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.


  1. >There's a lovely scene where Alexander invites Hawkman<

    I didn't snip anything; is there some missing text here?

  2. Yes, you're right. It's fixed now, not that I had anything particularly insightful to add. Thanks!