Monday, September 26, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

I haven't read this one, but the Mike Grell cover does its job well in making me want to read it. GL and his arch-enemy both captured by a night in armor--how the heck did that happen?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke: "Wagon Show" 5/24/59

The circus comes to Dodge City! You'd think this would be a good thing, but Marshall Dillon is very uhappy. He knows the last two cities at which this particular circus played had deadly riots.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

PT Boats from My Childhood, Part 1

It's finally over. My life-long quest--a quest for which I would have spent my fortune and gladly betrayed friends and family--has at last been fulfilled.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I have been trying to identify and re-read a particular book I originally read when I was about 11-years old. It was one of two young adult novels involving PT boats during World War II. For years, my search was confused by the fact that I didn't remember that there were indeed two different PT boat novels and I was mixing together plot points when I searched for it.

But finally, I discovered one of them: Torpedo Run in Iron Bottomed Bay, by John Clagett. I'll actually be reviewing that one soon in a second "PT Boats from My Childhood" post.  It was reading Clagett's book that convinced me there was a second young adult PT novel out there, containing the plot points I remembered (the first name of one of the characters and a general memory of several of the battle scenes) which weren't in the Clagett book.

With a vital clue recently provided from Goodreads "What's the Name of That Book" forum, I was finally able to find the other PT boat novel. This is actually the second in a series of six books featuring young sailors Bob Dunbar and Gary Lunt, who end up serving on different types of vessels over the course of the series.

The Hostile Beaches (1964), by Gordon D. Shirreffs, is further proof that I had impeccable taste in reading materials and films when I was a kid. Whether it was a TV series novelization, my first comic book, or a movie that I enjoyed as a child, when I revisit them as an adult decades later, they always turn out to be great.

Bob and Gary start out the novel on a destroyer during the Solomon Islands campaign. After a night action,  in which their ship and two other destroyers attack and sink some Japanese vessels, their ship hits a mine and also sinks.

Circumstances lead to Bob and Gary being reassigned to a PT boat. Bob is a signalman, but also has a lot of experience handling small craft. Gary is known for running off at his mouth when he should shut up and does something incredibly stupid from time to time, but is one of the best Gunner's Mates in the Navy. In fact, he convinces the PT boat's commander that he's worthwhile when he uses one of the boat's twin-barreled .50 caliber machine guns to shoot down a Japanese bomber.

This leads to the action scene I still remembered vividly years later. During the Solomon campaign, the Japanese would use barges to sneak reinforcements and supplies to contested islands at night. PT Boats were often assigned to "barge-bopping," which meant finding and sinking these small craft before they reached their destination. This was made dangerous by the fact that the barges were armor-plated and equipped with cannon and machine guns.

So when the American boat attacks what turns out to be eight barges, they have a fight on their hands. And it is an exciting, suspenseful fight in which the PT boat takes damage and loses a man, but sinks five of the barges and drives the others into the hands of other PTs.

The next job involves sailing into enemy waters, hiding out in a small river on an island during the day and barely avoiding discovery by Japanese troops. They are delivering radio equipment to an Australian coast watcher, but bad luck leaves Bob and Gary stranded on the island with the coast watcher. They begin to help out, taking over the job completely when the coast watcher grows too sick from a bullet wound to keep working. And, since the Japanese are building a large base on the island, getting a steady stream of information out to the Allies is vital--even if this means dodging enemy soldiers & guard dogs, working with an unreliable radio and risking attacks by various poisonous animals that live in the thick jungle. These last few chapters are incredibly tense.

The Hostile Beaches also includes technical accuracy in terms of equipment and weapons, an understanding of realistic military tactics, likable characters and just the right amount of humor seeded throughout the story to make it seem real.

I really did have great taste in stuff as a kid.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Shogun Warriors, Part 6: Giant Robots vs. the Yakuza

Shogun Warriors #15 (April 1980)  is a filler issue, with Steven Grant (writer) and Mike Vosburg (artist) taking over for Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe. (Trimpe still did the cover.) But it's a really good filler issue, telling a truly exciting story.

The Shogun pilots are all back in Japan, getting in some training together. But all three of them are awkward in their control of the robots.

There's a good reason for this. Richard Carson isn't really Richard Carson. He's a member of the Yakuza--the Japanese mafia--wearing a Carson mask. The real Carson has been kidnapped.

The fake Carson has been slipping neurotoxins into Savage's and Genji's food, which is making those two groggy and uncertain when they pilot their Shogun Warriors.

The plan, of course, is for the Yakuza to gain control of the robots, since heavily-armed giant robots can be an enormous benefit to a criminal organization. If the local shopkeeper isn't paying his protection money, a visit from a 300-foot tall metal monster will probably get him to cooperate pretty quickly.

This story, by the way, is apparently a flashback, as the next issue will pick up right after the end of the Dr. Demonicus story arc.

The Yakuza plan begins to unravel when they decide to tie Carson to the seat of a car and drive the car off a cliff to crash on top of the Shogun base. Carson, remember, is a stunt driver. So, even though it means driving with his feet, he manages to steer the car away from the cliff and down a road.

I really enjoy that scene. Vosberg does a great job choreographing the action and it shows Carson being clever as well as having fast reflexes.

Carson's escape blows his double's cover, which leads to a straight-on fight between the robots. Unfortunately, the two good guy pilots are still groggy from the toxins they've been fed. The Yakuza begins to wipe the floor with them.

