speed go up against some bank robbers who have kidnapped Hy's girlfriend. The plot is inconsequential to the main attraction, which is the absurd competence of Rang-a-Tang. Not only does he grab some dynamite and throw it in the robbers' boat, not only does he parachute out of a plane, he also leaps up from the ground through a second storey window. More ridiculous dog antics like this, please.

'Mystery Thriller of the Month featuring Stuart Logan' (by Creators Unknown): Stuart Logan is a society detective, which basically means he wears a top hat instead of a fedora. This murder mystery gleefully provides a butler, a jealous lover and someone just written into the victim's will as the prime suspects. It's not that great otherwise, but using the three greatest cliches of golden age detective stories is a good move.  It's the only appearance of Stuart Logan.

'The Silver Fox' (by Maurice Gutwirth): The Silver Fox investigates a murder that was committed by the victim's business partner. It's average, but at least it plays fair.  This is the final Silver Fox story.

'Scoop Cody, Ace Reporter'(by Creators Unknown): Scoop takes on a jewel thief with a penchant for chewing gum. 'The Marvel' shows up as well, completely out of nowhere and in a way that expects the reader knows exactly who he is. Amateur stuff, but I had to laugh at this line from Cody: "I 'm suspicious of Counts."  As is becoming a theme for this issue, this is the last Scoop Cody story.  Now I'll never know who the Marvel was!

'Corporal Collins, Infantryman' (possibly by Abner Sundell and Charles Biro): Collins steals an enemy plane and flies behind enemy lines, in what is basically an excuse for him to kill Nazis for a few pages.  It's terrible as a story, but sometimes you just want to see a lot of Nazis get killed, you know?

Collins' gimmick is that he carries a curved piece of metal, with which he can catch bullets and redirect them back at the one who fired them.  It's utterly implausible in a way that I enjoy.

'Frame-Up' (by Phil Sturm): An FBI agent is kidnapped by crooks, who frame him as a drunk, but he tracks them down and kills them all. It's much duller than it sounds.

'Devils of the Deep' (by George Nagle and Edd Ashe): When the pirate gang leader Red Dugan must take vengeance on a rival, he gets a doctor to create for him a hideous monster with crab claws. With the monster under his command he orders it to kill his enemies, which it does by fighting through a giant octopus and dynamiting their ships. This is pretty crazy stuff, and while I wouldn't exactly call it good it is fun to read.  I'm kind of bummed that this is the last appearance of the strip, because I want to see what else Red does with his crazy monster.

'Secret Assignments: The Lost Ship' (by Maurice Gutwirth): Jack Strong puts a stop to some crooks who are destroying his uncle's ships. Also, he fights a shark. Despite the shark, this is not good.  It's also (surprise!) the final installment.

'Bob Phantom, the Scourge of the Underworld' (by Irving Novick): Bob Phantom systematically picks off a gang of crooks. I think he's supposed to be mysterious, and to strike fear into the hearts of men, but seriously.  His super-hero name is Bob.  Bob's next appearance is in Top-Notch Comics.

'Crime on the Run' (by Jack Cole): Some bank robbers get involved in a few shootouts and are eventually caught. This has one of the few instances so far of some black men who are drawn like genuine human beings. It's too bad one of them is a murderous criminal, but it's hard to fault it when it's based on a true story.  This series is finished with this chapter.

Looking back over this comic and the many cancelled strips, it seems we are left with only Rang-a-Tang and Corporal Collins as our regular features.  It's certainly a different set-up than anything else I'm reading.  All in all I think I prefer following the strips that run a decent length of time.