Sunday, December 18, 2011

March 1940: Whiz Comics #3, Master Comics #1

Cover by C.C. Beck

'Capt. Marvel' (by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck): The mad scientist Sivana raises a supremely powerful army and declares war on the United States. Captain Marvel smashes a whole lot of tanks and confronts Sivana, but it is Sivana's own disgruntled troops that kill him. After the mythical tour-de-force of Captain Marvel's origin story, we're in much more mundane territory here, drawing on the Golden Age staples of mad science and implacable armies. The only thing I found really noteworthy is that Captain Marvel barely speaks at all. It gives him a very stoic, almost passionless vibe very much at odds with his more innocent modern portrayals.

'Golden Arrow' (by Bill Parker and Pete Costanza): Golden Arrow tackles a gang of cattle rustlers, who have put horseshoes on the cows to disguise their tracks. It's another story about cattle rustlers. Huzzah.

'Diamond of Death' (by Creators Unknown): This prose story was very blurry and difficult to read, but I persevered, as something of a nostalgic throwback to this project's early days. The story is about a detective investigating a Hindu cult that is killing wealthy men to retrieve a sacred diamond stolen from them years ago. It's all terribly cliched, and not helped by the fact that I couldn't decipher significant patches of it.

'Scoop Smith' (by Bill Parker and Greg Duncan): Scoop Smith goes to the South Pole in search of a missing explorer, and finds him in a castle lording it over the natives. You know, the natives of Antarctica? Like Eskimos? Because they're totally there! There's really not much story to this. The hero goes in search of a missing guy, finds him, then goes home. The end.

'Ibis the Invincible' (by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck): Ibis revives his ancient love Taia, retrieves his all-powerful Ibistick from a thief, and then must rescue Taia from an Arab bandit chief who wants the Ibistick. It's all getting a bit too repetitive, and the drama is really sucked out of the situation when it's revealed that Ibis can't be harmed by the stick's powers.

'Lance O'Casey' (by Bob Kingett): O'Casey goes hunting for giant pearls, and finds a guy with the awesome name of Death Dawson who is using natives to retrieve the pearls from inside deadly giant clams. O'Casey seems okay with the natives being killed in the jaws of a giant clam, but as soon as they turn the tables and force Death Dawson to retrieve the pearls it's O'Casey to the rescue. I can't say I like a story which places the life of an innocent native at a lesser value than the villain.

'Dan Dare in $500,000 Dollars or Else' (by Bill Parker and Greg Duncan): Dan Dare deals with a severely disfigured crook called Dynamite Davis, who is threatening to blow up the house of a wealthy man unless he is paid a lot of money. It's all very cliched stuff, but Dynamite Davis does look striking. He's probably the most grotesque villain I've seen in this project so far.

'Spy Smasher' (by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck): Spy Smasher must rescue an admiral's daughter from the villainous Mask. The only interesting thing here is that Spy Smasher's identity is still being played as a mystery. He reveals himself to the admiral's daughter at the end of the story, but the reader is still left in the dark. I'm still hoping that the Asian butler Zambo turns out to be the hero.

Cover by Harry Fiske

Apparently Master Comics has larger dimensions than other comics of the time.  That's not immediately apparent when reading it on a computer screen, but I did notice that the pages were a little more cramped than usual.  Now I know that it's because the pages were larger, and have been reduced even further than normal by my meagre monitor.

'Master Man' (by Newt Alfred): Master Man (who is given no other name in the story) was a weakling as a kid, but an old doctor gave him some good advice and some magic tablets called Vitacaps that made him super-strong. Now as an adult he lives in his mountain fortress and fights evil. With his origin out of the way, we get a story where Master Man stops an army of gangsters from invading the fake country of Ecalpon. And not just any old gangsters, but the kind who drop bombs on an orphanage. This is not very good, but I do admire a comic that has its villains threatening orphans; it's so ridiculously cliched and melodramatic that I have to love it. But other than that Master Man is insufferably heroic and wonderful, and I can't imagine that I'm going to enjoy reading about him.

