Tuesday, April 3, 2012

May 1940: Red Raven Comics #1

Cover by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

'The Red Raven' (by Joe Simon and Cazeneuve): After a plane crashes into a mysterious city floating in the clouds, the sole survivor is raised from infancy by the local birdmen, and becomes the Red Raven. He leaves the city for America, and goes up against an organisation that is hoarding the nation's gold for itself. He defeats its first leader quite handily, despite a run-in with a deadly gas trap. The second leader has a habit of laughing like Count von Count, and Red Raven gives him a suitably ironic ending, crushing him under a huge deluge of gold. The story is just about average, and Red Raven himself is very bland. I have no idea why anyone thought that this guy could headline his own book.

'The Human Top' (by Dick Briefer): A lightning strike during an experiment gives Bruce Bravelle the power to spin really quickly, and he is instantly pressed into service as a superhero by his scientist mentor. As the Top he stops some bank robbers and returns the money to the bank manager, only for the bank manager to skip the country and pin the theft on the Top. I liked that little twist, and the Top's powers are somewhat charming in their absurdity. But other than that the story is fairly crude and unappealing.

'Mercury in the 20th Century' (by Martin A. Bursten and Jack Kirby): This starts brilliantly, with the god Jupiter sending his son Mercury to Earth to deal with Pluto. It turns out that Pluto has assumed the role of "Rudolph Hendler", dictator of Prussland, and is waging war across Europe. Mercury sets about putting a stop to the war by stealing attack plans, which leaves the armies idling in the trenches. Things are left hanging there, which is either a terribly weak ending, or a good set-up for Pluto to hit back next month. If it's the latter, I like this story a lot. Otherwise, it really fizzles out.

'The Death Switch' (by Herbert J. Martin): In this prose story, a scientist's wife apparently murders him because he has gone insane and is planning to blow up the neighbourhood with a deadly machine. In reality the story is completely fake, and she is covering for the real culprit, the scientist's assistant and a character that isn't mentioned in the story until his guilt is revealed. It's yet another cheating mystery.

'Comet Pierce' (by Jack Kirby): Holy shit, it's Jack Kirby! And even on his first outing it's apparent that he has a lot of talent. Comet Pierce is up against his rival Jort in a rocket race, but sabotage leads him to crash. He is nursed back to health by a mysterious woman who gives him the means to win the race. After he pummels Jort, he searches the galaxy for the woman, discovers that she's a rebel queen, and joins her army. The storytelling is great, the action is dynamic, and there's a genuine sense of wonder to parts of it.

'Magar the Mystic, Re-creator of Souls' (by Creators Unknown): That's a hell of a title to live up to, and the premise certainly delivers. Magar has been sequestered in Africa for 50 years, and when he returns he finds the world plunged into war. With his new found power to summon aid from the dead, he sets about stopping the Germans. He seeks advice from Solomon, information from Mata Hari, and aid in escaping a trap from Harry Houdini. He even calls up Napoleon and Wellington to fight side by side and lead the French to victory. This is a lot of fun.

'The Eternal Brain' (by Robert Louis Golden): A scientist is killed when his laboratory is raided by crooks, but he survives as a brain in a jar. Calling himself the Living Brain, he teams up with his assistant Jim to rescue his kidnapped daughter from the king of Mongolia. The story ends up being fairly dull, and the Eternal Brain can't do anything except shout at people through a speaker.

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