Tuesday, January 24, 2012

April 1940: Adventure Comics #50

Cover by Bernard Baily

Hey look, Adventure Comics has reached a milestone!  This being the Golden Age, there is no special celebration.  It's just another normal issue.  But for me, a child of 90s comics, there's no escaping the significance of a nice round number.  And this time, unlike with More Fun Comics before it, I can legitimately say that I have read them all.

'Tick-Tock Tyler the Hour-Man' (by Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily): The Hour-Man gets involved in my favourite type of story: a horse-racing tale with crooked gamblers! Not only do I have this nonsense to deal with, but the Hour-Man, in his civilian identity as Rex Tyler, is one of the most insipid characters of the Golden Age. Not only does he allow the thugs to beat the hell out of him and put him in hospital, but he doesn't lift a finger to help a horse trainer either. I know he's protecting his secret identity, but there are limits.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): Barry and Inspector Le Grand are tasked with escorting some American bombers into France, while Fang Gow plots to steal them. It's all very routine, though I was surprised to see that Fang Gow is captured at the end, and scheduled for execution.

It only occurred to me just now, but for a strip set in France in 1940 there is absolutely no mention of the war. The main villain here is Chinese, which seems like an anachronism to me given the country's situation at the time.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Chad Grothkopf): Steve investigates a series of mysterious plane crashes, and discovers that they're the work of a crazed inventor using a newly created hot air ray. Steve stops him from selling the plans to a foreign nation in a mediocre story.

'The Sandman' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): This starts intriguingly, when the Sandman witnesses a hit-and-run accident, only to discover that both parties were already dead beforehand. It's the work of two crooks who are out of jail and going after the judge and jury who put them away. While all this is going on there's a lot of stuff about the Sandman being a wanted man. After he stops the crooks he's offered a pardon if he reveals his secret identity, but he refuses. It's nice to see one of the staple elements of the genre being used well, and it adds some interest to an otherwise average tale.

'Socko Strong' (by Albert Sulman and Joseph Sulman): Socko must convince a gifted violinist that he shouldn't become a boxer just to make a quick buck. Which he does by punching the hell out of him. Thankfully it all ends quite sweetly when Socko organises for the kid to play a concert at Carnegie Hall. Perhaps I'm going soft, but I rather liked it.

'Dead Reckoning' (by Tex Horton): In this prose story a US Marshall investigates the source of guns being smuggled to the Indians, and discovers that the local undertaker (and mayor) is transporting the guns in coffins. This is short and to the point, and gets the job done adequately enough.

'Steve Conrad, Adventurer' (by Jack Lehti): Steve must stop a foreign spy from uniting the native tribes on a South Seas island and attacking the US military base situated there. He does this by tricking the tribes into fighting each other again, but it's okay. Everything is fine as long as white people aren't being killed.

'The Adventures of Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Rusty and his pals sail for Malay in search of a hidden treasure, but the guide that they hire is also after the treasure for his temple. I wasn't engaged by this at all, but it's just set-up.

'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Bart Tumey): In the Philippines, Don has a fever that drives him crazy. He rides wildly away and wakes up in a pit full of political prisoners. He finds a map to an escape route, but one of the prisoners knocks him out and escapes. Red comes along and rescues Don, and the story ends, with the betraying prisoner presumably having achieved his goal. It's all very haphazard and unsatisfying.

'Cotton Carver in the City of Glass' (by Gardner Fox and Jack Lehti): The last issue ended with Cotton and company falling down a crevasse. Here they arrive in a strange land occupied by the descendants of the lost colony of Roanoke, where the king takes a liking to Princess Deela. This is average stuff, made interesting only by Cotton's declaration that the underground kingdom of Barlunda is now the place he thinks of as home.

Monday, January 23, 2012

April 1940: Detective Comics #39

Cover by Bob Kane

'Batman' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): A Chinese tong kidnaps two millionaires and holds them for ransom. It's also been selling opium, and Chinatown's unofficial mayor Wong calls Batman in to deal with the problem. Wong appeared once before in Detective Comics #35, where he helped Batman, but his return is an ill-fated one; he ends up being murdered with a hatchet buried in his head. Batman and Robin track the tong down to its waterfront hideout, and solve the case with a whole lot of punching. It's all topped off by a great closing scene, in which a young Chinese boy is told by his mother to pray for Batman, who delivered them from the evils of opium. This is seriously entertaining stuff.

There's more significant Batman stuff on the way. In the next issue of Detective Comics we get the debut of the villain Clayface, and there's also a house ad for Batman #1. Good times!

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Maurice Kashuba): Bart is assigned to discover who is stealing papers from an inventor who has just created a top secret weapon. All evidence points to Carlgart, the office manager, and Thorpe, a shifty-eyed draftsman, but in the end the culprit turns out to be the inventor's chauffeur. It almost makes sense, except that it's never explained how the chauffeur gets into the inventor's safe. And the sheer amount of evidence piled up against Carlgart and Thorpe isn't adequately explained away either. I can see what Siegel was going for here, but those two were just acting too shiftily for them to not be up to something.

'Red Logan' (by Ken Ernst): Red Logan tackles a man who is trying to kill his niece before she gets married, so that the family inheritance will remain with him. His method is to release a cobra into her room, but after she screams the cobra returns to the man's room and kills him. I'm not entirely sure that Red accomplished anything at all in this story.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jack Lehti): The Crimson Avenger tackles a group of spies who destroyed a battleship in the New York harbour with some mines. The mines were placed there during World War I, and are remotely detonated from a top secret control room; the story spends a lot of its time setting up the mystery of exactly how the spies did it. The resolution is a good one, with all of the relevant clues available to the reader, and this is a very solid story that makes good use of the Crimson Avenger's super-hero identity as well as his job at the newspaper.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator and the Case of the Siva Statue' (by Fred Guardineer): Speed helps a man who has been threatened by a cult for his possession of a sacred Siva statuette. The story is unremarkable. The most interesting thing about it is the introduction of Danny, a kid who Speed uses to help him track the cult down. Apparently he's going to be a regular cast member, which doesn't bode well. Kid sidekicks so very rarely work, and this one's as bland as they come. Also, the presumably Indian cultists all have blue skin for some reason.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Don Lynch): Steve tackles a gang of hijackers who are stealing cargo trucks and selling the goods through a wholesaler. Steve manages to hold them off in a tense shootout, but all of his success happens through lucky coincidence.