'The White Rajah and the Jeweled Crown of Ramistan' (by Creators Unknown): David Scott is the son of a wealthy Englishman. He is lost in the jungles of India and survives with the help of a white elephant he calls Sin-Gee. After years of being awesome in the jungle he thwarts the theft of the crown of Ramistan, and the Rajah names him as his successor. The strip ends with David being crowned. This started as a pretty uninspired jungle boy story, but the ending promises something more interesting in the future.

'The Devil's Dagger' (by Ken Battlefield): Ken Wyman, wealthy heir and newspaper reporter, is really the Devil's Dagger, scourge of the underworld. His nemesis in the town of Carterville is Jeff Marlowe, the underworld leader. In this story Marlowe steals the plans to a diamond-making machine, and the Devil's Dagger must get them back. I wasn't engaged by this at all. The Devil's Dagger has nothing to distinguish himself from the other costumed vigilantes out there. The coolest thing about him is that his car is called the Speed Ghost.

'Morton Murch, the Hillbilly Hero' (by Newt Alfred): Morton Murch, a hillbilly as the title suggests, builds a hot air balloon and sails it over the ocean. He eventually lands on the mysterious island of Felicia, where he helps the native people fight off an invasion. The hillbilly-speak in this story is nearly indecipherable, and the story itself is not very good either.

'Shipwreck Roberts' (by Mike Suchorsky): Shipwreck Roberts is a deep sea treasure hunter. Together with his sidekick Doodle, he investigates the disappearance of a number of ships, and finds the evil Doctor Drown has been sinking ships by torpedo and looting them. This would be pretty tedious, but it has the good sense to add a couple of mutated undersea dinosaurs and a giant crab into the mix. And the cliffhanger has Shipwreck being menaced by the dreaded "Colostopus". It's not good, but cool monsters make up for many sins.

'Frontier Marshal' (by Creators Unknown): Bill Crane becomes the marshal of Big Savage when his father dies, and stops a crime wave led by the Trask Gang. Again this is a sub-par story. And since when is being town marshal a hereditary position anyway?

'Sooner or Later' (by Creators Unknown): Two crooks rob a bank. The younger idolises the older, but in the course of their escape he comes to realise what a jerk his partner is. Dying from a gunshot wound, he uses his final act to drive them both off the side of a cliff. This has a proper character arc and a good resolution.

'Mr. Clue' (by Creators Unknown): Mr. Clue is a detective, who boasts that he only needs one clue to solve any crime. In this story the chief of police murders the mayor, and Mr. Clue figures it out based in the fact that the chief is left-handed. The audience is not shown a vital piece of Clue's detective work, and so has no way of solving the mystery.

'Streak Sloan' (by Martin Nodell): Streak Sloan is a newsreel photographer and explorer. While in the Arctic he deals with a gang of pirates. It's rudimentary stuff, and with the pirates and the coast guard there's not much room for Sloan himself to stand out.

'El Carim, Master of Magic' (by Sven Elven): El Carim (miracle spelled backwards, geddit?) is yet another heroic magician. His first adventure sees him rescuing a millionaire. Strangely for this genre, El Carim relies more on gadgets than his own magic powers. He has a bulletproof monocle that attracts bullets, a powerful magnet, and a magic rope. It's a different take on the formula, but not a particularly interesting one. There are strips that do the magician angle better, and there are strips that do the gadgets angle better.  I'm also wondering what Sven Elven is doing working for Archie.  The guy has been a DC stalwart for years at this point.

