Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

American Portraits: "There Stands Jackson" 7/31/51

The Civil War on Old-Time Radio (Part 4 of 17)

Confederate general Thomas Jackson earns his nickname "Stonewall" at the 1st Battle of Bull Run and was accidentally killed by his own troops at Chancellorsville.

Click HERE to listen or download.

This is the fourth of 17 episodes from various series that will take us through the Civil War and its immediate post-war legacy. I'll be posting another Civil War episode every three or four weeks.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Fight, Scrub, Fight!

Read/Watch 'em In Order #94

I haven't read a lot of the sports pulps. Perhaps its because I'm primarily a baseball fan and am largely uninterested in other sports. But if you take a unusually uninteresting sport and go Old School with it, then there's no reason I can't get interested.

So I'm going to be reading through the stories in the February 1949 issue of  New Sports Magazine, which--in addition to a baseball yarn--includes stories about football, boxing, track, basketball, and... golf? Gee whiz, if a pulp magazine can make golf interesting, it will be a reaffirmation that the pulps were the greatest source of entertaining fiction in the history of mankind.

The first story we come to is "Fight, Scrub, Fight," by John D. Macdonald. MacDonald, who would eventually hit the big time with his hard-boiled Travis McGee novels, came up out of the pulps and had that admireable talent of being able to churn out a good story in a variety of genres.

Here he tells us about Tony Sterga, a college football coash with a very methodical and effective coashing style. An important game is coming up and tradition seems to demand that he field his two weakest players (Mercer and White) because the fathers of those players had won big games years earlier.

But Tony won't do it. He doesn't have a deep bench, so he realizes he might have to play them. But barring injuries to his better players, Mercer and White will be warming the bench throughout the game.

When Mercer's father asks to meet with him, Tony expects direct pressure to play the son. But the dad knows his son isn't an athelete and should be concentrating on his studies. The older man asks Tony not to play his son.

But though Tony would rather not play Mercer, he won't make any promises. He'll do what he needs to do to win the game.

The game itself takes up the bulk of the story and MacDonald's skills as a storyteller really shine here. The prose is sharp, clear and engaging, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you follow along. Naturally, a couple of injuries forces Tony to put Mercer and White in the game.

This is predictable, as is the ending. But MacDonald manages to add a few fun twists to the outcome nonetheless.

Tony, by the way, as a wife who loves him but does wish he'd be a little less rigid. Her introduction into the story is a great example of how effective a writer was MacDonald:

Loren, her eyes still misted with sleep, smiled at him, lifted her lips to be kissed. She was Irish and her dark hair was black as a raven's wing, her blue eyes warm and tender and gently mocking.

Two brief sentences and we have all the information we need to understand her. We know that Tony has hit the Wife Jackpot and that Loren will be a counter-balance to Tony's rigidity. That is great writing.

This issue of New Sports Magazine can be found HERE.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Giant Alien Robot Caretakers of a Dinosaur Zoo!!

Why isn't this a real thing? Giant Robots are a perfect idea for running a dinosaur zoo! Yes, it seems to have gone awry in Brave and the Bold #39 (December 1961/January 1962), but no system is perfect. I've wanted to go to Jurassic Park for years, but the heck with that now. I want to go to a dinosaur zoo run by giant robots. I want to go NOW!

This story was written by Bob Kanigher and drawn by Ross Andru. Put Kanigher and Andru together on a story involving dinosaurs and it is an inviolable Law of the Universe that it will be entertaining.

"Prisoners of the Dinosaur Zoo" features the original Suicide Squad--Rick Flagg and three other agents recruited by the government to accomplish incredibly dangerous missions. I don't think the squad began using criminals until its modern incarnation began in the 1980s.

Though the Suicide Squad normally gets assisgned to missions, this time  they fall into an adventure accidentally. When their plane is struck by lightning, they are forced to land in a remote area. Here they find the body of giant robot lying next to the skeleton of a dinosaur.

The exploration of a nearby cavern and the discovery of an underground lake add to the mystery when the squad is swallowed by a giant dinosaur.

Inside the dinosaur, though, they don't find an intestinal track. Instead, they find a jungle infested with dinosaurs. A series of encounters with a succession of monsters follow, with the squad using their secret weapons--such as a gun that fires a variety of ammunition--to say alive.

Finally, they run across a giant porthole and realize the dinosaur that swallowed them is actually a huge dinosaur-shaped ship. When they see a T-Rex manhandling a giant robot, Doc (the smart one on the team) immediately deduces that they are on an alien ship that landed millions of years ago with the intention of collecting dinosaurs for a zoo. But the ship failed to blast off again and eventually the dinosaurs got the upper hand on the robots.  It actually seems to be a bit of  a stretch that Doc can get all this from seeing one dinosaur destroying one robot, but he does turn out to be right. So there you go.

The ending of the story is a bit awkward. After the squad escapes from the ship, it finally blasts off with no explanation for how it suddenly became active again after eons floating in an underground lake.
But that's beside the point. The point is with that ship gone, there isn't a single place on Earth where you can visit a dinosaur zoo run by giant alien robots. NOT A SINGLE ONE. This is inexcusable and someone really needs to do something about it.

I'm waiting!

