Monday, January 31, 2011

Cover Cavalcade

 Four Color #874, from 1957.

I love the way the artist uses the burning ship and cannon blasts to light the scene.

One odd thing about the story inside: This is a sequel to the Disney movie Johnny Tremain (which was based on a novel by Esther Forbes). The movie covers the events of the Boston Tea Party to the battles of Lexington and Concord as seen through the eyes of a teenager. This comic covers events from the War of 1812. But--after 40 years have passed--Johnny Tremain is still a teenager!!!

Oh, well. Though the story doesn't explicitly say so, perhaps it's Johnny Tremain II or even the III.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hey!! I'm on the Kindle!!

I've taken a chapter from a book idea that didn't work out and put an e-copy up for sale on If you've ever been interested in learning more about the radio version of Green Acres (and who hasn't?), here's you chance:
Granby's Green Acres

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Mr. Moto: "Dry Martini" from 10/20/51

This was the last episode of Mr. Moto's short-lived attempt to move to radio.

Moto had an interesting career. In the original novels, he's an agent for the Japanese government. In the Peter Lorre films from the late 1930s, he starts as an importer who dabbles in detective work, then later goes to work for the "International Police," looking out for (ironically) the interests of the Western powers.

When he came to radio 5 years after the end of World War II, he became a Japanese-American, working to foil communist plots across the world.

In all these versions of the character, his basic personality is pretty much the same--he's very polite and patient, but also very intelligent--and absolutely ruthless when called upon to be so.

"Dry Martini" finds Moto investigating a smuggling operation. This quickly evolves into a murder case when the owner of an import company gets killed. What makes this episode particularly fun is both the good twist at the end and a collection of entertainingly annoying suspects. Mr. Moto's famous patience is put to a test several times as he deals with people who either won't tell him what he needs to know or tell him far more than he wants to know, but he (of course) figures it all out in the end.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Pretty Good Bad Guy

If you enjoy pulp-era fiction as much as I do, then a must-own book is The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, published in 2007. It’s a treasure trove of cool detective and mystery stories from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I picked up a copy a few years back, then soon after got a copy for my Kindle. This sucker is one big book, so the e-version is just easier to carry around.

It also allows me to read another story whenever the mood strikes me, so I still haven’t quite finished it. There’s a lot of great stuff here: tales by Erle Stanley Gardner, Hammett, Chandler, Frederick Nebel and other masters of the genre.

There’s also a few by less-well-known authors. One of these is “Dance Macabre,” by Robert Reeves, first published a 1941 issue of Black Mask magazine. The main character is a tuberculosis-ridden pickpocket named Firpo Cole. He hangs out at a dime-a-dance taxi joint because he’s got it bad for one of the girls. Unfortunately for him, that girl has it bad for the club’s owner.

When the girl turns up dead, Firpo is the main suspect. The cops bring him in and beat him up a few times, but he doesn’t confess. Aside from being innocent, he wants to find the killer on his own—get justice for the girl he loved.

Firpo is a sad, broken human being surrounded by other broken human beings. He works as the “hero” because you can’t help but feel sympathy for him. He’s not tough or smart or all that capable, but he is stubborn and it seems he really did love the girl. And when he finally figures out who the killer is—well, his final action isn’t a complete surprise, but the stark, simple sentence that ends the story carries a real emotional punch.

A lot of pulp stories are just plain fun without any deeper emotions behind them. But there’s a few—like “Dance Macabre”—that really get under your skin.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1966, Part 2


It’s a good thing comic book characters don’t usually know they are comic book characters. The good guys, at least, would probably go nuts knowing that no villain or villainous organization is ever eliminated completely.

SHIELD mops up Hydra in this issue, with the Hydra leader getting offed by his own men before he can press the self-destruct button. But Hydra isn’t gone for good. It’ll be back again. And again. And again….

Anyway, Nick also lets the leader’s daughter escape as thanks for her help. Then, without time to take a breath, he plunges into another adventure. On a trip to SHIELD’s new ESP division, he finds out a former agent with Esper abilities has gone rogue. A lot of this issue also involves an intricate jail break by a criminal inventive genius called the Fixer. The Fixer and the rogue esper (who will take the name Mentallo next issue) will be teaming up for the next story line. It’s a neat paring—the technical guy and the psychic guy. Plus, Jack Kirby really seems to have a ball taking us step-by-step through the Fixer’s prison escape using various gadgets he had built from spare parts. (Note to all wardens: For heaven sake, stop letting super-villains work in the prison machine shop!.)

