Monday, June 27, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

Blade's wooden throwing knives were the coolest anti-vampire weapons this side of the garlic-tipped darts that fired out of Quincy Harker's wheelchair.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

CBS Radio Mystery Theater: "The Haunted Mill" 11/8/77

A very, very spooky and atmospheric ghost story about an old haunted mill and a missing man who may or may not be dead.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fight 'em One-Handed!

Avenging Rider (1943) gets off to an admittedly weak start--since it depends on Tim Holt's character (Brit Marshall) getting fooled by a gang of gold thieves a little too easily. This lands Brit and his sidekick (Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards) in the slammer, falsely accused of robbery and murder.

Fortunately, the script allows Holt to start acting intelligently again. He needs to figure out a way to clear himself and his friends. As is always the case in B-movies, the best plan is for Holt and Cliff to bust jail and find the real crooks. In fact, unless I miscounted, they get captured on three separate occasions throughout this 55-minute film, only to manage an escape each time. Might as well put a revolving door on that jail cell. It's worse than Arkham Asylum.

That's not a complaint, though. The movie is a lot of fun, with several nifty action set-pieces and (after Holt's initial stupidity) a solid script.

There's a neat plot device used in this one. When the four real robbers ask a crooked banker to hide the stolen gold, they want something to guarantee their claim to the loot. Rather understandably, the banker doesn't want to give them a signed receipt. Instead, he divides a playing card into five pieces. He'll keep one piece and anyone showing up with another piece can claim a share of the gold.

Naturally, these playing card fragments become an important clue while Holt is tracking the villains and trying to figure out what's going on.

One of the action scenes, by the way, is particularly fun. Holt, who has a wounded arm, gets into a fist fight with a crooked gambler. He has to fight one-handed, but manages to curb stomp the gambler even while under this disadvantage.

Avenging Rider has all the elements you expect from a solid B-Western: Likable heroes, despicable bad guys, nice location photography, a good story and some humor. The sidekick is reasonably funny, but the best laughs come from the dimwitted deputy that Holt and Cliff are continually tricking into allowing them to escape.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

School for Sheriffs

In theory, Hopalong Cassidy worked for the Bar 20 ranch, but in both movies and comic books, he ended up taking temporary work as a lawman when the situation called for it. How he managed this while still running a large ranch is frankly beyond me. The time-management aspect of it seems insurmountable. But then, Hoppy is a remarkable guy.

In fact, he's so remarkable that in DC's Hopalong Cassidy book, he even had time to teach a class for perspective sheriffs.

By the way, Fawcett Comics had the license for Hoppy from the mid-1940s until they folded in 1953. DC took over the book and retained the old numbering system. The book we're reviewing it Hoppy #117 (September 1956), written by John Broome.

Hoppy spends most of the sheriff class calling the students to task for carrying shoddy equipment--or even for not having your cartridge belt fully stocked with spare ammo. But Hoppy isn't just being mean. He's determined to make sure his students don't get killed.

One guy is short a bullet in his belt. But can one bullet make a difference? Hoppy recounts a tale where he was cornered by outlaws with only one bullet left. He used a clever trick to get the drop on the bad guys, but if hadn't had that one extra bullet, he'd have been killed.

The story sets up its theme very effectively this way. Hoppy isn't going all Drill Sergeant on the newbies, but he is stern and might potentially seem petulant. But as he continues to make his points, he also makes it clear that he's teaching these guys stuff that really will keep them alive.

Another student has a loose spur. That's a potential problem as well. In fact, a loose spur nearly got Hoppy killed once and did blow a chance to trail some outlaws back to their hideout (and their hidden loot) before he had to take them out.

Yet another student has a frayed spot on his rope. This time, Hoppy relates a story in which an outlaw he was pursuing had a frayed rope--something Hoppy was able to capitalize on to save his own life. The point is the same, though. Poorly maintained equipment can cost you dearly.

"School for Sheriffs" is a neat little story, with a well-constructed plot and great Gene Colan art work.

And Hoppy really is a great teacher--providing us with a model of what a teacher in any subject is supposed to do, whether teaching adults or kids. The teacher isn't there to make friends with the students or build their self-esteem. He's there to teach them what they need to know and make it clear that there are consequences for not learning it. THAT, by golly, is what a teacher does.

Next week, we'll revisit the Shogun Warriors as we continue to examine their complete saga.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

New banner for the blog.

I have a new banner for my blog, a portrait of the blog's behind-the-scenes editor, Melvin the Velociraptor. Actually, it's still unfinished--some color needs to be added and the artist tells me that he'll be adjusting some of the shadows and background opacity. But it looks so awesome that I thought I'd start using it now, updating it to the finished version when that's ready in a few days.

The artist is Ben Alvarez and you can see more of his work HERE.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Hall of Fantasy: "Treasure of Kubla Khan"

A small group of treasure seekers follow a map that supposedly leads them to the legendary treasure of Kubla Khan. There's a story that Khan's general is still guarding the treasure after all these centuries, but this is dismissed as obvious nonsense.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Diamonds of Death

Read/Watch 'em In Order #68

"Diamonds of Death" (Black Mask, August 1931) finds private eye Jo Gar in San Francisco. He's found six of the ten stolen diamonds, but his one remaining suspect managed to slip through customs without the remaining four being discovered.

