Monday, May 25, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

Great cover by Herb Trimbe. Very skillful composition to fit so much into it without seeming cluttered.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dragnet: "Eric Kelby" 9/3/49

A man reports his wife is missing, but the evidence soon begins to point towards murder.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Robot Cities and Fungus Forests

Read/Watch 'em in Order #55

Captain Future's fourth adventure (cover dated Fall 1940)  has a different vibe to it from the previous three. This time, the bad guy isn't trying to overtly conquer the Solar System. Instead, he's just trying to make a ton of money.

The villain--known as the Life-Lord--has found a Fountain of Youth on one of the worlds in our system. If you drink some of the water from it, you become young again. But its highly addictive, so you have to keep drinking it or you'll abruptly re-age and die. The Life-Lord gets people hooked, then drains them of all their wealth to keep them supplied.

The novel was given the generic title Galaxy
Mission when republished as a paperback.
The set-up seems like a deliberate metaphor for drug addiction. That seems just a little bit odd for a story from 1940--certainly drug addiction existed, but it wasn't in the public eye anywhere near to the degree it would be a decade or two later. So the metaphor might be accidental.

In either case, the story is a good one, playing out like a police procedural. Captain Future and gang start on Venus, setting up a sting operation to catch one of the Life-Lord's pushers. This goes awry and Grag the Robot is captured.

Grag's escape involves blowing himself into space, then getting rescued by a passing space liner. Circumstances require him to pose as a nearly-mindless automaton and he's claimed by a guy who runs a traveling freak show, which is performing on Mars. Grag's exit from the freak show is truly hilarious.

By this time, Captain Future is also on Mars, following a clue that takes him to the Machine City--a city run by robots whose organic masters died off millennia ago. From here, the next clue takes him to Saturn, where the villain at one point releases various creatures from a zoo in an attempt to kill the hero. There is more investigation, a couple of murders and a nice twist at the end involving the Life-Lord's true identity. Future finds one hide-out in the poisonous Fungus Forest, then eventually finds the location of the source of the drug in yet another supposedly inaccessible area of the ringed planet.

I really like the balance Hamilton strikes with this story. It is indeed a police procedural, but Space Opera elements are still there to fire up our imaginations as the story progresses.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Guide my hand, my father--as I avenge your death!"

It was the most awesome accomplishment in the history of mankind!

I'm talking about Power Records, of course. If anyone ever uses the phrase "most awesome accomplishment in the history of mankind," the thoughts of any thinking person naturally goes to Power Records.

Power Records was a sub-label of Peter Pan Records, which specialized in children's music. Power Records branched off into comic books and TV shows. What you did was buy the P.R. adaptation of a Marvel or DC comic book, which came with the comic AND a 7" record dramatizing the sound effects and dialogue. Then you could read along as the story was acted out for you.

When I was a kid, I leaned more towards Marvel than towards DC (my preferences balanced out as I got older), so either I didn't pick up the DC adaptations, couldn't afford them or simply didn't see them at the store. But I (or my younger brother--don't remember which of us it was) ended up owning at least four of the Marvel Comics records--Dracula, Spider Man, Hulk and Captain America.

The Cap record was from Captain America and Falcon #168 (December 1973), a great story written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Sal Buscema. I'm pretty sure I'd already read it when it first came out, but getting it with a soundtrack was a singularly amazing way to re-visit the story.

It starts out with Cap feeling a little down--he is, after all, a man out of time and its understandable that this would make him feel out-of-place from time to time.

But this time, the feeling is precognitive, since a threat from the past is about to explode into the present. A new villain called the Phoenix, who wields a death ray, attacks Cap. He claims to be looking for vengeance, but as far as Cap knows, he's never met the guy before.

The first encounter ends when the Phoenix's ray gun runs out of juice and he runs for it. But on his next try, he captures the shield slinger and slaps him into a death trap.

It turns out the Phoenix is Helmut Zemo, the son of the original Baron Zemo, out for revenge. His death trap involves lowering Cap into a boiling vat of Adhesive X, his dad's greatest invention. But Falcon shows up in the nick of time. During the ensuing fight, Helmut falls into the vat himself.

There's a few contrived elements to the story--Falcon survives the first fight through dumb luck when Helmut's gun runs out of power (after just a few shots). Cap's plan to track his new adversary down involves just jumping around the rooftops until he gets attacked, which doesn't seem particularly clever.