'Rick O'Shay' (by Creators Unknown): Rick O'Shay, a soldier of fortune, is enlisted to take on the Arab chieftain Sidi-Ahmed, who has been terrorising the African colony of Franconia. This could have been a solid action-adventure story, except for one thing. There's a scene where Rick is tied by his wrists over a pit of fire, with seemingly no way out. In the next panel he's free, and the caption says "With the aid of his strong muscles, Rick frees himself". Nothing in the art or the narration indicates how this was achieved. It's just exceptionally weak story-telling, and a massive cop-out to a dramatic situation.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

March 1940: Superman Daily Strip #289-354, Superman Radio Serial #9-21

SUPERMAN DAILY STRIP #289-354 (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster):

This long-running story mashes up a lot of elements from previous Superman stories. It begins with the machinations of a group of foreign spies that is trying to manipulate the US into supporting their own country in a war. Clark Kent ends up entangled in their schemes, and pretends to go along with them, something he has done a few times before. Eventually he goes to Europe as Superman, and ends up kidnapping the two leaders of the warring nations and making them fight each other face to face, which is very reminiscent of one of his earliest stories. There's nothing particularly bad about this story, it's just a little too familiar to be enjoyable.


The Superman "transcription feature" covers a lot of ground in March of 1940. Episode 9 is the wrap-up to the Yellow Mask storyline, which sees the master criminal trying to destroy the Daily Planet building with a disintegrator ray. Following that is a six-part story in which two crooked businessmen are trying to cover up their involvement in selling worthless shares by murdering their secretary. After that is a two-parter in which the Wolf and Keno (the villains from the radio serial's opening story) stage a prison break and escape. Finally, there's a four-part story involving the Yellow Mask and his efforts to destroy the town of Dyerville. It's all mildly enjoyable, and a fairly accurate adaptation of the comics. The limitations of the form get a bit irritating; Superman talks to himself a lot about what he's doing, for instance. And the vacuum cleaner sound effect used to simulate Superman's flight gets a bit grating after a while.

Monday, December 12, 2011

March 1940: Action Comics #24, Superman Sunday Strip #15-18 and #1A

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Superman is asked by a wealthy businessman to save the life of his son, a problem gambler who has supposedly murdered a man he owes a large sum of money to. There's a decent redemption arc here, as the gambler goes from pathetic to admirable in the space of a few pages, but Siegel and Shuster do the necessary set-up to make it work.


'Pep Morgan' (by Fred Guardineer): Much to my chagrin, Pep is back playing sports. This time he's trying out for a major league baseball team, and gets mixed up in a former player's revenge scheme on the coach. It's good so far as this genre goes.

'The Black Pirate' (by Sheldon Moldoff): Having been abandoned on an island by Captain Ruff, the Black Pirate relocates Ruff's treasure, and takes over Ruff's ship while the villain is searching for his booty. This is short and punchy, and enjoyable despite it's old-fashioned narrative style.

'Three Aces' (by Gardner Fox and Chad Grothkopf): The Aces are framed for bank robbery by a sheriff who is committing the crimes himself. It's passable.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex and his friends investigate the island of a mad scientist who has invented an invisibility gas. This was solid enough to begin with, but in the end Thomson does nothing to defeat the scientist, leaving it to an inspector who they find in a dungeon. This can work if the one-off character is developed well, but this guy is a total cipher.

'Eleven Minutes' (by Guy Monroe): In this prose story, a pilot saves a train from going over a bridge that has just been blown up by a saboteur. There's nothing awful about it, but it's still fairly dull.

'Clip Carson' (by Sheldon Moldoff): Clip Carson goes to South America and defeats some rebels. Not bad.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Magician Murder' (by Fred Guardineer): Zatara takes on Chalo, a black magician who has murdered his brother and plans to kill another magician to take his jewels. This is fairly subdued by Zatara's standards.


Following up on the story of an archaeologist, Clark and Lois investigate a lost cavern that is home to a civilisation of haemophiliac giants. The giants have been kidnapping people for their blood. Superman fights a few of them, rescues Lois, battles some giant vultures and escapes, leaving the cavern sealed behind him. This is less of a story and more a collection of action set pieces, but entertaining for all that. It's a shame that a story like this only goes for four pages while something with gangsters or racketeers would probably be three or four times as long.


