Sunday, October 2, 2011

December 1939: Pep Comics #2, Top-Notch Comics #2, Action Comics #20, More Fun Comics #51

Cover by Irv Novick

'The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary' (by Irv Novick): The Shield goes up against a fleet of "Nordic" ships that is raiding US oil rigs near Porto Rico. This is pretty bland stuff, except for one scene where the Shield beats some sharks to death with a chain. But he's still very boring, and completely immune to harm. Hell, even Superman can be hurt.  The Shield needs a weakness of some sort.

'The Comet' (by Jack Cole): In the city of Tampa, a giant devil face has been appearing in the sky, uttering threats to those who disobey it and drawing cars full of loot into the sky. The Comet investigates, and finds a gang of crooks who have set the whole thing up with blimps, magnets and projectors. The Comet uses his disintegrator eyes to destroy the blimps and end their plot. This one had an intriguing set-up and some good action, but it wasn't quite as much gonzo fun as the first chapter.

'The Press Guardian' (by Abner Sundell and Mort Meskin): The Daily Express newspaper is threatened by a Moronian bundist group, and the Press Guardian puts a stop to them. This is fairly average, but the strip has been improved greatly by switching its hero's identity from the Falcon to the Press Guardian. At the very least his costume (now a suit and mask) is much better than the weird rainbow bird outfit he had before.

'Fu Chang, International Detective' (by Joe Blair and Lin Streeter): Fu Chang is targeted by devil worshippers who are trying to take over Chinatown. They summon an actual demon, but Fu Chang's magical chessmen defeat it. I enjoyed this one, mostly because it's got a premise that is so far unique.

'Sergeant Boyle' (by Abner Sundell and Charles Biro): This is a fairly stock standard tale in which Boyle exposes a messenger who is actually a German spy. It's all fairly boring until the last page, which is an impressive double page spread of a sprawling battle scene. I think it might be the first double page spread that I've seen in this blog so far, and it certainly had the desired impact.

'When the Red Men Rode' (by Creators Unknown): This prose piece about the death of the Apache chief Geronimo is closer to non-fiction than anything else. I rather enjoyed it. Geronimo sounds like a pretty bloodthirsty character, and I'd like to read more about him. (Admittedly, this story does not have an unbiased portrayal.)

'The Midshipman' (possibly by Bob Wood): Midshipman Lee decides to put himself ahead of the Navy in an army vs. navy race. But he has to turn back to help an injured team-mate, and the race ends as a draw. Lee learns a valuable lesson about teamwork, and I learn a valuable lesson about the crapness of sport-based comics.

'The Rocket and the Queen of Diamonds' (by Abner Sundell and Lin Streeter): A villain named Retlek wants the Rocket out of  the way, so he injects him with dope and pushes him at the queen with a knife in his hand. The Rocket is thrown in the dungeon, but once the drug wears off he escapes and wrecks the bad guys. The Rocket has lost all of the humility he had last issue, and now he's just another typical Golden Age hero.

'Kayo Ward' (by Bob Wood): Kayo Ward quits boxing to please his girl, but goes back after everyone starts calling him a coward. There's a great dirty trick played by the opposing trainer, when he sends Kayo a telegram telling him that a guy he punched in the street is now dying. But apart from that little bit of subterfuge I didn't find much to enjoy here.

'Bentley of Scotland Yard' (by Sam Cooper): A man is killed by a vampire, and Bentley has three suspects - his uncle, his fiancee, and his cousin. The story stops and asks the reader to guess who is the culprit (it was the uncle, who loved the fiancee, and is also not really a vampire) but to solve it you'll need a knowledge of the properties of leech saliva. This was alright despite some slight cheating with the mystery.

Cover by Edd Ashe

'The Wizard' (by Will Harr and Ed Ashe): The army of Sybernia (a stand-in for Japan) is massing to attack Alaska, and the Wizard must hold them off single-handedly until the US fleet arrives. This involves page after page of the Wizard just tearing through troops, tanks and a battleship. I had thought he was just super-smart, but when he tore the ship's mast down I figured he's got a bit of super-strength to go with it. I was all set to give this story a pass mark based on its crazy action sequences, but it ends with the Wizard leaving a calling card that says, "Our country, right or wrong our country", which to me is just a reprehensible sentiment.  (Actually, it's not so bad now that I look at the origin and meaning of it in context.  Knee-jerk anti-patriotism retracted!)

'Scott Rand in the Worlds of Time' (by Jack Binder): Scott Rand, with his new allies Thor and Princess Elda, travel to the super-futuristic year of 2000 AD, where New York is besieged by a martian army. They help turn the tide, and I enjoyed this if only for the scene of Thor piloting a spaceship and blasting martians.

'Swift of the Secret Service' (by Creators Unknown): Swift tackles a gang of counterfeiters in a story that couldn't be more generic.

