Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: “The Pistol” 1/3/50

San Francisco during the gold rush was a violent and corrupt place. When a man goes up against the man who killed his brother, the possession of one of those new-fangled six-shooters—the only one in the city—becomes a key factor in the battle.

Gerold Mohr does a great job as the protagonist and a sub-plot involving whose side a femme fatale will end up on generates some extra suspense.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Don't Mess with Prince Valiant

Here's a couple of panels from the Prince Valiant comic strip that ran on March 28, 1943. A fake monk has just tried to back-stab Val with the intention of robbing his corpse.


It's just not a good idea to mess with Prince Valiant.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Half an Evil

“Half an Evil" from Batman #234 (August 1971)

This is a classic Batman story that, in the space of 15 pages, highlights pretty much every single aspect of Batman that makes the character so awesome. It was written by Denny O'Neil, who was one of the best Batman writers of the Silver Age. The artist was Neal Adams--who was one of the best Batman artists of the same era.

The plot involves Two-Face, with Harvey Dent stealing several apparently unrelated objects before setting a 19th Century sailing ship adrift and sinking it.

Why? At first it makes no sense, but Batman--using old fashioned deductive reasoning--figures it out and is waiting to confront Two-Face at the end.

There are several things that make this issue particularly interesting. For instance, it was the first time in years that Two-Face had been appeared. He had popped up a number of times during the 1950s, but had since been largely forgotten. Nowadays, because of the last Batman movie and his appearance in the various animated shows since the 1990s, Two-Face is reasonably well-known even among non-comic book fans. But in 1971, O’Neil had to take time to explain Harvey Dent’s origin to comic book geeks. 

But this is also a notable issue in that it highlights all the strengths of O’Neil’s storytelling and his understanding of the character of Batman. In 15 pages of concise, well-organized plot construction, the story highlights the Dark Knight’s skill as a detective along with his talents in martial arts and escape artistry. He shows a keen understanding of his opponent’s psyche and he maintains his dark ambiance without tilting over into Crazy Town. 

That’s how you write Batman, people. It’s not easy for any but the best writers to do in practice, but the theory is clear. Batman doesn’t have to be a crazed loner. He doesn’t have to be drowning in angst. He can have his tragic background and scary ambiance and STILL be a hero!

Gee whiz, I miss this Batman. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Cover Cavalcade

The Flame first appeared in 1939, predating the original Human Torch by just a few months. He could make nearby flames die down or flare up. That's not a bad power, but now he's just another of a legion of forgotten superheroes from the early days of comic books.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Richard Diamond, Private Eye: "Charles Walsh" 7/9/49

A pair of thugs break out of prison. One of them is determined to kill Richard Diamond, the man who sent him to the pen. After an abortive attempt to snatch the smart-mouthed P.I., they decide to set him up by kidnapping his girl friend first.

This episode gives several supporting characters--Diamond's gal Helen and comic relief police desk sergeant Otis--more time "on screen" than they normally get. Also, OTR fans will have a ball listening to Larry Dobkin and Paul Frees team up to play the bad guys.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

When all else fails, hit ‘em with a stove.

Read/Watch ‘em in order: Entry #8

Well, the Shadow has taken care of three fingers of the loosely knit criminal organization known as the Hand. He’s taken out blackmailers in New York City, a murder-for-hire gang in Philadelphia, and an insurance racket in Chicago.

Now the cloaked crime fighter takes to the high seas to fight modern day piracy. This all happens in "Crime Rides the High Seas," from the January 15, 1939 issue of The Shadow Magazine.

And this makes for a fun and unique setting. Nearly all the action this time around takes place at sea. First, there’s an attempt by the villains to scuttle a freighter carrying a shipment of gold. Then the Shadow infiltrates the pirate’s headquarters aboard a yacht. Then the Shadow’s top agents get some well-deserved time in the spotlight as they “join” a gang of thugs aboard a fast lugger, intent on spoiling a plan to attack a salvage ship.

Writer Walter Gibson provides a strong and logical plot centered around some of his best-ever action scenes. Especially noteworthy is the Shadow’s battle aboard the yacht, outnumbered by a gang of thugs until some of the honest crewmen spontaneously join with him.

And the Shadow’s agents—always presented as capable men in the best Shadow novels—really outdo themselves this time. On their own amidst a large gang of cutthroat killers, five of the Shadow’s best guys have to take sudden and dangerous action to save innocent lives. It’s a collective Crowning Moment of Awesome for Harry Vincent, Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye, Tapper and Jericho Druke.

I always appreciate the brawling Jericho’s all-too-infrequent appearances in the Shadow novels. He’s really a fun character and he really shines this time around, saving a fellow agent’s life on two occasions (once by throwing a STOVE at a pair of thugs) and joining in a blazing gun battle armed with nothing but a pair of frying pans. 

The story moves back ashore for the climax, which involves several bizarre plot twists (one of which was probably telegraphed a little too heavily in advance) and wraps up with yet another crime boss who comes to the erroneous and fatal conclusion that shooting it out with the Shadow is a good idea.

