Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 1940: All-American Comics #18

Cover by Sheldon Moldoff

'The Green Lantern' (by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell): Green Lantern tackles some crooks who are committing robberies at the World's Fair.  It's pretty uninspiring material, and feels like a cast off from New York World's Fair Comics that didn't quite make the cut.

'Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man' (by Jon L. Blummer): Gary must disgrace himself utterly in order to infiltrate the Asian powers that threaten his nation. I'm always a sucker for seeing a hero at his lowest ebb, and this certainly qualifies. I'm genuinely intrigued to see how this pans out.

In other stories:

In 'Adventures in the Unknown' (by Carl H. Claudy and Stan Aschmeier) Ted and Alan finally defeat the Venusian invaders. In 'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon L. Blummer) Ikky tries to teach Miss Snap how to fly a plane. 'Red, White and Blue' (by Jerry Siegel and William Smith) deal with a plot to embroil the USA in a war. 'Ben Webster' (by Russell Cole) finishes up the story about the magic mud, with an anti-dramatic reveal that the crooks menacing them are really actors hired to test their character. 'Popsicle Pete' (by Art Helfant) sells his stamp store to a crazy old man. And in a rather amusing 'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer) Ma Hunkel buys a grocery store and beats up some racketeers.

July 1940: Flash Comics #9

Cover by Sheldon Moldoff

'Hawkman' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): New York harbour is attacked by an evil underwater race known as the Kogats, who have lived there for centuries. Hawkman destroys them with the help of the Greek God Poseidon. Hawkman works better when dealing with the mythological world, I feel, and this is one of his more eventful stories.

'The Flash' (by Gardner Fox and Everett E. Hibbard): A gang of crooks uses a formula to create giant lizards, and uses the distraction to commit robberies. It's a more interesting plot on paper than what we usually get in the Flash, but the execution isn't quite up there. It's still a fun read, but lacks the strip's usual energy.

In other stories:

'King Standish' (by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert) teams up with the Witch to deal with some pirates. 'The Whip' (by John B. Wentworth and Homer Fleming) is framed for the theft of money to be donated to an orphanage. 'Cliif Cornwall, Special Agent' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff) goes to Antarctica and destroys a secret enemy base that is a threat to the Panama Canal. 'Johnny Thunderbolt' (by John B. Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier) transforms a rabbit into an elephant, and helps fight a fire. 'Rod Rian of the Sky Police' (by Paul H. Jepson) heads for the city of Uncor with his friend Price Taro, but they are attacked by a dragon. Also, the writer has chosen to write out the skeleton-men from the strip, which is completely boneheaded.  And in 'A Case of Hives' (by Ed Wheelan) a detective investigates the theft of a beehive shipment.

July 1940: Superman #6

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy): In the first Superman story in this issue, Lois Lane is framed for the murder of Norval, a jeweller. Superman discovers the real culprit, the architect who designed Norval's house and security system. There's added complication from Scoop Carter, a reporter from a rival newspaper, who is a complete jerk to Clark Kent. It's a solid story that makes very good use of the journalistic side of Superman's set-up.

In the second story the town of Gateston is taken over by racketeers, and Clark and Lois go to investigate. The scale of the crooks' operation makes this feel like the stakes are big, and it is an enjoyable tale. And I do love the way Clark keeps knocking Lois out with a nerve pinch.

In the third story, Superman helps get relief supplies to the earthquake-ravaged nation of San Caluma. There's a subplot about a thief who learns Superman's true identity, but he predictably dies just a page later, and this interlude has nothing to do with the main story, making this one feel very patchy.

The fourth story involves a shady construction company that is cutting corners with inferior materials. Superman captures them with no difficulty, but when one of their stadiums collapses Lois is injured, and needs a blood transfusion. She gets one from Clark Kent, who has to tear his own skin open, as the hospital instruments won't be able to penetrate it. We also learn that his blood is compatible with all four blood types, and its special qualities allow Lois to recuperate in record time. The main plot is mediocre, but I did enjoy the hospital scenes later and the revelations about Superman's biology. And seriously, if Lois is still being a bitch to Clark after this she is the worst person ever.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July 1940: Adventure Comics #53

Cover by Bernard Baily

'The Hour-Man' (by Bernard Baily): The Hour-Man takes on a crooked factory owner who is working  children to death. This story introduces the Minute-Men of America, a bunch of kids spread all over the nation who are amateur radio enthusiasts. I suppose this knocks out two fads at once, with kid sidekicks and a fan club, but neither of these are things I am a fan of.

The only other notable thing about this story is that Rex Tyler is utterly reprehensible. With other heroes, the cowardice of their civilian identity is an act. But Tyler is a genuine coward. It could work in a modern context, but here he comes across as thoroughly unlikeable.

'Mark Lansing of Mishikawm' (by Howard Purcell): Mark Lansing is a jungle explorer who, along with his friends, gets caught up in the world-conquering plot of subterranean warlord Vas Onga. They defeat Onga, but are trapped underground, and there only means of escape is to travel to the alien planet of Mishikawm. I'm guessing that this will be a 'Flash Gordon' type set-up, which hasn't been the greatest genre in comic books thus far. Certainly the opening chapter didn't inspire me with much confidence.

In other stories:

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski) tackles Fang Gow with the aid of the villain's daughter. In 'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Chad Grothkopf) Steve Carson investigates the sabotage of a train carrying radium. 'Cotton Carver' (by Gardner Fox and Jack Lehti) battles a temple full of warrior-priestesses. 'Steve Conrad, Adventurer' (by Gardner Fox and Jeck Lehti) accidentally stows away on a ship. 'Socko Strong' (by Albert and Joseph Sulman) continues fighting the invisible villain known as the Great I.  And 'The Sandman' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel) takes on some loan sharks.