'Dick Storm in the Foreign Legion' (by Harry Shorten and Mort Meskin): Dick Storm is asked to join the Legion to ferret out some spies that are giving information to a local tribe of hostile Arabs. This is okay, but the action scenes are a bit stiff.

'Air Patrol: Sky Raiders of the Western Front' (by Joe Blair and Ed Smalle): Ben Johnson is still seeking revenge on German U-boat captain Von Schiller, and he gets his chance when the captain starts sinking Allied ships. There's a terrific full page aerial dogfight, and the conclusion is reasonably satisfying. It's hard to see where this strip can go now that Von Schiller is dead. (Although, there was no body...)

'Drum Language' (by Creators Unknown): A college graduate is sent to an island of hostile natives to replace the current person in charge of dealing with them. It's a classic "experience vs. education" set-up in which experience supposedly wins out. In truth, all it's saying is that being shockingly racist is the best way to deal with native tribesmen. Actual dialogue from our hero directed at the native chieftain: "Make one cry and ketcham bang-bang from gun! March, you imp of Satan!"

'The West Pointer' (by Ed Wexler): Keith Kornell is contacted by a spy trying to get a look at his new rifle, but foils the plan with the help of some friends. It might have worked if there was any chance at all that he would take their offer, but that sort of moral ambiguity is foreign to the Golden Age.

'Stacey Knight, M.D.' (by Lin Streeter): Stacey Knight is a doctor and a detective, which I'm sure keeps him busy. In this story, he infiltrates a gang that is smuggling dope into the USA. The story isn't particularly interesting, but it does have some decent action scenes.

'The Mystic' (by C.A. Winter): The Mystic exposes some fraudulent psychics, who send some thugs after him. I'm quite amused by the way he uses simple magicians' tricks to battle them, but the way he refers to them as "boys" in every single panel is beyond camp. Also, the Mystic has his phone set up to ring police headquarters regardless of the number that is dialled, which is absurdly impractical.

'Manhunters' (by Jack Cole): In this true story, the police track down a kidnapper and cop killer. The action scenes that bookend this are quite good, but the actual police work in the middle is beyond tedious. When even the narration is telling you it's boring, something is wrong.

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster): On holiday in Hollywood, Clark Kent saves starlet Dolores Winters from an assassin. He's invited to her house for an interview, but when he gets there she gives him the cold shoulder. Things get weirder when she announces her retirement, and during a yacht party kidnaps all of the stars and holds them to ransom. At this point in the story I was getting bored, but things perk up when Superman goes to the rescue and discovers that Dolores Winters is actually the Ultra-Humanite, revived from the dead and transferred into her body. One wonders what perversions drove the Ultra-Humanite to pick her body in particular. Anyway, he escapes, still in the body of Dolores Winters, so when the Ultra-Humanite inevitably returns I expect him to still be a hot girl.

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep saves a pilot from a burning plane, and ends up becoming his co-pilot in an airshow race. A gambler spikes the pilot's drink, and Pep has to win the race and land the plane alone. Looks like Pep is back to being insufferably great at everything, except starring in good stories.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck finds a dead body, and the real killers blame him. There's a shootout, but Chuck escapes and vows to deal with them later. I seriously doubt he will, given how self-contained Fleming's work has been of late.

'Clip Carson, Soldier of Fortune' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): Clip is still hauling a load of ivory through the jungle. Last issue he befriended some cannibals by giving them harmonicas. In this issue, after being captured by the evil Wolf Lupo, Clip asks to play his harmonica as a last request, and the cannibals come to his rescue in a fairly brutal battle. One can only assume that Wolf Lupo and his cronies are eaten by the cannibals afterwards.

'Tex Thomson and the Zombies' (by Bernard Baily): Tex and his buddies are still captives of an African tribe that tries to turn them into zombies. It turns out that salt is a cure for the zombie formula (which ties well into some zombie mythology), so Tex revives the zombie army and they all escape. It's not bad, but doesn't do a lot with the premise.

'Five Star Trap' (by Frank Thomas): A kid newspaper salesman who witnesses a murder is used to flush out the killer. It's very dull.

'Three Aces' (by Bert Christman): Gunner, Whistler and Fog come across a distress signal written in the snow. Gunner bails out and finds an old man and a girl who were shot by fur trappers. Because no planes can land in a blizzard, Gunner and the girl are forced to survive for a week in the snow, fighting off wolves with bullets and gun butts. Eventually they're rescued, and just when I was setting myself for a good survival horror story.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Moon Men' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): When a mysterious mist arises on coasts all over the world, killing anyone who inhales it, Zatara is led to the culprits by a winged girl named Nala. Alien Moon Men are to blame, and Zatara kills them with their own gas before unleashing deadly winged snakes on the survivors. He is very ruthless for a man in a top hat. This is tons of fun, as usual, and next issue's story promises to see him on the moon with his new winged girl ally.

