Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

"Library Book" Suspense 9/20/45

Myrna Loy hits not one--but two--librarian stereotypes in this episode. She's the prim & prudish Old Maid Librarian. But, when she takes her glasses off, she's the Hot Librarian.

She's also a lot of fun, in a silly but well-constructed mystery about a librarian who realizes the missing pages from a book were used to construct a ransom note. When she can't get the cops to believe her, she investigates on her own. That, of course, lands her in hot water.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Kindle, a Barbarian, and an Ancient Evil

One of the nice things about owning a Kindle is the tons of pulp-era fiction available at little or no cost. It means I get to regularly re-visit my favorite stories or read stuff I've never run across before. Sometimes, it means I finally get to catch up on reading a story by a favorite author that I've managed to miss in the past.

That just happened with Robert E Howard's "Valley of the Worm." It's actually a fairly well-known story among his fans, so I'm a little embarrassed that I've never read it before. But I finally have and it's a really good one. It's about a prehistoric barbarian and his battle with a huge and immortal monster.  There is a truly epic battle at the tale's climax.

When Howard was at his best, his command of the English language and his ability to find just the right words to carry a story along was almost without peer in the pulp world. This story is indeed one of his best and works quite well as both an adventure tale and a horror tale. H.P. Lovecraft's influence on Howard is really apparent here. In fact, though I don't believe the story was intended to be part of Lovecraft's Cthulu cycle, it could easily be included in it.

For some edge-of-your-seat scares and great action, read the story for yourself:


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: January 1966, part 1


There’s a typically well-choreographed Kirby fight scene as the FF takes on Black Bolt and some of the other Inhumans. Expertly wrapped up in this fight is dialogue that imparts information to us and provides us with good characterization. The only note that rings false in all this is Crystal and Johnny (who have only briefly glimpsed each other at this point) already obviously falling in love.

But this is easily forgivable in a comic book that is such a pleasure to both read and to simply look at. By the time the issue ends, the following things have happened.

1) We learn the scaly Inhuman Triton can only breathe in water, but he’s captured by the mysterious Seeker anyways.
2) We learn the Seeker is an Inhuman whose job it is capture wayward Inhumans and return them to the Great Refuge.
3) We learn the Seeker can really screw up sometimes, such as when he mistakes the sleeping Dragon Man for a big Inhuman.
4) We (and the FF) learn that the Inhumans are a species that developed earlier than man and perfected genetic engineering used to give themselves cool powers. They live isolated from us violent humans in a place called The Great Refuge.
5) We see Black Bolt and his followers get teleported away by Lockjaw.
6) Not long after that, Dragon Man gets loose and goes on a rampage through New York City.

Gee whiz, this is great stuff. And the momentum will continue to build as, over the next few issues, the Inhuman story arc is temporarily resolved and our heroes meet the Silver Surfer and Galactus.


And talk about great stuff!!! Aunt May is sick and seems doomed. Well, that by itself is hardly new, but on this occasion, she’s sick because she’s somehow absorbed some radiation. Peter realizes it must have come from his blood when he was the donor for a transfusion.

As Spider Man, he recruits Dr. Curt Connors (formally the Lizard) to help. Connors now lives in New York and he whips up a cure for Aunt May—but he needs a particular rare isotope to activate it.

Of course, the isotope has been stolen by the Master Planner’s men. The Master Planner, by the way, turns out to be Dr. Octopus, who has been having his men steal scientific stuff to experiment with the idea of giving himself extra powers.

Spidey literally goes on a rampage. It’s a defining Spider Man moment—determined to save Aunt May, he gives up cracking wise and making jokes. Instead, he starts beating the snot out of every crook he can track down, trying to find out where the Master Planner is. It’s a character trait that pops up again from time to time throughout his career—threaten Peter’s family or friends and you are in for a world of hurt.

Anyway, Ock is using an underwater base in the East River. The one small weak point in an otherwise superb story is that Spidey pretty much just accidentally stumbles over a hidden sewer entrance to the base, making his frantic efforts up until then almost beside the point.

He goes one-on-one against Doc Ock, who is shocked and awed by Spidey’s anger. But Peter actually puts up too good a fight, bringing tons of debris down on top of him, trapping him just out of reach of the serum he needs while the roof keeping out the river starts to give way.


