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Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: "Murder in Black and White" 4/14/49

A man plans a murder in meticulous detail, planning for every possible variation on what might happen afterwards. But the one thing he could not plan for was everyone telling him his victim was still alive and healthy.



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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cossacks vs. Pirates vs. Turks

I was in Turkey recently with a group from my church, helping out with a Vacation Bible School for the children of missionaries. So I figured reading something set in Turkey would be appropriate.

I did read Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad just before the trip over there, since it does include a hilarious account of his visit to Constantinople. But while in Turkey, I re-visited Robert E Howard's "The Road of the Eagles."

This particular story was unpublished in Howard's life time and first saw the light of day (sort of) in 1955, when L. Sprague de Camp re-wrote it into a Conan story. But the original version, set on and near the Black Sea in the year 1595, is the better story.

It involves a band of Cossacks who are pursuing a crew of Algerian corsairs. The corsairs, led by the brutal Osman Pasha, had raided the Cossacks' village and killed their leader. The background to all this--specifically how an Algerian pirate ended in the Black Sea--is unveiled to us later in the story and helps give the tale a unique flavor. 

As the story opens, the Cossacks and the corsairs have whittled each other down quite a bit. In fact, each party is their own badly damaged and rapidly sinking ship after a ship-to-ship duel ends without a clear-cut victor. Both ships limb towards shore.

With all the Cossack officers dead, a warrior named Ivan Sablianka takes over. Ivan is another factor in giving the story flavor--he's a tremendous warrior, but he's not a really effective leader. But he's all the Cossacks have while they still attempt to take Osman Pasha's head.

Osman, in the meantime, has fallen in with a 16th-Century femme fatale named Ayesha, which in turn leads him into a plot to team up with some Turkish warriors and rescue a prince from a remote castle. The prince, named Orkhan, is the brother of the current Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The idea is to use Osman's corsairs as the core of a rebellion intending to put Orkhan on the throne.

To do this, Osman Pasha has to not just rescue the prince, but avoid getting beheaded by Ivan. The Cossack might not be the best qualified leader, but he's determined and very, very hard to stop.

After the plot takes a few twists and turns, the story ends with an exciting battle described in Howard's usual vivid and fast-moving prose. Ivan and Osman finally meet face-to-face in a duel. Here, both their respective skill with swords AND their backgrounds come into play. Because Ivan isn't a native Cossack and Osman isn't a native Algerian--this will have an interesting effect on the story's conclusion.

Howard was a fan of Harold Lamb's fiction, which often involved Cossacks. I suspect that "The Road of the Eagles" is at least in part a product of Howard's admiration of Lamb. But Howard's own visceral voice dominates the tale. "The Road of the Eagles" showcases Howard's strengths as a storyteller, giving us a strong plot, interesting characters and great action set pieces.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Being Bluffed by the Blind

Buck Jones had a successful career during the silent film days as a movie cowboy, bringing a level of verisimilitude to his roles from his pre-movie days riding as a cowboy in Oklahoma and working in a Wild West show.

Jones' baritone voice allowed him to make the jump to sound films. He wasn't as big a star anymore, but he could be depended on to provide a strong and likable hero. In the early 1930s, he teamed with Tim McCoy and Raymond Hatton for Monogram's Rough Riders movies. Sadly, Jones died in a fire in 1942.

But he was remembered. In the 1950s, Buck was the title character an issue of Dell's Four Color comic book, which led to his headlining his own series for seven issues. Even after that series was cancelled, he still had a few more Four Color appearances.

I'm not sure why Buck had a resurgence in popularity a decade after his death. Certainly there was no shortage of still-living Western heroes, some of whom (Hopalong, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger) were enormously popular. It might be the hunger for cowboy heroes was so deep that you could never have enough of him. Maybe his films had been re-released into the Saturday matinees or were being shown on television.





Whatever the reason, Dell did a fine job with the comic book version of Buck. We're going to take a look at Buck Jones #5 (January-March 1952), which includes a particularly fun story.


"The 13th Notch" begins when Buck sees a lone rider about to be bushwhacked. He acts to save the man, though the gunman escapes. Buck soon learns the rider is the elderly and nearly blind Gus Hawkins, who is riding to the town of Gunsmoke to buy half-interest in a ranch.

But complications soon arise. The ranch is plagued by rustlers, leaving the current owner (pretty Tess Danbury) in danger of going broke. Also, the local newspaper owner is telling everyone that Gus Hawkins is a fast-draw killer known as the Shadow, which is the reason several people are out to get him. According to legend, the Shadow has 12 notches on his gun and wants to earn a 13th before retiring.

Buck finds himself in the middle of all this. He has to track down the rustlers, find proof to convict the man behind the gang, and keep poor, nearly blind Gus from getting killed.

This last part isn't easy when Gus decides he'll have some fun by going along with this Shadow
nonsense. This leads to a wonderful scene in which he bluffs a couple of guys out to gun him, despite being elderly, near-blind and unarmed.

