Thursday, October 17, 2019

Bearcats!



A few years ago, I wrote a short post about a 1971 TV series titled Bearcats!, about a pair of adventurers tooling around the American Southwest (and sometimes Mexico) in a Stutz Bearcat during the 1910s. They hire out to solve dangerous problems, usually involving crooks, spies or revolutionaries.

When I wrote that post, I hadn't actually seen the show since I was a child and I was wondering if it would be as much fun to watch it as an adult as it had been in 1971. After all, the premise and the cool car would be enough to carry the show for the average 11-year-old boy.

Well, the show finally came out on DVD a few years ago. As an adult, I find myself really annoyed by the obvious 1970s haircuts. There are a few continuity and story construction problems, and (at the risk of sounding brutal) it really needed to be a little more violent than it was, with a higher body count. That would have been dramatically appropriate for the stories being told.

But it's still an entertaining show, with fun protagonists and that totally cool car carrying along the stories nicely.

Today, though, I want to talk not directly about the show, but a tie-in novel based on the show.


But wait! There's no blurb on that cover saying something like "based on the hit TV series." In fact, there's no reference to the series at all and, interestingly, the copyright is in the author's name. The cover illustration, though eye-catching and accurate to the story, gives no hint to its early 20th-Century setting.

There were several posts about this on a Men's Paperback Adventure group on Facebook. Someone came up with a reasonable theory:

The author, John Hunter (a pseudonym for pulp veteran W.T. Ballard), was hired to write a tie-in novel--a common practice for TV shows at that time. He did indeed write the novel, but the show tanked after just 13 episodes and plans to publish the novel were cancelled.

So Hunter submitted the novel to another publisher and it was published under his copyright. It's not impossible that he asked permission of the show's producers before doing this, but it seems unlikely that studio lawyers would have signed off on it. Instead, it is very likely that Hunter simply hoped no one would notice that he was using the characters and premise from the show and call him on it. And, apparently, he was right. No one noticed and Hunter committed the perfect literary crime.

Anyways, if you like the premise of Bearcats! (a Western set late enough to allow for cars and machine guns), then this book is worth tracking down and reading.

The protagonists are asked by an old friend to help save her gold mine, which is on the verge of bankruptcy because of rampant theft and corruption. It's a good premise, starting off as essentially as a detective story. As events play out, the plot smoothly evolves into a pure action tale, with the heroes using their cool car in an innovative way to save men trapped in a mine by a fire, then later pursuing a group of bad guys into Mexico.

So if you run across Hell Hole in a used book store, don't hesitate to snag a copy. Despite its flaws, Bearcats! wasn't with us long enough. So another Bearcats! story is always welcome.

There will, by the way, be no post on Thursday next week due to my honeymoon. We'll be back on our regular schedule in two weeks.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Importance of Matching Frequencies

cover art by Carmine Infantino

One of the fun things about the Silver Age Flash stories was how the hero could use his super-speed in supposedly scientific ways to accomplish whatever plot-convenient thing he needed to accomplish.

For instance, Flash #168 (March 1967) has him using his speed to find something invisible by spinning at just the right frequency. He also spins his arm to form a cushion of solid air to stop a beam of radiation.

There was always a chance that this occasions could come across as a contrived deus ex machina, but writer John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino were so casual about it that it all just seems like a perfectly natural and logical extension of Flash's speed. Besides, if all Flash could do was run fast, his stories would lose dramatic edge pretty quickly.

This is, after all, the way science in a Comic Book Universe is supposed to work. If the laws of physics followed Real Life rules, then a world with superheros in it would be pretty boring.

The story begins with Barry Allen worried, because Hal Jordan was supposed to be arriving for a visit, but seems to have vanished. When a Guardian of the Universe pops up in Barry's home to tell him even Hal's all-powerful bosses don't know where he is, there is definitely reason to worry.



Adding to Barry's problems is Hjalmar Helms (I love that name), who has been trying to invent time travel, but instead accidentally invents a purple ray that can in turn create futuristic devises. By himself, Helms is harmless. But when crooks find out about the purple ray, then lock Helms in his own closet and become self-described "super crooks."


Flash has a run-in with the gang and nearly defeats them, but a lucky shot with a sleep ray puts him down long enough for the bad guys to escape.


In the meantime, Flash does find an amnesiac Hal Jordan working on a local fishing boat. One clue leads them to the hotel Hal had been staying at before losing his memory. Barry figures that if Hal uses his power battery to recharge his ring, that could fix his amnesia, but the darn battery (and Hal's ring, for that matter) are invisible and intangible until needed.


So we find out that Flash can see invisible things by spinning around really, really fast. It's stuff like this that make Flash's stories from this era so delightful.