Off in another dimension, Dormammu is ticked off at Mordo for interfering in the big D’s one-on-one fight against Dr. Strange. So Mordo is banished into the Dimension of Demons (which does not sound like a good thing), while Strange recovers and goads Dormammu into continuing the fight.

Playing on the powerful villain’s ego, Dr. Strange manages to outfight him and win the bout. Dormammu is forced to promise never to endanger Earth. He does get some petty revenge by banishing Clea (who is still unnamed—gee whiz, Stan, give the girl a break) to an unknown dimension.

Strange and the now healthy Ancient One return to Earth. But when Strange gets home, he’s unaware that Mordo’s minions have planted a bomb. He’s got the house rigged to detect magical threats, but something more mundane passes unnoticed. Tick, tick, tick…

This pretty much brings an exciting story arc to an end. It is, in my opinion, the best arc Dr. Strange has ever had—culminating in a multi-issue magical wrestling match that showcases Ditko’s unique and often stunning art style. Stan Lee will be writing just one more issue before passing the reins for this book onto others—most notably Roy Thomas. Dr. Strange will always be a cool character and he’ll still be in some strong stories, but we’ve finished up what I believe to be for him the best of the best.


Jack Kirby continues to supply the layouts for John Romita’s pencils as this fast-moving story continues. It’s another case where so much happens, it’s difficult to summarize briefly.

But by the end of the issue, Plunder has captured both Ka-Zar and Daredevil and brought them back to his castle in England. Ka-Zar is his long-lost brother and both of them have half of a medallion. This medallion is of a rare metal discovered by their dad that reflects energy and causes surrounding matter to disintegrate.

It’s unnamed here, but this is (I believe) the first appearance of Vibrinium in the Marvel Universe. It’s something that’s destined to become the Macguffin in countless stories.

Well, everyone pretty much has a chance to fight everyone else before the issue is over. Ka-Zar and DD get loose, but they are pursued both by spies who want the medallion and the local cops (Plunder has accused them of murder). The two heroes are being knocked for a loop by a rifle grenade in the last panel.

The art looks great and, as I mentioned last time, Kirby’s return to the book (along with Romita’s skilled pencils) seems to have reinvigorated the title. This is really exciting stuff.

There’s one some continuity error. At the beginning of the issue, Daredevil has lost his powers due to an explosion while Ka-Zar is out looking for healing herbs. Both men are captured before Ka-Zar can give the herbs to Daredevil. Later, when DD’s powers are returning, he mentally credits the herbs—despite Ka-Zar never having had a chance to give them to him.

Oh, well. It’s hardly a story-wrecking error. But it’s fun to take note of it.

X-MEN #17

Iceman, injured in the fight with the Sentinals, is in a coma. The other X-Men are getting minor injuries patched up when the Angel learns his parents are coming to the school for a visit. He flies back there to meet them, only to be captured by an unseen intruder.

Scott and Xavier head back to the school when they don’t hear from Warren—only to get captured.

Jean and Hank head back to the school when they don’t hear from Scott and the professor—only to get captured. All the prisoners are loaded into a big balloon and turned lose to drift to the upper atmosphere.

The captor turns out to be Magneto. His return is nicely times. There had been a danger of overusing him early in the book’s run, but exiling him to deep space six issues back gave us a needed break. His return is appropriately dramatic and well-handled.

Next week, we’ll see Thor enter HIS best story ever. We’ll also visit, as usual, with Namor, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A to Z Comic and Pulp Cover list

Z is for:



I'm going to keep posting covers every Monday. Just one pulp or comic cover at a time and without necessarily following any sort of pattern. I'll just grab a cover that I think is cool and put it up, sometimes along with a brief comment on it.

I will, almost inevitably, end up inadvertently repeating a cover image I've used before, but what the hey.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: “Army Mules” 6/22/45

Jane Miller owns the Double-M ranch and raises mules. In fact, she just won a contract to sell mules to the Army.

