Wednesday, February 29, 2012

April 1940: Superman #5

Cover by Wayne Boring

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel, Paul Cassidy and Wayne Boring): Jerry Siegel is back to his old tricks, with a story about the evils of slot machines. A crook is forcing store owners to have slot machines in their stores, and then collecting all of the money. The interesting part is that the people playing the slot machines are kids. It's surprising to me, who grew up in a society that won't let kids gamble under any circumstances, but I guess there had to be a good reason that those laws were introduced. Anyway, Superman predictably smashes all of the machines and rounds up the crooks, while Lois and Clark do the reporting. A nice old-style Superman story.

One thing I have noticed is that Clark Kent only pretends to be a weakling around Lois. In stories where she's not around he's a totally hard-nosed reporter, and given the number of rackets he's cracked he surely has a reputation for that kind of thing. But when Lois is around he goes completely into his mild-mannered act. Perhaps she just makes him nervous?  Or maybe he respects her investigative skills so much that he overdoes it? I'm not sure, but there's certainly something to it.

Also, Superman has a photographic memory.  The powers keep accumulating.

Supermen of America: These pages are usually boring, but this one illustrates just how far Superman's popularity is spreading at this time. It lists a number of military units that have joined the fan club, and there is even a plane squadron that is using the Superman insignia as its official emblem.

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy): A crooked politician buys a newspaper, and tries to do the same to the Daily Planet. When the publisher refuses to sell, the politician sends his thugs to terrorise the Planet. Superman rushes from incident to incident, stopping all manner of violent crimes. It's yet another classic Superman-against-social-injustice story. I'd thought Siegel was done with them, but it appears not. I don't mind, so long as he mixes them up with a few mad scientists and such.

'Power of the Press' (by George Shute): In this prose story, a reporter meets a crazy ventriloquist who thinks his dummy is his son. Pointless.

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): America is in the grip of a terrible financial crisis, and it turns out to be the work of Luthor, who has enslaved a number of top businessmen with some special incense. Superman fights his way through a whole bunch of death traps to confront Luthor, and sends him to a watery grave by smashing his getaway plane.

Superman's powers are starting to get weird. He now has the power to rearrange his facial structure so that he can impersonate people.

Also, he claims to have invented the indestructible material of his costume himself.

'Murder in the Wind' (by Jack Wallis): A young man named Pert Blair is helped to become sheriff by the town banker, but it turns out that the banker is a murderer, and hoped that Pert would be too inexperienced for the job. No such luck, Mr. Banker Guy! It's all familiar material, executed without zest.

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy): A scientist invents a miracle drug called parabiolene, and a crook uses it to make the sick people who need it commit crimes. Superman smashes the operation. This is the fourth straight story with Superman fighting common crooks, and it gets a bit wearing after a while.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

May 1940: Adventure Comics #51

 Cover by Creig Flessel or Chad Grothkopf

'Presenting Tick-Tock Tyler, the Man of the Hour, as the Hour-Man...' (by Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily): A mad scientist uses his power to animate wax dummies to bring some notorious gangsters back to life. The Hour-Man must stop them, which he does by melting them with acid. The story's premise is just goofy enough to work, but it falls down at the end when Hour-Man doesn't capture the mad scientist. He's acting like the trouble is finished, but that guy is out there and could quite easily continue his plan. It's an unsatisfying conclusion.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): Fang Gow has been captured and is scheduled for execution. Barry seems to have forgotten all the times that Fang Gow tried to murder him, because he seems regretful at the thought of his death. He needn't have worried, because a page or so later Fang Gow has escaped, and is using a thought projection machine to send messages to the Nazis. Barry stops him and blows up his machine, but the old geezer escapes again. His continued survival is getting absurd at this point, but every ridiculous escape just endears him to me even more.

'Steve Conrad, Adventurer' (by Jack Lehti): The pirate known as Singapore Sally plans to steal some pearls from a recently sunken ship. Steve's plan to stop her is to waylay Sally's Chinese cook and have his sidekick Chang impersonate him. Which should work out fine, you see, because all Chinese people look alike. This is actually a relatively well put together action story, but there's a lot of stuff in here (i.e. Chang) that could get people riled up.

'The Sandman' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): The Sandman investigates the theft of some emeralds, only to find out that the crooks hid it in the home of Wesley Dodds, the Sandman himself. The Sandman steals the emeralds from himself and leaves his calling card, but later the prime suspect for the theft turns up dead in Dodds' home, and the police believe the Sandman did it. I was getting terribly into it at this point, but the rest of the story falls completely flat. The Sandman tracks down the real thieves, gasses them, and runs away as the police arrive. There was a lot of potential in the set-up, but in typical Gardner Fox style it fizzles out.

'Socko Strong' (by Albert Sulman and Joseph Sulman): Connolly, a crook posing as the legitimate head of a trucking company, is running a racket that involves covering the warning beacon on a sharp corner so that trucks going around it will crash, and he can steal their goods. Socko figures out that Connolly is the culprit, because he finds a cigar with Connolly's name on it. While making his getaway, Connolly crashes and dies because the beacon was still covered. It's a mediocre story saved at the end by a nice ironic ending.

'The Red Metal' (by Gardner Fox): Terry Mallory searches for a lost comrade and a hidden city in Africa, only to be captured by strange white savages. To be continued! It's an adequate set-up.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Chad Grothkopf): A political radical named Robbel is stirring up "Nastonian" sympathisers. Steve Carson gets him convicted for tax evasion, but still has to beat the hell out of him before bringing him in. I didn't enjoy this one, and haven't really enjoyed this strip in a long time. In the very early days it was my favourite, but that seems like a long time ago now.

'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Bart Tumey): A pirate crew steals a submarine, which is quickly dispatched, forcing the pirates to flee to a nearby island. Don and Red go after them, are captured, but then everything gets sorted out by a convenient hurricane. At least I think it's Red; I got confused, because there are several panels where he is drawn to look like a woman. Anyway, this story doesn't work. I guess you could interpret the hurricane as God/nature sorting out the sinners from the good guys, but it just comes out of nowhere. You need more set-up for this kind of thing to work.

'Rusty and His Pals' (possibly by Bill Finger): Rusty and his pals race the villainous Unholy Three to the hidden treasure, only for natives to pop up and capture everyone. There's certainly no shortage of incident, it's just that those incidents are dead boring.

'Cotton Carver at Grips With the Wolf Men' (by Gardner Fox and Jack Lehti): In yet another strange land, Cotton and his friends defend some priests from the Wolf Men of Morra and their queen, Lupa. Cotton captures Lupa, but must defend her from a bloodthirsty mob, until she summons... something. This is an average adventure story, and it ends with one of my least favourite types of cliffhanger: the characters react in awe to something the reader can't see. Sure Gardner, that's bound to get me back next month.

