Friday, September 25, 2020

Friday's Favorite OTR

Michael Shayne: "The Mail Order Murders" 12/23/48

Shayne is hired to protect a guy who received a threatening note. Shayne figures its a crank letter, but the money for playing bodyguard is good. It soon turns out he might really be working for that money, though.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

All You Do Is Fight


cover art by Walter Baumhofer

A few months ago, I reviewed one of the many Foreign Legion stories by J.D. Newsom that appeared in Adventure magazine. I enjoyed the tale enormously--it worked in terms of characterization, well-described action and overall atmosphere. So I tracked down some more Newsom stories and created my own little anthology by combining PDF copies into a single document. If I ever need to run off and join the Legion, I just need to bring my tablet with me and I'll have all the information I need to get by.

Newsom made the cover of the January 1935 issue of Adventure with the excellent novella "All You Do Is Fight."

Newsom's Legion tales often followed a similar pattern, in which someone is forced to join the Legion and ends up doing something heroic by the finale. But the variety of characters he gives us and his ability to make those characters seem real allows each story to work well on its own. In "All You Do Is Fight," the protagonist is an American gangster named Barney Walsh. He's in Paris with a fair amount of money and thinks of himself as retired. But his old comrades from the mob don't approve of this and he only barely avoids an assassination attempt.

So he joins the Legion to get away from any hitmen who may come looking for him, using Barney as his last name. But he's an unusual recruit in several ways. Primarily, he has a lot of cash on him. While on the train to the Legion training center, he treats himself to dinner and booze in the first-class dining car.

He might have gotten away with this if he hadn't ended up picking a fight with a lieutenant. 

The remote desert outpost at which both men are assigned is a mess, with an inefficient commanding officer and out-of-control non-coms who are crushing morale. So when Barney is assigned to a small patrol led by the lieutenant, he plans on deserting along with a couple of friends. But when they are attacked by an overwhelming force and the lieutenant proves to be a good leader, Barney opts to stick around awhile. 

The finale is a bloody Last Stand that is truly exciting.

My summary leaves out a number of fun character moments and there is a strong theme about the difference between effective discipline and mere brutality, all of which adds to the overall quality of the novella, "All You Do Is Fight" is high-quality storytelling from start to finish.

You can find this issue of Adventure online HERE.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Importance of Music Lessons

We continue our journey through Dell's Animal Comics #4 (August-September 1943) with a story about a carnival, petty thievery and music lessons. It's a part of series that ran in Animal Comics titled "Merry Meadows," drawn by Justin Gruelle (brother of Johnny Gruelle, the creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy).


The unknown writer of the series provided fun scripts, but--much as was the case with the Little Dinky story we looked at last time--it is the art that really gives life to the simple tale. 

There's a carnival in town, with the proceeds going to the Orphan Home. Robert Rabbit and Freddy Frog are anxious to go, so they run to the home of their friend Bertrand Bear to bring him along.

Bertrand has been practicing his saxophone and as a music lesson later on, but he does have time to go the the carnival first. So Bertrand brings his sax along with him, hiding it in a tree just outside the carnival entrance to retrieve later.

We get several successive and fun-to-look-at panels of the kids having fun at the carnival. There's a running gag here that actually fools me. Little Maurice Mouse keeps popping up, hand-cranking the rides and otherwise showing off prodigious strength despite his diminutive size. I expected this to be a Chekov's Gun, with Maurice's strength being a factor in foiling the upcoming theft. But no--it's just a simple running gag. I guess when you read these stories as a adult, it is very possible to out-smart yourself while analyzing them.

Meanwhile, Sly Old Fox (who is so evil he doesn't even get a first name) and Harry Hyena have snitched the gate receipts while no one was looking and hide the pennies in the same tree in which Bertrand hid his saxophone.

And so evil is foiled when Bertrand finds the pennies later on while taking his music lesson. 

The boys (and Professor Owl) get free rides all day at the carnival while the villains drudge off to sulk about the unfairness of being robbed of the stuff they had stolen first. 

So it is a simple story. But, gee whiz, is it fun to look at. Justin Gruelle's work isn't as famous as his brothers, but he was a great illustrator in his own right and his skill should be remembered and appreciated.

Click HERE to read this issue of Animal Comics online. 

Next week, it's back to the Pegasus Project once again.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Friday, September 18, 2020

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "The Fortune of Vargas" 9/21/49

An American man and Mexican woman reluctantly team up while searching for a fortune in gold. There's a really effective plot twist at the end of this story.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Matchlock Gun

Whenever I read (or in this case, listen to via audio book) a brilliant children's book that I didn't experience as a kid, I have two simultanious reactions. First, I'm thrilled to simply experience a great story I hadn't heard before. Second, I feel as if I've forever missed something by not experiencing it as a child.