'Cliff Crosby' (by Chad Grothkopf): This story begins with Cliff Crosby angrily campaigning for kids to be able to play on vacant lots, and it only gets more absurd from there. The son of Al Larsen, the main guy who is against the playing kids, is kidnapped and held by Indians. Cliff goes to the kid's rescue, and their escape attempt has all of the jungle cliches: an alligator, a boa constrictor, quicksand, you name it. After the kid is rescued Larsen agrees to build playgrounds, and everyone is happy. Crosby is quite entertaining in this, as his first answer to any problem is a swift punch in the face. And the jungle scenes are gloriously cliched, but so rapid-fire they get away with it.

'White Trap' (by Whitney Ellsworth): A criminal commits a murder, but his escape plan is thwarted by a snowstorm; the footprints he leaves will lead right to him, so he gives himself up. It's quite a clever story, but I can't help thinking that he gives up too easily. Surely he could just walk to where there's a crowd, and obscure his footprints that way?

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Dennis Neville): Slam is hired by a Frenchman to protect a valuable diamond from some crooks. It all turns out to be a hoax, to test Slam's competence for the French government, which wants to hire him to protect a shipment of gems in Paris. Slam ends up getting captured and impersonated by a gang of thieves, but manages to escape, clear his name and defeat them. This was all mildly entertaining, with some good banter from Slam and Shorty, but it falls short of the mark compared to other Slam Bradley stories. At least Dennis Neville has figured out how to draw Shorty now.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

April 1940: More Fun Comics #55

Cover by Bernard Baily

'The Spectre' (by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily): The Spectre is confronted by Zor, a powerful spirit who has been trapped on Earth for centuries, who uses his vast powers to promote evil. The ensuing battle is a cracker, with both combatants growing so large that they fight in outer space. Zor ends up kidnapping the Spectre's old lover and escaping to another dimension, and the Spectre must petition God so that he can track him down. The final confrontation isn't quite so epic, but this is a great story. It's chock full of elements that I always associated with the late 1960s cosmic books, not the Golden Age. And Zor is a very intriguing villain for the time. Siegel is a long way ahead of his contemporaries.

'Biff Bronson' (by Albert Sulman and Joseph Sulman): Dan Druff is framed for stealing some pearls by fake detectives, who then demand hush money from him. Biff dresses as Dan's mother to deliver the money, then beats the hell out of the crooks. Dan and Biff are entirely too into the whole scenario.

'Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by B. Hirsch and Russ Lehman): Foreign saboteurs try to blow up the Panama Canal with a convoluted plan involving a ship loaded with dynamite that is being guided by a radio signal. It's all quite garbled. The plan of the saboteurs isn't revealed until the end, when a hasty infodump informs the reader what's happening and it all gets wrapped up in a couple of panels.

'Brand New Gun' (by Brittin Quigley): The local sheriff has a shoot-out with a killer who is armed with a new-fangled automatic pistol. Predictably, the killer loses because he doesn't know how to work the thing properly. It's quite well told for what it is, and the killer's inability to understand the gun ties well into the idea that he is impeding progress in the town.

'Doctor Fate' (by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman): Once again I have been surprised by the debut of a DC Universe staple. In this story, the mysterious Wotan tries to kill Doctor Fate, reasoning that he is the only one that can stand in the way of his plans for world conquest. Fate is a strange figure in this story. He's presented very much as a mystery. We learn that he's a master of science and the occult, but very little else. His face is constantly hidden by his rad helmet, and we never learn his true name. It's a shame that the final battle with Wotan descends into fisticuffs, but the rest of the set-up is very intriguing.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo and Gabby help a man who is being blackmailed for money by assassins. It's actually quite tedious, which is an achievement for a story with assassins in it.

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Chad Grothkopf): Sandy and Larry must stop a mad scientist from murdering the people he believes stole his invention. The killer is convincingly insane, and makes for a great villain.

'Detective Sergeant Carey in Death Stalks the Campus' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey takes on a mad scientist who is posing as a vampire and killing college students. I have no idea why any of this is happening.

'Sergeant O'Malley of the Red Coat Patrol' (by Jack Lehti): O'Malley goes up against the Wolf Man, a bandit who commands wolves and dresses in their skins. With his combination of overblown villainous dialogue and understated all-grey colour scheme, the Wolf Man is certainly an interesting villain. It's too bad that he has no interesting protagonist to strive against, or this might have been great.

'Bulldog Martin' (by Bart Tumey): A man is framed for the murder of his uncle, in a manner that can best be described as desperately thorough. The sheer volume and precision of the evidence piled up against the kid is ridiculous. The story is hackneyed and obvious, but the true murderer's frame job was amusing to me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

April 1940: Zip Comics #5

Cover by Charles Biro

'Steel Sterling' (by Abner Sundell and Charles Biro): Steel tackles a crooked senator and his plan to destroy a munitions factory and steal all of its defense contracts for himself. But even after Steel smashes up the bad guys and gets the senator to confess, he still has to rebuild the destroyed factory in a single day. His knowledge of building leaves a lot to be desired, and involves a lot of tying knots in steel girders. And then the Black Knight, Steel's nemesis and habitual cheater of death, shows up in a cameo to try and destroy the plant; he is promptly and hilariously crushed by a truck full of TNT, but I expect he'll escape somehow.

'The Scarlet Avenger' (by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick): The Scarlet Avenger is still battling against Lexa, Queen of Crime. In this issue she plans to free a whole bunch of criminals for her private army, but the Scarlet Avenger stops her and blows up her dirigible. She escapes, of course, by means of her giant pterodactyls. I cannot hate a story with dirigibles, death rays and dinosaurs.