Fortunately, a customs agent visits Jo Gar with new of where the suspect has holed up. Unfortunately, the customs agent isn't really a customs agent. Jo is being lured into a trap.

Jo Gar knows the agent was a fake and the supposed hide-out is a trap. But this is a chance to find the rest of the diamonds, catch the man responsible for so many murders and finally just get to go home. So he walks into the trap. (Though not without making some preparations first.)

This final story in the "Rainbow Diamonds" series is wonderful. Jo Gar's final confrontation with the chief bad guy is very, very tense and keeps the reader riveted to the story from start to finish. The serial has a whole is the high point in the career of an already great hard-boiled character, with this final chapter arguably the best of the lot.

It's interesting to compare this story with "Red Dawn"--the fourth story in the serial. I was a little critical of that one, because several elements of the story (the bad guy spouting off information for no good reason) seemed a little contrived. "Diamonds of Death" ends with a similar situation and once again has the villain conveniently explaining his actions, but somehow comes across as much more natural. I'm not even sure why--Raoul Whitfeld simply makes it work here.

There's another aspect of the story I love. Jo Gar arrives at the house he's been lured to by cab. Part of his preparations for foiling what he knows is a trap is to tell the cab driver to honk his horn at set intervals, then go for the police. The cab driver ups the ante by saying he packs a gun and is willing to come into the house after Jo Gar if necessary.

Gee whiz, all this for a fare he literally just met. You just don't get that kind of service nowadays. I blame Uber.

The next Read 'em in Order will be a look at the first of two Doc Savage novels in which the Man of Bronze battles a villain who may actually be as smart as he is.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Friendship, Betrayal and Outright Aggression

Hal Foster was such a magnificent illustrator that I think sometimes fans of his work often come close to forgetting that he was a brilliant and sophisticated writer as well.

A story arc beginning in June 1955 provides us with a great example of his skill as an artist AND writer. Valiant, his wife Aleta, his three children (young Arn and the toddler twin girls), along with Sir Gawain and two boatloads of Northmen, have ended up in Kiev after a series of adventures. Now its time to head home, something that will require a trip up the Dnieper.

The story of this river journey can be divided into four chapters--with the last chapter involving a lengthy flashback as Valiant, while recovering from wounds, recounts some of his early adventures to his kids. The first three chapters, though, each involves an encounter with a different people group. Each of these people groups reacts in a different way to Valiant's expedition, giving each little mini-adventure its own flavor and maintaining a high level of excitement from beginning to end.

The trip actually begins on a grim note: food supplies begin to run low and Valiant injures his leg while hunting an auroch. It's while he's lying helpless near the dead beast that a couple of local tribesmen appear and seem determined to finish him off. Some of Valiant's men arrive in time to capture the tribesmen before they do any harm.

Despite this rather shaky start to friendship, Valiant manages to cut a deal with the tribesmen. They'll get metal arrowheads in exchange for bringing meat. This provides boat crews with the food they need.

The next crisis comes soon after that. The boats arrive at the Great Portage, where the river becomes un-navigable for a time and the longboats must the hauled across the ground.

By this point, the expedition has arrived in the territory of another tribe. Valiant cuts a deal with them, paying them a fair price for helping to portage the boats.

It takes some back-breaking work, with the locals and the Northmen all working together, to get one boat across the portage. Then the new, young leader of the tribe decides that Valiant's willingness to pay well is a sign of weakness. He demands double pay, determined to back this up by placing some armed men nearby.

This is not a good idea. To quote the strip itself: "Prince Valiant's motto is, treat everyone fairly, but do not depend on fairness in return." In other words, Valiant has armed men in place watching the armed men who are watching him.

The new, young leader never does get any older. Having lost the confidence of his people, he happens to suffer a tragic "accident" one night soon after his failure to renegotiate. From that point on, the tribe and the Northmen are again able to work together and finish portaging the boats.

The boats continue north along the river. By now, Val's leg has largely healed, so he is leading a scouting patrol along the river's edge when they encounter a band of Swedes. There's no chance for friendship or negotiation this time--the Swedes want Valiant's stuff and simply attack.

Outnumbered, Valiant sends one man running back to the boats for reinforcements. He and his patrol hold the line for a few moments, then break and run. The Swedes pursue--but Val was expecting this. When the Swedes are strong out along the trail, he turns suddenly back upon them.

In the ensuing melee, Val is wounded. Gawain and more men arrive to save his bacon, which leads to the aforementioned flashback sequence. By this point, Prince Valiant had been running for nearly twenty years, so its not surprising that Foster decided to recap some early adventures.

By the time Val is on his feet again, the boats have reached the Baltic Sea, bringing the river journey to an end.

It's a wonderful adventure, containing many sharp character moments involving Val and his family on top of the inherent excitement. The art work is magnificent, of course, but it is interesting to note just how well-written and multi-layered the story is. There are times when--in my mind--Prince Valiant comes very close to surpassing Terry and the Pirates as the best adventure strip ever. Like Milt Caniff, Hal Foster wrote as well as he drew and created a perfect synergy between plot and imagery.

Next week, we'll visit an Old West classroom and listen to Hopalong Cassidy teach us how to be a good sheriff.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

For some, this would be a traumatic event. For Tarzan, it's Tuesday.

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