Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Green Hornet: “A Man of Many Words” 7/9/46

A radio commentator who is threatening to expose the head of a black market ring is murdered. Brit Reid begins printing editorials about the black market soon after, earning him a spot on the gang’s hit list as well.

The gang leader is an interesting character—an enormously fat man who has a tendency to use multisyllabic words. Sort of an evil Nero Wolfe. He tries to lure Brit into a trap, but the newsman stays one mental step ahead of him. This allows Britt to escape death and round up the bad guys—with a little “help” from the Green Hornet, of course.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Or Wal-Mart or K-Mart or the dollar store. You never know what you may find.

A week or two ago, I ran across a DVD of a 1940 Western titled When the Daltons Rode. I wasn’t immediately familiar with it, but:

1) It was in black-and-white
2) Its cast included Randolph Scott, Broderick Crawford, Brian Donlevy and Andy Devine.
3) It was only $3.99.

So I snatched it up, along with whatever the heck I actually stopped there to buy (dental floss, I think).

It was a great purchase—a well-photographed B-Western with some great stunt work. Crawford and Donlevy are two of the Dalton boys, driven into outlawry (at least according to this movie version) when a dishonest land developer tried to cheat them out of their ranch and framed Donlevy on trumped up murder charges. The two men, along with two additional brothers plus Andy Devine’s character, turn outlaw for real.

Devine’s character is comic relief—his usual role in Westerns. In fact, he joins the gang because he had ended up engaged to two different women and turning outlaw was pretty much his only way out of that situation. But the script is a good one and Devine is also a useful part of the gang, serving a believable purpose other than just being a walking punch line. In fact, it’s Devine who improvises a plan to allow the gang to escape one particular town after they get cornered by a posse.

Two particular scenes highlight the excellent stunt work. At one point, while being chased by a posse, the Dalton gang has to one-by-one climb off a moving stagecoach out onto the horses, where each of them cuts one of the horses free to ride away.

Later on, the gang robs a train and steals some horses from a corral car, jumping each horse off the train while it’s still moving. It’s a magnificent stunt, though one hopes no horses were hurt when they filmed it. In those days, there often was not enough care taken to make sure animals in movies weren’t injured.

Broderick Crawford really stands out as the head of the Dalton gang, the natural leader among the brothers. He starts out as a strong-willed but apparently good guy. Time on the outlaw trail brings out a ruthless side to him, but he still shows a flash of nobility just before the climatic shootout. Crawford plays the part to perfection—you find yourself liking him the whole time, even when he’s making obviously bad moral choices.

And all that for a mere $3.99 plus tax plus some dental floss. Remember, always check the movie bin at discount stores. There might very well be a minor treasure tucked away in there.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: July 1965, part 2


Thor has recovered the Norn Stones, but Loki arranges a trap before the God of Thunder can return to Asgard. He lures a human into an ancient ruin that contains a robot called the Destroyer. A nifty addition to the Marvel Universe version of Norse mythology, the Destroyer was build by Odin to be indestructible. It can only come to life by taking the life force of a living being and is meant to be used only if Earth is in terrible danger.

Of course, in a comic book universe, the Earth is pretty much always in terrible danger, but never mind that for now. Loki lures a human to the Destroyer, which grabs the guy’s life force and then goes after Thor. He’s so powerful, he manages to cut Thor’s hammer in half and the Thunder God is soon on the defensive.

Loki belatedly realizes that if the Destroyer kills Thor, he (Loki) will eventually be discovered as the instigator of the whole thing. He rushes to Odin to get Thor some help, but Odin is taking a nap and Loki gets tossed in the dungeon for trying to disturb him.

Taking a nap? This is the first time we see the Odin Sleep—the All-Father has to sleep undisturbed for one day every year to retain his immortality. It’s something that becomes the most convenient dues ex machine in the history of fiction. For years to come, every time Asgard is in danger and only Odin is powerful enough to stop the threat, it turns out to be time for the Odin Sleep.

I’m not being critical of this, by the way. It’s yet another nice addition to Marvel’s Norse mythology.