Monday, February 27, 2012

May 1940: Detective Comics #40

Cover by Bob Kane

'Batman, with Robin the Boy Wonder' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): There's a murder on the set of a movie that Bruce Wayne's fiancee is starring in, and Batman must solve the case. This story gets off on the right foot by providing a whole bunch of suspects. There's a racketeer trying to collect money from the director. There's the jilted lover of an actress. There's an unreliable director who was fired from the job. But the actual culprit turns out to be none other than Clayface, a name that Bat-fans may recognise. This isn't the shape-shifting mud monster of later Bat-lore. This is Basil Karlo, an old-time character actor who is incensed that a remake of one of his old movies is being made. He disguises his face with thick clay make-up, thus the moniker. He's a relatively compelling character, but I don't think he has much potential for a comeback story.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Maurice Kashuba): Bart investigates the Forgarian embassy, and gets caught up in a plot involving pens with secret messages inside, that give the location of stolen US military documents held in a bank deposit box. The pen mystery is just intriguing enough to drag this above mediocrity.

'Red Logan' (by Ken Ernst): Red and Ivan infiltrate a London boarding house that is a front for a spy ring. It's an average story, but at least Ivan is a fun character. Horribly accented, but still fun.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jack Lehti): The Crimson Avenger takes on a mad scientist who is using a paralysis gun to aid in bank robbery. It doesn't get much more straightforward than this, or more dull.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator and the Jewel Robbers' (by Fred Guardineer): I was all set for a hackneyed jewel thief story, of the sort I've read by the hundreds. I read in boredom as Speed witnessed a robbery and jumped on the back of the getaway car, but my interest picked up when the crooks did a smart thing, and took a sharp turn near a cliff. Speed is thrown down almost to his death, and spends the rest of the story going after the crooks for revenge. It really is just another hackneyed jewel thief story, but Speed's personal motivations make it much more interesting.

'Theft at the Fair' (by Gardner Fox): Repairs are being done on the House of Jewels at the New York World's Fair, and the foreman is worried that a jewel thief might steal the jewels. It's a set-up for the continuation next issue, but as established I am mightily sick of jewel thief stories.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Don Lynch): Steve investigates the kidnapping of a boy violinist, and discovers a whole bunch of musicians that have been taken for the amusement of a man named Fuhlra. His lieutenant is a snake charmer, and Steve must deal with her and her cobras. The added snake craziness puts this ahead of the usual kidnapping stories, but only barely.

'Cliff Crosby' (by Chad Grothkopf): Cliff is testing an experimental plane, while rival interests try to destroy it. It's another potentially dull story, but the inclusion of a shark fight and some plane-to-plane acrobatics from Cliff provide some entertainment.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Howard Sherman): Slam witnesses a murder, and becomes a target for the crooks responsible. The humour and action are both quite subdued, though there is a scene where Slam fights a pack of ravenous dogs in a pit. It's not enough to save a pretty average story. I also don't care for Sherman's pencils; he has a hard time drawing Shorty, something that's integral to the comedy element of the strip.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

May 1940: More Fun Comics #56

Cover by Howard Sherman

'The Spectre' (by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily): Jim Corrigan, aka the Spectre, must deal with an unscrupulous wholesaler that is threatening a department store, trying to force the store to buy more of its goods. There's never a question that the Spectre might fail, and not a hint of drama. Instead this story provides the catharsis of seeing crooks get what they deserve, usually in a gruesome or morbid fashion.  It's still a good read, though it is lacking in eeriness compared to previous installments.

'Biff Bronson' (by Albert Sulman and Joseph Sulman): Biff picks up the wrong short from the dry cleaners, one with a message written on it as a tip-off to a payroll robbery. He foils the robbery by posing as a Chinese laundryman, in a predictably horrendous fashion. As usual, I can accept it when the villains are racist, but Biff's disguise and fake accent are just terrible.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Gabby is captured by the society of Assassins, and Desmo rescues him. This almost certainly breaks the record for grenades thrown in a story up to this point. Even so, it manages to be a bit rubbish.

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Chad Grothkopf): Sandy tackles a married couple who are selling counterfeit fur coats on the street. The premise is a novel one, but it all falls flat in execution.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by Bob Hirsch and Russ Lehman): Bob and his sub must protect a huge American oil tanker from attacks by the "belligerent" nations. Another very dull story.

'Memory Test' (by George Shute): A kid helps a circus elephant that has a broken piece of chain sticking into its leg. Later, after an accident in the big top, the elephant saves the kid's mother. I don't know what it is tonight, but this is another terrible story. Perhaps I'm just in a shitty mood.

'Congo Bill' (by Whitney Ellsworth and George Papp): It's the first appearance of Congo Bill, who goes on (in a completely different form) to become one of DC's most long-lived characters.  In the Congo, Bill foils an attempt by the villainous Skull to steal treasures from some ancient ruins. Once again, I couldn't muster up any enthusiasm for this. I'm pretty sure now that this is all the fault of my sleep-deprived brain.

'Detective Sergeant Carey and the Jade Hatchet' (by Joe Donohoe): An old Chinese man is targeted by hatchet men for daring to oppose an opium smuggling operation. Carey protects the old man, and exposes the hatchet man as the mayor of Chinatown. Mayor dude, you need to learn how to delegate.

'Sergeant O'Malley of the Red Coat Patrol' (by Jack Lehti): Mounties and horse thieves. It's like my worst nightmares personified.

'Doctor Fate' (by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman): After supposedly destroying his foe Wotan last issue, Fate goes to Hell to check if he is actually dead. It turns out that he's still alive, and has a plan to blow up the world. Naturally, Fate stops him. The first half of this story is great, full of references to Elder Gods and eldritch beings, all of which contribute to giving this strip an air of mythic wonder. The second half is more conventional super hero fare, and not nearly as good.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

April 1940: Feature Comics #33

Cover by Joe Devlin

'Dollman' (by Will Eisner and Lou Fine): A racketeer named Gat Granet frames another man named Tim Shean for murder. The Dollman stops the man from being executed and drags Granet to a mock trial, where he is driven mad by a jury of hobos and the sight of a still-living Shean. This is classic Eisner (actually, it's Lou Fine, who's just as good). The scene leading to Shean's hanging is great, with the spectre of the grim reaper hovering over the page, and the mock trial is very tense as well.

'Rance Keane' (by William A. Smith): Rance and Pee Wee have travelled to New York, where they decide to buy some new clothes so that they won't look out of place. In the store they foil the plot of a cross-dressing thief, and are both awarded with shiny new outfits. (Seriously, they look like they're glowing.) There's an interminable few pages here of people arguing about the purchase of a fur coat, but it is an intriguing change of pace in a "what the hell are they doing" kind of way.