The Avengers are still in the far future, trying to help Princess Ravonna defend her kingdom against Kang’s army. There’s one heck of a last stand, but the heroes are all captured and Ravonna’s kingdom is taken by the conqueror.

But Kang, who is still in love with the Princess, refuses to execute her. That ticks off his military commanders, who decide the boss is showing weakness. They revolt and Kang is forced to turn to the Avengers for help. It all ends with Kang defeating his own men, but Ravonna getting zapped and perhaps killed with a ray gun. The Avengers are sent back in time to present day before they find out if the poor girl lives.

This was an entertaining and fast-paced story, set up to highlight the realization by the three younger heroes that Captain America is the backbone of the team. It's a lesson Hawkeye will need a few more issues to really learn, though.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll look at Dr. Strange, Nick Fury, the X-Mena and Daredevil.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Cloak and Dagger: “Recommendation from Rommel” 8/6/50

An OSS agent posing as a chocolate salesman in Milan has an unplanned encounter with Field Marshal Rommel. Rommel turns out to like him.

For an American spy, this is both scary and advantageous. As is typical of this excellent story, the story is expertly told. There’s a really fun twist at the end involving a letter of recommendation written by Rommel that adds an element of humor to this normally very tense show.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm being haunted by the ghost of Vic Perrin!!!

I am. Really.

Not long ago, I watched an episode of the original Mission: Impossible TV series. Jim Phelps and his IM team were convincing the bad guy that they could produce a mechanical double of a country's ruler, all while secretly rescuing someone else and rigging the situation to expose the bad guy's evil machinations.

I couldn't quite place one of the actors playing a supporting role in the episode. When I got the the credits, there it was: Vic Perrin.

I should have recognized him. Perrin was an excellent character actor. He's best remembered now for doing the opening narration for the original Outer Limits TV series. But he also did tons of Old Time Radio and a lot of TV animation voice over work. And he guest-starred on countless TV episodes

So it's not that unusual for him to pop up in a randomly chosen Mission: Impossible episode. But then--THE VERY NEXT DAY--I had some time to kill before heading to the comic shop to play in a game tournament. I watched a Twilight Zone episode. Vic Perrin was in it, playing one of the Martians that put Roddy McDowell in a zoo.

Then I watch an episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive, the TV Western that starred a very young Steve McQueen. (I had recently picked up a season set real cheap from the discount bin at Wal Mart.) And who was the villain? Vic Perrin!!!!

I don't know why, but I'm apparently being haunted by the ghost of Vic Perrin, who is subtly guiding my DVD choices so that I watch something he appeared in!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1965, part 3


Thor continues to be super-awesome in storytelling, themes and visuals. Stan and Jack’s work here and on Fantastic Four will (for the next several years) be consistently incredible.

Thor takes reporter Harris Hobbes to Asgard, where he finds Loki and the Absorbing Man apparently about to take down Odin himself. But the ruler of Asgard surrenders his scepter rather than see Asgard torn apart by a massive fight.

It’s just a trick, of course. Loki and Crusher immediately start to argue over who gets the scepter—then Odin casually sends them zipping away into space, permanently exiled into the interstellar vastness.

Odin really shines in this issue. He’s haughty and proud, but has the chops to back this up with decisive action. In previous issues, he sometimes had moments that seemed less than “all-wise.” But now he’s portrayed exactly as he should be--powerful and decisive.

By the way, Harris Hobbs’ camera breaks, Odin kicks him out of Asgard before he can make a pencil sketch and he gets his memory wiped anyway. So he pretty much has the suckiest day ever and (if I remember correctly) pretty much disappears from Thor’s continuity anyways.

In the meantime, a witch doctor finds the Norn stone Thor dropped three issues ago. This gives him the power to single-handedly fight off some Communist troops. That’s a good thing—but his decision to conquer the world is a bad thing. Thor will very soon have some work to do.

The Tales of Asgard back up as the ship and crew getting past a huge dragon after Balder destroys it with a magic trumpet blast. That brief description, though, doesn’t do the short story justice. Jack Kirby’s art makes every panel look breathtaking.


In the Sub Mariner story, Stan Lee once again manages to squeeze in a boat-load of action into a relatively few pages. The scene switches back and forth between Namor as he fights hordes of Faceless Ones to save Dorma; Krang has he seals himself up in Atlantis’ palace and sics a robot tank on the rebelling citizens; and an old guy who volunteers to find Namor and tell him he’s wanted back home (whether he finds Neptune’s Trident or not). Adam Austin’s art continues to be eye-catching and dynamic. It ends in an appropriately cliff-hanger fashion with Namor holding an unconscious Dorma as the Faceless Ones regroup to attack him anew.