Anyway, the issue ends with Thor trapped and about to be whacked by the Destroyer.

In “The Tales of Asgard,” Thor and Loki are preparing for their quest to find whatever mysterious force is threatening the Universe. They’ll be using Odin’s huge, flying galley (a vehicle that may be second only to SHIELD’s helicarrier for sheer visual coolness). Loki tries to sneak an assassin on to the crew, with plans to do away with Thor so Loki can take command and get all the credit. But a magic glove that forces men to tell the truth allows Thor to expose the guy. He can’t prove the assassin was working for Loki, but he knows now to watch his back.


The Iron Man story is a bit of a snoozer in more ways than one. Count Nefaria, the former leader of the Maggia (defeated by the Avengers a few months ago) uses a machine to get into Iron Man’s dreams and make him think he’s being attacked by a bunch of his old enemies. The plan is for Shellhead to realize it’s a dream and not bother fighting back, unaware that if he’s killed in the dream he also dies in real life.

But Tony’s a fighter no matter what and he manages to beat down the dream version of various bad guys. Nefaria’s machine shorts out from using too much power and explodes. The trouble is that Iron Man has such little trouble winning his dream fights that there is little real suspense generated.

In the meantime, Pepper calls up Happy and talks him into coming back to work. As annoying as the romance subplot in Iron Man has been, Pepper’s tearful listing of Happy’s good points is actually a nice moment for her.

Jumping back to World War II, Cap has been brainwashed by the Nazis and is sent (along with a squad of elite German paratroopers) back to England to whack Eisenhower.

But Bucky has organized a breakout at the prison camp he was sent to, then managed to do the old “knock out a German and take his uniform” trick, so he came along with Cap and the Krauts to England. The issue ends with Bucky fighting a couple of Germans in one part of Allied headquarters while Cap is holding Eisenhower at gun point in another location. When Cap hesitates to shoot, one of the Germans reaches over and pulls the trigger…

There’s a great scene in which the Red Skull brings a brainwashed Cap in to Hitler’s office and Hitler cowers in fear before he realizes Cap won’t hurt him.

I also enjoy the fact that Stan and Jack don’t forget that they are writing a war-time story. In comics set in contemporary times, superheroes avoid killing anyone. I appreciate and approve of this ethic.

But in this WWII Cap story, Bucky offs quite a few Germans. There’s a war on and there was no way the good guys were going to go easy on the Nazis. I appreciate this as well—it is appropriate within the context of one of history’s few examples of a Just War to allow even the superheroes to use deadly force.

That’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll take a look at Giant Man’s last solo adventure for awhile, then drop in on the Hulk, Avengers and X-Men.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Quiet Please: “The Room Where the Ghosts Live” 1/12/48

Like all the best episodes of Quiet Please, this is a quietly scary story that builds up tension to a satisfying conclusion.

A man moves into an old house. When he hears someone banging on one of the interior doors, he opens it.

This lets the Revolutionary War-era ghosts out. He can hear them and even talk to them when it’s dark, but when the lights are on there’s nothing to be seen.

One of the ghosts is (or was) a woman. The man falls in love with her. But the curse on the house means no living man can live there. There’s no way to two can be together.

Or is there?

Great episode. Ernest Chapel was the lead actor on Quiet Please, taking on a different role each week. His ability to step into these characters and give believable, understated performances was the show’s main strength.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Prehistory of Geekdom, Part 3

Orson Welles once called The Count of Monte Cristo “the most ingenious tall tale ever perpetrated by the mind of man.”

He very well may have been right. It’s well-known that Alexander Dumas used ghost writers to help produce the volumes of fiction he did, but he is still the guiding hand that dropped poor Edmund Dantes into prison, then helped create an ingenious escape plan. His was the mind that led D’Artagnan to join up with the Three Musketeers. He was responsible for turning Cardinal Richelieu and Milady de Winter into fiction’s most memorable villains. It was he who forever trapped Louis XIV’s luckless twin brother in a mask made of iron.