The Hand novels continue to get better with each installment. But there’s still one Finger left in the evil organization. So the Shadow will soon be travelling south to Virginia and the Carolinas to break up a vicious kidnapping ring.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: July 1968


Reed, Ben and Johnnie use a Reducta-Craft to shrink to microscopic size and pursue the Silver Surfer. The Surfer, though, unaware that Galactus is actively threatening Earth and having fun exploring a new (albeit sub-atomic) universe, refuses to go back.

This is all interrupted when Psycho-Man, who is back home in Sub-Atomica after his fight with the FF in last year’s Annual, spots them and sends an indestructible android to destroy them.

Our heroes are getting their butts handed to them until the Surfer shows up and pretty casually disintegrates the android. Now aware that Earth is in danger, he agrees to return and once again serve Galactus, even though this means sacrificing a happy life cruising around Sub-Atomica. The FF, though, opts not to follow him back immediately, instead staying in Sub-Atomica to have a showdown with Psycho-Man.

This is a strong issue in yet another fast-moving and imaginative story arc, but I’m going to pick a couple of small nits here.

Though the fight against the Android is pretty cool, this is the second indestructible android the FF has fought in a relatively short period of time. A slightly more original opponent might have been more effective. Stan and Jack might have had an infinitesimal failure of imagination here.

Of course, to be fair, I’m reading this issues over a much shorter time frame then when they were originally published, so that criticism might not be completely fair. Besides, Kirby’s sub-atomic landscapes pretty much drip with imagination.

Second nitpick: Reed simply “knows” the android was sent by Psycho-Man without any explanation. Once again, it can be argued that he might have deduced this from the information on hand. After all, he’s Reed "smartest guy in the universe" Richards. But the rules of good storytelling meant we should have been provided with a definite explanation.

But these are definitely nitpicks. It’s a great issue, with the emotional highlight being when Reed orders Ben and Johnnie to retreat and find the Surfer in order to save Earth, even though that would mean Reed going up against the android alone.


Here we have another single issue story used as a break before another multi-part story arc begins. Last time, it was Spidey fighting a Spider Slayer robot. This time, he gets into a tussle with an Inhuman.

Because it’s John Romita doing the art, it looks great (though I don’t really care for Medusa’s new costume design—but that’s a totally subjective opinion). But the story itself is contrived.

Medusa visits New York to gauge how humans will react to Inhumans. Of course, there’s so many costumed superheroes running around New York, there’s no reason the Inhumans’ would stand out at all.

But, be that as it may, this results in a fight between Medusa and Spider Man, engineered by a publicity-hungry hair-spray company executive. Gee whiz, contrived isn’t a strong enough word to describe the plot, but I can’t really think of a better one.

Oh, well. The next seven or eight issues will be covering the events of three separate and well-written story arcs, culminating in another classic Spidey/Kingpin fight. So we can be forgiving of one awkward issue.

And besides, Romita really does make it look great.

THOR #154

Ulik stumbles across a cave that was sealed up by Odin many centuries ago. He busts the cave open, releasing Mangog, a being with the strength of a billion billion men. Mangog, grouchy after all that time trapped in a cave, vows to destroy the universe. And, judging from Jack Kirby’s wonderfully creepy design of the character, he’s just the guy to do it.

Loki returns to Asgard, where he finds everyone aware of the danger, but Odin is suffering from the ultimate plot devise—Odinsleep. So Loki declares that he’s in charge.

The rest of the issue is filler, to bring it to an end at an appropriately dramatic moment. Thor, still on Earth, is tempted by Hela to come to the afterlife and lead the dead heroes already there in eternal battle; he checks to make sure Sif is recovering; he stops some muggers; and he gives some hippies a talking to about living their lives for a cause rather than simply dropping out. In the meantime, Karnilla threatens to turn Balder into a living statues (as she’s done with other guys who have rejected her over the years) unless he gives her a little sugar. But Kirby makes is all look awesome, so it doesn’t feel like filler.

Besides, though Stan Lee’s dialogue for Thor might be a little over the top when he talks to the hippies, it’s still a strong and effective speech that really gives us a sharp reminder of Thor’s inherently noble personality.

That’s it for July. Next week, we'll take a look at a time when Batman truly was made of AWESOME. In two weeks we'll look at August 1968; in which the FF confront Psycho-Man while the Silver Surfer negotiates with Galactus; Spider Man discovers that two birds in the hand are more dangerous than one in the bush; and Thor faces off against Mangog. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cover Cavalcade

I don't know if I could pick a favorite George Rozen Shadow cover. He did a fantastic job every time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: “Nitro For Pablo Juarez” 5/21/45

The Lone Ranger helps out a Mexican officer in the rebellion against the French. But that help gets the Ranger, disguised as the officer, sentenced to die by firing squad. Without his six-shooters and silver bullets, the Masked Man must depend on an experiment in applied psychology to get him out alive.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Imagine how well he’d do if he DIDN’T get captured twice.

