Monday, October 10, 2011

December 1939: Top-Notch Comics #3

Cover by Edd Ashe

I recently discovered that the excellent Mike of, the site that I use as a guide to release dates, has started listing the information for Archie. A look at the dates showed me that I'm a month out in my own estimations, so I'll be doing the December 1939 Archie books as well as the January 1940 ones to catch up. Luckily there are only three in total, because I haven't been enjoying the Archie comics thus far.

'The Wizard, the Man with the Super-Brain' (by Edd Ashe): This story is off to a bad start when it compares Blane Whitney's exploits on the polo field with his great-great-grandfather's part in the Civil War. Once he becomes the Wizard and starts smashing a plot by the fake country of Borental to blow up the Panama Canal things pick up, with some dynamic, fast-paced action scenes. But he also gets arrested for driving too fast, and for reasons unexplained he can't just tell the police that he's on the way to save the Panama Canal.  Come on, his brother is the head of naval intelligence!  The story ends with two newspaper stories, one praising the Wizard for stopping the Borentals, and the other condemning Blane Whitney for getting arrested. It's almost like a Spider-Man story in that regard, but the Wizard is far too awesome at everything for it to resonate.

'Dick Storm in China' (by Mort Meskin): Dick Storm is hired by the Chinese government to help recruit Warlord K'ang the Terrible to fight for them against a vicious invader. It's weird to see a story like this in which China is depicted as a force for law and order. But this is pretty solid stuff. Dick executes a plan that sets the invaders and K'ang at each others throats, and wraps up the story in a reasonably plausible manner.

'Bob Phantom, The Scourge of the Underworld' (by Irv Novick): Kidnappers take the son of a wealthy oilfield owner, and Bob Phantom goes to his rescue. I still can't figure out Bob Phantom's deal. He feels really out of place in his own stories, just popping up out of nowhere and displaying whatever power seems necessary at the time. If he looked cool there might be a sense of mystery about him, but as you can see he is completely ridiculous.

'Biscuits and Six-Guns' (by Creators Unknown): This prose story is about Pearl Hart, a female stagecoach robber trying to make money to send back to her baby. While I was reading this it felt more like a synopsis of events than a story, and that's because it is very loosely based on actual events. Even so, it fails as an entertaining story. You might as well read her Wikipedia entry. (Admittedly, that won't have the same level of nigh-incomprehensible cowboy speak.)

'Stacey Knight, M.D.' (by Lin Streeter): If you're a doctor in comic books, it's inevitable that at some point you will be kidnapped by gangsters to patch up their leader from a bullet wound. This is what happens to Stacey Knight, but he quickly turns the tables and has the crooks killed or arrested. He runs around carrying a tommy gun, and even shoots a crook in the face at point blank range. Surely it's all against the Hippocratic oath?

'Wings Johnson of the Air Patrol: Sky Raiders of the Western Front' (by Creators Unknown): Last issue, Johnson killed his enemy Von Schiller, and I wondered where it could go from there. The answer is much more interesting than I suspected, as Johnson goes crazy, convinced that Von Schiller is still alive. Of course he's right, as he escapes from hospital. What follows is a series of captures, escapes, and aerial dogfights, and at the end Von Schiller is really dead. Although his method of death is exactly the same as it was last time, so I have my doubts. This was actually pretty good.

'Swift of the Secret Service' (by Creators Unknown): Swift goes up against some jewel smugglers. The plot is very well worn, but the art is great. It even manages to depict an exciting car chase, something comics often have a difficult time with.

'Scott Rand on Mars' (by Otto Binder and Jack Binder): Scott and his buddy Thor go to Mars and stop the warlike Kruzzo, Ice King of Mars, from conquering the whole planet. The only enjoyment I got out of this was seeing Thor fighting aliens and being stereotypically Norse, but for the moment that's enough.

'The West Pointer' (by Ed Wexler): Keith Kornell is annoyed that his teammate Seymour is taking all the credit. But when Seymour is shot during a robbery, Keith must step up and win the Army-Navy game despite the rest of the team blaming him. This at least has a more novel premise than most sport comics, but it's still terrible. Forget car chases, I've never seen football done well in a comic.

'Manhunters' (by Jack Cole): In this true story the police hunt down a murderer and robber. This series is yet to have a compelling tale to tell, and this is no exception. It looks pretty good, though, with some very solid storytelling.

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