Dumas’ influence on adventure fiction can’t be underestimated. But during the same century he was arranging for Athos, Porthos and Aramis to once again face off against the Cardinal’s Guards, one of his countrymen was also putting his mark on the adventure genre.

It was Victor Hugo who set Quasimodo to ringing the bells of Notre Dame and had him fall tragically in love with the beautiful Esmeralda. Hugo had Inspector Jalvert obsessively hunt the escaped convict Jean Valjean for decades, only to finally realize his prey had become a better man that he was.

Dumas and Hugo created or popularized character archetypes and themes that would forever permeate geeky fiction, movies and comics. Loyalty, heroism, generosity in spirit and in action, mercy, and really cool sword fights—the two Frenchmen covered all these bases and more.

But it wasn’t only the French who were kicking literary butt in the 19th Century. Robert Louis Stevenson pretty much handed us our modern view of old-time pirates when he wrote Treasure Island. Long John Silver is another of the great villains of literature and his complex relationship with Jim Hawkins gives that adventure novel a backbone that ensures its status as a classic pretty much forever.

And James Fenimore Cooper, whose Deerstalker tales actually don’t hold up over time as well as Dumas, Hugo and Stevenson, still gets credit for popularizing tales of the American frontier, which would soon evolve into the American Western. Without Cooper, we quite possibly wouldn’t have John Ford or Howard Hawks movies. We almost definitely wouldn’t have Two-Gun Kid and Jonah Hex (the original comic book character—not the lame version that appeared in a recent film). And then where would we be? So we’ll forgive Cooper’s stilted prose and give him the credit he is due.

Of course, there had been great adventure fiction before the 19th Century: Homer’s ancient poems, Beowulf and Don Quixote all come immediately to mind. The later authors were building on that foundation. But Hugo, Dumas, Stevenson and Cooper pretty much perfected the genre, laying the ground work for much of the sort of storytelling we geeks most often geek-out on today.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: July 1965, part 1


The powerless Fantastic Four fights there way into the Baxter Building from the ground floor up, with Reed thinking their way past the various defenses that Doctor Doom has turned against them. It’s a great action scene, not just in terms of choreography, but also in characterization. Reed’s still the smartest guy in the room, whether or not he has a super power. And the others all trust him implicitly.

Meanwhile, Daredevil swings in through a window and confronts Doom man-to-man. He manages to hold his own for a little bit, but he’s pretty much beaten by the time the FF reach the same floor. Just has he was out of his league a few months earlier when he fought Namor. Poor Matt seems to be going through a phase where powerful opponents get to beat the snot out of him.

Anyway, Reed reaches the same Stimulator gun that he used on the Skrull world three issues earlier, giving the four heroes their powers back again.

That begs the question of why he didn’t use the device in the first place. Ben actually asks him about that. Reed explains that he had to wait a few more days for the batteries to recharge. That’s perfectly acceptable, but I have the feeling that Stan and Jack sandwiched that explanation in hastily when they realized it was a noticeable plot hole. That’s just an impression I get from the panel layouts, but I’d bet money on it being true.

It’s not a big deal—the Stimulator is a legit comic book-science invention. But it does mean that Reed kept his friends in a near-panic for several days trying to fake their powers when he could have told them everything would soon be back to normal.

Back to the story—this all leads up to one of Stan and Jack’s finest moments. Reed uses the Stimulator on a reluctant Ben to turn him back into the Thing. “He may hate me forever, but we need his strength at this moment!” Enraged, Ben now goes one-on-one against Doom, charging through Doom’s various attacks through sheer stubbornness and tearing about the villain’s armor. Doom, his pride shattered, whimpers back to Latveria.

Ben, though, is still mad at—well, pretty much everybody. Embittered with being forced back into his monstrous form, he quits the team and storms off. Ben has in many ways become the heart of the team—thus this whole sequence carries a lot of sincere emotional weight.


I actually like the Peter Parker stuff in this issue better than the Spider Man stuff. He has a fight with Betty over Mary Jane (Betty met M.J. in the last issue and doesn’t believe Peter has never actually seen her.)

