Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Barry Craig, Confidential Investigator: "Hay is for Homicide" 8/31/54

I don't know why detectives in the world of fiction bother taking vacations. They always end up having to solve a crime anyways. This time, Barry Craig is relaxing in Vermont when he finds a corpse in a hay wagon and then meets a woman who claims the dead are walking.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Brought Back to Life in a Robot Body

You can never get around to reading everything. I've been aware of Neil R. Jones' Professor Jameson stories and I even knew that Isaac Asimov cited them as a big influence for his later Robot stories. But until today (which is about 6 weeks before this will post), I had never read one.

I ran across one by accident when I was reading an ebook reprint of the February 1941 issue of Astonishing Stories. This particular Prof. Jameson story is titled "Cosmic Derelict" and--because it starts with a brief explanation of the good professor's history--it proved to be a good jumping on point for the series.

When Jameson died, he asked that his body be rocketed into space, where it would be preserved forever. 40 million years then go by. With the Earth and the human race long since gone, an exploration vessel manned by a race called the Zoromes stumbles across Jameson's still intact body.

The Zoromes are all cyborgs--though I don't believe Jones uses that term in the story. He just calls them mechanical men. But the formally organic Zoromes have discovered how to preserve life by eventually transplanting their brains into robot bodies.

In fact, they are so good with brains they are able to jump-start Jameson's back into life after giving him a robot body. He joins the Zoromes and spends eternity exploring the galaxy and (when necessary) fighting evil.

That's a cool premise. In "Cosmic Derelict," Jameson and the crew are exploring a solar system when they find a space ship drifting aimlessly. Aboard the ship are seven dead aliens.

But being dead doesn't stop the Zoromes from helping you. Soon, the aliens have brand-new robot bodies.

They are from the planet Dmypr, but were attempting to bring supplies to a base on the moon of another planet. That was seven years ago, so the crew of the moon base is probably dead as well.

The Zoromes bring the aliens to the moon and find that the crew there has also died. But they also ind out the aliens are double-crossin' scum. They are, in fact, political exiles from their planet who had tried to stage a revolution and set up a dictatorship.

The aliens use a mental disruptor on the Zoromes, sending them into a coma. They plan to steal the Zorome ship (faster and more powerful then anything they have) and once again try to take over their homeworld.

But Jameson, being of human origin, has a different brain pattern than the Zoromes. Unaffected by the mental disruptor, he fakes being in a coma until he has a chance to kill one of the aliens and take his place aboard the hijacked ship. (Remember that they all have identical robot bodies at this point.) That leaves him on his own as he improvises a plan to stop the villains and eventually rescue his friends.

Jones' dialogue is sometimes a bit stilted and it's a fair criticism that the Zomores (who each have a random sequence of numbers and letters rather than a name) are not given any sort of individual personalities. In fact, though they do show some emotion and have a clear sense of moral duty, they seem to be a little too robotic in the way they act. Jones often seems to forget that they are supposed to have organic brains.

But even after acknowledging its faults, "Cosmic Derelict" is still a fun story, full of Space Opera tropes and wild super-science. Exploring the universe for all eternity in an immortal body? That doesn't seem too unpleasant a fate.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dragon of Death

The very first issue of Captain America, published months before Pearl Harbor, showed us Cap punching out Hitler. Timely Comics (which would one day become Marvel Comics) was one of a small number of pop culture outlets that openly recognized that the Axis was evil and that we would one day have to confront them.

Captain America #5 was cover dated August 1941 and actually published on May 5 of that year. So once again, this is before we were in the war, but the story we're talking about today still shows the Axis as villains. This time, the villains are only identified as Asian, but they are clearly meant to be the Japanese. In fact, one of them openly admits to being a part of the "Axis Alliance." Avoiding the word "Japanese" might have been a concession to isolationist feelings for distributors or some readers (similar to what Milt Caniff was doing in his comic strip Terry and the Pirates), but nobody reading the story would miss the intention. Interestingly, the same issue had a story in which the Bund (American Nazis) are openly identified as the bad guys.

There is some racial stereotyping common to the era present, but all the same Timely Comics, along with Caniff, Warner Brothers studio, the Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin deserve a lot of credit and praise for openly confronting the biggest evil in the world before it was in vogue to do so.

"The Gruesome Secret of the Dragon of Death" (by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) opens with a whopping big dragon literally swallowing a Navy patrol ship off the coast of Hawaii. The dragon, though, turns out to be a whopping big Japanese submarine. (Well, I'm going to say "Japanese".) The commander of the Navy ship is tortured to get a password from him. The Japanese need the password to get some men ashore and plant dynamite in a volcano. The dynamite will cause the volcano to erupt and the lava flow would destroy the American fleet.