Slick Wilson owns the rival Triple-W ranch and has a nefarious plan—involving altering the brands on Jane’s mules and framing her for theft—to ruin Jane and take the Army contract away from her.

Fortunately for Jane, the Lone Ranger is around. Tonto goes undercover as a cook at the Triple-W to gain information, then the Ranger comes up with a clever plan (involving re-altering the altered brands) that leads to one of those great moments when the bad guy’s plan unravels right in front of him while he stands helpless to stop it.

This is a fine story. The Ranger and Tonto get to do some action stuff at one point when they rescue some kidnapped ranch hands from the Triple-W, but it’s Slick Wilson being caught in the web of his own lies at the end that really make this episode a good one.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why-oh-Why didn't Street & Smith do team ups?

There were a lot of hero pulps in the 1930s and 1940s--fiction magazines that recounted the adventures of a specific hero. The best of these is almost certainly The Shadow, but he had a lot of strong competition.

The Shadow was published by Street and Smith, one of the best publishing houses of the era in terms of quality. In fact, the hero pulps put out by S & S included Doc Savage, the Avenger and the Whisperer. All were really cool. All had cool agents or sidekicks. And all are currently being reprinted. Snatch 'em up if you can. There's some wonderful adventure storytelling behind those awesome covers.

I've always thought it was tragic that it apparently never occurred to the otherwise talented editors at Street and Smith to put out a special issue or two in which their heroes could team up with one another. Heck, most of them were based in New York. The Shadow and most of his agents hung out there. Doc Savage had a headquarters on the 86th floor of an unnamed skyscraper (generally considered to be the Empire State Building). The Avenger and his organization (Justice, Inc) were based there.

The Whisperer was based in an unnamed city, but all the other guys traveled quite a bit. So a team-up involving him would have been easily arranged.

But it never happened. The Shadow might be battling thugs on a tenement rooftop while Doc Savage was tracing kidnappers through the streets of New York and the Avenger was investigating a bombed out building, but none of them ever crossed paths.

It would have been too much fun for words. Even a minor team up between their various agents would have been cool. Heck, Smitty from Justice Inc and Long Tom from Doc Savage's team were both skilled electrical engineers. They could have met and worked together. Monk (Doc Savage) and Mac (Justice Inc) were both chemists. And agents of the Shadow such as Rutledge Mann and Clyde Burke had reason to come into contact with all sorts of people through their respective jobs as investment broker and newspaper reporter.

Doc Savage's pretty cousin Pat ran a high-priced beauty shop that probably was frequented by both Margo Lane (the Shadow's agent) and Nellie Grey (who worked for the Avenger), so the distaff trio could have easily teamed up for an adventure.

Now that I think of it, a back-up feature in one of the hero pulps featuring team-ups of the various agents would have been the most brilliant idea ever. I really need to invent a time machine, go back to the 1930s, and sell this concept.

In 1989, DC Comics finally managed to put the Shadow and Doc Savage together into the same adventure (and had some fun with the Shadow getting annoyed at the constant bickering between Doc's men Ham and Monk), but it never happened during the pulp era. I would have loved to see what Shadow writer Walter Gibson or Savage's scribe Lester Dent might have done with the idea.

But it was never to be. Oh, well. No world---not even the world of pulp fiction--is perfect.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1966, Part 1


Lots of action once again, as the FF subdue the Dragon Man, save Triton’s life and trail the Inhumans back to the Great Refuge—their hidden city in the Andes.

Black Bolt and his posse have returned their as well. Black Bolt grabs his crown back from his tyrannical brother Maximus, but Max still has plans to use his “atmo-gun” to conquer humankind. The issue ends with him firing off this weapon.

All through this fast-moving and well-paced adventure, there’s a lot of nice character moments of the sort that make the Fantastic Four stand out from the superhero crowd. There’s still a bit of a false note regarding how quickly Johnny and Crystal have fallen for each other, but moments between Reed and Sue and between Ben and Alicia are handled very nicely. (Though Sue pausing to change her hair style in the middle of a DANGEROUS MISSION is just a bit stereotypical.)

