Sunday, April 15, 2012

June 1940: Flash Comics #8

Cover by Sheldon Moldoff

'The Flash!' (by Gardner Fox and Everett E. Hibbard): Flash goes up against a manufacturer who is forcing builders to buy his substandard building material. It's not the most exciting material, and the Flash is still doing that annoying trick of being invisible everywhere. There's one amusing scene where the Flash becomes a wrestler, but otherwise it's slim pickings.

'Cliff Cornwall' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): Cliff investigates the disappearance of a submarine, and discovers that it has been taken by Doctor Brine and his underwater pirates. Brine has discovered an amazing fact: apparently, with a steady diet of raw carrots, apples and beetroot, a man can breath underwater for up to an hour! Wow, I did not know that. This is pretty good by Cliff Cornwall standards.

'The Whip' (by John B. Wentworth and Homer Fleming): This is a sequel of sorts to last issue's story. What I've discovered is that that story starred the original Whip of the 1800s, not the "modern day" Whip. In retrospect the time frame made it pretty obvious. In this story, some ranchers discover the buried treasure from last issue, and a banker tries to fleece them out of it. It's nothing special.

'King Standish' (by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert): The Witch steals some rubies and hides out on an island, and the King goes after her to retrieve them. The King is infallible in his disguises, and the Witch is made to seem so utterly incompetent that it doesn't feel right. The King just seems like a jerk for toying with her so much.

'Johnny Thunderbolt' (by John B. Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier): Having lost his job and his girl, Johnny is determined to win them both back. Which he seemingly does by exposing a magician who takes his audience's money and returns them counterfeit bills. The humour and situations in this strip are starting to get a little too forced.

'Rod Rian of the Sky Police' (by Paul H. Jepsen): Rod and his friends escape from the gorilla men, and trap them in a cave. This strip has a skeleton fighting a giant gorilla, and I think that's all I need to say.

'The Money Vanishes' (by Ed Wheelan): A female hypnotist is making wealthy businessmen withdraw their money and give it to her, and a detective stops her. It's pretty rudimentary stuff, but it's not badly told.

'The Strange Formula B-9' (by Evelyn Gaines): A scientist invents a formula that can make animals and plants grow very quickly, and uses it to upstage the heads of a rival university. I gather that it's meant to be amusing, but it did nothing for me.

'Hawkman' (by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff): Hawkman tackles a mad scientist who is using a machine to manipulate sunspot activity and make people go crazy. This guy gets the full treatment, as Hawkman throws a spiked mace right into his head. A few panels later he gets shot, but I honestly think the mace did him in. It's another story that doesn't have a great deal going for it. Luckily it has Sheldon Moldoff's art, which is always welcome.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

June 1940: Adventure Comics #52

Cover by Bernard Baily

'The Sandman' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): A thug steals a glove from the home of Dian Belmont, the Sandman's partner, and leaves an amber apple behind. It turns out to be a plot to frame Dian for a gold robbery. The oddness of the original theft sets the mystery up well, but I don't think it really works in the end. No adequate explanation is ever given for the amber apple.

'Rusty and His Pals' (possibly by Bill Finger): Rusty and his pals have been captured by tribesmen, along with the villainous Unholy Three. The tribal chief sets a gorilla on them, and the Unholy Three are all killed. Rusty and his pals escape through the use of ventriloquism (which the writer pulls out of his arse, I might add), and return to American laden with gold. This all feels very cursory, and has all the trappings of a story wrapped up prematurely because the series has been cancelled.  Which, I have just discovered, is exactly the case.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): Fang Gow is using a "spoilator ray" to rot all the food rations in Paris, causing the people to grow restless. Barry and Le Grand stop him, Fang Gow escapes, and it's just another average story for this strip.

'The Red Metal' (by Gardner Fox): In the first part of this prose story, explorer Terry Mallory was captured by African natives while searching for a lost city. In this part, Terry and another captive speak through a religious idol and give orders that allow them to escape. It's specifically set up for a sequel, but it certainly doesn't merit one.

