Monday, October 31, 2011

January 1940: Feature Comics #30

Cover by Lou Fine

'The Clock Strikes' (by George Brenner): Some foreign spies engineer a car crash so that they can steal the US industrial mobilisation plans, and the Clock tracks them down and gets them back. I'm getting tired of these stories that are straightforward to the point of tedium. There are so many that play the same story beats over and over again with nothing new to add.

'Jane Arden' (by Monte Barrett and Russell E. Ross): Jane and her friend Sue are on holiday. Sue hooks up with a handsome dude, while Jane talks to a fat guy, and there is jealousy all round. Jane recognises the handsome dude, so I'm sure he'll turn out to be a crook at some point, but at the moment we're in romantic comedy territory. It's not particularly well done, but it's also an area that comics haven't touched on much to this point.

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): Reynolds must take a shipment of gold to Nugget City by canoe, while a fake shipment goes by steamer to throw off potential thieves. Along the way he's attacked by Dixon, a foreman who had suggested the plan in the first place. With Dixon's arrest the story would normally end, but it turns out that the mining manager Lane is trying to steal the gold as well. It certainly took me unawares.  Too bad this has mounties in it.

'Spin Shaw of the Naval Air Corps' (by Bob Powell): Spin is a Naval Air Force pilot. In this story he aids in the rescue of a sinking yacht by using his plane's propellers to blow away a cloud of smoke. No effort is made to make the reader care about any potential deaths, and Spin displays no personality to speak of.

'Captain Fortune in the Days of the Spanish Main' (by Vernon Henkel): Fortune is sent to find a missing ship, and ends up rescuing the crew from a native tribe by blowing them away with his ship's cannons. Way to triumph against the odds, guy!

'The Dollman' (by Will Eisner): Dollman takes on a submarine full of foreign agents who have been stealing shipments of American motors. The action scenes are dynamic, but other than that this story has little to offer. It's hard to believe that this is the same Eisner who is doing such great work on 'Espionage' in Smash Comics.

'Rance Keane, the Knight of the West' (by William A. Smith): Rance Keane stops a guy from blowing up a bridge so that he can claim his victim's will. It's another very hackneyed story.

'Smoke Screen' (by A.L. Allen): An orange farmer must deal with a gang of Mexican gun smugglers in this prose story. Which he does by calling the sheriff. It makes sense, but it doesn't make a good story.

'Charlie Chan' (by Alfred Andriola): Charlie is on a cruise ship that is attacked by pirates who are after some rubies owned by a doctor. The lettering on this thing is miniscule, and it was a real chore to read. I think I only deciphered about half of the dialogue, so I definitely missed some of the finer points.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

January 1940: Marvel Mystery Comics #5, Smash Comics #8

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'The Human Torch' (by Carl Burgos): The Torch goes to the rescue of a town caught in a blizzard, but the medical supplies he is carrying are stolen by two recently escaped crooks. This isn't particularly exciting, and about halfway through the criminals just have a plane out of nowhere. The Torch was much more fun to read as a menace than a hero.

'The Angel' (by Paul Gustavson): The Angel tackles a gang of bank robbers. I was amused by his initial plan, which involved overturning all the cars in the street while the gang was in the bank so that they would have no getaway vehicle, but otherwise it's a simple and uninteresting beat-em-up.

'Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner' (by Bill Everett): Namor returns to New York, where he's pursued by the authorities until a doctor jumps him with some chloroform. Thus subdued, he is held captive until his policewoman friend Betty Dean lets him go, and he tackles a gang of bank robbers who are tunneling underground. I really enjoyed the first half, with Namor fighting police and firemen, but the second half wasn't nearly as interesting. I definitely prefer Namor as an anti-hero.  His motivations change from issue to issue, so it's possible that he will return to villainy soon enough.

'The Masked Raider' (by Al Anders): The Masked Raider goes up against a guy who is murdering people with poisoned arrows and blaming it on the local Injun. I think he's trying to make the sheriff look bad so that he can become the next sheriff. To be honest the finer details escaped my concentration, but what i did catch was terribly boring.

'It's in the Cards' (by Ray Gill): In this prose story a drunken circus knife-thrower kills his assistant, then tries to convince the only witness to tell everyone that it was an accident. Dull.

'Electro, the Marvel of the Age' (by Steve Dahlman): The fake country of Molivia is attacked by the fake country of Torpis, and Electro goes to help. Besides the usual scenes of Electro smashing tanks and killing troops, there are some startling depictions of dead women and children. And the scene where the dictator of Torpis shoots himself rather than be captured has eerie similarities to the end of World War 2. But the crude art, which often has no connection to what's happening in the narrative captions, lets the whole thing down.

'Ferret, Mystery Detective' (by Stockbridge Winslow and Irwin Hasen): The Ferret solves a murder mystery involving counterfeiters. I don't know if this was the case last issue, but now he has an actual pet ferret that helps him fight crime. Other than that, this is totally uninteresting.

'Adventures of Ka-Zar' (by Ben Thompson): In the last issue, a whole mess of potential double-crosses and intrigues was set up, but in this issue it mostly comes down to a fight between Ka-Zar and DeKraft, the man who murdered his father. That confrontation is done well enough, but I thought a lot of the potential set up last time was squandered.

Cover possibly by Gill Fox

'Espionage starring the Black X' (by Will Eisner): Again with the war montage! Yes Will, you're brilliant at it, I know, but please get a new trick. In this story the Black X must infiltrate Germany and escape with an American reporter. It's a well told action story, with some humour thrown in when the reporter decides she really would like to carry on pretending to be the Black X's wife.  Madame Doom also returns, although she doesn't make much of an impression.

'Clip Chance at Cliffside' (by George Brenner): Two crooks kidnap one of Clip's ice hockey teammates, so that one of them can impersonate him and purposely lose the game. Clip figures out that it's an impostor and they win the game without him. It's the same old sports comic routine.

'Abdul the Arab' (by Vernon Henkel): Abdul tackles some oil thieves in a story that can best be categorised as existing. Yep, it's definitely there all right.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by Stan Aschmeier): Cook investigates the destruction of a castle and the theft of some gold bullion. There's some solid detective work going on here, but in the end Cook only wins because he happens to stop at a certain farmhouse to seek shelter. I never like these kinds of circumstances in a mystery story.

'Hugh Hazzard and His Iron Man' (by George Brenner): Hugh and Bozo put a stop to "Batzi" spies who are trying to draw America into the war in Europe. Nice to see Hugh heroically fighting to stop America from helping the Allies!

'Chic Carter, Ace Reporter' (by Vernon Henkel): It's the old 'cursed jewel' routine, with a wealthy man being threatened to return the Star of Egypt before he is murdered. Chic investigates, and the culprit ends up being the very first person that is suspicious. This is as straightforward and boring as this type of story gets.

'Invisible Justice' (by Art Pinajian): The Invisible Hood goes up against a guy who is using his voodoo powers to hypnotise factory workers and make them cause fatal accidents. I think this is the first time we see a mastermind who makes his thugs dress in some kind of bizarre themed uniform. In this case it's medieval armour, as the crooks are all hiding out in an old castle. This is probably the best installment of this strip so far, as the Invisible Hood is actually captured and must work for his victory. It's still crippled by having an invisible protagonist, though.

'Flash Fulton' (by Paul Gustavson): Flash goes to the Amazon Jungle to rescue a white man from the natives. This one never gets past the usual cliches.

'The Winged Emeralds' (by Robert M. Hyatt): Some treasure hunters go to South America, where they use balloons to steal some sacred emeralds from a mine. I've reread this thing, and I still can't figure out how they did it.

'John Law, Scientective' (by Harry Francis Campbell): In this story, John Law finally works out the identity of the Avenger who has been targeting wealthy businessmen. Despite his one leap of logic (his belief that the Avenger is actually one of the people on the Avenger's hit list), his plan is bloody ingenious. He calls each of the thirteen businessmen and tells them he has a new phone number. Each number he gives out is unique. He then has a phony newspaper printed in which he taunts the Avenger, and when the Avenger calls him on one of the phone numbers he knows exactly who it is. John Law, truly you are the greatest scientective of them all!

'Wings Wendall of the Military Intelligence' (by Vernon Henkel): Wings Wendall goes up against a dirigible that is bombing strategic American sites. He shoots it down with incendiary bullets, in a story that defines the word mediocre.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

January 1940: DC Universe House Ad

I thought I would share this house ad from the back of Action Comics #22, which I think gives a pretty good indication of where the DC universe is at in early 1940.

January 1940: Action Comics #22

 Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Clark and Lois are sent to the fake country of Toran, which has just invaded the smaller fake country of Galonia. The Toranian spy Lita Laverne plans to bomb a neutral vessel and blame it on Galonia to garner sympathy for her own country, and Superman has to stop her. This is pretty bland by Superman's standards. It takes him a couple of pages to smash one plane, and he even hides from a lone soldier at one point, and expresses relief that he wasn't caught. The Superman of a year ago would have smashed that plane in a single panel, and kicked the soldier over the horizon.

Also, Siegel spells the word foreign as "foriegn", repeatedly. And Shuster draws Lita Laverne to look exactly like Lois Lane, adding more evidence to my theory that he can only draw one woman.


(Year of 1940, you failed Superman.)

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep takes on the chairman of the town council, Rufus Toone, who is burning the houses of people who refuse to sell their land to make way for a railroad line. Gardner Fox couldn't have telegraphed the ending any more with this bit of dialogue if he tried: "Nope, ain't got any enemies I know of. Well, c'mon, I gotta see Rufus Toone afore he changes his mind about buying my land!" In Pep's defense, he twigs to that pretty quickly, but it's certainly not the most sophisticated bit of writing that Gardner Fox has ever done.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck Dawson takes on a gang of hired guns who kill a young man to try and get his sister's ranch. This story ends pretty abruptly. Chuck only defeats one of the lesser goons and forces a confession out of him, and he never has a final confrontation with the leader. It all feels very anticlimactic. If it didn't have a caption that says "The End", I would think that I'm missing some pages.