This is a one page strip, depicting the origin of Superman, that started appearing around March 1940. It was designed to be used as the opening strip for newspapers just picking up the Superman serial. There's nothing here that hasn't already been revealed elsewhere.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

March 1940: Flash Comics #5, All-American Comics #14

 Cover by Jon L. Blummer

'The Flash' (by Gardner Fox and Everett Hibbard): The Flash takes on the Vandal, an art collector who is murdering artists to drive up the value of his collection. At the very least it's not a plot I've seen before in this blog, so it gets points for that. It's also light and peppy as usual, and makes inventive use of the Flash's powers (he spends a lot of the strip moving so fast that he is invisible, using his voice to confuse the crooks).

'King Standish' (by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert): The villainous Witch hatches a plan to bump off the King, but by the end of the strip it seems that the two have fallen for each other. It's quite sweet in a way, but I could do without the narrator constantly warning the Witch not to fall for her enemy.

'Hawkman' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): The cult of Assassins is revived, and Hawkman must help a lady secret agent stop them from killing world leaders and taking their place. The setting moves from the USA to the Middle East, and I think that this sort of globe-hopping suits Hawkman very well. It's exotic, and there are some solid action sequences, but in the end there's little of substance to it.

'Johnny Thunderbolt' (by John B. Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier): Johnny, now a G-Man, foils a group of crooks who have stolen an entire bank vault. This story feels a lot more conventional than previous installments, and there's not a lot of humour involved either.

'Rod Rian of the Sky Police' (by Paul H. Jepsen): On the planet Mephis, Rod and his friends infiltrate the city of the Skeleton Men. Meanwhile on Earth, the head of the Sky Police has allied with Chan, ruler of half the planet, and they are raising an army to attack the pirates of Mephis. But watch out, because Chan doesn't have white skin!  That means he must be a treacherous baddie! This is all build-up, but it's hard to see what the diversion with the skeleton men has to do with the main plot. It's just lucky that it's got skeletons in it. Skeletons are rad.

'Cliff Cornwall' (by Sheldon Moldoff): Cliff Cornwall takes on the Snow King, a spy who operates only in Winter and has never been seen. His secret is that he uses sleep pills combined with a building's heating system to put all of his victims to sleep. It's a well-worn plot, but it's quite cleverly presented.

'Planet of the Metal Men' (by Evelyn Gaines): After marrying his fiancee Sally, Jack Raymond insists that they take their honeymoon on the nearby planetoid Vesta. Along with Sally's kid brother they rocket to the planet where they discover strange, metallic life-forms. To be continued! It's decent enough set-up, if you don't mind some completely bollocks science.

'You Can't Get Away With It!' (by Ed Wheelan): A judge's son is kidnapped, and threatened with death unless the judge lets gangster Tony Madera off the hook. The judge, with the help of his son's showgirl fiancee, rescues his son, and consents to their marriage. It's a decent enough story from Wheelan, though it's let down by the fact that we don't find out what happens to Madera.

'Whip' (by John B. Wentworth and Homer Fleming): A crooked judge is charging excessive fines for speeding, and using criminals as his personal servants. Huzzah for the Whip, who is sticking up for the rights of speeding motorists and hardened criminals everywhere!

Cover by Jon L. Blummer

'Red, White and Blue' (by Jerry Siegel and William Smith): My complaints are somehow beaming backwards in time, because we're getting a story without Red, who has been the main character of this strip for quite some time now. Whitey, Blooey and Doris go up against a gang of saboteurs and defeat them almost by accident, with a large helping hand from Blooey's pet parrot. Sadly, the whole point of this seems to be that they can't get along without Red. Even from a hospital bed he manages to take over the story somehow.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon L. Blummer): There's a story here about spies trying to sabotage Hop Air's first demonstration of its planes for the army, but of more interest is the custody battle between Hop's friend Prop Wash and his former guardian, Crass. It's pretty effective as a dramatic device, but in the end it falls down when the evidence that stops Crass's victory comes by pure coincidence. What luck that Hop's old school teacher just happened to stop by a certain farmhouse at exactly the right time! And that she has letters from Hop's father in her possession!