Alicia shows up for a few panels during the fight with Dragon Man, when the giant beastie (with Ben hanging on to him for dear life) crashes through the wall to her apartment/studio. This sort of thing actually happens a lot to poor Alicia. In fact, in a couple of issues, a stunned Silver Surfer is going to crash through her window. This is proof that Alicia must be a very successful artist. How else could she possibly afford what must be astronomical insurance premiums?


Spider Man is a great character and—despite the perhaps irrevocable character derailment he’s undergone in regular Marvel continuity over the past few years—there have been any number of truly great stories throughout his history. So it’s arguable to name a single story to designate as THE best. All the same, I’m tempted to do that here. This very well may be the Ur-Spidey story—the one that perfectly defines who the character is within the framework of an exciting and well-constructed Spider Man story.

Spidey is still trapped under tons of debris and seems doomed. But he refuses to give up—knowing that to do so would also doom the person he most cares for in the world. So he goes into overdrive. Actually, since he spent most of the last issue in overdrive, it’s probably more accurate to say he goes into over-overdrive.

In a truly exciting action sequence, he frees himself from the debris, survives getting swept up in a junk-filled flood as Doc Ock’s underwater base floods, then fights a dozen or so minions. And, though he’s bruised, beaten and teetering on total exhaustion, he wins. He gets the element needed to make the life-saving serum to Doctor Connors, then rushes the serum to the hospital in the nick of time. Aunt May is saved.

There’re a few nice character moments as well. Betty sees Peter bruised—his cover story is that he got mixed up in a fight while taking photographs. This causes Betty to realize she can’t handle a relationship with someone who is always taking risks. Then there’s a great scene with Jameson. Peter is in no mood to take any guff from the newsman and demands a good price for the photos. He gets enough to cover May’s medical bills, but doesn’t realize that Jonah still paid him less than the photos are worth.

It’s pretty much a perfect story. It really should seem corny, but it doesn’t. The character beats for Peter are perfect from the first panel to the last. Ditko’s art and action choreography has never been better. It really may be the best Spider Man story ever.


Doctor Doom decides to kidnap the Avengers and use them as bait to lure the Fantastic Four into a trap. So he sends a letter to Wanda and Pietro, claiming to be from a long-lost relative who knows who their parents are.

Actually, by the time the siblings’ origins are retconned a few times over the years, they are going to end up being sorry to find out who their daddy really is. But for now, it’s off to Latveria to meet the relative. Cap and Hawkeye tag along AND NOT ONE OF THEM REMEMBERS THAT LATVERIA IS RULED BY DOCTOR DOOM UNTIL AFTER THEY GET THERE. Gee whiz. Don’t Avengers ever read a newspaper or watch the evening news? Did Cap ever pop over the Germany during World War II to only then think “Oh, that’s right. Hitler’s in charge here, isn’t he?”

Oh, well. Other than that undeniably silly moment, the story is pretty good. To escape Latveria, the Avengers have to defeat Doom. After two successive encounters, they manage to do just that, making their getaway at the end. The battles are fun ones, with the four heroes working together smoothly to come out on top.

Next week, we’ll look at one of Dr. Strange’s finest moments, along with peeks at Nick Fury, Daredevil and the X-Men.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "Figure a Dame" from December 20, 1949.

If I had to pick a favorite OTR show, it'd be Escape. An anthology show concentrating on adventure stories, it had great writing and acting and sound effects. It was (with only a few exceptions) a consistently wonderful listening experience.

Most of the time, stories on Escape were based on short stories. This episode was taken from a story by a writer named Richard Sales.

"Figure a Dame" starred Frank Lovejoy as a P.I. working for an insurance company. The plot is of the hard-boiled/film noir school, with Lovejoy escorting a rich woman to India, where she is buying a priceless emerald.

But during a train trip after the lady buys the jewel, Lovejoy falls in with a beautiful woman he quickly pegs as a thief. From that point, the story seems to go along the traditional line of a femme fatale leading the guy astray. But there's a pretty good twist at the end that gives the story as a whole some additional dramatic backbone. This, in addition to Lovejoy's spot-on performance as a tough guy in the process of going bad, makes the episode another fine entry from Escape.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A counterfeit Dickens and a double-crossin' dame

The Boston Blackie movies made during the 1940s were, like many B-movie series, very formulaic. The former thief Blackie would be falsely accused of murder. With his nemesis Inspector Faraday on his trail, he’d have to go on the lam and figure out who really done it to clear himself.

