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.

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