Norman A. Daniels was one of the many talented and very prolific writers who churned out countless adventure and mystery stories during the pulp era. Writers like Daniels might never have produced a Maltese Falcon-level classic, but they knew how to construct plots and write exciting action.

Daniels is perhaps best remembered now for writing some of the stronger adventures for the Phantom Detective (a character whose pulp career ran twenty years), but he turned out quite a lot of other stuff as well. “Corpse Collector,” a short story I recently downloaded to my Kindle, is just one of his many efforts. It was first published as a back-up feature in the November 1935 issue of Secret Agent X magazine.

A gang of crooks (called the Shotgun Gang because of their preference for that weapon) has been looting  banks and gunning down innocents for some time now. When they kill a cop during their latest outing, a detective whose been behind a desk for years asks to go back out into the field.

This is Captain Stone, our protagonist for this fast-moving tale. And I do mean fast-moving. Like most professional pulp writers, Daniels doesn’t waste any time or unnecessary words in getting to the good stuff.

Knowing that one of the Shotgun Gang was killed during their last hold-up, Stone deduces how they’ll try to get rid of the body. That allows him to follow one of the gang members to their hideout and put in motion a plan that will lure them all into a trap.

It’s a plan that doesn’t always go smoothly. Stone actually ends up getting captured TWICE in a matter of just a few minutes. But he continues with his plan and improvises when he has to, using the new-fangled technology of putting radios in patrol cars to run a con on the villains and get them away from potential hostages before bringing the hammer down on them.

Norman A. Daniels was a storyteller—able to spin an entertaining yarn that grabs your attention and holds you for the short time it takes to read through it. It’s a rare and valuable talent and it’s nice that his tales are still available to entertain us today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: June 1968


Galactus can’t locate the Silver Surfer anywhere on Earth. Presuming that the FF knows where the ex-herald is hiding, he sends three “soulless replicas” of Reed, Ben and Johnny to attack them.

Our heroes manage to beat the replicas, but Galactus follows this up by threatening to slam a planetoid into Earth. With no other options left, Reed agrees to find the Surfer.

But where is the Surfer? Using on of Reed’s new experiments, he’s shrunk himself down to subatomic size and is hiding out in a microscopic universe. Fortunately, if anyone just happens to have a vehicle handy for following someone into a microscopic universe, its Reed Richards.

This story arc continues to be yet another classic—unfolding rapidly with multiple plot twists that make perfect sense within the context of a comic book universe. Everything that happens adds excitement, drives the story along, AND provides Jack Kirby a chance to let his visual imagination run wild.

But—hey—do I finally have a chance to say something other than “Jack Kirby is perfect?” The story here is wonderful, but the cover art is a little bit too static to be satisfying. Something more action-oriented and awesome-looking (maybe a wide shot of the FF fighting their duplicates) might have been better.

Still, considering how awesome the interior art looks, I think we can be forgiving.


Gwen realizes her dad has been brainwashed—but that same brainwashing forces him to refuse her suggestion that he turn himself in. So she goes on the lam with him.

But it’s too late. Spider Man takes out one gang of thugs that’s looking for them, but another two goons find them and take them to Kingpin’s new hideout.

The hideout is in an out-of-the-way lab at Norman Osborne’s factory, since the rogue scientist who built the brainwashing machine works there. The scientist was using his connections there to get the equipment he needed—a nice bit of background logic typical of Marvel Comics at the time

That sort of thing always reminds me of the classic 1941 Superman cartoon Mechanical Monsters. The mad scientist in that one is using his huge robots to rob banks and jewelry stores. But if he had the resources to build a dozen huge robots and a large mountain lair stuffed with obviously valuable equipment, then why the heck does he need to rob banks?

Of course, that cartoon really is a classic—perhaps the most iconic of the Fleischer series. But I always appreciate it when writers of superhero fiction provide us with at least the bare bones of an explanation for where bad guys get all their cool stuff.

The best “where do they get their stuff” explanation in comics history, I think, comes from Avengers #195. That’s the first appearance of Taskmaster, who runs a henchman school. It was a truly brilliant idea. Where do supervillains get their endless supply of disposable henchmen?  From Taskmaster’s school, of course.  (I’ll have to review that issue soon.)

I’ve gone off on a weird tangent here, so back to the main story: Kingpin uses Stacy and Gwen to lay a trap for Spider Man. But Spidey comes prepared this time, wearing a filter mask that prevents Kingpin’s tie-pin gas spray from affecting him. Spidey gets the drop on the Kingpin, but only the intervention of Norman Osborne allows him to save the Stacys. The brainwashing machine explodes and, though Kingpin escapes, Stacy’s mind is free again and there’s enough evidence to clear his name.

So everyone’s happy. Well, everyone but Peter, who still figures he’s in the doghouse with Gwen.

Also, we get some foreshadowing that poor Norman may be on the verge of regaining his memory of being the Green Goblin. It’s actually quite awhile before that actually happens, but it’s yet another effective bit of storytelling.