You have to wonder about Faraday sometimes--he always suspects Blackie even though Blackie always turns out to be innocent. But it's a concession we're happy to make--it's similar to the reason we accept that district attorney Hamilton Burger is yet again convinced that Perry Mason's client is guilty, despite the fact that he/she always turns out to be innocent. It's a formula that leads to an entertaining story. Chester Morris played Blackie with charm and humor, while the plots were reasonably well-constructed.

A couple of details make Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945) a particularly fun entry in the series. Usually, the murder of which Blackie is accused revolves around some valuable jewels, a work of art, or a large sum of money. In this case, the macguffin is a forged copy of a first edition Pickwick Papers, which goes for a high price at an auction held at a rare book store.

It’s a small detail—once the book is sold, the macguffin becomes the 50 grand in cash for which it sold. But it’s a nice touch all the same. And it gives Blackie an excuse to spend a large percentage of the movie disguised as the elderly owner of the rare book store. Morris seems to have fun with that role—it’s certainly fun to watch him.

Anyway, Blackie eludes the cops while doing some investigating, uses some clever misdirection and a few outright cons to trick the villains, and pretty much outsmarts everyone. There’re a few clunky moments, such as Blackie’s escape from a remote house depending on the thug who’s guarding him to be an idiot who needs an afternoon nap, but the fun stuff clearly outweighs the contrivances.

When I watched this one recently, I kept trying to identify the actor playing the main male villain. It was driving me nuts, but I couldn’t quite place him. When I looked him up later, I discovered he was Steve Cochran. His credits later included White Heat, in which he got killed by Cagney for whacking Cagney’s mom and making time with Virginia Mayo (who played Cagney’s wife.) He was also in The Best Years of Our Lives, in which Dana Andrews catches him playing around with Andrews' wife—played by Virginia Mayo. The moral to all that: Virginia Mayo was drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s definitely not the right married woman with whom to have an affair. You’ll only get in big trouble.

The Boston Blackie movies pop up on TCM from time to time, but they’ve never come out on DVD. They were originally produced by Columbia, but old-movie rights bounce around a lot and I have no idea who owns them now. A DVD release (along with some other as-yet unseen B-movie series such as the Lone Wolf) would be nice. As more and more old-time stuff gets released by the studies through print-on-demand services, there’s always hope.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: January 1966, Part 3


Poor Jane Foster is on the verge of a breakdown, what with the man she loves vanishing for days or weeks at a time without explanation. So Blake—against his father’s wishes—shows her that he’s also Thor. This ticks off Odin—something that will have consequences next issue.

Also, Jane makes Thor promise not to leave her again. But that’s a silly promise to exact from a Thunder God. Soon, there are news reports of the Demon (the witch doctor who found the lost Norn Stone) using his newfound powers to raise an army and go on a conquering rampage. So Thor, despite his promise, is off to Asia, where he ends this issue by confronting the villain.

In the meantime, up on Olympus, Zeus is tiring of his son Hercules always getting into fights. So he sends him on a trip to Earth. This sets up a storyline that will begin next issue involving both the son of Odin and the son of Zeus—an arc that is my personal favorite from the Lee/Kirby run on this title.

The Tales of Asgard story gives us a little insight into Hogun the Grim—showing he’s quick to help friends despite his perpetual crankiness—and sets up a fight scene for next issue as the flying trolls of Queen Ula swoop down on the Argonauts.


Namor and the unconscious Dorma are surrounded by Nameless Ones and apparently doomed. But Neptune himself shows up; tells Namor he’s worthy because he acted bravely to save the woman he loved even though he risked getting his throne back; banishes the Nameless Ones; and gives Namor the Trident.

I’m not sure Neptune’s logic holds up. Basically, Namor had decided “The heck with the thousands of Atlanteans I’m responsible for who are being subjugated by a tyrant. I want to save the hot babe who is herself responsible for this whole mess by betraying me.” Namor really needs to watch Casablanca.

You know, with all the writing and editing chores Stan Lee was juggling at this time, I think he really might have lost track of the fact that Dorma committed treason a few issues back.

