Thursday, November 3, 2011

January 1940: Pep Comics #3, Top-Notch Comics #4

Cover by Irv Novick

'The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary' (by Irv Novick): Mystery planes are dropping mines into New York harbour, and the Shield investigates. Exiled munitions magnate Count Zongarr is behind the whole thing, and the Shield soon wrecks his operation in the usual two-fisted manner. At least in this one the Shield shows some vulnerability, specifically to poison gas. I was also quite struck by Count Zongarr's multiracial army; just seeing a panel of white, black and Asian soldiers standing together all on equal terms is startling for this time period. The art is also strong, as Novick shows off his story-telling chops. This is a great showing all around.

'The Comet' (by Jack Cole): The Comet is captured by his enemy from last issue, a mobster called Satan. Satan has the Comet hypnotised (by a hypnotist named Zadar) and uses him to steal loads of money, and kill a whole bunch of people in the process.  Seriously, he's blasting cops point blank in the face with his eye-beams. Eventually the bad guys turn on each other over the money, Zadar has the Comet kill Satan, and the Comet kills Zadar by accidentally leaving his visor open. Super-hero mind control stories are a dime a dozen in the modern age, but this is early days for the genre, and it follows none of the usual tropes. The Comet doesn't try to resist killing people, and he doesn't triumph through his own force of will.  It's mostly dumb luck and the treacherous nature of the villains that saves the day, which is pretty refreshing from a modern perspective.

'The Press Guardian' (by Abner Sundell and Mort Meskin): The Moronia Bund villains from last issue kidnap the daughter of the bank manager who holds the mortgage on the Daily Express, and forces him to close down the newspaper's funding. The Press Guardian (really the newspaper owner's son) rescues her in a story that has plenty of dynamic action, but not much else going for it. I was surprised to see that the girl has learned the Press Guardian's identity, though, and that it's going to have future ramifications.

'Fu Chang. International Detective' (by Joe Blair and Lin Streeter): Fu Chang goes up against Ghor, a drug kingpin. Ghor is bad news as far as villains go; he actually walks up to Fu Chang's fiancee on the street and injects her with drugs that make her his slave. And when Fu Chang rescues her later, she's completely naked under a sheet. It's all implicit, but by the time Fu Chang sends one of his magic chessmen to inject Ghor with the drug, you know he has it coming to him.

'Sergeant Boyle' (by Abner Sundell and Charles Biro): If you like to see guys punching Nazis, this is the story for you. Boyle is captured and must escape, and that's as complicated as the plot gets. His biggest obstacle comes when he runs out of grenades to throw at the German planes chasing him, and tricks one plane by throwing an apple at them. Followed by the immortal line:

I think I've just given you all the information you need to know whether you like this story.

'The Midshipman' (possibly by Bob Wood): Midshipman Lee Sampson stops some foreign agents from stealing submarine plans. It's generic and uninspired.

'The Rocket and the Queen of Diamonds' (by Abner Sundell and Lin Streeter): The Rocket and the queen decide to visit the Rocket's homeland together, but the queen's guards think she's being kidnapped and shoot their ship down. They land in a subterranean world where they are captured by "Batmen", and the Rocket spends a good few pages just killing giant spiders, turtles and snakes. It's pretty crazy stuff.

'The Shield Meets the Wizard and the Midshipman Meets the West Pointer': This is an ad for a crossover between the four characters mentioned, the first major event of its kind so far as I know. The first two participants have me kind of excited, but I don't know what the Midshipman and the West Pointer are going to contribute. Still, it ought to be very interesting.

'Kayo Ward' (by Phil Sturm): Kayo Ward is fighting Socker Benson, and a gambler named Ace Brady tries every trick in the book to get Kayo to throw the fight, even down to shooting him in the arm during the match. It's all stuff that's been done to death by this point.