The commander refuses to talk, but is ready to break when his daughter is kidnapped and threatened. Fortunately for the these two, Captain America and Bucky had trailed the kidnapped girl to the Dragon sub and sneaked aboard.

It's at this point that we get a full-page cutaway of the sub. I love stuff like this. Give me a blue-print or cutaway of a make believe vehicle and I'll be set for the day while I examine it in detail.

What follows is an extended action sequence as Cap and Bucky take out most of the crew on the ship and rescue the captives before the officer gives away the password. In a bit of a storytelling glitch, the Japanese readily sneak their demolition crew ashore anyways and blow the volcano. But Cap manages to warn the fleet in time for them to get safely out of the bay.

When Bucky briefly things Cap was killed accomplishing this, he goes into a revenge-fueled rage blows up some of the surviving Japanese with the sub's deck gun. Don't tick off Bucky. It won't end well for you.

The action isn't as well choreographed as Kirby's action scenes would be in the 1960s and 1970s. At this early point in his career, his work was still largely excellent, but would be getting better as he gained more experience. But even with its flaws, the story is a good one.

Heck, it's got a cutaway image of a giant Dragon submarine. It can't help but be good.

Next week, we'll stop in and see what the Micronauts are up to in the second part of our review of their first twelve issues.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I'll be out of the country

I'll be leaving for Turkey tomorrow along with a team from my church to serve over there for a couple of weeks. I mention it here only to let you all know that there may be a long delay before I get around to approving any comments. Unlike trips to Guatemala and South Sudan, I will have regular internet access, but we'll be pretty busy and I simply won't be able to pay much attention to my blog.

Regularly scheduled posts will still be appearing--the advantage of keeping a blog that isn't time-sensitive is that I'm normally able to stay a couple of months ahead in writing posts.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cover Cavalcade

Pulp magazine cowboys have very active lives--you can't even get a drink of water without getting into a life-or-death battle!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

X Minus One: "Skulking Permit" 2/15/56

A lost colony re-establishes contact with Earth. They need to demonstrate they are civilized, but unlike any self-respecting civilization, they don't have any crime. So the Mayor appoints one of the locals to do some stealing and maybe commit a murder or two.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Border Patrol

Hopalong Cassidy is supposedly the head man at the Bar 20 ranch, but I really don't know how he finds the time to do that job. In many of the 66 Hoppy films that starred William Boyd, he and his sidekicks are working as lawmen.

In 1943's Border Patrol, Hoppy and friends are patrolling the Mexican border as Texas Rangers. But being accredited lawmen does not keep them from being falsely accused of a crime. When they stop to aid a dying Mexican, a pretty but perpetually angry Senorita rides up and assumes they murdered the man. She takes them at gunpoint across the Rio Grande to the Mexican cops.

They prove who they are, but the Senorita isn't convinced of their innocence. Hoppy finds out at least 25 Mexicans have crossed the border recently to find work at the Silver Bullet mine in Texas. But all of them have disappeared.

Hoppy and his crew decide to check out the mind, with the girl trailing them because she's still convinced they are villains.

 It turns out the owner of the Silver Bullet ("Orestes Krebs"--I love that name) has set himself up as essentially an independent country, refusing to recognized Hoppy's authority as a Ranger. In fact, he quickly accuses them of various crimes and, after a very quick kangaroo trial, sentences them to hang right after lunch.

The girl has shown up in Silver Bullet by now and Krebs uses her as a witness against Hoppy. But, though she is bad tempered, she is also smart and essentially fair-minded. She soon tumbles to the fact that Krebs is using the missing Mexicans as slave labor in the mine. Now all she has to do is figure out a way to spring Hoppy from jail and then together free the slaves and bring Krebs and his gang to justice. And she has to do this before lunch is over.

All the Hoppy movies are fun, with William Boyd playing the part with a mixture of authority and boisterous affability. The Hoppy movies are fun as much because we enjoy hanging out with the main characters as because of the well-constructed stories and great location photography.

This one is helped along by a fine supporting cast. Andy Clyde always brings a lot of humor to sidekick California Carlson. Jay Kirby is the third partner in the group-taking the part of younger sidekick who is available to develop a crush on whatever pretty girl they run into each movie.

Claudia Drake is the girl and she's certainly pretty. She's also quite good in the part--she's required by the plot to be stubbornly convinced Hoppy is a killer for half the film, but then must show herself to be smart and gutsy later on. She believably segues between the two attitudes and always makes sure we like her even when she's being bull-headed.