'Captain Bruce Blackburn, Counterspy' (by Harry Francis Campbell): Bruce goes up against female spy Tanya Slavska, who is trying to steal some secret papers. The usual business, with nothing original to speak of.

'Samar' (by John Charles): Samar is a shameless Tarzan knock-off. In this story he tackles a woman named Mona, who has a hypnotised army of apes that she's using to steal gold from an archaeological dig. It's a whole level of craziness above what Tarzan usually deals with, which is the sort of ripping-off that I approve of.

'Spin Shaw of the Naval Air Corps' (by Bob Powell): In the Philippines, Spin stops the attempt of a princess and her tribe to murder every white person on the island. It's a potentially exciting set-up that doesn't go anywhere.

'Captain Fortune' (by Vernon Henkel): After being shipwrecked in a storm, Fortune and his crew are captured by a lady pirate, and eventually must team up with her against the Spanish. The action is quite well done, but it all wraps up a bit too neatly at the end, with the lady pirate dead and Fortune with his crew back again. He has, however, picked up the habit of talking in the third person.

'The Voice' (by Stan Aschmeier): The Voice takes on a gang of counterfeiters who have murdered a bank president. I don't think that I followed this very well, but I didn't notice anything worth writing about, and that's never a good sign.

'Zero, Ghost Detective' (by Dan Zolnerowich): Zero must protect a man and his niece, who are threatened by the ghosts of negro slaves that were mistreated by the man's great-grandfather. It's a great set-up, but as is the case with so many Golden Age stories, it's not developed at all. Zero burns the haunted mansion down and that's that.

'The Dead Return' (by Robert M. Hyatt): Captain Mulravey murders a crew member over a treasure map. Later, when he has found the treasure, the crewman returns from the dead to kill Mulravey. Or perhaps his dead body floats into his oxygen tube and cuts off his air, it's a little ambiguous. But still quite well done.

'Rusty Ryan of Boyville' (by Paul Gustavson): A crazy old man shoots at some rock-climbing kids, and leaves one of them dangling halfway down a cliff. Rusty comes to the rescue, and the old man repents his ways. Heartwarmin', ain't it? I think I liked the old guy better when he was shooting kids with rock salt.

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): A mine foreman murders one of his workers and tries to pin it on another, but a snooping kid helps Reynolds solve the case with his photography. There's nothing particularly wrong with the story. Except that it has a Mountie in it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

April 1940: Crack Comics #2

Cover by Gill Fox

'The Clock' (by George Brenner): The Clock deals with the attempted murder of an heir about to come of age by his uncle. "This is Silas Greer, my guardian - that is, he's my guardian until tomorrow - and then I receive the bulk of dad's estate - so I guess Uncle Silas's work is ended!" It's a solidly put together story, but subtle it ain't. There's also a subplot in which the Clock is aided by the Orchid, a mysterious female acquaintance. Her appearance in this story is quite irrelevant, but she's obviously being set up for a future tale.

'The Red Torpedo' (by Henry Kiefer): The Red Torpedo must destroy a powerful enemy battleship, which he does by trapping it with icebergs and ramming it with his submarine. Even with such admirably blunt tactics, I couldn't get excited about this story. I was impressed with some of the creative panel layouts, though.

'Ned Brant' (by Bob Zuppke and E.W. Depew): The scan of this story was blurry, so I couldn't read it all. Something about Ned pitching in a baseball game that I was mercifully spared.

'Lee Preston of the Red Cross' (by Bob Powell): Lee must deliver medicine to a mission in China, but when she arrives the place is besieged by bandits. The action is decent enough, but there's a romantic subplot that comes out of nowhere and feels very forced.

'The Space Legion' (by Vernon Henkel): Rock Braddon goes to Venus to rescue a missing expedition, and discovers the evil Jafek and his fleet poised to conquer Earth. This guy is shamelessly cliched. Not only does he want to conquer Earth and Venus, but he decides he will take Rock's female companion as his bride. It's too bad that the story is so lacklustre, or I might have enjoyed such a gloriously hackneyed villain.

'Alias the Spider' (by Paul Gustavson): The Spider takes on a businessman who has blown up his own department store to collect the insurance. The story ends with a big panel showing the Spider shooting this guy in the back with an arrow, which to me seems a disproportionate response to insurance fraud. Having it has the very last panel only draws more attention to it.

'Jane Arden' (by Monte Barrett and Russell E. Ross): Jane is on the trail of a suspected murderer and his female accomplice. Hints are being dropped that the woman is the actual killer, but whatever. The villains have no menace.

'Madam Fatal' (by Art Pinajian): Madam Fatal (aka the cross-dressing crusader Richard Stanton) takes on a foreign spy trying to obtain a new secret chemical. The only value to be had here is the sight of a granny walloping thugs left and right, but it's a fleeting amusement.

'Doom Synducate' (by Larry Spain): Too blurry to read. Hooray!

'Wizard Wells, Miracle Man of Science' (by Harry Francis Campbell): Wizard Wells tricks the gangster Black Morda into coming after him in front of a bunch of witnesses. Everyone says that Wells talks like a textbook, but I can't figure out why. He sounds normal to me.

'The Black Condor' (by Lou Fine): An Englishwoman becomes the Queen of an Indian province, and is kidnapped by Prince Ali-Kan. The Black Condor goes to her rescue and single-handedly routs Ali-Kan's army. This is a lot of fun, and a testament to how great art can elevate a mediocre story.

State of the Comics Odyssey Address

I've been doing some thinking about the future of this blog, brought on mostly by a look at my schedule for May of 1940.  Never fear, it's not going away.  But I have gotten to the point where a month's worth of comics from 1940 is going to take me more than a month of real time to blog my way through.  As it stands, I can't pick up the pace.  I'm currently just plugging away, reading one comic a day, and hoping to get to the point where the page count goes down so that I can step things up.

What I have decided to do is focus on the Marvel and DC titles.  Apologies to Archie, Quality and Fawcett, but they're just eating up time I would prefer to use in making some headway.  The Marvel and DC books are the ones I'm genuinely interested in anyway, and the reasons that I started this blog in the first place.

I will finish the books listed on my schedule for April 1940.  I've read them already, so it makes sense.  As of May 1940, the list will be trimmed down and much more manageable.  I'll miss some strips, particularly Eisner's work on 'Espionage'.  Otherwise I think that this will do wonders for my enthusiasm, and will make my path to the books I really want to read all the quicker.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

April 1940: Smash Comics #11

Cover by Gill Fox

'Espionage starring Black X in Finland' (by Will Eisner): Black X, carrying top secret papers, is on a train heading for Finland. The train is full of Russian prisoners, who mount an escape and try to take over the train. The Black X escapes, and is saved from a harrowing ordeal in the snow by his telepathic servant Batu. Again this is very good, and it treats the war in Europe with far more maturity than any other strip around. The Russians are ostensibly the villains of this story, but they're presented as soldiers doing their duty, not as evil men.