July 1940: Detective Comics #42

Cover by Bob Kane

'Batman' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): Batman investigates a case in which portraits are being altered in such a way that predicts the murder of their owners. It turns out to be the work of a guy trying to drive up the price of the paintings. It's not the most original of motivations, but he does wear an awesome skull mask/beret ensemble to liven things up. And Bruce Wayne's feigned vanity when he goes to get his own portrait painted is hilarious.

In other stories:

In 'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Maurice Kashuba) Bart Regan helps track down the thief who stole the plans to a new gas mask. 'Red Logan, Ace Reporter' (by Ed Winiarski) exposes a jewellery store owner who is reporting his goods stolen, collecting the insurance, then re-cutting the gems and selling them in the store. 'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jack Lehti) beats up a gang of red-robed cultists intent on world domination. 'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator' (by Fred Guardineer) deals with a pyromaniac. 'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Don Lynch) solves the murder of a newspaperman killed by protection racketeers. 'Cliff Crosby' (by Chad Grothkopf) tackles the Chinese people smuggling racket.  And 'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Howard Sherman) stops a gang of jewel thieves from discrediting his friend officer Callahan.

Monday, July 23, 2012

July 1940: More Fun Comics #58

Cover by Bernard Baily

'The Spectre' (by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily): The Spectre goes up against a crooked businessman who is trying to kill a warehouse owner who knows about his shifty dealings. This is strictly small potatoes for the Spectre, and there's never any doubt of the outcome. The only spot of interest comes from a bit of falsely manufactured drama, as the Spectre is inexplicably drawn into the spirit world while trying to save the warehouse owner from a bomb. It's never explained, and is just a very weak piece of storytelling.

'Doctor Fate' (by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman): This strip is a weird mix of the poetic and the prosaic. Fate must battle a wizard who has stolen a powerful book that contains "all secrets", and is capable of destroying the world. Epic enough, yes? Except that the wizard is using it to steal money. And Fate stops him with a punch to the jaw. But then there are really cool touches, such as Fate burning the book and scattering the ashes into the sea, only for thousands of fish to die because of its evil power. If Fox and Sherman would just go balls out epic this could be a great strip.

In other stories:

'Detective Sergeant Carey' (by Joe Donohoe) investigates the murder of a trapeze artist. 'Congo Bill' (by Whitney Ellsworth and George Papp) deals with a tribe of leopard men, and finally captures his archnemesis the Skull. 'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski) stumbles across an island where arms smugglers are stockpiling munitions, and blows it up. In 'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Chad Grothkopf) Sandy and Larry track down some brutal robbers due to them having placed an unregistered measles sign on their house. 'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by Bob Hirsch and Russ Lehman) investigates some stolen bonds and a faked suicide. It's pretty obvious that the creators have no interest in the naval setting any more. 'Biff Bronson' (by Albert Sulman and Joseph Sulman) helps a man jailed for fur theft clear his name. And 'Sergeant O'Malley of the Red Coat Patrol' (by Jack Lehti) catches a gang that stole a lumberjack payroll.

July 1940: Zip Comics #8

Cover by Charles Biro

'Steel Sterling' (by Charles Biro): When policeman Clancy is framed by counterfeiters and kicked off the force, Steel comes to his aid to clear his name. The story manages to evoke some genuine sympathy for poor Clancy, and any Golden Age story that induces any emotion at all is one up on the competition.

In other stories:

'The Scarlet Avenger' (by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick) deals with a gang that is killing senators. 'Nevada Jones, Quick-Trigger Man' (by Frank Volp) is framed for murder. 'Kalthar the Giant Man-King of the Jungle' (by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick) rescues his girfriend from a murderous tribe, which involves him wrestling a lot of lions. 'War Eagles, the Devil's Flying Twins' (by Ed Smalle) are sent to Egypt to find out who is stirring the locals to revolt. 'Captain Valor' (by Abner Sundell and Mort Meskin) must deal with the traitorous Tania, and her Russian friend Nikolaus. 'Mr. Satan' (by Abner Sundell and Lin Streeter) fights a gang of hooded murderers. And 'Zambini the Miracle Man' (by Joe Blair and Ed Wexler) is blamed by the tribesmen of Yucatan for a drought.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

July 1940: Top-Notch Comics #8

Cover by Edd Ashe

'The Wizard' (by Harry Shorten and Edd Ashe): The Wizard takes on Mayor Beadle and his crooked politics, but of much more importance is the introduction of Roy the Super-Boy. Roy is a bootblack and orphan who the Wizard takes under his wing and trains. By the end of that training Roy is supposedly just as good as the Wizard, which seems a bit odd. I've seen the Wizard tear battleships apart with his bare hands!  I hate kid sidekicks at the best of times (Robin excepted) and I'm wondering what makes this kid so special. Can the Wizard train just anybody to be as strong as he is? Why not recruit an army of super-strong kids? It doesn't make sense, and I'm very sceptical as to whether Roy's presence will improve the strip.

'The Firefly' (by Harry Shorten and Bob Wood): Harley Hudson has devoted his life to becoming a crime-fighter, and after two years of studying insects he is able to replicate their amazing muscular feats. He dons a uniform, becomes the Firefly, and battles a mad scientist who is trying to create his master-race. It does have a certain energy to it, and mad scientists at this point are a welcome break from racketeers and spies. It's a decent enough beginning.