Hal gets his memory back and we learn that a mysterious feedback from the battery is what gave him amnesia in the first place.  But there's no time to try to figure that out as the two must hurriedly team up to take out the super-crooks, with Barry using his superspeed once again in wonderfully weird ways to help win the fight. Along the way, he notices that a ray gun fired by one of the crooks has no effect on a yellow school bus. So, when Barry and Hal track down Hjalmar Helms and set him free, they are able to deduce that Helms purple ray machine matched the frequency of the power battery. This caused the feedback that zapped Hal's memory and gave the purple ray its power.

So the two seemingly seperate storylines tie together neatly. And we learn that just as SCIENCE is done in the Doctor Who universe by reversing polarity, SCIENCE in the DC Universe is done by matching frequencies. I wonder what would happen if you reversed polarity on something and then matched frequencies with it?

Next week, there will be a Honeymoon Break with no posts on Wednesday or Thursday.  I appreciate my small readership and usually work to be regular in my posts to show the proper respect for you all. But, well, it's my honeymoon.

In two weeks, Iron Man and Doctor Doom travel back to the days of King Arthur.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Whistler: "Quiet Sunday" 6/10/46



A man's quiet sunday is interrupted when his mistress and then his wife both unexpectedly show up at his home. A death and the need to improvise a plan to hide a body quickly follows.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Science-Adventure Story!



No matter how I delude myself into thinking I'm something of an expert on Pre-Digital Pop Culture, I find that I often stumble over something really cool that I didn't even know about.

A few months ago, my sister-in-law texted me a picture of some Rick Brant Science-Adventure novels she saw in a used book store in South Carolina. I thought they looked neat and asked her to buy one and send it to me.

I'm glad I did and, in fact, I'm sorry I didn't ask her to pick up several more as well. The Pirates of Shan (1958) is a lot of fun.

The Rick Brant books were written from 1947 until 1968. John Blaine was a pen name. The books were actually written by Harold L. Goodwin. Peter J. Harkins co-authored the first three. In 1990, an unpublished adventure was published, topping off the series at 24 books.

Rick was the son of a scientist who lived on Spindrift Island, off the coast of New Jersey. The island is the home of the Spindrift Foundation, so Rick is growing up among a community of scientists. So it's probably no surprise that he turns out to be pretty smart himself. Rick himself is a teenager, but his partner in adventure is Don "Scotty" Scott, an ex-marine whom I assume must be a few years older. The one book I've read didn't make that clear to me.


I've never read anywhere that the Rick Brant series were an influence on the classic Johnny Quest cartoon, but its hard not to make comparisons. Rick ends up going on dangerous adventures, despite his young age. He has a Hindu friend named Chahda, who is also smart and resourceful. And he has an older combat-trained friend who looks after him. Sounds like Johnny, Hadji and Race Bannon to me.

But then, science-adventure stories with young protagonists (designed to appeal to young readers) were not uncommon, so the simularities to Johnny Quest can easily be coincidental.


The Pirates of Shan starts off when it is learned that two scientists attached to the Spindrift Foundation have gone missing while in the Phillippines. Everyone in the Foundation has long-since thought of the others as family rather than just co-workers, so this is personal. Rick and Scotty accompany one of the adult scientists to the Phillippines to investigate. They are joined there by Chahda.

Chahda is a great character, by the way. Because of the time frame in which these books were written, it would not be surprising to find him portrayed as a stereotype. But he's a fully-fleshed out person who is respected and treated as a equal by the Spindrifters. They depend on him to gather information and trust him completely at the climax when he is improvising wildly to get the others out of danger.




The Pirates of Shah is paced a little too slowly for the first few chapters, but once the Spindrifters get a line on a group of pirates who are likely responsible for kidnapping their friends, the story really takes off. Then the book earns huge points with me when Rick and friends have to take to the sea and end up renting a World War II-era surplus PT Boat. PT Boats are cool!



They get jumped several times by pirates using small sailing craft, but manage to defend themselves successfully. Scotty is quite adept with a rifle, while Rick proves to be handy with a bow and arrow.


They finally backtrack the pirates to a volcanic island, where the two kidnapped scientists are being held. So the next thing to do is sneak onto the island and smuggle a radio to the captives. Then an actual rescue attempt needs to be planned.


All through the adventure, the emphasis is on the good guys thinking through the situation, considering facts, discussing theories, taking their resources into account and then making intelligent plans. Though this particular novel emphasizes adventure over science, the idea of the protagonists using their intelligence to deal with situations is a prime theme.