But those are minor points. The plot is otherwise well-constructed. It's the emotions behind it that give the story real backbone. Cap's depression is realistic, but its not over-played; nor does he allow it to interfere with his fighting abilities or sense of duty. 

Helmut's monologue, in which he reveals his identity and gives us his background, is exceptionally well-done. It actually allows us to feel a level of pity for someone who had a horrible childhood and lost both his parents, but does this without excusing his actions as an adult in the slightest. 

Which makes Cap's reaction to Helmut all the more awesome. Helmut is obviously insane and trying to kill the hero, but Cap simply wants to stop him without hurting him. He sees Helmut as yet another victim of the war. He has to be stopped, of course, and certainly needs to be jailed or institutionalized, but Cap's first reaction is one of compassion and a desire to help. And all this directed towards a man who was actively trying to kill him.

This is why Captain America, when he's written by someone who gets the character, is one of the best superheroes ever. He does not fight for revenge or love of adventure, but he fights to protect the innocent. His entire character is driven by doing what is right, while his sense of right and wrong is centered on helping those in need. 

You can argue, as Falcon briefly does during the story, that Cap's timing is a little off. Let's capture Helmut and make sure he can't murder anyone--THEN see about getting him help. But Cap's motivation is sound. 

So it's a good story. And the Power Records adaptation highlights this. It does the story straight--without changing anything or editing anything out. And, with the magic of YouTube, it's now possible to re-visit it:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dimension X: "Child's Play" 6/24/51

Don't you hate it when time warps cause you to get packages delivered to you from the future? Meek and mild Sam Webber gets "Build-a-Man" set delivered to him at his apartment.

But maybe if he builds a more outgoing and personable version of himself, he might win the hand of the girl he loves. What could possibly go wrong with a plan like that?

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Read/Watch 'em In Order #54

In 1934, the movie version of Perry Mason was based in L.A. (as he was in the novels) running a huge law firm with scores of employees (as he did NOT do in the novels). But I guess he got tired of this, because when the curtain rises on the second Mason film (1935's The Case of the Curious Bride), he's working in San Francisco and no longer seems to be associated with a large firm. Della Street is still with him, of course, because Perry Mason simply cannot exist in any incarnation without Della at his side. The universe would implode if this weren't the case.

When I reviewed the first film, I mentioned that Erle Stanley Gardner was unhappy with this films. And, again, it's easy to see why. This Perry Mason is similar to the original in one important way--he'll go all out for his client. But otherwise, it's a completely different guy.

The movie Perry is a lot more prone to make off-the-cuff jokes, is said to be a ladies' man, and is a gourmet cook. I don't recall the original Perry ever so much as cracking an egg.

But Warren William always infuses his B-movie roles with humor and charm. I'm a huge fan of both the novels and the classic TV series, but I simply can't find it in my heart to be annoyed with these films. They're simply too much fun.

The plot does follow the novel it's based on with reasonable faithfulness. Perry's client is Rhoda Montaine, who has re-married after her first husband supposedly died. But husband #1 faked his death and is now blackmailing Rhoda. So when he turns up dead for real, the cops peg Rhoda for the crime.

When she's badgered into signing a false statement to catch her in a lie, the cops use this to "prove" her guilt.

So Perry has to catch the real killer to prove Rhoda is innocent. Helping him, by the way, is an ex-boxer who now works as Perry's Man Friday, driver, assistant investigator and part-time comic relief. This is "Spudsy" Drake.

Spudsy? Poor Paul Drake. He is key part of the triumvirate of protagonists that make the novels so good, but despite this he didn't appear at all in the first film. Now he finally shows up, only to get stuck with an annoying nick-name.

But Spudsy is played by Allen Jenkins (who played a cop in the first film). Jenkins was a character actor who made a career out of playing stooges and henchmen, usually giving those characters a comic bent. But he gave a nice balance to the comedy, never taking it too far and always making sure we would know that his characters were competent. For fans of classic films, Jenkins is one of those actors who gets to be an old friend.

The homicide cop who clashes with Perry in Curious Bride is played by Barton MacLane, yet another old friend to movie fans. There's a bit of irony here--later in the 1930s, both MacLane and Jenkins would get chances to play homicide cop Steve MacBride in the Torchy Blane movies.

