Monday, September 18, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Adventures of Frank Race: "The Adventure of the Baradian Letters" 6/12/49

A woman Frank met during the war contacts him while he is in Paris, quickly embroiling him in a case similar to Holmes' "A Scandal in Bohemia," but also adds a murder into the mix.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Light Swords And Poison Sprays

Light swords? The good guys (and one traitor among the good guys) use light swords. George Lucas admits that ideas used in Star Wars came from many different sources, including pulp science fiction. Maybe lightsabers came from this story?  Enough has been written about the genesis of Star Wars that the answer to this question is out there somewhere, but it is now impossible to read about the light swords without thinking about Jedi Knights and lightsabers.

Anyway, the story we are talking about is "Kaldar: World of Antares," first published in the April 1933 issue of Magic Carpet Magazine. In it we discover that if you are an indigent with no family and an adventurous streak, then there are some very interesting job opportunities out there for you.

This is what Stuart Merrick discovers when he answers an advertisement asking for just those qualifications. He finds out that a group of scientists have discovered a way to transport a person to a planet in another solar system. The trouble is they don't know what he'll find when he gets there--or even if the planet is habitable. It's a dangerous job and the scientists are very upfront about this.

Merrick agrees, asking for sturdy clothes, a knapsack full of food and a pistol. I love this story and I'll be praising it here, but it annoys the heck out of me that no one--either Merrick or the supposedly genius scientists, say "Hey, maybe we should send along a camera and a few rolls of film as well."

Anyway, he'll be automatically teleported home after three days as long as he returns to the same spot on which he arrived.

The experiment is a success. Merrick arrives on the planet Antares in the middle of a vast city and causes quite a stir among the human beings who are living there. They soon have him hooked up to a language-learning machine. He's a little reluctant to go along with this at first, since it involves sticking electrodes directly into his skull. But a pretty girl named Narna convinces him to do this and he is instantly given the ability to speak to everyone.

I don't blame Merrick for this. Pretty girls can wrap me around their little fingers at a moment's notice as well.

Anyway, Merrick arrived just as the people of Kaldar (the city of humans) are deciding on their next leader. It turns out he popped up on a particular spot at just the right moment to convince nearly everyone he should take charge.

This job will entail a little more than speed learning language and (it turns out) getting married to the lovely Narna. Kaldar is surrounded by a variety of non-human races, the most dangerous of which is the spider-people calls the Cosp. The humans actually know very little about the rest of their planet, because they are hemmed in and often attacked by these enemies.

The Cosp use poison sprayers and a device that envelops an area in thick darkness. The good guys have light guns and, for hand-to-hand work, light swords that disintegrate whatever they touch. The Cosp have always had a tactical advantage, primarily from the darkness generator, and frequently raid the city for slaves.

When Kaldar is hit by a raid, Merrick comes up with a new tactic that helps even the odds. But a traitor among them kidnaps Narna and flies away with the Cosp. So Merrick has to lead a small rescue party into the Cosp city--a dwelling hollowed out of a metal mountain--to get Narna back.

It's a fun, exciting story, full of the imagination that Hamilton always brought to his tales. If I had a complaint (other than no one thought he should bring a camera--gee whiz), it's that the two guys who go along with Merrick on the rescue mission are underused. Jurul is a master swordsman and Holk is an incredibly strong warrior. Together, they make a fun team, but they don't get to do much.

But I have discovered that there are two more Kaldar stories out there. I'm reasonably familiar with Hamilton's work, but simply missed ever seeing these particular tales before. I'll have to find them and continuing reading about Merrick's adventures on Antares. I hope Jurul and Holk get more stuff to do, but I'm sure I'll enjoy the visit nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Corporate Takeovers, Mutant Assassins and Raising the Dead Back to Life--Part 2

Cover art by Jim Aparo

When we left off last week, Batman, Robin, Catwoman (currently reformed at this point in Bronze Age continuity) and secret agent King Faraday are prisoners of the yet-to-be-identified Big Bad who had been trying to take over Wayne Enterprises and put Bruce Wayne on a slab in the morgue.

This is the point in the story where Batman #334 (April 1981) begins (though Robin and Catwoman make a brief escape before being recaptured). The unlucky quartet, though they had been working the case from separate directions, end up together on a remote volcanic island in the Indian Ocean. Batman is given the choice of joining the bad guy or joining the others as slaves in the mines. Naturally, he chooses the mines.

Which is just as well, because the four make a break for it together in record time., smashing their leg chains and fighting through the genetically engineered mutates who guard them.

