Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Adventures of the Saint: “Fighter’s Contract” 7/23/50

Yet another episode in which Vincent Price handles with perfect aplomb the often hilarious verbal by-play with various suspects and witnesses. This time around, the case involves an up-and-coming boxer, his manager and the manager’s wife. The wife, we are assured, is a “real tomato” and may be, um, in training (so to speak) with the young boxer.

A mystery writer used these three as characters in his latest novel. Now one of them may be planning to murder him, or perhaps murder one another. Simon looks into it, but soon one of the characters is indeed killed. But Simon doesn’t miss a beat in his barrage of witty barbs before finally nailing the killer.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tarzan vs. T Rex. Does it get any better than this?

This great cover is by George Wilson. Dell (and later Gold Key, who took over publishing Dell's comic book line) didn't always give us the best interior art, but their painted covers were consistently breathtaking.

I know the T-Rex looks formidable, but my money is always on Tarzan.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: October 1965, part 2


Thor and the Absorbing Man fight a running battle through the streets of New York. Both are invulnerable and both are evenly matched in power (since Crusher can absorb Thor’s power every time the Thunder God clocks him one). But when Thor has to turn his back to protect an innocent bystander, the villain clocks HIM a good one and apparently knocks him out.

The fight is yet another example of Jack Kirby’ superb ability to choreograph an exciting action sequence. A full-page panel in which we see Absorbing Man grow to gigantic size while Thor flies in to attack is by itself worth the price of admission.

Sandwiched into the fight scene is a reminder that Jane is being held prisoner by a guy in a mask (though the guy claims he’s just protecting her). Also, we get a couple of glimpses at Loki back in Asgard, who is making sure no one realizes he’s up to mischief again while he watches the Thor/Absorbing Man battle via a crystal ball.

The Tales of Asgard feature has Thor’s giant ship sailing into a maelstrom, while some of the crew grow panicky and Loki plots to foment mutiny. It ends with Balder climbing to the top of the huge ship’s figurehead to carry out some sort of plan to save them all. This back-up feature continues to be a real showcase for Kirby’ powerful and imaginative art.


More cool fight scenes as Iron Man and Titanium Man continue to duke it out. And there’s a nice bit of characterization mixed in as well, when Happy risks his life (and seems to get killed) getting a piece of equipment to Iron Man in the nick of time. What makes it an even better moment is that Happy has realized Iron Man and Tony are the same guy—the guy he sees has coming between him and Pepper—but he sacrifices himself to save Tony just the same. As annoying as the whole Tony—Happy—Pepper thing has been most of the time, Stan Lee manages to pull a really cool moment out of it.

Anyway, the issue ends with the battle between the two armored man still unresolved while Happy lays unconscious and possibly dead nearby.

Back in World War II, Cap flies the captured Nazi bomber to the castle where Bucky is held prisoner. He’s warned by the mad scientist’s innocent sister that it’s a trap. This allows him to put up a good fight against Nazis wearing medieval armor and a bunch of stormtroopers laying a barrage of submachine gun fire down on him. But he’s finally taken down with some knockout gas.

The mad scientist then finds out that working for Nazis is never a good idea. As punishment for her helping Cap, the sister will be shoved inside a V-2 rocket before its fired at 10 Downing Street to blow up Churchill.

We also get a reminder that Steve Rogers’ Ranger platoon, still on its raid into France, is surrounded by a German armored column. It’s all done very well, with the exposition never getting in the way of the action (or visa versa). Stan Lee continues to demonstrate his skill at pacing a multi-chapter serial.

We’ll leave Thor, Cap and Iron Man all in big trouble for the moment. Next week, we’ll visit with Hulk, Namor, the Avengers and Daredevil.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Philip Marlowe: “The Fatted Calf” 9/24/49

I love meaningless coincidences. Less than a week ago, I re-read a Nero Wolfe novella titled “The Squirt and the Monkey.” In it, the corpulent detective must solve the murder of a popular comic strip artist. One of the actual comic strips ends up being a vital clue to the mystery.

It wasn’t one of the best Wolfe stories, but pretty much any story with Wolfe and Archie Goodwin in it is still worth reading.