'Nevada Jones, Quick-Trigger Man' (by Creators Unknown): Nevada Jones takes on a gold miner who has killed his own brother for the gold and disguised himself as an old prospector. It's about as exciting as any of the westerns get (i.e. not very), and I feel like strangling someone every time Jones says "Yippee Yay, Blaze Away!" It's the first unbearable catchphrase in comics.

'Kalthar the Giant Man, King of the Jungle' (by Harry Shorten and Lin Streeter): Kalthar must do battle with a tribe of leopard-men and their chief, who turns out to be a slave trader that Kalthar spared in an earlier story. It all feels pretty tired and uninspiring.

'War Eagles, the Devil's Flying Twins' (by Ed Smalle): Tom and Tim stop a Nazi attack on a supply train, bomb some new Nazi guns into oblivion, and rescue an English spy. It's certainly eventful, but now that the protagonists have stopped being jerks to everybody it's not as much fun to read.

'Captain Valor' (by Abner Sundell and Mort Meskin): Captain Valor and his friends are captured by Yat Sing and his half-sister Tania, who want China's defense plans against the Japanese invaders. As a continuing serial, this is something of a throwback to comics of the mid-1930s. It's not a style that I'm much enamoured with; I'll almost certainly have forgotten what happened by the time I read the next installment.

'Mr. Satan' (by Harry Shorten and possibly Ed Ashe): Mr. Satan and Doris stumble across a counterfeiting operation. This starts promisingly, as a man is killed with some carefully aimed fireworks, but then drifts into some tedious material. Mr. Satan's costume, is noteworthy, though; he looks almost exactly like Daredevil.

'Zambini the Miracle Man' (by Joe Blair and Ed Wexler): Zambini takes on a Voodoo priest. It's not great, but I am amused by Zambini's magic spells. Much like Zatara, his spells are cast by the way he speaks. "Babecabome Pabarabalabyzabed" is one example. I think he just throws an "ab" in at the start of every syllable.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

April 1940: Top-Notch Comics #6

Cover by Edd Ashe

'The Wizard, the Man with the Super Brain' (by Edd Ashe): We're back with the modern day Wizard, who is still foiling plots by the Mosconians. First they try to kill him with a bombing raid on his rocket car, then they try to destroy Boulder Dam in Colorado. Both sequences are action-packed, and I found myself quite impressed to see the Wizard hold up the breached dam all by himself. It's the sort of thing I wouldn't bat an eyelid over in a modern super-hero comic, but over the course of this blog I've become accustomed to the very low key powers of the Golden Age.  I think that I prefer it this way.

'Galahad' (by Harry Shorten and Lin Streeter): Galahad must retrieve the stolen Golden Chalice from the Earl of Pellam. There's plenty of derring-do and sword-fighting to keep me entertained, but it all feels a little hollow. There's a plot strand about the Earl's wife wanting the Chalice so that it can make her more beautiful than Queen Guinevere, and that's a set-up for a proper story if ever there was one. But it goes nowhere, and what we get instead is pages and pages of Galahad fighting other knights.

'Shanghai Sheridan' (by Joe Blair and Irv Novick): Sheridan meets an American named Scary Dee, saves the crew of an American yacht from the Japanese, and survives an attack from the evil Wu Fang's men. This is very piecemeal, and never gels coherently. It also has some terribly primitive speech patterns for the Japanese. I don't mind this so much in situations where they are obviously speaking in English, because a lot of people have trouble speaking foreign languages. But when they're talking amongst themselves? It's unforgivable.

'Streak Chandler on Mars' (by Harry Shorten and William Wills): The tyrant Kalox was deposed by Streak Chandler in the last issue, but in this story he steals a powerful radium crystal, capable of destroying planets. Not that he does much with it; Kalox spends most of the strip fleeing from Streak, before Streak destroys his ship with a disintegrator ray. It's always disappointing when a villain doesn't live up to the hype.

'Wings Johnson of the Air Patrol' (by Joe Blair and Ed Smalle): Having finally killed his mortal enemy Von Schiller, Wings is reassigned. He helps fight a naval battle against the Nazis, then helps defend attacks on South American military bases. I appreciate his dedication in having two adventures in one issue, but it does make things very cramped and unsatisfying.

'Dick Storm' (by Harry Shorten and Mort Meskin): In this story Dick topples a South American dictator who has taken over a region in Honduras. One of the central points of the story is that the dictator has no ammunition for his guns. And I'm supposed to believe that he led and maintained a successful coup? It's preposterous.

'Bob Phantom, Scourge of the Underworld' (by Harry Shorten and Gerry Thorp): The villainous Ah Ku is back, leading an opium smuggling operation. Bob Phantom takes down her operation in a terribly average story.

'West Pointer' (by Harry Shorten and Ed Wexler): This strip is supposed to be about army cadets, but somehow it always ends up as a sport comic. In this story Keith Kornell is chosen to pitch in a baseball match against Midvale, but ends up getting in a fight with the opposition's star hitter. Later on he saves the same guy from a fire, then goes on to pitch a winning game despite an injured leg. I'm just happy that there were no crooked gamblers involved.

'Kardak the Mystic Magician' (by Harry Shorten and C.A. Winter): Kardak goes up against Hindu mystics who plan to release a plague of locusts in the Mississippi delta for reasons that are not entirely clear. The cliffhanger ending has Kardak and his fiancee trapped in quicksand, which is about as exciting as the rest of the story.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

April 1940: Shield-Wizard Comics #1

 Cover by Irv Novick

Archie/MLJ has moved into the venue of solo super-hero titles, but without a star on the level of Superman they've been forced to merge their two biggest names: the Shield and the Wizard.  I'm quite happy to be getting another comic that's exclusive to my favourite genre, and it helps that the material so far is quite good.