'Steve Conrad, Adventurer' (by Jack Lehti): Steve must rescue a friend's daughter who has been kidnapped by an island tribe. Not only does this story feature Chang, Steve's comedy sidekick and the most egregiously racist Chinese caricature I've ever seen, it has some unflattering portrayals of the natives, and it also has Steve blacking up as a disguise. There's nothing else in the story that can offset that kind of thing.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Chad Grothkopf): Steve Carson captures a smuggler who is bringing drugs into the US by train. Nothing to see here.

'Cotton Carver and the Flying Men' (by Gardner Fox and Jack Lehti): The wolf woman Lupa is kidnapped by the winged Slooees, and taken to their city in the sky. Which beggars the question: if Cotton is having all of his adventures underground, how is there a sky at all? There's also a ton of sexual tension between Cotton and Lupa ("you're wonderful" being Golden Age speak for "let's fuck"), but I thought he was with Princess Deela? He only leaves her behind for a few panels before he's flirting with someone else.

'Socko Strong' (by Albert Sulman and Joseph Sulman): Socko and Jerry stumble across the lab of the Great I, a mad scientist with the power to turn invisible. Most of the story is a fight scene with the Great I attacking Socko and Socko trying to hit him. I quite enjoyed the cat and mouse game. The story ends with the Great I victorious, and Socko about to be blown up by a bomb.

'Anchors Aweigh' (by Bart Tumey): Don and Red are captured by gun runners, and proceed to make trouble until the navy catches up with them. The bad guys are so stupid for letting them run free that they deserve everything they get.  This is the final appearance of 'Anchors Aweigh', which has been chugging along since Adventure Comics #28.  It's never been great, but it's also never been terrible that I can recall.

'Presenting... Tick-Tock Tyler (The Man of the Hour) as the Hourman' (by Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily): Someone is impersonating the Hour-Man and committing crimes. The real Hour-Man investigates, and discovers that the culprit is his new lab assistant, under hypnosis by the villainous Dr. Clegg. This Clegg guy is presented as a returning foe, but I'll be buggered if I remember him.

June 1940: Detective Comics #41

 Cover by Bob Kane

'Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): It's another story with Robin as the star, as he's enrolled in a school to investigate a string of murders. It's set up well, and ticks all the boxes in the conclusion; this is a mystery that plays fair. Even so, I kept wishing for more Batman. Robin has taken over the strip at this point. I wonder if there were kids in 1940 yearning for the Robin-less glory days of just a few months ago?

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Maurice Kashuba): Bart puts a stop to a US military clerk who is selling secret plans to foreign spies. Straightforward and dull.

'Red Logan' (by Ed Winiarski): Criminal Bugsie Goron is sentenced to death, but vows to come back and kill the judge and jury. He's killed, but he has a twin brother that that starts killing disguised as his brother's ghost. The potential is there, but the execution is lacking in excitement.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jack Lehti): The Crimson Avengers smashes a ring of people smugglers. It's pretty dull.

'Speed Saunders Ace Investigator and the Railroad Mystery' (by Fred Guardineer): Speed investigates the murder of a telegraph operator, and finds that it is the work of a gang of train saboteurs. Speed certainly enjoys beating the hell out of them, but his exuberance is the only thing of note in this story.

'Theft at the Fair' (by Gardner Fox): This prose story is continued from last issue, but to be honest the first chapter was superfluous. It's about a jewel thief, who is caught because of some curious notion that a real workman never strikes a match on the bottom of his shoe. And if he's not a real workman, by golly he must be a crook! It's a hell of a logical leap, regardless of whether it works.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Don Lynch): An expert on Incan history and relics murders an academic who has been debunking theories about the Incas. Steve investigates, and catches the killer, and there's not much else to say. This really is a boring issue of Detective Comics.