Then, a scant few days later, I listened to this episode of Philip Marlowe, in which a popular comic strip artist is murdered and one of his strips turns out to be a vital clue to fingering his killer.

During the 1940s, it was apparently very dangerous to be a comic strip artist. But it was equally dangerous to murder one, since a clue to your guilt will apparently be found on the comic page of your local newspaper.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Roger de Tourneville is the COOLEST KNIGHT EVER!!!

Sir Roger is my hero. I want to be just like him when I grow up.

In 1960, the brilliant science-fiction/fantasy writer Poul Anderson obviously had a ball writing The High Crusade, serialized that year in Analog magazine and soon after published as a novel. It was just reprinting in a 50th anniversary addition (along with a short story set in the same continuity), so snatch up a copy and read it. You'll want to be just like Sir Roger when you grow up as well.

Heck, when an alien spaceship lands in medieval England, expecting the primitive savages who live there to panic at the first laser blast, Sir Roger rallies his men and charges the space ship. Longbow shafts pincushion the guy with the laser pistol and the armored knights turn the battle into a hand-to-hand affair. Advanced aliens with lasers and atomic weapons haven't the faintest idea how to do hand-to-hand combat. All but one of them die and Sir Roger has himself a space ship.

He doesn't know how to fly the darn thing, but his prisoner does. Sir Roger's plan? Use the huge ship to transport not just his military force, but his entire town (men, women, children and livestock) to the Continent to kick some French butt, then maybe liberate the Holy Land afterwards. When the alien tricks him by locking in the auto-pilot to take them all to another planet, Sir Roger still doesn't lose his cool. Instead, he rams the ship into an alien base and turns yet another battle into a hand-to-hand affair. But the displaced humans are now stuck on another world, with the navigational records that would allow them to find Earth again destroyed.

From there, the doughty knight improvises wildly, convincing several sets of aliens that his small army is stronger and better equipped than it really is. Through guile, diplomacy, outright lies and force of will, he wins another battle, gains some allies and begins to overthrow a huge empire, setting up an intergalactic feudal system in its place.

Sir Roger's story is fun from start to finish. Anderson's science fiction is usually realistic, but here he eschews pure realism to have fun with the concept of medieval knights in space. All the same, he presents a rationale for Sir Roger's success logically enough to make the reader more than willing to suspend disbelief. Anderson's sense of humor is in high gear throughout most of the tale. I especially like Sir Roger's reply to the question of whether he would force the aliens to swear fealty to Edward III: "The Irish are bad enough." There's also some great moments when these medieval Catholics try to wrestle with the theological implications of their situation--poking fun at religious superstitions without ever poking fun at the legitimacy of spiritual beliefs.

And Roger's innate coolness isn't just from his quick thinking and physical courage. He gets a true Crowning Moment of Awesome in the moral courage he shows when one of his men betrays him--and his wife seems to be in on the plot. But his love for his wife never falters and, well, if anyone can save his family, his honor and his people all at the same time, Sir Roger de Tourneville can.

I really do want to be just like Sir Roger when I grow up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: October 1965, part 1


This story comes to an end with another issue stuffed full of slam-bang action. Reed and Sue manage to get a still mind-controlled Ben back to the Baxter Building, but Reed must then risk his best friend’s life in order to snap him free from that control. When the Frightful Four (with Johnny as a hostage) show up, Ben snaps out of a coma long enough to save the day. Medusa gets away, but the rest of the evil FF are captured.

All four members of the FF get their individual awesome moments and we get yet another moment that shows Reed will willingly give his life for Ben.

There’s a fun gag at the end—Reed calls the cops to have them pick up the captured bad guys, but the cops just dismiss him as a crank caller.

I love this issue—the whole Frightful Four trilogy, in fact, is a wonderful and perfectly balanced combination of action and characterization.

But I naturally can’t help point out one silly moment. Reed is using an experimental machine to snap Ben’s mind free from control. Ben trashes the machine, which begins to shoot too much energy through him. Reed rushes forward to help. By itself this is a great moment—the point at which we learn how much Reed cares for his best friend.

But when Sue says “Of course! The main power switch!” and saves everyone by just hitting the OFF button—well, I wanted to dope-slap Reed. You’re supposed to be a genius, Reed! Why didn’t YOU think of the darn OFF SWITCH????