'Chic Carter, Ace Reporter' (by Vernon Henkel): Chic Carter goes up against a thief who has invented a radium solution that allows him to become intangible. He defeats the thief by trapping him inside a room with lead walls. Except that the guy walked into the room, so at least part of it can't be lead-lined. Also, the police have to open the door to go in and get him, so why can't he just escape then?

'Abdul the Arab' (by Bob Powell): There's a new creator on this strip, and suddenly Abdul has gone from an ineffectual hero who frequently needs to be saved by his sidekick, to a complete bad-ass. An English woman is kidnapped by Prince Kartuk to become his unwilling wife, and Abdul must save her. Which he does by killing Kartuk in a knife fight, knocking five guards from a wall with a single punch, and swinging from a palm tree onto his waiting camel. Abdul, you're the best.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by William A. Smith): Captain Cook must stop a hybrid chimpanzee with surgically implanted owl's eyes who has been trained to steal green things, with the ultimate goal that it will steal the crown emeralds. Seriously. I can't even figure out why someone would bother with the owl's eyes, but it certainly adds a pleasantly weird touch to an already weird story.

'Wings Wendall' (by Vernon Henkel): Wings tackles a foreign spy named Regi Tashkim, who is using his operatives to weaken America's defenses. After beating Tashkim, Wendall helps the US army defend its shore from an attack. It's a solid, unremarkable action story.

'Invisible Justice' (by Art Pinajian): Invisible Justice tackles a robber known as the Green Ghost, the twist being that there are actually two Green Ghosts working together so that they always have an alibi. It's not great, but at least the villains have some sort of a plan.

'John Law, Scientective' (by Harry Francis Campbell): This seems to be the final chapter of the long-running Avenger serial. Law goes to the mental asylum to see to the release of Albert Lewis, who the Avenger has been posing as since the beginning of the strip. The Avenger intervenes in an attempt to kill Lewis, but Law captures him with the help of his assistant June and some maple syrup in the Avenger's gas tank. This is tightly plotted and quite enjoyable, but if it is the finale it does feel a little anticlimactic.

'Chief John's Legacy' (by Robert M. Hyatt): While pondering a clay cube sent to him long ago, James Christian relates to his nephew the story of his trek into the Ecuadorian jungle, and how his brother was supposedly killed by a native chief. They discover the brother's shrunken head inside the cube,and so the mystery is solved. It's quite well told.

'Clip Chance' (by George Brenner): The team has a new star in left field, and the old left-fielder McSnort gets revenge by using a mirror to distract the new during the game. Clip wins the game anyway, then beats up McSnort in the locker room. Terrible.

'Flash Fulton, Newsreel Ace' (by Paul Gustavson): Flash Fulton helps rescue a girl in a fire. I do enjoy the way Flash puts himself in harm's way with a cheeky grin, but the story itself is nothing special.

'Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man' (by George Brenner): Hugh must rescue a police commissioner who has been kidnapped by racketeers. Their leader is named Smooth Kazar, which is about the best thing this story has to offer.

April 1940: Marvel Mystery Comics #8

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'Sub-Mariner' (by Bill Everett): Last issue we were left with the tantalising prospect of a confrontation between the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch. This story follows that up with more teasing. Luckily it's teasing that's fun to read, with Namor on yet another rampage. Mostly it's him releasing deadly animals from the zoo, and showing that he has a heart of gold by rescuing a baby from a killer elephant. Never mind that he just killed hundreds of people a few pages earlier by bombing the Hudson Tunnel; he rescues a baby, so he must be a good guy. There's a short battle with the Torch near the end, but it doesn't live up to the hype.

'The Human Torch' (by Carl Burgos): I was expecting more of the Torch/Namor fight here, but instead what we get is a story running in parallel. The events of the previous story are told from the Torch's perspective, with him running around town and cleaning up the destruction Namor has caused. It does result in a pretty funny scene of the Torch being man-handled by an ape, but on the whole it's frustrating. I just want to see the characters fight, but the only fight scene we get is a repeat of the one from the previous story. The main event is promised next issue, but at this point I'm getting a bit tired of it.

'The Angel' (by Paul Gustavson): The Angel must rescue a girl who has been kidnapped, all as part of a plot to buy her father's stock in a mining company. This starts promisingly, as I always like it when the Angel is presented as a figure that strikes fear into criminals. But from there it's a straightforward action story, albeit not a bad one. The ending strikes a bizarre note, with the rescued girl pretending to faint so that she can be carried in the Angel's arms. I guess he's a rugged, handsome dude, but it honestly comes off as a little creepy.

'The Masked Raider' (by Al Anders): The Masked Raider, along with his new sidekick Mexican Pete, track down a gang of bank robbers. Surprise surprise, the bank manager was in on the whole thing. It was either going to be him or the sheriff, and they went with the slightly more cliched option of the two.

'Dynamite's Doom' (by Jack D'arcy):
A watchman for a mine tracks down a gang of train robbers. The set-up for this is done well enough, but the conclusion is rushed, probably because the whole thing has to be crammed into two pages.

'Electro, the Marvel of the Age' (by Steve Dahlman): This starts out normally enough, with some crooks kidnapping Professor Zog and forcing him to use Electro in a crime spree. I was all set for scenes of Electro smashing the police and the army, and there's plenty of that, but halfway through the scene switches to the Planet Ligra, where the alien Dragon-Men decide that they want Electro for themselves. The aliens fly to Earth, defeat the gangsters, and capture Zog and Electro. It's a bizarre turn that I certainly didn't see coming. I did enjoy the insanity of it, but this story really does portray Zog as pretty gutless. He rolls over for the crooks with no resistance, and is similarly willing to cooperate when the aliens show up.

'Ferret' (by Stockbridge Winslow and Irwin Hasen): Ferret captures some bank robbers with the help of a cryptic clue placed in the classified section of the newspaper. So cryptic that I can't relate it to the happenings of the story at all. Either I'm stupid, or the story makes no sense.