But if the good guys can't win the fight on their own, they can at least distract the villain. This allows Carson to get on board Raydeen and, after getting punched around himself for a few panels, finally get the drop on the Yakuza. After that, it's pretty easy to catch the remainder of the gang.

So Shogun Warriors #15 is indeed a filler issue--a break from the usual robot vs. monster stories with guest writers/artists stepping up to the plate. But it's what a filler issue should be--telling an exciting story in its own right that remains true to the characters and spirit of the book.

Next week, we'll travel with British commandos through the Sahara desert.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

During the Silver Age, Superman's friends used to go insane with disturbing frequency. Fortunately, they usually got better.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: "Lennie's Locket" 11/23/42

Everyone wonders why Lennie--a big, burly man--wears a locket and values it so highly. Oddly, the answer might involve outlaws who are apparently black-mailing the owner of the ranch at which Lennie works.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Reluctant Preacher

Wild Bill Elliot spent years making entertaining B-Westerns, perhaps being best remembered for playing comic strip cowboy Red Ryder in 16 films during the 1940s.

In 1949, though, he made a Western with themes and emotions that go a bit deeper than most B-Westerns usually did. In Hellfire, Elliot is caught cheating at cards in an out-of-the-way saloon and is about to be gunned down. An itinerate preacher (who had been rather unsuccessful preaching to the denizens of the saloon) intervenes. The preacher is badly wounded, but Elliot manages to get the drop on the crowd and get away with the wounded man.

The preacher's wounds are fatal. To pay back the debt that he feels he owes, Zeb (Elliot's character) promises to race money for a church. He also accepts the preacher's Bible as a gift and actually starts reading it.

The movie time-skips ahead to show us that Zeb has been travelling from town to town, trying to raise money for a church, but meeting mostly contempt and mockery. We see that he's trying to live up to what he reads in his new "rule book," though he occasionally struggles with his temper and in trying to decide what is the right thing to do in specific situations.

For instance, when he has a chance to capture a female outlaw named Doll Brown (Marie Windsor) for the reward, he decides he can't build a church off someone else's misfortune. So he rides along with Doll, hoping to convince her to give herself up.

But Doll has a mission herself--she is determined to find her long-lost sister, presuming that her sister is living the same degrading life as a dance-hall girl that Doll herself lived before she learned to use a six-shooter.

Complicating this is a marshal (Forrest Tucker) who has been on Doll's trail for months and has personal reasons for finding her. The marshal is an old friend of Zeb's and turns out to have a connection with Doll's sister. Events play out in a way that leaves Zeb obligated to keep secrets about Doll from the marshal and secrets about the marshal from Doll. He watches has both walk down self-destructive paths without any apparent way for him to intervene.

The movie treats the themes of faith and the power of Scriptures with complete sincerity. Elliot also gives his role sincerity and subtle emotions. Windsor and Tucker are good (Tucker is one of those actors who is always fun to watch) and the movie's climax has a lot of power to it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Stealing Time

When time on the planet Earth starts running backwards--well, even by the standards of Superman's unusual life, that's really weird.

It happens in Superman #345 (March 1980) while Superman is stopping an out-of-control satellite from crashing into Earth. Suddenly, time moves backwards. Superman un-stops the satellite and flies backwards to the WGBS building, where he (as Clark) starts reciting the news backwards.

Within a few minutes (within a negative few minutes?) Clark realizes that something is wrong. He's able to mentally break free from the reversed flow of time, but then the rest of the world (still flowing in reverse) fades away from him.

I love how Superman's ability to break free is explained. Because he's done so much time travelling over the years--especially while he was a member of the Legion of Super Heroes--he's built up an immunity to chronal disruptions. He's the only person on Earth not affected by the reverse.

It's too bad a cameo by Rip Hunter couldn't have been worked in to the story, since it could be presumed he's also built up an immunity. But perhaps Rip was "currently" in the past and the time reversal just hadn't caught up to him yet.

Superman chases the time stream and finds an alien ship draining Earth of its chronal energy.  Curt Swan designs a really nifty ship here, by the way.

The aliens aboard the ship are a species that travels sideways in time. After their ship was damaged in an accident, they lost most of the chronal energy they use as fuel, so they are using Earth to re-fuel.

Since that means eventually wiping out humanity, Superman does object to this. There is very briefly a moral quandary for the Man of Steel. If he stops the re-fueling, the aliens will die and he's sworn never to allow anyone to die.

But he quickly spots evidence that the aliens are lying about their supposed "accident." They are actually at war with another "sideways in time" race and suffered battle damage. Superman stops the chronal drainage and, though displeased with the aliens, gives them a super-shove to send them through time back to their home. Earth reverts to normal after its chronal energy is returned.

What's interesting about this story is how much information writer Gerry Conway must give us to explain what's going on. Every page or two has yet another information dump. Often, this would make a story slow-paced and perhaps even a little boring.

But that's not a problem here. In addition to Curt Swan's spaceship and alien designs, the ideas behind the story are fun. There's the reason for Superman's time-travel immunity; the idea of a species that travels sideways in time rather than through space; and Superman's deductions that the aliens are (in part) lying to him. There is a lot of dialogue here to explain all this, but we have a great time reading those explanations. "When Time Ran Backward!" is a prime example of how a good science fiction or fantasy story can really touch your sense of wonder and imagination.

Next week, we find out that giant robots really need to be equipped with the equivalent of a car alarm.

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