Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke “The Wrong Man” 5/8/60

This is a neat episode on several levels. First, the basic story is quite good: Dillon has to lock up a grouchy gambler on suspicion of murder, then gets called out of town to look into another killing. The two plot threads eventually weave together.

Second, it’s a character study as well, examining what it’s like to be a lawman when those around you don’t see or understand what a lawman has to do to keep the peace. Heck, even Miss Kitty gets annoyed with Dillon at one point, when the poor marshal is just doing his job.

With the usual strong performances by William Conrad and Parley Baer, this is yet another example of why Gunsmoke is considered by many to be one of the best Westerns ever.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Which Came First--Bud or Lou or Moe or Shemp or Larry?

The Abbott and Costello movie Naughty Nineties has a lot of great comedy bits in it. Set on a showboat in the 1890s, it manages to sandwich some of Bud and Lou's best routines within the otherwise straightforward plot (involving gamblers trying to take over management of the boat). This, of course, includes what is perhaps the best filmed version of Who's on First.

Another routine involves a series of misunderstandings leading poor Lou to think he's eating a hamburger made from a cat. I found a reference stating that this (like "Who's on First" and many of their other film routines) was based on a routine they did when they were in vaudeville.

What's interesting it is that in 1949, the Three Stooges used almost the exact same routine as part of their short Malice in the Palace.

That makes me wonder. Did the Stooges recycle the routine from the Abbott and Costello film? Or from Abbott and Costello's old vaudeville act? (The Stooges started on vaudeville also, remember.)  Or maybe it was the Stooges who first did it on vaudeville. Or maybe someone else entirely originated it. Vaudevillians were always "borrowing" material from one another. In fact, Lou Costello in Naughty Nineties uses a gag involving Lifesaver candy that Groucho Marx first used in the 1932 movie  Horse Feathers.

 Heck, there's a bit in Naughty Nineties in which Lou is forced to pretend to be the bad guy's reflection in a shaving mirror. It's nearly as funny as the classic scene from Duck Soup, in which Harpo pretends to be Groucho's reflection in a full-length mirror.

Oh, well, it really doesn't matter, does it? It's not something that needs to be researched thoroughly. Whomever first originated any one particular vaudeville routine, each comedy team that used it would give it a life of its own. All that matters is that it comes out funny.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1965, part 1


The Wizard, Paste-Pot Pete and the Sandman (all of whom have tangled with Johnny in the pages of Strange Tales) team up to form the Frightful Four. For a fourth, the Wizard recruits a mysterious female with living hair named Madame Medusa.

We get no real history for Medusa in this issue. Later on, of course, we’ll find out she’s an amnesiac good guy and will serve as an introduction to the Inhumans—one of the best and most imaginative additions to the Marvel Universe.

I’d love to know if Stan and Jack had Medusa’s future planned out in advance, or if they made it up as they went along. In either case, it will work out just fine.

Before getting to the story itself, there’re a couple of other fun points. Throughout most of its history, the Frightful Four will consist of the three male members seen here, plus an often different fourth member. Heck, in a 1970s-era story, they’ll actually hold a recruiting drive to fill that fourth spot. It ends up adding a nice element of variety to the group’s appearances.

Point #2: The Sandman, by now, pretty much now qualifies for entry in the Rogue’s Galleries of two different heroes/groups. He’s definitely a Spider Man villain (and a member of the Sinister Six), but he’s also become a definite FF villain as well. Very few villains cross-over to different Rogue’s Galleries to that degree.

Anyway, the story itself is another good one. Alicia Masters actually gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome during Frightful Four’s initial attack. Johnny gets his CMoA as well when he swoops in to save everyone’s butt in the nick of time. The fight starts in the Baxter Building, goes up into the upper atmosphere, then ends up out in the wilderness somewhere. The Frightful Four is trounced and forced to retreat, but it’ll only be a couple of issues before they come back.