Mad about this, he loses his temper at school when Flash Thompson picks on him. He jumps Flash and his cronies, almost giving away his super powers. He also gets in trouble with the principal.

Here’s the really cool part: After Peter is chewed out by the principal, Flash steps up to admit that the incident was his fault. We've gotten hints of Flash’s hidden decency before—this is the most overt example of it. Eventually, Flash does a hitch in the army and, when he rejoins the cast in later years, he and Peter become friends. He essentially matures out of his “big bully” phase. Bits like this make that transformation believable.

Of course, the Spider Man stuff is still pretty good. A masked man named the Crime Master is trying to organize all the mobs under his command, muscling out the Green Goblin (who has the same plan) along the way. Spider Man suspects Frederick Foswell, the Bugle reporter with a criminal record, of being the Crime Master. The story hints that this might be true, but in such a way that we can’t be sure. It’s a very well-constructed plot.

On top of this, Peter is forced to use a Spidey costume he had bought in a costume shop, holding the ill-fitting costume in place with his webbing. But this proves advantageous when the Goblin manages to capture Spidey—the villain can’t get the webbed-on mask off.

The issue ends with the Crime Master meeting with a small army of mobsters at the waterfront—and the Goblin arriving with an unconscious Spider Man to claim he should be in charge.


Johnny and Ben go out on a pretty good note—ending the Human Torch series with a solid little story.

The two are hanging out at the Baxter Building when the Watcher shows up, explaining that he doesn’t usually get involved, but the whole world will be destroyed if he doesn’t step in.

I’m pretty sure this is the first time the Watcher gets actively involved, something he’ll do frequently in subsequent issues of the Fantastic Four. In fact, we’re only eight months away from his most important instance of helping mankind when he warns the FF about Galactus.

For now, he’s warning the FF about Kang, who has gone back in time to the days of King Arthur, imprisoned Merlin and taken over the throne. His intent is to both conquer medieval Earth and change history enough so that all his 20th Century enemies cease to exist.

The Watcher sends Ben and Johnny back to stop him, which involves Ben going at it alone against an army of knights while Johnny springs Merlin from the slammer. Kang is defeated, though he manages to make a getaway in his time ship.

With the world safe, Ben and Johnny are returned to the present, where Reed lectures them for just lounging about doing nothing while he was out.

As I said, a good ending to the series.

This, by the way, is the second Merlin we meet. The first was a powerful mutant that spent centuries in suspended animation and then awoke to battle Thor in modern times. This was in Journey into Mystery #96.

But the Merlin here is the real one. We’d eventually get a retcon (in an issue of X-Men, I believe) that would peg the mutant as an imposter that the real Merlin placed in suspended animation.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange returns to Earth following last issue’s side adventure. He visits the Ancient One (still in a coma) and learns the old guy is mumbling “You must find… Eternity” every so often.

But before Strange can find Eternity (or even before he can figure out what the heck Eternity means), he’s found and attacked by Mordo once again. They have a running battle across and through the Earth while in ectoplasmic form.

Strange gets some help from Clea (though she is still actually unnamed), who sabotages the barrier that keeps the Mindless Ones out of Dormammu’s dimension. This forces Dormammu to withdraw the power he’s given Mordo to battle the Mindless Ones. This, in turn, allows Strange to drive off Mordo.

The issue ends with Strange determined to figure out what “find Eternity” means so that he can definitively beat Mordo and Dormammu.

Ditko’s art continues to shine with his knack for creating inter-dimensional landscapes, weird creatures and the visual effects of magic spells. Stan Lee continues to shine in his storytelling and pacing—proving once more to be a master of the serial format.

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

Monday, August 16, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Jeff Regan, Investigator: “The Guy from Gower Gulch” 11/13/48

This was one of several hard-boiled detective shows that Jack Webb did before it turned into police procedural territory with Dragnet. It’s not as good as Pat Novak for Hire—the one-liners aren’t quite as clever. But Webb is always fun to listen to doing hard-boiled narration and the plots were generally well-constructed.