'Clip Carson, Soldier of Fortune' (by Sheldon Moldoff): Clip is on a cruise ship, where a wealthy man and his daughter are threatened with death for their possession of an African idol. It turns out to be a plot by the daughter to kill her father and gain his wealth, in a pretty solid story. Once Moldoff sorts out some of his storytelling issues, he's going to be a rather good artist. Even so, I miss the grinning, swashbuckling adventure that this strip once had in spades.

'Malay Head' (by Frank Cooper): Pirates menace an island, and a boy defeats them by rolling a big head-shaped rock onto their ship. It's very boring.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): When young Cary James explores a mysterious island he is captured by a demon, who takes his place and heads out into the world to do murder. Tex Thomson, Bob Daley, and Cary's friend Dr. Drummond take on the demon. Drummond defeats it with a magic amulet, while Tex and Bob sit around in the background doing nothing. The premise is pretty good and creepy, but it's always a worry when the star of the strip has nothing to do with the conclusion.  This strip is also notable for the absence of Gargantua T. Potts, Tex's black sidekick.  I'm wondering if the creators are already having second thoughts about him.

'Three Aces' (by Bert Christman): This story starts off in fine style, as Whistler takes on a distant mood, whistling softly to himself, before taking leave of his companions. We cut to Whistler's sister, about to be married, who tells her fiance about her brother, how he was found in the wilderness and grew up to become a deadly adventurer. In just a few pages, Whistler has suddenly become one of the most fascinating characters around. The rest of the strip is taken up by the schemes of a jilted lover against the soon-to-be married couple, and a double-crossing gang of Mexicans. Whistler arrives and shoots all of the bad guys, and the scene where he stands on the horizon, frightening them with his low whistling is great. This is a quite good exercise in adding depth to a formerly non-dimensional character.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Mask' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Zatara goes up against the Tigress and her accomplice the Mask, a man who knows a plastic surgeon who can disguise him as anyone. His first plan is to kill a bank manager and take over his position. When that plan is foiled by Zatara, he disguises himself as Zatara to get reward money from the banker. This is pretty lacklustre for a Zatara story, but I did like the way that the Mask just settles for a petty opportunistic theft when his grand plan backfires. And I did enjoy seeing the Tigress again. My old theory was that Zatara is totally in love with her, and he did let her go after having the Mask arrested. These two are totally going to have an affair at some point.

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'Flexo the Rubber Man' (by Will Harr and Jack Binder): Joel and Joshua Williams create a robot made of rubber named Flexo. Together they tackle Professor Murdo, who has stolen a fortune in radium to complete his death ray. This is all very uninspiring, and not really told with any enthusiasm. Flexo shows off his stretching powers against some gangsters, and also beats up some electrically charged robots, but it never quite clicks.

'The Blue Blaze' (by Creators Unknown): The Blue Blaze is Spencer Keen, who in 1852 was exposed to a mysterious blue flame just before being killed by a tornado. In 1940 he awakes from the dead as a result of exposure to the flame, many times stronger than he was before. As soon as he wakes up he's shot at by grave robbers, and tackles their boss Professor Maluski in his underground lair. Maluski has an army of zombies and a high-tech arsenal that he plans to use to take over the world, but the Blaze just defeats him by smashing everything in sight like a good Golden Age hero. This is a story that captures the unprofessional, anarchic, energetic Marvel style perfectly. It makes so little sense, but it really is fun and kind of creepy if you roll with it.

'Zephyr Jones and his Rocket Ship' (by Joe Cal Cagno and Fred Schwartz): Zephyr Jones (making the jump from Daring Mystery Comics) is about to fly his rocket to Mars when it is hijacked by a crazy professor and his daughter who want to go to the star Cygni in search of "stardust", which they believe can cure all the diseases on Earth. This strip showcases some of the most gonzo science I've ever seen. Apparently you can land on a star, ignite your engines, and the resulting blast from the exploding gasses will propel you quickly to the next star. When the crew get to Cygni they find it crawling with hostile "Star Dwarves". It's complete nonsense, but it's exactly the sort of nonsense I enjoy.  This is the last we see of Zephyr Jones and his unfulfilled quest to reach Mars.

'The 3 X's' (by Robert O. Erisman and Newt Alfred): The 3 X's are famous crime-fighters. 1X is a detective, 2X is the brains, and 3X is the muscle. In this story they go up against the Green Terror, a bearded green giant who has "come from darkest Africa to drain rich red blood from the healthy veins of young Americans!" The Green Terror is a bright spot in an otherwise dull story, but even he goes down with a single anti-climactic punch.

'Tough Hombre' (by Leo Stalnaker): Two cowboys are due for a shootout at sundown. The local sheriff heads it off by setting his own watch ahead and making one guy think the other hasn't shown up. I had to read the end of this three times to figure out what had happened, so either it's poorly told or too clever for my meagre brain.

'The Deep Sea Demon' (by Norman Daniels and Fred Guardineer): A sailor is diving for pearls, while menaced by a rival Chinese ship and a mysterious sea monster. The sea monster is revealed as another ship captain at the end. At least I think he is; he's actually not named in the reveal, and I had to go back over the story to figure out who he is supposed to be. Even now I'm not certain, and the story isn't benefited by that level of ambiguity.

'Dakor the Magician: The Blooded Ruby of Chung' (by Creators Unknown): Dakor, as you may have guessed, is yet another Mandrake knock-off.  Dakor joins the French Foreign Legion to track down a murderer and jewel thief, and then returns the stolen jewel to its temple in Asia. Asian mysticism and the French Foreign Legion have both been overdone by this point, and they aren't combined here in a particularly entertaining manner.

'The Dynamic Man' (by Daniel Peters): The Dynamic Man, created in a lab by a mad scientist, can see through walls, change his appearance, fly, and create magnetic fields. After waking up to find his creator dead of a heart attack, he takes the name Curt Cowan and sets about becoming an FBI agent (never mind how he passes the background check). The rest of the story sees him tackling a rich guy who is creating artificial droughts so that he can buy farmland on the cheap. For a strip called 'Dynamic Man' the art is stiff and stilted, and the plot is pretty weak as well.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

January 1940: All-American Comics #12

 Cover by William Smith

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): Red and his sidekicks (that's really what this series has become) go up against a foreign agent who has blown up a munitions factory with an exploding arrow. I was getting bored with this as Red uncovered more and more evidence against the obvious suspect, but halfway through the real culprit emerged when I wasn't expecting it. A nicely done swerve in an otherwise straightforward yarn.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon L. Blummer): Hop has a temper tantrum (stop the presses!) and flies off in a huff. He ends up flying all the way across the Pacific Ocean, rescues a whole bunch of Chinese refugees, and becomes America's number one hero. Hopefully this leads to a real shake-up of the status quo for this strip, because at the moment it's not really doing anything.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): There's a dance, and Wiley is taking his home-town girl Betty. But look out Bob, Sylvia King is jealous! I can't fathom why this strip has suddenly taken a turn into soap opera and romantic entanglements, but it's still more interesting than the cadet training shenanigans it started out as.

'Adventures in the Unknown: A Thousand Years a Minute' (by Carl H. Claudy and Ben Flinton): Ted and Alan are jerks. Still in prehistoric times, they escape from a tribe of ape-men with the help of their primitive friend Ikki. They plan to take Ikki back with them to 1939, to "donate him to a zoo or a sideshow", which is some real gratitude. After that Ted accidentally shoots Ikki in the head, and a few panels later the two of them are back in 1939 cracking jokes.  They're like the dumbest jocks you ever met, only they have a time machine.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly's little brother Dinky is being romantically pursued by Sisty Hunkel, who won't take no for an answer. There are a couple of good gags here amidst the cliches, and overall this was just funny enough.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Ben and Taffy Tate are on the trail of Abner Mattix. They find a dying man in the desert who offers to lead them to Mattix in Lost Canyon, but he disappears just before Mexican bandits appear to capture them. They should never have trusted that dude, he had stubble.

'Death's Playground' (by George Shute): In this prose story, Jimmy is still trying to get evidence on some aircraft saboteurs. He takes his info to the boss, drinks some drugged milk, and wakes up in a locked room. And this damn storyline is still continued next month. Will it never end?!?

'Popsicle Pete' (by Art Helfant): Searching for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the kids startle some crooks and find their ill-gotten gains. It's a decent enough gag that could lead to more stories.

'Gary Concord the Ultra-Man' (by Jon L. Blummer): Gary has been captured by the warlord Tor, who was dumb enough to use a guard who is sick of war and only cares about his wife and mother. Of course Gary converts the guy and escapes, while Tor conquers half of America in about three panels. Gary is preparing to fight back when the chapter ends. Say what you want about this strip, it gets shit done.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

January 1940: Adventure Comics #47, Flash Comics #3

Cover by Creig Flessel

'The Sandman and The Lady in Evening Clothes' (by Gardner Fox and Ogden Whitney): The Sandman teams up with Diana Ware, aka "The Lady in Evening Clothes", an expert safe-cracker who is searching for her parents. Together they solve the murder of banker Anson Port, and also discover that the D.A. is her father. This is solid stuff, and Diana Ware is a strong addition to the Sandman's supporting cast.

Trivia Time! Did you ever want to know where Wesley Dodd's money comes from? This story reveals that he's a steel magnate. File that one away, minutiae buffs!