This issue has some real fun with the villains. The Circus of Crime is out on parole (Gee whiz, bad guys get paroled awfully quick in the Marvel Universe) and the Ringmaster is trying to plan their next caper.

But, not surprisingly, the other circus members are tired of him—he keeps getting them all sent back to the slammer. So they kick him out and elect the clown as the new leader.

This causes Spidey some trouble. He planted a tracer in Ringmaster’s hat, so when the circus troupe robs an art gallery, he ends up tracking down the one guy who wasn’t involved.

He does eventually find the other bad guys, leading to yet another great Ditko fight. It includes the nice touch of Spidey having particular trouble with Princess Python because he doesn’t want to hit a woman, followed by a wonderful one-page battle in which he goes one-on-one against the princess’ whopping big pet snake.

In the end, Spider Man rounds up the gang. The Ringmaster shows up at the climax to try to steal the loot from his ex-comrades, only to get nabbed by the cops along with them.

The issue ends with a classic Spider Man moment: Peter getting lectured by Aunt May for staying out too late.


Ben, Johnny and their girl friends have tickets to see the Beatles. (Ben would rather go bowling, but Alicia talked him into going to the concert instead.) But when some thieves rob the box office, the two heroes have to miss hearing “A Hard Day’s Night” while they run the bad guys down.

It’s a completely light-weight story. Ben and Johnny have far too much trouble catching a trio of minor gunmen, but the tale exists primarily to highlight their bantering and arguing. It’s a fun effort on that level.

Dr. Strange, in the meantime, begins a pretty heavy-duty and multi-part epic. The title at this point switches to the same sort of serial format that Stan Lee had been using with the Hulk for several months. It begins with Baron Mordo cutting a deal with Dormammu for extra power. Mordo and some minions then attack Strange, forcing him to make a run for it. Changing into civilian clothes, Strange is jumped by more of Mordo’s followers. He fights them off, but is still on the run as the issue ends.

It’s the beginning of a great story—one that will last over a year’s worth of stories. It’s going to be one of Dr. Strange’s finest hours.

That’s it for now. Next week, we will (as usual) look in on Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Molle Mystery Theater: “St. Louis Lady” 8/23/46

Two men are in love with the same woman. She’s got to choose between them, but whatever way she goes will almost certainly lead to violence. One of her suitors makes his living by armed robbery. The other just finished a job that involved killing a mobster and his wife. Neither of them are likely to take rejection well.

This strong story leads up to what seems to be a predictable ending, but then suddenly twists into quite a surprise at the climax. The strong script is backed up by a good cast that includes veteran tough guy character actor Frank Lovejoy.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

1937--A Good Year for Adventure

By pure coincidence, I just read a couple of books that were both originally published in 1937. Both were good mysteries featuring established characters and it got me to thinking. What were all the famous detectives and adventurers doing that year?

We’ll start with the Whisperer—the secret identity of James “Wildcat” Gordon, police commissioner of an unnamed big city. Gordon isn’t satisfied with the slow course of official justice and the corruption that slows it down even more. So, on top of his efforts as a cop, he often assumed the identity of the Whisperer. Using specially designed dental plates to disguise his voice, he wielded a pair of silenced automatics to dispense a somewhat faster method of justice than the court system allows.

In The Red Hatchets, he finds himself caught between two opposing forces when a Chinese tong wages brutal warfare against a local gangster. A lot of mobster skulls get split with red-handled axes while the Whisperer tries to rescue a kidnapped girl and sort out exactly what’s going on.

Beautiful girl reporter Torchy Blane (the inspiration for Lois Lane) had several 1937 adventures chronicled in the movies. One of them, Fly-Away Baby, had her traveling around the world to keep tabs on a suspected murderer. She and her boyfriend, NYPD Lt. Steve McBride, eventually confront a killer aboard the zeppelin Hindenburg.

Interestingly, Charlie Chan had been aboard the Hindenburg (though traveling in the opposite direction) while pursuing a spy in Charlie Chan at the Olympics. Of course, though that film was released ’37, it was recounting events that took place the previous year. For Charlie’s 1937 adventure, we need to look to Charlie Chan on Broadway, where he sorts out a killer’s identity from among a bevy of Damon Runyon-esque gamblers.