In fact, this issue and the next are built around several escape attempts, which always yield the heroes more information before they are recaptured. It's a nifty way of constructing the story, giving us plenty of action (with Irv Novick continuing to provide us with great art), while gradually providing plot exposition in a way that keeps the readers hooked. Marv Wolfman is the writer and continues to demonstrate why he was considered one of the best in the business.

The escapees run across Talia, who apparently has the freedom of the villain's lair.  We learn that Bruce (despite Dick Grayson's concerns) did not blindly trust her, but suspected all along that she might still be working for her dad.

And her dad is indeed the main villain. This will catch very few readers be surprise today if they are reading the story for the first time. In 1981, Ra's al Ghul had been around for a decade and had appeared in a number of important stories, but I don't know if he yet stood out as the major member of Batman's Rogue's Gallery that he has since become. So his reveal might have had a bit more impact at that time.

Anyway, Talia really does have a thing for Bruce, but she is under Ra's al Ghul's control because she's actually 150 years old and kept young only through the rare drugs he provides her.

Batman #335 has Ra's making one last attempt to get Batman to switch sides. We also learn that Ra's had been engineering the corporate takeover most to get hold of this particular island without anyone noticing it was important. There is a Lazarus Pit located there--something Ra's both needs and prefers to keep a monopoly on.

Batman refuses to join him, so Ra's decides to convert the Caped Crusader into a mindless mutate. The other heroes pull off another escape and Talia switches sides again to also help Batman. In the confusion, one of Ra's al Ghul's henchmen shoots Talia.

This requires Ra's to multi-task. He has to angrily kill the henchman, use the Lazarus Pit to save Talia, then kill Batman. This leads to a wonderfully choreographed fight scene between Batman and Ra's that runs seven pages, with Ra's taking an unplanned dip in the Lazarus Pit himself and coming out super-strong, lava-hot and completely insane.

The fight ends with Ra's supposedly dead and the heroes getting away in the nick of time just before the island blows up. Talia leaves Bruce to experience growing old naturally on her own and Bruce and Dick make friends again. Thus ends a strong four-issue story arc with great action and a very well-constructed story.

Next week, we'll return to the Old West to share a comic book adventure with yet another B-movie cowboy.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Molle Mystery Theater: "The Creeper" 3/29/46

A serial killer who targets red-headed women is terrorizing a neighborhood. One poor woman sporting red hair suspects nearly everyone she meets of being the killer. Is she right about one of them?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Good Lesson to Learn

Last year, I found and re-read a book I remembered enjoying enormously as a kid. The Hostile Beaches turned out to be quite good. It was the second of six books about the war time adventures of two young sailors.

This made me want to read the rest of the series, but they've been out of print for years and used copies for most of this series run about $30.00 each. So--though I would like to one day own the entire series--I finally acquired the first book, The Cold Seas Beyond (1963), via interlibrary loan. I ended up with a copy owned by the University of Missouri--Kansas City.

This one is set in the Aleutian Islands, not long after several of the western-most islands are occupied by the Japanese. Bob Dunbar, our point-of-view character, is just out of high school and working on a civilian salvage ship named the Otter. They are now helping the military, delivering supplies and doing salvage work when necessary.

It's another great book and I'm looking forward to reading the others. This may drive our interlibrary loan library nuts trying to track down copies for me. But that's her job, by golly, and sometimes you just have to consider people expendable.

Anyway, I'm not going to give a detailed summary of the book because I want to talk about one particular scene that really impressed me, especially since this was a Juvenile novel (what we would today call a Young Adult novel). I'm afraid it involves a spoiler, but I really want to talk about this.

The Otter is sent out to salvage a PT boat that ran aground on a remote island. The crew of the PT boat has already been evacuated, but the Navy in the Aleutians are already short on resources, so they want the boat back if possible.

The Otter has quite an adventure on this job. The weather is horrible, making just approaching the rocky shore where the PT is stranded dangerous. When the crew decides that the boat can be salvaged, this requires back-breaking work in still horrible and freezing weather to patch up a hole and pump out sea water. Rigging the towline and getting the boat off the shore is also difficult, as is towing it through the very heavy seas.

Before they can get back to safe harbor, the towing line parts. There is heavy fog and the two crewmen who were aboard the PT boat find themselves alone, adrift and with no idea where they are. Then, when the fog clears, they are spotted by American planes. They don't have a working lamp with which to send a recognition signal, so the planes attack them. The PT boat is sunk and the crewmen are found and rescued by the Otter just in time to keep them from freezing to death in the bitterly cold sea.