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): Barry is entrusted with the transport of important papers, but a spy disguised as Inspector Legrand lures him into a trap. Barry escapes and deals with the crooks in the usual display of Golden Age violence. This one could have been good if they'd played out the Legrand impersonation a little more, but as it is it's fairly bland.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and possibly Mart Bailey): Steve Carson goes up against "subversive elements" who are trying to assassinate the Commissioner of National Functions. The art on this story is very awkward and amateurish, and the absurdly convoluted method used in the assassination attempt isn't helping things either.  The site I usually consult for credits ( suggests Mart Bailey as a possible artist for this strip, but he's usually much better than this, and his signature is nowhere to be found.  I'm wondering if Siegel drew this himself.  It certainly doesn't look like the work of a professional artist.

'Socko Strong' (by Al Sulman and Joseph Sulman): Socko is starring in a movie, and his jealous co-star Monte Swift tries to arrange his death at every opportunity. It ends with Socko trapped in a dungeon, up to his neck in rising water. (Yes, the movie director lives in a replica medieval castle. With working deathtraps.) This is absurd yet entertaining.

'The Walking Ghost' (by Rex Vance): In this prose story a madman is struck by lightning and believed dead, only to revive and go on a crime spree. Either I have read this before, or it's very similar to a story from the early days of DC.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Continued from last issue, Desmo and Gabby rescue the prisoners of the villainous Vasili Gerke, and lead them in an attack on Gerke's forces. This is pretty uninspiring, and ends with the note that the natives who served Vasili will be tried by the British government. Let's hear it for colonialism!  It looks as though the next appearance of this strip will be in More Fun Comics #53, and I'm hoping that the switch to a different comic is a last-ditch effort to save this before it gets cancelled.  I'd love not to have to read it any more.

'Professor Doolittle' (by Bob Kane): This mostly silent comedy strip about an absent-minded professor makes its last appearance in this comic.  Kane made his start with humour strips, and this one wasn't bad.  Assuming he did it himself, it showed that he had an ability to tell stories with the art alone.

'Steve Conrad, Adventurer' (by Jack Lehti): Steve Conrad is back after a long absence (since New Adventure Comics #25), replacing 'Skip Schuyler'. In this story he goes up against a dope ring that is also kidnapping girls. The plot is okay, but Steve's Chinese manservant has to be seen to be believed.

He's like that the whole way through. The only other Chinese characters in this story are criminals or dope smokers, so it's not like they can balance things out.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Rusty and his pals are still in the old mansion, where the owner is dying and a mysterious someone is knocking on the door. Said door-knocker turns out to be a midget with a gun, but it's never really explained what he wants or why he runs away so suddenly. The dying old man also sends Rusty to find his nephew, who also ends up being a midget, albeit a Scottish one. This strip is setting up a lot of mysteries, but with no sense that they relate to each other at all. This is unfocused and unsatisfying.

'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Bart Tumey): Don is in Jamaica investigating a freighter that sank with a shipment of gold. It turns out that the captain is responsible, and has stolen the gold for himself. So far, so mediocre, but the story then takes a sudden swerve into voodoo territory when the captain tries to get a witch doctor to give Don drugs that will leave him a mindless zombie. That wraps up a little too neatly as well, but it did provide a glimmer of interest, as well as a somewhat ironic end for the villain.

'Cotton Carver and the First Ones' (by Gardner Fox and Ogden Whitney): Cotton Carver rescues Deela from the First Ones, who are pretty much just normal dudes. This strip has none of the intoxicating weirdness or charm that it usually presents.

Cover by Sheldon Moldoff

'The Flash' (by Gardner Fox and Everett E. Hibbard): Joan's father has been framed by a newspaper with foreign interests that wants his plans for a new energy source. The Flash clears his name by running around a lot and going undercover. The plot of this story is mediocre at best, but Fox understands that a story about a man with super-speed needs to be pacy.  And once again he's using non-powered folks to good effect, shwing their stunned reactions to the Flash to make him seem more impressive.  I was also surprised that everybody knows that Jay Garrick is the Flash already.  He doesn't wear a mask, so I guess it makes sense.  And I suppose that at this point it's too early for the common tropes of the super-hero genre to be in place.  The strip also has a new artist in Everett Hibbard, who doesn't have the same fluidity of style that previous artist Harry Lampert gave the strip.

'Cliff Cornwall, Special Agent' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): A female spy tries to seduce Cliff to obtain plans for a new type of ship, but Cliff tricks her and gives her plans that sabotage her country's whole fleet. It was obvious where this story was going from about panel two.

'The Hawk-Man' (by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville): Hawk-Man goes up against Una Cathay, a madwoman who has kidnapped a number of scientists so that she can learn the secret of eternal life. The scientists all seemed to die before Una took them, and there's a lot of talk about keeping their hearts and brains alive with chemicals, but then it turns out that they were never really dead in the first place.  The details here never quite add up.

'Johnny Thunderbolt' (by John B. Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier): Johnny is scheduled to fight the world heavyweight champion, Gunpowder Glantz. This story sets up a novel situation, in which Glantz wants to throw the match to clean up on betting, and Johnny is asked to throw the match so that he can marry his girlfriend. Johnny's power backfires on him and he wins the match, setting up further hijinks. This was just enough of a twist on the formula to work.

'Rod Rian of the Sky Police' (by Paul H. Jepsen): Rod Rian is captured by the evil Mephisians, and sent to the Land of the Living Dead, where he is menaced by a strange beast. This feels very old-fashioned, more like the kinds of strips I was reading from 1935, with cramped art and an over-reliance on captions. It's very stilted and stiff compared to everything else in this comic.

'King Standish' (by Gardner Fox and William Smith): King Standish is a crime-fighter who uses lots of disguises. In this story he goes up against a dope peddler called Boss Barton. This story rises above its pedestrian plot by starting from the perspective of Barton's secretary, who has no idea who King is, and no idea that her boss is crooked. It works well to give King a greater sense of mystery, even though we know pretty much everything we need to know about him by the end. The art is clean and attractive as well, with some good storytelling.

'Adventure in a Time Warp' (by Gardner Fox): Two astronauts are caught in a time warp and return to Earth 1,000 years after they left. They find the remnants of humanity in the city of "Kikago", being menaced by an army of green men from the moon. There's some pretty clever time loop stuff here: the future people know the astronauts will save them, because it's in their history books, and it's in their history books because the astronauts returned to their own time after doing it and told everybody. This is far better than the prose stories usually are.

'The Scarlet Scarab' (by Ed Wheelan): A wealthy banker's lucky scarab is stolen by his daughter, who holds it to ransom for a million dollars. The story goes a long way to set this up as a mystery, and even introduces all five of the banker's servants as potential suspects, but then on the very next page his daughter appears and admits to the crime. Other than that misstep it's not bad, but I did try very hard to memorise those suspects just before they were made irrelevant.

'The Whip' (by John B. Wentworth and George Storm): The Whip takes on crooked businessmen who are paying their workers in coupons instead of money. I'm still having fun with this strip, mostly due to the outrageously over-the-top character of the Whip. Still, I'm not sure why the surprise reveal at the end of this is the Whip's secret identity of Rod Gaynor. That was established two issues ago!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

January 1940: Detective Comics #36

Cover by Bob Kane

'Batman' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): Batman goes up against Hugo Strange, a "scientist, philosopher and criminal genius".  Strange has built a machine with which he can blanket the city in fog, and under the cover of that fog his army of crooks loot everything in sight. Batman tracks them down, and beats the lot of them in a pretty well done multi-page fight scene. Kane is still the only guy doing fight scenes like this, and here it works to good effect. There's a particularly impressive panel of Batman bowling over some crooks, that shows a level of dynamism not often seen in this era.

I liked this one.  It had an interesting villain, great atmosphere with the fog-drenched city-scapes, and a really good fight scene.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Maurice Kashuba): I don't have the first page of this story, but from what I gather Bart must protect a US freighter from foreign spies. It does have a scene where he fights a spy who has dynamite strapped to his back, but otherwise this is an average story.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): Buck Marshall must clear the name of a man who has been framed for murder, and is scheduled to be hanged. This is actually a pretty solid story, even though it ends on an anticlimax when the final confrontation with the real culprits lasts for a single panel.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Don Lynch): Steve is on the trail of Rocky Roman, a wanted murderer. He tracks him down, and the story climaxes with a rooftop shootout and fist-fight. This isn't the most interesting story, but at least it makes an effort to liven up the action sequences.

'Speed Saunders Ace Investigator and the Spider' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Speed is on the trail of the Spider, a renowned jewel thief. It turns out that the Spider is actually a woman masquerading as a man, in a fairly implausible plot twist.

'Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): How do you make Cosmo even more boring than usual? Send him out west to tackle a gang of cattle rustlers! It was a neat touch when Cosmo admitted he would make a crappy cowboy, because Golden Age heroes are usually super-competent at everything, but other than that this was a snoozer.

'A Climax in Opera' (by Richard Martin): An jewel thief steals a whole bunch of gems, and a detective tracks him down in the theatre because he knows that he is obsessed with the opera. I was all set to dismiss this one, until the final line, where the jewel thief's only regret is that the detective didn't allow him to see the third act of "Carmen". Class.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce Nelson investigates a murder at a wealthy socialite's ski party. This was shaping up well, with a few legitimate suspects, until the end when Bruce just bluffed his way into finding the culprit then dumped a whole load of exposition explaining what happened. I think this would have worked better as a two-parter.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): Slam and Shorty go to China, where they are hired by the Lan Chee Tong to retrieve a sacred idol. This one is uncharacteristically humourless, but it's still not bad as a straight action story.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

January 1940: More Fun Comics #52

Cover by Bernard Baily

'The Spectre' (by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily): Jim Corrigan is a policeman, and also engaged to socialite Clarice Winston. After Jim single-handedly stops a gang of crooks from robbing a warehouse, gangster Gat Benson decides to bump him off. Which he successfully does, by putting him in a barrel, filling it with cement, and dropping into a river. Corrigan dies, but before he can enter Heaven a booming voice tells him that it is his mission to return to Earth and eradicate crime. Corrigan awakens at the bottom of the river, finding that he is a ghostly apparition with the ability to fly and turn invisible. The story ends with him about to take revenge on Gat and his thugs.