In this case, it was Walter D. Edmonds 1941 book The Matchlock Gun. Set on the American frontier in 1756, the tale revolves around a Dutch family who live in a cabin that has an old-fashioned but still magnificent gun mounted on the wall. It's a huge matchlock, brought over from the Netherlands by the great-grandfather of ten-year-old Edward. It's an antique, difficult to carry, load and fire. So when Edward's dad (named Teunis) leaves to serve with the militia during the French and Indian War, he takes a more modern flintlock musket.

...Teunis bent down to show the boy how the gun worked. "See, Edward (he pronounced the name Ateoord in the Dutch manner), it's a matchlock. It doesn't fire itself like the musket, with a flint. You have got to touch the priming with fire, like a cannon. It's a nonsensical, old-fashioned kind of gun, isn't it?

But while Teunis is away, raiding Indians enter the area and burn several nearby homes. Suddenly, Edward, his mom Gertrude and his little sister Trudy realize the old matchlock might be their only hope to survive. They mount it on a table pointed out a window. They search and find only a couple of bullets, but supplement this by adding nails, brass buttons and pebbles to the load. 

Then Gertrude keeps watch outside while young Edward mans the gun. When the Indians do attack, the gun really does quickly become their only hope.

The copy I found at my local public library after listening to the audio book includes the original illustrations by Paul Lantz, which really add to the story. The book in its entirety is short, running just 50 pages including several double-page illustrations. But within those pages, Edmonds and Lantz capture a real sense of a specific time and place in history and populate it with people who seem real. Edmonds writes that it is indeed a true story, handed down by the family's decendents. Whether that is literally true, this is a book that sincerely teaches you what it was like to live on the 18th Century American frontier. And you get to learn about a really cool gun as well. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Stolen Relics, A Quest and an Ally who is a Kind of Dumb

 One might have justifiable presumed that when Hal Foster retired from producing Prince Valiant, that it was the end of an era. Foster's art was literally breathtaking. His plots and characters melded with that art to bring us an epic saga set not just in Arthurian England, but taking Valiant and other characters to many far-flung lands, including America.

But when John Cullen Murphy stepped up to the plate beginning in 1970, he hit it out of the park (with Foster sending him layouts and scripts through 1979. Though Murphy was an experienced and talented illustrator in his own right, his willingness to emulate Foster's work gave the strip an important continuity of style. Without missing a beat in terms of quality, Prince Valiant continued his adventure. A story arc that ran from March to July in 1977, for instance, is typical of the strip's continued excellence.

A ship approaching the Misty Isles is attacked by pirates, but defended by a knight named Gunther, who is badly wounded in the process. Naturally, Val, Aleta and their family take the young knight in. They find out that his family history is a fractious one. His father was a king. Gunther's oldest brother assassinated both the father and another brother before himself being killed. His five co-conspirators robbed the local cathedral of holy relics and made a run for it.

Gunther is pursuing the thieves, determined to bring them to justice and recover the relics. Aleta urges Val to help out the young knight.

So together they travel to Alexandria. Here we begin to realize that Gunther tends to act without thinking. In fact, though he is brave and skilled in a fight, he doesn't have a lick of common sense. When he, by chance, sees one of the thieves, he kills the guy before they can get any information out of him.

Val, on the other hand, is taking more considered action, employing intelligent detective work and discovering that the remaining four thieves are on their way to Jerusalem to sell the relics. Gunther is all for pursuing them across the desert, but Val convinces the dolt that they should take a ship up the coast and ride to Jerusalem from Jaffa. This will get them to the Holy City ahead of the thieves.

Along the way, they help a girl named Zara escape from a desert raider. This is fortuitous, as Zara is the daughter of a sheik, which gives them an ally and a base of operations in Jerusalem. 

Gunther is wounded yet again, this time in a fight with the desert raider who is still out to get Zara. Zara nurses him back to health and he mistakes her attentions for love. He's now convinced he's found a wife, though her high spirits will, of course, have to be toned down. He's also completely oblivious to the fact that she's overtly in love with someone else. 

In the meantime, Val finds out where the thieves are staying and is looking for an opportunity to nab them and get the relics back. Once again, Gunther jumps into the situation without thinking, though through his undeniable bravery and a lot of luck, he comes out alive and with the relics (muddy and battered though they now are) back in his possession.

The story arc comes to a fun conclusion when the sheik denies Gunther permission to marry Zara and Gunther, storming out of the sheik's head, is immediately distracted from his heartbreak when he sees a pretty Saxon girl walking by.

The story is great fun. Gunther, as a character, can be a bit of a dense jerk, but he fits into the tale perfectly in that role, with the "he hasn't learned a thing" ending being both appropriate and funny.

Hal Foster was one of the best things that ever happened to the American comic strip, but John Cullen Murphy still managed to fill his shoes quite nicely.

That's it for now. Next week, we'll look at the next story in our examination of Animal Comics

Monday, September 14, 2020

Cover Cavalcade

From 1942. I don't think State Farm is going to give this couple their Safe Driver Discount. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

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