So all that hard labor, danger and tension had been for nothing. It's only one incident in the ship's career and they have their share of victories--including a remarkable one at the novel's climax. But I couldn't be more impressed that this sequence is included in a book targeted at younger readers.  There is no guarantees in war--or in life in general. Sometimes, you'll do your best and, through no fault of your own or no fault of anyone (heck, the American planes acting properly in sinking a boat that didn't send the recognition signal), you will fail. When this happens, it is your responsibility to bounce back and try again.

Such a great lesson and exactly the sort of thing that should be in a Young Adult novel.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Corporate Takeovers, Mutant Assassins and Raising the Dead Back to Life--Part 1

Cover art by Jim Aparo

Usually, Batman's foremost concerns are stopping costumed madmen from committing mass murder, saving the world at large from various threats, or beating up the occasional mugger. But there are times when, as Bruce Wayne, he does have to pay attention to his business ventures. In Batman #332 (February 1981), this is particularly important, because someone is trying to run Wayne Enterprises out of business and take over its assets.

This is the beginning of an engrossing four-part story written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Irv Novick (with Don Newton drawing a connected back-up story in this first issue). As the story opens, Bruce is having personal problems as well as business problems. He's gotten involved with Talia, the daughter of immortal criminal Ra's al Ghul. Bruce has apparently accepted her story that she's in love with him and will go straight, but Dick Grayson isn't convinced of this at all. This, by the way, is just a short time before Dick graduates from Robin to Nightwing. Dick storms out of the Bat Cave, vowing never to return.

Of course, we eventually learn that Batman isn't that dumb or that trusting--he does care for Talia, but keeps her in mind as a suspect even while he's working with her.

Then Bruce finds out about the business-related shenanigans. An obese rival named Gregorian Falstaff (I love that name) is behind all this, but he's using blackmail and kidnapping to get inside information on Wayne Enterprises, which makes it a matter for Batman.

Soon, there's a fight between the Dark Knight and a genetically altered strong man, in which Batman gets tossed through a wall with embarrassing ease. But I guess the law of Conservation of Ninjutsu is in effect here--where Batman is curb stomped by one mutant, he's able to fight his way through a roomful of them a little later one.

This all comes to an end when Falstaff tries to use a hostage as a shield only to have Talia kick him into the path of his own energy weapon. The guy ends up as a pile of ash on the floor. This doesn't end the case, though. By now, Batman has figured out that there was a power behind Falstaff--a greater enemy who still poses a threat.

So, in Batman #333 (March 1981), it's off to investigate a Swiss bank in hopes of back-tracking the money trail. But the bad guys are on to Batman and he soon finds himself pursued (in an excellent action scene) by assassins on skis shooting laser rifles at him. Soon after, he and Talia are attacked while he's dressed as Bruce Wayne, which means the bad guy knows his secret identity.

Bruce and Talia end up in Hong Kong, still attempting to figure out who the villain behind all this is. But the issue ends with Bruce getting captured.

While all this is going on, Robin has enlisted Catwoman as an ally to begin his own investigation into all this. At this point in Bronze Age continuity, Catwoman has reformed and had also found out Bruce Wayne was Batman. If I remember correctly, she was brainwashed back into being a villain just before the 1986 reboot. In more recent years, the idea of her reforming has been re-visited in stories I'm not familiar enough to pass judgement on. But in the early 1980s, it was handled well, making her an interesting part of the Bat Family and hinting at an eventually marriage to Bruce that would have mirrored her Earth 2 counterpart. 

Anyway, I really like the way this separate plot thread was handled. For what I would bet were reasons that included pacing and the chronology of the events, the adventures of Robin and Catwoman are regulated to 8-page backup stories in each of these two issues. The two follow their own leads, also end up in Hong Kong, team up with government agent King Faraday, then themselves get captured. 

Keeping the two story lines separate allows us to fully appreciate the contributions each of the protagonists is making to the overall plot and Marv Wolfman dovetails them together nicely. 

Next week, we'll look at the final two issues in this story arc, when the action moves to a remote island in the Indian Ocean and we finally find out who the Big Bad is this time.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Cover Cavalcade

Flash #120 from 1961 and the story's sequel from Flash #269, published 18 years later in 1979. It's interesting to note that neither golden giants or dinosaurs intelligent enough to use weapons & tools wouldn't even break the Top Ten on Flash's "weirdest stuff I've encountered" list.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

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