Thursday, October 27, 2011

January 1940: Action Comics #22

 Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Clark and Lois are sent to the fake country of Toran, which has just invaded the smaller fake country of Galonia. The Toranian spy Lita Laverne plans to bomb a neutral vessel and blame it on Galonia to garner sympathy for her own country, and Superman has to stop her. This is pretty bland by Superman's standards. It takes him a couple of pages to smash one plane, and he even hides from a lone soldier at one point, and expresses relief that he wasn't caught. The Superman of a year ago would have smashed that plane in a single panel, and kicked the soldier over the horizon.

Also, Siegel spells the word foreign as "foriegn", repeatedly. And Shuster draws Lita Laverne to look exactly like Lois Lane, adding more evidence to my theory that he can only draw one woman.


(Year of 1940, you failed Superman.)

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Pep takes on the chairman of the town council, Rufus Toone, who is burning the houses of people who refuse to sell their land to make way for a railroad line. Gardner Fox couldn't have telegraphed the ending any more with this bit of dialogue if he tried: "Nope, ain't got any enemies I know of. Well, c'mon, I gotta see Rufus Toone afore he changes his mind about buying my land!" In Pep's defense, he twigs to that pretty quickly, but it's certainly not the most sophisticated bit of writing that Gardner Fox has ever done.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck Dawson takes on a gang of hired guns who kill a young man to try and get his sister's ranch. This story ends pretty abruptly. Chuck only defeats one of the lesser goons and forces a confession out of him, and he never has a final confrontation with the leader. It all feels very anticlimactic. If it didn't have a caption that says "The End", I would think that I'm missing some pages.

'Clip Carson, Soldier of Fortune' (by Sheldon Moldoff): Clip is on a cruise ship, where a wealthy man and his daughter are threatened with death for their possession of an African idol. It turns out to be a plot by the daughter to kill her father and gain his wealth, in a pretty solid story. Once Moldoff sorts out some of his storytelling issues, he's going to be a rather good artist. Even so, I miss the grinning, swashbuckling adventure that this strip once had in spades.

'Malay Head' (by Frank Cooper): Pirates menace an island, and a boy defeats them by rolling a big head-shaped rock onto their ship. It's very boring.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): When young Cary James explores a mysterious island he is captured by a demon, who takes his place and heads out into the world to do murder. Tex Thomson, Bob Daley, and Cary's friend Dr. Drummond take on the demon. Drummond defeats it with a magic amulet, while Tex and Bob sit around in the background doing nothing. The premise is pretty good and creepy, but it's always a worry when the star of the strip has nothing to do with the conclusion.  This strip is also notable for the absence of Gargantua T. Potts, Tex's black sidekick.  I'm wondering if the creators are already having second thoughts about him.

'Three Aces' (by Bert Christman): This story starts off in fine style, as Whistler takes on a distant mood, whistling softly to himself, before taking leave of his companions. We cut to Whistler's sister, about to be married, who tells her fiance about her brother, how he was found in the wilderness and grew up to become a deadly adventurer. In just a few pages, Whistler has suddenly become one of the most fascinating characters around. The rest of the strip is taken up by the schemes of a jilted lover against the soon-to-be married couple, and a double-crossing gang of Mexicans. Whistler arrives and shoots all of the bad guys, and the scene where he stands on the horizon, frightening them with his low whistling is great. This is a quite good exercise in adding depth to a formerly non-dimensional character.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Mask' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Zatara goes up against the Tigress and her accomplice the Mask, a man who knows a plastic surgeon who can disguise him as anyone. His first plan is to kill a bank manager and take over his position. When that plan is foiled by Zatara, he disguises himself as Zatara to get reward money from the banker. This is pretty lacklustre for a Zatara story, but I did like the way that the Mask just settles for a petty opportunistic theft when his grand plan backfires. And I did enjoy seeing the Tigress again. My old theory was that Zatara is totally in love with her, and he did let her go after having the Mask arrested. These two are totally going to have an affair at some point.

