Friday, April 19, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Whistler: "The Cistern" 12/10/45

A man finds an abandoned cistern in a remote desert location. If you are planning on murdering your business partner, this would be a perfect place to hide the body.

Wouldn't it?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Picking the Wrong Side

Read/Watch 'em In Order #101

Henry Kuttner's second Elak of Atlantis tale appeared in the July 1938 issue of Weird Tales and this time snagged a pretty awesome Virgil Finlay cover.

The first Elak story had ended with the hero accompanied by the woman he'd fallen in love with, so "Spawn of Dagon" is probably set earlier in Elak's life. The girl is nowhere to be found, though another beautiful damsel in distress is in need of rescuing.

Elak and his perpetually drunken sidekick Lycon begin the story looting the corpse of a city guard they had just killed. Lycon falls into a drunken stupor at a a really bad moment, forcing Elak to carry him while fleeing from still more guards.

They are helped by a guy named Gesti, who takes them into an underground labyrinth and is soon offering Elak a job: kill a wizard named Zend and destroy the red sphere that is the source of Zend's magic.

With Lycon still drunk, Elak takes on the job alone. But after entering Zend's home through a secret passage, he encounters difficulties. Among these difficulties are a disembodied head that shouts out warnings of intruders and a massive minion whom Zend recognizes as a recently executed criminal. Despite his recent death, thuogh, the criminal is still walking around.

But these difficulties are nothing compared to the fact that Gesti--the man who hired Elak... well, he isn't really a man. And having  Zend killed is actually the first step in a plan to destroy humankind. So Elak soon realized he's on the wrong side.

 "Spawn of Dagon" is a great story: exciting and atmospheric, with humor effectively peppered through throughout tale. The character of Lycon is used very effectively. He seems worse then useless at first, but proves his loyalty and occasional usefulness at the  story's climax.

 As I mentioned earlier, this story seems to take place before "Thunder in the Dawn." I like continuity in my fictional universe, so it's tempting for me to theorize about  the chronology of Elak's adventures.

But sometimes it's better to treat a series of  tales about a particular hero as a series of mythic legends that don't require an internal chronology. Film director George Miller has this attitude about the Mad Max movies. I recently had an online discussion in which someone made a very good case for looking at the original Conan the Barbarian stories this way rather than paying attention to any of the suggested chronologies that have been published over the years. Perhaps it's best to look at the Elak stories the same way. I'll use my authority as an obscure blogger with a tiny readership to adjudicate on this after we've looked at the last two stories in the series.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Worst Date Night Ever

It seems poor Adam Strange never gets to just spend a quiet day with his girlfriend when he arrives on the planet Rann. There's always a disaster of some sort he needs to deal with.

For instance, in Strange Adventures #222 (Jan.-February 1970), the latest Zeta Beam brings Adam back to Rann, but he lands right smack in the middle of a war. People around him are fighting to the death. And his side seems to be losing. And his gal is being kidnapped. NONE of this is the recipe for a fun date night.

The story, by the way, was written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Gil Kane.

The bad guys are Reekahs, a race of barbarians who have short-term super-speed in addition to their robot unicorns. They get alway with Alanna and a few other hostages, offering to release them only if supplied with modern weapons. But if they get the weapons, their fortress will become impregnable and they will become unstoppable conquerers.

In fact, their fortress already is impregnable. So how does one get inside the walls? Adam has an epiphany--What if they leave a gift for the Reekahs just outside the fortress?

This sounds just like the Trojan War, doesn't it?

I like the nice twist that O'Neil gives the story here. The people of Rann leave a ship outside the walls as tribute. But the Reekahs tumble to the fact that its a trick. Their leader orders the ship destroyed.

But Adam had figured on this. The ship, in fact, is a double-bluff. When it blows up, it releases a gas that weakens the Reekahs and takes away their super-speed.

Adam leads an attack force into the fortress. The bad guys are defeated and the hostages are saved. But this takes a little too long as far as Adam's love life is concerned. He teleports back to Earth after he and Alanna have time for one brief hug.

Gil Kane's art looks fantastic, the robot unicorns are cool and the plot twist involving the double-bluff Trojan ship is a good one. This is a solid and entertaining science fiction adventure.