Terry Lee and Pat Ryan (from the comic strip Terry and the Pirates), while still bumming around the Far East, begin the year escaping from the bandit leader Pyzon, though Pat gets shot in the process. While recovering, he encounters his long-lost love Normandie Drake and her sleezy husband Tony Sandhurst. Terry and Pat rescue Sandhurst from kidnappers, but the chubby villain then attempts to frame Pat for several felonies.

Dick Tracy spent a large part of 1937 breaking up an insurance fraud ring. In the end, he is forced to track the main bad guy through a pitch-dark theater.

Hercule Poirot was in England that year, responding to a letter for help from a rich woman who feared one of her relatives was trying to off her. The letter is delayed and the poor woman is dead before Poirot arrives. But he can at least put the finger on the killer, as recounted in the book The Dumb Witness.

Back in New York City, gargantuan detective Nero Wolfe looks into a murder in The Red Box. It’s a case complicated when one of the suspects has the bad taste to die in Wolfe’s office, presenting him with a possible conflict of interest in his further investigations. But, with the help of his hard-boiled assistant Archie Goodwin, the overweight genius manages to figure it all out.

There was, in fact, quite a bit of action in the Big Apple that year. The Shadow was quite busy, but his most notable case that year was recorded in The Shadow Unmasked. While looking into some jewel thefts, the Shadow is forced to abandon his usual secret identity of Lamont Cranston. For the first time, we learn who he really is—Kent Allard, an aviator who was supposedly killed in a crash years before.

The Spider had a busy year as well. In Dictator of the Damned, he prevented a madman from using assassinations and an army of thugs to take over the city. It all comes to a head with a desperate gun battle inside a riverfront building, while the lovely Nita Van Sloan is caught up a yet another death trap. I think that poor girl may have even beat out Lois Lane for the number of death traps various villains tossed her into.

Ellery Queen had a quieter but still fascinating adventure when he tried to deduce who had plunged a pair of scissors into the neck of a famous novelist in The Door Between.

Doc Savage was hopping around the globe quite a bit that year (as he was throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s.) His adventures included battling an evil dwarf armed with a super-weapon in Repel and preventing some mercenaries from taking over a Central American nation in The Golden Peril. That latter case was especially important—the country is the source of Doc’s great wealth, regularly supplied to him in gold by some grateful Mayans he once helped out.

Over in Los Angeles, famed criminal attorney Perry Mason solved a murder aboard a gambling ship in The Case of the Dangerous Dowager. A little later that same year, Della Street gets tossed in jail for a short time helping her boss figure out The Case of the Lame Canary. She also gets the first of what will be several marriage proposals from Perry in that book. But she believes Perry needs a secretary who will back his plays no matter what more than a wife, so she always turns him down.

Even when I read the books, my mental image of Della is that of Barbara Hale from the TV series. I don’t blame Perry for being persistent in his proposals. Gee whiz, that gal was purty!

And that’s only a small portion of the vigilantes, detectives, and explorers that had adventures that year. It was an adventurous year indeed. But whatever problems might arise, whether it was a single murder or the threat of world domination, there were more than enough heroes scattered about the globe to keep the innocent safe.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1965, part 3


A guy named Leon Lazarus took over scripting chores for Giant Man in this issue from the hard-working Stan Lee (Stan would be back next issue), so maybe that explains the tiny continuity glitch coming up in a moment.

Hank and Jan have a lover’s spat and Jan leaves her costume and reducing capsules behind to take a plane trip and “try convincing myself I don’t love him.” But when Attuma captures the plane and its passengers, she has reason to regret leaving her superhero stuff behind.

Attuma wants to study some surface people to learn our weaknesses. Jan finds a few crumbled remains of an old reducing capsule in her purse and swallows these. It doesn’t affect her size much, but does allow her to send out one “cybernetic” distress call to some nearby ants.