This is quality stuff.  Siegel is really on his game here, drawing out the origin story into a compelling read. If I have one disappointment it's that it ends before Corrigan can assume the look he has on the cover of the issue. It's a minor quibble. The characters are relatively well-defined, Baily's storytelling is strong, and I want to see where it's going.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): Continuing from last issue, Wing Brady and his men are defending Fort Miranda from an Arab tribe known as the Touaregs. Wing uses some rudimentary tactics to defeat them, but the story is well told. If I have one complaint it's that the Touaregs are never developed as characters. Faceless hordes usually make for uninteresting villains.

'Biff Bronson' (by Albert Sulman and Joseph Sulman): A mad scientist known as the Wizard has built a robot army, and he uses it to steal all of the silver from West Point. It probably cost him more to build the robots, but never mind that. Biff Bronson disables a robot, figures out that he can use it as a disguise, and determines to infiltrate the Wizard's hideout. To be continued! This is fun stuff.

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Martin Wheeler): Sandy and Larry go up against a safe manufacturer who has rigged his safes with secret panels that conceal the treasure placed within. He then plans to buy back the seemingly looted safes and collect the treasure himself. This starts off as an intriguing mystery, but the payoff is not as interesting as the set-up.

'Bust-Up in Borneo' (by Jack Anthony): Two adventurers rescue a young boy from savages by using flares. It's not awful. It just kind of exists.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by B. Hirsch and Russ Lehman): Bob and Tubby go up against a disguised yacht that is laying mines in the Panama Canal. This is solid if unspectacular stuff. It's continued next month, even though the story seems to be over. Perhaps whatever foreign power is responsible for the plot will retaliate.

'King Carter' (by Paul J. Lauretta): King and Red are in the Arctic, searching for a lost research expedition. It turns out that the expedition was killed by a rival outfit, who wanted the reward money for scientific data about the Arctic for themselves. This story is okay, but marred by some terrible exposition near the beginning, as King and Red spend a page telling each other things they already know.

'Detective Sergeant Carey and the Studio Mystery' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey investigates a murder on a movie set, in which an actor was shot while filming a scene but nobody can find the gun. The culprit turns out to be a cameraman, who killed the actor with a gun inside the camera. This story doesn't do anything particularly wrong, but it's still not very good.

'Sergeant O'Malley of the Red Coat Patrol' (by Jack Lehti): O'Malley goes up against a gang of robbers who have their hideout in a secret room behind the local bank. I was convinced they were living behind a waterfall, and was all set to write about how stupid O'Malley was for not figuring it out on the first panel. That's some effective misdirection from Lehti, the best thing about an otherwise mediocre story.

'Bulldog Martin' (by Bart Tumey): Bulldog is left a bottle of invisibility pills by a deceased scientist, and uses it to break up a gang of union racketeers. There are some decent comedy bits in this story that give some life to the very well worn plot. And I'm glad that this strip now has a hook of some sort, even if it's not a particularly original one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The 1930s: A Retrospective

After about ten months of solid reading, I have reached the end of the 1930s, and I thought now would be a good time to look back on the best and worst of the comics from that era.  This retrospective is almost certainly going to slant towards DC, because the vast majority of the comics I read came from that publisher.  Marvel, Archie and Quality are just getting into the super-hero genre as this decade closes, so I'm sure I'll have more to say about them the next time I do a post like this one.

A lot of things have changed in the comics from 1935 to 1940.  When I started this project, everything was in black and white, and the stories were all continuing serials in monthly installments of two or three pages.  It wasn't unusual for a story to drag along over many months, or even years.  Now everything is in colour, the stories have a higher page count, and they're mostly finished in a single installment.  Hardly anybody is writing serials any more, and it's been a big jump in quality.  It's much easier for me to enjoy these types of comics when I don't have to remember what happened in two pages of a comic I read a week ago.

As for actual enjoyment, let's say that there is a dearth of material that I would actually sit down and read for pleasure.  Most of the plots and situations are things that I have seen a thousand times before, and most of the characters are bland ciphers.  But I have learned over the months to compare these strips to each other rather than to the comics of today, and that makes it easier to spot the moments of quality.

And now, the awards!  Starting with the Worsts.

The Worst Creator: There are a lot of guys who have made terrible comics during this time, but most of them have come and gone without leaving much of an impression on me.  But for sheer longevity, I'm going to give it to Homer Fleming.  He has been around since day one, mostly doing cowboy strips for DC.  Occasionally he creates something with a glimmer of interest, but most of his work is terribly bland and hackneyed.  His 'Captain Jim' strip was the absolute worst; it ran for about 30 chapters, in which Jim chased the same gang of rustlers around and accomplished nothing.  The story even ended with no resolution.  Apologies to Homer, who probably doesn't actually deserve this award, but he was the first name that sprang to mind.  He's probably dead and can't read this anyway.

The other one I thought of was Sven Elven, another long-time DC artist with an extended string of mediocrity on strips like 'Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise' and 'The Magic Crystal of History'.  He was saved by his swashbuckling pirate stories, which were occasionally quite fun.

I also want to talk about Gardner Fox here.  The guy is prolific, no doubt about that, and he works across a whole lot of genres.  When he does fantasy stories, he's very good.  He's also pretty good on super-heroes.  They guy has some pretty gonzo ideas.  But give him a detective story, and it's usually awful, just very poorly constructed and executed.  (Don't worry Fox fans, I'll talk about him a bit more in a later category.)

The Worst Comic: Without a doubt, Movie Comics, a terrible-looking comic with heavily truncated movie adaptations.  I actively dreaded reading it, and was overjoyed when I finished the final issue.  Its cancellation was well deserved.

And now, the prestigious Bests:

The Best Creators: Without a doubt, the honours here go to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  They had their fair share of clunkers, but for the most part what they created was imaginative and energetic, and miles ahead of the pack.  'Superman' and 'Slam Bradley' were their stand-outs, but 'Federal Men' was one of the very best of the early strips, and 'Doctor Occult' and 'Spy' also had solid runs where they were entertaining.  Siegel also writes 'Red, White and Blue', which can be very entertaining at times.

Honourable mentions go to: Tom Hickey, who went from one of my least favourite artists to one of the most solid and dependable guys around;  Will Eisner, who is just starting to come into his own as a brilliant storyteller; Bill Everett, for his work on 'Sub-Mariner'; Gardner Fox, who writes a lot of fun fantasy stories; and Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who not only founded DC, but was one of their best writers in the early days.

The Best Strip: I have no hesitation in saying that the best strip of the 1930s is 'Slam Bradley' by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  I've been gushing about it since day one, and it really is that good.  If DC released a collection of this stuff I'd run out and buy it immediately, and there's nothing else from this time that I'd say that about.  It's even survived the transition of artist from Joe Shuster to Mart Bailey with only a minor drop in quality.

There are a few others that I look forward to quite a bit.  Siegel and Shuster's 'Superman' was a close runner-up.  'Zatara' by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer is always great.  Will Eisner's 'Espionage' gets better and better.  'Sub-Mariner' by Bill Everett has started strongly.  There are heaps more that I'm probably forgetting right now.

I'm surprised not to be including 'Batman' here, but to be honest that strip has been good half the time and a bit crap for the other half.  Once it hits a consistent level of quality I'm sure I'll love it.

The Best Comic: This is a toss-up between Action Comics and Detective Comics.  The former has 'Superman' and 'Zatara', both of which are very good.  The latter has 'Slam Bradley' which is great, 'Bruce Nelson' which is often good, and 'Batman', which has Batman in it.  In the end I think I have to go with Action Comics.  Perhaps when 'Batman' lifts its game Detective Comics will take over.


A new decade lies ahead of me, a decade with a greater focus on super-heroes.  I'm looking forward to it, despite the knowledge that I'm going to be reading a lot of racist war propaganda stories.  But looking back at my posts, I noticed that it has taken me about six months to get through 1939.  This is much too slow, and things are only going to get slower as the companies ramp up production.  I'd like to get to the 1960s as quickly as possible.  So I'll be trying to read more than one comic a day when time allows, and waiting impatiently for the page counts to drop.  I'll be back tomorrow with a look at More Fun Comics #52, and the first appearance of the Spectre.  See you in the funny pages!

December 1939-January 1940: Zip Comics #1-2

Cover by Charles Biro

'Steel Sterling, the Man of Steel' (by Charles Biro): John Sterling's father was killed by racketeers, so he vows to wreak vengeance on the underworld. His origin story is pretty simple, as John covers himself in special chemicals, dives into a vat of molten metal, and emerges with a skin as hard as steel and the ability to magnetise his body. It's all quite compellingly depicted.  In his first adventure he battles against a crook known as the Black Knight, who has a castle full of goons and deathtraps. The action doesn't let up here, as Steel Sterling batters his way through everything in his path. And I almost pitied the Black Knight by the end. He was beaten up, thrown head first into a wall, fell down a hundred foot pit, got savaged by a pack of giant rats, and then blown up along with his castle. That's a bad guy who goes out with style.

'The Scarlet Avenger' (by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick): Jim Kendall's wife and kid were killed in a plane that crashed after being hijacked by crooks, so he decided to become the Scarlet Avenger to fight crime. Jim himself was in the crash, and was the only survivor. His face muscles were paralysed, and he became "The Man Who Never Smiles", which is completely hilarious. He even talks to his operatives while sitting on a skull throne, so this guy is pretty emo. He doesn't have any powers, just a whole load of gadgets; a bulletproof cloak, a magnet ray, a paralysis gun, pretty much whatever the plot demands. In his first story, the Scarlet Avenger takes on a gang who are insuring people and then murdering them, which is pretty pedestrian stuff.