Oh, well. The rest of the story is so darn cool it really doesn’t matter. In fact, the last three issues have rated a collective 9.8 on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness Scale. Only the upcoming Galactus story rates higher.


Did I just say that Lee and Kirby produced a perfectly balanced combination of action and characterization in the FF? Well, by golly, Lee and Ditko do the same thing here on Spider Man. Scorpion escapes from jail and vows revenge on both Jameson and Spider Man. This leads to a Spidey vs. Scorpion matchup in the Daily Planet newsroom, eventually spilling outside to the rooftops and then the East River. Spidey eventually manages to outthink as well as outfight the villain.

The issue has some great humor, a lot of it centered around Jameson (who is petrified with terror while simultaneously worried about how much all the broken office furniture will cost him).

There’s also a laugh-out-loud moment involving Ned Leeds, who is back from Europe and making time with Betty again. He’s protected Betty as best he can while shouting out advice for Spidey. Spidey more or less thinks “He steals my girl and gives me advice? I’ll show him!” He charges Scorpion. The next panel shows Spidey being slammed into the wall.

Ned: “I told you to watch out for his tail!”

Spidey: “Oh, Shaddup!”

Anyway, I think by this point Stan and Steve must have been planning to have Betty fade out of the picture as they introduce Gwen Stacy. Once again, it’s curious to note how well Stan Lee is handling the romantic sub plots here (and in FF) while they are still so awkward and annoying in Iron Man and Daredevil.


The action begins moving along fast and furious. Several SHIELD agents give their lives trying to get a microfilm to SHIELD headquarters, which provides the exact location of the launching site of Hydra’s “Betatron bomb” (powerful enough to allow them to blackmail the world into submission one it’s in orbit).

But Hydra gets the microfilm back and this chapter ends with the bomb being launched.

The whole microfilm sequence, in which SHIELD agents get killed one by one while passing the film off to each other, is very well done. We also learn that two former Howling Commandos—Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones—are working for SHIELD now also. Dum Dum is an especially welcome addition to the cast; he’s always been a particularly likeable big lug.

We also find that there some dysfunctional family relationships involving the masked, as-yet-unidentified leader of Hydra. He wants to conquer the world to give his beautiful daughter “everything,” but all she wants is to be a normal girl. It’s perhaps a bit too corny, but Stan and Jack will do a pretty good job playing it out.

Dr. Strange, meanwhile, attempts to mind probe the Ancient One (who is still in a coma) to find out what the deal is with Eternity. It’s a nifty sequence, with Strange having to penetrate a succession of mind traps the Ancient One has set up to protect himself while not actually fighting back and hurting his mentor. Ditko’s visuals here are particularly effective.

Finally, Strange gets into the A.O.’s head and convinces him of his identity. The old guy tells him where to find Eternity (we poor readers are not yet told why this is important) and Strange ends the issue by traveling through a gateway to yet another strange dimension.

That’s it for this time. Next week, we’ll take a look at the Thunder God, the Armored Avenger and the Shield Slinger.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I’m debating with myself how much longer to continue the History of the Marvel Universe series. It’s really not that long before I reach a point where I don’t have access to reprints of every single Marvel super hero book. (Heck, I already feel badly that I haven’t been able to review Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandoes, since those characters show up in modern-day continuity.) Once I start leaving gaps, it just doesn’t seem as much fun.

I’ll continue at least through the Galactus saga in Fantastic Four. After that, I’m considering several options. Option #1: I may continue this series, but limit it to what I think are the four best books of the 1960s (Fantastic Four, Spider Man, Thor and Dr. Strange.)

Another option is to stop being chronological and start cherry picking specific storylines to review. This has the advantage of letting me look at later stories (from the 1970s and early 1980s) that I might never get to otherwise. It also lets me jump back to look at stuff from the 1940s and 1950s. And it will let me look at DC as well as Marvel comics. (With perhaps an occasional EC, Dell, or Gold Key comic thrown in.) I’d also be able to cover some non-superhero storylines. I occasionally cover other comic books in my Thursday post, but I’m reluctant to do that too often, since I don’t want this to be a comic book dominated blog. I want plenty of room to cover pulps, B-movies and old-time radio as well.