Buck eventually comes up with a plan to trick the bad guys into turning against one another and give their boss away, but this goes awry and now its Buck who needs rescuing. But can Gus be depended on in this desperate situation?

The story flows along swiftly and logically, with Gus and Tess Danbury both turning out to be fun characters. And the ending, which centers around the identity of the real Shadow, provides an unexpected and truly entertaining twist.

The world is a better place because Dell Comics and its successor Gold Key Comics existed. And stories such as this one are a prime example of why. Good writing by Philip Evans and effective art Pete Alvarado combine to spin a vastly  satisfying yarn of the Old West.

With storytellers like Evans and Alvarado around producing great tales like this on a regular basis, it's no wonder there was a never-ending need for more Cowboy heroes.


Buck Jones #5 can be read online HERE.






Monday, July 21, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke: "Alarm at Pleasant Valley" 9/10/55

Dillon and Chester are returning to Dodge when they come across a burnt-out ranch and a pair of corpses. They soon learn that a band of marauding Kiowas is on the loose.


Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Eternal Lover or Eternal Savage?

I read once that the proliferation of e-readers led to a resurgence of women reading romance novels--it meant they could read one without someone seeing Fabio on the cover and snickering at them.

Well, though another genre was involved, this sort of logic applies to me as well. Because in 1914 and 1915, Edgar Rice Burroughs serialized an adventure tale in All-Story Weekly that was originally titled The Eternal Lover.

It's a great story--stuffed with a number of exciting set-pieces. But I'm not sure I would be willing to be seen in public reading something with the title The Eternal Lover screaming out at anyone who might walk by. Never mind that it might have an awesome J.Allen St. John cover of a caveman fighting a whopping big saber-tooth tiger. That title would just be embarrassing.


When Ace reprinted the book in 1963, they renamed it The Eternal Savage and gave it a Roy Krenkel cover featuring a
caveman once again battling to the death against a saber tooth tiger.
I would have been perfectly happy reading that, but I did end up reading an electronic edition.

(By the way, I have no problem reading books on a Kindle--the e-ink screen is no different than looking at a paper page. But I do lament that ebooks probably make it that much more likely that we will never return to the mind-numbingly cool paperback covers that used to be so common.)

So how can a book be called either The Eternal Lover or the Eternal Savage? Because the Lover and the Savage are the same guy.


That's really not that unusual for an ERB novel--his heroes spent an inordinate amount of time rescuing their lady loves from a succession of deadly dangers and a lot of those heroes can be pretty savage when the situation requires it of them. But Savage (yes, I'm going with the manly title, by golly) has an unusual structure that gives it a unique feel.

Nu is a cave man living 100,000 years ago. He goes out hunting a saber-tooth tiger to lay its head at the feet of the beautiful Nat-ul, to prove his love to her. This makes sense, since taking her out to a nice restaurant isn't a viable option.

An earthquake traps him in a cave and puts him in suspended animation. He wakes up in modern times, where he soon meets Victoria Custer--the apparent reincarnation of Nat-ul. Victoria is visiting the Greystoke estate in Africa, so we get a Tarzan cameo.

There's some shenanigans involving Victoria being kidnapped by Arab slave traders. Nu rescues her, but then another earthquake somehow sends Nu back to his own time, where he dismisses his time-travel adventure as a dream.

Oddly, Nat-ul, though miles away, had the same dream. But before the two can re-unite, she gets kidnapped by a rejected suitor. This leads to a whole series of adventures, with Nat-ul and Nu stumbling into one adventure after another as they try to find one another.

At the end, the book switches back to Victoria, with Nu's original visit and his prehistoric adventures being part of a dream she had. Before leaving Africa, though, she finds skeletons that indicate Nu and Nat-ul did really exist.

This last part may sound contrived, but Burroughs structures the plot well and generates the right emotions to make it satisfying. And the action set pieces are superb. Burroughs was always a master of pacing and he
tosses Nu and Nat-ul from one danger to another in just the right doses to keep up a high level of excitement.

I especially like a roller-coaster sequence in which Nat-ul is snatched up by a pterodactyl, flown to an island, dropped into a nest with three hungry baby pterodactyls, escapes from this, gets chased by a half-dozen hairy "man apes," gets captured by one of them, escapes when they start fighting over her, then gets captured by a villain who had been chasing her when the pterodactyl first caught her. It's fun stuff.

Because of the presence of pterodactyls and vaguely described sea monsters (which I pictured as plesiosaurs while reading the story) co-existing with cavemen, I think of this story taking place in the same universe as the movie One Million Years BC or the novella "The Lost Warship," though taking place a few hundred thousands years after the events of those stories.

By the way, we know this story because Edgar Rice Burroughs was a guest at the Greystoke estate at the same time as Victoria and listens when she recounts her dream of the past. Remember, Burroughs wasn't actually a writer of fiction. He was simply fortunate enough to know people (John Carter, David Innes, Jason Gridley, etc) who could recount their wild adventures to him.