Jeff Regan is a P.I. who works for an agency owned by Anthony J. Lyon (“They call me the Lyon’s Eye”). Lyon calls him late one night to talk to a guy in jail. The guy, who is saddled with the name Davy Crockett, wants to hire Regan to pick up a package he stashed in an alley just before he was arrested on Disorderly charges.

But someone else is looking for the package as well and is willing to play rough to get hold of it. This seems to make little sense when it turns out to be a canister of film. When Regan and Lyon watch the film, they see an innocuous travelogue about Peru.

It must be more than that, though, since there is soon murder and kidnapping taking place over it. Regan muddles along and eventually manages to pin the various crimes on the appropriate suspects. There’s a nice double-twist at the end.

Click HERE to listen or download

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Epic fight scene

Everyone once in awhile, it's important to sit back, take a deep breath and watch two knights of old beat the snot out of each other. This is from El Cid (1961), one of the great Hollywood epics.

Charlton Heston plays El Cid as a honorable and devout man who has to balance his loyalty to a corrupt monarchy with his personal sense of right and wrong. Strong characterizations, beautifully composed cinematography and (as we can see here) superbly choreographed action sequences (both one-on-one fights and large scale battles) all make this a pretty much perfect movie.

Also, Sophia Loren never looked more drop dead gorgeous than she does in this film. That doesn't show quite so much in this scene, where she's dressed in mourning because Heston had to whack her father a few scenes earlier. But for the rest of the movie she is easily beautiful enough to melt out the eyeballs of most men who look at her.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: June 1965, part 3


This is the first of a two-part story that will bring the Giant Man series to an end.

What’s kind of odd is the changes being made to the characters in spite of the fact that they will be losing their own series soon. Since getting zapped with a power-stealing ray last issue, Hank can’t shrink down any more. And changing size too rapidly when he grows is making him dizzy—he theorizes that his metabolism just can’t take the drastic changes any longer. He finds he can manage a 35-foot height as long as he grows a little more slowly.

He also makes Jan a cybernetic helmet so she (who can still shrink) can take over the “talking to ants” part of their gig.

While all this is happening, the Human Top is planning to attack them once again. The issue ends with the Top capturing the Wasp, with Giant Man in pursuit.

Last issue’s Hulk story ended with Banner and Glen Talbot falling off a Mongolian cliff. Banner Hulks-out, catches Talbot, and leaps away. His long (and I mean LONG) jumps eventually get him back to the States, where he falls asleep on his own couch and reverts again to Banner.

When he’s found, he’s charged with spying. Talbot has gotten back to the States as well and presses the case against him. But the President knows Banner’s secret and orders him to be allowed to once again try to test the Absorbicon (the secret weapon he was trying to test when he was captured by the Russians a few issues ago).

It’s been a few years since I last read these stories. I think a few entries back I was saying that Stan Lee would probably leave aside the whole “LBJ knows about the Hulk” thing as too much of a dues ex machina. I’d forgotten that he would draw on this at least this one more time. It’s really not that much longer before the world at large learns about Banner/Hulk anyways.

The Leader still wants the Absorbicon as well. He seeds the island with microscopic humanoids that grow and attack at his command. The creatures overwhelm Talbot, but Banner Hulks-out yet again. The Leader, though, is ready for the Hulk this time. Gas-equipped humanoids knock out the green guy and cart him off to their Leader.

One important note: Jack Kirby takes over the art from Steve Ditko in this issue. That’s a good thing as Kirby’s style is much more suited to a character whose main gig is raw physical power.


The new team decides to try to find the Hulk, not knowing that he’s currently a prisoner of the Leader. And, in a series of shameless plugs, we’re periodically shown some of the action from next month’s Tales to Astonish to remind us that the Hulk is busy elsewhere. Well, shameless but legitimate. Plugging other Marvel titles is perfectly okay as long as it doesn’t interfere with good storytelling.