Then again, maybe I’ll keep up these more comprehensive reviews of the Marvel Universe as long as I can. I really enjoy doing them. The only reason I’m thinking of changing the format is because I don’t want it to reach a point where it’s not complete. We’re about to hit the four-year mark (Nov. 1961 through Oct. 1965). Maybe I should set my ending point on the five year mark? I dunno yet.

Anyway, I appreciate the fact that there are a few people who follow my blog and I’m open to suggestions. If you have any comments about what I should do, please post them. (Which reminds me—my thanks to whoever gave this blog a nice review over on

Just remember—the fate of the entire universe may rest on what I decide to do about this. I mean, it probably doesn’t. But it might. You never know about these sorts of things.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

This is another rerun of an older post--but this time with a link to the actual episode.

Gunsmoke: "Ball Nine--Take Your Base" 8/2/59

We don't normally connect baseball with the Old West, but it was during the post Civil War years that baseball really boomed in popularity and became our national pass-time. So, though we might not hear anyone shout "Play Ball!" very often in Westerns, it did happen fairly frequently in real life.

So it's always fun to run across a Western that acknowledges this. And this really fun episode of Gunsmoke does a nice job of capturing the flavor of the game in the 1870s--a time during which the rules were evolving and the game was becoming more popular every year.

A touring pro team arrives in Dodge City. Doc Adams agrees to be umpire in a game between the pros and a team of locals. But Doc's memories of the game go back to his Antebellum living in the East, when he watched gentleman clubs like the Knickerbockers and the Mutuals play friendly games.

Marshal Dillon tries to set Doc straight--explaining that the modern day professional players played hard and often brawled hard. And the fanatics--those watching the game who were sometimes called "fans"--were often just as bad.

Doc soon finds out Dillon is right, but plans for the game continue regardless. There's a wonderful scene in which Doc facilitates a meeting between the managers to agree on the rules. (Can you catch a fly on one bounce and still get an out? Can the pitcher chew liquorice and smear it on the ball before he pitches?) Doc and the local manager learn of a new rule involving the concept of the walk, which happened if a total nine balls are thrown outside the area to which the batter had asked it to be thrown (high, middle, or low). "That makes it hard on the pitcher," complains the local team leader.

Of course, there's something for Dillon to do as well as he looks into a scheme a couple of gamblers dream up to rig the game. And that part is cool as well. But it is the accurate and entertaining look back at the early years of baseball that make this episode stand out.

Click HERE to listen or download

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sidekicks of John Wayne--UNITE!!!

John Ford once said that of all the Westerns he made, Wagon Master (1950) was his favorite. It’s easy to see why—it’s a beautifully photographed, well-told story with some of the most human characters Ford ever managed to put on screen.

The movie stars Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr and Ward Bond, who were part of Ford’s stock company and are perhaps most often remembered for their supporting roles in John Wayne movies. But once given a chance to play the leads, they really shine.

Johnson and Carey are hired by a group of Mormons to guide their wagon train west through some dangerous and water-sparse desert. Johnson’s laid back performance and Carey’s youthful eagerness make them two of them likeable protagonists you’re ever likely to run across in any movie.

Bond is an elder who is in charge of the Mormon community. He’s a curmudgeonly old guy who is trying very hard (often unsuccessfully) not to be curmudgeonly any more. But he’s also smart, capable and decent. So we have yet another thoroughly likeable protagonist, someone we would just inherently respect were we to meet him in real life.

Ford’s talent for giving even the extras in his movie a degree of personality helps make us root for the wagon train to get through even more intensely than we normally would. Humanity and humor literally drip from the movie.

And the whole thing looks magnificent. It was filmed in black-and-white, by the way. And as beautiful as Ford’s color movies look (such as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers), I think his pretty much perfect sense of composition and his use of natural lighting was always best served in black-and-white.

Anyway, the main conflict in the story comes when a band of ruthless outlaws ride into the camp. None of the Mormons are armed—only Johnson and Carey are packing six-guns. So when the outlaws eventually take over the wagon train, there doesn’t seem like there’s anything the good guys can do.