Russell Simpson is Krebs, the chief villain, and I would bet money that he was having great fun playing his part. As was usual for Hoppy films from the early/mid 1940s, Robert Mitchum is on hand to play a random outlaw (looking a little sleepy because he was working in a factory at nights). I wonder if he holds the record for getting killed the most times by Hopalong Cassidy?  Future Superman George Reeves is in the movie as well--he often also played a random bad guy in each film, but this time around he gets to be a good guy.

There is an imaginative and well-choreographed action scene to bring the movie to a satisfying conclusion.

You can find the movie on YouTube, but the ones I've found there are 10 minutes shorter than the version I have on DVD, so its an edited version. Rather than provide a link to a less-than-complete version, I'll just show you a clip that gives you a good sense of how fun the film is.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Interplanetary Robin Hood

One of the tricky aspects of the Green Lantern and Green Arrow stories was getting the two heroes into situations where Arrow was able to contribute something. Ollie's  abilities are fine for street-level thugs and international assassins, but he's a tad underwhelming compared to Hal Jordan when it comes superpowered threats. In fact, I think a fair criticism of often otherwise excellent stories is that there was no reason G.L. couldn't have cleaned up the bad guys without Ollie's help.

"The Legend of the Green Arrow," from G.L/G.A. #92 (January 1977) does a pretty good job setting up a situation in which Ollie can shine. It begins an issue after the two partners had captured Sinestro. The villain manages to escape quickly, forcing Hal and Ollie to pursue him into space.

There is a bit of a deus ex machina here. Out in space, they randomly run into a cosmic thingamajig called the Silver Twist, which even the Guardians of the Universe don't fully understand. When Sinestro, to arrogantly prove he isn't scared of it, zaps it with his ring, all three men are teleported into another dimension.

They find themselves on a world that at first seems to be at a medieval level of technology and are
forced to step in when they spot soldiers abusing a pretty lady. They discover neither of the power rings work, but manage to take out the guards anyways and save the girl.  She immediately takes a shine to Ollie, who seems to conveniently forget he's got a lady (Dinah Prince) waiting for him back home.

That last sentence is a bit unfair, since Arrow never never actually pursues anything with the lady. Also, I'm not familiar with all the stories in this run, so perhaps he and Dinah weren't together at this time.

The lady's name is, of course, Marion. Her world normally has a pretty high level of technology (including interplanetary travel) despite the medieval trappings. But King Rickard is away fighting wars in space and his evil brother (Prince Yuan) has usurped the throne. Yuan lives in a high-tech tower that emits an energy-cancelling force field (even affecting the power rings) to prevent anyone from ever rebelling against him. We also eventually learn he has a fleet of warships waiting in orbit to ambush and kill King Rickard upon the king's return.

The parallels to the Robin Hood mythos are obviously intentional. The story begins and ends with the statement that "All Heroic Legends are Different Yet All are the Same." It's a nice shout-out to the universality of the themes in stories and myths that would have made Joseph Campbell proud.

Sinestro and the heroes have a common goal--they need to take out the tower and get rid of the anti-energy force field before they can leave. (The heroes, of course, also want to overthrow the tyrant.) So a team-up is necessary. Ollie comes up with a simple plan--while the others cause a distraction, he'll get into the tower and wreck the force field.

Of course, you just know his plan for a distraction was made as much to cause Sinestro embarrassment as to be effective. The villain is forced to perform as a jester in the streets of the village just outside the tower entrance.

Ollie gets inside the tower, takes out some guards, and begins wrecking stuff. Soon, Prince Yuan is a prisoner, while Hal and Sinestro fly up into space to save King Rickart's fleet. They bring Ollie along, though all he can do is sit in a green life bubble and watch. This is another minor contrivance--Ollie had to be with them when the Silver Twist shows back up and zaps them all back home. Of course, if there's going to be a major space battle, I would certainly want to watch even if I couldn't participate.

The whole bit with the Silver Twist, both to get them into the adventure and then get them back home, is definitely contrived. But this is a minor complaint when measured against an otherwise well-constructed story with a solid thematic backbone. Also, seeing Sinestro dance around in his jester costume is indeed funny.

I almost forgot to give the credits, didn't I? The story was written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Mike Grell. And, by the way, I tried to find more information on the Silver Twist, which I think appeared in a few other G.L. stories from the 1970s. If it had been introduced in a previous story, then its status as a deus ex machina is slightly mitigated. But even the D.C. wiki lacks an entry on it. Some aspects of comic book mythology are so obscure, even normally "we never forget ANYTHING" comic book fans lose track of them!

Next week, we'll jump over to the Marvel Universe and fight alongside Captain America during one of his wartime adventures.

Monday, June 12, 2017

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