While Namor is still having adventures deep undersea, the Hulk is still on the Moon, fighting the alien creature that’s also after the Watcher’s Ultimate Machine. (One of the reasons I love doing these reviews is that I get to write sentences like that.)

The Watcher doesn’t want his house trashed, so he teleports the two combatants to a remote location (it’s never made clear where—it doesn’t seem to be on the Moon.) What follows is a pretty nifty fight, with the Hulk coming out on top. So the Watcher zaps Hulk back to his home and lets him take the clear sphere identified as the Ultimate Machine. The Leader then zaps the Hulk home.

There was an interesting bit of characterization when all this was going on. The Hulk realizes that even though he now has Banner’s brain, his driving emotions and desire to fight are the Hulk’s. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always wondered how much of the Hulk’s constant evolution was planned by Stan Lee and how much he just made up as he went along. I think maybe Stan was still experimenting with the character, trying to find the right Jekyll/Hyde balance in personality and rules of transformation that made for the best dramatic fit.

Anyway, back on Earth, the Leader snatches the Ultimate Machine from the Hulk and uses it to download all the knowledge of the universe into his own mind. This proves to be too much for him and he falls over dead. Of course, he’s not actually dead—he’ll be back soon enough as a regularly appearing villain in the Marvel Universe. But for now, the Hulk is back on Earth and free from his arch enemy.


A playgirl jilted by Tony hires the Mad Thinker to find out who Iron Man really is as part of her plan to get revenge. It’s a silly motivation, but it leads to some pretty good action scenes. The Thinker sends his android to kidnap Tony, intending to force Iron Man’s identity from his “boss.” Tony manages to escape long enough to get his armor on and manages to outfight the android, blow up the Thinker’s lab and take the villain to prison. The playgirl has to walk miles to get home. Not much of a punishment after funding kidnapping, but boy were her feet sore.

Artist Don Heck does a pretty nice job on the fight scene. A new and interesting sub-plot in which Senator Byrd wants to force Tony into revealing Iron Man’s identity (in the interest of national security) begins in this issue as well.

In the next issue, Gene Colon will begin doing the art for Iron Man, staying on the book for a couple of years and really amping up the stories visually. Colon never drew an uninteresting panel of comic art in his life and he’ll be giving Shellhead a really dynamic look.

Captain America, it turns out, has been recounting all the World War II stories we’ve been reading to his fellow Avengers. He has one more war-time memory—that of beating the Red Skull a final time. Just before the Skull’s apparent death, the villain claims that in exactly 20 years “The Sleepers will awake!”

Well, it has been 20 years, hasn’t it? And the Sleepers do awake. They’re giant Nazi robots that have been buried while awaiting activation—Kirby gives them a clunky, retro design that seems appropriate for the time period in which they were built.

The first one pops up in Germany. Cap fights it, but it pretty much just brushes past him, intent on rendezvousing with the other two Sleepers.

That’s it for now. Next week, we enter 1966 as the FF try to find out what’s up with the Inhumans; Spider Man tries to find out who’s running the high-tech thieves’ gang; the Avengers continue to battle Kang in the far future, while the Hulk does some time traveling of his own; Nick Fury blows a bunch of stuff up; Dr. Strange goes one-on-one against Dormammu; Daredevil fights pirates AND dinosaurs (how cool is that?); the X-Men and Captain America both fight giant robots; Thor goes after the lost Norn Stone; Namor returns to Atlantis; and Iron Man confronts an old enemy to save an old friend.

It was a good time to be a comic book fan. And you could have bought every single one of these comics for a total of $1.08, plus maybe sales tax. $1.08 for a months’ worth of time travel, pirates, dinosaurs, giant robots, battles both in the ocean and on the Moon, and lots of superheroes. I really need to get to work on my time machine.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: “Last Coach West” 8/22/45

Gee whiz, someone on The Lone Ranger writing staff got just a little bit sneaky. This episode is literally a remake of the classic 1939 Western Stagecoach.

Well, maybe not so sneaky. Stagecoach is based on a short story by Ernest Haycox titled “The Stage to Lordsburg.” I suppose that WXYZ in Detroit (where The Lone Ranger was produced) might have acquired the rights to that story.