The outlaws, a father and his four grown sons, are an eerie counterpoint to the Mormons—men who have quite literally set aside their humanity. Morally, they’ve become no more than animals. James Arness is one of the villains—other than as the monster in The Thing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play a bad guy before. He doesn’t have any dialogue, but effectively uses body language and facial expressions to give us a character you would never ever want to meet in a dark alley.

The story builds up quite a bit of suspense and the climatic shoot out comes suddenly and almost unexpectedly. It’s not my absolute favorite John Ford Western (that’s be a tie between My Darling Clementine and—despite it being in color—The Searchers), but I can see why it was Ford’s favorite.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: September 1965, part 3


Namor manages to defeat the giant octopus that had him cornered last issue, then continues to follow clues that will lead him to Neptune’s trident. He has a tussle with some of Krang’s men, then is confronted by a giant seaweed monster that begins to crush the life out of him as the issue comes to an end.

Adam Austin’s strong artwork carries the story along nicely. There’s also a legitimately touching moment when Namor meets an elderly Atlantian who assures him that most of his people are still loyal to him. The “Namor on a quest” story also fits into the multi-chapter serial format that Stan Lee is using on quite a few books by this point.

Meanwhile, Thunderbolt Ross is proving to be pretty casual at tossing around atomic weapons. He uses one to finish off the Leader’s giant Humanoid. Hulk grabs Rick Jones and jumps away in the nick of time. This leaves Hulk mad at the army, despite having Banner’s brain in control. Rick begins to get worried, noting that the Hulk is now more violent than ever.

With a bullet still lodged in his brain, the Hulk is dead meat if he turns back into Banner. So he heads for his secret lab and rigs up equipment that will keep him from changing. But the army has spotted him and now Ross is once again threatening to drop a nuke.

Hulk forces a reluctant Rick to leave the cave and get to safety. He figures he’s doomed, but just then the Leader teleports into the cave and promises to save him—IF, of course, he swears eternal loyalty to the Leader.

The series continues to roll along with good action and effective cliffhangers. The Leader might actually be in danger of overexposure—it’ll be nice when the Hulk’s rogue’s gallery gets to grow a little larger. But he’s a strong villain nonetheless, as will be demonstrated over the next few chapters.


Captain America is still plummeting to his doom, but the other Avengers use their various powers together to save him. They’re about the clean the Swordsman’s clock when the bad guy is teleported away by the Mandarin.

The Mandarin then fakes a message from Iron Man, telling the Avengers that Swordsman can indeed be trusted. This, of course, is a trap, with the Swordsman being given a bomb to plant inside Avengers Mansion.

There’s a fun twist at the end. Swordsman has second thoughts about committing mass-murder and is getting rid of the bomb when the Avengers—who remained suspicious of him—confront him. It looks like he’s planting the bomb, so he has to make a break for it, disposing of the explosive devise just before it goes off.

There’s also more bickering among the Avengers over who should be leader. It’s actually a nice dynamic—all fight bravely and work well together when in battle, but between battles they begin to get on each others’ nerves.

X-MEN #13

Juggernaut has blasted through the X-Men to confront Professor X, who attempts to drop the bad guy with a mental blast. But Juggy’s helmet keeps him immune to telepathic shenanigans.

What follows is a very exciting and expertly choreographed battle in which the X-Men fight a delaying action against Juggernaut back and forth through the mansion, until they finally come up with a way to get his helmet off. Xavier can then finally drop him with a mental blast. A very good issue in terms of action and Kirby’s visuals.

The X-Men, by the way, get some help from the Human Torch, whom Professor X summoned telepathically. Johnny seems a pretty random choice, but the real reason, of course, is to get in a quick plug for the FF and mention Reed’s upcoming marriage to Sue.

This leads to an odd bit at the end, when Professor X mind-wipes the memory of the battle from Johnny. That seems a bit unnecessary and highlights that Stan and Jack still hadn’t thought through all the ethical implications of the professor’s powers. But this does nothing to take away from the story’s high entertainment value.

