Monday, October 24, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

Automobile Polo was actually a real-life sport--for a very brief period of time.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Bold Venture: "Deadly Merchandise" 3/26/51

A cargo that Slate Shannon did NOT transport from Key West to Havana leads to a pair of murders and an inadvertent involvement with would-be revolutionaries.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Every Good Lawyer has Skeleton Keys and a Solid Right Hook

Read/Watch 'em In Order #72

Poor Ken Corning. The lawyer can't spend more that a few minutes working quietly behind his desk before someone tries to frame him.

Actually, in "Making the Breaks," (Black Mask, June 1933), it's his secretary Helen Vail who gets framed. Or rather, she's framed so that Corning can in turn be framed so that Corning's client can in his turn be framed.

The client is accused of killing a man during an armed robbery. Both the dead man's friend (present during the robbery) and two other witnesses make positive identifications. But someone is willing to hedge their bets even further when two hundred-dollar bills--part of the loot taken from the victim--turn up in Helen's purse after someone tries to snatch it.

Corning is convinced his client is being framed, which means one or more of the witnesses are lying and are probably plants arranged by the notoriously corrupt NYPD. He sets Helen Vail out to make friends with the girlfriends of the witnesses and eventually does a little breaking-and-entering, steals a diary, sets a fake fire and essentially kidnaps someone. But that's how you get things done in the Hard-Boiled Universe, by golly. Corning identifies the real killer and clears his client without ever setting foot in a courtroom--AND all because he carries a set of skeleton keys and can knock a man out with one punch. Who needs law school?

That faking a fire bit, by the way, is emulating a similar trick once used by Sherlock Holmes. Everybody learns from Holmes.

This is the fourth of the six Ken Corning stories and, if anything, they are getting better as the series progressed. The pace grows faster and the stories more exciting, while the plots remain strong and logically constructed. Erle Stanley Gardner was an excellent storyteller and (as I've said before) it's a shame that Perry Mason has overshadowed so many of his other characters. Mason deserves his fame, but the other guys are pretty cool as well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Giant Inter-Dimensional Alien Hand!

I don't want to tell Batman his job. I really don't. He's been doing it for nearly 8 decades now and we should all presume he knows what he's doing.

But in Batman #130 (March 1960), he and Robin are told by Commissioner Gordon that a giant hand holding two aliens has been seen near a zinc factory. All three men immediately assume it's a prank. Because when you live on an Earth that is filled with super-powered beings, supernatural creatures and is regularly invaded by aliens, a giant hand is just too silly.

Also, Batman is apparently having a slow day, since he volunteers to personally give the supposed prankster a stern lecture. But when they arrive at the factory, they are shocked--shocked, I say--to discover the giant hand is real.

I am making fun of the story, but I also had great fun reading it. It is a prime example of Silver Age silliness, but it also has a well-constructed story that follows Comic Book Logic and Dick Sprang's art fits it all perfectly. Batman is hardly the Dark Knight (I do prefer his more serious Bronze Age stories), but if you imagine Adam West's voice while you read this one, it all works perfectly.

That darn hand seems to be unstoppable. The two aliens, able to understand English via a translator device, control it as it shrugs off bullets and artillery to steal zinc, copper, platinum and tin. Batman tries to wrangle it with a cable tangled from Bat Plane, but that doesn't work out well. The aliens, by now, have given away their plan--they need certain materials to build a larger dimensional transmitter, allowing them to launch a full-scale invasion of Earth.

Bill Finger's script treats all this completely seriously, which is what makes it work. Yes, it is silly and its pretty much impossible not to make fun of it to a degree. But the story never makes fun of itself. And when Batman uses the fact that the aliens can't speak Eskimo to deduce that the giant hand is a fake, it all makes perfect sense.

Lex Luthor turns out to be the mastermind behind it all. By faking a potential inter-dimensional invasion and stealing a lot of low-value ore along with valuable platinum, Lex hoped to make off with a fortune without anyone ever noticing.

This, by the way, is Luthor's first appearance in a story that does not feature Superman.