That’s the glitch, of course. The reducing capsules allow Jan to shrink and grow. Talking to ants was always a separate thing, done via Hank’s cybernetic helmet. Either the new writer didn’t get that, or Stan (who was still editor) forgot it, or they just ignored it in order to advance the story and hoped no one noticed.

Stan Lee had no way of knowing that a comic book geek would be analyzing these stories in chronological order nearly a half-century later for the sake of a handful of blog readers. It’s really not that big a glitch, but it is fun to take note of it.

Anyway, Hank gets the SOS and shows up to free Jan. He’s brought her costume along and the two manage to force Attuma and his soldiers to retreat. The action is handled nicely, with Hank employing a series of sudden size changes to freak out the Atlantian soldiers.

Meanwhile, Bruce Banner is still being held prisoner by the Army. He can prove he’s not a spy, but only by admitting to being the Hulk. He doesn’t want to do that, because that would mean enemy agents would target him for kidnapping to find out how to make their own guys into Hulks.

Rick Jones gets Hulk out of it. I love this part: He uses his Avengers ID to get into see the President. Then he tells the President the whole story. The President then uses his pull to get the charges against Banner dropped.

So at this point in Marvel history, three people know that Bruce is the Hulk: Bruce himself, Rick Jones and President Lyndon Johnson. Reminds me of a Superman story from a few years earlier, in which JFK disguises himself as Clark Kent to help preserve the Man of Steel’s secret ID. Apparently, if you are ever a superhero and need help keeping your real name a secret, the President of the United States is your go-to guy.

Anyway, Bruce and a still-distrustful Major Talbot are soon off to a deserted island to test Bruce’s “nuclear absorber,” a device that defends against atomic war by absorbing all the power of an atomic blast. But the Leader is still planning on stealing the device (though capturing the Hulk for study has become more important to him.)

The villain sends a group of his Humanoids to the island. They get into a fight with the Hulk, who is stronger than the artificial creatures, but gets increasingly frustrated when he can’t physically damage any of them. (They are made of a special plastic that resists physical harm.) The issue ends with the fight in a seeming stalemate, but with the Leader hoping his Humanoids will soon overwhelm the big guy.

One interesting thing to note: For the last few issues, Stan Lee has begun taking the Hulk down the “slow and stupid” personality route. It’ll take awhile, but we’re are gradually getting to the child-like Hulk personality that would be standard for him for years to come.


In this issue, we are introduced to the Maggia—the Marvel Universe’s answer to the Mafia. Remember that for quite a long time in the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of people threw fits if you used the word “Mafia,” since it was supposedly denigrating to Italians. Never mind that the Mafia really exists or that acknowledging this doesn’t condemn an entire people or culture---you got into trouble if you used that word.

So I’m assuming that Stan Lee came up with an ethnically-neutral alternate name for his organized crime guys just to avoid unnecessary controversy. There may very well have been another reason, but that seems likeliest.

Anyway, the Avengers are taking time between saving the world to smash some Maggia operations. The top Maggia guy, Count Nefaria, responds by using “three-dimensional images” of the Avengers to frame them in an attempt to take over control of the government. Soon, the Avengers are hated by everyone, with the army taking potshots at them.

They figure out that Nefaria is behind it all, though. With the help of Rick Jones and the Teen Brigade, they manage to battle their way into Nefaria’s castle and clear their names. The Count is deported and the day is saved.

Except that the Wasp takes a stray bullet and is badly injured. The issue ends with Rick carrying her seemingly lifeless body up to the other Avengers.

Rick, by the way, is really getting around this month. He’s out west with Bruce Banner, then at the White House to talk to the President, then back in New York helping out the Avengers. Who the heck is paying for his airfare, anyways?


Kinda odd villain team-up here, but it makes sense when explained. A chemist comes up with a fear gas formula and takes on the identity of Mr. Fear. He wants a gang consisting of people with useful powers or abilities, but not too powerful as to object to his leadership. So he recruits the Eel (the slippery guy who had fought the Human Torch) and Ox (the strong-man member of the Enforcers).