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Having discovered a pool of magic mud, Ben and his friends set about selling it as a beauty treatment. Everything works out perfectly for them, and I'm struggling to see where the drama is going to come from.

'Adventures in the Unknown: The Infra-Red Destroyers' (by Carl H. Claudy and Stan Aschmeier): Ted and Alan struggle to convince Washington that the Earth is being invaded by invisible men from Venus. You have to appreciate a story that destroys both the White House and the Washington Monument.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly's editor sends him to a dude ranch, where everyone has the idea that he's an expert rider. With the focus back on Scribbly's job this strip is starting to get funny again.

'Traitors' Treachery' (by George Shute): Passports and records are being stolen from the State Department, and Jimmy Stone goes undercover to stop the crooks. There's not much to this but set-up. 

'Popsicle Pete' (by Art Helfant): After collecting their reward money, the kids and Zeke buy suits, and Zeke's shoes squeak because there's a horn in one of them.  This is either some form of obscure 1940s humour that I don't get, or a poor attempt at comedy. I suspect the latter.

'Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man' (by Jon L. Blummer): Gary must foil a plot by his enemy Tor to take over the world with a lethal poison gas.  It's a solid enough action story, but wasn't this world at peace just a year ago?  It's been a mess ever since Gary took over from his dad.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

March 1940: Adventure Comics #49

Cover by Sheldon Moldoff

'Tick-Tock Tyler the Hour-Man' (by Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily): At first glance this is a reasonably solid story of Hour-Man rescuing a kidnapped scientist, but closer scrutiny reveals that is has all sorts of holes. The most egregious is that the Hour-Man knows the kidnappers are in the hills, without anything alerting him to that fact. There's also a scene where he finds some cold pills, supposedly a clue dropped by the scientist, but that never ties back into anything. The crooks want the scientist to create a "formula", but we never learn what it's supposed to do. Luckily there's a scene where Hour-Man throws a bear off a cliff to distract me from the poor story-telling.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): This one starts promisingly, as Barry hatches a plan to entice Fang Gow to work for France as a means to have him killed. That plan really amounts to nothing, and the story becomes about Fang Gow's attempt to kill Barry with a bomb, and Barry tracking Fang Gow to his lair. It's a shame that an interesting idea was thrown away at the start of such a mediocre story.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Chad Grothkopf): A wealthy businessman is being investigated for tax evasion, and a "criminologist" offers to help him out by murdering the former employee who has all of the info on his shady dealings. I was intrigued by this criminologist, and his claims to have studied crime so much that he knew how to outsmart the FBI. This being a Jerry Siegel story, the FBI can't be outsmarted, and track him down with little trouble. It's not like he was even particularly clever in his plan. They guy didn't even stop to check that his murder victim was dead!

'The Sandman' (by Gardner Fox and Chad Grothkopf): The Sandman must rescue a doctor who has been kidnapped for his cure for the common cold. This story is decent enough, but I can't help feeling that the premise is small potatoes. Sure, such a cure really would be worth a ton of money, but it's hardly the remedy for cancer, is it?

'Socko Strong' (by Albert Sulman and Joseph Sulman): Socko helps track down a financier who is wanted for embezzlement. The financier disguises himself by shaving off his beard, and the whole story reads like an excuse to build up to the "close shave" pun in the final panel.

'A Sleepy Capture' (by Frank Thomas): In this prose story, a lion escapes from the circus, and a man saves the local orphanage by knocking it out with chloroform. The sheer dramatic absurdity of a lion loose in an orphanage amuses me, so I rather liked this one.

'Steve Conrad, Adventurer' (by Jack Lehti): In India, Steve Conrad protects some plantation owners from a native tribe. To be honest, it wouldn't matter how good this strip is otherwise, because Steve's sidekick Chang is just shockingly racist in every single panel. It's also pretty hard to summon up a lot of sympathy for a bunch of upper-crust English plantation owners.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): Rusty and his friends find a treasure map, are told the story of the sacred Idol of Takal, and decide to set off in a ship to find it. It's a solid set-up that gives us at least three groups going after the treasure, and you can never have too many sides in a treasure hunt story.