'The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary' (by Irv Novick): The Shield gets an origin story for the first time here. In his first appearance in Pep Comics #1 we learned that he was inspired to become the Shield after his father was killed in the infamous Black Tom explosions. That story is adhered to, but greatly expanded upon. The Shield's father, Lieut. Tom Higgins, was a chemist and an army intelligence agent. His death was arranged by German agents who were after his secret formula, but they were only able to discover half of it. His son Joe vows to avenge his father, and becomes a great chemist himself, determined to finish his father's research. He discovers the secret of the S-H-I-E-L-D formula, which is laid out in a great diagram, and after applying it to himself he becomes the eponymous super-hero.

The rest is a standard tale of the Shield rounding up the spies that killed his dad and gaining his revenge. It's amazing what a bit of backstory can do, though. Before this the Shield felt like just another generic hero, but now he has a history and a motivation, and feels like a genuine character.

'The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary' (by Irv Novick): This is the Shield's first adventure. After passing  the test to become an FBI agent with a perfect score, Joe Higgins takes his first assignment: a steel mill that has been taken over by crooks who have kidnapped the owner. There's some decent humour with the Shield's partner, Ju Ju Watson, who sincerely believes that Higgins needs his help to become a good agent. The setting is also made good use of, with a lot of action set pieces and molten ore being flung about.

There is one problem with the story, though. Early on the crooks throw Joe Higgins into a furnace, where he is presumably killed. He emerges as the Shield, and shows up later as Higgins again after the crooks are beaten. But nobody even wonders how he is still alive! They all saw him thrown in that furnace, and I was looking forward to seeing him explain how he survived. No such luck, as it's just ignored.

'The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary' (by Irv Novick): The Shield and Ju Ju investigate a string of murders, in which all the victims are potential witnesses against the alleged head of a murder syndicate. The Shield stops the murders and produces some more witnesses with little trouble. It's a mediocre story, but it's amazing what the addition of an inept comedy sidekick can do. Ju Ju Watson isn't an original character, but he's cut from a template that works, and he gives the Shield somebody to play off.

'The Vampire Murders' (by Writer Unknown): In this prose story, the Shield fights a vampire. This is textbook vampire slaying. Step 1) Punch its teeth out; Step 2) Shoot it with silver bullets; Step 3) Stake it through the heart. The Shield knows what he's doing, and I have to love a story that features J. Edgar Hoover seriously discussing the undead.

'The Wizard, the Man with the Super Brain' (by Harry Shorten and Edd Ashe): Whereas the Shield gains an origin story in this issue, the Wizard gains something else entirely: a legacy. This story is about the original Wizard, who was born in 1750 and fought in the American War of Independence. This version of the Wizard was born with exceptional powers, and used them to predict Indian raids and the British invasion. But eventually the eerily accurate predictions drew suspicion, and the Wizard's father was burned for witchcraft. The Wizard later fights in the war, using technology such as a glider and a rapid fire pistol. This is pretty rad. The historical setting gives it some authenticity, and the whole concept of the Wizard becomes much more interesting with the addition of a lineage. I'm sure that I'd enjoy it even more if I knew about American history.

'The Wizard, the Man with the Super Brain' (by Harry Shorten and Edd Ashe): It's another tale of the original Wizard, who is helping George Washington fight against the British. By attacking them on Christmas Eve, the bastard! Some hero.

'The Wizard, the Man with the Super Brain' (by Harry Shorten and Edd Ashe): More from the original Wizard, as he tries to capture Benedict Arnold, then helps America to ally with the French. Now I'm really sure that I need to know American history to fully appreciate this. References to people and places and battles are rife here, but they hold very little significance to me. At least I can enjoy seeing the Wizard blast English troops with an honest-to-god cannon tucked under his arm.

Monday, January 16, 2012

April 1940: Pep Comics #5

Cover by Irv Novick

'The Shield, G-Man Extraordinary' (by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick): The Mosconian plot continues, as enemy agents try to kill the Shield and also blow up the White House with tanks. There is a lot packed into this story. The Shield is extra-vicious; in one scene he uses a battery to create chlorine gas to poison a submarine full of Mosconians. "There wasn't a life lost, Shield, thanks to you!" Yeah right, tell it to the bad guys. They get their vengeance by sealing the Shield in a steel coffin and burying him under tons of rock, but two panels of straining is all it takes him to escape. The Wizard shows up yet again for a token cameo. I'm getting annoyed with these pointless crossovers, because the character never do anything together. But this is entertaining stuff, and Irv Novick is producing some powerful, dynamic art.

'The Comet' (by Jack Cole): The Comet, still wanted by the police, goes up against a crook named Stinger Lee. Lee has stolen a ray that creates darkness, and is using it to aid in his robberies. The Comet obliterates him with his eye-beams, as is his habit. This is poppy and energetic as usual.

'The Press Guardian' (by Abner Sundell and Mort Meskin): The Press Guardian deals with a senator who is protecting a notorious criminal. The story is mediocre, but I was amused when the Guardian turned to a group of teenagers to print a story in their amateur newspaper.  Sure, the legitimate newspapers had been shut down, but it's a humbling thing for a super-hero to do.

'Fu Chang, International Detective' (by Joe Blair and Lin Streeter): Fu Chang buys a farm, but his workers start being killed by a man-eating plant. The plant is the work of Yen Fat Sing, a criminal who is after some treasure buried on Chang's land. The plant made an effectively gruesome villain in a decent story.

'Sergeant Boyle' (by Abner Sundell and Charles Biro): Boyle gets a new commanding officer who tries to straighten him out. They must go behind enemy lines together, and their escape results in all manner of   hijinks. This is another strip that has gone from Nazi-killing propaganda to actual storytelling, which I greatly approve of.

'The Midshipman' (possibly by Bob Wood): Argh. There's a Navy/Army baseball game, and you'll never guess, but some crooked gamblers try to get Lee Sampson to throw the game! The hackneyed set-up was almost too much, but the ending saved it a little. Navy wins the game due to the crooks' interference, but Sampson's sense of fair play makes him demand that the Army batter gets another go. This decision costs Navy the game. It's stronger than most stories of this type.

'The Rocket and the Queen of Diamonds' (by Abner Sundell and Lin Streeter): Last issue the Rocket and the Queen were captured by Ape-Men. The Rocket defeats an attacking bat-serpent, and so becomes the Ape-Men's chief, but the old chief plots against him. This is decent pulp adventure, and the Rocket's devotion to the queen is quite endearing.