Daredevil soon runs across them. Mr. Fear’s gas forces the Man Without Fear to run away in a panic, but in a couple of rematches, he gets the best of them all.

It’s a pretty good story improved by Wally Wood’s excellent layouts. And there are several nice touches. I love, for instance, that Daredevil knows Ox is nearby by smelling his cheap hair tonic.

The downside is that the Matt/Karen relationship continues to be another example of the “I love him/her, but don’t dare tell him/her” that Stan Lee used far too often. That being said, he is moving away from that conceit in most of the other titles. It’s only here and in the Iron Man that it remains.

Mr. Fear, by the way, will have in interesting history. The current guy makes one more appearance in Daredevil #54, when he gets murdered and someone else steals his weapon and costume. Over the years, at least two more bad guys also use the costume. It seems that no one ever gets to be Mr. Fear more than once.

That’s it for February 1965. Next month, the FF meet a future member of their group; Spider Man goes back to the circus; Ben & Johnny try to see the Beatles; Dr. Strange’s old enemies gang up on him; Thor gains a new enemy; Tony Stark turns out to not be dead; Captain America returns us to the days of World War II; Giant Man redesigns his costume; Hulk takes an unintentional trip behind the Iron Curtain; the Avengers look for a doctor and find an alien; and the X-Men pay their first visit to the Savage Land.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Hercule Poirot: “The Deadest Man in the World” 7/19/47

One of Agatha Christie’s two great detective creations, Hercule Poirot is a vain but brilliant former cop who has a knack for stumbling over mysteries. On radio he was played by Harold Huber, who did an excellent job of balancing Poirot’s vanity, brains and basic decency to help faithfully bring the character to a new medium. The radio show brought Poirot to New York City (for reasons never really explained) and gave him a number of clever mysteries to solve.

Huber, by the way, also had some detective cred from his honorable career as a character actor in films. He turned up as a cop helping out Charlie Chan in a number of Chan films, and popped up to help Mr. Moto in Mr. Moto’s Gamble.

Anyway, this particular Poirot episode opens with a frightened woman coming to Poirot for help. Her boyfriend, she claims, is violently jealous and she wants protection. Poirot doesn’t normally do bodyguard work, but he takes this case. Why? Is it perhaps because his “little grey cells” might be telling him the woman’s story isn’t on the up-and-up?

Soon, there’s a murder tossed into the mix. Rather than a whodunit, the story becomes a “how’s-he-gonna-catch-them” of the style later used so effectively on Columbo. Poirot seems to be fooled by the killer throughout much of the episode. But we should really know better than that. It all leads up to a great dénouement.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A House Full of Monsters

The classic Universal monster movie cycle began in 1931—the year Dracula and Frankenstein came out. It ended either in 1945 with House of Dracula OR in 1948 with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It depends on whether you count that final comedy as part of the same continuity or not. I do count it—the monsters are treated with enough respect to warrant its inclusion in the canon.

By my count, there were 21 films in the cycle. Three with vampires; five with mummies; four featuring Dr. Frankenstein’s horrific creation; one with a werewolf; four with an invisible man; and four teaming up either two or three of the above in the same movie. That’s a heck of a lot of monsters. Someday I need to watch them in sequence and get a final body count.

Initially, these movies were very much A-level productions—especially the James Whale-directed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Before long, though, they dropped down into B-movie territory.

But being a B-movie from the 1930s/40s is not a bad thing. These are films that often had good quality scripts and fine character actors. In fact, some of the most entertaining films from Hollywood’s Golden Age were the B-movies, more often than not featuring better constructed plots than the big budget fare.

And taking a look at House of Frankenstein (1945) and House of Dracula (1945) gives us proof of this. These were the last two “serious” films in the monster cycle. Both are beautifully photographed (in glorious black-and-white, of course) examples of first-rate storytelling.