'Shanghai Sheridan' (by Joe Blair and Irv Novick): Sheridan helps smuggle arms and ammunition to the rebels in China. This is the strip's final appearance. It was underwhelming throughout, and its only notable trait was a questionable portrayal of the various Asian peoples involved.

'Streak Chandler on Mars' (by Harry Shorten and William Wills): Streak Chandler and his friends have been captured by the space pirate Quantus, and are being held on one of Jupiter's moons. They manage to escape and destroy Quantus's fleet, but Streak is betrayed by the alien Lura, who captures them all. This is the final appearance of this strip, so one can only assume that Lura has them all executed. So long Streak, I'll never forget that time you fought a weird horse-headed octopus.

'Dick Storm' (by Harry Shorten and Mort Meskin): Dick and his friends are trapped on an island with pirates, who they manage to defeat, despite the cowardice of Jessup.  This is the final installment of this very boring strip.

In other stories:

'Galahad' (by Harry Shorten and Lin Streeter) helps King Arthur fight the King of Ireland. 'Wings Johnson of the Air Patrol' (by Joe Blair and Ed Smalle) locates and destroys a secret Nazi airbase. 'Bob Phantom, Scourge of the Underworld' (by Harry Shorten and Gerry Thorpe) tackles a gang of cop kidnappers.  And 'Kardak the Mystic Magician' (by Harry Shorten and Bernard Klein) battles the Master of the Valley of Death in an effectively creepy story.

July 1940: Pep Comics #8

Cover by Irv Novick

'The Shield' (by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick): The Shield tackles a diamond smuggling racket that is murdering celebrities. There's a clever set-up where a movie star is supposedly shot by his own image on the silver screen, but otherwise this is never more than solid.  That's not necessarily a problem; the Shield is one of those dependable strips that hits that level consistently.

'The Comet' (by Abner Sundell and possibly Jack Cole): The Comet battles the Master, a gangster who is disintegrating people with his death ray. This strip isn't quite as manic as it used to be, but it still has a level of energy that the other Quality books just never reach.  It feels more like the sort of thing Marvel are doing at this time.

In other stories:

'The Press Guardian' (by Abner Sundell and Mort Meskin) must once again deal with the Claw, who is running an insurance racket on old freighters. 'Fu Chang, International Detective' (by Abner Sundell and Lin Streeter) takes on a gang of people smugglers that is hiding the people inside dead sharks. 'Sergeant Boyle' (by Abner Sundell and Charles Biro) must get a general's daughter out of Antwerp before the Germans arrive. 'Lee Sampson, Midshipman' (by Bob Wood) helps an heiress who has fled to the circus to escape an arranged marriage to a Frenchman. 'The Rocket and the Queen of Diamonds' (by Abner Sundell and Lin Streeter) dethrone and capture Retlek, but by the end the tyrant is holding them at gunpoint once again. 'Kayo Ward' (by Harry Shorten and Bob Wood) becomes a movie star, much to the chagrin of the guy he replaced. And 'Bentley of Scotland Yard' (by Joe Blair and Sam Cooper) investigates a supposed vampire murder, and reveals that the real culprit was a business rival of the victim, who stabbed her in the neck with a fork.

July 1940: Blue Ribbon Comics #6

Cover by Ed Smalle

'Hercules' (by Joe Blair and Ed Wexler): Hercules deals with Augie King, a stable owner and racketeer who has been doping horses. This is yet another clever play on the Twelve Labours, this time being the cleaning of King Augeias' stables. I'm still enjoying this.

In other stories:

'Rang-a-Tang the Wonder Dog' (by Joe Blair and Ed Smalle) protects "Harley Shaplyn", who is making a movie about a European dictator, from Nazi sympathisers. 'Gypsy Johnson, Adventurer' (by John Bulthuis) is captured by the evil Baron Von Krasner, who hunts in him a shameless rip-off of "The Most Dangerous Game".'The Fox' (by Joe Blair and Irwin Hasen) defeats some bank robbers with the awesome power of photography. 'Corporal Collins, Infantryman' (by Abner Sundell and Charles Biro) helps locate some German supply trains. 'Ty-Gor, Son of the Tiger' (by Joe Blair and Mort Meskin) meets his civilised uncle, and beats up a would-be murderer. 'Doc Strong' (by Joe Blair and Sam Cooper) repels an attack on his island by the barbaric Gustave Ritter, despite the treachery of his friend Stuyvesant. 'Loop Logan, Air Ace' (by Joe Blair and Frank Volp) exposes a Nazi spy who he used to race against as a youth. And 'The Green Falcon' (by Harry Shorten and Edd Ashe) rescues his beloved Lady Marion from Arab slave traders.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

June 1940: Hit Comics #2

Cover by Lou Fine

'The Red Bee' (possibly by Toni Blum and Charles Nicholas): There's a flu epidemic, and the corrupt politicians are too busy revelling in their graft to help anyone. The Red Bee busts them up, and everything ends happily ever after. This is an unremarkable story, but it does one thing right: the scene with the politicians feasting, laughing and proposing a toast to bigger and better taxes to come is very effective in setting them up as complete douchebags.

I'm also wondering what the deal is with Michael, the Red Bee's pet bee and sidekick.  He's always flying around and stinging the bad guys, but shouldn't he be dead after stinging someone?  Are we on Michael III by now? 