Next week, we visit again with Turok. I've got a back log of Turok issues I've been meaning to review, so please remember--you can NEVER have too many dinosaurs!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Cavalcade of America: "Red Lanterns on St. Michaels" 8/11/41

The Civil War on Old-Time Radio (Part 10 of 17)

On February 17, 1864, the H.L. Hunley, a primitive Confederate submarine, launched an attack on one of the Union warships blockading Charleston harbor.

Click HERE to listen or download.

This is the tenth 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, April 11, 2019

The Ultimate Team-Up

Hanna-Barbara pretty much ruled Saturday mornings in the 1950s and early 1960s. That was the studio that developed the concept of Limited Animation in order to force production costs down low enough to be profitable for television.

An fan of animation at the time might have justifiably thought that this would be the death knell for the art form. And it is fair to aim some constructive criticism at the idea. There is a lack of smoothness to the animation and it can be really, really noticable when Fred Flintstone runs past the same table and chair six times in a few seconds.

But the Hanna-Barbara cartoons are classics in their own right despite the limited animation. Why? Because of clever writing and wonderful characters. A syngergy of writing, character design and voice acting (by brilliant voice actors such as Daws Butler and Don Messick) gave us Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and a bevy of other memorably, funny and engaging characters.

So the H-B cartoons were a hit and merchandising off-shoots were inevitable. The best of these off-shoots might just be a series of records featuring these characters produced between 1958 and 1967. Some of these used the voice tracks from the cartoons, with a narrator added to describe the action. But some were original stories, with Butler, Messick and other actors bringing the characters to life in brand-new stories.

The best of these is arguably Huckleberry Hound and the Ghost Ship, in which Huck, Yogi, Boo Boo and a few other characters decide to go on a fishing trip.

In the book Daws Butler: Character Actors, writers Ben Ohmart & Joe Bevilacqua describe the record: "The writing is much more fluid and complex than the TV cartoons, the jokes sharper, the word-play more intricate. And the characters better integrated into each other's lives."

Because of the magic of YouTube, you can give this wonderful tale a listen:

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Walking a Beat in a Combat Zone

cover art by Jerry Grandenetti

A lot of DC Comics' war stories from the Silver Age were driven by gimmicks. The protagonist (often a one-shot character who might not even necessarily get a name) has a character quirk, phobia or unique incident from his past that will be the driving force of the story.

This is the case with "Battle Beat," which appeared in Star-Spangled War Stories #56 (September 1956). A former cop is now a military policeman. Back in the States, he had walked a lonely beat where nothing much every happened. Now he's patrolling a bombed-out village in which nothing much is happening.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you live in a Comic Book Universe, DON'T TEMPT FATE. Don't say there's no chance of the supervillain attacking. Don't say that vampires don't exist. Don't say the dinosaur frozen in the iceberg won't come back to life. In fact, just play it safe. Don't every say anything.

This guy moans and groans about how he's stuck in a deserted town and there's not a chance for action. That he's being shot at a moment later should be no surprise to anyone. A Nazi armored car shows up literally while he is complaining about the lack of action and starts spitting machine gun bullets at him.

And this guy just DOESN'T LEARN. He takes out the armored car with a grenade and immediately starts talking about how quiet it is again. And he immediately starts getting shot at by two German soldiers.

He also apparently forgot anything he learned as a cop about calling for back-up, though to be fair there's no indication he has a radio available.

As soon as he kills the Germans, he literally starts thinking that the renewed quiet can get on a man's nerves. A Tiger tank then shows up.

After he destroys the tank, he finally learns his lesson, thinking about how nice it will be to return to a nice quiet beat after the war. He's lucky he didn't need a V-2 rocket to land on his helmet for him to get the point.

I'm making fun of the story (written by Bill Finger and drawn by Mort Meskin), but it is a enjoyable tale, staying consistant with its gimmick for its 6-page length and giving us some good action. The DC war stories were often gimmicky, but they were also entertaining.

Next week, Adam Strange battles barbarians riding robot unicorns. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

Eye-catching cover art from this 1972 edition of a novel first published in '58.
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