Batman tracks the fake aliens to Luthor's hideout and uses the hand to catch the mad scientist. This also allows the Caped Crusader to end the story with a really, really bad joke. But to be fair to Batman, I think most of us would have been tempted to make the same joke had we just used a fake giant alien hand to catch a super-criminal.

The video below will show you the entire story, Next week, we return to giant robots & giant monsters.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dimension X: "Dwellers in Silence" 7/19/51

A faithful and touching adaptation of a story from Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Don't Fist Fight the Pharmacist!

John Wayne doesn't normally play the well-mannered dude from the East in a Western, but in 1942's In Old California, this is just what he does. He's Tom Craig, a druggist from Boston who plans to set up shop in the untamed town of Sacramento.

We actually meet him while he's passing through San Francisco, waiting for the steamboat for Sacramento to leave. He stops in a saloon wearing a top hat and fancy duds--the orders a glass of milk. We get a few hints early on, though, that he's not a man you want to intimidate.  He's strong as a mule, knows how to use a six-gun (how a druggist learned to be a skilled gunman is never explained) and has more than his share of guts.

In other words, he's a John Wayne character, but given enough of a unique personality to make him stand out from other John Wayne characters from that era. Wayne handles the role quite well, adding some humor to his demeanor while still allowing us to take Tom Craig seriously as the hero.

He soon finds himself at odds with Britt Dawson (Albert Dekker), a crook who is using threats and violence to grab ranches and businesses away from their legitimate owners. Britt's gal is saloon-singer Lacey Miller (Binnie Barnes), who herself is distracted from her gold-digging ways by Tom.

Tom's a natural leader. He manages to organize the ranchers to fight back when Britt makes another land grab. Britt wants to simply kill Tom in revenge, but Lacey's got him wrapped tightly enough around her finger to make him back off. Instead, he'll be sneaky about it, poisoning some of the medicine that Tom sells and nearly getting Tom lynched by angry townspeople.

Then gold is discovered nearby. This is enough of a distraction to spare Tom from a lynching, but his drug store is pretty much out of business unless he can prove he wasn't responsible for the poisoned medicine.

When a typhoid epidemic strikes the gold camps, Tom takes charge of a wagon train bringing in medicine and supplies to treat the sick. But Britt figures if he gains control of the wagon train, he can make a fortune selling the medicine to the typhoid victims.

This is a fun movie, rambling in an easy-going but logical manner from one plot point to the next while giving us several well-choreographed gun battles and a nifty saloon brawl. Albert Dekker is very good as Britt.

Tom Craig's sidekick is Kegs McKeever,who joins Craig in San Francisco after the druggist cures his toothache. Edgar Kennedy plays Kegs and has several hilarious scenes with Lacey's maid (played by the "Queen of Wisecracks" Patsy Kelly). Getting two of the most skilled comedians of that era to play the comic reliefs is one of the film's strengths.

I also appreciate the final fate of Britt Dawson, allowing Dekker to give what would have been a standard villain role some depth of character.

The Westerns John Wayne made with Republic Pictures in the early 1940s aren't usually listed among his classics--and they don't compare to films like The Searchers or True Grit. But they were fun movies in their own right, telling entertaining stories and giving their plots and/or setting unusual twists to set them apart from the gazillion other Westerns being produced at that time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Captain Kirk vs. Space Pirates

I suppose that if you live in a galaxy where worlds can develop civilizations almost identical to Earth (the 20th Century Roman Empire seen in the episode 'Bread and Circuses") or worlds that deliberately imitate absurdly narrow periods of Earth history (1920s gangsters as scene in"A Piece of the Action") to the point of copying slang, clothing, architecture and technology to the exact detail...  well, I suppose having space pirates that copy Earth pirates of the 18th Century in slang, clothing, etc isn't that unlikely.

Besides, if you are a space pirate, why wouldn't you look to Blackbeard and Treasure Island for role models? What would be the sense in being a pirate otherwise?