Cover by Sheldon Moldoff

'Wing Brady in Paris' (by Tom Hickey): Wing and Frenchy get something of a peaceful interlude, as their section of the French Foreign Legion is in Paris to take part in the Bastille Day celebrations. As the two of them lounge around in a bar they get into a brawl with a purse snatcher, talk to a pretty American girl, then foil an ambush from the same purse snatcher. It doesn't hold together as a story at all, and it doesn't seem to be leading into anything. But despite that, I enjoyed this as a change of pace. This strip is almost always some sort of life-and-death struggle, and it's nice to see the characters get to relax once in a while.

Also, I have learned that an Apache is what they call ruffians or gangsters in Paris, and not just a Native American tribe. It would have saved me a lot of confusion if I had known that before reading this story.

'Biff Bronson' (by Al Sulman and Joseph Sulman): Biff and Dan investigate the hatchet killings of seven Chinese men, and manage through dumb luck to find the culprit: the mayor of Chinatown. The protagonists display a very unpleasant racist streak throughout this story, culminating in Dan's mocking line of dialogue: "And that goes double, my fliend!"

'King Carter' (by Paul J. Lauretta): King and Red go to a South Seas tropical island to take pictures of the volcano-worshipping natives. As is the way of things in the Golden Age, said natives are vicious savages who try to kill the interlopers, and then out of nowhere the volcano comes to life and the whole island sinks. King and Red exchange quips with the ship captain while presumably hundreds of people drown to death no more than a few hundred metres away. Luckily for this story King fights a shark with a knife, and I'm always a sucker for a good bit of shark-fightin'.

'The Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): This strip spends a lot of time setting up a storyline about a man found cast adrift, and his treasure map, but then it veers into an unrelated plot in which Dennis Stone must rescue his love Regina's father from the pirate Jorgens. After the rescue, Regina's father says that he will pardon Dennis and allow him to marry Regina if he gives up his life on the seas. He happily does so. This would have been a fitting end to this series if not for the superfluous treasure map stuff at the start.

The final panel of the story is a promo for the Spectre. "Who is he?? What is he??" I'm happy to see that More Fun Comics, the last DC hold-out, is finally getting its own super-hero.

'"Kit" Strong' (by Maurice Kashuba): Kit Strong is a private investigator, supposedly the "greatest manhunter of all times". In his debut story he is called in to investigate the kidnapping and ransom of a wealthy man's daughter. Having been billed as a great detective, Kit starts his clue-gathering impressively, but in the end he triumphs mainly through dumb luck and punching. Kashuba's art is cursory, and only comes alive when he's drawing women, particularly women being manhandled or tortured. I don't hold high hopes for this as a series, and luckily for me this is its only appearance.

'Gambler's Luck' (by Jack Anthony): In this prose story, Truck Farel goes after a gambler called Ace Tripone to get him to stop dating his sister. During their scuffle Ace is accidentally shot and killed. I'm really not sure what the author was going for here. Ace is presented as the bad guy, but all we ever see him do is defend himself, and on his deathbed he doesn't tell the police that Truck shot him. I've yet to see anything particularly nuanced from Jack Anthony, so I'm going to assume the straightforward approach: that Ace was a bad dude who got what was coming to him. If that's the intended story, then it's an utter failure.

'Lieutenant Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by B. Hirsch and Russ Lehman): Bob and the crew of Sub 662 find gold at the bottom of the ocean, and must mine it while avoiding foreign spies. It's fairly dull as a spy story, and the main antagonist never really gets an ending to her story.

'The Flying Fox' (by Terry Gilkison): Rex Darrell investigates the disappearance of a wealthy aviator, and finds a plot involving a gang of crooks, an island, and some buried treasure. The villain, Bayou Borg, escapes with the treasure at the end, with the dreaded To Be Continued. This would have been adequate, but the deluge of exposition at the beginning sucked all of the life out of it.  And despite the cliffhanger, this is the last we see of Rex Darrell, who I'm going to assume is killed in his attempts to capture Bayou Borg.  Given the villain's name, I expect that Darrell's corpse will be dumped in a swamp somewhere, missed by no one.

'Detective Sergeant Carey and the Wheels of Death' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey and Sleepy are called in to investigate death threats against a champion race car driver. If only they had seen that one of his rival drivers was a baron they could have solved the mystery before he got murdered.

'Sergeant O'Malley of the Red Coat Patrol' (by Jack Lehti): O'Malley goes up against a gang of gold thieves in a lacklustre story. Lehti pretty strongly establishes a realistic setting, then expects us to believe that a man thrown off a cliff can be lassoed to safety by an Indian.

'Bulldog Martin' (by Bart Tumey): Bulldog investigates a haunted house, and discovers that it's really the work of someone trying to scare off potential buyers while he looks for the treasure inside. This one pulls out all the cliches, but it does have an amusing conclusion when Bulldog tries to knock a secret door down with a sledgehammer and clobbers the crook standing behind it.

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