'Nevada Jones, Cattle Detective' (by Creators Unknown): Nevada Jones is a generic western hero, "ace operative of the cattleman's association". In this story he must rescue a female ranch owner from Mexican cattle rustlers. Not only is Nevada unpleasantly racist towards Mexicans (the word greaser is used at least once per page) he shoots his horse point blank in the head after it falls down a cliff. And that ain't cool.

'Kalthar the Giant Man, King of the Jungle' (by Harry Shorten and Lin Streeter): Kalthar is a Tarzan clone, raised in the jungle by a tribe that his father had rescued from Arab slave traders. He does have one bit of originality, in that he can eat a special grain that makes him grow to fifteen feet in height. In this story he fights more Arab slave traders. It's not great, and it has the usual undertones of white supremacy at the core of this genre.

'War Eagles featuring The Devil's Flying Twins' (by Ed Smalle): I've seen my share of over-reaction, but Tom and Tim Shane take the cake. After being fouled in a game of polo by the German sportsman Herr Schultz, they decide to join the British Air Force to seek revenge. Yes, a good bombing raid will fix him! The twins display pretty much the same level of maturity throughout, disobeying orders, getting their fellow soldiers killed, letting a girl come between them, and flying an unauthorised bombing mission against the Germans. They're presented as heroes, but they really do come across as spoiled brats.

'You Can't Win!' (by Creators Unknown): This grim prose piece tells the story of murderer William Hickman, who did neck strengthening exercises in an attempt to stop his neck from being broken when hanged, only to die by slow strangulation. It seems less of a story and more of an excuse to present a scene of gratuitous unpleasantness.

'Captain Valor' (by Abner Sundell and Mort Meskin): Captain Valor was a US marine, but he left because the marines weren't exciting enough for him. That's a hell of a thing to live up to, but I'm afraid that Valor doesn't cut it. In his first story he rescues a girl from the warlord Ho Tsin, and blows up the warlord's base with grenades. But Ho Tsin never gets dealt with, which never makes for a satisfying action story.

'Mr. Satan' (by Edd Ashe): Wealthy playboy Dudley Bradshaw is also Mr. Satan, international detective and soldier of fortune. In this story he must rescue a missionary from Count Bodana and his pygmies, who want the location of a valuable gem. It's all very hackneyed stuff, and Mr. Satan is fairly bland despite his cool name. Even the scene where the missionaries daughter has her feet burned with matches didn't shock me.

'The Miracle Man, Zambini the Magician' (by Joe Blair and Ed Wexler): Zambini is yet another generic magician hero. His one unique power is his boomerang amulet, which can make any evil force return where it came from. In this story he stops the nation of Hundaria from invading Ritania.  It's an average story, and Zambini is very powerful, but without the fun of Zatara. He does have one weakness, though: as long as someone touches him with their hand, he is powerless. That's a neat twist, but it doesn't save this from being a dull story.

Cover by Charles Biro

'Steel Sterling, Man of Steel' (by Charles Biro): Steel tackles a gang of escapes convicts who steal a gold shipment from a ship at sea. It turns out that they're working for the Black Knight, who you may recall was emphatically killed off in the last issue. He's alive again, which usually doesn't bother me for villains, but at the very least I expect an explanation beyond "I thought he was dead".  About halfway through this story I was getting very tired of Sterling's invulnerability, but then he suddenly developed a whole bunch of weaknesses. Tear gas can blind him, liquid fire can damage his eyes, and he can be helplessly buried under a huge pile of chains. With some weaknesses established, I found myself enjoying this one, especially the extended polar bear fight sequence.

'The Scarlet Avenger, Gang Buster' (by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick): The Scarlet Avenger goes up against a gang of racketeers and their leader, who is actually the District Attorney. This is a pretty boring story, but it's somewhat livened up by the Avenger's ridiculous gadgets and preparations. He's almost like the Adam West Batman is his level of preparedness, only this is supposed to be taken seriously.

'Nevada Jones, Quick-Trigger Man' (by Creators Unknown): Nevada Jones is framed for murder by a gang of outlaws, but that story is just a backdrop for Nevada's transformation from cowboy to masked hero. He starts wearing a mask, because he's now wanted by the police. He finds a horse and names it Blaze. He gets a Mexican sidekick named Little Joe. He even gets a lame catchphrase - "Yippee-Yay! Blaze Away!" - that he repeats no less than three times during this story. The story is average, but the various heroic trappings acquired make me slightly more interested in where this is going.

'Kalthar the Giant Man, King of the Jungle' (by Harry Shorten and Lin Streeter): White ivory hunters arrive in the jungle, and Kalthar has to stop them. The villains aren't fleshed out at all, and Kalthar isn't interesting enough to carry a story on his own.

'War Eagles, The Devil's Flying Twins' (by Ed Smalle): Tom and Tim, after a series of dogfights and battles, end up as majors with the rank to do whatever they please. They're still insufferable characters being presented as heroic. The artist is also unable to draw a good dogfight; his planes look like they're falling out of the sky rather than flying.

'The Oregon Death Dealer!' (by Creators Unknown): This prose story is about a man who leaves his love to head out west and make his fortune. With no luck on the goldfields he becomes a criminal, and his woman must break him out of jail so that they can go on the run together. This veered a little closely to cloying romance for my tastes, but the ending was quite sweet. It's unusual to see crime romanticised in comics at this time.

'Captain Valor' (by Abner Sundell and Mort Meskin): There's a lot going on here. Valor and his friends Angie and Ronnie befriend the jovial outlaw Wang-Fu. They make enemies out of the less-than-jovial outlaw Hop-Lung. There are invaders from another country. There are missionaries under siege. It's a mess, quite frankly. I do like the way Valor just solves every problem with a big bag of dynamite, though.

'Mr. Satan' (by Harry Shorten and Edd Ashe): Mr. Satan goes up against a woman who is trying to kill her husband by getting her boyfriend to attack him dressed as a lake monster. It's dull.

'Zambini the Miracle Man' (by Joe Blair and Ed Wexler): The fiery planet Inferno is nearing Earth, and threatens to burn all life to death. Zambini, along with the crazy Professor Stargaze and an unnamed girl, travel to Inferno and meet the glass people who live there. Zambini is able to cool Inferno down while battling against the glass people and Professor Stargaze, and this is exactly the sort of gonzo nonsense that I want from Golden Age comics.

Monday, October 10, 2011

December 1939: Top-Notch Comics #3

Cover by Edd Ashe

I recently discovered that the excellent Mike of, the site that I use as a guide to release dates, has started listing the information for Archie. A look at the dates showed me that I'm a month out in my own estimations, so I'll be doing the December 1939 Archie books as well as the January 1940 ones to catch up. Luckily there are only three in total, because I haven't been enjoying the Archie comics thus far.

'The Wizard, the Man with the Super-Brain' (by Edd Ashe): This story is off to a bad start when it compares Blane Whitney's exploits on the polo field with his great-great-grandfather's part in the Civil War. Once he becomes the Wizard and starts smashing a plot by the fake country of Borental to blow up the Panama Canal things pick up, with some dynamic, fast-paced action scenes. But he also gets arrested for driving too fast, and for reasons unexplained he can't just tell the police that he's on the way to save the Panama Canal.  Come on, his brother is the head of naval intelligence!  The story ends with two newspaper stories, one praising the Wizard for stopping the Borentals, and the other condemning Blane Whitney for getting arrested. It's almost like a Spider-Man story in that regard, but the Wizard is far too awesome at everything for it to resonate.

'Dick Storm in China' (by Mort Meskin): Dick Storm is hired by the Chinese government to help recruit Warlord K'ang the Terrible to fight for them against a vicious invader. It's weird to see a story like this in which China is depicted as a force for law and order. But this is pretty solid stuff. Dick executes a plan that sets the invaders and K'ang at each others throats, and wraps up the story in a reasonably plausible manner.

'Bob Phantom, The Scourge of the Underworld' (by Irv Novick): Kidnappers take the son of a wealthy oilfield owner, and Bob Phantom goes to his rescue. I still can't figure out Bob Phantom's deal. He feels really out of place in his own stories, just popping up out of nowhere and displaying whatever power seems necessary at the time. If he looked cool there might be a sense of mystery about him, but as you can see he is completely ridiculous.

'Biscuits and Six-Guns' (by Creators Unknown): This prose story is about Pearl Hart, a female stagecoach robber trying to make money to send back to her baby. While I was reading this it felt more like a synopsis of events than a story, and that's because it is very loosely based on actual events. Even so, it fails as an entertaining story. You might as well read her Wikipedia entry. (Admittedly, that won't have the same level of nigh-incomprehensible cowboy speak.)

'Stacey Knight, M.D.' (by Lin Streeter): If you're a doctor in comic books, it's inevitable that at some point you will be kidnapped by gangsters to patch up their leader from a bullet wound. This is what happens to Stacey Knight, but he quickly turns the tables and has the crooks killed or arrested. He runs around carrying a tommy gun, and even shoots a crook in the face at point blank range. Surely it's all against the Hippocratic oath?

'Wings Johnson of the Air Patrol: Sky Raiders of the Western Front' (by Creators Unknown): Last issue, Johnson killed his enemy Von Schiller, and I wondered where it could go from there. The answer is much more interesting than I suspected, as Johnson goes crazy, convinced that Von Schiller is still alive. Of course he's right, as he escapes from hospital. What follows is a series of captures, escapes, and aerial dogfights, and at the end Von Schiller is really dead. Although his method of death is exactly the same as it was last time, so I have my doubts. This was actually pretty good.

'Swift of the Secret Service' (by Creators Unknown): Swift goes up against some jewel smugglers. The plot is very well worn, but the art is great. It even manages to depict an exciting car chase, something comics often have a difficult time with.

'Scott Rand on Mars' (by Otto Binder and Jack Binder): Scott and his buddy Thor go to Mars and stop the warlike Kruzzo, Ice King of Mars, from conquering the whole planet. The only enjoyment I got out of this was seeing Thor fighting aliens and being stereotypically Norse, but for the moment that's enough.