'Bentley of Scotland Yard' (by Joe Blair and Sam Cooper): Bentley investigates the murder of a man who was part of a World War I unit that is planning to enlist again for World War II. The story is adequate, but made more interesting by the contemporary London setting, right in the middle of the Blitz.  It lends the story a sense of urgency it otherwise wouldn't have.

Cover by Edd Ashe

'The Wizard, the Man With the Super-Brain' (by Will Harr and Edd Ashe): The Wizard tackles Bundonian spies and stops their submarine fleet from destroying US ships. It's basically the same plot that every Wizard story has had so far, with the same scenes of him wrecking enemy soldiers and vehicles. There's a glimmer of interest when the Wizard's fiancee leaves him, and I thought it was going somewhere when she came back into the story later, but no such luck. The only really interesting thing here is that every time the Wizard uses one of his gadgets there is a blueprint showing its component parts. It's pretty nifty.

'Dick Storm in South America' (by Harry Shorten and Mort Meskin): First the country of ChilanPruvia invades, and Dick Storm helps defeat them. The opening here has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story, which is pretty poor.  Presumably the people of Chilan are still dying of the plague, no?

'Moore of the Mounted' (by Creators Unknown): This new strip is about Sergeant Terry Moore, a Mountie who has to track down two murderers. I was rather hoping for 'Lesse of the Mounted', and it looks as though I'll get my wish, as this is the strip's only appearance.

'The Devil is a Mule' (by Creator Unknown): Buffalo Bill Cody must deliver a message to a garrison besieged by Injuns, and fails because of his mule. Which he then promptly shoots in the head. This is just blatant anti-mule propaganda.

'Streak Chandler on Mars' (by Harry Shorten and William Wills): Streak is kidnapped by gangsters so that he can't play in a football game. Through sheer happenstance they take him to the home of a professor who has just finished building his rocket, and they force the professor to fly Streak to Mars. (Looks like he won't make it back in time for the game, which means the gangsters win!) Once on Mars, Streak is menaced by the baby-like Red Men, the bird-like Lokis, and a horse-headed octopus. I like the way this mashes up the standard sports genre story and crazy sci fi, and it is pretty crazy once they reach Mars. But the characters are bland, and there's no plot to speak of.

'Wings Johnson of the Air Patrol: Sky Raiders of the Western Front' (by Joe Blair and Ed Smalle): Wings must land in England in a stolen Nazi plane without being killed. After that he fights off some Nazi planes, then he gets caught behind enemy lines. And after all that, he finds out that his arch-enemy Von Schiller has survived yet again. A lot happens here, but it never gels into a coherent story.  And Von Schiller's continued survival is getting ridiculous at this point.

'Bob Phantom, The Scourge of the Underworld' (by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick): Bob Phantom takes on a smuggling ring that is bringing Chinese men into the USA. It's very dull, and the villain's identity (a Chinese princess) doesn't make a lot of sense.

'Stacey Knight, M.D.' (by Lin Streeter): Knight tackles a gambling ring that has fixed a boxing match by doping one of the fighters. This is really dull, and the last we ever see of Stacey Knight.

'The West Pointer' (by Ed Wexler): After Keith Kornell saves his girlfriend from drowning in icy water, he is declared unfit to play in an important basketball match. But because he is super-awesome he plays anyway and wins the game for his team before collapsing. It's the same old routine.

'Kardak the Mystic Magician' (by C.A. Winter): Kardak's girlfriend is kidnapped by fish people, as they have a prophecy that says they can only defeat their enemies if they have a white Earth Queen. Kardak helps them against their enemies, the spider-like Mocha Men. This could have been epic, but the art is stiff, and unable to convey the necessary scope.


  1. The Comet story was reprinted in the book Supermen: the First Wave of Comic Book Heroes, that I reviewed in my third issue of The Trophy Case newsletter. The main thing I pointed out was that the moral seemed to be about the danger of not protecting your secret identity, as that's how the bad guys follow the Comet home and capture him.