'Adventures of Ka-Zar' (by Ben Thomspon): Ka-Zar goes up against an unscrupulous miner, who has hired a tribe of natives to supply him with slaves. It's the same old same old for Ka-Zar.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

April 1940: Daring Mystery Comics #5

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'The Fiery Mask' (by George Kapitan and Harry Sahle): A mad scientist named Dork (yes, Dork) has created a huge mass of flesh-eating protoplasm that he unleashes on the city from his phallic tower. Dork's men are wearing suits that make them immune to the protoplasm, and they go out in search of women for Dork's experiments. "Come! Dork needs your body to experiment on!" Anyway, the Fiery Mask is able to resist the protoplasm due to his intense body heat, and he deals with Dork and his deathtraps with little difficulty. He even interrupts one of Dork's experiments on a lady, which sounds suspiciously like a near-rape scene. Subtext, welcome to comics.

'Trojak the Tiger Man' (by Arnold Hicks): Trojak's friend Jerry is dying, and only the life-juice of the devil-flower can save him. Trojak and his girlfriend Edith embark on a quest through the jungle, fighting natural threats, supernatural menaces, and the tribe that worships the flower. There's enough general weirdness to keep me entertained here, and a good-dose of man-on-animal violence as well. The disinterested expression on Trojak's face as he throttles an ape is priceless.  This is the last we see of Trojak, but he goes out on a high.

'K-4 and His Sky Devils' (possibly by Jack Binder): K-4 and his partners are tasked with getting some photos of a Nazi coastal base, but as events unfold they end up destroying it. It's unremarkable.  This is the last appearance of K-4, who never made much of an impression.

'Monako, Prince of Magic' (by Larry Antoinette): Monako deals with a pair of jewel thieves on a cruise ship, but of much greater interest is his account of his origin story. While in India, Monako's parents were killed by a tribe of evil magicians, who then took Monako in and taught him all of their arts. Eventually the tribe was wiped out by colonial soldiers, Monako returned to civilisation, got educated, and devoted himself to fighting evil. It's pretty messed up that this guy had to live with the tribe that killed his mum and dad for years and years. He actually seems pretty dispassionate about it, which I find intriguing. I know it will never go anywhere, but he's still a better character for having such a messed up background.

'Marvex, Super Robot' (by Hal Sharpe): Marvex is targeted by Doctor Narr, a mad scientist who wants to dissect Marvex to improve upon his own robot army. There's plenty of robot-smashing action, but Marvex himself has become terribly bland.  This is his last appearance.  Marvex was never particularly interesting after his origin story.

'Whirlwind Carter of the Interplanetary Secret Service' (by Fletcher Hanks): Earth is targeted by the Black Light Planet and it's weird lizard-like people. Their plan is to freeze the Earth, kill all the humans, then sell the planet to Mars. Whirlwind Carter leads a fleet to destroy the Black Light People in a serious case of counter-genocide. Then he returns to Earth to proclaim victory, never mind that millions died in the attack. The body count in this story is brutal, even if it's mostly off-panel.

'The Death Clutch' (by T.K. Hawley): In this prose story, a man who murders his uncle is found out due to the victim having grabbed his fountain pen. It does what it does quite well.

'Breeze Barton in Rebuilding the World' (possibly by Jack Binder): Breeze and his companions start building a city, but they are raided by a strange white-skinned tribe. Breeze beats them by blowing up their leader with rocket fuel, then offers peace to the survivors. This was okay, but the most notable thing was that Breeze's girlfriend Ann gets into the action as much as he does, gunning down the enemy with skill. Good to see after years worth of ineffectual female characters.  Even so, this is Breeze's last appearance.  There's some serious reshuffling going on with this book.

'Little Hercules' (by Bud Sagendorf): Hercules is a boy who is inexplicably the smartest and strongest person in the world. He has invented a new explosive, and beats the hell out of the spies who try to take it. But as portrayed he's kind of dull, naive and clueless. And yet he's a doctor of every science and is basically impervious to physical harm. The sheer nonsense of it amuses me (and it is supposed to be a humour strip). I hope they never explain it.

'The Falcon' (by Maurice Gutwirth): The Falcon is Carl Burgess, assistant DA. As far as I can tell he has no powers, just a semi-decent costume and a gun. In this story he investigates some mysterious deaths, in which all the victims were sent a wand of death. The Falcon traces the killings to Doctor Sunga, and figures out that the parcels the wands were sent in were set with a lethal charge of static electricity. As an action story this is mediocre, and the villain has no motivation to speak of.  There are suggestions that this character is simply a reworking of the Purple Mask, which makes a lot of sense.  They're basically the same guy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

April 1940: Master Comics #2

Cover by Harry Fiske

'Master Man' (by Newt Alfred): Master Man sees war in Europe on his "troublescope", and fights his way through an army of soldiers, righting wrongs on his way to confront General Adolfuss. I was struck here by a scene where Master Man throws a Nazi soldier from a plane, making sure that he lands in a bale of hay so as not to be injured. Standard super-hero behaviour by modern standards, but it's very unusual in this era, especially where Nazis are concerned. Most heroes would be content to throw the soldier to his doom. I was also surprised that in the final confrontation, Master Man and Adolfuss slug it out for three hours. The villains of this era are rarely physical powerhouses.

'The White Rajah and the Lost Mummy' (by Creators Unknown): The White Rajah must stop a pair of treasure hunters who are after the Lost Temple of Ghogoli. This is fairly dull, but it has to be said that the Rajah rules over the biggest bunch of jerks ever. Every tribesman he encounters is ready to torture him or throw him in a tiger pit with the flimsiest of excuses.

'The Devil's Dagger' (by Ken Battefield): An old prospector finds a treasure chest, and the Devil's Dagger must stop Marlowe, head of the underworld, from stealing it. It's very basic stuff that follows the super-hero formula exactly. The Devil's Dagger even has an alter ego as a newspaper reporter, and a girlfriend who he can't tell his secret. It's all material that's been done before. Once again, his car the Speed Ghost is the raddest thing in the story.

'Morton Murch, the Hillbilly Hero' (by Newt Alfred): Morton is still on the floating island of Felicia, which is at war with the Malabads. He stops the war by dousing the Malabads in a gas that makes them peaceful. I don't know what to make of this strip. On the one hand, all of Morton's actions are typical of a Golden Age action hero. On the other, his speech patterns are exactly the sort of thing usually seen in a comedy sidekick. It's not really played for laughs, but I keep expecting it to be.

'Shipwreck Roberts' (by Mike Suchorsky): The evil Dr. Drown is rescuing spies that have been deported and taking them back to America, and Roberts must stop him. You would think a story where the villain pilots a robotic dinosaur, and has trained brontosaurus henchmen, would be great. Somehow this manages to be tedious beyond belief.

'Frontier Marshal' (by Creators Unknown): The villainous Trask is in jail, but his lieutenant Whipple hatches a plot to break him out. Marshal Crane must stop them, but he's been captured in the cliffhanger. Boring as only a Western can be.

