Tuesday, October 11, 2011

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment