Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Tarzan: "Trophy Room" 8/16/51

In a variation of "The Most Dangerous Game," a madman hunts the Jungle Lord for sport.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thief, Murderer or Detective?

Read/Watch 'em In Order#52

Arsene Lupin Returns (1938) is the direct sequel to 1932's Arsene Lupin, though the now-retired Gentleman Thief has transformed from John Barrymore into Melvyn Douglas.

I'm okay with this, though, since Douglas is really good in the part. We find him working as a Gentleman Farmer in France, apparently retired for good from criminal enterprises. He's now using the name Rene Farrand. The police aren't looking for him otherwise, presuming he's dead after jumping off a Paris bridge at the end of the last film. He's also in love with the beautiful Lorraine de Grissac, played by Virginia Bruce (who is indeed pleasant to gaze upon). Life is good.

Or perhaps not so good. His quiet life is interrupted when a valuable emerald is stolen and Arsene Lupin's calling card is left behind. Lupin/Farrand is being framed and it might in the end be necessary to employ his old skills as as thief to prove he isn't a thief.

Warren William co-stars as an American insurance investigator who soon suspects Lupin's real identity. This leads to an odd circle of suspicions held by various characters. William thinks Lupin actually is guilty; the police inspector (George Zucco) suspects William of being guilty; Lupin knows he's innocent, but at one point he has to tell a couple of old colleagues that he's guilty in order to trick them into helping him prove his innocence. Along the way, a fence who briefly had the emerald is murdered. Lupin now has to clear himself of murder rather than just thievery.

It's a potentially convoluted plot, but a good script and straightforward direction by George Fitzmaurice keep the story on track. The one weak point might be that we (the audience) are meant to doubt Lupin's innocence ourselves, but it's really no spoiler to tell you that there's never any doubt that he's the good guy this time around.

The cast is great. I've already mentioned that Douglas slips into the role quite nicely. Warren William
is excellent as the American detective--though he is wrong in his initial suspicion of Lupin, it's clear all along that he's intelligent and capable.

In fact, that's one of the strengths of the film. Even when William or policeman Zucco are wrong in their suspicions, those suspicions are reasonable in of themselves. They are smart and professional investigators, making them worthy opponents for Arsene Lupin.

Two other notable cast members are E.E. Clive and Nat Pendleton as two of Lupin's former colleagues from his days as a thief. Readers of my blog know how much I like the character actors from the 1930s/40s/50s. Seeing these two guys apparently having fun with their parts is an added pleasure for an already entertaining movie.

That's it for the Lupin films, though I would have loved to see more sequels in which Lupin and William's characters teamed up to solve a few more crimes. Sadly, that never happened.

But Warren William did get a chance to jump to the other side of the fence a year later when he began playing the Lone Wolf, a yet another former thief who must often play detective to clear himself of murder. So perhaps this film was good practice for him. Ironically, Melvyn Douglas had played the Lone Wolf in a movie in 1935.  The Gentleman Thief turned Detective was a common archetype back in the day. Which was a good thing, because we got quite a few great movies out of this.

As for what's next for the movie portion of the In Order series--I think we'll continue to hang around Warren William for awhile and see how he did as Perry Mason in four films.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Comic Book Character Visits a Comic Book Universe

Lex's plan is actually a pretty logical one. He knows Superman is vulnerable to magic. So he invents a magic accumulator that will store up enough magical energy to destroy the Man of Steel.

But then he gets careless. Disdainfully tossing aside a copy of Shazam (because that fake superhero stuff is so silly--not at all like the completely logical DC Universe!), he zaps it with the accumulator and accidentally transports himself to Earth-S. He's now in Captain Marvel's universe.

He's a tad confused at first, especially after he encounters a helpful talking tiger. But then he sees Captain Marvel in action and realizes where he is.

This is the set-up for "Captain Marvel meets... Lex Luthor!?!" from Shazam #15 (November-December 1974). Remember that DC had by this time acquired the rights to the Big Red Cheese and other Fawcett characters, but until the 1986 reboot, these characters were kept in their own universe.

This, I think, was a wise decision. It allowed Earth-S to maintain its own individual feel. It remained a Universe where the veneer of "realism" gave way to Comic Book Logic taken to its farthest extreme without ever quite breaking it. It's a world in which Captain Marvel and his supporting cast worked best. When these characters were made a part of the regular DC Universe, that individuality and the fun that went with it were lost. When this happened, the chances of a Shazam story that would be as entertaining as the original Monster Society of Evil was lost, as were any further chances of Captain Marvel fighting giant robot bunny rabbits. The world is a poorer place because of this.

Anyway, Lex meets and teams up with Mr. Mind. The deal is that they will use the magic accumulator to destroy Captain Marvel, then Mr. Mind will assist in destroying Superman. Of course, the two villains plan on back-stabbing each other at the first opportunity, but that's to be expected.

They lure Captain Marvel to an aquarium, where Lex zaps him with the accumulator. This drains the hero of his magic and turns him back into Billy Batson. Poor Billy is underwater, unable to say Shazam--and there's a hammerhead shark in the tank with him!

Fortunately, hammerhead sharks react the same way to waving something red in front of them as do bulls. (Because of course they do.) This gives Billy a chance to use the shark to break the glass and escape. He turns back into Captain Marvel and Lex decides its time to double-cross his partner.

Lex uses the accumulator to zap himself back to Earth-1, where a bad day is capped off by his immediate capture when he discovers Superman is waiting for him.

This story was written by Denny O'Neil, who was best known for writing Batman tales but knew how to play well with more powerful characters when he had to. The pencils are by Bob Oksner, whose style is indeed reminiscent of C.C. Beck. "Captain Marvel Meets.. Lex Luthor!?!" drips with the same sort of fun that Beck and writer Otto Binder brought to the Golden Age stories.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Davy Jones--the sea captain NOT the Monkee

Two friends of mine and I did a page-by-page review of Dell Comics #598, featuring the one and only appearance of Captain Davy Jones. We talk about the story's art, character design, use of light and shadow, historical accuracy and (since the villain is based on Blackbeard) comparison to the real-life Blackbeard.

Four Color Comics #598 (1954) starring Captain Davy Jones: A page-by-page review and critical analysis. from Tim DeForest on Vimeo.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

This sort of thing would make real-life weddings a lot more interesting.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Alberto Giolitti

Here's a video I made for the Ringling College of Art library's YouTube channel. It's about prolific comic book artist Alberto Giolitti, who illustrated many, many Dell and Gold Key Comics from the late 1940s through the early 1980s.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: "The Phantom Chase Matter, Part 1" 10/15/56

Most Johnny Dollar story arcs in the mid-50s were 5-parters and were among the best in the series. "The Phantom Chase Matter" was a 9-parter and is one of my favorites. Johnny is pursuing an embezzler--a chase that will take him to New Orleans, then on to Haiti and finally the Barbados.

Listen or download the first episode HERE.  You can access the rest of the story arc HERE, but remember that it is a mortal sin to listen to more than one episode of a serial per day.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Even Perry Mason Messes Up from Time to Time

I enjoy the way Erle Stanley Gardner sets up this particular novel. Most of the time, a client hires Perry for one reason or another, then along the way someone is killed and Perry now has to defend his client against a murder charge.

In 1949's The Case of the Cautious Coquette, Perry is already working on a personal injury case when the novel opens, trying to track down a witness to a hit-and-run accident. This seems straightforward, but then he gets an anonymous tip that a woman named Lucille Barton is the witness, while another woman entirely shows up at his office also claiming to be the witness.

Perry soon realizes that Lucille had nothing to do with the accident, but wants to hire Perry to deal with an alimony situation with her ex-husband. Perry isn't interested, so when he and Lucille stumble across a dead body, he leaves her to report it to the police. He's eager to get back to the hit-and-run case and, besides, he enjoys the idea of being able to tell the cops everything he knows about the body without worrying about protecting a client.

But the body doesn't get reported right away. By the time Perry realizes he made an error in judgment in not following up on this himself, the body has been found anyways and he's tentatively placed at the scene of the crime by a witness.

Lucille is arrested for the crime and Perry has no choice but to take her case. Aside from believing she is innocent, he also needs to claim client-lawyer privilege to keep from answering questions about that pesky corpse. He arranges a complicated trick to keep the witness from positively identifying him, then begins to unravel the case and identify the real killer during the preliminary hearing.

One of the pleasures of reading a Perry Mason novel is the fun of "watching" the cops and Hamilton Burger, convinced they've finally got Perry this time, stand by helplessly as Perry twists everything they try to his own advantage. It makes one wonder how poor Burger kept his job as D.A. But life in the Perry Mason universe wouldn't be anywhere near as fun without him.