That’s it for September. In October, the Fantastic Four continue to fight the Frightful Four while Iron Man continues to battle the Titanium Man; Spider Man gets a rematch against the Scorpion while Thor gets a rematch against the Absorbing Man; some SHIELD agents get whacked; Dr. Strange mind-probes his mentor; Captain America joins Bucky as a captive of the Nazis; Namor has trouble with both seaweed and diamonds; the Hulk and the Leader find they can’t play nice together; the Avengers get discredited---AGAIN; and Daredevil fights a gang of pretty goofy looking criminals.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Bishop and the Gargoyle: “The Jennifer Bots Case” 7/14/40

The Bishop is a retired missionary, while the Gargoyle is an ex-con who now works for the Bishop. Naturally, they solve crimes. A retired priest and a former crook? What else could they possibly end up doing?

The show ran for several years, but this is apparently the only surviving episode. It’s a pretty good one, too. The Gargoyle meets a damsel in distress—a young woman who was just conned out of her life savings. When the self-described “former lug” and the Bishop investigate, though, the apparently simple case snowballs to include kidnapping and murder. There’s also a mousy but heavily armed museum director who pops up at inconvenient moments, looking for something very valuable.

It’s a good mystery with a pair of interesting protagonists who play nicely off of each other.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Another A to Z list?

Sorry, but I simply had to get this out of my system. Doing the A to Z comic and pulp cover list on Mondays made me see if I could come up with a list of novels I've read that could run the alphabetic gamut. I simply wrote down the first novel I could think of for each title. Each, I promise, is fun and worth reading.

Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne (Phileas Fogg--coolest fictional character ever)

The Beardless Warriors, by Richard Matheson (intense WWII novel with gripping battle scenes and characters you really care about)

Captain Blood, by Rafael Sabatini (prose so fun it makes you read it aloud)

The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers (fantasy novel set in the 16th novel during the siege of Vienna-bizarre but internally logical plot)

The Eagle has Landed, by Jack Higgins (can't-put-it-down suspense and action)

 Foundation, by Isaac Asimov (first of a trilogy; classic and thoughtful SF)

The Guns of Navarone, by Alistair MacLean (one of the best men-on-a-mission novels ever)

The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley (a mystery, but mostly about a love for books)

The Iron Monster Raid, by I.G. Edmunds (a young readers adaptation of the TV series The Rat Patrol; has a few really exciting action set pieces and improves on the TV show in terms of good plot construction)

The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is yet another story that begs to be read aloud.)

Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara (classic novel about the battle of Gettysburg)

The Legion of Space, by Jack Williamson (great pulp SF novel--sort of "The Three Musketeers" in space)

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury (Bradbury's prose always manages to sound poetic and conversational at the same time)

Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny (first of a five-book series that tells an epic and multi-dimensional story of war, intrigue, betrayal and a lot of really weird magic)

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck (ah, poor Lenny!)

The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope (classic adventure tale)

Queen's Gambit, by Walter Tevis (story of a female chess prodigy; Tevis gives the chess matches an edge-of-your-seat tension)

Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett (my favorite hard-boiled novel)

The Sign of Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle (Holmes, Watson, Toby the bloodhound and a chase down the Thames River)

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson (still the best pirate novel ever)

Under the Moons of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the original title of A Princess of Mars; first in a series of adventures on our war-hungry sister planet)

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis (if you don't get a lump in your throat at the part where Reepicheep comforts Eustace, then you simply aren't human anymore)

War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells (Martian tripods rate a 9.7 on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness scale)

X-Men: Avengers--the Gamma Quest Trilogy, by Greg Cox (One of a number of prose novels that Marvel Comics put out during the 1990s. In this one, the two super teams join forces when someone kidnaps Wolverine, Rogue and the Scarlet Witch)

The Young Pitcher, by Zane Grey (an entertaining picture of collegiate sports at the turn of the 20th century)

Zemba, by Walter Gibson (one of the best Shadow novels with what might be the single best twist ending ever)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: September 1965, part 2

Okay, it's a good rule of thumb in a comic book universe never to put a captured supervillain to work in the prison machine shop. If you do, he'll inevitably cobble together a hideous weapon or escape device out of bits of scrap metal and duct tape. It's a rule ignored by far too many prison wardens in both the Marvel and DC universes, but it's a good rule.