Because there’s no question that it is indeed the same story—a stagecoach is caught in a remote location by Apaches on the warpath. The people riding the coach are exactly the same character templates as those in the movie (with a couple of them subtracted to help trim the story into a 30-minute time slot). They interact with one another in pretty much the same way their film counterparts did. Of course, in this instance, they are also joined by the Lone Ranger. And it’s the Ranger (rather than the character played by John Wayne in the movie) who performs the dangerous feat of jumping off the stage onto the horses to control them after the reins are dropped.

If I had to guess, I would guess against extra money being spent to buy the rights to Haycox’s story. I think the writers really were being a little sneaky. But what the hey. We kinda sorta get a John Wayne/Lone Ranger team-up. How cool is that?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

From the Bonhomme Richard to Russia

A little while back, I posted THIS about pulp stories that had Cossack heroes.The post is primarily about Khilt the Cossack, an extraordinarily cool hero from a series of adventure stories by Harold Lamb, published back int the 1910s & 1920s.

Lamb, though, apparently loved Cossacks. In 1924, he used one named Ivak in a story titled "Forward." Set in the late 19th Century, it's about Ivak escorting an American naval officer from Petersburg in his journey to take command of the Russian fleet. But certain members of Catherine the Great's court--acting out of political ambition and jealousy--are determined to make sure the American never reaches his duty station.

The American? Well, if you haven't guessed it from the title of this post, then you oughta be embarrassed. It is, of course, John Paul Jones. It was Jones, remember, who was captain of the Bonhomme Richard when it took on the British warship Serapis in in 1779. It was Jones who replied "Sir, I have not yet begun to fight" when asked if he would surrender his badly damaged ship. Jones fought on and captured the Serapis, moving his surviving crew aboard just before the Bonhomme Richard sank from under him.

Jones is just as cool in Lamb's story. With the clever and skilled Ivak at his side, he overcomes enemies and hacks past danger. The only Russian word he learns is "Forward!" But that's pretty much all Ivak needs to hear anyways.

Also in 1924, Lamb published "The Sword of Honor," in which Jones has taken command of the Russian fleet and goes up against the ships of the Ottoman Empire. The point-of-view character this time is Pierre, a French sailor who had been aboard the Bonhomme Richard and was eager to serve alongside Jones once again. Pierre has more than his share of adventure just getting to Jones, but then is with the Admiral as Jones deals with back-stabbing and cowardly political enemies and takes on the Turks at the same time. There's a massive fleet-vs-fleet engagement and a mission to capture a Turkish ship from under the guns of a fortress.

Both stories are action-packed adventures that manage squeeze in a total of three heroes (Ivak, Pierre and Jones) who have been thoroughly dipped in awesome sauce.

These stories have been reprinted in Swords from the Sea, an anthology of sea-going adventures by Lamb. All the stories are fun, but the two featuring John Paul Jones are particularly enjoyable. John Paul Jones is even cooler than keel boats and giant ants.*

*see my last two Thursday posts to make sense of that last sentence.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1965, part 2


With the help of Hydra Leader’s estranged daughter and a shirt with high explosives woven into the fabric, Nick blasts out of the cell he’s locked in. He and the girl, both now armed with submachine guns taken from downed guards, begin blasting it out with Hydra troopers.

In the meantime, Tony Stark is putting the finishing touches on his Braino-saur, which turns out to be a rocket-equipped computer able to disarm the Hydra bomb currently in orbit around the Earth.

While all this is going on, Gabe and Dum Dum figure out where the Hydra base is and lead a strike force to attack. But will they arrive in time to save Nick and the girl?

The 12-page tale does a very good job of jumping back and forth between multiple points-of-view without losing track of the story. And we get to see more Kirby-designed gadgetry, though the “mechanical hunter” that Hydra sends after Nick isn’t as cool looking as most of Jack’s visuals usually are. Not that it’s bad. It just manages to leave the impression that maybe Jack wasn’t spending as much time on this book as he is on FF or Thor. Most Kirby machines rate a 9 or 10 on the Bogart/Karloff Pure Coolness Scale™. This one was maybe a 7.

James Bond influences remain apparent. Hydra Leader keeps a panther on a leash next to him pretty much all the time—that’s a touch that would fit the average Bond villain to a tee. And we got a Q-inspired scene a few issues back, in which Nick is shown how his explosive clothing works, that pays off this issue.

