Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Wagon Train


For eight seasons, that darn wagon train rumbled across the plains and mountains of the Old West without ever seeming to get anywhere.

Wagon Train is a classic TV Western, with strong, intelligent scripts and some great guest stars. Actually, I've always assumed that Major Adams (Ward Bond) and his crew simply hired out on different wagon trains. When one got to its destination, they moved on and ramroded another.  But this really didn't matter. It's the individual stories that make it a strong series.

Like most TV series in the 1950s, Wagon Train got a comic book adaptation published by Dell Comics. As was usual, there were several try-out issues in Four Color before Wagon Train moved on to its own series.

The first appearance was in Four Color #895 (March 1958), which contained two stories written by Eric Friewald and Robert Schaefer, with art by Nicholas Firfires. We'll be looking at "Fury at Blue River"--the first of those stories.

It's a straightfoward and well-told tale. As was usual in the TV series, the main characters are that particular story's "guest stars," with the wagonmaster and his crew acting in supporting roles. In this case, an aging retired marshall named Davis is clashing with a young jerk named Brant. Brant has no patience for someone he thinks is too old to be useful on the journey, while Davis begins to think he needs to find ways to prove he is indeed useful.


By the way, I picture a young Dennis Hopper as Brant and perhaps Paul Fix as the marshal.

The story starts a little slowly, but this is not a problem. Effective storytelling introduces us to the characters while Firfires' nifty art gives us a sense of how much work was involved in getting a wagon train from Point A to Point B.


Flint, the train's scout, spots potential trouble when he finds some burnt-out wagons and a few corpses. There are outlaws nearby, attacking and looting whereever they can.


Guards are posted at night, but the outlaws manage to light one wagon on fire, then use this as a distraction to look other wagons.  But Davis--old but still alert--spots them and drives them off. A prisoner is taken, who pretty quickly rats out the location of the outlaw gang's hideout.



Davis, still smarting under Brant's insults, heads to the hideout on his own. This is a less-than-wise idea, as he soon finds himself wounded and pinned down. But Adams, Flint and Brant soon come riding to the rescue. After a brief tussle, the outlaws are all killed or captured. Brant apologizes to Davis for his insults while Davis admits he let his pride get the best of him when he rode out on his own.

"Fury at Blue River" does an excellent job of replicating the series' storytelling format, using that format to tell an entertaining yarn. Four Color #895 has hit the public domain, so you can read it online HERE.

Next week, we'll pay a visit to Frostbite Falls.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Friday's Favorite OTR

Candy Matson: "Egyptian Amulet" 9/12/50


Candy follows up a clue in a murder case as a favor to Lt. Mallard. To the surprise of absolutely no one listening to this episode, this eventually leads her into a rather dangerous situation.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How to Survive on Europa



Read/Watch 'em in Order #111

I made a mistake when I wrote about the first of A.E. Van Vogt's stories that were collected into the fix-up novel The War Against the Rull. Yes, I was wrong about something. It's hard to believe, I know, but it's true.

The stories all originally appeared in Astounding Science Fiction Magazine, with the tale we are discussing today getting published in the April 1940 issue. I knew of them but had never read any of them, stumbling across "Co-operate... or Else" at random and deciding that the stories would make good entries in my "Read/Watch 'em in Order" series. I decided I would review them as they appeared in the pulps and then made the unwarrented assumption that they were not significantly re-written before being included in Van Vogt's 1959 fix-up novel.

Well, I was wr......  wro....  I was... I was WRONG. There. I said it.

"Retribution" was published two years before "Co-operate... or Else," but was considered the second story chronologically when included in the novel. But I discovered when I read the pulp version that it was not originally a part of the War Against the Rull Universe.



The protagonist is a former explorer who is now a government official, visiting Jupiter's moon Europa. Named Thomas (we never learn his first name), he's there to tell the human settlers that Earth is turning the moon over to the Martian government.

Feeling betrayed, the settlers decide to fight rather than accept this. Their first act is to try to kill Thomas. This doesn't go as planned, though. As events play out, Thomas and his would-be assassin, Bartlett, are stuck together many days walk back to the nearest city, with no radio and wearing heated suits that don't stand a chance against the incredibly cold nights. They are also breathing filtered air that has a side effect of bringing on starvation very, very quickly.


Also, there's a nigh-indestructable predator called a Gryp, which loves to drink the blood of anything alive.

The two are forced to work together, though Bartlett is working on the assumption that they are doomed. But Thomas is a man of experience, modifying techniques used on other planets to kill a large, giraffe-like grass eater for food and then come up with a plan for taking out a Gryp. Deep caves provide them with a fighting chance against the cold during the nights.

But all this won't do Thomas any good at all if Barlett remains determined to eventually kill him.

The story is a solid and entertaining bit of Space Opera, which can be read online HERE.