And the final rescue is truly exciting, involving an escape across the island while carrying an injuried man, a wild shoot-out at a cove filled with pirate vessels and Chahdra essentially weaponizing the pure speed of the PT Boat to pull everyone out of the frying pan.


Fortunately, most of the Rick Brant novels are available electronically for a very cheap price, so I'll be able to visit him again. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Pilot Who Belongs on the Ground (World War I Biplanes--Part 3)

cover art by Russ Heath

Lt. Blake is, frankly, in the wrong business. He flies a fighter plane during the First World War. Or, rather, he flies a number of planes--he keeps losing his planes to enemy action or random mishaps. All without ever actually shooting down an enemy plane.

This is the premise of "Ace In Reserve," written by Hank Chapman and drawn by Jack Abel. Appearing in All-American Men at War #100 (November-December 1963), the story is exciting, fun and (like last week's Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s story) full of both humor and cool-looking biplanes.
 When Blake's squadron commander saves him from losing another plane (even though that means losing a chance to shoot down a German ace), the poor guy can at least take comfort in the fact that he didn't actually lose another plane.



Seconds later, his plane is hit by lightning and he literally crashes into the headquarters of the enemy squadron. Adding insult to embarrassment, the German commander recognizes him as the guy who keeps losing planes and, after locking him, begins to make fun of him on a daily basis.


Finally, Blake snaps and makes a break for it. Chaos ensues. The Germans shoot at him, but accidentally set fires to some barrels of fuel. So Blake rolls the burning barrels into some of the enemy planes. Then he steals a plane for himself and manages to destroy several more aircraft before he takes off. 









THEN he gets shot down by his own squadron commander because he's flying an enemy plane. But the commander picks him up, pointing out that Blake is essentially a secret weapon--as long as he stays on the ground.


This brings our World War I biplane series to an end. Next week, we'll see what happens when Green Lantern gets amnesia.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Edgar Rice Burroughs Podcast Episode #9



Here's the latest episode of the Edgar Rice Burroughs podcast. Jess, Scott and I talk about ERB's 1927 novel "The Master Mind of Mars," which combines adventure with a Frankenstein-like horror vibe involving brain transplants and resurrecting the dead. 

The audio only version can be found HERE

Friday, October 4, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Lux Radio Theater: "The African Queen" 12/15/52



Greer Garson fills in for Katharine Heburn (and does an excellent job as Rosie) in this adaptation of The African Queen.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

"You killed him, girlie. But you didn't kill him dead enough!"



A few weeks ago, I was playing the game Ace Detective, a card game in which the players create a hard-boiled mystery set in the early 1940s. One of the components are cards you can play that include quotes from various hard-boiled stories.

One of those quotes was "You killed him, girlie. But you didn't kill him dead enough!"

Well, obviously I had to look up the story from which that quote is taken and read it.

The story is "Heir in the Air," published in the September 1945 issue of Black Mask. It was written by Dale Clark, one of several pen names used by a writer named Ronal Kayser. Clark wrote something over two hundred stories for the pulps, including twenty-nine stories for Black Mask featuring hotel detective Mike O'Hanna.

Clark is one of those writers that it is a delight to discover as more and more pulp magazines become available digitally. "Heir in the Air" is the first story by Clark I've read, so its my introduction to O'Hanna.

I like him. The hotel for which he works is a swanky Southern California place called San Alpa. He's tough and, if a crime is committed, quite willing to direct that toughness at the wealthy, paying customers.



That's quite necessary in this case. The attractive Eva Taine has come running out of her room, screaming that the ghost of her grandfather had just tried to strangle her.

An investigation leads to another nearby room, where the guy staying there actually took a shot at the supposed ghost. Soon after that, though, a fresh corpse with a bullet in him is found.

O'Hanna soon discovers that several other members of the Taine family are in the hotel, all of whom have issues. This pretty quickly starts to aggravate him: "I'm tired of bumping into a brad-new Taine family skeleton every time I open a door!"

The murder, the supposed ghost and various other shenanigans turn out to revolve around a copy of the first draft of the Gettysburg Address. An old attempt to kill the Taine grandfather with a car bomb several years earlier is also a factor.  (He had since died of natural causes.) The fact that the grandfather had left a chunk of money to his cat is also thrown into the mix.

Despite all this, O'Hanna proves himself to be smart as well as tough. He manages to sort all these facts together and arrive at the truth.

A few years ago, I wrote about an Erle Stanley Gardner character whose adventures have never been collected into a single volume. The same is true of Clark's Mike O'Hanna tales. I love stumbling across pulp characters whose adventures I haven't read before, but once I find them, I want ALL the stories. I want them NOW!!!

Well, at least "Heir in the Air" is there to read. You can find it online HERE.
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