'Lost but Found' (by Writer Unknown): I had to give up on this text story, as the scan I have of it is super-blurry. It's about a guy who gets lost on a mountain and finds some crooks hiding out in a cabin, but I couldn't read the conclusion.

'Mr. Clue' (by Newt Alfred): Mr.Clue investigates the theft of a valuable emerald. It turns out that a chauffeur did it, which is pretty obvious given that the character is doing something shifty in every single panel that he appears in.

'Streak Sloan, Boy Newsreel Explorer' (by Martin Nodel): Streak is sent to photograph a huge forest fire, and discovers that it is the work of a logging magnate who is trying to burn the land of his business rivals. Once again, it's well worn territory.

'El Carim, Master of Magic and the Jewel Thieves' (by Carl Formes and Sven Elven): El Carim must go to South America to capture a notorious jewel thief. Once again he displays no powers of magic, only advanced technology like invisible paint, and his monocle that can spy on people anywhere in the world. There's potential here, but this story certainly doesn't live up to it.

'Rick O'Shay' (by Creators Unknown): O'Shay takes on Matt Morgan, "the most dangerous man in Africa". Morgan is kidnapping natives to work in his copper mines, but O'Shay stops him. There is a ton of action in this story, but it's strangely lifeless. To top it off, O'Shay beats Morgan off-panel, so all possible excitement is averted.

Master Comics is a massive, frustrating tease.  It has less pages than the other comics, which makes me think that I can finish it quicker than usual.  The problem is that the dimensions of the page are much larger than the average comic, and that extra space is used to cram in more panels.  It takes me pretty much the same amount of time to read and review one of these despite the low page count, and it always leaves me feeling a little pissed off.

Monday, February 13, 2012

April 1940: Whiz Comics #3b

Cover by C.C. Beck

'Capt. Marvel' (by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck): Captain Marvel flies to Venus with an eccentric scientist, but it turns out that the scientist is really Doctor Sivana. Together with Queen Beautia, he has hatched a plan to strand Marvel on Venus with a horde of ravening monsters, while he returns to conquer Earth with a paralyzing gas. The story is very eventful, and when it's just Captain Marvel smashing monsters it's entertaining. But too much of it goes nowhere; I can't fathom why Sivana has Beautia win a beauty contest. The conclusion is also very anticlimactic, as it amounts to Marvel beating up some thugs while the real villains escape off-panel. There are good moments here, but no story to speak of.

'Golden Arrow' (by Bill Parker and Pete Costanza): Golden Arrow is framed for murder by a gang of stage coach robbers. As expected, he clears his name in a tedious story.

'Spy Smasher' (by Bill Parker and possibly C.C. Beck): Spy Smasher once again tackles the Mask, who is shooting down army planes. The only thing of interest here is the story's vain attempts to make a mystery out of Spy Smasher's true identity, but there's really only one legitimate candidate.

'Death Pass' (by Writer Unknown): An American working with the RAF must single-handedly capture a strategic mountain pass. It's an adequate enough prose action story.

'Ibis the Invincible' (by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck): Ibis must stop a newly-resurrected pharaoh from executing an American archaeologist. The majority of this story involves Ibis stumbling into traps, only to stop them by pointing his Ibistick. The conclusion is similarly weak, as when  Ibis meets the pharaoh he simply asks him to stop the execution, and the pharaoh complies with no argument. There's no drama in it at all.

'Dan Dare in Gem of Doom' (by Bill Parker and Greg Duncan): Dan stops some Hindus from stealing a pair of sacred rubies. This is terribly dull and cliched.

'Scoop Smith' (by Bill Parker and Greg Duncan): Scoop braves the dangers of the Brazilian rain forest and finds the Fountain of Youth. The story is mediocre to begin with, but when the fountain dries up at the end for no reason at all it is dragged down even further.

'Lance O'Casey' (by Bill Parker and possibly Bob Kingett): O'Casey takes on some pirates, in a story that left no impression on me whatsoever.

April 1940: Superman Radio Show #22-33

This run of episodes encompasses two six-part story-lines.  The first involves Incan priests, and the second is about racketeers.

The Emerald of the Incas: Clark Kent is called in to investigate the secretive behaviour of an archaeologist called George Beecham, who has just returned from a dig in South America and is refusing to see his daughter.  This one builds the suspense extremely well, even if the conclusion is a little too convenient.  It turns out that Beecham has stolen a sacred Incan idol that he believes holds the secret to immortality, and a group of Incan priests are trying to get it back.  I had all sorts of reservations about this story, but most of them were answered; Beecham stole the idol, but he intended to return it after he was done; the Incas didn't understand the secret of the idol anymore, so it's not like their source of immortality had been taken away.  It's one of the better stories from the radio serial so far.

There are some dodgy racial issues, though.  Superman fights Beecham's native servant, who just happens to be a large, monosyllabic black man.  Later on the character is likened to an ape, which is seriously not on.  But the character is a minor part of the story, and later on he does prove himself to be genuinely heroic, and the others characters are distraught by his death.

I also got to hear Superman beating up a pack of dogs, or rather a voice actor trying to sound like a pack of dogs.  It's bizarre.

The Donelli Protection Racket: In this story, Superman must stop a gang of racketeers.  This would all be dull and forgettable, except that it's the introduction of Jimmy Olsen.  Jimmy's mother owns a candy store, and is one of the businesses being hit by the racketeers.  Jimmy is much as you would expect, and comes across well as a character.  I can see why they might want to use him again.

Lois Lane appears in this story, mostly as a hostage, but there are three episodes where she is talked about a lot but never seen.  She even manages to get kidnapped and escape without ever being heard.  I suspect that the producers of the show just didn't want to pay the voice actress for those episodes, but the plot gymnastics they go through to do it are a little odd.

I'm also impressed by the vocal talents of Bud Collyer, who plays Superman.  He has two very distinct voices for Clark Kent and Superman, and switches between them effortlessly, sometimes in the space of a single word.  He's very good.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

April 1940: Batman #1

 Cover by Bob Kane

'The Legend of the Batman' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): This is a reprint of the earlier origin story from Detective Comics #33, with no new information to add.

'Batman, with Robin the Boy Wonder' (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson): The Joker makes his first appearance here, and let's just say it's a hell of a debut. Make no mistake, he is instantly the best villain in comics thus far. In his first story his goal is to steal a whole lot of different priceless gems, but it's not this cliched plot that makes him great. First, he looks incredible. The artist (whether that was Kane or Robinson I'm unsure about) gives him a sinister, insane visual that has lasted up to the present day. Second, he is utterly murderous, and the way he kills people is inventive and unpredictable. I especially love the poison he uses that gives the victim a hideous death grin. It's easy to gloss over it when reading modern day comics, because I've seen it used so many times before, but seeing it in its original form and proper historical context just brings home what a macabre and creepy idea it is. Thirdly, he gives Batman a real fight, beating the hell out of him and throwing him off a bridge. Golden Age heroes don't often lose like this, Batman especially, so this elevates the Joker straight away. Sure, Batman comes back and belts the Joker senseless, but it's hard to forget his initial victory.