'Neon the Unknown' (by S.M. Iger and Alex Blum): Neon leaves the French Foreign Legion and goes to Europe to put a stop to the dictator "Radolf". He starts by rescuing some intellectuals from a concentration camp, then captures Radolf and threatens him with torture until the dictator agrees to step down. It's another ultra-simplistic "this is how to stop the war" scenario of the sort that the Golden Age was very fond. I was surprised to see concentration camps being dealt with here. I knew the world at large wasn't aware of what was going on with the Jews, and I had sort of lumped the camps in with that. But it's now apparent to me that the German imprisonment of radicals and intellectuals was well known at the time.

In other stories:

'Hercules' (by Dan Zolnerowich) deals with some crooks who plan to blow up a dam. 'X-5 Secret Agent' (by Will Eisner and Charles Sultan) stops the sabotage of an oil train. 'Jack and Jill' (possibly by John Lindermayer) protect the wife and baby of a smuggler, who has threatened to kill them both. 'The Old Witch' (by Pierre Winter) tells a story about a man who relives the life of his ancestor, whose lover was accused of being a witch. In 'The Strange Twins' (by S.M. Iger and Alex Blum), the villainous Rod captures his twin Doug and masquerades as him.  'Bob and Swab' (by Klaus Nordling) deal with thieves who have taken over a banana plantation. 'Casey Jones' (by Munson Paddock) is carrying supplies for the Allies on his train, and must deal with saboteurs.  And 'Blaze Barton' (by Henry Kiefer) is caught in a battle between the subterranean Core Creatures and bat-men from Venus.

June 1940: Crack Comics #4

Cover by Gill Fox

'Black Condor' (by Lou Fine): The Black Condor battles the tyrant Sihn Fang, and help's Fang's daughter realise her father's villainy. The daughter's storyline elevates this above the usual Golden Age fare, and Lou Fine's art is wonderful. His figures have a grace and fluidity that I find appealing, and it really suits Black Condor and his flying ability.

In other stories:

'Rock Braddon of the Space Legion' (by Vernon Henkel) infiltrates an invading army, and kills its leader Vrak the Invincible. 'The Red Torpedo' (by Henry Kiefer) destroys a Nazi submarine base. 'Lee Preston of the Red Cross' (possibly by Bob Powell) is forced to fly a getaway plane for a foreign spy. 'Alias the Spider' (by Paul Gustavson) deals with a crooked mine owner.  'Madam Fatal' (by Art Pinajian) retrieves stolen plans from foreign spies. 'Wizard Wells, Miracle Man of Science' (by Harry Francis Campbell) exposes some crooks who are fixing boxing matches using an infra-red heat ray. And 'The Clock' (by George Brenner) deals with the Asp, a villain who kills his victims with a slow-acting poison.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

June 1940: Smash Comics #13

Cover by Gill Fox

'The Purple Trio' (by S.M. Iger and Alex Blum): The Purple Trio, a group of vaudevillians who fight crime, make their debut here. Tiny is a cigar-smoking midget, Rocky is an acrobat, and Warren is a magician.  In this story they take on a group of racketeers who are taking money from grieving widows. The approach is humorous, and there's even the classic gag where the midget pretends to be a baby. What can I say, I'm a sucker for dwarf humour.

'Philpot Veep' (by John Devlin): This is the final appearance of Philpot Veep, a Sherlock Holmes parody strip. I haven't written much about it before, because I've not been dealing with the shorter humour strips, but I always liked this one.  It's not the sharpest parody out there, but it still pokes fun at Holmes and the detective genre in an amusing way, right down to Veep's occasional use of cocaine.

In other stories:

In 'Espionage' (by Will Eisner) the Black X must rescue a traitor from the Devil's Isle penal colony before he can sell US secrets to foreign spies. 'Chic Carter' (by Vernon Henkel) deals with a gang of fur thieves. 'Invisible Justice' (by Art Pinajian) tackles a Chinese villain called the Golden Dragon, who has kidnapped a munitions magnate to build his own arsenal. 'Wings Wendall' (by Vernon Henkel) must safeguard a new automatic rifle from foreign agents. 'Clip Chance' (by George Brenner) helps a cop track down some crooks who are hiding behind a waterfall. 'Magno the Miracle Man' (by Paul Gustavson) deals with foreign agents who are hijacking US ships. 'Abdul the Arab' (by Bob Powell) takes on an Arab bandit chief, which is all he ever does. 'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by William A. Smith) exposes a Chinese villain called The Key as the local prison warden. And 'Bozo the Robot' (by George Brenner) stops some thugs from stealing the formula for a cure to pneumonia.

June 1940: National Comics #2

Cover by Lou Fine

'Uncle Sam' (by Will Eisner and Dave Berg): When a senator is blackmailed by crooks and forced to overturn his own bill mandating food quality, Uncle Sam goes into action.  It's not the most exciting set-up, but Sam ploughing through crooks with a knowing wink and a nod is just fun to read.  This strip shouldn't work, but it does.

In other stories:

'Prop Powers' (by Toni Blum and possibly Witmer Wilmers) gets an inventor and his plans to England despite the efforts of foreign agents. 'Sally O'Neill, Policewoman' (by Toni Blum and Chuck Mazoujian) stops some crooks trying to get control of a steel mill. 'Pen Miller' (by Klaus Nordling) deals with crooks running a life insurance scam who have found a man they are completely unable to kill. 'Kid Patrol' (by Charles Nicholas) helps raise money for a widow by tricking an old miser into changing his ways.  'Wonder Boy' (by Toni Blum and possibly John Celardo) is kidnapped by Mogolians, and stops them from stealing a sacred treasure. 'Cyclone' (by Henry Kiefer) fights against a tribe of winged people, before teaming up with them against the evil martians.  'Kid Dixon' (by George Tuska) helps a lady save her farm.  'Paul Bunyan' (by John Celardo) fights a giant murderer. And 'Merlin the Magician' (by Dan Zolnerowich) must rescue a girl who has been trapped in the spirit realm by a vengeful wizard.