Both movies take the three most popular monsters---Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and the Wolfman—and drop them into a story together. House of Frankenstein has the added bonus of Boris Karloff playing a mad scientist. Ironic, of course, since Karloff had originated the role of the monster. Karloff’s hunchbacked assistant is played by J. Carrol Naish, one of the era’s finest character actors.

The movie is episodic, involving one sequence featuring Dracula and another featuring the Monster and the Wolfman. Great performances by Karloff, Naish, and Lon Chaney, Jr. (playing Larry Talbot/the Wolfman for the third time) give the movie a strong backbone and the script injects some honest-to-goodness pathos into the tragic dénouement.

House of Dracula features Onslow Stevens as a scientist and devout Christian who tries to find cures for both vampirism and lycanthropy. But he’s double-crossed by Dracula (who was pretending to want a cure so that he could clamp down on the pretty nurse) and ends up with a bloodstream full of vampire parasites. This turns him into a homicidal maniac, but not before he performs a brain operation on Larry Talbot and does apparently cure him. But poor Larry never can fully escape tragedy---as he is left to deal with the now insane doctor at the climax. Dracula get left out in the sun and the Monster gets caught in a burning lab (at least the third time he ends a movie trapped in a burning building).

Stevens is great in this film, exuding intelligence and sincere compassion early in the story before going off the deep end to total whacko-territory later on.

There’s a few continuity glitches in that there’s no explanations how several of the monsters survived their apparent deaths in the previous film—but, hey, these are monsters and several possible explanations come to mind, making these glitches forgivable.

A more serious weakness of both films is that Frankenstein’s Monster doesn’t get to do much more than stumble around a bit before meeting his apparent demise, spending most of both movies in a coma. He’s played by Glenn Strange in both movies and, with some coaching from Karloff, Strange does a good job in the few moments he’s active. It’s a pity he didn’t get to do much more than take long naps.

And, actually, House of Dracula raises one real doubt as to whether Abbot and Costello Meets Frankenstein should be considered canon. If the Universal Monster cycle ends with House of Dracula, then Larry Talbot is finally cured of his lycanthropy. But if the later comedy is part of the cycle, then the cure was only temporary. Larry Talbot is cursed forever to become a killing beast, unable to even seek the final peace of death.

On the one hand, Larry is played so sympathetically by Lon Chaney Jr. that it’s nice to think he gets a happy ending. On the other hand, A & C is itself a great movie that otherwise deserves to be part of the cycle. And monsters should be tragic, after all. Sorry, Larry, I’m afraid you’re simply stuck with being forever a werewolf.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1965, part 2


Thor helps Odin defend Asgard against invaders, but then ticks his dad off by deciding to head back to Earth. While in his guise of Don Blake, he finally tells Jane Foster that he’s Thor. He taps his walking stick on the floor to prove it—and nothing happens. Jane thinks he’s gone nuts.

That’s because Odin is in a snit again over his son loving a mortal woman, causing him to remove the power of Thor from Blake. Complications ensue when Blake and Jane are attacked by the Grey Gargoyle, who is looking to revenge himself on Thor. (A whole lot of villains by now know there’s a connection between Blake and Thor. None of them suspect that they’re the same person. But that’s understandable—his transformation into Thor literally provides him with a different body.)

Blake and Jane play stay-away from the Gargoyle for awhile before Odin relents and arranges for Thor’s powers to return. The Gargoyle is defeated. Blake has changed his mind about telling Jane his real identity and she dismisses his early statement as temporary madness.

It must be nice to be able to tell your girlfriend pretty much anything then later just casually dismiss it as temporary insanity. I’m not sure that would work in real life.

Oh, well. Stan Lee is finally starting to move his characters away for the overused “I love him/her but can never tell him/her” routine. Blake and Jane are now openly professing their mutual love (though, ironically, Odin will eventually be proven right about the foolishness of a god loving a mortal). Sue and Reed are doing the same, as are Hank and Janet. Once Tony Stark gets over Pepper, that particular bit of melodrama will be largely left behind.

