Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: “New State Guns” 7/16/45


A U.S. Marshal asks the Ranger to go undercover and join a gang of outlaws hiding out in the newly formed state of Oklahoma. But when Tonto rides into a small town to try to make contact with one of the outlaws, he arrives just in time to see the bad guy killed by the local sheriff.

A young outlaw wanna-be turns up who provides the Ranger and Tonto with a way into the gang. But will the Ranger’s cover identity hold up—or will he take a slug in the back before the day is over?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A drunken Irishman and a clueless English man walk into the jungle…

One of my favorite adventure novels is Shout at the Devil, by Wilbur Smith (first published in 1968). An aging and alcoholic Irish-American expatriate named Flynn Patrick O’Flynn lives in British East Africa in the years just before World War I, making his living by crossing over into German-controlled territory and poaching elephant ivory.


To give his latest plan a vague sense of legitimacy, he cons a none-to-bright Englishman named Sebastian Oldsmith into joining up with him. The idea is to “annex” a small island for the British Empire, then use that as a base to hunt elephants.

It’s a dumb plan, but Flynn doesn’t always think things out either. Soon, he’s wounded and most of his men are dead after the local German commissioner, the obese and sadistic Herman Fleischer, attacks his camp. And it’s suddenly up to Sebastian to get Flynn and the surviving men out alive.

To everyone’s surprise, including Sebastian’s, he turns out to be quick-thinking when things get dangerous. But this is the sort of story in which one thing leads to another. There’s a whole series of edge-of-your-seat adventures—all described with gusto and humor by the author—before the two protagonists get back to Flynn’s home. They outrun the Germans in a boat race downriver to the ocean, where they are sunk by a German warship and left adrift on a small raft. Flynn’s wound becomes infected and Sebastian has to perform some surgery with a hunting knife. Food and water run low. And so on and so on.

Once safe at home, Sebastian wastes no time in falling in love with Flynn’s beautiful daughter Rosa. A few adventures later, though, and the book takes an abrupt and tragic turn as war breaks out. Fleischer, now able to cross the border, attacks Flynn’s home and… well, I did mention there’s tragedy involved, right?

It’s amazing how well Smith manages to pull off this sudden shift in atmosphere. What was a fairly light-hearted adventure suddenly becomes a much darker tale of revenge, but the action and sense of adventure continue apace. The humor never entirely disappears, either, though it pops up less often. The shift might have made the book seem unsatisfying or thematically schizophrenic, but instead it all still hangs together into a single coherent story. It may all be a matter of pacing—the action sequences follow one another so quickly and effectively that everything else is just sort of carried along with them. When the finale arrives—involving an attempt to sneak a bomb aboard a damaged German battleship—the reader finds himself on the edge of his seat.

Flynn and Sebastian are great characters, an unlikely pair of allies who work well together despite themselves. Flynn is a perpetually drunken rogue, but you find yourself liking him anyways. Sebastian is in over his head most of the time, but he has an innate sense of decency and loyalty that works as a balance to Flynn’s excesses. I don’t think either of them could hold up as a novel’s protagonist by themselves, but together they make an effective composite hero.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: November 1965, part 2

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #122



Thor quickly recovers from the blow that laid him out at the end of the last issue and continues the fight, slowly getting the upper hand over Crusher Creel because of his agility and sheer courage.

But Loki has been keeping an eye on the armies of Asgard and realizes that most are on patrol. With only a skeleton force guarding Odin’s palace, he decides its time for a coup. He zaps Crusher to Asgard and the two attack the palace.

Meanwhile, Thor spots Jane in a window and saves her just as she’s passed out from smoke inhalation. (She caused a gas explosion to get his attention.) He turns into Dr. Blake to treat her, allowing Jane’s hooded captor to get a picture of this.

The captor turns out to be Harris Hobbs, the reporter who was around in the first Absorbing Man story. Hobbs tries to blackmail Thor for information—he wants the scoop of the lifetime. This doesn’t work when Thor threatens to just send him back to the distant past or the far-flung future and just leave him there.

All this is great storytelling and an excuse to allow Jack Kirby to draw first some dinosaurs and then a futuristic landscape where a dead Earth is about to collide with another planet. It all looks magnificient.

Anyway, Thor and Hobbs mutually agree to a trip to Asgard, though Hobbs will have his memory wiped afterwards. He’s satisfied with this—he’ll get his scoop even if he can’t writer about it, or even remember it. I’m not sure if the logic behind that holds up, but if you’re silly enough to try to blackmail a god, I guess you have to take what you can get.

Back on Asgard, Loki and Crusher beat down some Asgardian Red Shirts and confront Odin. Odin zaps Crusher with his cosmic-powered scepter, but the villain simply absorbs this. As the issue ends, it appears that Odin is in real trouble.

This is another great issue—both Thor’s quick trip through time and Crusher’s fight with the Asgardians look typically great. Hobbs is pretty good character and it’s too bad he didn’t catch on enough to become at least a semi-regular in the Marvel Universe. His plan to blackmail Thor was a bit rotten, but he impresses the Thunder God with his courage and proves to be a decent person at heart.

The Tales of Asgard story shows us Thor and the Warriors Three fighting Loki and the rest of the mutinous crew, ending when Balder (still mounted on the figurehead) begins to sound a large horn in a mysterious effort to save the ship from the maelstrom. These bite-sized chunks of Kirby’s awesome art continue to be a delight.

TALES OF SUSPENSE #71



Iron Man takes advantage of his greater agility and the new weapon Happy brought him to hand Titanium Man his titanium butt. Happy is rushed to the hospital and it’s uncertain if he’ll live. And Senator Byrd and now Pepper Potts now hold Tony in contempt because he wasn’t around while Iron Man and Happy were risking their lives.

With Happy’s injury, Pepper has finally admitted she loves him, which finally leaves the awkward and poorly done romantic triangle behind. In fact, the new twist of having everyone dump on Tony because he seems to be uncaring about his friends is a lot more interesting.

Meanwhile, Cap finishes up his World War II flashback as he shakes off the effects of the sleep gas sooner than the Nazis expected. They beat up a lot of Nazis. The traitorous scientist’s sister sacrifices her life to save them. The scientist switches sides and fires the V-2 rocket at the Nazi troops besieging Cap’s Ranger unit, saving them. He then blows up the castle, himself and the Nazis. Only Cap and Bucky escape.

These WWII flashbacks have been a ball, featuring some great action sequences. Next issue, Cap will return to the present, but he won’t quite be done with dealing with Nazis yet, as a series of secret weapons left over from the war are activated.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll finish up November with a peek at the Avengers, Namor, Hulk and the X-Men.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: “Where There’s a Will” 2/24/49

James Mason stars in this adaptation of an Agatha Christie story. He’s a guy who owes a small fortune to ill-tempered gamblers. Fortunately, he’s the main beneficiary in his aunt’s will—and his aunt has a weak heart.

Being an Agatha story, the method that Mason uses to scare his aunt to death is clever and apparently foolproof. But—being an Agatha story—the one small detail that causes his plan to unravel is cleverly hidden inside the plot. Mason had a great voice for radio and it’s a pleasure to hear him in such a well-constructed story.


Click HERE to listen or download.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: November 1965, part 1

FANTASTIC FOUR #44



Gee whiz, Reed’s barely married and Sue’s already making him use his world-changing intellect to FIX THE DISHWASHER!!??!!

It’s no wonder Johnny gets fed up and goes out for a drive. But he gets kidnapped by Medusa, who is on the run from someone.

That someone proves to be Gorgon, a guy who can cause earthquake-like shockwaves by stamping his feet. It sounds silly, but Jack Kirby’s visual design works perfectly and makes it seem appropriate.

Anyway, there’s too much in the way of action and exposition to explain quickly. Suffice to say that even by the end of the issue, the FF isn’t sure if they should be helping Medusa or Gorgon. The Dragon Man has gotten involved and flown off with Sue, while the other three heroes gets trapped in a condemned building knocked over by Gorgon.

This is the beginning of the story arc introducing us to the Inhumans, a fascinating addition to the Marvel Universe.


SPIDER MAN #30



The villain in this one—a clever cat burgler known (not surprisingly) as the Cat—is pretty second string, but the story and action are handled well, with fun bit of Spidey-appropriate irony at the end. The Cat robs Jameson, causing the newspaperman to overcome his stinginess and offer a $1,000 reward. Spider Man wants to collect that reward and rub J.J.J.’s nose in it, but the cops manage to catch the Cat just ahead of him.

Meanwhile, we get some hints that Aunt May is getting sick again. Of course, getting deathly ill from time to time may actually be a super power with Aunt May, but this will lead to a classic Spider Man moment in a couple of issues.

Also, the whole Peter/Betty/Ned triangle comes to a head. I won’t describe it in detail, because it sounds too soap opera-like. But it really is handled nicely and when the various characters act unwisely and mess up their relationships, it comes across as being in character for each of them. The gist of it is that Betty wants a boyfriend who is stable and dependable and not likely to get killed. Peter, obviously, can’t fulfill these requirements, so he breaks things off with her. She’ll be around for a few more issues before disappearing from the book for quite awhile, but a certain blonde who’s doomed to one day get offed by the Green Goblin will be showing up next issue to take over as lead eye candy.

STRANGE TALES #138

That's a cool cover, isn't it?

Anyway, Hydra has their Betatron Bomb in orbit and are demanding the entire world surrender. Tony Stark is whipping up an anti-Hydra weapon called a Braino-saur, but when an assassination squad attacks Stark’s factory, things go awry. Fury is there and puts up a tough fight (helped along by his bullet-proof suit), but he’s overwhelmed and hauled off to Hydra HQ.


Kirby designs a neat looking flying tank that Hydra uses to escape with their prisoner and it’s a lot of fun watching Fury go toe-to-toe with a couple of dozen Hydra agents. It all adds up to another chapter of solid storytelling.


Dr. Strange, in the meantime, finally meets Eternity—an uber-powerful cosmic being who can grant him the power he needs to defeat Mordo and Dormammu. But Eternity mystically scans Strange and tells him he already has the key to winning. He doesn’t explain himself any more than that. Uber-powerful cosmic beings are often cryptic. It seems to be a part of the job description.

A little miffed, Strange returns to Earth and discovers Mordo has found and captured the Ancient One. With no choice remaining, Strange finally heads off to confront his enemies.

That’s it for now. Next week, as usual, we’ll check in with Thor, Iron Man and Cap.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Sam Spade: “The Fairly Bright Caper” 10/31/48


Sam is hired to do security at a swanky Halloween costume party in which twenty guests have been invited to come without costumes. Not surprisingly, someone gets murdered before the party is over.

The Adventures of Sam Spade was well-known for combining good storytelling with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and populating its episodes with quirky characters. This time around, I think writers Bob Tallman and Gil Doud really outdid themselves in quirkiness, making the episode pure fun from start to finish. Of course, Howard Duff’s rapid-fire characterization of Sam helps make it all fit together.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Prehistory of Geekdom--the Final Chapter

You can argue that the title "Father of Science Fiction" can be awarded to a number of different people for perfectly valid reasons, but good ol' Jules Verne is the man most commonly referred to as such. And, by golly, he deserves it.

It was Verne who really took the idea of reasonably extrapolating what technological advances might some day be possible, then building wonderful works of fiction around that idea. It was Verne who gave us great characters like Captain Nemo and Phileas Fogg. It was Verne who really did invent science fiction.


Not that his extrapolations were always accurate. If you ever decide to travel to the moon, do not do so by shooting yourself out of a giant cannon. It's just not a good idea.

A century and a half later, Verne's novels are still wonderful experiences. His enthusiasm and imagination literally drips from each page, making the reader yearn to join Nemo on his submarine or Fogg in his lightning fast trip around the world.

H.G. Wells, the other 19th Century "Father of Science Fiction," was less concerned with scientific accuracy (something Verne was critical of) and more concerned with hiding a little bit of social commentary in his works. The trouble was that his ideas were so cool that almost no one every notices the commentary. War of the Worlds, for instance, was meant in part to be a criticism of Western colonialism. But those really cool Martian tripods ended up being so much fun in their own right that the deeper meaning pretty much sailed over everyone's head.

But, heck, those tripods are worth the price of admission by themselves. The heck with all that deeper meaning.


Anyway, these two men pretty much guaranteed the continued existence of science fiction. Without them, we probably wouldn't have had Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury or John Campbell. We wouldn't have X-Wing fighters, Federation starships, or Colonial Space Marines getting caught by face huggers. We wouldn't have AT-AT walkers or Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.

Welles and Verne provided the final and perhaps most important ingredient for creating the modern geek. Their work, combined with those writing detective fiction, horror, Westerns and adventure stories during the 19th Century--all of whom were building on themes and characters from myth and legend--created those of us who can rattle off the secret identities of the X-Men without even pausing or tell you exactly what episode Spock first used the Vulcan nerve pinch.

As I said when I originally started this series--all of history has culminated in the creation of the comic book/science fiction geek. We are the pinnacle of civilization. Bow before us. We will soon rule over you all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: 1965 Annuals

FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #3



Like most guys, when I’m forced to attend a wedding, I always end up wishing that I could sneak a book in with me to have something interesting to do while that whole wedding thing is going on. I appreciate a guy and a girl falling in love and committing themselves to one another for the rest of their lives. But, let’s face it. You’re all boring.

But, by golly, Reed and Sue’s wedding is actually interesting! Why? Because Doctor Doom uses an Emotion Charger ray to get pretty much all the villains in the Marvel Universe riled up to attack the Baxter Building just before the ceremony. And I don’t mean just the Fantastic Four’s usual enemies. I mean EVERYBODY. Even the Black Knight and the Human Top show up to cause trouble.

Fortunately, the wedding guests include the X-Men, Doctor Strange, the Avengers and Daredevil. And there are SHIELD agents running security.

A massive free-for-all ensues. There’s really not a lot of plot here—it’s all an excuse for Jack Kirby to show everybody fighting, well, everybody else. And it all looks more fun than a barrel of space monkeys.

Why can’t more wedding be like this? I wouldn’t mind going to one if we get to see Angel in a dogfight with the Black Knight or Ben Grimm stuffing an armful of Moloids back down their hole.

Oh, well. Reed spoils everything when the Watcher gives him a time distortion device that pretty much re-sets everything and makes Dr. Doom forget about his Emotion Charger. The wedding then proceeds normally. It was fun while it lasted, though.

SPIDER MAN ANNUAL #2



An evil magician named Xandu hypnotizes a couple of thugs, turning them into super-strong automaton. He then uses them in a surprise attack against Doctor Strange, stealing a mystic artifact that will make him all powerful.

Spider Man sees the thugs exiting Strange’s home and gets involved. This leads to him getting zapped into another dimension (a situation he accepts with remarkable aplomb—he doesn’t pause in his wisecracking for even a moment). Anyway, Spidey and Doctor Strange end up double-teaming Xandu and getting the artifact back.

Steve Ditko had proven to be the perfect artist for both Spider Man and Dr. Strange, despite the books being very different in their respective ambiances. So seeing him go to town in a story that tosses the two heroes together is quite a treat.

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY ANNUAL #1



The FF annual was an excuse for a massive fight scene. The Thor annual is an excuse for a one-on-one fight scene, but it’s just as cool.

Thor is on patrol outside Asgard and gets into a tussle with a couple of storm giants. He gets knocked into a hidden tunnel that leads to Mount Olympus. He soon meets Hercules, who is crossing a narrow bridge in one direction while Thor is crossing the other way.

So who moves aside for whom? You can see where this is leading—the two gods spend eight or nine pages slugging it out before Zeus shows up and declares it a tie. It no longer matters, by the way, who crosses the bridge first, because the bridge got trashed in the fight.

One of Jack Kirby’s strength as an artist was giving a sense of real power whenever someone threw a punch. When Thor or Herc lets go with a haymaker, Kirby makes it look as if the blow really could tear the top off a mountain. So it’s not surprising that his Thor/Hercules fight is fun to watch. It’s just too bad there wasn’t a wedding going on in Olympus. It would have given all the poor guys attending something interesting to look at.

Anyway, this means we have now covered four full years of Marvel superhero action. At this moment, all the books are at least good and several of them (FF, Thor, Spider Man) are downright brilliant. Weak entries such as Giant Man have been replaced by stronger and more visual striking series such as the Sub-Mariner. Daredevil is probably the weakest book from 1965, but even he has his moments (such as the Daredevil/Namor fight in DD #7).

The Marvel Universe is getting quite large and complex. And it will be expanding even more soon. The FF is about to meet the Inhumans and Spider Man is on the verge of adding several very important supporting characters to his cast. The Galactus storyline in FF will be starting soon, while the God of Thunder is about to be dropped into some of his most cosmically cool adventures ever.

Next week, we’ll start looking at November 1965. The FF begin yet another superb multi-part adventure; Spider Man tracks down a cat burgler; Nick Fury gets captured; Dr. Strange finally meets Eternity; Thor continues to battle Absorbing Man, while Iron Man continues to battle Titanium Man; the Atlantians revolt against Krang; Hulk gets some good news and some bad news; the Avengers try to prove they're not a menace; and the X-Men have their first tussle against a certain type of giant robot.

By the way, starting with December 1965, both the X-Men and Daredevil become monthly books. That means I’ll probably be reorganizing the order in which I look at the books over the course of a month’s issues.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Last Friday's post

Sorry, I just realized I neglected to include a link to last Friday's OTR show. That's been corrected and the link is now active.

A to Z Comic and Pulp Cover list

O is for:

OUR ARMY AT WAR


and

OPERATOR #5

 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Molle Mystery Theater: “Two Men in a Furnished Room” 9/27/46


By the way, if anyone’s wondering why this episode introduces itself as a Mystery Playhouse episode, it’s because that show was an Armed Forces Radio Network anthology that did re-runs of various network shows. That’s the recording I happen to have of it. But it did originally air as an episode of the Molle Mystery Theater.

The plot involves one man urging his roommate to lie to help establish an alibi after a girl is murdered. That there will be a twist at the end is no surprise to anyone listening. What kept me interested was not just the skill with which the story was told, but also that I didn’t know exactly what the twist would be. It was equally likely that this could go in one of two directions, but I was guessing until the last moment which of those directions it would be.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hopalong Cassidy, Superman, the Shadow and Robert Mitchum

A few months back, someone actually read my blog. He posted a comment, too, in which he mentioned a Hopalong Cassidy movie in which a young Robert Mitchum appeared.

I own a number of Hoppy DVDs, but I didn’t happen to have that particular film (Hoppy Serves a Writ from 1942), so I immediately Netflixed it. And, by golly, not only is Bob Mitchum in it, so is George Reeves and Victor Jory.

Jory played the Shadow (the toughest of pulp magazine tough guys) in a 1940 serial. Reeves, of course, played Superman (the toughest of comic book tough guys) on TV in the 1950s.

And Mitchum, of course, is one of the toughest of tough guy actors. Heck, he’s so tough he probably hung around the back lot between movies chewing on nails along with Richard Widmark, Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson.

In the Hoppy movie, Jory is the leader of a gang of rustlers and stage coach robbers. Reeves and Mitchum are members of his gang. Despite the fact that all three men are playing outlaws and thugs, it is by default the most manly gang of real men in the history of manliness.

There’s one scene in which one of Hoppy’s sidekicks is captured by the gang and knocked around in an attempt to get him to talk. To his credit, he doesn’t talk, despite the fact that the Shadow and Superman are taking turns punching him while Bob Mitchum holds him up.

The movie as a whole, by the way, is a typically good B-Western. William Boyd gives his usual boisterous and likable performance as Hoppy, there’s an effective use of outdoor locations and the plot is well-constructed. And there’s a great saloon brawl in which Hoppy beats the snot out of the Shadow. Now THAT’S tough.

My appreciation to the gentleman who left the comment that inspired me to catch up on another great black-and-white Western. I just wish the film had a better title. Hoppy Serves a Writ just isn’t tough enough. But I suppose Hoppy Beats the Snot Out of The Shadow wouldn’t have fit on the theater marquee.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: October 1965, part 3

TALES TO ASTONISH #72



Namor, still on his quest to find Neptune’s trident, manages to defeat the seaweed monster long enough to find the next clue—it turns out he must now travel to the Diamonds of Doom.

Meanwhile, Lady Dorma refuses to marry Krang and gets exiled to the realm of the Faceless Ones. What this means we aren’t yet told, but we are not given the impression that it’s a good thing.

Namor finds out about this--via fish telepathy—a power more commonly associated with Namor’s DC parallel Aquaman. Even though he’d been around for a few years now, Namor’s powers were still in flux. Stan Lee never seemed to remember what Namor could or could not do. Sometimes he could do fish telepathy, sometimes he couldn’t. In later years, he pretty much seemed not to have this power, though he could always summon up a few undersea monsters whenever the plot demanded it of him.

Anyways, Namor can’t take time to save Dorma because Krang will start a world-encompassing war unless he’s defeated. So it’s off to the Diamonds of Doom. The Doom part, he discovers, comes from their ability to suck out the life force of any living thing that comes close to them. Namor realizes this a little too late, giving us this issue’s cliffhanger.

Meanwhile, the Hulk has been teleported by the Leader to the villain’s secret base. Soon after, the army blows up Banner’s mountain lab (thinking the Hulk is still inside), destroying the equipment Banner needs to keep himself from turning human again. (Remember, the bullet in his skull kills him if he turns back into Banner.)

The Leader wants Hulk to work for him, but the two really can’t manage to play nice. To make matters worse, Hulk begins to slowly turn back into Banner while fighting the Leader’s Humanoids. Weakened by this, he falls to a barrage of energy weapons. If the weapons don’t kill him, turning human will.

AVENGERS #21



A mercenary who worked for the late Baron Zemo is still hanging around Zemo’s lab in South America. The Enchantress shows up and uses the same machine that turned Simon Williams into Wonder Man (back in issue #9) to turn the merc into Power Man.

Then she and her new ally begin using magically created illusions and a series of dirty tricks to make it look like the Avengers are destroying property and breaking laws. Eventually, the government issues a court order, forcing them to disband.

The idea of discrediting the Avengers is an old one. Count Neferia tried it just a few issues back. But Enchantress’ plan is a pretty clever one and the circumstances are used to highlight some of the strained relations within the Avengers (most notably between Cap and Hawkeye). That will really come to a head next issue.

DAREDEVIL #10



A criminal known as the Organizer, um, organizes a cadre of criminals respectively known as Cat Man, Frog Man, Bird Man and Ape Man. All have costumes and talents that mimic the animals they dress up as.

They are, to be frank, a pretty silly looking bunch. Only Wally Wood’s effective layouts save the story, in which the bad guys steal from or otherwise attack the political Reform Party (which has recruited Foggy Nelson as their candidate for D.A.). As the issue ends Cat Man has been captured, but the others are still loose and Daredevil has to rescue a kidnap victim who doesn’t really seem to be all that much of a victim. That the villain is secretly making the Reform Party look good to the public is obvious from the start and no surprise when this is revealed in the next issue.

That’s it for October. Before moving on to November, we’ll take a week next time to look at the 1965 annuals. Reed and Sue are goin’ to the chapel and gonna get married; Spider Man has a strange encounter with Dr. Strange; and Thor meets the official Marvel Universe version of Hercules.
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