So ERB is actually an historian. Which is a good thing. If he wrote fiction, then that would mean Tarzan isn't real, Mars and Venus would be lifeless, and there would be no lost continents populated with dinosaurs stuck away in remote corners of the world. And who would possibly want to live in a world that mundane?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Captive of the Vulture


A few months ago, I reviewed one of the stories from Korak, Son of Tarzan #3 (May 1964), but not the cover story. The cover, though--painted by Morris Gollub--is nothing short of awesome, so I feel obligated to review the story it advertises.

Not that this is a problem. The story, illustrated by Russ Manning, is a fun one and is a prime example of why Manning is considered one of the best Tarzan family artists.

It all begins when Korak and his ape sidekick Pahkut rescue a man from a leopard. The man, named Jeremy Carter, is a pilot who landed his float plane nearby to consider a rather unique problem. He had flown over an extinct volcano and had seen a village inside. He also saw a woman frantically waving to him for help. She's apparently a captive.

But there's no way to land the plane inside the volcano. So Korak volunteers to make a rescue attempt.

Accompanied by Pahkut, the junior Jungle Lord scales the steep cliffs of the volcano and enters the village. He finds the girl and they attempt to escape through the aptly named Cavern of Death.

Here, they find Jeremy has been captured and is about to be sacrificed to Goka, the giant vulture worshiped by the villagers. This leads to a great action sequence in which Korak (with a little help from Pahkut) slays Goka. They continue with their escape, finding and freeing the girl's missionary father along the way.

It's a fairly straightforward adventure story with a simple plot, but Manning lifts it above the average simply by making it look so cool. In fact, the page in which Korak attacks the vulture, which includes a wonderful half-page panel, could be used as the cover image for a Russ Manning biography. It's a perfect example of how well Manning understood visual storytelling.



If I'd been old enough to buy comics in 1964, I would probably have bought it simply because of Gollub's cover. But if for any reason that hadn't sold me, thumbing through it and seeing the Korak/Goka battle would have definitely clinched the deal. Who wouldn't fork over a dime and two pennies to see that?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cover Cavalcade


I love the use of light in this one--most everything in shadows with the exploding plane providing a dramatic lighting source.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dragnet: "The Big Trio" 7/3/52

Friday and Smith investigate a trio of traffic accidents during the busy July 4 weekend. This episode is a great example of how effectively Jack Webb's matter-of-fact storytelling style could generate real emotion--and how this style could let the show sometimes get preachy while still being sincere and effective.


Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

So THAT'S what you do at School Board Meetings!


The church I attend includes a small private school (K5 through 8th grade) and I'm on the school board. We meet once a month to make budget and hiring decisions. The school is one of the best ever--with a superb group of teachers who have agreed to essentially work for peanuts to help provide kids with an affordable quality education. (By the way, if any billionaire happens to read this blog, don't hesitate to donate a huge amount of money to the school.)

Well, I've just watched a Perry Mason episode titled "The Case of the Lurid Letter." (December 2, 1962) In this episode, Perry is on a fishing vacation in a small town, where he ends up befriending a local high school
teacher. The teacher has been accused of inappropriate behavior with her students and the school board wants to fire her.

Perry agrees to help her out, maneuvering the situation to force the school board to give the teacher a public hearing.

Well, Perry may the only attorney in the world to give Rumpole of the Bailey a run for the title of "Best Lawyer Ever," but there's a good reason you should think twice about hiring him. If he's around, someone is going to get murdered. In this case, its a former coach from the high school who might have been selling liquor to a gang of teenaged thugs who are involved in the scandal.

Departing from the show's usual format, Perry's client actually isn't a serious suspect in the crime. But in order to prove that she is innocent of scandalous behavior, he also needs to solve the murder. He does so not in court, but at the school board meeting.

It's a strong episode. Most of the regular cast is absent, but Perry does bring Paul Drake out to the town to help investigate. This leads to several wonderful scenes in which the high school bully--who thinks he's a tough guy because he picks on those weaker than himself--gets repeatedly humiliated by Paul. It's a just & satisfying comeuppance for the bully and it's nice to get a reminder that Paul actually is a tough guy when he needs to be.

From the gazillion or so books, movies and television episodes I'm familiar with, I'm perfectly aware that no matter where you are, someone could get murdered at the drop of the hat. And, by golly, when the police are baffled by the crime, I'm ready to step up to the plate and use brilliant deductive reasoning to catch the real killer.

But this never happens to me. I live in a state of perpetual disappointment because of this.

And now I learn that at our school board meetings, we're not supposed to be making important decisions about the future of children. We're supposed to be solving murders. But we never do. Heck, no one at my church ever even gets murdered. No one ever gets murdered no matter where I go.

I couldn't be more disappointed with my life. I simply couldn't.