The “Tales of Asgard” back up shows us a young Loki using magic to rig a fight so the guy he bet on wins. When he’s caught, young Thor nobly stands by him and impresses the heck out of everyone. Loki, though, just hates Thor all the more because he doesn’t get the same respect. The tale isn’t filled with the same level of Kirby-esque action that defines most Tales of Asgard, but it’s still a nice little bit of characterization.


The Mandarin turns out to have a pretty cool origin. His dad was a descendant of Genghis Khan who is killed the moment the Mandarin is born by a falling idol. His mom dies from a broken heart and a bitter aunt raises the boy to hate all mankind.

When the adult Mandarin stumbles across the ancient remains of an alien spaceship, the strange technology becomes the basis of his own scientific prowess and his power rings.

Anyway, remember that he had Iron Man a prisoner at the end of the last issue. But Tony manages to think his way out of a death trap and foil the villain’s plan to incite World War III.  The action is handled pretty well, but Mandarin’s origin story is the real meat of the story.

Nothing further is resolved regarding the subplot in which everyone thinks Tony is dead—but that will come to a head (perhaps a little too quickly to be really satisfying) next issue.

Meanwhile, Captain America is asked to visit a prison cell block known to house the most brutal cons. But it’s a trap—the prisoners have secretly taken over and they want to use the magnetic devices on Cap’s shield to open the main gate. In another really, really, really fun Kirby fight scene, Cap pretty much wipes the floor with them.

The irony at the end of the story? Well, Cap had taken out all the magnetic devices, because they were throwing off the shield’s delicate balance. It seems that Stan and Jack had pretty quickly realized that Cap is a lot cooler if he does amazing things with his famous weapon out of pure skill.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll see what Ant Man, Hulk, the Avengers and Daredevil were up to in February 1965.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Falcon: “Worried Wife” 4/1/51

The Falcon was a bit generic. The lead character—private eye Michael Waring (aka “The Falcon”)—was a standard hard-boiled detective who was never really given a unique personality of his own.

But all the same, The Falcon is pretty much always fun to listen to. The various actors who played Waring (Les Damon in this episode) managed to give him some bite and the scripts, supporting characters and production values were always solid. (Though there was sometimes an over-reliance on clichéd organ music to punctuate dramatic moments.)

The show therefore becomes a prime example of just how effective a medium for storytelling radio was. The Theater of the Mind could take a generic character in a generic setting and still make it all sound great.

In this episode, a newlywed husband is nearly shot by an old girlfriend. His wife goes to Waring for help before there’s a second murder attempt. But it’s too late—Waring finds the husband dead.

But was it the old girlfriend? Or the wife? Or the guy who owed the victim money? Waring does a nice bit of multi-layered deductive reasoning to finger the killer.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Superman made me re-read Sherlock Holmes

He really did. Sort of.

A few weeks ago, I picked up Season One of the Adventures of Superman (the original George Reeves series) at Wal-Mart, where I just happened to notice it on sale real cheap.  Not long after, I watched an episode titled "The Mystery of the Broken Statues."

And that's just what the bad guys are doing--breaking statues. Or at least they're breaking little figurines. They walk into a curio shop, buy all the figurines from a particular manufacturer, then break them right then and there, shifting through the bits afterward as if looking for something.

Well, when Lois Lane finds out about this, she immediately figures something is up. She's right, of course. And it's not hard for her (or Clark Kent or us) to figure out what's going on. The bad guys know there's something valuable hidden inside one of those figurines, but don't know which one.

Lois gets kidnapped (something that I think might actually be written into her job description), but Superman shows up to save the day and eventually figure out what the villains are looking for.

Like all the black-and-white episodes of this delightful series, it was a fun story with protagonists so likable you kind of feel cheated that they don't really exist to be your friends in real life. The photography and lighting are top notch as well--another typical strength from the show's early seasons. There are a few holes in the plot, but they are minor and the story is told in such an effective and enjoyable manner that I'm more forgiving of plot holes than I normally would be.