Dr. Strange’s story is a particularly good one—the first of several issues that will feature non-stop magical battling. In this one, Strange and Mordo duel. Mordo’s power is still being amped up by Dormammu, but Strange out-fights him, playing off first Mordo’s overconfidence and then his innate cowardice. Finally, Dormammu gets disgusted with Mordo and—as the issue ends—decides to finally take a personal hand in the battle

Ditko’s art is still perfect for the story—presenting bizarre and fascinating visuals to represent the magic spells the two combatants toss at each other. This issue and the next two (which concludes this long story arc) are, in my opinion, the best in Dr. Strange’s canon.


The uninteresting story of the Organizer and his attempt to gain political control of New York City is wrapped up as Daredevil exposes the scheme. There is a nicely choreographed fight scene between DD and the Organizer’s minions, but overall the story was awkwardly constructed and predictable.

The issue ends with Matt taking a leave of absence from the law firm. He’s convinced that Foggy and Karen are in love and doesn’t want to come between them. Ah, whatever. It will take Matt on a cruise ship and into a really cool two-part story arc.

X-MEN #15

This is pretty much an all-action issue, though we do get some information via flashback about Hank McCoy’s early life (made fun of because of his appearance, excelling at school academically and athletically, recruited by Professor X).

The X-Men assault the Sentinel HQ. Beast and Iceman are captured in the first attack, but Cyclops, Jean and Angel blast their way in during a second try. Iceman is busted out of his prison while Beast is being mind-probed. The heroes manage to trash a couple of Sentinels, but all are captured (or re-captured, as the case may be). Master Mold, the prototype Sentinel, then tells Dr. Trask to build an army of Sentinels so they can “serve mankind” by conquering it. Boy, is Trask’s face red as he realizes how badly he’s screwed up, but he’s got no choice but to obey Master Mold.

Good solid action that works well as the middle chapter in the Sentinel trilogy.

That’s it for now. We’ll finish December next week with looks at Thor, Hulk, Sub Mariner, Iron Man and Captain America.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: “19 Deacon Street” 11/22/45

Lloyd Nolan does a particularly good job narrating this story about a tie salesman who becomes obsessed with finding out about an actress who disappeared ten years ago. The well-plotted mystery has an element to it that is arguably supernatural—something that was a little unusual for Suspense.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Keel boats: 7.9. Giant Ants: 7.8.

Last week we talked about giant ants. This week, we're talking about Mike Fink and keel boats.

And, yes, according to the Bogart/Karloff Coolness Scale, keel boats score a 7.9, while giant ants come in at 7.8. It has been mathematically demonstrated that keel boats are slightly cooler than giant ants.

Keel boats, by the way, are flat-bottomed craft that was poled up and down the rivers of the American West in the early 19th century. They were a very common means for transporting cargo in those days.

We moved from ants to boats via Fess Parker, whose small role in Them that got him cast as Davy Crockett.

That was inspired casting.  Parker and sidekick Buddy Ebsen played their roles with easy going charm through three episodes of Walt Disney's television show and started a Crockett craze. Kids across America started badgering their parents for coon-skinned hats and Disney quickly re-edited the TV episodes into a theatrical film.

Well, Disney wanted to bring his viewers more Davy, but Davy died at the Alamo in the last episode. So two "flashback" episodes were produced, recounting an adventure Davy and George Russell (Ebsen's character) had along the Mississippi River a few years before the Alamo.These episodes were then themselves edited together and released theatrically.

And Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1955) is actually my favorite of the two Crockett films (though both are excellent and colorful adventures). Why? Well, because it's got keel boats in it, of course. And the pre-Civil War Mississippi River, which by itself has a Bogart/Karloff Coolness rating of 8.3.

The villain through most of the movie is Mike Fink, who (like Davy) is a fictionalized version of a real guy. There was a real Mike Fink, a keel boatman who was reputed to be stronger and tougher than anyone on the River.He's become a minor legend in American folklore, appearing in a variety dime novels and and other stories through the years.

In River Pirates, Davy and Mike become competitors in a keel boat race from Natchez to New Orleans. Later, the two join forces to smoke out a band of pirates who are posing as Indians. Jeff York plays Mike as a boisterous and full-of-himself bully, but one who eventually shows traits of loyalty and bravery.  York fits the role, both physically and in terms of personality, helping add to the overall sense of gun.