June 1940: Feature Comics #34

Cover by John Devlin

'Doll Man' (by Lou Fine): The Doll Man's buddy Wampum, now an Injun oil magnate, is kidnapped by pirates.  This was all pretty tiresome, until Doll Man came to the rescue riding a penguin.  Also, Lou Fine is brilliant, easily one of the best artists of the Golden Age.

In other stories: In 'Rance Keane' (by William A. Smith), Rance's buddy Pee Wee dreams about fighting Chinese crooks.  'Zero, Ghost Detective' (by Dan Zolnerowich) protects a girl from violin-playing skeletons.  'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian) tackles some kidnappers who are after maps of the coast.  'Spin Shaw' (by Bob Powell) rescues an explorer from Amazonian tribesmen. 'Captain Fortune' (by Vernon Henkel) is pursued by a ghost ship.  'The Voice' (by Stan Aschmeier) investigates a murder in which the gun was hidden in a record player and triggered by playing some music. 'Rusty Ryan of Boyville' (by Paul Gustavson) deals with some crooks who set fire to Boyville so that they can buy the property on the cheap. 'Bruce Blackburn, Counterspy' (by Harry Francis Campbell) must stop some spies who are trying to get America involved in a war with Solvonia.  And 'Samar' (by Robert Hayward Web) fights cavemen and a flesh-eating brontosaurus.

Monday, July 9, 2012

June 1940: Daring Mystery Comics #6

Cover by Jack Kirby

'Marvel Boy' (by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby): This strip debuts in pretty awesome fashion.  When Hitler rises to power and foments war, Hercules is reincarnated in the body of a teenager, and dubbed Marvel Boy. The rest of the story is an action-packed (albeit formulaic) battle against fifth columnists.  But the mythic power of the origin story is hard to deny, even if the writer does have Hercules living in Valhalla. Dude, wrong mythology!

'The Fiery Mask' (by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby): The Fiery Mask investigates a series of murders, and discovers that the culprit is a demonically-possessed toddler. The investigation eventually leads the Fiery Mask into Hell, where he seriously confronts a being that can only be Satan. Yes, it ends with the Fiery Mask waking up in his lab, but the door is left open for this story to have actually happened, and that is rad.

'Stuporman' (by Creators Unknown): Stuporman is not really a Superman parody as I would have expected, but more of a parody of the super-hero/adventure strip genre as a whole.  Stuporman must a plot by a mad scientist and his thugs to turn glass doorknobs into fake diamonds.  The philosophy here is to throw as many jokes at the reader as possible, with the hope that some will stick.  My experience was that some fell flat, some were utterly inscrutable, and a small few were decent.  It does make nice change in tone from the rest of the comic, though.

'The Flying Flame' (by Bill O'Connor and Ben Flinton): Ye gods, another strip making its first appearance!  The Flying Flame is a red-haired American pilot who is fighting in World War 2.  In this story he must battle the Black Ace, a German pilot.  It's more exciting than the usual crop of aviation heroes, I'll give it that.

'Monako, Prince of Magic' (by Larry Antonette): This is the final appearance of Monako and his fez.  He rescues a girl from some thugs and an old hag, which isn't the greatest way to go out. Monako's stories were mostly boring, with the exception of his origin story. Seriously, the dude lived for years with the tribe that murdered his parents! Bye bye Monako, see you in The Marvels Project!

'Dynaman' (by Steve Dahlman): Yep, it's another debut, which just goes to show how popular the previous strips in this comic must have been.  Anyway, in an ancient city called Korug, Lagaro is the most awesome dude ever, and his name translates to Dynaman, Man of Power. When Korug sinks beneath the waves Dynaman flies to safety as the only survivor.  He goes to Egypt, where he defends it from cavemen, a brontosaurus, and pretty much every animal in the zoo. Seriously, if you like to see super-heroes punching animals (and I sure do), this story is for you.

'Tigerman' (by Mike Roy): Not to be confused with Trojak the Tiger-Man from previous issues, this guy is yet another white man raised in the jungle. In his debut story he rescues some white explorers from the Monolink Men, a subterranean tribe of ape-dudes. It otherwise has little of interest.

In other stories: 'The Falcon' (by L. Bing) goes after some bank robbers. Boo Falcon, you're the only boring story in this comic.

June 1940: Marvel Mystery Comics #10

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'The Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner' (by Bill Everett and Carl Burgos): Remember how excited I was to read the finale to the first battle between the Torch and Namor?  Well forget it, because it's a complete dud.  Instead of a great pay-off to the months of build-up, we get a single page where Betty Dean shows up, talks to Namor, and the two former enemies hug it out and go their separate ways.  Marvel, this is complete bullshit!  I can't believe I'm angry about a comic that came out nearly 40 years before I was born.

'The Human Torch' (by Carl Burgos): The Torch deals with a gang of racketeers who are driving up petrol prices by blowing up any petrol station that won't comply with it.  It's no great shakes to begin with, but doubly disappointing after the previous anticlimax.