So an equally good version of that rule is not to put an evil MAGIC USER to work in a MAGICIAN'S work shop. Say, like Odin does to Loki as punishment. Because if you do, Loki might--I don't know--whip up a suspended animation potion to knock out the court magician and then start plotting against Odin and Thor yet again.

Odin the All-Knowing doesn't quite get that though. Oh, well.

Actually, I shouldn't start out by making fun of what really is a good issue. But I can't help it this time around, so I'll continue to do so.

Thor stops off at the steel mills in Pittsburgh to repair his damaged hammer, then returns to Asgard with the Norn Stones, thus proving Loki cheated in the Trial of the Gods. But he carelessly drops one of the stones before leaving Earth. That's going to come back to bite him in his noble butt. Apparently, neither Thor nor Odin can include COUNTING in their respective skill sets, so they don't notice the shortage.

In the meantime, he returns to Earth to discover Jane has gone missing. But before he can really search for the most-kidnapped girl in Marveldom, Loki zaps the Absorbing Man back to Earth to confront the Thunder God.

It's a slower paced issue than usual, but it stays interesting throughout and serves to set up several plot points for future issues before effectively ending on a cliffhanger. So I really shouldn't be making fun of it.  Yes, the plot holes I point out are plot holes, but they don't really mar the overall solid storytelling.

The "Tales of Asgard" feature has the flying Viking ship take off on its mission, giving us glimpses into the personalities of Volstagg (who hides so that his shrewish wife doesn't see him aboard) and Hogun (who wordlessly--um, shall we say--"discourages" one of Loki's minions from causing trouble.


The sadistic head of a Communist work camp has plans to better himself. To this end, he forces some scientists to design and build a “Titanium Man” suit, then he publically challenges Iron Man to a fight in a neutral country.

Tony’s worried because the chest plate that keeps his heart beating has been acting up. But America can’t lose face by having Iron Man chicken out, so he patches up the chest plate and accepts the challenge.

There’s still too much time spent listening to Tony’s and Happy’s respective whining over Pepper Potts, but it’s still a good story. It builds suspense nicely until the start of the fight, ending with a cliffhanger when it turns out Titanium Man cheated by rigging land mines around the battle area.

Titanium Man isn’t notable in terms of personality—he’s pretty much a stereotypical Commie tyrant. But his visual—a bulkier, larger armored suit—it an effective counterpoint to Iron Man.

Jumping back a couple of decades to World War II, Captain America also begins a multi-part story. Steve Rogers’ Ranger battalion is sent on a raid across the English Channel. Bucky stays behind, but is lured into a trap and captured by the Red Skull’s men. The plan is to bring him to a castle in occupied territory, where a scientist will shrink him down with his newly invented Z-Ray. It seems an unnecessarily complex plan—once you’ve captured Bucky, why not just shoot him? But the rest of the story is entertaining and fast-moving enough to make you overlook this.

It’s fun to see Steve fighting as a soldier along side other G.I.s. But when he finds a German radio message telling him Bucky has been captured, he goes AWOL. As Captain America, he hijacks a German bomber as it takes off (this sequence is particularly exciting) and flies off to rescue Bucky. But he doesn’t know that his Ranger battalion is about to get jumped by a Panzer division.

The story is very skillfully constructed. It’s certainly action-packed, but it also passes on a lot of exposition. The competing action scenes (Bucky lured into a trap in England and the Rangers fighting in France) are woven together with scenes at the scientist’s castle, where we learn that he’s a non-German traitor with a sister who wants to remain loyal to the Allies. Great stuff and yet another example of how good Stan Lee was getting at serial storytelling.

Next week, we’ll finish up September 1965 with a look at Prince Namor, the Hulk, the Avengers and the X-Men.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Our Miss Brooks: “Heat Wave” 8/7/49

It’s too hot to teach or study, but ill-tempered principal Mr. Conklin refuses to close the school for the day. Miss Brooks soon finds herself caught up in a plot to sabotage Conklin’s electric fan to force him to change his mind.

As in the Fibber McGee and Molly episode I reviewed not long ago, this is yet another example of just how extraordinarily funny actor Gale Gordon was. He was Conklin in this series and a sequence in which he keeps discovering people hiding in his closet will put you on the floor laughing.

Click HERE to listen or download.
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