The movie has beautiful scenery, a silly but fun song ("Mike Fink, King of the River") and a unique and entertaining action set-piece at the climax. Mike's boat is besieged in mid-river by pirates in canoes, followed by Davy and George slugging it out with the pirate leadership in a large loot-filled cave.

By the way, Fess Parker and Jeff York teamed up in yet another excellent live-action Disney movie. They always made for a fun pair.

So there you have it. As cool as giant ants are, keel boats (especially if they're piloted by Mike Fink down the Mississippi) are cooler yet.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1965, part 1


Gee whiz, Stan and Jack jam so much storytelling (and some nifty characterizations) into this issue that I’m not even going to try to summarize it in detail. Suffice to say that the Dragon Man is more or less befriended by the FF, leaving Reed with the problem of figuring out what to do with it.

In the meantime, Johnny stumbles over the hidden lair of the Inhumans. These include Gorgon and Medusa, but we also meet Lockjaw (the huge, teleporting dog and the coolest pet in the Marvel Universe), Karnak, Crystal and Triton. Triton, though, is cloaked in this issue—his big reveal will come next issue. We meet Black Bolt as well, though only in the last panel as the leader of the Inhumans confronts our heroes. We learn no details about the Inhumans yet, but that’ll be coming soon. I’ll talk a little more about the Inhumans then, but for now I’ll just say that they are a fun addition to the Marvel Universe and will be the focal point of a lot of great stories over the years.

We get a great internal monologue from Ben, who is (rather understandable) feeling sorry for himself and wondering if Alicia just pities him rather than actually loves him. It’s a bit melodramatic, but Ben has become so likable that it does generate quite a bit of sympathy for the big galoot.

There’s a great line of dialogue for Reed: When Sue expresses concern for him at one point, he snaps at her to “Stop acting like a wife and start acting like a team member!”

Johnny’s love life is also in flux. He gives Dorrie Evans a call, but she blows him off. That’s pretty much Dorrie’s exit from Johnny’s life. She’d been his girlfriend almost since the FF began, but had never really been given much personality. So Johnny will be falling for Crystal. Actually, he’ll be falling for her a little too quickly to be believable, but at this point, the Fantastic Four is so much fun that I can forgive minor missteps like that. I don't think Dorrie shows up again for years--when Johnny tries looking her up and discovers she's a married mother of two.


Peter’s off to college. It’s in this issue that we meet Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy, both of whom will become very, very important in Peter’s life in the months to come. At first, though, it looks as if he’ll never make friends with him. Aunt May takes ill just as classes begin. When Harry and Gwen try to make friends with Peter, he brushes them off so he can hurry to the hospital to see May. They begin to think he’s stuck up.

Stan Lee has been handling the characterizations in Spider Man exceptionally well, but all this comes across as a little contrived. All Peter had to do was say “Sorry, the woman who raised me is ill. I gotta visit her” and there wouldn’t have been a problem. Oh, well. It’s still a lot better than the awkward romantic shenanigans going on in other Marvel books.

Peter’s relationship with Betty Brant is also coming to its culmination. Ned is still making goo-goo eyes at her as she unsuccessfully tries to get in touch with Peter. This is all a part of shoving Betty out of the book and giving Gwen the center stage in the pretty girl category.

But this is s superhero book, so all this mushy stuff is wrapped around the story of some high-tech thieves who are stealing scientific equipment. Spider Man clashes with them a few times, but as of yet has no clue who the mastermind behind the crime wave is.

This issue moves along at a steady and entertaining pace, but it’s really just a set up for the next couple of issues, which represent some of the best and most intense storytelling from the Lee/Ditko era.


Well, Cap has indeed quit the Avengers, getting a job as sparring partner to a boxer in training. But when he learns the remaining Avengers have been kidnapped by Kang and taken into the far future, he figures out a way to follow.

There’s some nice character bits here among Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Wanda, as they all realize just how much of a leader and linchpin for the team Cap is. But most of the issue involves them battling against Kang’s super-advanced weaponry.

Kang, in the meantime, is making goo-goo eyes at Ravonna, the leader of a small country that he has not overtly conquered (holding back for her sake). But when she continually rejects him, he orders his troops to move in. This leaves the Avengers in a Last Stand situation against Kang’s army.

It’s all good, action-oriented storytelling.