'The West Pointer' (by Ed Wexler): Keith Kornell is annoyed that his teammate Seymour is taking all the credit. But when Seymour is shot during a robbery, Keith must step up and win the Army-Navy game despite the rest of the team blaming him. This at least has a more novel premise than most sport comics, but it's still terrible. Forget car chases, I've never seen football done well in a comic.

'Manhunters' (by Jack Cole): In this true story the police hunt down a murderer and robber. This series is yet to have a compelling tale to tell, and this is no exception. It looks pretty good, though, with some very solid storytelling.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

December 1939: Smash Comics #7, Feature Comics #29

Cover possibly by Gill Fox

'Espionage starring the Black X; (by Will Eisner): Eisner opens with a war montage yet again, and this time he has added skeletons in military uniforms. Everything is improved with skeletons. In the actual story, foreign spies try to sabotage a US blockade that is stopping their country from gaining access to the Pacific Ocean. The Black X is sent to stop them, and the story proceeds along the usual captures and escapes line. But it takes a surprisingly emotional turn when Black X falls for the female leader of the spies, and tries to save her from certain death as she pilots a kamikaze torpedo at a US naval base. He fails, and is so gutted that he quits the spy game. It rings a little false when he instantly jumps back into action a panel later, but the rest of the story is told very well indeed.

'Abdul the Arab' (by Vernon Henkel): Abdul and Hassan go up against the "Masked One", the hooded leader of an arms smuggling operation. Abdul gets captured and Hassan does all the work, which seems to be a trend in this series. It's not particularly interesting.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by Stan Aschmeier): Lola Barnes, daughter of Sir Sidney, is kidnapped, and a mysterious voice with no discernible source demands the Red Star Diamond as ransom. Captain Cook figures out that the voice is transmitted through wires, and that Lola is being held in her own house by Sidney's Hindu servant. Cook's hunch about Lola's location is never explained, and the Hindu servant is never mentioned before he is caught, so this definitely fails as a mystery story.

'Clip Chance at Cliffside' (by George Brenner): Clip receives a note from gamblers, telling him that if he plays in tomorrow's basketball game they will kill his mother. True to form, Clip wants to play regardless of the danger (he did the same thing when his girlfriend was threatened) but his coach won't let him. He tracks down the crooks, gets captured, escapes and goes on to win the game. But the crooks are still at large, and free to kill Clip's dear old mum at any time. Man, Clip Chance is the biggest jerk ever.

'Wings Wendall of the Military Intelligence' (by Vernon Henkel): A female spy is sent to seduce an army officer to get the New York Defense Plans. Wings stops the spy ring in a pretty solid story.  There are also scenes of German-born Americans holding rallies to declare their allegiance to the Fatherland, which must have been topical at the time, and they serve to ground the action and up the stakes.

'Invisible Justice' (by Art Pinajian): Invisible Justice takes on a gang of crooks who set fire to businesses before robbing them in asbestos suits. There's nothing of interest here.

'Flash Fulton' (by Paul Gustavson): Flash foils some kidnappers, and films their confession without them realising it. Dull.

'Chic Carter, Ace Reporter' (by Vernon Henkel): Chic is shot down behind enemy lines, and his captors force him to send the articles they want him to write. Chic escapes, foils an assassination attempt on the royal family of Moravia, then plants a kiss on the princess. It's a terribly boring story, but Chic Carter is easily the most bad-ass non-superhero reporter around.

'The Master of Mu' (by Robert M. Hyatt): After a promising opening, in which our hero Jon was kidnapped and sent to the moon by the villainous Milo, we find out that he's not actually on the moon, and that Milo is stealing planes by purely mechanical means. With all of the fantastical elements stripped out, this conclusion falls very flat.

'John Law, Scientective' (by Harry Francis Campbell): The Avenger's next target is Albert Lewis. Law goes to help him, only to find that the Avenger has turned Lewis's house into a deathtrap. Of course Law escapes, but the deathtraps are actually pretty creative in places. The Avenger, however, comes across as a pretty weak villain; there's a hilarious scene where he fails to capture Law's girlfriend, and watches forlornly as she drives away. Apparently Law is going to unmask the Avenger in the next issue, and any idiot can see that it's Albert Lewis.  Unless I'm being misdirected with very obvious clues, but I don't think so.

'Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man' (by George Brenner): "Jarmanian" spies kidnap a general's son and try to blackmail him for the gold at Fort Kentucky. Hugh and Bozo stop them, with the help of a notorious crook who refuses to betray his country. The inclusion of the crook and his redemption raises this above the usual fare.

Cover by Ed Cronin

'The Doll Man' (by Will Eisner): Darrel Dane is framed by an art thief, but as the Doll Man he is able to escape and beat up the thief and his gang. This is as rudimentary as this type of story gets. The art is quite good, with some very solid storytelling, but there's no sense of scale. The Doll Man is tiny, but it's not conveyed all that effectively.

'Ned Brant' (by Bob Zuppke and R.W. Depew): Ned Brant and his friend Bud Shekels are jerks to each other over a girl. I suppose I should be happy that they aren't playing any sort of sport, but this is still not very good.

'Charlie Chan' (by Alfred Andriola): In the last issue, Charlie and Detective Kirk went undercover in a gang of kidnappers. In this chapter they are exposed, but manage to beat them all in a fist fight. The story here is average, but there are number of scenes told effectively without dialogue or narration, which is pretty sophisticated for the time.

Ed Wheelan has moved on from this strip, and it's now being done by Joe Devlin.  It has switched from a continuing story to one page gag strips, and I approve. The latter format wasn't doing it any favours.  And at the very least, I won't have to write about it any more.

'The Clock Strikes' (by George E. Brenner): A friend of the Clock's is killed by blackmailers lead by a crook named the Reaper. The Clock captures them and places them under arrest. There are no real flaws to this story, but it's still frightfully uninteresting and formulaic.

'Jane Arden' (by Monte Barrett and Russell E. Ross): Jane has been undercover, working with a jewel thief called the "Man With the Scar", for ages now, and in this story she gets him arrested. It's not great, but I'm just glad that this plot line is over.

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): Indians are being killed by a mysterious person called the "Flying Death", and Reynolds is called in to investigate. There's a white criminal who is under suspicion, but the killer ends up being the Indian chief. As far as I can tell there is absolutely no motive for the killings, which is like the first rule for constructing a murder mystery.

'Rance Keane, the Knight of the West' (by Will Arthur): Rance and Pee Wee investigate a derailed train. Footprints around the tracks lead them to believe that a one-legged man is the culprit, but it turns out to be a guy who was wearing two right shoes. I was vaguely interested in the set-up, but the solution was blindingly obvious.

'Whispering Walls' (by A.L. Allen): Two cowboys seek shelter from a storm in a supposedly haunted ruin. While shooting rats in the walls, they find a box full of treasure. This story seemed to be setting up a contrast between city boy Roy and tough country boy Jack, but that goes nowhere, and what we actually get is a series of events that in no way coalesces into a story.

'Captain Fortune' (by Vernon Henkel): This story gets off to a cracking start, with a member of Fortune's crew bursting into a tavern to announce that the evil pirate Black Flint is terrorising the coast once again. Fortune quickly rounds up his crew, sails to Flint's island, and kills the pirate and his men. This story wastes no time, bouncing from one action scene to the next. It's major failing is that Flint barely appears before his death, but I enjoyed the breakneck pace.

'Slim and Tubby' (by John J. Welch): Benton is scheduled to fight a boxer named Simpson, who takes a dive to make Benton look bad. Everything is cleared up by the boxing commission without much effort, and no drama at all. It's also occurred to me that Slim and Tubby, despite being the title characters, have not done anything for months.

'Spin Shaw of the Naval Air Corps' (by Rex Smith): This is a new strip, in which Spin Shaw is a generic heroic pilot, pretty much the most common type of hero in the Golden Age so far.  On an island protected by the USA, Spin stops foreign agents from poisoning the local crops. It features a decent aerial dogfight, but is otherwise pretty dull.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

December 1939: Marvel Mystery Comics #4

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'The Human Torch' (by Carl Burgos): The Torch goes up against a mad scientist named Manyac, and his Green Flames, men wearing suits covered in a freezing fire. Manyac is terrorising New York, holding it to ransom for vast sums of money, and the city is under martial law. The Torch puts a stop to his plans in a fairly middling story.

The most important thing that happens in this story is that the Torch adopts the name of Jim Hammond, something he does on the spur of the moment when questioned by the police. I hadn't even noticed before that he had yet to get a name.

The Torch's powers are also pretty inconsistent. There's a bit where he makes bullets veer away from him with a wave of his hand, which doesn't seem like something he should be able to do. And I've always wondered why, if his body burns hot enough to melt bullets, can he be put out with water? Surely the water would evaporate.

'The Angel' (by Paul Gustavson): The mob goes on a crime spree, using a bullet-proof giant called Butch to wreak havoc. The Angel shows up and beats him, and there's not much more to it than that. This is a strange story, in that the Angel is a complete cipher in it. He only has one line of dialogue. The focus is on the crooks, and Butch. Butch is also unexplained; he's just a big, bulletproof giant and nobody ever bothers to ask where he came from. He could be a mutant, he could be from Asgard, who knows.  I quite liked this, but I'm a sucker for super-hero fight stories.

'Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner' (by Bill Everett): Having been swayed by Betty Dean in the last issue, Namor leads an army of Sub-Mariners to intervene in the war. His plan is simply to make sure that food and medical supplies get where they're supposed to go, regardless of whose side they're meant for. This is a massive turnaround for a guy who was prepared to destroy the human race not so long ago. The story ends with Namor having liberated an American freighter, and leading it towards Scotland. I'm not really feeling this one. Namor's heroic turn has made him much less interesting, and the action mostly consists of an uninspired aerial dogfight.