Instead, they are lured into a trap by the Mole Man, resulting in a major fight against a giant minotaur. Quicksilver is briefly captured, but Captain America manages to direct everyone to use their powers in concert and they end up victorious.

There’s some fun characterizations seeded throughout the issue. Both Quicksilver and Hawkeye—both a bit arrogant—think they should be in charge instead of that old fuddy-duddy Captain America. By the end of this issue, Hawkeye at least is beginning to appreciate Cap’s leadership skills.


Ah, Stilt Man. I love ‘em. I don’t care how silly he looks. In my opinion, Stilt Man goes so far off into the realm of silly that he actually circles the universe and enters the realm of cool again.

His gig is a simple one. His armored costume has hydraulic legs that can extend upward to (according to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe) 290 feet. We first meet him when he robs a helicopter that’s carrying a payroll.

He stole the technology behind the suit, just as he stole the shrink ray he uses in his final battle with Daredevil. But he himself gets zapped by the ray and shrinks into nothingness.

But he’ll be back one day. You can’t keep a good Stilt Man down. He’s too silly. Or too cool. Or something.

That’s it for June. In July 1965, the FF face off against Doctor Doom without a single superpower between them; Peter Parker has to visit a costume shop before fighting the Green Goblin; the Watcher recruits Ben and Johnny to save the world; Dr. Strange returns to Earth; Thor meets an ill-tempered robot; Iron Man takes a nap; Captain America tries to kill a future president; Giant Man tries to rescue the Wasp; Hulk finally meets the Leader; the Avengers repel a Communist invasion; and the X-Men confront Professor X’s long lost stepbrother.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

NBC University Theater: “Tales of Edgar Allen Poe” 3/6/49

NBC University Theater dramatized classic literature and important modern novels, provided a commentator to discuss the novel/author at the halfway mark and provided listeners a chance to earn college credits for listening. Not a bad deal, really, since their dramatizations were really, really good.

This particular episode adapts three Edgar Allen Poe stories. In my last book (Radio by the Book), I remark several times how the various anthology shows were fond of Poe. His stories seemed tailor-made for radio. They were just the right length to fit into a show’s time slot and if you could preserve the beauty and rhythm of the original prose, you were bound to do something worthwhile.

University Theater was an hour-long, so they manage to fit three Poe stories pretty comfortably into their time slot. They begin with one of Poe’s lesser-known work. “Lionizing” (renamed “Noseology” for the radio adaptation) is about a man who pretty much makes his living by having the most prominent nose in Europe, something that earns him an endless supply of invitations to the homes of the best families. It’s a reminder that Poe wasn’t always morbid and did actually have a sense of humor.

“The Cask of Amontillado” is marred slightly by the addition of a little too much extra dialogue, but is still pretty good. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is very well-done and appropriately creepy.

The Literature professor doing the commentary loses a point for describing “The Tell-Tale Heart” as a lesser work, but otherwise gives us some thoughtful insights into Poe’s canon.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sidekicks are Heroes,too.

Batman has Robin. The Green Hornet has Kato. Roy Rogers had Gabby Hayes. The Cisco Kid had Poncho.

But the Lone Ranger might have been most fortunate in sidekicks. Tonto was pretty darn cool in his own right: an expert tracker, good in a fight, proficient in several languages (despite his life-long struggle with English pronouns).

Heck, even the Ranger's horse was pretty darn cool. When I was a kid, I listened to an episode in which a bad guy had several hours head start on the Ranger. He has to spend another half-hour searching for the villain's faint trail. But despite this, Silver's speed and stamina allow him to eventually catch the guy.

Wish I could remember the name of that episode--I'd really like to listen to it again.

Anyway, few sidekicks are able to have their own significant solo adventures (though Robin has had quite a few over the years).  But the writers and artists who worked for Gold Key comics recognized the value of both Tonto and Silver as heroes in their own right. Aside from their long-running Lone Ranger comic, they gave his "sidekicks" their own opportunities to shine.

Came up with some really cool covers as well.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: June 1965, part 2


Loki seems to have won the Trial of the Gods and now he teleports the Norn Stones to Earth, thus hiding the evidence of his cheating. Odin, though, gives Thor 24 hours to find the Stones and prove Loki did indeed cheat.