Oh, well. It works out all right in the end. And Adam Austin’s dynamic art still looks great. Namor heads back to Atlantis, smashes past Krang’s mercenary guard, wrecks the robo-tank that had stunned the rebelling citizenry last issue, gets Dorma into a revitalization tank to save her life, and confronts Krang in the last panel.

In the meantime, the Hulk is now free of the (supposedly) dead Leader and jumps off into the desert. He comments on how Banner’s thoughts and memories are fading, but he’s perfectly happy being the Hulk. But he now has nothing to do. He can’t even play with the Watcher’s Ultimate Machine, because the Watcher zaps it back to the Moon.

As for the other cast members—they all think Banner is dead; Rick is still locked up by the military for helping Banner (who, you’ll remember, was suspected of treason); and General Ross is building a weapon known as a T-Gun from one of Banner’s last designs. This despite no one having any idea what the T-Gun actually does.

Well, they find out. Or at least the Hulk does. When he’s spotted by the Army, he’s zapped with the gun and teleported forward in time. Now in a post-apocalyptic Washington DC, he’s jumped by an army of guys wielding high tech weapons.

I’ve really been enjoying these early Hulk stories. They have a fun rhythm to them—jumping without pause from plot point to plot point in a way that still makes “sense” in a comic book universe.


Adam Austin begins a short run as Iron Man’s artist. His vibrant layouts give the series a healthy shot in the arm right from the first panel, in which Iron Man marches down a hospital hallway to investigate Happy Hogan’s disappearance.

He finds a trail that begins with a hoof print on the third floor window sill of Happy’s room. Well, there’s only one guy Iron Man knows who has a horse that can fly up to a third floor window—that’s the Black Knight.

That’s why I love comic book universes. Someone finds a hoof print in a spot where (in real life) no hoof print could possibly be and can instantly make sense of it.

Anyway, Iron Man tracks down the Black Knight. There’s a fight that’s really a little too slow moving to be truly satisfying (much of it involving Iron Man feigning unconsciousness while he recharges his transistors); the Knight is defeated and perhaps killed; Hogan is taken back to the hospital; but Iron Man is now on the missing list, lying in a hidden spot in the Black Knight’s base.

Captain America is also pretty busy, fighting the giant Nazi Sleeper robot. This is soon joined by the second Sleeper, a giant flying machine. While Cap desperately tries to find a way to damage the Sleepers, they attach themselves together via magnetism and fly off—presumably to join up with the third and last Sleeper. Cap is pretty much having a non-stop bad day in this chapter, but we readers certainly have fun. The action is laid out with Jack Kirby’s usual skill.

That’s it for January. In February, the FF continue to learn more about the Inhumans; Spider Man has one of his finest moments; the Avengers confront Dr. Doom; Nick Fury discovers that telepaths are annoying, while the Hulk discovers the same thing about time travel; Dr. Strange wraps up his wrestling match with Dormammu; Daredevil does a lot of traveling; the X-Men encounter an old enemy; Thor begins his coolest story arc ever; Namor fights for his throne; Iron Man fights a friend; and Captain America continues to fight really big robots.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Crime Classics: "The Axe and the Droot Family: How They Fared" 8/10/53

A woman inherits a small amount from her father--she won't get the big bucks unless her two brothers happen to pass away. So she and her husband try to arrange for the brothers to pass away sooner rather than later.

The dialogue in this episode is really fun to listen to. The tale is set in the Dutch region of Pennsylvania in the 1790s and the rhythm and grammer of the various characters catch the time and place perfectly.

Like most Crime Classics episodes, there's a dark, dry humor running through the story, most of it provided by the narrator. There's also a hilarous sequence in which several unsuccessful attempts are made to do in the younger of the two brothers. He keeps surviving through sheer dumb luck while remaining completely oblivious to the fact that someone is trying to kill him.

It's too bad Crime Classics had such a short run--it had a wonderful grasp of the elasticity and variety of the English language--reflected in the dialogue and narration--that made it one of the best efforts of 1950s radio. And considering the number of quality shows that ran during the 1950s, that's really saying something.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Single Coolest Tracking Shot in the History of Movies

The first couple of minutes of this scene from the classic war film The Longest Day (1962) is done with such visual skill and artistry that it can take your breath away. Not only does it look magnificent, but it also serves a clear storytelling purpose. It sets up the tactical situation perfectly, letting us know exactly what's going on in terms of the battle. We understand the geography of the battlefield and exactly what the Free French unit is trying to accomplish.

