Tuesday, September 13, 2011

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.

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