So it’s back to Earth, where he pauses briefly to help Balder run off Enchantress and Executioner, thus saving Jane. Jane gets her second mind-wipe (sorry—“spell of forgetfulness”) in as many issues, then Thor is off after the Norn Stones.

His hammer works as a sort of magical dowsing rod, allowing him to track the Stones to Vietnam. But he’s distracted from his mission when he gets involved helping some oppressed villagers against the Viet Cong.

Stan and Jack inject some human tragedy into the story. A Viet Cong officer ends up killing his own mother and brother. Repentant, he blows up both himself and his base.

This issue is a change-of-pace from the cosmic-level stuff that’s been going on before this, but the issue is actually an effective (if a little heavy-handed) condemnation of totalitarianism.

The “Tales of Asgard” feature enters the realm of serial storytelling as well with this issue. We get our first look at the Odinsword, the giant sword located in Asgard which, if ever unsheathed, would destroy the universe. Some unknown evil force is causing the sheath to crack. Odin appoints Thor and Loki to lead an expedition to find this evil force and save all of existence. It’s the prelude to a truly epic narrative.


Happy is unhappy, quitting his job because he feels useless and can’t get over the fact that Pepper still likes Tony. Blah, blah, blah. Eventually, Pepper and Happy will fall in love, get married and move the series away from this tiresome trope. But until then---more about Happy next issue.

It is interesting, though: Stan Lee handles romantic woes with real humor over in Spider Man, but in many of the other books he’s often been caught up in the “I love him/her but can never tell him/her” trap that got old real fast.

We also meet the perpetually grouchy Senator Byrd this issue, who is on hand to watch Iron Man test a new one-man sub that Tony just invented. Byrd will be around for awhile—distrustful of Stark’s playboy reputation and a perpetual thorn in Tony’s side.

Once submerged in the sub, Iron Man stumbles upon Attuma, who’s about to fire a whopping big cannon and change the Earth’s atmosphere so that the Atlanteans can breath out of the water.

The fight scene that follows is pretty good—much of it built on the fact that Iron Man only has a limited oxygen supply. He finally wins by ramming the cannon with the mini-sub. He saves mankind, but has to tell Byrd that the test is a failure. He can’t tell what had really happened because “No one would believe it!” Faulty reasoning there. Tony lives in a world were stuff like that happens all the time.

We now jump back a couple of decades to visit Captain America. This issue marks the beginning of this series also adapting the serial format that Stan is using so effectively in Hulk, Thor, Dr. Strange and Tales of Asgard. Cliffhangers will abound and each adventure will merge into the next without pause.

It starts out pretty dramatically. Cap has trailed the Red Skull back to Germany, but he’s been captured. So we start off with Cap tied in a chair in a dungeon, surrounded by Nazi goons and being questioned by the Skull.

We learn of the Red Skull’s origin. He was a put-upon stooge who came to hate everyone and everything. When Hitler spotted him working as a hotel bellboy, he exclaims “The sheer blazing hatred? I know those emotions! You TOO hate all mankind… I shall make a perfect Nazi of you!”

So the Skull is trained to be an expert fighter and leader, given his Red Skull mask by Hitler himself. He begins a career of terror and mass murder in the name of Nazism. Soon, he was second only to Hitler. It was one of his personal U-boat wolf packs that sank the ship Cap and Bucky were on, allowing him to capture them.

The issue ends with a chemical that’s been injected into Captain America taking effect. He is now apparently the mind-slave of the Red Skull, now assigned to kill General Eisenhower.

That’s it for now. We’ll finish June 1965 next week with visits to Giant Man, Hulk, the Avengers and Daredevil.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A to Z Comic and Pulp Cover list

Welcome to a temporary Monday feature that will run for the next 26 weeks. This list, obviously, is not meant to be comprehensive, but just a small sampling of some of the excellent art that comic and pulp covers have given us over the years.

A is for---




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