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.


  1. >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.<

    And you'll have a long wait; it was many years before Superman showed any curiosity about where he came from.

    >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,<

    The Daily Star/Cleveland -> Daily Planet/Metropolis shift started on radio, then in the daily strip, then in the comic books.

  2. I'm happy enough about the wait. The Superman stories are entertaining enough in the current formula, and not yet in need of a shake-up.

    Are you sure about the radio show thing? From what I'm seeing, that started broadcasting in February of 1940, which is still a couple of months away.