'Cliff Crosby' (by Chad Grothkopf): Cliff tackles the Invisible Man, a spy who is trying to steal an experimental submarine. Again this is very dull, and the villain's plan doesn't make much sense. I still can't figure out why he was posing as a scientist and working with Cliff.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Howard Sherman): Slam helps an heiress who is being swindled and threatened with murder by her guardian. It's a solid enough story, but it's completely lacking in the elements that made Slam Bradley great. Shorty is completely sidelined, there's no humour, and the action scenes are pedestrian. It's very disappointing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

May 1940: Mystic Comics #4

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'The Blue Blaze' (by Creators Unknown): Not only do the villains in this story live in a place called Horror Hall. Not only is their leader called Doctor Vortex. No, these guys go one better by naming themselves the Trustees of Hate, which is easily the raddest bad guy name to date. Their plan is to use a hate ray to foment war between two European nations. The Blue Blaze emerges from a corpse-filled lime pit to deal with them. He kills Doctor Vortex by grabbing him and jumping back into the lime pit, and the story ends with a great final line: "And thus the two men descended into the murky lime pit - ONE will return." Yes, this is crude and simplistic. But it's got atmosphere and an absurd sense of the grotesque. And the TRUSTEES OF HATE!

'Hercules' (by Malcolm Kildale): A mad scientist plans to use a tank-like war machine to conquer the world. Hercules smashes it. There's not much else to be said about it, unless I bring up the panel where the scientist admires Herc's "perfect body".

'Thin Man' (by Klaus Nordling): Bruce Dickson gets lost while exploring the Himalayas, and ends up in a lost city, where the locals teach him their secrets. Armed with the ability to become paper-thin, and accompanied by the girl Ollala, Bruce returns to America to fight crime. Which he does by tackling a racketeer. The origin is completely by the numbers, as is the rest of the plot. But the Thin Man's powers are quirky and interesting. I'd love to see what a more creative artist could do with the concept.

'Flexo' (by Ben Flinton and Bill O'Connor): Flexo, along with his creators Joel and Josh Williams, must go to Teutonia to recover a powerful stolen formula. Which they do. Flexo is really not very interesting, and it doesn't help that he has a terrible design.

'Black Widow' (by George Kapitan and Harry Sahle): Claire Voyant is a psychic. When a woman complains about her witchcraft, Claire places her whole family under the curse of Satan. They all die in a car crash, except for James Wagler, who returns to murder Claire in revenge. Claire goes to Hell, where Satan gives her the guided tour then sends her back to Earth as his emissary. She kills Wagler, and Satan talks about his plans to use her to collect the souls of evil-doers. It's a bizarre premise, to say the least. And I question whether James Wagler was an evil man. Besides that, doesn't Satan get those evil souls regardless? It's a flawed story, but still an intensely intriguing one. I really want to see where this goes.

'The Invisible Man' (by George Harrison): The Invisible Man investigates the murder of a famous actress which is made to look like suicide. The culprits are a gang of generic crooks, and no motive is ever given for the murder. Most of the story is set on a ship, with the Invisible Man sneaking around causing trouble, but it's fairly uninteresting.

'Devil-God' (by Andrew McWhiney): In this prose story, a naturalist and a big game hunter go after the native "Devil-God", a giant lizard, and kill it. This story is far too admiring of the "Great White Hunter" archetype for its own good.

'Merzah the Mystic' (by Russ Lanford): Merzah is a mystic (duh) who fights against communist and fascist spies. In this story it's the Japanese, who aren't as badly portrayed as I would have expected. It's terribly dull though; some good old-fashioned Golden Age racism might have livened it up a little. I'm also getting sick of magician heroes. Merzah seems to have nothing more than some mild psychic powers, which doesn't help him to stand out.

'Dynamic Man' (by Creators Unknown): Dynamic Man goes up against a mad scientist who is stealing gold by using a dirigible and a special magnet. Again this is quite dull, but there is one bizarre scene. Dynamic Man gets captured and wrapped in a rubber sheet, and he escapes by gnawing his way out. Even the dullest comic book stories can pull a priceless moment like that out at you.  It's the last time the Dynamic Man appears in the Golden Age.

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.