Wednesday, November 9, 2011

February 1940: Flash Comics #4, Superman #4

Cover by George Storm

'The Flash' (by Gardner Fox and Everett E. Hibbard): The Flash goes up against the crew of a gambling ship, who have kidnapped the son of a steel magnate so that he won't help outlaw their operation. It's the little touches that make these stories so much fun. For example, when the Flash swims at super-speed the water behind him turns to steam, and after rescuing a woman from drowning he runs so fast that her clothes dry in an instant. The creators have really thought out the Flash's powers, and they're having fun with them. I also greatly enjoyed the Flash going undercover as a gambler, using his powers to cheat at roulette and exploring the ship at high speed between spins of the wheel. This strip really is enjoyable.

'Cliff Cornwall, Special Agent' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): Cornwall must stop a plot by an oil magnate and his fiancee to assassinate an ambassador from the nation of Sofia, and thereby plunge America into war. The plot here is a familiar one, but Moldoff's art is dark and moody, and the characters are all relatively well-rounded, with distinct motivations.

'Hawkman' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): Hawkman takes on the Thought Terror, a hypnotist who is running a fortune telling racket; he charges for his predictions, then hypnotises his victims so that they do whatever he has just foretold. It's a sound money-making plan, but I don't get why he is murdering people. Surely he's just attracting undue attention to himself. And somehow he has the ability to hypnotise his goons into invincibility (but only when the plot requires them to capture Hawkman; when Hawkman must escape, they're suddenly quite vincible indeed). The design of the Thought Terror is good, but his goons wear exactly the same outfit, which doesn't help the clarity of the story. But really, I'm just nitpicking things here. The story has its problems, but it's still quite fun.

'Johnny Thunderbolt' (by John B. Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier): Johnny is now the World Heavyweight champion, and must catch a crook who has stolen money from his fiancee's father. The things that Johnny can do with his magic word "say you" just get more and more ridiculous, culminating when he quite literally punches the crook into next week. This is exactly the kind of thing I love in comics.

'Rod Rian of the Sky Police' (by Paul H. Jepsen): Rod Rian fights a dinosaur. Then he fights a skeleton. Then he fights a giant snake. Then one of his buddies drinks from a strange pool and becomes a skeleton. I don't know why any of these things are happening, because I can't remember the last chapter and there is no recap. With just a bit more coherence this could be great.

'King Standish' (by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert): King goes up against a gang of diamond thieves disguised as a crook named English Pete, who by pure coincidence is the head of the gang. It's little too convenient for my tastes.

'Adventure in a Time Warp' (by Gardner Fox): In this prose story continued from last issue, time-travellers Rolf and Drokker systematically annihilate the green men who have invaded Earth. There's a token nod to the morality of wiping out a whole people, which is more than I expected, but it's still kind of distasteful. If the green men actually fought back I wouldn't mind, but there's no evidence in the story that they ever resist.

'Book Review: Robinson Crusoe': This review is the first of a regular series, but I would hesitate to call it a review at all. It's just a summary of the whole book, which kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise.

'Where There's a Will' (by Ed Wheelan): Cowboy Will Lawson finds himself working for an old prospector, and becomes like a son to him. When the old man dies, he leaves everything to his niece June, but asks that Will go to visit her to see if he might want to marry her. June is annoyed at the prospect, and pretends to be a maid, having one of her friends take her identity. It's all quite complicated to explain, but in the end Will and June end up together despite their case of mistaken identity. The ending was all a little neat and tidy, but I suppose that's they way of things in romantic comedy.

'The Whip' (by John B. Wentworth and Homer Fleming): The Whip rounds up some fat cats and makes them toil in the fields under the same conditions as their peon workers. It's a satisfying formula that Siegel and Shuster perfected ages ago on 'Superman'. The art has improved as well, with the arrival of Homer Fleming. As long as he doesn't take over the writing we'll be sorted.

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy): An artificial earthquake rocks Metropolis, the work of a malfunctioning machine, and Superman investigates. It turns out that an evil villain wants the machine for himself: Luthor! Yes, this is the first appearance of Lex Luthor in this blog so far. Whether this is his first actual appearance is debatable. The site that I use for release dates says that this came out a week earlier than Action Comics #23, but it's all conjecture. Nobody knows for sure when exactly when these Golden Age books were released.

Luthor (not yet Lex) has pretty much the same goals and personality as he will later have, but instead of his trademark baldness he's got a lovely head of red hair, which makes it a little difficult to think of him as the same character.  His plan is a good one though. He challenges Superman to a number of tasks, with Superman's brawn vs. Luthor's technology, with the loser to keep out of the winner's way.  The contests are fun, and include a race around the world, and a dare to see who can get the furthest out of Earth's atmosphere (which sees Superman jumping higher than a rocket ship). And while all this is going on, Luthor's goons steal the earthquake machine while Superman is preoccupied. His victory doesn't last long, but I did enjoy seeing Luthor outwit his enemy so early on.

Paul Cassidy ghosts for Joe Shuster on this story, and to be honest I didn't notice.  He does a very good Shuster impression.

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): It's Luthor again! This time he has raised an ancient city from the bottom of the ocean, where he has created an army of dinosaurs with which to conquer the world. It's not the greatest story, but it does have Superman wrestling a Tyrannosaurus Rex. And that's good enough for me.

'Changer of Destiny' (by Hugh Langley): In this prose story, a scientist drinks a formula that allows him to live a full year in the space of a second. While everyone else is frozen, the scientist goes about righting wrongs. He kills a gangster, and puts papers in front of the president that prove the current war was instigated by business interests. It ends when the formula wears off unexpectedly, and the scientist is hit by a truck. This is quite good stuff, with a novel premise that actually pays off pretty satisfyingly.

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): A foreign agent is destabilising America's economy through sabotage and working the stock market. Superman puts a stop to all of his plans, and then deliberately electrocutes him.  Come to think of it, Superman has been particularly murderous in this comic. In an earlier story he deliberately crashed a car, causing the deaths of two thugs, and now he's killed this guy.

'Pioneer Into the Unknown' (by Bert Lexington): A film star has volunteered to test a machine that can teleport people across time and space, but the whole stunt is supposed to be a hoax. Only the machine works, and the actor is teleported into the heart of a distant star. In the distant future of 1982, he is hailed as pioneer of interstellar travel. Again, this is much more inventive and interesting than most of the prose stories have been.

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Superman joins up with a racketeer who has taken over the trucker's union, pretending to be a crook so that he can gather evidence. This is decent enough, with the appropriate amount of double-crossing. And this line from a truck driver as crooks emptied milk from his truck had me in stitches: "But that milk was intended for hungry babies!"


  1. I loved that story of Luthor's dinosaur island, even having written a fanfiction sequel to it in the past.

  2. Golden Age fanfic!!! I doubt there's much of that out there.

    It is a fun story, mashing up a lot of pulp elements. It just felt a little bit familiar to me.