As I've said, this is the first time I've read these stories, so I haven't yet read the version published in War Against the Rull 19 years later. I have found out that the protagonist was changed to Professor Jamieson, the hero from "Co-Operate... or Else," the location was shifted to a moon outside our solar system and the person forced to team up with Jamieson was gender-swapped. I presume the motivation for wanting to kill Jamieson was completely different, though I get the impression that the action-oriented events of the story remain the same. But I won't say that for sure. I don't want to be wrong again. The world could not survive that.

The next story is "The Second Solution," published in 1942. We'll look at that one soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Superman goes Bonkers!

cover art by Curt Swan


Action Comics #335 (March 1966) starts out with Superman a mental wreck after the events of the last issue. Even though it turned out that Lex's attempt to bring on a new Ice Age was just an illusion projected directly into the Man of Steel's brain, he's now unable to make even the simpliest decisions When another crisis happens, he's totally useless.


So maybe its time to retire from the superhero business and just live out his life as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent.


But quiet retirement isn't in the cards for poor Clark. This story is set during a time that Perry White was serving a term as U.S. Senator. Soon, Clark, Lois and Jimmy are summoned to Washington, where Perry and the president ask their help in rebuilding Superman's confidence.



I'm not sure what Lois and Jimmy were supposed to do. Clark is simply asked to contact Superman and have him come in for some tests. But those tests are rigged. Luthor has teamed up with Braniac, who replace the doctors doing the tests and rig them so Superman fails. His confidence is apparently shattered forever.

But fooling a man with superhearing and X-Ray vision isn't easy. It's a bit of a hole in the story that Lex rigged the tests in such a way that Superman could see that it was rigged. But overconfidence has always been one of Lex's flaws, so perhaps its understandable.

Now that Superman knows what's going on, he's able to turn the tables on the next attempt to drive him to Crazy Town, catching the two villains and revealing that he now knows what's going on.



Lex tries to claim a partail victory by getting away with Braniac and flying the Lexor, where the red sun prevents Superman from coming after him. But remember that Lex was particularly mad at Superman because the hero had told Adora that her husband was a super-crook. So he seems to be returning to a rather uncomfortable domestic situation.

It turns out, though, that Superman has been particularly generous in victory. He had used an amnesia gas to remove the memory of Lex's crimes from Adora. She loves him again.

Lex acknowleges Superman's gift to him, though he still maintains that the universe isn't big enough for the two of them, so he's not ready to give up on being a crook just yet. But all the same, this is actually a sweet way to bring this story to an end. Writer Leo Dorfman and artist Al Plastino created a tale that exemplifies the goofy fun of the DC Silver Age and still manage to inject a moment of sincere human emotion at the end, simply by having the DC hero who most strongly represents morality and service to others doing a nice thing for his most hated enemy.

Next week, we'll take a ride on a wagon train.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Edgar Rice Burroughs Podcast #12: The Pirates of Venus



Tim, Jess and Scott take the podcast on our first trip to Venus to discuss ERB's 1932 novel.

Download or listen to it HERE

Friday, May 15, 2020

Friday's Favorite OTR

Nick Carter: "The Case of the Red Goose Murder" 9/1/46


Nick Carter is actually absent from this episode. Nick is out of town, so his Lovely Assistant (tm) Patsy has to take the lead in figuring out who strangled a nightclub singer with a guitar string.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Shell Scott



I'm familar with the happy-go-lucky Shell Scott, a private eye created by Richard S. Prather in the 1950 novel Case of the Vanishing Beauty. He went on to appear in over 30 novels during the next three decades, as well as a metric ton of short stories. He was, apparently, able to give Mike Hammer a run for the money in popularity during the '50s.

But I never got around to reading any of the Shell Scott books or stories. There's just too much stuff out there to read and I never quite get around to reading everything.

Well, now I have. I've been reading through an anthology of hard-boiled stuff from the 1950s, which includes "The Double Take," from the July 1953 issue of Manhunt, a digest from that decade notable for the high-quality of its storie.

In this one, Shell is beginning his day by stopping by a bar for a drink--this being his way of dealing with a hangover. But he doesn't get time to enjoy his drink. A woman he's never seen before bursts in, accuses him of stealing $24,000, and then shoots at him.

She gets away through a ladies' room window. Shell heads back to his office, only to find someone at his desk claiming to be him. When Shell confronts the imposter, someone else slugs him from behind.

It's all very confusing and isn't helping his hangover at all. What follows is a short, but very well-constructed tale, with Shell playing intelligent hunches and following up solid clues to figure out what's going on. My understanding is that Prather's Shell Scott stories could often get pretty goofy and that's part of their fun. This particular story, though, is pretty straightfoward private eye stuff. Within that context, though, it's got a strong protagonist and a very-well constructed story.

It turns out that the bad guys are con artists who are using Shell's well-earned reputation as honesty as part of a ploy to pull off a series a real estate scams. Shell eventually manages to identify and catch the bad guys in the act of getting money from their latest victim. The excitement of the final confrontation is spiced up with an hilarious scene in which Shell can't convince the latest victim that he really has been scammed.

So I guess I can see where the series' reputation for a degree of ruthlessness comes in. In any case, I enjoyed this particular story enormously. It can be found in an anthology titled The Best of Manhunt.


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