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'Flexo the Rubber Man' (by Will Harr and Jack Binder): Joel and Joshua Williams create a robot made of rubber named Flexo. Together they tackle Professor Murdo, who has stolen a fortune in radium to complete his death ray. This is all very uninspiring, and not really told with any enthusiasm. Flexo shows off his stretching powers against some gangsters, and also beats up some electrically charged robots, but it never quite clicks.

'The Blue Blaze' (by Creators Unknown): The Blue Blaze is Spencer Keen, who in 1852 was exposed to a mysterious blue flame just before being killed by a tornado. In 1940 he awakes from the dead as a result of exposure to the flame, many times stronger than he was before. As soon as he wakes up he's shot at by grave robbers, and tackles their boss Professor Maluski in his underground lair. Maluski has an army of zombies and a high-tech arsenal that he plans to use to take over the world, but the Blaze just defeats him by smashing everything in sight like a good Golden Age hero. This is a story that captures the unprofessional, anarchic, energetic Marvel style perfectly. It makes so little sense, but it really is fun and kind of creepy if you roll with it.

'Zephyr Jones and his Rocket Ship' (by Joe Cal Cagno and Fred Schwartz): Zephyr Jones (making the jump from Daring Mystery Comics) is about to fly his rocket to Mars when it is hijacked by a crazy professor and his daughter who want to go to the star Cygni in search of "stardust", which they believe can cure all the diseases on Earth. This strip showcases some of the most gonzo science I've ever seen. Apparently you can land on a star, ignite your engines, and the resulting blast from the exploding gasses will propel you quickly to the next star. When the crew get to Cygni they find it crawling with hostile "Star Dwarves". It's complete nonsense, but it's exactly the sort of nonsense I enjoy.  This is the last we see of Zephyr Jones and his unfulfilled quest to reach Mars.

'The 3 X's' (by Robert O. Erisman and Newt Alfred): The 3 X's are famous crime-fighters. 1X is a detective, 2X is the brains, and 3X is the muscle. In this story they go up against the Green Terror, a bearded green giant who has "come from darkest Africa to drain rich red blood from the healthy veins of young Americans!" The Green Terror is a bright spot in an otherwise dull story, but even he goes down with a single anti-climactic punch.

'Tough Hombre' (by Leo Stalnaker): Two cowboys are due for a shootout at sundown. The local sheriff heads it off by setting his own watch ahead and making one guy think the other hasn't shown up. I had to read the end of this three times to figure out what had happened, so either it's poorly told or too clever for my meagre brain.

'The Deep Sea Demon' (by Norman Daniels and Fred Guardineer): A sailor is diving for pearls, while menaced by a rival Chinese ship and a mysterious sea monster. The sea monster is revealed as another ship captain at the end. At least I think he is; he's actually not named in the reveal, and I had to go back over the story to figure out who he is supposed to be. Even now I'm not certain, and the story isn't benefited by that level of ambiguity.

'Dakor the Magician: The Blooded Ruby of Chung' (by Creators Unknown): Dakor, as you may have guessed, is yet another Mandrake knock-off.  Dakor joins the French Foreign Legion to track down a murderer and jewel thief, and then returns the stolen jewel to its temple in Asia. Asian mysticism and the French Foreign Legion have both been overdone by this point, and they aren't combined here in a particularly entertaining manner.

'The Dynamic Man' (by Daniel Peters): The Dynamic Man, created in a lab by a mad scientist, can see through walls, change his appearance, fly, and create magnetic fields. After waking up to find his creator dead of a heart attack, he takes the name Curt Cowan and sets about becoming an FBI agent (never mind how he passes the background check). The rest of the story sees him tackling a rich guy who is creating artificial droughts so that he can buy farmland on the cheap. For a strip called 'Dynamic Man' the art is stiff and stilted, and the plot is pretty weak as well.

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