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.

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