'The Masked Raider' (by Al Anders): The Masked Raider protects two prospectors from thugs trying to kill them over a rich gold deposit. It's another story in which the title character barely appears. It falls flat at the end; there's a panel of the Masked Raider punching one of the crooks, and suddenly all four of them are beaten. It's pretty weak stuff.

'Warning Enough' (by David G. Cooke): A driver named Steve Naylor picks up a hitch-hiker who ends up being a crook on the run from the law. The crook provides his own undoing by making Steve drive extra-carefully, as the uncharacteristic caution alerts the police that something isn't right. I thought the ending to this was relatively clever.

'Electro, the Marvel of the Age' (by Steve Dahlman): Professor Philo Zog invents a robot called Electro, with which he wants to help the human race. He also hires twelve operatives to aid him, which he hilariously does by calling an unemployment agency and asking them to send only those of "courage and good character". It's not the most foolproof way to set up a spy network, but in at least one case it works, as agent Dick Gardner stops a kidnapping ring with Electro's help. Unfortunately, too much of this story is taken up by the human characters, and when Electro goes into action he's not all that impressive.

'Ferret, Mystery Detective' (by Stockbridge Winslow and Irwin Hasen): Ferret is a writer and a detective. In this story he investigates a wave of jewel robberies. This story is really choppy and difficult to follow. It also has one of the worst montage sequences I've ever seen. It's not good.

'Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great' (by Ben Thompson): DeKraft, the killer of Ka-Zar's father, returns to the Congo to hunt for emeralds. Ka-Zar begins planning his revenge, and the story continues into the next issue. The use of DeKraft in this story gives it a bit of extra weight, and this is all perfectly good set-up. There are all sorts of possibilities for shenanigans and double-crossing, with a rift in DeKraft's camp, as well as Ka-Zar's.  DeKraft's partner wants to kill him, and vice versa.  DeKraft's native guides want to get the hell out of the jungle.  Ka-Zar wants to kill DeKraft.  Various animals think that Ka-Zar is in league with DeKraft.  There's a lot going on.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

December 1939: Superman Daily Strip #259-288, Superman Sunday Strip #1-8, Daring Mystery Comics #2

SUPERMAN DAILY STRIP #259-288 (by Siegel and Shuster)

In this story, Superman helps a hard-nosed politician go up against organised crime. The parts of this story that feature Superman are nothing I haven't seen before, but it's really Lois Lane's story. Her desire to get out of the "lovelorn" columns and back into real journalism makes her a lot more likable than her usual portrayal. And the pay-off to that story is quite amusing, as she gets her scoop, only to be forced off the front page by another unexpected headline. It's not often that "War in Europe!" can be used as a punchline, but here it's done to good effect. We also see Superman give his first ever interview here, as he opens up slightly to Lois and explains his desire to do good. I was pleased to see that he doesn't know where he's from. I kind of figured that he knew he was from Krypton already, but it appears not, and I'm looking forward to him discovering his heritage.

SUPERMAN SUNDAY STRIP #1-8 (by Siegel and Shuster)

The beginning of Superman's run as a Sunday strip is pretty banal, with him helping Mike Hensely, the owner of a logging business, against an unscrupulous rival. Still, even though the basic plot isn't that interesting, Siegel and Shuster get the most out of it with some great moments. I'm always up for scenes of Superman being a bully, and the one where he threatens a bank manager into giving Hensely a loan is a good one. He also throws a few cars around, lifts a train, uproots an entire forest, and wrestles a bear. Every installment makes sure to show him doing something impressive, and the net result is a decent story, despite the uninspiring premise.

A notable change has occurred in both of these strips: Clark Kent and Lois Lane now work for the Daily Planet. I think the name appears in the daily strip first, but only by a few days, and I'm not entirely sure that I've got the dates right. It's always possible that I've missed a previous mention of it in an earlier story, but so far as I know another piece of the Superman puzzle clicks into place here in these newspaper strips.

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'Zephyr Jones and his Rocket Ship' (by Joe Cal Cagno and Fred Schwartz): Zephyr Jones and his partner Corky try to fly a rocket to Mars, but instead land on the hidden planet of Sunev. There they befriend the Bird Men, and aid them in battle against the evil Parrot Men. Although the story is fairly cliched, it's told with enthusiasm, and there is some impressive art during the battle scenes. Plus, it has evil Parrot-Men.  This strip appears next in Mystic Comics #1, out fairly shortly.

'The Phantom Bullet' (by Joe Simon): The Phantom Bullet is Allen Lewis, a reporter for the Daily Bulletin. When he gets his hands on a gun that fires ice bullets, he decides to dedicate his life to fighting crime. (The bullets melt after killing the target, so the Phantom Bullet is free to execute criminals without fear of the law.  It's an idea that's been used in a DC strip at some point, but I can't remember which.)  In his first adventure, the Phantom Bullet takes on a murderous blackmailer and his gang of African ape-men. I seriously couldn't make heads or tails of the villain's plan, and I can't say I really followed the Phantom Bullet's investigation either. The only positive thing is that I rather like the Phantom Bullet's abrasive personality, but I've noticed that those types of heroes are invariably softened as they make more appearances.  That won't be a problem, though, because the Phantom Bullet won't be appearing again.  He did show up recently in The Marvels Project, which revealed that he had been killed pretty shortly after his debut.  I knew ice bullets were a crappy super-power.

'Trojak the Tiger Man' (by Joe Simon): Trojak is a white man who grew up with a native tribe in the African jungle after the death of his father. White hunters come into the forest, Trojak falls in love with the girl who is with them, and ends up helping them escape from an evil tribe. There isn't a lot to be interested in, and there are definite suggestions that Trojak is superior to the natives because he is white.

'Six-Gun Dynamite' (by Russell A. Bankson): A prospector is held up by bank robbers, and bluffs them with a box they think is full of dynamite. There's also a subplot about his wife, and her planning to leave if he comes back with dynamite instead of food, and it all comes together into a solid story.

'K-4 and his Devils' (possibly by Jack Alderman): K-4 is an aviator and secret agent. He has sidekicks, a French swordsman and an English disguise specialist, but they don't do anything in this story. K-4 goes undercover as a Gestapo officer and blows up a German munitions dump. It's probably one of the better World War 2 stories that I've read so far, in that it involves something other than page after page of Nazis being killed.

'Mr. E' (by Joe Cal Cagno and Al Carreno): Wealthy sportsman Victor Jay is also Mr. E, a generic masked detective. In this story he goes up against his old enemy the Vampire, a hooded criminal who is blackmailing rich people. The Vampire has a certain villainous style, but Mr. E is terribly bland, as is the story that he stars in.  This is Mr. E's only Golden Age appearance, but he did return in The Twelve quite recently.

'The Laughing Mask' (by Will Harr and Maurice Gutwirth): Dennis Burton is an assistant DA, and also fights crime as the Laughing Mask. In this story he tackles a gang that is sabotaging trains so that they can buy up the railway license for a song. The story is just dull, but the Laughing Mask himself is pretty creepy looking. That, coupled with his eagerness to murder criminals, makes the criminals' fear of him very believable. But that's about the only thing to compliment here.  Like Mr. E, this is his only appearance in the Golden Age, and he also reappeared in The Twelve.

Monday, October 3, 2011

December 1939: Adventure Comics #46, Flash Comics #2, All-American Comics #11, Action Comics #21

Cover by Creig Flessel

'The Sandman Meets With Murder' (by Gardner Fox and Ogden Whitney): The Sandman goes up against the Coin, who is one of his old college buddies who has murdered an artist as part of a counterfeiting scheme. This one is probably a little too convoluted, and the bad guy's plan doesn't make much sense.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): Barry is captured by Fang Gow, and Inspector LeGrand stages a rescue attempt. This is action-packed, with shoot-outs, lion wrestling, exploding bridges, and a whole lot of brawling. It's a shame that Winiarski's art is not dynamic enough to convey the excitement.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): A crooked stock dealer is arrested by Steve Carson and sent to court. He has some thugs stage a fake accident so that the judge runs someone over and thinks he has killed them, but Steve manages to sort the mess out. I give this one points for having the thugs show some creativity, but otherwise it's not great.

'Socko Strong' (by Joseph Sulman): Socko has a boxing match booked with Spike Logan, the world heavyweight champion. There are the usual scenes depicting Logan as a complete dickbag, and a bit of attempted foul play to stop Socko getting to the arena. It does pretty much everything this type of story can do right, but the actual match lacks drama, and Socko's winning punch isn't even shown on panel.

'Unseen Terror' (by Terry Keane): In this prose story, a crazy museum curator develops an obsession with an Egyptian mummy princess, starts writing threatening notes to himself, and sets up an elaborate system to frighten people away. This is pretty bizarre, and doesn't go anywhere. He's just crazy because he's crazy.  And you know, I'm pretty sure that I've read this story before.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo and Gabby investigate some missing planes and their gold shipments. They find the culprits, who have a machine that can stall planes, and a dam to release water and wash away all traces of their runway. The story ends with Desmo and Gabby on top of the dam when it opens, about to plunge into a raging torrent. It's a decent enough set-up and cliffhanger, albeit with well worn plot elements.

'Skip Schuyler' (by Tom Hickey): Skip comes to the rescue of a general's niece, who has been kidnapped. Tom Hickey is competent at the very least, and does some good action scenes as Skip fires from his plane on the kidnappers' boat. But his extreme luck in just flying around until he spots something suspicious is pretty lazy plotting.

This is the final appearance of Skip Schuyler, which never really hit its stride in the way Tom Hickey's other strips have.  I'm imagining that he has a distinguished military career, then marries the general's daughter.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Rusty, Specs and Tubby take shelter from a storm in an old mansion. The owner of the mansion is paranoid, and thinks a mysterious "They" are out to get him. Sure enough his bodyguard is soon murdered by a dart through the neck, and the old man dies of a heart attack. The boys are left in the mansion alone, and the strip ends with a strange knock at the door. This is alright, and successfully evokes the horror movie atmosphere that it's going for.