'Kayo Ward' (by Harry Shorten and Bob Wood): After being set upon by some rivals, Kayo develops amnesia. He must then fight his opponent Slick in a boxing match, even though he can't remember any of his skills. The story isn't resolved by the end, but the novel set-up has me interested.

'Bentley of Scotland Yard' (by Joe Blair and Sam Cooper): A foreign agent and his unexplained pet monster try to intercept a message that is vital to the British Empire. The monster certainly livens things up, but he has no real reason to be there. And he's the only interesting thing in this story.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

April 1940: Blue Ribbon Comics #4

Cover by Charles Biro

'Rang-a-Tang the Wonder Dog' (by Joe Blair and Ed Smalle): In the main story, Hy Speed and Rang tackle a group of spies who are after plans to a secret defense weapon for the Panama Canal. It's a solid action story, but I was disappointed that Rang doesn't really do anything out of the ordinary for a wonder dog. The most amusement I got was from the newly formed Rang-a-Tang Club, with this puzzling questionnaire:

Bowel Functions. Seriously, what do you write there?

'Hercules, Modern Champion of Justice' (by Joe Blair and Ed Wexler): This is the second strip called 'Hercules' to debut in the space of a month. The other, over in Mystic Comics #3, is about a guy raised in the wild who goes by the name of Hercules. This, on the other hand, is about the mythological Hercules, and sees him sent to Earth in modern times to right various wrongs. Predictably, a mobster named Lion tries to use him for his own ends, until Hercules wises up and kills the guy. The writing is fairly crude, but I do like the way the story parallels the first of Hercules' legendary labours (slaying the Nemean Lion), even down to him stealing Lion's clothes  after he kills him.

'Gypsy Johnson, Adventurer' (by John Bulthuis): Gypsy Johnson is a Texan soldier of fortune. In this story he has joined the French Foreign Legion, and must help his garrison break a siege and defeat the bandit chieftain Sheik Tamah. It's breakneck, action-packed stuff, but it's let down by some terribly amateurish art.

'The Fox' (by Joe Blair and Irwen Hasen): Paul Patton is a news photographer, sent to investigate the Night Riders, a gang that has been terrorising the countryside by whipping people to death. After suffering a brutal beating at their hands, Paul goes home and gives up. But upon hearing a dance band on the radio, Paul decides that he "isn't foxy enough", and this inspires him to take on the heroic identity of the Fox. Yes, really. He even sings the same song when he leaps into battle against the Night Riders later. It's one of the most absurd origins yet, which is good, because the rest of the story is totally unremarkable.

'Corporal Collins, Infantryman' (by Charles Biro): Collins must go to the rescue of a French fort that is under siege. A hefty dose of humour has been injected into this strip, and it's all the better for it. It's good to see it move on from being about nothing other than killing lots and lots of Nazis.

'Ty-Gor, Son of the Tiger' (by Joe Blair and Mort Meskin): A white boy is raised by tigers in the Malay jungle, and must avenge the death of his tiger father. Which he does while wearing his father's skin, which is all kinds of creepy. It's also a worry when your protagonist can't say anything other than his own name, shouted at the top of his lungs. Dude needs to learn some other words before I'm going to enjoy this strip.

'Doc Strong and the Isle of Right' (by Joe Blair and Sam Cooper): After 100 years of war (World War II, specifically!) the world is in ruins, and a Mongolian warlord named Gustave Ritter takes over. Doc Strong and some other scientists escape to form their own civilisation, the Isle of Right, from which they can strike back at Ritter's tyranny. Ritter really is a terrible Mongol name, and he deserves to lose on that basis alone.

'Loop Logan, Air Ace' (by Joe Blair and Frank Volp): Loop Logan is challenged to a duel by the Blue Duke, and must also discover a saboteur. It's okay.

'The Green Falcon' (by Harry Shorten and Edd Ashe): In 12th century England, under the rule of Prince John, the Lady Marion is offered as a prize to the winner of a jousting tournament. A mysterious knight known only as the Green Falcon wins the joust, and later sets off to rescue King Richard from captivity. I enjoyed this quite a bit. It has a bit of liveliness to it, a rarity in this genre.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

March 1940: Feature Comics #32

Cover by Lou Fine

'The Dollman' (by Will Eisner and Lou Fine): Some spies kidnap a scientist who has invented a deadly gas, and the Dollman must go to the rescue. The whole plot of this story hinges on this gas being deadlier than any other yet created, but when a vial of it is smashed it doesn't kill anybody. Dollman survives it, the spies survive it, even the old scientist survives it. The story was fairly entertaining otherwise, but that's a pretty big logic flaw.

'Captain Fortune' (by Vernon Henkel): Captain Fortune leads an assault on Castle Balomar, to help Lord Essex regain his lands from the villainous Duke Edward. This is quite a good bit of fun. It's full of cliches, but it revels in them. Clashing armies, a kidnapped princess, and a one-on-one duel between hero and villain, this has them all, and uses them well.

'Zero, Ghost Detective' (by Don Zolnerowich): Zero, as it says on the tin, is a paranormal investigator. In this story, a man has returned from the dead as a three-fingered ogre to kill his brothers, due to a pledge they made as children. It has a suitable level of creepiness, and I did enjoy it despite Zero's complete lack of personality.

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): Reynolds gets caught up in the machinations of two unscrupulous fur traders and an Injun medicine man who wants to become chief of his tribe. Wonder of wonders, but I actually liked this. It plays the various factions off each other nicely.

'Spin Shaw of the Naval Air Corps' (by Bob Powell): Spin goes up against saboteurs that are trying to destroy an experimental plane. The plot is cliched, but it has several rather good action set pieces.

'Rance Keane' (by William A. Smith): Rance and Pee Wee must retrieve the stolen money of Rance's murdered friend, which they do with a plan that involves them pretending to be drunk. It's not nearly as entertaining as it sounds.