Actually, because it is a few years of real time before the Goblin returns, I wonder if Stan Lee was definitely planning on using him at this point, or if he was just hinting at it “just in case?” 

THOR #153

If anyone had been wondering how Loki had even lifted Thor’s hammer in order to steal it at the end of last issue, that’s explained very quickly in this issue. It’s because Loki had also stolen part of Karnilla’s mystical Norn power.

Actually, I get the feeling that Stan and Jack had realized that this plot hole existed and stuck in a few lines of dialogue here to cover themselves.  But even if that’s true, it’s a good enough explanation. Thor is the sort of book where simply saying “It’s Magic” can be a perfectly legitimate way of carrying the plot forward.

Karnilla zaps Thor and Sif back down to Earth to pursue Loki, just as Thor reverts to being Don Blake. Loki blasts down Sif with some Norn magic, but Blake manages to catch hold of his hammer (actually, it’s his walking stick at the moment) and turns back into Thor. This leads to some typically awesome Kirby fight scenes.

Thor subdues Loki, but then has to leave him to turn back into Blake again so he can treat the badly wounded Sif. This allows Loki to later attack the hospital O.R. in which Blake is operating on Sif. Blake finishes the operation in the nick of time, turns back to Thor yet again. He and Loki go at it a second time. But Odin, who is now concerned about a new threat approaching Asgard, breaks up the fight with an Odin-Bolt.

That new danger, by the way, is foreshadowed by a few panels of Ulik catching hold of a ledge as he falls down the bottomless pit (Thor, remember, threw him in last issue.) He pulls himself into a cave, where he finds… well, we’ll find out about that next issue.

And this pretty much finishes up a story line that began in Thor #145, when Odin stripped Thor of his powers. It’s been a unique story arc, moving from one plot point to another—amnesia, the Circus of Crime, Loki, the Wrecker, the Destroyer, Ulik, then Loki again. It’s jumped from Asgard to Earth to the Norn realm. It covered a lot of ground without really having a single strong story line running through the whole thing.

But, despite that, it’s a great arc. It never seems like it’s meandering, but rather logically moving from one threat to another as events unfold. The art is powerful, the characterizations (other than Odin’s questionable reasons for de-powering Thor) are consistent with the characters and Thor, Balder, Odin and Sif are all given their appropriate Crowning Moments of Awesome.

I’ve talked about story construction several times recently, but I’m afraid I gotta do it again. The last eight issues jumped around a lot between plot points and from one location to another quite often, but it’s all done with skill. Transitions are always smooth and we never have any trouble at all following along. Stan and Jack’s respective skills at basic story construction continue to stand out.

That being said, I do think I’ll bring up one minor quibble. I honestly think that Stan and Jack have forgotten that Thor’s been out on bail for most of this story arc—accused of helping the Circus of Crime rob a museum. Unless I missed a line of dialogue (or I’m forgetting something that happens in an upcoming issue), Thor’s arrest is never mentioned again nor brought to resolution. Oh, well, I suppose after you save New York City from a supervillain and an indestructible robot, you just might get a few charges against you dropped.

Besides, Thor’s soon going to be too busy saving the universe yet again to make his next court date. We’ll be segueing  smoothly from one great story arc into another when a creature with the strength of a “Billion Billion” people raises his rather butt-ugly head.

That brings June 1968 to an end. In July, the Fantastic Four take a Fantastic Voyage; Spider Man meets an Inhuman; and Thor gives some of those darn hippies a good talking to.

By the way, the Superman cartoon I mentioned earlier really doesn’t relate to any of the comics, but it’s such a cool cartoon I think I’ll embed it here anyways. Enjoy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Mr. and Mrs. North: “Milkman’s Ring” 7/15/47

Pam and Jerry North are heading home one night when they have some car trouble. A milkman in a horse-drawn cart gives them a lift, but that just leads to more trouble. A gunman holds up the cart, breaking milk bottles and stealing the milk route list.

This crime is bizarre enough, but the Norths soon stumble across a corpse.

Well, they’re pretty much always stumbling over corpses, so they handle this with their usual aplomb and begin investigating the case.

I’m not sure all the twists and turns in this case make complete sense, but we have so much fun hanging out with the Norths, that it really doesn’t matter.  Pam gets a hilarious scene in which she calls the police and tries to explain what’s going on to a hapless cop. But, as usual, it’s the seemingly ditzy Pam North who figures out whodunit.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Romans, Egyptians and the Parameters of a Fictional Universe

Last week, we discussed whether all the Universal Studios Invisible Man films took place within the same continuity, coming to the conclusion that The Invisible Man’s Revenge was too different and existed in its own parallel universe.

For the most part, deciding which stories go together into the same universe is pretty easy. The original work or works by the same author or studio make up the Prime Universe for any one series or character. Individual parts of that series can be ignored when necessary. In the case of The Invisible Man’s Revenge, it was too many internal differences in continuity that obligates us to exile it to a parallel universe.

Sometimes, entries in a series get left out of a fictional universe because they stink. Alien 3, for instance, simply doesn’t exist. It never happened, with Ripley’s story coming to a relatively happy ending at the end of Aliens. Star Trek 5 never happened. Highlander 2 certainly never happened.

But can this go in the other direction? Can we add something from outside the original author's work to a Prime Universe?  Let’s take a look the universe of Edgar Rice Burroughs to examine one reason for doing so.

The ERB solar system includes a Mars, Venus and Jupiter that are all habitable. It includes a small but interesting lost continent near Antarctica. It includes a hollow earth and what is essentially another world at the earth’s core. It includes a surprising number of small but viable civilizations scattered around the African jungle. And there’s no question that ERB’s various series exist in the same universe. Tarzan visits Pellucidar and the character of Jason Gridley links Mars with both Tarzan and Pellucidar. Tossing in the Venus and Caspak series into the same mix is a relatively safe thing to do.

Let’s take a look at the novel Tarzan and the Lost Empire (first serialized in Blue Book Magazine in 1928 and 1929), which tells us about one of the many lost civilizations in this universe.  Tarzan is trying to find a missing German explorer named Erich Von Harben. Both men individually stumble into a large valley that contains a remnant of the Roman Empire.

There are two cities, each with its own Caesar. Tarzan ends up a prisoner in one city; while Erich is captured by soldiers from the other city. Erich falls in love with a patrician’s daughter: since the Jungle Lord was spoken for, falling in love was the usual responsibility for co-heroes in any given Tarzan novel.

Tarzan gets tossed into the local Coliseum to fight as a gladiator. But he’s… well, he’s Tarzan, so he proves to be pretty good at this, winning fight after fight until he’s able to engineer a mass escape. He and his fellow escapees (along with a half-dozen apes who were also being caged in the Coliseum) attack the palace and try to foment a rebellion against the current unpopular Caesar. They come close, but the group soon ends up besieged in a small room, surrounded and apparently without hope as a ballista pounds a hole in the room’s outer wall. .

But Tarzan is never without hope. If one plan fails, he’ll improvise another. And it just might turn out that Tarzan’s little monkey friend Nkima (making his debut appearance in the Tarzan series) will play a key role in saving just about everyone’s butt.

Anyway, the novel ends with not one, but two evil Caesars overthrown, allowing Tarzan to finally join up with Erich Von Harben. It’s a solid and fun adventure, with Tarzan’s battles in the arena being the highlight of the tale. As usual, Burroughs shamelessly uses coincidence to move the story along, but his prose is entertaining and his sense of pacing so perfect that he gets away with it.

So we have a nifty adventure written by ERB, with there being no question it belongs in the Prime ERB Universe.

{Here’s an interesting aside: During World War I, Germans in ERB’s novel were all bloodthirsty brutes. This is especially noticeable in stories such as Tarzan the Untamed and The Land That Time Forgot. During the 1920s, several ERB novels—such as Lost Empire and the Pellucidar novel Back to the Stone Age—featured heroic Germans. I always wondered if ERB wasn’t making a tacit apology for his wartime propaganda.}

Usually, anything outside ERB’s original prose—movies, comics, Little Big Books, etc-- would exist in one or more parallel universes. They might be good stories and perfectly entertaining in of themselves, but they are not a part of the “real” Tarzan’s biography.

But can we ever make an exception to this rule? From 1931 until 1937, Hal Foster did a brilliant Sunday newspaper strip recounting new adventures of Tarzan.

And it was a brilliant strip. Foster’s art was a little more raw than it was when he moved on to Prince Valiant, but this fit the subject matter perfectly. His pacing, his page and panel designs and his plotting all meshed very nicely with the original Tarzan novels.

For instance, in a year-long sequence from 1932 and 1933, Tarzan again meets up with Erich Von Harben. They enter a swamp inhabited by hungry dinosaurs, then find their way into a nearly inaccessible land containing yet another remnant of an ancient empire. This time it’s the Egyptians.

It’d take far too long to recount Tarzan’s adventures among the Egyptians in any detail: There’s political intrigue, trouble with a high priest, a few damsels in distress, a treasure hunt, several full-scale battles, and single combats involving both men and beasts. Eventually, Tarzan manages to find his way out of the land. Interestingly, he leaves Von Harben behind. The German had fallen in love again and the last time we saw him, he and his girl were staying with a shepherd, hiding out from a jealous queen. I always wondered if Foster either forgot about Von Harben or simply couldn’t fit him comfortably back into the narrative and just thought “Oh, the heck with it.”

Also, I wonder what happened to Von Harben’s Roman girlfriend. I suppose it didn’t work out between them. Or maybe she died of diphtheria or something. I guess we’ll never know.

Anyway, I am slowly making my way to an actual point. Despite a little carelessness in wrapping up Von Harben’s fate, the entire Egyptian sequence is wonderful storytelling that could easily be considered a part of Tarzan’s official adventures. Both its quality and its faithfulness to the original character seem to qualify it for inclusion in the official ERB Canon.

It’s tempting to do so—oh so tempting to place Foster’s Tarzan work into the original ERB Canon.

But, well, I just can’t force myself to do it. It's too great a break from tradition and we'd be just asking for trouble. It is, in fact,  the sort of decision that--if made incorrectly--can cause nations to tumble; financial markets to collapse; wars to break out; and Inquisitions to begin. In the end, I simply can’t ignore the awesome responsibility of maintaining the integrity of make-believe realities. So Foster—one of the best storytellers from the Golden Age of the American comic strip—must be regulated to a parallel universe as far as his Tarzan stories go. 

But it’s a really, really fun parallel universe.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: May 1968


Galactus is getting hungry again. He’s having trouble finding an eatable world without a herald to scout things out for him. So he heads back to Earth to re-recruit the Silver Surfer.

But the Surfer doesn’t want to go. Though this would end his exile on Earth, scouting worlds for Galactus means helping to commit genocide—something he’s no longer willing to do. So he goes to the FF for help.

The Punisher (no, not THAT Punisher—the robot the big G used to beat up the Fantastic Four back in issue #49) is sent to Earth to find the Surfer and most of the issue is Ben , Johnnie and Reed fighting the nigh-unbeatable mechanism. Sue is still sitting out the action do to her pregnancy.

When the Punisher realizes that the Surfer is too well-hidden to be found, it teleports away. The issue ends with Galactus personally beginning a search for his former herald.

This is a strong, well-plotted opening for another extended story arc. Stan and Jack continue to mesh character moments and action sequences smoothly together. The issue opens when Ben stops by to see Alicia and finds the Surfer there. Jealous, he acts like an immature jerk until the Surfer literally has to blast him and insist that the world may be in danger. What makes this scene perfect is that this works—getting knocked back by an angry Surfer is what makes Ben shut up and listen. It’s yet another small but important moment that shows how thoroughly Stan and Jack understood their characters.

And I like the motivation for bringing Galactus back to Earth—it makes sense even in light of his promise never to return.


This issue balances so many plot threads so perfectly that it’s impossible to summarize it faithfully without droning on about it far too long. So, just as Indigo did for Westley before attacking the castle, I’ll sum up.

Captain Stacy is brainwashed and working for the Kingpin; Gwen thinks Peter has attacked her dad and now wants nothing to do with him; Peter gets pictures of Stacy stealing police records and Jamison publishes these in a special edition. That leaves Peter in even deeper hot water with Gwen.

That’s the situation as the issue ends. The story leading up to it is packed to the gills with great storytelling that covers an amazing amount of territory without ever seeming dense or rushed. It’s literally a textbook example of graphic storytelling exposition. If you hope to write comics one day, this is an issue you need to study—taking note of how much plot and character stuff is expertly worked into it.  Action; characterization; exposition; moments of high melodrama—it’s all there in exactly the right amounts. This isn’t the best-ever Spidey story, but it’s still an excellent one. And it’s better told in terms of story construction than just about any other comic book I can think of.

THOR #152

The fun thing about this story arc is that there’s not really just one main villain. Every issue or two, the story kind of shifts gears and goes in a different direction. But each of those shifts is very smooth and makes perfect sense in context to the universe Thor and his fellow Asgardians inhabit.

It started with Loki vs. Thor. This morphed into the Wrecker vs. Thor. Then Sif’s life force is zapped into the Destroyer.

This issue begins with Thor—fully powered again—still fighting the Destroyer. But, in the meantime, Ulik is threatening Karnilla. In order to get Balder to agree to defend her, she returns Sif’s life force to its proper place. The Destroyer falls over, inanimate once again.

Balder and Ulik wail on each other for awhile, until Karnilla zaps Thor up to her realm. So the fight shifts to Thor vs. Ulik.

In the end, the troll is knocked into the “bottomless Abyss of Shadows,” in which he’s lost forever—which in this case actually means one issue.

As the dust settles, Thor realizes his hammer is missing—magically stolen by Loki. So it looks like the story will morph back into Thor vs. Loki once again.

There’s a definite rhythm to the story arc. As with this month’s Spider Man, we get an excellent example of just how skilled Stan Lee (and whichever artist he was working with) was at story construction and pacing.

By the way, I’ve been whining about Odin’s less-than-logical actions during this story arc, but the All-Father gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome this time around, when he appears in a police station to take possession of the Destroyer. Despite being dressed in normal clothes, he over-awes the cops, shoos them out of the room containing the Destroyer, and teleports away with it. The poor cops are left baffled and wondering if this was the “decision from Asgard” that Thor told them would be handed down regarding the robot.     

That’s it for May. In June 1968, the FF follow the Silver Surfer to a very unusual hideout; Spider Man gets a rematch against Kingpin; and Thor/Don Blake has to multi-task.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cover Cavalcade

 Before and After. Gold Key was producing the comic Space Family Robinson, basically the Swiss Family Robinson in space.  Then CBS debuted Lost in Space in 1965, which was basically the Swiss Family Robinson in space. Gold Key started putting Lost in Space on the covers of its comic, even though it still used its own characters and vehicle designs rather than those from the TV show. Irwin Allen, the TV show's producer, didn't seem to mind and in fact Gold Key later put out comic adaptations of other Allen SF shows. Consequently, the TV version of Lost in Space never got a comic book adaptation while the show was first airing. (I believe it did some years later.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Phillip Marlowe: “The Girl from Pitchfork Corners” 7/5/50

Marlowe is hired via a special delivery letter (which includes a $50 bill) to find out if a particular man is leaving Los Angeles on a particular train. He doesn’t find the man and reports to his client.

Not surprisingly, he stumbles across a body. What follows is the sort of complex but strongly plotted hard-boiled tale that was typical of this great show. Marlowe follows a twisting trail of blackmail that leads him to a naïve country girl. Or is she naïve?

The ending is a little contrived—the killer conveniently explains the whole plot while Marlowe is nearby listening. But the overall strength of the plot, colorful supporting characters, and a few good twists more than make up for this one minor flaw.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

“In this house, you’ve got to believe what you can’t see.”

Read/Watch ‘em in order #7: The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)

Robert Griffith returns to England after spending years in a Capetown insane asylum, determined to take vengeance on the family he thinks once cheated him.

But his plans seem to go awry until he stumbles across the cabin of a mad scientist—a fellow who has developed an invisibility serum and is anxious to try it out on a human. (He’s already made an invisible dog and an invisible parrot.)

The title character is played by Jon Hall, who portrayed the invisible spy in the previous entry in the series. But this time he’s no hero, but rather a madman who has already committed a couple of murders before the movie even begins.

So he doesn’t need an invisibility serum to send him to crazy-town. He’s already there.

This is probably the weakest of the series. It’s a little slow-moving for a B-movie, taking a good 20 minutes to set up the plot and get to the invisibility stuff. (That’s a pretty big chunk of a 78-minute movie.) Remember that the first two movies started with the main characters already invisible, while Invisible Agent had a suspenseful encounter with fascist agents to set up the story. Revenge just has a lot of conversation. The dialogue is perfectly well-constructed, but an element of danger or excitement wouldn’t have hurt.

Still, it’s a fun movie. John P. Fulton’s special effects continue to be remarkable. A shot in which Griffith splashes water on his face, making his face and his hand partially visible, is perhaps the creepiest moment in the series.

Jon Hall does a solid job of playing a unpredictable psychotic. John Carradine gives a classy performance as the scientist, continuing his long and honorable connection with the Universal Monster universe. (He was one of the hunters that found Frankenstein’s monster hanging out with the blind hermit in Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and he’d take over the role of Dracula for two movies in 1945.)

But IS this movie a part of the mainstream Universal Monster universe? The main character is named Griffith, but there’s no indication that he’s related to the original invisible man. And he doesn’t use the same formula—Carradine’s Dr. Drury creates a serum on his own.

This races a vitally important question. Is this movie a part of the same continuity as the rest of the monsters and the other invisible man films, or does it exist in its own separate little universe?

Why is this question so important? Well, because….  because…

Because… um….

Well, because it just IS. If you have to ask, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. Heck, this is an issue we’ve dealt with herein the past.

Of course, it’s possible that Carradine simply creates an invisibility serum independent of the one created by Jack Griffith. And perhaps Robert Griffith’s last name is an ironic coincidence.

But I place it in a separate universe. What convinces me of this is the fact that everyone is pretty much shocked by the existence of an invisible man. Remember that Jack Griffith’s original rampage was a very public one and the possibility of making a man invisible was known to everyone in later films. Yes, other sequels to the original had some continuity glitches in them, but this one is simply too big to ignore.  So we’ll consider The Invisible Man’s Revenge, a flawed but still enjoyable B-film, to be located one reality to the left of the world in which Jack Griffith began his invisible shenanigans. 

This is such an important issue that I think we'll spend next week discussing whether a series of novels and a comic strip should belong in the same universe.

That leaves us with Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), which is without question part of the original universe. We’ll pay the boys a visit very soon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Original JLA

I “met” Walter Paquette via an online  forum about the superhero miniatures game Heroclix, where he occasionally chided me for concentrated too much on the FF and Spider Man in my discussions of comics. Well, I challenged him to do a guest review of any Golden or Silver Age comic he wanted and he took me up on it. So here is this blog’s first guest review:

BRAVE AND THE BOLD #28 (May 1960)

Recently DC comics rebooted their universe—The Justice League, among other books, has gotten a "do-over" complete with a new origin story. Today I would like to go back to where it all started with the first appearance of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold.

The team consisted of Aquaman, Batman, Flash (Barrry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman. At this point you may be wondering to yourself “What kind of enemy would bring some of the most powerful super heroes from the DC Universe to fight together for the first time?”

A giant starfish from space, named Starro the Conqueror.

The story starts out with Aquaman being told about the threat by his good friend, Peter the Puffer Fish! Peter tells Aquaman of how Starro appeared, making deputies out of other starfish to help him conquer Earth.

Once Aquaman is told about the threat, he sends out a signal to his friends to let them know that they are needed to save the Earth! First person to receive the signal is Wonder Woman, who quickly leaves the date she is on to help. Hal Jordan is flying an aircraft designed to fly around the world in 24 hours, but he quickly suits up into Green Lantern and wills the aircraft into autopilot. Flash is trying to stop a tornado (which he quickly takes care of), and Martian Manhunter is about to go on vacation. Batman is busy on the tails of some Gotham looters and Superman is busy protecting Earth from an impending meteor threat, so those two decide that the others can manage without them until they finish up their current Business.

The team members then show up to discuss what to do, where they all decide it is best for them to patrol different areas and try to find out just what kind of threat this Starro character is. During these patrols the first person to run into one of Starro’s deputies is Green Lantern. The deputy attacks a military aircraft and steals an atom bomb, which it quickly sets off in order to absorb its immense power. Green Lantern takes it out with a quick shot to its single eye, reverting it back to its starfish state.

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter are at the Hall of Science, where another deputy is attacking. While Wonder Woman is distracting the Starro deputy, Manhunter takes to the upper atmosphere looking for some sort of weapon to take the creature out. J’onn finds some meteor pieces (which he mentions is from the same meteors Superman is taking out at this time) and also uses his super breath. All this causes the Starro deputy to fly off, taking the Hall of Science with it!

A fight ensues between the three, with the Starro deputy trying to take out Wonder Woman and Manhunter with its atomic beams. They easily protect themselves from the beams while making quick work out of the deputy.

We cut to Flash, where he is at the coastal town of Happy Harbor where Starro’s deputy has begun to mind control the entire town, except for one unfortunate soul named Snapper. The deputy shoots an atomic laser at Snapper,  but Flash manages to save him. The Scarlett Speedster  tales care of the deputy by creating a vortex to make the creature spin, leaving it unable to aim its atomic beams. Soon the deputy retreats to a nearby lake.

Flash follows the deputy to the lake, using vibrations to part waves in an attempt to find it. He then allows the waves to collapse down on the deputy, knocking it out. The mind controlled town folks are released from the deputy’s spell and are able to tell Flash where Starro is located.

Flash takes his new buddy Snapper with him, thinking he might be key to figuring out how to defeat the alien monster. Upon meeting up with the other five Justice League members,  Green Lantern decides to take on Starro. A problem arises when Starro reads Green Lantern’s mind and finds out his weakness…the color yellow! The alien turns himself yellow, gaining immunity to GL’s ring.

At this point, Flash figures out that there might be some reason that Snapper is unaffected by Starro’s powers, so he has Green Lantern make a spectroscope with his ring where they find out that Snapper is covered in Calcium Oxide, or Lime, from doing yard work earlier in the day. Aquaman then mentions that oysters use lime to defend themselves from being eaten by starfish. The five members of the Justice League then gather up a bunch of lime and quickly cover Starro with it, imprisoning the monster.

I was slightly disappointed that Aquaman didn't do much of anything in the story other then warn them of the threat then added in some information on why the lime worked. I was also bothered by the fact that Flash can take out a Starro deputy by himself while Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter had to team up. Also I guess I am more used to stories stretching out longer--nowadays comics like that would be stretched out into a 6 issue series plus tie ins while this one solved the problem in just the one issue.

ME AGAIN: I agree that Aquaman was underused in the story. But then that’s always been a chronic problem with the King of the Seas whenever he appears in team books. If the story doesn’t take place underwater, writers have always had a hard time coming up with something useful for poor Arthur to do. Over in Marvel, Prince Namor’s personality and power levels have always seemed to allow him more leeway in being useful on dry land.

For some years, DC Comics tried dumping constant tragedy and angst on Aquaman while also amping up his powers to an extent in a desperate effort to make him interesting. But it wasn’t until the recent Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series that we finally got a really awesome version of the character.

I do kinda like, though, that the world is basically saved because Aquaman passes on a message from PETER THE PUFFER FISH!!

Walter makes an interesting point about single issue stories versus multi-part epics. Nowadays, comics are published with the intention of collecting just about everything into trade paperbacks—a format that I understand to be a major revenue source for the publishers. And the debut of the JLA might have been improved by drawing the story out for several issues and allowing the various characters to get more of a spotlight. But artificially stretching it into a long, long story with multiple crossovers  would not have been a good thing. Stories should be as long or short as they need to be to fulfill the requirements of drama and good storytelling. Though I concede that the publishers have every right to turn a profit, I’ve always felt that the need to produce multi-part epics almost exclusively has been damaging to the overall quality of modern superhero stories.

Thanks to Walter for his guest review.
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