Monday, March 2, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

This was published the same month the miracle New York Mets won the World Series. If darn kids have been home watching the Series on TV, they wouldn't be in this situation, would they? Their own darn fault.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Goodbye, Leonard Nimoy

 I feel obligated to watch a couple of Spock-oriented Trek episodes this weekend. Maybe Amok Time, Journey to Babel and/or Mirror, Mirror. Also the animated episode Yesteryear is a great Spock story. I suppose the most symbolic Trek to watch would be The Wrath of Khan.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Jeff Regan, Investigator: "The Two Little Sisters" 11/16/49

A knife-throwing lady working in a carnival is being threatened by someone. Regan is hired to protect the lady, but the case soon involves a murder.

Frank Graham plays Regan in this episode--one of two actors who played the role after Jack Webb moved on. Replacing Webb in a hard-boiled show is always a thankless task, but Graham is pretty good in the part.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Amazons vs the Scaly Ones

You would think that Mars--being the Planet of War--would be where you would most likely run into Amazon warriors. But according to novella "The Golden Amazons of Venus," by John Murray Reynolds, Venus is the place to find these rather dangerous ladies.

Published in the Winter 1939 issue of Planet Stories, "Golden Amazons" is a strong and entertaining Space Opera.

It opens with the launch of the Viking, a large space ship that will be attempting the second exhibition to Venus. Mars has been settling for decades, but the one previous attempt to explore Venus resulted in a missing space ship. The Viking is going to try again.

By the way, the crew includes a Scotsman named Angus McTavish. Such is my Star Trek conditioning that as soon as he was identified as a Scotsman, I knew he'd be the chief engineer. And by golly, he was.

Despite the presence of a Scottish engineer, trouble pops up even before the space ship gets to Venus. The captain, Gerry Norton, discovers someone is secretly using the ship's radio for unknown reasons. Gerry is knocked unconscious before he can catch this someone.

But there's little time to worry about that once they get to Venus, where Gerry quickly rescues a beautiful, golden-skinned woman from a trio of reptilian humanoids.  Still more proof that the universe is stuffed to overflowing with beautiful princesses. They are simply everywhere.

The situation is thus: There is a civilization that emigrated to Mars from Venus thousands of years ago. They've lost most of their science--they have a few big ray guns to defend their main city and some border outposts against the reptilians (called the Scaly Ones), but their ground troops use bows and swords.

Oh, and their babies are 90% female, so the military is entirely made up of women.

Shenanigans ensue--Gerry, Angus and Closana (the princess--who to be fair does kick butt quite effectively after her initial rescue) are betrayed and captured the the Scaly Ones, taken by submarine to the enemy's main city. The leader of the Scaly Ones tries to get Gerry to lure his ship there to be captured.

More shenanigans ensue. There are fights, escapes, contact with rebels among the green-skinned humans enslaved by the Scaly Ones, more escapes and a super-scientific civilization living in an invisible city. The story comes to a truly exciting climax when Gerry and most of his crew, separated from the Viking, help the Amazons fight a desperate but losing battle against hordes of Scaly Ones. Reynolds does a nice job of getting various plot points he has introduced to all pay off at the end.

This is a great story. John Murray Reynolds is probably best remembered for writing the Ki-Gor stories for the pulps (Ki-Gor being perhaps the best of the Tarzan knock-offs) under the name John Peter Drummond. But he wrote a number of excellent stories under his own name as well, "The Golden Amazons of Venus" is typical of these--imaginative, fast-moving, well-constructed, leaving you both satisfied to have read a good story and sad that in real-life there is no army of Amazon warriors battling reptile-men across the surface of Venus. Because, darn it, there should be!

You can read "The Golden Amazons of Venus" HERE.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

An Evil Ragtag Band of Misfits versus a Good Ragtag Band of Misfits

In Tomahawk #96 (Feb 1965), the British really want to take out Tomahawk and his Rangers once and for all. And, as is often the case in a comic book universe, they decide the best way to counter one ragtag band of misfits is to form their own parallel ragtag band of misfits.

(Interestingly, over in the Marvel Comics universe, Baron Strucker was carrying out an almost identical plan to do away with the Howling Commandos.The two stories hit the spinner racks within a week of each other.)

A mysterious British spy called the Hood recruits 5 prisoners to form an anti-Ranger unit, each of whom has a unique skill. Meanwhile, the Rangers are transporting a large load of gunpowder, with the intention of blowing up a dam and flooding a valley full of redcoats.

The route to the dam is over mountainous terrain. So Tomahawk borrows a plan from Hannibal's playbook, then borrows a pair of elephants from a local circus.

So we immediately get two really cool things dropped into the same story--a unique band of bad guys and elephants being used in a Revolutionary War story. That's what makes the Tomahawk stories from this era so enjoyable. The comic book would grab bizarre and divergent elements such as these and mix them into a setting in which we don't normally expect to see such things. This emphasizes the bizarre-ness of it all and adds that much more to the story's entertainment value. For instance, when Tomahawk has to get his elephants down a snowy slope, he straps them to tobaggans. Because--why not?

The bad guys jump the Rangers, gradually capturing them all in a series of action set-pieces that allows the Hood's men to demonstrate their individual skills and for the Hood to show that she is indeed a clever leader.

Did I say "she?" I did, because the Hood turns out to be the sister of Lord Shilling, a British spy who was an old enemy of Tomahawk. She's determined to avenge her brother's past humiliations by destroying the Rangers.

But before she can have them all executed, Tomahawk escapes and frees his men. The Rangers are still chained together, though, leading to a fantastic scene in which they begin to fall one-by-one off a cliff ledge, with each pulling the next guy off because of the chains.