'Captain Bruce Blackburn, Counterspy' (by Harry Francis Campbell): This new strip has a cracking opening, as Bruce must fake his own death due to his identity having been leaked. After a spot of plastic surgery he resumes his spy-hunting career, and sets about figuring out who is the spy in their organisation. Alas, it gets a little too dry and procedural after the great opening.

'Rusty Ryan of Boyville' (by Paul Gustavson): Rusty Ryan is an orphan with a knack for solving crimes. In this story some crooks organise to become the beneficiaries of a child's insurance policy before causing him to fall from a bridge. Rusty finds them out in a story that is decent enough. I do like the way that Rusty can just get whatever he wants from the local newspaper; he's so trusted that the editor stops the presses on his word, and sets some column inches aside because he knows there will be a story if Rusty's involved.

'Gold of Atlantis' (by Robert M. Hyatt): An adventurer named Perry Scott goes hunting gold in an ancient Atlantean city, and instead finds a golden serpent. It sounds like the basis for a great pulp yarn, but in practice it's mostly the characters sitting around talking, and the snake presents no menace at all.

'The Voice' (by Stan Aschmeier): The Voice is Mr. Elixir, who was stranded on an island in 1790 and has lived for 150 years due to special herbs that also give him super-strength. After returning to New York he takes up crime fighting, using the powers of hypnotism and ventriloquism to take on a daring hold-up gang. It's a decent enough set-up, but the story is mediocre.

'Samar' (possibly by Ted Cain and Nick Cardy): Samar is a generic jungle hero who saves a village from stampeding elephants. The stampede was caused by an evil trader who is after the blood ruby owned by the village chief. The art for this strip is very good, reminiscent of things like the Tarzan newspaper strips.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

March 1940: Crack Comics #1

Cover possibly by Ed Cronin

'The Clock Strikes' (by George Brenner): The Clock has made the jump over from Feature Comics to become this comic's headliner. This is one of his stronger outings, as he helps a guy named Pug who can no longer find work due to a murder that he committed in self defense. Together they smash a  crime racket that goes all the way to the mayor (who is wearing an awesome Cobra Commander suit). Pug becomes the Clock's new sidekick, though I'm not entirely sure what he's going to bring to the strip. His redemption story works well here, but he doesn't seem interesting or different enough from the Clock to justify becoming a  regular.

'Jane Arden' (by Monte Barrett and Russell E. Ross): Jane Arden has also made the switch, not been cancelled as I had previously thought. She's still in the middle of a storyline, which doesn't seem all that wise in a first issue, but at least it gets wrapped up quickly when the criminal Jim Southern is caught and arrested. A new story begins, with a murder mystery on a train. It's all very competently done without ever being exciting.

'The Space Legion' (by Vernon Henkel): Introducing Rock Braddon! The Space Legion are sort of like galactic police. In this story, Braddon takes on a gang of pirates that have stolen a shipment of radium. It's pretty much the sort of "space ships and ray guns" story you would expect, and does a good enough job of it. I'm still puzzled as to how Braddon survives an atomic bomb blast, though; it goes off right next to him!

'Alias the Spider' (by Paul Gustavson): The Spider is a crime-fighter who specialises in archery. That's about all we learn about him in this story, in which he tracks down and kills a criminal mastermind known as the Cricket. It's not bad, and the art has some creepy atmosphere in places, but the best thing about it is the title. 'Alias the Spider' just sounds rad.

'Wizard Wells, Miracle Man' (by Harry Francis Campbell): Wizard Wells is a scientist, and his assistant Tug is a punch-drunk ex-fighter. They don't seem to be professional crime-fighters, but in this story they help a girl against crooks that are trying to get her to pay protection money. The gimmick here is that Wells uses science to defeat his enemies, complete with explanations for the kids.

'Molly the Model' (by Joe Devlin): This is a series of one-page gag strips about a model and her prize fighter boyfriend. Amusing enough, and the cheesecake factor is the highest I've seen so far in this blog.

'Ned Brant' (by Bob Zuppke and E.W. Depew): Oh no, not Ned Brant as well! In this story Ned's basketball team beats the national champions. The plot works well enough, but the actual game is incomprehensibly written.

'Lee Preston of the Red Cross' (by Bob Powell): Lee Preston becomes enamoured with the idea of flying, and after months of training she becomes a Red Cross pilot. In this story she helps save some hillbillies from a flood. It's nice to see a new genre being tried out, but I've got a feeling that this is going to get formulaic very quickly.

'The Red Torpedo' (by Henry Kiefer): The Red Torpedo is Jim Lockhart, who invents a torpedo-like craft that he pilots himself. In this story he saves a refugee ship from enemy submarines. For a hero whose only gimmick is his vehicle to work, the vehicle has to be really cool. The torpedo has a couple of basic tricks, but it's just not rad enough.

'Corning's Mistake' (by Larry Spain): In this prose story, a builder makes his building too large, and is forced by his competitor to shave six inches from one side. Instead he shaves a whole foot, and tricks his competitor into building his own structure too far over. It's quite clever and original.

'Madam Fatal' (by Art Pinajian): Now this is bizarre. It begins with the introduction of Madam Fatal, an old lady who beats up some crooks with her surprising strength. We learn that she's been on the trail of a crook named John Carver for eight years, and when she catches up with him it is revealed that Madam Fatal is really an actor named Richard Stanton. He's after John Carver for the kidnapping of his daughter, and though he gets his revenge he doesn't find the girl. And then he decides to continue dressing up like a grandmother to fight crime. Why he ever did it the first time around is pretty dubious to begin with.

'The Black Condor' (by Will Eisner and Lou Fine): A child is raised by condors, and learns to fly. No, he doesn't grow wings, and he doesn't build an apparatus. He just watches the birds a hell of a lot until he is able to fly as well. Later he is taken in by an old hermit, and later still he must avenge the hermit's death at the hands of Mongolian bandits. The concept is ridiculous, and the story is average at best, but the art is great, with a highly realistic style and great use of shadow.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

March 1940: Smash Comics #10

 Cover possibly by George Brenner

'Espionage starring The Black X' (by Will Eisner): Eisner's montage openings are getting crazier all the time. Check out his representation of war between Russia and Finland:

The story sees the Black X tracking down the plans for shipment routes into Finland that have been stolen by the Russians. This is all very familiar, but Eisner puts a twist on it by involving a kidnapped boy that X becomes fixated on rescuing. It threatens to get a little too sentimental, but manages to stop short and deliver a decent action story.

