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.

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