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.

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