One more interesting bit of casting: The murdered husband is played by Errol Flynn, who was about to become a star that same year when he played Captain Blood. Both Curious Bride and Blood are directed by Michael Curtiz.

I know coincidences like this aren't that unlikely in the Studio Era days, but gee whiz, The Case of the Curious Bride is the starting point for some cosmic-level game of "six degrees of separation."

Some of the changes from the novel reflect the differences between storytelling in the different media. Some of the changes seem random--why San Franciso? Did Warner Brothers have some new stock footage of the city they wanted to use?

But in terms of story, it's a solid mystery, with Perry's investigation moving along in a logical and satisfying way. Like all good B-movies, the pacing is brisk, the cast is fun and the story is sound.

Oh, well. Warren William may not be the "real" Perry Mason, but, by golly, we still have a good time hanging out with him.

And we'll hang out with him some more. There's still two Mason films starring W.W. for us to take a look at.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Horse No One Could Tame!

 There were quite a few comic books starring animals during the Golden and Silver Ages. Many of them were published by Dell--Silver, Champion, Trigger, Rin Tin Tin and Lassie were among that crowd.

cover art tentatively credited to Dick Giordano

But other publishers jumped aboard the animal-as-star bandwagon. Charlton, for instance, gave us Black Fury #1 in May 1955. The ebony horse had a 57 issue run, with the final issue coming out in 1966.

Making a horse the star of a Western fits the stories into a relatively narrow template in terms of characterization--the horse is always stronger, faster and smarter than the average horse, showing pretty much human intelligence in his actions. Everything that happens in any one story is predicated on that being true.  But within that template, a good writer could come up with a fair amount of variety.

Black Fury's deal was that he hated humans. In fact, according to a caption in his first story, he's "consumed with a burning hatred for man." But, as it turns out, he is willing to make temporary alliances and he's quite capable of feeling gratitude towards a man or woman who helps him out. Just don't expect him to wear a saddle permanently.

Fury's premiere story opens when a saddle tramp named Cliff is lassoed and captured by a masked gunman.  The gunman ties Cliff to a tree, rides off on Cliff's horse, then returns an hour later to give Cliff his own horse back.

An attentive reader will probably figure out what's going on quicker than poor Cliff does. The outlaw used Cliff's horse to rob a bank, so the pursuing posse is now looking for that horse rather than the one the bad guy gets back. It's not a bad plan and Cliff soon finds himself captured by the posse.

Cliff makes a break for it and does the old "jump-off-a-cliff-into-a-river" trick to get away.  Later, he joins up with a group who are trying to capture a famous wild horse named Black Fury.

Shenanigans follow, as Black Fury keeps outrunning or just plain outsmarting the men. Finally, Cliff comes up with a plan that allows them to finally catch the horse. But he soon learns the group he's fallen in with won't win any ASPCA awards. When Black Fury refuses to be ridden, one of the men starts to whip him. Cliff objects to that, only to then find out the leader of the group is the outlaw who framed him for robbing a bank.

Cliff is about to be lynched, but Black Fury (freed by Cliff ) doubles back to save him. Cliff and Fury then team up long enough to run the leader down, who by now is so terrified of the horse that he confesses his guilt regarding the bank robbery. The story ends with Cliff setting Fury free to run wild once more.

 The writer is not credited (the art is tentatively credited to Stan Campbell). But whomever wrote it knew what he was doing.  I'm impressed by how well constructed and paced the story is. A lot of stuff happens over the course of just 11 pages. The tale is essentially divided into three acts--Cliff getting framed and escaping from posse; Cliff and the others trying to capture Black Fury; Cliff and Fury teaming up to save each other and capture the bad guys.

But the events never seem rushed, with one act flowing smoothly into the next. Though the outlaw leader's confession is a bit contrived, the script and the art otherwise meld together nicely into a fast-moving and satisfying tale. Black Fury isn't as famous as Silver, Trigger or Champion, but he earned the right to hold his head high while riding alongside them.

 You can read Black Fury #1 online HERE.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

All three of these covers are from 1968. Apparently, Batman and the Boy Wonder had a rocky year.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Out of the Country until next Saturday.

As of today, I'll be in a fairly remote area of Guatemala for a week, teaching at a conference for local pastors. I've already have posts ready to go on the regular schedule this week, but my Internet access will be spotty and there may be a delay in approving any comments that anyone leaves. Please be patient if you leave a comment--it WILL post eventually.
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