That’s it for now. As regular readers have noticed, the increased number of monthly books has caused me to re-order my reviews. We’ll get to Nick Fury and Dr. Strange next week, along with the X-Men and Daredevil.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Nick Carter, Detective: "Eight Records of Death" 4/6/46

Someone buys a package at an unclaimed package auction. Inside, he finds eight record blanks--small wax discs that people could use to make their own recordings at home.

What he hears on those discs makes him immediately speed to Nick Carter. A woman apparently held hostage in her own home by greedy relatives secretly made the recordings, which were then later somehow shipped to New York City.

I love the way this episode is constructed. Each record gives just a little bit more information as the woman refuses to sign over her property to her captors. She grows more and more desperate on each successive recording, often with her being forced to stop before she can say everything she wants to. It's an innovative and effective way of presenting the case to us.

Nick methodically investigates, trying to learn the identity of the woman and her evil relatives. The episode ends with Nick tied up and seemingly doomed. But Nick Carter rarely fails to think his way out of danger.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

SF meets Police Procedural

You know what I like most about the giant ant movie THEM (1954)? Well, that'd be the giant ants, of course. But what I enjoy the second most is the way the script is structured.

It's an intelligently written story that moves logically from Point A to Point B to Point C, using the structure of a police procedural. Weird stuff happens in a remote New Mexican area. The local sheriff (James Whitmore) looks into things as stuff moves from weird to bizarre and a number of people are killed. Soon, Whitmore is joined by federal agent James Arness and cranky scientist Edmund Gwenn. They soon discover a really, really big ant nest full of really, really big ants--mutated by atomic radiation.

Poison gas takes care of the nest, but a couple of queens have already hatched and flown off. One lands on a ship at sea--another takes refuge in the Los Angeles sewer system. If not found and destroyed before another batch of eggs hatch, the world is pretty much doomed.

The special effects are largely very good (though there are a few instances in which the giant puppets being used aren't quite mobile enough to be convincing) and the excellent cast plays the whole movie straight as they follow up a series of clues to track down the queen ants. It's a great way to structure a film, giving it a semi-documentary feel that adds to the versimilitude and suspense to an enjoyable monster film.

Fun fact about this movie: Fess Parker has a brief role as a pilot who's locked away in a psycho ward after he claims to have seen a giant flying ant. It was seeing Parker in this film that convinced Walt Disney to cast him in his upcoming Davy Crockett episodes on the Wonderful World of Disney. Considering how successful those episodes were (both artistically and commercially), we have all the more reason to be grateful to those giant ants.

More on Davy Crockett, by the way, next week.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

History of Marvel Comics: November 1965, part 3


Lots of stuff going on this time. Namor manages to defeat the guardian of the Diamonds of Doom, getting one step closer to finding Neptune’s trident. The people of Atlantis rise up against Krang and seem to be winning a swift but violent civil war, but the warlord seems to have one last trick up his sleeve as he turns a mysterious dial. And Lady Dorma is at the mercy of the Faceless Ones, a horde of, well, faceless creatures.

So Namor has to choose between finishing his quest or zipping off to rescue Dorma—whose “love for me has never faltered.” Well, it actually did falter a time or two, such as when she HELPED KRANG TAKE THE THRONE FROM NAMOR. But Namor seems to have forgotten this for the moment as he opts to possibly lose his throne by saving the girl.

It’s actually a really good story, with Adam Austin continuing to provide strong art work. But the character interactions are a little bit inconsistent—both Dorma’s loyalty and the loyalties of the Atlantian people in general seem to fluctuate randomly. Perhaps Stan Lee—juggling so many serial stories at the same time—simply managed to lose track of some of the details.

Meanwhile, the Leader uses a gamma ray laser to melt the bullet lodged in Hulk’s skull. Now Hulk can revert to Banner safely, but the extra dose of gamma rays seem to have locked him in Hulk’s form permanently. He still has Banner’s mind, though the Leader doesn’t suspect that.

Feeling himself to be under obligation to the Leader, Hulk allows himself to be teleported to the Watcher’s domicile on the Moon, where he is to retrieve a sphere the Leader calls “the ultimate machine.” The Watcher greets the Hulk, but also tells him he’s free to look around. The Watcher, remember, has vowed never to interfere.

Of course, he actually interferes all the time (and is about to do so in a big way over in Fantastic Four in just a few months.) He’s also kicked people out of his house before. But the story requires him to be a bit more laid back this time, so he gives Hulk the run of his place.