I've whined about this sort of thing before:  I wish more modern directors would learn to develop this sort of skill and leave aside the chaotic and uninteresting action/battle sequences with which we are usually saddled  in contemporary films.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: January 1966, part 2


Dormammu sticks Strange, the Ancient One and Mordo in a neutral dimension, then summons the rulers of neighboring dimensions to watch him humiliate his arch enemy in single combat. He also forces Clea (who is still actually unnamed at this point) to watch through a dimensional portal.

What follows is the first half of one of the niftiest battles ever seen between the covers of a comic book. Strange and Dormammu each put “pincers of power” on their wrists—devices that extend out in sort of mystical claws. They then go to town in one-on-one combat. Strange uses judo tactics and pure courage to slowly gain the upper hand. So Mordo, in a panic that his evil master might lose, zaps Strange in the back.

The whole issue is a visual delight, setting up this long serial for a satisfying ending next issue.

Back on Earth, Nick manages to hook up with the SHIELD strike force and—despite a counter-attack by Hydra troopers on motorized skate boards—the good guys defeat the bad guys. In the meantime, Tony Stark pilots the Braino-saur into orbit and disarms the orbital nuke.

Hydra is beaten--or is it? The Hydra leader ends the issue intending to press a self-destruct button, taking out Fury, the SHIELD team and his traitorous daughter.

We see the Hydra boss unmasked for the first time. In previous issues, we had been shown a tyrannical corporate CEO who was presumably Hydra’s leader. But it turns out to be his meek secretary. Not really that surprising a twist, since the CEO practical wore a sign around his neck that said “Red Herring.” But the overall storytelling is pretty strong. The SHIELD vs. Hydra gun battle was certainly intense, with both sides taking losses before the end.


Jack Kirby’s return to the title combines with getting Matt out of New York and away from his godawful contrived love triangle to really reinvigorate this title. It’s all the more fun after several weak stories in a row.

Matt takes a cruise, but the ship is attacked by a pirate named the Plunderer. This guy (real name: Percival Plunder) dresses and talks like a traditional pirate and sails what appears to be an old-fashioned schooner. But that little ship is rigged with high-tech options (including the ability to transform into a submarine. Holy Cybertron!) and his crew is equipped with ray guns. He’s clearly nuts, but his crew is too scared of him to raise a stink about a little thing like sanity.

Daredevil gives the pirates a run for their money, but he’s forced to surrender when Plunder threatens to force a passenger to walk the plank. Impressed with Daredevil’s fighting skill, Plunder presses him into his crew, then takes his submersible ship through an underwater tunnel to his secret base in the dinosaur-infested Savage Land.

Once there, the pirates are jumped by Ka-Zar and the saber-tooth tiger Zabu (both introduced a few months back in X-Men). Another tussle ensues in which Daredevil is badly injured. Ka-Zar takes him to a cave, then leaves to find some healing herbs. But the issue ends with Ka-Zar about to be eaten by a carnivorous plant while a savage ape-man stalks the unconscious Daredevil.

Pirates and dinosaurs together. That by itself gives this story a 9.2 on the Bogart/Karloff scale. The whole fast-moving story is simply entertaining.

Of course, those of us familiar with Marvel characters will know that Plunder is also Ka-Zar’s real family name, but readers in 1966 didn’t know that. They’d be finding out in the next issue, though, when Ka-Zar’s origin is revealed.

X-MEN #16

The X-Men try an unsuccessful escape from the Sentinels, Professor X figures out how to jam the signal powering most of the big robots and Professor Trask decides to sacrifice his life to blow up Master Mold and prevent more Sentinels from ever being built.

Of course, there will eventually be more Sentinels built—the idea behind them and their cool visual design guarantee that they’ll become a regular part of the Marvel Universe. But for now, the original Sentinel trilogy comes to a satisfying conclusion. The action flows along smoothly while allowing in a few nice character moments—perhaps the most important being Iceman (the youngest of the X-Men) realizing that he has earned the respect of his teammates.

Next week will bring (among other things) more giant robot action as we visit with Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Prince Namor.
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