'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Bart Tumey): Don and Red track down a spy, who captures them and forces them to run through a snake pit. The villain does have an appealing sadistic streak, but the story isn't otherwise remarkable.

'Cotton Carver at the Polar Zone' (by Gardner Fox and Jack Lehti): Last issue, Cotton and Deela reached the surface. In this story they are menaced by Red Mike and his band of Arctic traders. It's disappointingly banal; I really was hoping for something more interesting from Cotton's return home.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

March 1940: Top-Notch Comics #5, Detective Comics #38

 Cover by Edd Ashe

'The Wizard, The Man With the Super-Brain' (by Edd Ashe): It's crossover central again, as the Wizard battles Mosconian agents while meeting the Shield, Keith Kornell (aka the West Pointer) and Lee Sampson (aka the Midshipman). To be honest, these cameos add nothing to the story. The Shield was utterly superfluous, and the other two could just as easily have been any random cadet or member of the navy. Even so, it's a good bit of fun.

'Galahad' (by Harry Shorten and Lin Streeter): This new strip features the titular knight of the Round Table. Galahad goes to King Arthur's court and is made a knight after defeating Sir Kay in a joust. Soon after he helps Lady Lynette stop the evil Sir Gilbert from seizing her lands. I am a sucker for any thing with a sword in it, and this does have a pretty good fight scene between Galahad and Gilbert. But in the end that's all it comes down to, and Galahad triumphs through his prowess and nothing more. I expect something a little more meaningful from a story drawing on the Arthurian mythos.

'Shanghai Sheridan' (by Joe Blair and Irv Novick): Jack Sheridan's father was killed by invaders in 1931, leaving him in the care of family friend Chan Sing-Tan. (The invaders aren't specified, but given that the strip is set in China I can only assume that it's a reference to Japan's invasion of China in 1931.) Sheridan vows to drive out the invaders, and so as he grows he dedicates himself to learning things like science, escape artistry and jiu-jitsu. In the main plot he takes on a warlord who has kidnapped the rightful ruler of China. This is all quite generic stuff, made remarkable only because of some questionable portrayals of the Chinese characters.

'Streak Chandler on Mars' (by Harry Shorten and William Wills): Streak is captured by the Gas Men, but after a few days of slavery he overthrows their ruler and restores their rightful king. This is all done with the aid of the ultra-creepy Brontauris from last issue, a horse-headed octopus that gives me the heebie-jeebies. I want to post a picture of it, but there aren't any really good ones here. There's a good deal of imagination here, but the storytelling is so choppy that I can't enjoy it.

'Wings Johnson of the Air Patrol' (by Joe Blair and Ed Smalle): Wings Johnson is still trying to kill the German U-boat commander Von Schiller, as vengeance for the murder of his childhood friend. I swear that he has killed him at least twice so far, but the guy just keeps coming back. This time he dies again, riddled full of bullet holes. Johnson even inspects the corpse, but I don't believe it for a second. To be honest, I don't even care. Johnson has taken his vengeance so many times already that it no longer matters.

'Dick Storm in the Island of the Devil Devil Doctor' (by Harry Shorten and Mort Meskin): Dick Storm is fishing for pearls, but a member of his crew blows up their boat and flees into the jungle, intending to keep the pearls for himself. Dick pursues him, and they must both deal with the native tribesmen. It's all standard island adventure stuff.

'Bob Phantom, Scourge of the Underworld' (by Harry Shorten and Gerry Thorp): Bob Phantom foils a kidnapping plot. Not even a scene where he wrestles a pride of lions can save this.