The strangest thing is that the boy is seen reading a copy of Smash Comics, and even comments on the Black X having his own strip. Some secret agent he is!

'Chic Carter, Ace Reporter' (by Vernon Henkel): This story, in which Chic Carter must protect a woman who was witness to a bank robbery, is nothing special. But it does contain one of the greatest misleading captions of all time: "Before Lefty can fire again Chic is upon him... and hits him so hard he goes off into space!"

'Clip Chance' (by George Brenner): Clip Chance plays baseball, and some crooks try to rig the match by shooting the players. Sport comics suck so hard.

'Flash Fulton, Newsreel Ace' (by Paul Gustavson): Flash must rescue the assistant DA from a county prison that has been taken over by the inmates. I did enjoy the cheerful exuberance Flash displays while infiltrating a building full of murderers, but there's not a lot else here.

'Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man' (by George Brenner): The papers to an arms pact between the USA and Canada are stolen by foreign agents, and Hugh and his robot must stop them. I didn't find a lot to enjoy in this one. Ever since Hugh started riding inside Bozo the robot during missions I feel like the strip has lost something. Bozo has been reduced from a character to a suit of armour, which makes him much less fun to read about.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by Stan Aschmeier): A criminal called the Bat pretends to terrorise himself while also terrorising his neighbours. It's dull.

'Abdul the Arab' (by Vernon Henkel): Abdul destroys an Arab band that has threatened the local English military. The story goes to great lengths to set up the mystery of where the Arabs are getting their seemingly inexhaustible supply of ammo, and then never resolves it. The only upside to this story is that Abdul actually does the heroics, as opposed to his servant Hassan.

'Invisible Justice' (by Art Pinajian): Invisible Justice deals with a crook who has hijacked a scientific expedition to the Sargasso Sea to retrieve his hidden treasure. He also kills an octopus with a knife, which is by far the best thing he's ever done.

'The Sea Bat' (by Robert M. Hyatt): A deep sea diver is attacked by a giant manta, and returns to kill it with electricity. It's a valuable lesson for anybody who is planning to battle undersea wildlife.

'John Law, Scientective' (by Harry Francis Campbell): John invites the criminal called the Avenger over for a chat and deduces his identity, a hitherto unmentioned scientist called Rowan. It's a cheap way to resolve the mystery, but the Avenger is still at large, so the real climax is yet to come.

'Wings Wendall' (by Vernon Henkel): Wings destroys an airbase set up by spies in Brazil. There are some well done dogfights, but the story is too boring for them to mean anything.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

March 1940: Mystic Comics #3

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'The Blue Blaze' (by Creators Unknown): Dr. Gair, head of the crime syndicate, has a scientist summon a powerful alien to destroy the Blue Blaze. The Blue Blaze defeats the creature by covering it in molten lead, cutting it off from the star rays that give it life. Aliens being summoned to Earth isn't a trope that's been done a lot in comics to this point, and I enjoyed the novelty.

'Hercules' (by Arnold Hicks): A scientist takes his son to the Arctic, where he raises him as the perfect physical specimen. Much later, the boy is brought back to civilisation by a circus and named Hercules, to act as their strongman and star attraction. Hercules decides to leave the circus, despite the efforts of his unscrupulous boss, saves a town from a flood, and decides to fight crime. There is a character arc here, which puts it a little bit ahead of the pack. Hercules comes across as a gentle, peaceable fellow, which is a refreshing change, though I fear he will drift into generic hero mode before too long.

'Flexo the Rubber Man' (by E.C. Stoner): Flexo takes on some arsonists who are collecting insurance money in a story exactly as bland as it sounds.

'Space Rangers' (possibly by Arnold Hicks): Raleigh and Nibbs investigate some missing ships, and find them on the planet Glakor, where mad scientist Carl Formes is planning an invasion of Earth. Formes displays some incredible stupidity. After Raleigh stops his plans (slaying his pet dragon in the process), Formes hides inside his bunker, where he has enough food to last for a year. Alas, he also has a shit-ton of explosives sitting just outside, which Raleigh uses to blow up the entire building. 

'The Master Mind Excello' (by Creators Unknown): Excello is back, still ripping off 'The Wizard' from Archie. In this story he takes on a gang of saboteurs from "Kussia". Seriously, I'd be so much happier if they would just use the real names.

'Thieves Retribution' (by S.S. Bedford): A jewel thief cleverly hides a stolen diamond inside a fishing lure while he pretends to fish, and his plan is working until a trout takes the lure. He manages to land the fish and the diamond, but is arrested for illegal fishing. This was quite clever, I thought.

'Dakor the Detective Magician' (by Creators Unknown): Dakor must rescue a woman who has been kidnapped by a tribe to act as their white goddess. There's one decent bit of drama when Dakor is stripped of his powers by drugged water and thrown into a bonfire, but the way he survives is a monumental cop-out, which mars an already quite banal story.

'Zara of the Jungle' (by Newt Alfred): Slave traders set themselves up in the jungle, and Zara helps her friend Jeff Graves to defeat them. The one thing that makes this story notable is that Zara is constantly saving Graves from death. It's a small thing, but Zara seems to me to be the first truly proactive, kick-ass female heroine of the Golden Age. She's certainly the first one that I've read about in this blog.

'The Dynamic Man' (by Gus Ricca): A villain named the Hood is threatening bankers, and the Dynamic Man must stop him. Of course, he turns out to be another banker who wants all the money to himself, in a plot that I have encountered at least a million times in the last year.

'The Invisible Man known as Dr. Gade' (by Newt Alfred): Dr. Gade tackles a gang of grave robbers, which is a little bit more unsettling than the average racketeer. Alas, the crooks aren't played any differently than the usual thugs.