The story's finale is a little anti-climatic, with the Rangers jumping the bad guys and capturing them in just a single panel. An extended fight scene was called for here. Also, it would have been nice if the elephants had played a role in climax. The poor animals are just sort of forgotten about.

But, on the other hand, I wouldn't have missed seeing those elephants sledding down the mountain-side for the world.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

Someone needs to publish a book with a selection of the best Dell and Gold Key covers. No, not me--the copyright issues would be beyond me. But someone needs to do it. Civilization cannot continue without it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Frliday's Favorite OTR

Fort Laramie: "Talented Recruits" 7/8/58

This is my personal favorite episode of Fort Laramie. Parley Baer plays a washed-up medicine show man. John Dehner plays a washed-up Shakespearean actor. The two have formed an unlikely friendship and decide to join the army as an alternative to starving to death. Baer and Dehner play the roles to perfection and you find yourself growing closer to them as the story gradually slides from comedy to tragedy.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Heck, RKO made the best Westerns as well!

Last week, I gave an example of one of the many superb Film Noirs produced at RKO during the 1940s and 1950s.

Well, RKO was no slouch in the B-Western department either. Take a look, for instance, at the series starring Tim Holt--40 or so Westerns produced between 1938 and 1952. (And that's with time off to become a decorated combat veteran during World War II. As well as time off from B-movies to appear in supporting parts in A-films such as My Darling Clementine and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.)

Holt is very likable on screen and, despite a perpetually youthful appearance, can come across quite believably as a tough guy when the situation calls for it.

For most of the series, Holt technically played a different character in each movie. At least his name is different, though he dresses very similarly and nearly always has a Mexican/Irish sidekick named Chito Rafferty (played by Richard Martin). Late in the series, the tradition of naming the hero after the actor was adapted.

In the 1948 film Indian Agent, Holt is Dave Taylor. He and Chito are escorting a train of freight wagons bringing food to an Indian reservation. What Taylor doesn't know is that the food never actually gets from the warehouse at which he leaves it to the Indians. Along the way, the freighter and a corrupt Indian agent conspire to forge some receipts, then send the food on to a mining camp where it can be sold at a high profit.

Taylor and Chito get a hint of the situation when an Indian mother leaves her baby at their ranch--that's her only option to allowing the baby to starve. From there, the situation expands until Taylor is framed for tying to kill the chief of the tribe, then later framed for actually killing the corrupt agent. He's forced to figure out the plot and expose it in order to clear his own name.

Taylor gets to proof that when the going gets tough, he can be tough as well. His plan to get the villain to confess near the end of the film is actually a bit on the brutal side.

Indian Agent gives us a good, strong story. It's well directed by B-Western veteran Lesley Selander, making good use of location photography and giving us several great action set pieces. There is arguably a weak point--a pretty female newspaper editor is introduced as an ally of Taylor, but she really doesn't get a chance to contribute much to the story. Oh, well, she is at least real purty to look at.

Richard Martin's character of Chito Rafferty deserves special mention. Martin first played the character in the 1943 film Bombardier. Chito was then teleported back in time to appear in the 1944 Western Nevada, which I wrote about a few years ago. Chito then became Tim Holt's regular sidekick.

Comedic sidekicks can be a weak link in many serials and B-movies. If they're not funny enough, they just take up space in the film without contributing anything. If they're funny but not useful to the hero in dealing with the bad guys, then you start to wonder why the hero drags him along. (Though the idea of the hero keeping his friend around just because he's a friend is appealing in its own right.)

The right balance is for the sidekick to be funny AND be useful to the hero. Chito Rafferty strikes that balance properly and becomes another reason why Tim Holt's Westerns are so entertaining.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Great Steamboat Race

"The Great Steamboat Race," published in Uncle Scrooge #11 (Sept-Nov. 1955), is in my opinion one of Carl Barks' best stories. Which is saying a lot, since this is Carl Barks we're talking about.

What makes it great is how smoothly the various elements of the story--primarily the excitement of the race and the visual gags--all mesh together so perfectly. "The Great Steamboat Race" is a study in proper story construction for comic books.

The tale jumps off quickly with and argument between Scrooge McDuck and a guy (or rather an anthropomorphic pig) named "Horseshoe" Hogg. It seems that in 1870, their respective uncles had a steamboat race, with an ornate Southern mansion as the prize. But the boats both sank and the race was never finished. Hogg wants to do so, while Scrooge thinks its a waste of time and money.

Donald and the nephews sell Scrooge on the idea of being a Southern gentleman, so he finally agrees to the race. The idea is that the contestants will raise and repair the original steamboats (which have been sitting on the bottom of the Mississippi for 85 years), then finish the race from that point.

Hogg takes an extra-fast plane to the Mississippi and gets a jump on Scrooge. Also, Scrooge is reluctant to spend money on modern equipment to raise his steamboat.

What follows is a perfect mesh of adventure storytelling and comedy. The race is truly exciting, with the nephews coming up with a clever plan to quickly raise and repair Scrooge's steamboat on a strict budget. Scrooge's penny-pinching causes a setback at one point, but the old miser also shows he can also think on his feet when necessary.

At the same time, the gags--most of them centered around the moldy boat giving Scrooge sneezing fits--are truly funny. What tips the story over the edge into sheer brilliance is how the sneezing gags tie so seamlessly into the main plot. Scrooge's sneezes play a key role in winning the race. It also allows the story to come to a satisfying end with yet one more sneeze-based gag.

There's not a single wasted panel or a single moment that's doesn't tie into the primary plot. It's as if Barks took art, story and humor and performed a delicate operation to attach everything together so perfectly that you can't even see where the stitches are.

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