'The West Pointer' (by Ed Wexler): This story follows on from 'The Wizard' strip earlier in the issue, in which Keith Kornell had helped that hero defeat the Mosconians. Now Keith must stop another Mosconian plot to blow up a whole load of US officials. I did like the way this dovetails out of the Wizard's story, but the rest of it is utterly generic.

'Kardak the Mystic Magician' (by C.A. Winter): Kardak helps the Fishtails to invade the supposedly villainous Mochans. Just based on this story, the Mochans never do anything particularly evil, and it seems as though the Fishtails are just attacking for the hell of it. It's not even a very exciting invasion.

Cover by Bob Kane

'The Batman Presents the Sensational Character Find of 1940.... Robin - The Boy Wonder' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): As that understated title may have clued you in, this is the first appearance of Robin, and it marks an instant change in tone for the strip. The story starts with Robin's origin: kid trapeze star Dick Grayson, parents murdered by racketeers, taken in and trained by Batman, you know how it goes. It's a classic origin that echoes Batman's very well. From there we go to Batman and Robin taking on Boss Zucco, the gangster in charge of the racketeers who killed Dick's parents. Batman spends a few pages smashing mobsters and wrecking a casino, and he's exceedingly polite during the whole affair, always sure to apologize before punching some crook's teeth in. We even see him smile for the first time. The skulking Batman that stuck to the shadows is gone, replaced by an adventurous swashbuckler who seems to be really enjoying his work. Robin then takes his turn, with an acrobatic battle in a construction site, where he takes on Zucco's goons before he and Batman team up to get the evidence they need to put Zucco away.

But it's not all light-hearted adventure. During his battle, Robin kicks a thug off a building, and the height of the fall leaves little doubt in my mind that the guy is killed. Batman even allows ZuccoZucco, but will happily allow another crook to be murdered in the name of gathering evidence.

This is a fun story, though. As much as I enjoyed the stories with Batman as a grim loner, I think I'm going to enjoy them more now that the focus is on action and adventure.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Maurice Kashuba): Bart takes on a mad scientist who has invented a machine that can hit targets with lightning. I quite enjoyed seeing Bart dodging lightning bolts wherever he went. I was also surprised at the end that the US Defense Department takes control of the machine. It will never be referred to again, but usually these types of machines get destroyed before anyone can get their hands on them.

'Red Logan' (by Ken Ernst): Red investigates a murder that appears to have been the work of a vampire. It's actually just a mad scientist who is trying to use the blood of the living to resurrect the dead. The premise is a good one, but it never follows through on the creepiness.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jack Lehti): The Crimson Avenger deals with some jewel thieves, and discovers that their victims have paid them off to steal the jewels so that they can collect the insurance money. It's a very tired plot, and telegraphed the instant that the insurance was mentioned.

'Speed Saunders Ace Investigator and the Kidnapped Singer' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Speed investigates the kidnapping and ransom of a singer, and discovers that the culprit is a man pretending to be her fiance. It's solid enough, and rather than Speed Saunders being the hero, that honour goes to the pilot who was flying the kidnapper's plane.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Don Lynch): Steve tackles gambling racketeers and the crooked politician who is protecting them. It's decent enough.

'Cliff Crosby' (by Chad Grothkopf): Cliff and his friend Dr. Broussard are explorers. They inexplicably find a tribe of African natives in the Arctic, who are surviving due to a serum that protects them from the cold. Cliff helps the rightful king regain control of the tribe, and along the way he fights a polar bear (breaking its jaw with his hands) and a cobra (covered in the serum as well, I guess). This is pretty crude stuff, but fun all the same.  It never does explain how those tribesmen got to the Arctic, though.

'The Case of the Vanishing Train' (by Richard Martin): A train robbery is foiled by an FBI agent. Dull.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Dennis Neville): Slam and Shorty rescue a whole bunch of people from a fire, and capture the janitor who set it deliberately. New artist Dennis Neville can't quite draw Shorty correctly, which is an essential part of the comedy for this strip. The story itself is pretty humourless, and lays the Slam Bradley hero worship on very thick. It's one of the weakest installments of this series.