So how did all this make me re-read Sherlock Holmes? Because, Watson, the story line reminded me of the Holmes story "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," (1904). In this one, someone is breaking into shops and houses and smashing small busts of the little French Emperor. Why? Well, Holmes figures it out, of course. Not the absolute best Holmes story, but still a really good one.

So once I made that fairly obvious connection, I had to pretty much right away pull that story up on my Kindle and read it again. Superman made me re-read Sherlock Holmes. It's too bad the two heroes never had a chance to team up--they both had a pretty good knack for solving mysteries.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1965, part 1


The FF is traveling to State University (Reed and Ben’s alma mater), where Reed is scheduled to give a speech. But the proceedings are interrupted with Diablo (the master of alchemy encountered in issue #30) shows up. Diablo uses one of his potions to bring an experimental being called the Dragon Man to life. Battle and mayhem follow.

Diablo would never be more than a second-tier villain, so this issue isn’t really exceptional. But it’s still good solid fun. The Dragon Man’s visual design is an example of typical Kirby coolness. Through it all, Ben spits out one-liners at a fast and furious rate.

By this point, I think Ben (with his combination of humor, compassion and loyalty) is pretty firmly cemented in as the emotional backbone of the team. But Reed and Sue get some cootie-filled moments of their own—the issue ends with Reed finally proposing and Sue accepting. This is a relief, as Stan Lee was still using the “unrequited love” bit far too often in these early Marvel books.


Peter teams up with the Human Torch again, but there’s less bantering between the two this time, as circumstances leave Johnnie unsure whose side Spidey is on this time around.

The villain is the Beetle, who fought Johnnie in Strange Tales #123. Now out of prison, he’s stalking the Torch in hopes of exacting revenge.

Meanwhile, there’s a whole bunch of “young love” shenanigans going on. Johnnie’s girl Dorrie Evans is annoyed with him for flaming off at a moment’s notice. Later, she happens to meet Peter Parker and is impressed by his gentlemanly ways, then uses him to make Johnnie jealous. This, in turn, convinces Betty Brant that Peter is seeing someone else.

Peter gets in a snit and decides to make a play for Dorrie as Spider Man just to tick Johnnie off. But this results in Spidey running into the Beetle. A fight ensues, with Beetle using Dorrie as a hostage at one point. The Torch joins in the fight, but he’s at first convinced that the webslinger is responsible for snatching Dorrie.

It all could have been too soap-opera to work, but Stan Lee’s script manages to mix up the superhero action with some good characterizations. What we have here are a bunch of teenagers who often make stupid decisions regarding their relationships—just like in real life. Well, except for the superpowers, kidnappings and such what. That part doesn’t quite parallel real life.

Overall, the character arcs here work very well in getting us to like and sympathize with everyone involved. As is typical with the best Spider Man stories, it’s an adroit combination of characterization and comic book action.

The one part I didn’t buy was how quickly Johnnie jumps to the conclusion that Spider Man might be a bad guy. By now, they’ve worked together enough for that to seem a little out of character. But overall this was a good, solid story.


The Terrible Trio—the three low-level crooks given superpowers by Doctor Doom back in FF #23—have escaped from prison and manage to attack Johnny at a point where his flame is weak from overuse. But Ben arrives in the nick of time, using both his strength and his brains to rope in the bad guys.

The Trio isn’t a very interesting group, either visually or in terms of personality. But the story nicely highlights Ben and Johnny’s friendship. Not a great story, but good enough for what it is.

When a panel of four scientists are discounting the existence of magic on a TV show, they abruptly get sucked into another dimension, kidnapped by yet another despotic ruler. Dr. Strange pursues and defeats the despot in single, magical combat.

I suppose that the extra-dimensional despot bit is overused a bit in the Dr. Strange stories, but Steve Ditko always makes the landscapes, creatures and magic spells look so weirdly cool that there’s really no reason to complain.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll drop in on Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.
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