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Bart Tumey): While on holiday, Don and Red come across Educated Eddie, a chemist who is being driven from his land by foreign spies. They use his new formula to blow the spies up, and Eddie gets a big pay day from the military. Eddie is a fun character, but the story never really comes together, and it's not clear what the spies were after by driving Eddie from his land.

'Cotton Carver in the Land of Sere' (by Ogden Whitney): Cotton leads the pirates of Barlunda on a raid to the land of Sere, looking for radium. The raid goes sour, and Cotton is the only survivor, but he ends up helping a Serean priestess rescue her lover from prison. Cotton gets a tiny bit of character development here, as he considers marrying the pirate princess Deela, and thinks that he would now hate to return to the surface world. And he's not above busting into another country and killing people for radium, either. Like most of the stories in this serial, there are some good ideas, but they never quite combine into an effective whole.

Cover by Dennis Neville

'The Flash' (by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert): The Flash goes up against Lord Donelin and Goll, two crooks who are terrorising the entertainment industry in order to buy it up cheap. The plot is pretty much nonsense, but this story derives a lot of energy from the Flash and his boundless enthusiasm, as he races from crisis to crisis with a smile, a wink, and just a hint of mischief. It spends a lot of time showing regular people reacting to him as well, which is always a contrast that I like in super-hero fiction.

'Cliff Cornwall, Special Agent' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): Cliff and Lys take on two spies who are offering the plans to the Panama Canal for sale to the highest bidder. It's a solid enough spy story, but it doesn't feature anything out of the ordinary.

'The Hawk-Man' (by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville): Hawkman and Shiera battle against a guy calling himself Alexander the Great, a scientist with a gravity ray who wants to conquer the world. There's a lovely scene where Alexander invites Hawkman to dinner to politely ask him not to get in his way, but after that it gets into generic super-hero territory.  Even that part is well told, so it's a decent story all round.

'Johnny Thunderbolt' (by John B. Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier): Okay, I've got this figured out now: it's a humour strip, in which Johnny has the power to make anyone do what he says after he says "say you", but doesn't know it. Shenanigans ensue, and Johnny is signed up for a boxing match with the Suicide Kid. He wins by accident ("Say you! Why don't you go fall on your face and count to ten, and we'll call everything square!") and is scheduled to fight the champ. This would be very funny if the narration didn't stop to explain the joke so often.

'Rod Rian of the Sky Police' (by Paul H. Jepsen): In the year 2500 AD, agent Rod Rian investigates some air piracy, only to be kidnapped by devilish aliens to the planet Mephis, where he gets caught up in a war between the Mephisians and the horned Unicors. This is one of those futuristic stories that feels the need to give everything a weird name. Sensotators! Pilotars! Earthons! It's annoying, and the gobs of exposition aren't helping either.

'Warfare in Space' (by Gardner Fox): Continued from last issue, this prose story sees Billy Morton flying a solo space mission to destroy the fleet of Ralph Farnham, the dreaded pirate who killed his father. He does so, by virtue of being the only guy with a weapon that can fire in space. There are some amusing ideas about space in this one, and the battle is written fairly well, but as a story it's just not interesting.

'The Demon Dummy' (by Ed Wheelan): Last issue, Dunstan started talking to his ventriloquist's dummy, which urged him to kill Devlin, the man who sent him to jail. Now Devlin is in prison, and a desperate Dunstan robs a jewelry store so that he can go to jail as well. Dunstan's dummy talks the other crooks into murdering Devlin, and the crazed Dunstan smashes his dummy and becomes miraculously sane. The story ends when the now-sane Dunstan adopts the child of his former love Madge. I don't know what it is with Ed Wheelan, he's either very good or terrible. This is the former.

'The Whip' (by John B. Wentworth and George Storm): The criminal Association of Ranchers hires five thugs to wipe out the Whip, but he turns the tables on them by pretending to be a ghost. All of the usual super-hero tropes are present - a secret identity, a girl who loves the Whip and hates his other identity, a ridiculous costume - but none of it is presented with any real life or originality.

Cover by Jon L. Blummer

'Red, White and Blue' (by Jerry Siegel and William Smith): Red and Doris West take on Mr. Glib, who has the power to turn invisible, and is using it to murder senators and make it look like suicide. Red was being incredibly sexist last issue, and he keeps that up here. This time it's acceptable because Doris's hunch that the senator was murdered pays off. In fact, her leaps of logic in identifying the killer almost make me think that she knows she's a character in a story. It's all quite amusing. It only falls down with the villain, who has no discernible motive. I also can't figure out why his car exploded at the end of the story. Oh, and Blooey and Whitey are sidelined again, which is a shame. Red is easily the most boring of the trio.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon L. Blummer): Hop Harrigan and his buddies fly home from the Arctic, but Hop is pissed because Gerry is still hanging around with Maurice the poet. It's all getting a little ridiculous, but the absurdity of the various misunderstandings is enough to keep me interested.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): Bob trounces upperclassman Baxter in their boxing match, graduates to a full-fledged cadet, and has a reunion with his girlfriend Betty. Again, while I know that this is not very good at all, I'm kind of absorbed by it.

'Adventures in the Unknown: A Thousand Years a Minute' (by Carl H. Claudy and Stan Aschmeier): Ted and Alan, still trapped in prehistoric times, are beaten up and captured by Ape-Men. Ted has to wrestle one of them, and is about to be killed as the cliffhanger. This strip is always stupid, but in a good way. I don't know why there's an extended interlude about a chocolate bar having melted in Ted's pocket, but it just adds to the lunacy.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly is spending New Year's Eve on a farm with his brother, but his lonely mother and the Hunkels end up coming for a visit. This was okay, but I felt like the comedy was a little flat. It spends too much time telling the reader how rowdy and wacky the Hunkels are, then forgets to have them do anything rowdy or wacky.  And to be honest, I'm over the whole "oh hey, aren't those neighbours wacky!" style of comedy anyway.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): The whole reform school plot line gets sorted out, and then Ben is off on another adventure, as a guy named Taffy Tate comes asking for help to find Prof. Mattix's brother. It's a transitional story, but Tate is such an ornery character that it made a fun read.

'Death's Playground' (by George Shute): In this prose story (continued from last issue) Jimmy is still undercover in an aircraft factory, helping to find a saboteur. He overhears two guys complaining about being made to take a lie detector test, and afterwards he angrily kicks over an ashtray stand and finds a secret note. I question Jimmy's anger at these guys, who after all are just exercising their right to free speech, and his finding of the note was pure dumb luck. And to top it off, this lightweight story is continuing into a third installment.

'Popsicle Pete' (by Sheldon Mayer): After months of build-up to the kids getting their own radio station, the plot veers off into some nonsense about a crazy aviator who is looking for gold at the end of the rainbow.

'Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man' (by Jon L. Blummer): Stella Tor escapes with a sample of the precious foam, but Gary catches up to her ship and blows it up with DESTROYNAMITE. After that he crash lands in Tor's nation and is captured by her father, who has declared war. Good job Gary. Your Dad spent a lifetime creating world peace, and you've wrecked it within a week. I'm giving this story a high mark, just for the Destroynamite.

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster): The Ultra-Humanite returns, and as I predicted he's still in the body of movie starlet Dolores Winters. He uses his feminine wiles to seduce atomic scientist Terry Curtis, then captures him and has him invent a disintegrator ray. When Superman comes to the rescue, the Ultra-Humanite threatens to kill Curtis unless Superman steals some jewels. This leads to several pages of cops trying to stop Superman, which is always fun, but in the end he returns and stops the Ultra-Humanite with Curtis' help. The weirdness of the female Ultra-Humanite and the battle with the police make this a good fun read.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): In this story Pep is hired as bodyguard to a horse trainer who has refused to throw a race for an unscrupulous bookie. The bookie's thugs decide to kill the horse instead, first by throwing a bucket of acid at it (!) then by injecting it with poison. Pep tricks the thugs into killing the wrong horse, and the real one goes on to win. This is a pretty generic race fixing story, but the ridiculous overkill in the thugs' methods made it enjoyable.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck takes an a pair of kidnappers. With names like "Apache Joe" and "Lynch" he should have known they were bad guys straight away.

'Clip Carson' (by Sheldon Moldoff): Clip Carson is tricked into smuggling arms to some Arabs, who then try to kill him. Clip escapes and gets his revenge, but without Bob Kane's art the character has lost his joyful exuberance. Kane would have had him punching Arabs with a smile, but under Moldoff he's become yet another generic action hero.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): When Colonel Rushmore receives a wooden doll with a knife in the chest that looks exactly like him, and a blackmail note demanding $50,000, he calls on Tex Thomson. Thomson captures the culprit in a decent murder mystery, albeit one with only one suspect. As usual, the presence of Gargantua makes things a bit uncomfortable.

'A Blaze of Glory' (by Terry Keane): A fireman rescues a man and a puppy from a fire. There's nothing else to say about this.  He sure did rescue 'em.

'Three Aces' (by Bert Christman): The Three Aces help a landowner against an unscrupulous businessman trying to buy his land. Their real goal is the "Lost Scot" gold mine, and a murder attempt by the bad guys allows the Aces to find it. To be honest, the outrageous accents of the various characters were too distracting for me to take this in.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Deaths on the Moor' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): This story makes no sense. It's a murder mystery. The murder weapon ends up being a pack of vultures trained to lift people and drop them from a great height (this isn't too strange for a Zatara story). The murderers are the local sheriff and coroner, together with an exact double of their intended victim. Their plan was to murder this wealthy man and have the double take his place, but I can't really figure out why some other random characters were murdered. It doesn't hang together as a story, but scenes of Tong choking a vulture, and Zatara working his crazy backwards magic are entertaining enough to make up for it.