Cautious Coquette has the usual entertainment value from the courtroom antics, but it's a particularly strong entry in the series because of the unusual set-up. Perry simply messes up by first making a reasonable but incorrect deduction about Lucille and then by depending on her to report the body. But Gardner understood the characters he wrote about--at no time does Perry seem dumb. He acts intelligently throughout the story, but errs in his judgement a few times along the way.  It's fun to watch circumstances put Perry in a hole, then to keep watching while he uses his brains to think his way out of that hole.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ant Man vs. Bug

I haven't researched  this, but I'm going to guess that it was the enormous and unexpected success of the Star Wars toys in the late 1970s that inspired toy companies to put out action figure lines with identifiable characters and back stories. G.I. Joe, for instance, had usually consisted of generic characters who could be dressed and armed in various ways. But then the Joe line was re-vamped, with figures that represented specific characters with specific biographies and skill sets. Thus we got Snake Eyes, Duke, Destro, Scarlet, Duke, Storm Shadow and scores of other good guys and bad guys.

Whatever the impetus for this trend, it meant that these toy lines were now fodder for coherent and potentially good storytelling. Marvel Comics, which first published Star Wars comics, also got hold of the license for several toy lines not based directly on movies. They did G.I. Joe, the Transformers, Rom: Space Knight and the Micronauts. Interestingly, Joe and the Transformers inhabited their own self-contained universes, whereas Rom and the Micronauts were tossed into the Marvel Universe. 

Add caption
There's no denying that this was very much a commercial venture, with profits for Marvel, Mego and Hasbro being the driving force behind it all. There's nothing wrong with making money, but this is not always a situation that promises good storytelling. It could have turned out to be a crass commercial venture without artistic value. But in this case, talented writers were given an opportunity to play with new characters and tell some fun stories. In fact, Bill Mantlo, who wrote Marvel's Micronauts series, convinced editor Jim Shooter to acquire the comic license for that particular toy line after Mantlo saw his son playing with them. He recognized a good opportunity when he saw it.

I didn't read the Micronauts when it first came out in 1979--I did jump aboard the G.I. Joe bandwagon a year or so later and also enjoyed Rom and the Transformers on a more irregular basis. But for me, the little visitors from a microverse somehow got lost in the shuffle. 

From what little research I have done (meaning I've read the Wikipedia entry on them), I gather the Micronauts were from a microscopic universe consisting of different planets or habitats linked together like a molecule chain. A motley crew of warriors from the different habitats band together to fight a tyrant. On a couple of occasions, their ship breaks through a dimensional barrier to reach Earth, where the Micronauts are just a few inches tall, and have a variety of adventures there.

I recently scored Micronauts #19 & 20 (July & August 1980) from the back issue bin. The Endeavor, the Miconauts' ship, has returned to Earth. One of the crew, an insectoid named Bug, scouts around but gets captured by a mad scientist named Odd John, who is mutating insects (making them a little larger, smarter and aggressive) to wipe out humanity because... well, because bullies made fun of his love for bugs when he was a kid. Nothing good ever comes of bullying, kids. 

Bug gets mutated as well and is soon leading a swarm of insects in an attack on a supermarket. In the meantime, the other Micronauts tangle with Odd John. They have a bit of trouble--the mad man's shotgun is an effective anti-space ship weapon when the space ship is really small. Also, his bugs do make an effective fighting force. But by the beginning of the second issue, they've subdued him. But their mind-controlled comrade and an army of nasty insects are still on a rampage.

Some non-mutated ants call out to Scott Lang for help. If you aren't up on Ant Man continuity, Scott was a guy who got hold of Hank Pym's original Ant Man costume and some shrink gas, taking over that identity. (I think Hank was Yellowjacket by this time.) He also arrives at the supermarket to help fight the bugs. 

What follows is an entertainingly choreographed fight that makes good use of the setting and the small size of the various opponents to give a unique flavor to the battle. It's also interesting that Ant Man and the Micronauts spend much of the battle fighting the evil insects without being aware of each other, making it an unplanned two-front war. 

In the end, Scott learns that the shrink gas he carries will reverse the mutation, thus returning Bug and the bugs to normal. That part is a little contrived, but the rest of the story is fun enough to forgive this.

I have to say that this story has wet my appetite for the Micronauts. There's a nice variety of characters aboard the Endeavor, both in terms of appearance and personality. The background is rich in potential stories, especially with various story arcs jumping between the microverse and Marvel Earth. And it's always a good sign when Bill Mantlo was the writer. His stories always had a sense of fun infused into them. 

Sadly, because Marvel no longer has the rights to the Micronauts (or Rom for that matter) we probably won't be seeing any trade paperback reprints of the series. That's a pity--I admit that though it is sometimes fun to own the original comics, I'm more interested in enjoying the stories and I'm perfectly happy with collected reprint editions that hand be those stories in one convenient package. 

Oh, well, there's still the back issue bins and Ebay. My back issue budget is small, but I'll probably snatch up some more Micronauts from time to time.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...