'The Sub-Mariner' (by Bill Everett): Trust the Sub-Mariner to pull me out of the doldrums!  After Namor returns home and gets a bollocking from his parents, a crew of Americans arrive in the Arctic trying to track him down.  Namor, along with his cousin Dorma, leads an attack on the ship, and gets to act the villain again. This is cracking good stuff.  I'm constantly surprised by how good Everett is.  I'm also surprised by the presence of Dorma.  I had always assumed she was a Lee/Kirby creation, but here she is in the original stories helping Namor out.  It's cool that Lee and Kirby remembered her when they revived Namor in the Silver Age.

'The Angel' (by Paul Gustavson): The Angel tackles a horde of ghouls, who are kidnapping young ladies to sacrifice to their volcano god.  Gustavson has a knack for creepiness, and his ghouls do not disappoint.  It ends on a cliffhanger, with the Angel trapped underground being menaced by monsters.  Good stuff.

'Electro' (by Steve Dahlman): Electro must battle a mad scientist and his undead army.  It's a well-worn Golden Age plot, but this one stands out for sheer gruesomeness.  It's full of scenes of mass murder and carnage, as the zombies run riot in the streets, stabbing people and shooting them point blank.  Then the giant robot Electro gets in the mix, and he's tearing the zombies to pieces.  The mad scientist ends up being thrown into a vat of acid, and his castle is bombed by planes.  It's one of the most viscerally exciting stories I've read for this blog.

'Terry Vance, the School-Boy Sleuth' (by Ray Gill and Bob Oksner): This is the debut of Terry Vance (the boy with a thousand hobbies!) and his monkey assistant Dr. Watson.  It's a standard murder-mystery plot, with the victim murdered by a man left out of his will.  I've rarely had time for child protagonists, and this one didn't grab me at all.

In other stories: 'The Masked Raider' (by Al Anders) is framed for the murder of a tax collector.  'Ka-Zar the Great' (by Ben Thompson) rescues two Scotland Yard detectives left for dead in the jungle by a crook.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

June 1940: Nickel Comics #4

Cover by Jack Binder

'Bulletman' (by Bill Parker and Jon Smalle): Bulletman saves an innocent man from the electric chair, and exposes an impostor who has been posing as the mayor.  It's rudimentary.

'Red Gaucho' (by Harry Anderson): This is the first appearance of the Red Gaucho, a swashbuckling, whip-wielding South American hero.  In this story he stops a revolution led by bandits in Santa Palos.  He's a fun character, albeit something of a stereotype.  Even so, his constant laughter and charming wit are somewhat infectious.

'Jungle Twins' (by Bill Parker and Sven Elven): Bill finally tells his brother Steve about his heritage, and then it's off to New York, where we're treated to the usual shenanigans. Look out, Steve's gonna eat that steak with his bare hands!  Uh oh, don't smoke that cigar Steve!  Oh no, Steve doesn't wanna wear clothes!  You've seen it before, and done better.

'Capt. Venture and the Planet Princess' (by Rafaael Astarita): In the debut of this strip, Captain Venture rescues a princess named Tyra from some ugly aliens, and together they decide to go exploring in his rocket. Lots of running, fighting, captures and escapes, but it's not particularly dynamic or interesting.

'Warlock the Wizard' (by Creators Unknown): Warlock takes on a guy who is hypnotising millionaires and getting them to write him into their wills.  It's fairly dull, though Warlock does use his magic hand Abraxus to spank a guy this time.

June 1940: Nickel Comics #3

I have just realised that I am covering issues that I already discussed in my Archie/Fawcett/Quality catch-up post.  Honest mistake; I made a miscalculation as to what comic I was up to.  I'm going to press on regardless, and do the ones I already glossed over in proper detail.

Cover by Jack Binder
'Bulletman' (by Bill Parker and Jon Smalle): Bulletman tackles his supposed arch-nemesis Black Mask, who is after a diamond shipment.  He's also trying to kill Bulletman, which he attempts with various traps involving poison gas and hydrochloric acid.  It's solid enough, and I'm still a sucker for villains like Black Mask who wear Cobra Commander hoods.  The only inexplicable thing about the story is that Bulletman carries Black Mask's cat around for an inordinate length of time, and for no apparent purpose.

'Jungle Twins' (by Bill Parker and Sven Elven): Bill masquerades as his savage brother Steve, so that he can infiltrate Steve's tribe and rescue his friends. Again, it's solid, but not particularly interesting.  It's nice to see Sven Elven still working, as well, even if his style here is unrecognisable.  He's been a part of this project from the very beginning.

'Warlock the Wizard' (by Creators Unknown): An arsonist disguises himself as Warlock, and frames the wizard for his own crimes.  Magician heroes are always a problem, in that their broad, undefined powers mean they can get out of most situations with little trouble.  The best Golden Age magician strips, like 'Zatara', get around this by making the solutions fun and inventive.  Warlock, on the other hand, just summons a golden hand to smash things over and over again.  It's a little tiresome.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

June 1940: Master Comics #3

Cover by Creators Unknown

This is where I would normally write about Master Comics #3, but I haven't been able to track down a copy.  It appears to have all the usual suspects: Master Man, the White Rajah and the rest, with no creative changes that I can see.  A little piece of me dies inside every time I can't read a comic for this blog.

June 1940: Whiz Comics #5

Cover by C.C. Beck

'Capt. Marvel' (by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck): Captain Marvel busts up a nationwide crime ring that is using hypnotised children to commit robberies.  Most of the appeal of this strip comes from Beck's art, which is just cartoony enough that it can do humour and drama equally well.