This is the situation Gold Key's Star Trek #12 (November 1971) presents to us. And so we get to see how the greatest Star Trek captain (and no one is allowed to suggest otherwise, by gum!) go toe-to-toe with a guy who is essentially Blackbeard IN SPACE!

Writer Len Wein actually gives us a logical rational for the existence of space pirates--a big galaxy with a lot of interstellar commerce + a mere 12 starships to police many square light years of space = good business for pirates.

Alberto Giolitti's typically excellent art gives the story life and provides us with some really fun ship designs. The pirate vessel Windjammer is particularly cool. It is designed to look like an old-school pirate ship, including a large sail. I suppose you could justify the sail by saying it collects solar energy or something, but the Rule of Cool is really reason enough for its existence.

The pirates have recently stolen a badly needed supply of dilithium crystals. There's a map leading to where the crystals are buried. Half the map has fallen into the hands of Federation authorities. The other half is in the possession of Black Jack Nova, the afore-mentioned Blackbeard-esque pirate who hangs out on the pirate planet Tortuga IV.

Enjoying the story depends on lot on whether you accept all the parallels and shout-outs to the Golden Age of Piracy and just go with it. Do that and you'll have a lot of fun reading it.

Kirk, Spock, Scotty and McCoy go undercover on Tortuga, looking to join Black Jack's crew and use the now complete map to find the crystals. Scotty helps things along here. It's his idea that starting a bar fight and beating the snot out of some of Black Jack's crew would impress the pirate and (along with having half of the treasure map) get them berths aboard his ship.

This works. And somehow it seems right that it's Scotty who comes up with a plan that involves a bar fight.

Scotty doesn't have long to enjoy the success of his plan, though. He and Spock are overheard by a pirate talking about being undercover agents. This means two things. First, Scotty and Spock are terrible undercover agents.

Second, it means Kirk (who eavesdropped on the eavesdropping pirate) has to betray two of his friends to maintain his own cover.

Spock and Scotty are tossed into space to eventually die of asphyxiation. In a neat and (for Gold Key) rare connection to the continuity of the TV series, they are rescued by the Enterprise, which has been following the Windjammer by using a Romulan cloaking device stolen in episode "The Enterprise Incident."

Both ships reach the planet on which the Dilithium is buried. Spock takes down a landing party and meets Ben Cannon, the former captain of the Windjammer who was marooned by Black Jack. Cannon has also dug up the crystals from their original hiding place and hidden them in a cave.

I don't know why, but this obvious shout-out to Treasure Island's Ben Gunn strikes me as awkward. I can't explain it. I'm fine with the other piracy parallels in the story. In fact, I think these parallels are strengths. But Ben Cannon's presence seems to be taking the idea just a little bit too far.

The other small glitch comes when the Enterprise crew moves in to capture the pirates. Kirk opts to chase Black Jack alone, seemingly just so that the two of them can have a climatic sword fight. Of course, Kirk should have brought a few Red Shirts with him and even given his reputation as something of a Cowboy, it's downright silly that he doesn't do so.

It's too bad--there's no reason the final action couldn't have been choreographed in a way to logically pit Kirk and Black Jack against one another eventually. Kirk's men could have distracted by phaser fire from other pirates, for instance. Or maybe they could have tripped a booby-trap and gotten killed. They were Red Shirts, after all.

Well, perhaps the page count required Wein to rush things a little. Giolitti still gives us a cool looking fight and the overall story is indeed more fun than a barrel full of rum-soaked pirates.

Next week, a giant alien hand terrorizes Gotham City. Some days, it doesn't pay to leave the Batcave.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

Great Jack Kirby cover. I have a particular appreciation for covers that can include a lot of characters and kinetic action, but still be composed in such a way as to not seem overcrowded.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Tarzan: "Gold of the Sudan" 7/5/51

An old enemy of Tarzan is kidnapping and torturing older members of a Sudanese tribe in a brutal attempt to learn where a hidden cache of gold is located. The ending, despite involving Tarzan losing a hand-to-hand fight way too easily, is exciting and ties everything up with an effective ironic twist.

Click HERE to listen or download.

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