March 1940: Marvel Mystery Comics #7

 Cover by Alex Schomburg

'The Human Torch' (by Carl Burgos): The Human Torch goes up against a crooked politician who is burning down buildings to collect the fire insurance. That particular plot is nothing special, but there are a couple of interesting things going on around that. The first is that the Torch, under the alias of Jim Hammond, becomes a police officer. It's one of the few things that I knew about the character before I started reading the stories, so it was nice to see that fall into place. It also gives the Torch a good excuse to be stumbling across crimes; you'd be amazed how many writers don't bother to give their super-hero characters a job that can actually help drive the plots forward. But best of all, the story ends with the Torch hearing about a riot by none other than the Sub-Mariner. Now that's a confrontation I'm looking forward to.

'The Angel' (by Paul Gustavson): The Angel must stop a woman who is trying to murder her brother and niece so that she will be the sole surviving heir to the family fortune. So far so boring, but I do appreciate the Angel's inventive interrogation techniques. Any character who ties a thug to the front of a car then pushes it down the side of a mountain is okay by me.

'Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner' (by Bill Everett): Oh man, shit just got real. After declaring war on the human race last issue (again), Namor spends the entirety of this story on a rampage through New York. I know that I've seen it before, but I don't care because it's so much fun. From Namor breaking the top off the Empire State Building and hurling it at pedestrians below, to him throwing people from the top of the Statue of Liberty, it's all great. I could read page after page of this. And just like 'The Human Torch' did above, this story teases the imminent crossover battle. I am so psyched to read it.

'The Masked Raider' (by William Allison): Instead I have to read a story about the Masked Raider and a crooked marshal instead. This whole chronological thing sucks.

'Blasting Bombers' (by David C. Cooke): An American pilot flies to the rescue when "Vinland" is attacked by "Nussia".  Honestly.

'Electro, the Marvel of the Age' (by Steve Dahlman): Electro takes on Boss Zarpo, a crook who is leading a crime spree while the police are occupied with a flood. The plot is mediocre, but the execution isn't too bad. I could just have been swayed by Electro's wrestling match with an elephant. As you may have guessed, I have a weakness for characters punching the hell out of animals.

'Ferret, Mystery Detective' (by Stockbridge Winslow and Irwin Hasen): Ferret takes on a gang of kidnappers, one of whom is a man dressed as a woman for reasons inexplicable to me. Equally inexplicable is the Ferret's method for figuring this out: "You were too strong for a woman, and when you lit that cigarette in the taxi, you struck the match towards you like a man, instead of away from you like a woman!"  Is this a real thing?

'Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great' (by Ben Thompson): A plane lands in the jungle, with a scientist, his daughter, and their evil pilot, who tries to blackmail them for money and the daughter's hand in marriage. Ka-Zar knifes the bad guy in the throat, but not before the scientist is killed. Everything in this story seems to be set-up for the girl to stay with Ka-Zar in the jungle, but at the end he takes her back to civilisation. It's not a bad action story, though.

Monday, January 2, 2012

March 1940: Daring Mystery Comics #4

 Cover by Alex Schomburg

'The Purple Mask' (by Maurice Gutwirth): The Purple Mask stops a gang of bank robbers that has (gasp!) committed the robbery at the behest of the bank manager himself! Once again this is terribly generic, and the storytelling is choppy.  This is the last appearance of the Purple Mask in the Golden Age.  He next appears in The Twelve in 2008, in his original and superior identity as the Laughing Mask.

'K-4 and His Sky Devils' (by Maurice Gutwirth): K-4 and his posse take on a Nazi zeppelin that has dropped a bunch of mines into the Thames. The adventure is not terribly interesting, but the panel that shows the zeppelin exploding is quite impressive.

'Monako, Prince of Magic' (by Larry Antoinette): Monako is back, having not appeared since Daring Mystery Comics #1.  He's on the trail of his old enemy Muro, who has stolen the defense plans to the Panama Canal. I wasn't greatly enjoying this, until a scene where Monako rides on the back of a giant vulture came along to liven it up. But on the whole Monako is just too powerful for the story to provide any drama.

'Whirlwind Carter of the Interplanetary Service' (by Fletcher Hanks): Whirlwind Carter is the head of the Interplanetary Secret Service on Venus. When Martians conquer Earth, Carter rallies the Earth-men and leads them in an attack to retake the planet. There's some seriously economical storytelling going on here. "Millions of Earthpeople are overcome and captured by the Martian." That's a single panel. It shouldn't work, but it carries it off with some gonzo flair. I love that the Martians just load every person on Earth into a rocket and fire them into space.

'Marvex the Super Robot' (by Hal Sharp): Marvex must stop a prison riot. Without his bizarre disrobing habits from last issue, Marvex becomes just another robot, albeit one who spends a lot of time punching crooks.

'G-Man Don Gorman' (possibly by Jack Alderman): Don Gorman has invented a new "super-supercharged" airplane engine, and must stop a plot by the Nazis to steal one hundred passenger planes that have been fitted with it. This would normally be very pedestrian material, but the creators really sell the fact that hundreds of people have gone missing along with the planes, giving it an added sense of urgency.  This is the only appearance of this strip.

'Breeze Barton in the World of Savages' (by Jack Binder): After his other-dimensional adventure last issue, Breeze returns to Earth, only to find that fifty years have gone by and that the war of 1945 has destroyed civilisation. Breeze assumes leadership of a village that is fighting against some primitive hordes. I like the set-up here. It has a lot of potential, even if this particular story isn't up to much.

'Outlaw-Buster' (by Rex Evans): A crook tries to join up with some notorious bandits, but the bandit leader thinks he is a lawman due to his past experiences. I think that this is supposed to be an ironic twist, but it's unclear to me whether the bandit's suspicions were correct or not.

'Trojak the Tiger-Man' (possibly by Joe Simon): When Nazis set up shop in Trojak's jungle he wages war on them. This is worth reading if only to see a tiger detonating some explosives.