Next week, a swashbuckling mercenary teams up with a circus strongman.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Friday, November 9, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke: "Solomon River" 4/17/60

While escorting a prisoner into Dodge City, Dillon and Chester meet a half-starved, half-crazy woman... who's desperately trying to dig a grave in rock-hard soil.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Scar

Here's a 1948 Film Noir that couldn't decide on a name--it was produced by Eagle-Lion Films, which was a British company that made films intended to be released in the U.S. The working title during production was The Man Who Murdered Himself, the British title (and the novel its based on) was Hollow Triumph and the U.S. title was The Scar.

Well, whatever the title, it's a good Noir film. It was produced by its stat, Paul Henreid, because Henreid wanted to play a bad guy.

And the guy he plays is definitely bad. John Muller is a med-school drop out who had been studying to be a psychiatrist. But somewhere along the way he went bad. Released from prison after serving time for one crime, he immediately starts planning another. And this will be the big one. He and three other guys will rob a casino run by a notorious gangster. This is dangerous--if they pull it off but the gangster learns who they are, they're as good as dead.

But Muller has a plan that will get them in and out with 200 grand in cash without anyone seeing them. Nothing ever goes as planned in a Noir film, though. Soon, Muller's buddies are all dead and he's on the run with a price on his head.

This is where his luck seems to change. He learns about a psychiatrist who looks just like him. Except for a scar on the doctor's face, the two could be twins.

So now Muller has a new plan. He'll have to cut a scar in his own cheek, but then its just a matter of learning as much as he can about the doctor, killing the doctor and taking his place. He knows enough about psycho-analysis to get by. Nothing can possibly go wrong. He even snaps a photo of the doctor to act as a guide when he cuts his own cheek.

He really should have made sure the negative wasn't reversed before the print was made. That way, he wouldn't have scarred the wrong cheek on his own face.

Muller doesn't notice this mistake until he's getting ready to dump the doctor's body. By then, there's nothing he can do but try to brazen it out and depend on how unobservant most people are.  But even if he gets away with that, there are other things about the doctor's life that might come back to haunt Muller.

The Scar (or whatever you want to call it) is a good Film Noir. Henreid does a fine job in bringing the clever, sometimes charming and always sociopathic John Muller to life. Joan Bennett, as the doctor's secretary who falls for Muller before the identity switch is made, also gives a strong performance.  The plot is a tad bit unlikely, of course, and there are moments when the story seems contrived. But overall its not a bad way to spend an hour-and-a-half of your time.

The film is in the public domain, so here it is from YouTube. If you have Amazon Prime, a pretty good print is available there.

Look for an absurdly young Jack Webb in a small role as a hitman.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Looking for Immortality--The Count Nefaria Trilogy, Part 3

cover art by George Perez

Avengers #166 (December 1977) brings this entertaining three-parter to a very satisfying end.  Jim Shooter's script remains strong and John Byrne gives us a truly epic fight scene.

To recap: Count Nefaria has used super-science to give him Superman-level superpowers. But now he's in a dizzy about being mortal and one day dying, despite being perhaps the most powerful person on the planet. He's curb-stomped the Avengers, demanding to have Thor brought to him. We discover that he's working on the erroneous assumption that Thor's hammer will make him immortal.

Thor shows up on the last page of the previous issue and starts whaling away on Nefaria. The Count, still new to having powers, comes near to panicking at first, but soon discovers he can go toe-to-toe with the God of Thunder.

In the meantime, Yellowjacket (who seemed to have run from the battle in the last issue) is busy trying to revive Vision (injured in a previous story arc). He succeeds and the android immediately joins in the fun. Unfortunately, Nefaria is "too charged with super-energy" for Vision's usual trick of jamming an incorporeal hand into an enemy's chest to work. Gee whiz, Viz, anyone versed in the basics of Comic Book Science could have told you that!

Most of the other Avengers revive and rejoin the tussele. With so much raw power being thrown at him, Nefaria is staggered. But he's still not going down.

The whole battle truly is epic. Byrne's art sometimes seems to jump off the page as characters drop buildings on one another and throw ultra-powerful haymakers.

But the tone of the battle changes abruptly. Nefaria thought he had killed the scientists who gave him his powers (never work for a super-villain--they have terrible benefit packages), but one of them lives long enough to show up and tell Nefaria that these powers are aging him rapidly and he'll be dead in two days.

This sends Nefaria into full blown panic mode. He finally goes down, though, when Vision simply turns his body diamond-hard and FALLS on the villain from a tremendous height.

The last few panels seem slighty deus ex machina as it turns out the scientist lived just long enough to tell Hank Pym how to take away Nefaria's powers before the villain wakes up. But there's also a neat twist. The scientist was lying about Nefaria being doomed. In fact, his new powers would have made him immortal. It's the perfect way to end the story.

Characterizations for the individual Avengers continue to be spot-on and Shooter's script adds nice character touches to the villains as well. I like, for instance, that Nefaria is close to panic at the beginning of his fight with Thor. It makes sense--he's only had super-powers for a few hours at the most and now a literal god is slugging him with a super-powered hammer. Anyone would need a few minutes to get used to that.

Next week--giant robot caretakers of a dinosaur zoo. Why this isn't a real thing is beyond me.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

The novelization of the original King Kong was actually released before the film, so its technically Kong's first appearance.
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