'Batman' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): Hugo Strange returns, and this time he has created a group of hulking monsters out of inmates from a mental asylum. This is another story that's heavy on creepy atmosphere. Batman is at his most ruthless here. At one point he fires on some of Strange's thugs from the Batplane with a mini-gun. Later he drops a noose around the neck of one of the monsters, flies it into the air and lets it hang until it chokes to death. Not to mention that he manipulates two of the monsters into killing each other, and punches Hugo Strange out of a window into the ocean. It must be something to do with Robin not being in the story; without his boy sidekick, Batman is backsliding into his old ways (to be honest, he's the worst he's ever been). This is a cracking story, though.

'Strictly Publicity' (by Guy Monroe): A radio star is found dead, and a detective proves that it was suicide despite there not being a gun present. It doesn't get much more straightforward than this.

'Batman, with Robin the Boy Wonder' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): This story is something of a showcase for Robin. The story begins with him on a cruise ship, making a solo investigation of the theft of a priceless diamond. While this is going on, some pirates show up to rob the passengers, but Robin rounds them up with Batman's help. There's a frankly bizarre scene where Batman has Robin beat up four thugs by himself, then turns to the reader and addresses them in a pure fourth-wall-breaking moment: "Well kids, there's your proof! Crooks are yellow without their guns! Don't go around admiring them--rather do your best in fighting them and all their kind!" It's very jarring.

Back on the cruise ship, the diamond theft turns out to be the work of the Cat, better known to modern-day readers as Catwoman, making her first appearance. She has no costume here, preferring instead to disguise herself as an old lady. She does the predictable seductress routine once captured, but what's different here is that Batman is actually tempted by her, enough so that he allows her to escape. He even spoils Robin's attempt to recapture her, then proclaims innocence when called on it. Then a panel later he's waxing lyrical about her eyes. It's quite surreal to see Batman like this, but it gives his character some much-needed depth.

'Two Aces' (by George Shute): In this prose story, an American ace pilot fights then befriends a German ace in World War I. In the present day the same American pilot is attacked while flying an experimental plane, and after he shoots down the enemy he sees that it was his old friend. This is quite well told, and the sadness of the whole situation is portrayed nicely.

'Batman, with Robin the Boy Wonder' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): The creators must have known they were onto a good thing, because the Joker returns here already. The only problem is that it's basically the same story as above. It's pretty good, but the law of diminishing returns has set in.  Apparently the Joker was supposed to die at the end, but the story was redrawn so that he survived.  Good call!

The final panel of this story is a doozy. It's a promo for "Robin's Regulars", which I assume will be a fan club of some sort. Just take a look at Robin's code: "Readiness, Obedience, Brotherhood, Industriousness, Nationalism". That's right folks, Robin the Boy Wonder advocates Nationalism! It's the American Way!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

April 1940: Action Comics #25

Cover by Wayne Boring

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy): A hypnotist named Medini (in the customary suit, tie and turban) has embarked on a wave of daring robberies, in which he leaves the victims with amnesia. When Superman tries to stop him, Medini uses his mental power to rob Superman of his coordination. The scenes that follow show Superman stumbling around, crashing through trees and  leaping about haphazardly. This is the first time that Superman has been seen in such a vulnerable position, and it's quite unsettling. He snaps out of it by leaping up into the stratosphere, and must then rescue a plane full of passengers that Medini has captured. The conclusion is very poorly depicted; I still can't figure out how Superman defeats Medini, and for some reason Medini doesn't use his powers again. It's a rare case of bad storytelling for the Superman strip, probably due to replacement artist Paul Cassidy.


'Pep Morgan' (by Fred Guardineer): Pep is working as a war correspondent for a US newspaper now, because the guy just can't figure out what the hell he's doing. Seriously, he has a new job every month. Anyway, he is allowed as a special observer on a ship patrolling the English Channel, which is soon on the trail of a German submarine. After the Germans sink their ship and capture the crew, we get a surprisingly fair depiction of a German sub captain. He's quite polite and reasonable, even though he does warn his captives that he might have to put them back in the ocean if his supplies run low. After Pep's inevitable escape, and commandeering of the sub, the captain commits suicide rather than be captured and disgraced. Shame, he was the most likable character in this story.

'Black Pirate' (by Sheldon Moldoff): The villainous Captain Ruff captures the Black Pirate, and tortures him for the location of his treasure (by tying him to the front of a cannon and threatening to blow him to bits, no less!). The Black Pirate escapes, sets the ship on fire, and swims away through shark-infested waters. To be continued! It's short and to the point, and the action is well-depicted. It's just a shame that it's told in an old-fashioned, all-captions style that I find difficult to engage with.

'Three Aces' (by Gardner Fox and Chad Grothkopf): This starts well, as the Three Aces find a downed plane with a pilot who has been turned to stone. It turns out to be the work of a mad sculptor who has perfected a method of fossilizing living things. He plans to exhibit them as evidence of his great skill, which is a novel if somewhat crazy motivation. The villain is quite good, but the rest falls a bit flat. And Fog Fortune, with his stupid English accent, is easily the most irritating character of the Golden Age.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex and his friends deal with a gang of kidnappers, who are after a wealthy man named Van Skaal who has developed amnesia. The amnesia angle is pointless, and the rest of the story is formulaic. There are some amusing moments, but nothing special on the whole.  Apparently this is the final appearance of Gargantua T. Potts, the most broadly racist recurring character I'm reading right now.  He won't be missed.

'Message to the Major' (by Gardner Fox): British soldiers in the Hindu Kush are about to be ambushed, and young soldier Jones must ride for help before they are wiped out. This is to be continued next month. It's not bad, as Fox has put in the work to make Jones feel like a legitimate character.