But a big, scaly alien known as the “most powerful fighter in the galaxy” is also the ultimate machine. The chapter ends with the Hulk and the alien facing off against each other.

It’s another strong chapter in the serial. Jack Kirby is still doing the layouts (with Bob Powell doing the finished art), so the various machines and alien creatures decorating the Watcher’s house all look pretty cool.

It’s also interesting to note that Hulk/Banner still doesn’t have any established rules for turning back and forth between monster and human. I’d be interested to know how much of this Stan planned in advance and how much of it he just made up as he went along. Was he planning on having Banner stuck in Hulk’s body long term? Did he have the idea of finally stabilizing the conditions on what makes Banner change already in mind? Stan’s scripts are providing rollicking fun, so this isn’t a complaint, but I often wonder how far ahead he planned and how much was stream of consciousness.


Legally banned from working as a team, the Avengers all go their own way. But the job market for disgraced superheroes is a sparse one and the only work Pietro, Wanda and Hawkeye can get is working for the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. They don’t know the Circus is a crooked operation at first, but when the Ringmaster tries to hypnotize them into helping break the law, they soon catch on.

Something I commented on before—prison sentences in the Marvel Universe seem to be pretty light. It’s only been a few months since the Circus folk were all busted by Spider Man. And this probably is only a few weeks in comic book time. But they’ve already been tried and convicted, served their sentence and are back on the street.

It’s not a big deal and is actually an acceptable break from reality. There’s no reason not to reuse villains—that sort of continuity was a big part of the Marvel Universe’s appeal—and it would get old to have them break out of prison every single time.

Besides, the Ringmaster not currently being wanted allows him to falsely accuse the ex-Avengers of trying to rob him. So, after a few pages of fun fight scenes, the good guys take it on the lam.

But Captain America hasn’t given up. He manages to trick Power Man into making a taped confession of the whole “discredit the Avengers” plot. His trick is a bit contrived, but the fight scene that follows, with the three wanted Avengers showing up to help Cap team up on Power Man, is a great one, so we’ll be forgiving.

Enchantress washes her hands of the whole mess and teleports. Deprived of his hot babe, Power Man gets discouraged and surrenders. The Avengers are hailed as heroes and reinstated. (In the meantime, the cops had made the Circus of Crime crew fess up about that incident—a nice touch, since they were known criminals.) But all does not end well. Though Hawkeye and Pietro finally seem appreciative of Cap’s leadership, he’s sick of them and the issue ends as he quits.

X-MEN #14

The anti-mutant bigotry theme that runs through X-Men comics is abruptly kicked into high gear in this issue when Dr. Bolivar Trask (an eminent anthropologist) publically announces that mutants are a danger. They might at any moment use their powers to enslave mankind.

Of course, this is what Magneto and his allies had been trying to do since X-Men #1, but the issue is simplified here to make it a thematic analog to bigotry and mob rule. And that’s fine—it’s something that the better written issues of Marvel’s mutant titles have often handled quite well through the years.

Anyway, it turns out that though Trask might be a good anthropologist, he really stinks at robot design. He builds a number of giant Sentinels—destined to be one of the X-Men’s most persistent foes through the years—but they turn on him as well. They are programmed to seek out and capture mutants, but they’ve decided that they’re better than us mere humans. While the X-Men have trouble battling just one Sentinel, the others take Trask to the secret underground facility where they were constructed.

The issue ends when the X-Men are confronted outside this facility by its defensive weaponry.

I like the way the action is choreographed this time around. The X-Men are actually on vacation when Professor X encounters the Sentinels. He sends out a mental alert, but his students are all coming from different locations, so they show up singly or in pairs. It’s a trick that allows the action to build up momentum in an entertaining manner.

That’s it for this time. In December, the X-Men and Daredevil both become monthly titles, so I’ll be re-ordering the reviews slightly. Throughout that month, the FF will be meeting more of the Inhumans; Spider Man meets some important supporting characters; Nick Fury pulls of a jail break; Dr. Strange finally confronts Baron Mordo face to face; Thor and his dad defend Asgard; Iron Man fights a big android; Captain America fights a big robot; the X-Man fight a lot of giant robots; Namor attempts to rescue his lady love; Hulk finds out what the “ultimate machine” actually does; the Avengers do some time traveling; and Daredevil continues his match-up against the Organizer’s gang.
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