In other stories: 'Golden Arrow' (by Bill Parker and Pete Costanza) tackles Brute and Bronk, two cowboys who are trying to murder their neice so that they can inherit her mine.  'Lance O'Casey' (by Bill Parker and possibly Bob Kingett) goes in search of pirate treasure that ends up being worthless.  'Spy Smasher' (by Bill Parker and possibly C.C. Beck) stops some spies from stealing the plans of a secret tank.  'Dan Dare' (by Greg Duncan) goes to Hollywood, where a monkey named Rollo is committing murders.  'Scoop Smith' (by Greg Duncan) deals with an invasion of Mexico by a civilisation from beneath the Earth.  And 'Ibis the Invincible' (by Bill Parker and possibly C.C. Beck) must rescue his girlfriend from gangsters.

June 1940: Superman Radio Show episodes 46-57

These twelve episodes comprise two story lines: "Alonzo Craig, Arctic Explorer" and "Horace Morton's Weather Machine".  I listened to these some time ago, and to be honest they really aren't fresh in my mind.  Allow me to refresh my memory, and I will come back with a semi-decent write-up.

Okay, I am back, with my brain fully refreshed!

In the first storyline, Clark Kent travels to the Arctic to find missing explorer Alonzo Craig.  Which he does, in a manner of speaking: Craig has been captured by a tribe of "Indians" and drugged to believe that he is their medicine man.  It's all played out as a mystery over the six episodes, and actually fairly well done.  You just have to get past the geographically dubious Indians, not to mention their less than even-handed portrayal.

The second story sees Lois and Clark investigating Lois's uncle, who has invented a weather machine.  Some crooks take over the machine, and use the resultant bad weather to cover for their robberies.  This one is a lot more straightforward, and reminiscent of some of the lesser stories from the comic.  It's just going through the motions.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

June 1940: Action Comics #27

Cover by Paul Cassidy

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy): Lois Lane and Clark Kent investigate a rehabilitation home for young boys, and this being a Superman story the owners are crooks using the kids for their own profit. It's as formulaic as Golden Age Superman gets, but that's not a problem when the formula is a good one. It also helps to have Superman fight a dog called Black Satan.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): The Gorrah is back to seek revenge on Tex, along with his army of rat-men.  Recurring villains are few and far between in the Golden Age, especially visually distinctive ones, so I always like to see the Gorrah make a comeback.  The "Miss X" subplot is also kept ticking along, as the aforementioned mysterious woman helps them find the Gorrah's hideout.  Subplots are another rarity in the Golden Age, and simply because of the scarcity I really want to know who she is.  It's sure to be a disappointment, but I just appreciate that the creators are doing it at this early stage. 

In other stories: 'Pep Morgan' (by Fred Guardineer) deals with some crooks trying to fix a track meet. 'The Black Pirate' (by Sheldon Moldoff) kills a bearded giant, steals his treasure, and buys a ship.  In the text story (by Ivan Dmytryk), a coward proves his worth by charging the enemy unarmed.  'The Three Aces' (by Gardner Fox and Chad Grothkopf) investigate a mysterious blue plane that has been attacking US mail planes.  'Clip Carson' investigates a murder mystery in Hollywood, and becomes an advisor on an adventure movie.  And 'Zatara' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer) is on the trail of an explorer who disappeared while searching for the fabled "Missing Link".

June 1940: All-American Comics #17

Cover by Sheldon Moldoff

'Green Lantern' (by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell): In this story Green Lantern tackles the commissioner of public works, who is taking kickbacks from the companies that he assigns jobs to.  It's a disappointingly small-scale story for his second outing, though I did enjoy the scenes where he pretends to be his own ghost to terrorise the crooks.  The only other thing of note is that the story takes place in Metropolis.  If this were a modern comic Superman would have made a guest appearance.

Also, in light of recent news:  Signs of Alan Scott's homosexuality - zero.  Signs of Alan Scott's heterosexuality - also zero.

In other stories: In 'Adventures in the Unknown' (Carl H. Claudy and Stan Aschmeier) Ted and Alan continue battling the invisible invaders from Venus. 'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon L. Blummer) helps stop a would-be kidnapper with help from members of his aviation club.  It's a sickening bit of advertising, really.  'Gary Concord the Ultra-Man' (by Jon L. Blummer) deals with a pair of profiteers trying to drive America into a war.  'Ben Webster' (by Russell Cole) escapes from some crooks and then gets captured again in a bit of time-wasting filler.  'Popsicle Pete' (by Art Helfant) does his best to shill a stamp promotion.  In the text story (by Evelyn Gaines), Jimmy Stone is framed for the murder of his teacher.  'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer) becomes the owner of a horse named Widow-Maker.  And 'Red, White and Blue' (by Jerry Siegel and William Smith) deal with a group of propagandists trying to undermine the spirit of America.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

April-June 1940: A Fawcett/Quality/Archie catch-up

Hello everyone.  I'm back!  I have the blogging itch again, so I am going to try and get this blog back up to speed.  I won't be covering the issues as comprehensively as I did before, but I'll still try and get to everything.  I'm just going to focus on the really interesting stuff, and gloss over the cowboys and mounties.

The first thing I did after taking a break from the blog was do a catch-up on the non-Marvel and DC comics, which I had abandoned in order to speed my progress here.  Here is a list of the comics I read to get current:

Blue Ribbon Comics #5-6
Pep Comics #6-8
Top-Notch Comics #7-8
Zip Comics #6-8


Master Comics #3
Nickel Comics #1-4
Whiz Comics #4-5

National Comics #1-2
Smash Comics #12-13
Hit Comics #1-2
Crack Comics #3-4
Feature Comics #34-35

Sorry, no covers today.  Look 'em up yourself!