'Clip Carson' (by Sheldon Moldoff): Clip and his friend Diaz must go into the midst of a revolutionary army and capture their leader Calero. This wastes no time getting started, and piles one danger on top of the next without respite. It's definitely formulaic, but it's told with enthusiasm, and Moldoff's art is very good.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the One Man Crime Wave' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Zatara goes up against Asmodeus, a chess master who is leading a massive crime wave. It's a low-key bad guy for Zatara, and his response is disappointingly low-key as well. This strip is always at its best when it goes crazy, but here it's all very down-to-earth, and all the worse for it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

April 1940: All-American Comics #15

Cover by Jon L. Blummer

'Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man' (by Jon L. Blummer): Gary and his friends must battle an army of monstrosities bred in the laboratory of the scientist Marman. One of these monsters, named Garoo, has developed psychic powers, and is willing the others to conquer the planet. But when another of the monsters emerges from a test tube with the same powers as Garoo they fight viciously, until Gary blows up the lab and kills them all. There's an air of desperate urgency to these events, and the story really does get across the idea that the world is in big trouble if Garoo gets his way. It helps that the skeletal monsters are eerily inhuman, and their silence only reinforces that. Good stuff, even if the conclusion was a bit anticlimactic.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon L. Blummer): Hop's old school mistress Miss Snap has come to stay, and Ikky the mechanic is unhappy about everything being cleaned up. He tries to scare her into leaving with a hair-raising plane ride, but that doesn't work. Later she stops a bank robbery, Ikky decides she's great after all, and she is made treasurer of the aviation company. I like Miss Snap. She is very much in the same vein as Spider-Man's Aunt May, in that she is quite clueless when it comes to criminal activity. But I shudder at her suggestion that Hop form a flying club for young boys. Seriously DC, I do not need another fan club page to read.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly is still on assignment at a dude ranch, where the cowboys are convinced that he's a great horse rider. Scribbly gets entered unwillingly into a rodeo, which he wins purely by accident. It's good to see Scribbly back on form with this storyline.

'Popsicle Pete' (by Art Helfant): With $2500 at their disposal, Pete and his friends go into business, and advertise for inventions. Their ad attracts the attention of J. Flower Potts, who has invented a lawn sprinkler with every other hole missing; he claims that this will water the grass while leaving the weeds unwatered. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that Potts is an escapee from a mental asylum. I did get some mild amusement out of Potts' invention, but otherwise this is predictably uninspiring.

'Adventures in the Unknown: The Infra-Red Destroyers' (by Carl H. Claudy and Stan Aschmeier): Alan is captured by the crazed Professor Jurghens, who has allied with invisible snake creatures from Venus in a bid to conquer the Earth. There's no real tension here, and the attempts to portray Alan's horror at being locked in a cell with an invisible monster fall flat.

'Traitors' Treachery' (by George Shute): In this prose story, Jimmy Stone is still on the trail of some thieves who are stealing passports from the State Department. He tracks the woman responsible to a gambling den, and the story continues next month. I didn't mind this series when the stories were one-shots, but right now the pace is turgid.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Ben and his friends have great success with their magic mud business, making women beautiful and curing a boy of warts (although Ben's assertion that the boy now "looks human" is hardly the most compassionate sentiment). Later Ben is contacted by a woman named Miss Terry, who is on the run from somebody. The two halves of the story are seemingly unrelated, and as such the scenes with Miss Terry feel like a distraction from the main plot.

'Red, White and Blue' (by Jerry Siegel and William Smith): Red, Whitey and Blooey put a stop to German saboteurs who are laying mines in one of America's busiest harbours. This strip is on autopilot here. It's still more entertaining then most of the stuff out there, but it's getting a little dull at this point.

Monday, February 6, 2012

April 1940: Flash Comics #6

 Cover by Everett E. Hibbard

'The Flash!' (by Gardner Fox and Everett E. Hibbard): When this story started with some crooked gamblers trying to fix the Olympic tryouts by drugging the favourites, I was all set to hate it. But it picks up when the Flash enters himself in the races in a bid to stop the gamblers winning any money. He doesn't hold back at all, which is something of a dick move, and it's fun watching the reactions of the commentators and the crowd. It's also apparent that the Flash has no desire for a secret identity. He enters the races as Jay Garrick, his girlfriend Joan calls him Flash in front of people, and he's just careless with it in general. It's a refreshing change that adds to the strip's breezy nature.

As a final note, Jay Garrick seems to have graduated college since the last story.

'King Standish' (by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert): When the Witch steals a safe full of emeralds, King Standish disguises himself as a safe-cracker to thwart her plans. The King gets a little bit of character development here that I find interesting; he likes leaving hints and clues to his true identity, almost as though he wants to be caught. His playful rivalry with the Witch is also quite a bit of fun.

'Hawkman' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): While flying back from his last adventure in the Middle East, Hawkman and his companion Ione are captured by Arab slave traders. There are a lot of sexual undertones to the whole thing, with Ione chained up to be sold as a harem slave, and Hawkman being an object of desire for the villainous Queen of Sheba. It all ends when the British Army rides in to show those pesky Arabs who's in charge, but not before Hawkman fights a lion. I might have enjoyed this if Hawkman wasn't such a bland character. Come on dude, find a personality trait!

'Rod Rian of the Sky Police' (by Paul H. Jepsen): Rod Rian is still in the village of skeleton men (who are in actuality just regular dudes, but their drinking water has the side-effect of turning their flesh invisible). After a brief battle with some sabre-tooth tigers, Rod tracks the tigers back to a pure water source, so the skeleton men can return to their normal appearance. As if they would want to; skeletons are rad.

'Johnny Thunderbolt' (by John B. Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier): Johnny goes fox hunting, and once he unknowingly says his magic word shenanigans ensue involving a talking fox, and a pack of dogs transformed into ravening wolves. It's amusing enough.

'Cliff Cornwall, Special Agent' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): Cliff is on the trail of some arms smugglers, and his method of investigation is the worst ever. The main suspect is a bald man, so Cliff just starts following bald men at random. One goes to a tailor, and on a hunch Cliff decides that the guy has some plans hidden in a secret pocket in his jacket. None of his deductions make sense, and his leaps of logic are just absurd.

'Planet of the Metal Men' (by Evelyn Gaines): In the last chapter of this prose story, Jack, Sally and little Tommy rocketed to the planet Vesta. Here they meet the natives, a race of robotic people who give off electricity that is lethal to humans. The Earth-people befriend them, and then there's a lot of talk about their lifestyles and society and such. It's continued next month, but there's no hook to interest me in the next installment.

'Don Fuel and the Mystery Planet' (by Ed Wheelan): When the mad scientist Rascalli discovers a planet from which the soil can be distilled into destructive atomic pellets, Don Fuel must go there to collect a soil sample and save the Earth. This is a parody of the sort of rockets and ray-guns sci-fi that's prevalent in the late 30s and early 40s. It has as many good jokes as crap ones, operating on the principle that if you throw one out in every panel some are bound to stick. On the whole I think it comes out slightly behind, mostly due to the presence of Don's black sidekick Bunion, who hits every negative racial stereotype there is.

'The Whip' (by John B. Wentworth and Homer Fleming): The Whip takes on a crooked judge and newspaper editor. To be honest, I can't figure out what they've done wrong. Something about hiring prisoners from the jail as servants? Obviously, this one didn't hold my attention.