Top-Notch Comics #8 has the introduction of Roy the Super-Boy, a kid sidekick for the Wizard.  I gather this was probably a reaction to the popularity of Robin at the time.  The Wizard also becomes a newspaper publisher, which is a good move; it's a genuinely good way to generate plots.

The same issue also has the debut of 'Firefly', a strip written by Harry Shorten and pencilled by Bob Wood.  His deal is that he studied insects, and learned how they coordinate their muscles in order to lift weights much greater than themselves (nothing to do with square-cube law, nosiree!).  He trains himself to use his muscles in the same way, and fights crime.  From there it's generic golden age super-heroism, and not of particular interest.

Nickel Comics is an interesting book.  It's half the price of a regular comic, and consequently half the length as well.  I was expecting it to be a quicker read, but the stories in here are dense.  Every single panel has a narrative caption, which gets a bit wearying after a while.  The book also comes out fortnightly, so it's not like my reading time is cut down here.

The first issue sees the debut of 'Bulletman', written by Bill Parker and Jon Smalle.  Bulletman is a police scientist named Jim Barr, who developed chemicals that enhanced his physique, and a bullet-shaped helmet that defies gravity.  His stories are the usual gangsters-and-racketeers fare, which is the sort of thing I'm getting a little tired of.

Also in the first issue: 'Jungle Twins' (by Sven Elven), in which a civilized guy finds his twin brother living as a savage in the jungle; and Warlock the Wizard (by Creators Unknown), an occult investigator with a very strange-looking head.

Nickel Comics #4 introduces a couple of new strips.  The first is 'The Red Gaucho', by Harry Anderson.  He's kind of like the Whip, an American who has swashbuckling adventures in South America.  The second is 'Captain Venture and the Planet Princess', by Rafael Astarita.  Captain Venture rescues a princess, and together they travel from planet to planet fighting weird aliens.

National Comics is another series making its debut here.  The headliner here is 'Uncle Sam', which against my better judgment I find quite fun.  Written by Will Eisner and pencilled by Dave Berg, this is unashamedly jingoistic, but what do you expect in a book called National Comics?  Uncle Sam is the literal spirit of America, who shows up to beat the hell out of some Americans who are forming a Brownshirt-style militia.  I really shouldn't like it, but I do.

The other highlight is 'Wonder Boy', written by Toni Blum and possibly pencilled by John Celardo.  Rocketed to Earth from a dying planet, he winds up in an orphanage before stopping an invasion of Europe by the Mongols.  He's basically a ten-year-old Superman, only more powerful.

Also in this comic: 'Prop Powers', a generic aviator hero; 'Sally O'Neill, Policewoman', a female cop; 'Kid Dixon', a generic boxer; 'Merlin', a generic magician; 'Cyclone', a generic space pilot; 'Pen Miller', a detective/comic book artist; 'Paul Bunyan', a very large lumberjack with a blue ox as his pet; and 'Kid Patrol', a kid gang complete with a black kid named Sunshine.

Smash Comics #12 sees the final appearance of 'Flash Fulton', which was written and pencilled by Paul Gustavson.  Flash was a photographer who travelled the world having adventures.  It was never all that remarkable, although he was starting to display a cheerful recklessness that I found endearing towards the end of his run.  And Gustavson's art was always reliable.

It also has the last installment of 'John Law, Scientective', written and drawn by Harry Francis Campbell.  This strip was mostly on the good side of average.  Its main flaw was in dragging out the storyline with the villain known as the Avenger.  The Avenger is killed in this strip, so at least there's some closure.

As old strips die, new ones must arise to take their place.  Smash Comics #13 has the debuts of 'The Purple Trio' and 'Magno'.

'The Purple Trio', written by S.M. Iger and drawn by Alex Blum, features a trio of circus performers who solve mysteries.  One is an acrobat, one is a stage magician, and the last is an angry cigar-smoking midget.  Their stories are forgettable, but I loves me an angry midget.

'Magno', written and drawn by Paul Gustavson, is a lineworker who was electrocuted and then revived with awesome electrical powers.  That's seriously all I remember about him.  The guy hasn't made a mark in my brain just yet.

Hit Comics #1 seems to me to be the dregs of the Quality line.  Most of the strips featured are utterly forgettable.  'Hercules' (by Dan Zolnerowich) is not to be confused with the guy appearing over in Blue Ribbon Comics.  That guy is the mythological character; the Hit Comics version is a super-strong do-gooder, but otherwise just a regular dude.  'X-5 Super Agent' (by Will Eisner and Charles Sultan) is a spy doing spy stuff.  'Jack and Jill' (by Leonard Frank) are a brother and sister who solve mysteries.  'The Red Bee' (possibly by Toni Blum and Charles Nicholas) is a superhero who fights crime with the help of bees.  Really.  'The Strange Twins' (by S.M. Iger and Alex Blum) is probably the highlight of the book.  It features twin brothers split apart at birth, one a cop and the other a crook.  'Bob & Swab' (by Klaus Nordling) are navy guys who spend as much time fighting each other as the bad guys.  'Weird Tales' (by Pierre Winters) features an old witch telling horror stories, with some effectively creepy art.  'Neon the Unknown' (by S.M. Iger and Alex Blum) is a French Foreign Legionnaire who drank from a magic oasis and gained super-powers.  Again, I remember nothing more.  A lot of the lesser material really doesn't stick in my head.  'Blaze Barton' (by Henry Kiefer) is a man in the future, where World War 2 raged for a century, who fights subterranean monsters.

With that done, I can return to where I left off.  Come back soon for All-American Comics #17!