Monday, February 28, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger--"Kit Carson"--July 17, 1944:

This particular episode is one of 16 broadcast in 1944 in which the Ranger shares an adventure with a real-life person. In fact, I posted comments about the Teddy Roosevelt 2-parter a few months back.

"Kit Carson" is something of an anomaly. It starts with the commander of Fort Leavenworth in Kansas reading a news story about the deaths of John Adams & Thomas Jefferson, both on July 4. That sets the story firmly in 1826. A few minutes later, a young Kit Carson enters the tale.

So I figured the story would be have a 50-year gap in it, with young Kit having an 1826 adventure, then teaming up with the Lone Ranger as an old guy in some sort of follow-up to the first half.

But instead, the whole story was set in 1826, with the Ranger and Tonto mysteriously and without explanation existing in that time period (40 to 50 years before they should be around.)

Of course, it was a good, entertaining story, so there's really no reason to complain. I guess the writers & producers simply decided to set aside internal continuity in order to tell the story they wanted to tell. The result was a sort of "Elsewords" or "What If" Lone Ranger tale, with a well-constructed plot and some nice bits of characterizations involving various people involved in the adventure.

I usually think that fictional universes are more dramatically viable if they pay proper attention to their internal continuities. But I have to admit that in this case, it simply doesn't matter. The episode did what all the stronger Lone Ranger episodes do--it told a good yarn.

(It does beg the question, though, of what sort of weapon the Ranger was using at one point when he engaged in a gun battle with a couple of bad guys. He was shooting multiple times without reloading in a time period where revolvers weren't yet available. )

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper

It’s only natural to wonder why Sherlock Holmes—at the height of his career and deductive powers in 1888—didn’t help run down Jack the Ripper in 1888.

Well, maybe he did, but just couldn’t let Watson write about it afterwards. The 1978 movie Murder by Decree (with Christopher Plummer as Holmes) uses an old conspiracy theory involving the Royal family and Freemasonry to explain why it all had to be swept under the table after the Ripper is killed.

But there was a better version of Holmes vs. the Ripper made 13 years earlier. A Study in Terror (1965) has John Neville doing an enjoyable interpretation as Holmes—not as good as Jeremy Brett, but then what Holmes is?

Donald Houston may grate on some as a hero-worshiping Watson, but I was okay with it. The rest of the cast—including great actors such as Anthony Quayle and Frank Finlay—are all top notch. There’s a strong plot, a reasonable explanation for covering it all up afterwards, and a real sense of just how incredible Holmes’ deductive skills are.

Also, A Study in Terror has Mycroft Holmes in it. We really don’t get to see enough of Mycroft—Sherlock’s smarter but sedentary older brother. He only appears in two of the original stories (HERE is one of them) and, well, that’s really not enough to satisfy us. He’s just too good a character.

Of course, one of the points of Mycroft is that he has no desire or energy to actively investigate anything (he makes a living being the brains secretly behind the British government), so any accurate portrayal of him doesn’t allow much leeway to involve him in an adventure. In this film, though, he’s sent by the government to enlist his brother’s help in catching the Ripper. Superbly played by Robert Morley, Mycroft’s scenes with Sherlock are a delight.

The film glitches a little at the end—showing Sherlock foolishly allowing the villain to get the drop on him so that the two can fight to the death. Heck, he didn’t even bring Watson along for back-up. But this doesn’t spoil an otherwise excellent “what if” Sherlock Holmes film.

By the way, Inspector Lestrade is played by Frank Finlay. In 1978, Finlay plays the role again in Murder by Decree. (Anthony Quayle is in both movies as well, though playing different parts.)

I’ve always wanted to see A Study in Terror—mostly because I felt (correctly, it turns out) that Robert Morley would be the perfect actor to play Mycroft. The movie was recently released through Columbia Pictures’ manufacture-on-demand service—a service offered by several studies now that is filling in missing gaps for getting older movies and TV series on DVD. Of course, that means these movies aren’t available for rental—you gotta buy one to see it. But with A Study in Terror, it was money well spent.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1966, part 3

THOR #126

It’s the coolest fight ever. Seriously. The fight between Hercules and Thor—consisting of everything from trading punches while balanced atop a moving subway train to tossing multi-ton vehicles at each other at a construction site—represents Jack Kirby at his best. It’s pure fun from start to finish.

And it finishes when Odin, as punishment for Thor’s disobedience in returning to Earth, takes away half his power right in the middle of the fight. Though he never stops trying, the Thunder God is beaten down by the Son of Zeus.

Actually, Odin can’t bring himself to so this personally, so he gives the Odin-power to Seidring, one of his advisors. It’s Seidring who actually zaps Thor. Of course, the decision to basically let someone else borrow his omnipotence will come back to bite the All-Father in the butt next issue. Some “all-knowing” deities just never learn.

But it’s the visuals and the extraordinary fight choreography that makes this issue. There have been other great fights so far. Spider Man’s rampage against Doc Ock’s gang in recent issues of that book, for instance. The Hulk/Thing fight from FF #25. Daredevil vs. Namor in DD #7. Dr. Strange vs. Dormammu in Strange Tales. I could name others. It’s arguable, of course, because it’s so subjective. But this might very well be my favorite comic book fight of all time. It is an astounding example of how to move the action in an exciting yet still logical manner from panel to panel.

Anyway, it ends with Thor refusing to be comforted by a repentant Jane, while Hercules is offered a Hollywood movie contract. That contract is a trap, of course—the first step in one of the most bizarre supervillain plans ever.

The Tales of Asgard feature has Thor rescuing Loki from the flying trolls. Then Odin recalls the ship to Asgard, telling them their mission is over and that Ragnarok must be confronted there.

I’ve always wondered if Stan and Jack didn’t plot out the Tales of Asgard in stream of consciousness from issue to issue, because this really is an awkward jump. The Argo was supposed to be sailing off to discover the source of Ragnarok. They had a few visually awesome adventures, but didn’t really accomplish anything that related to their mission. Now Odin pops up and tells them their mission is over and that basically the whole trip wasn’t necessary.

Oh, well, it really does look awesome. That’s the whole point to the feature anyways.


Namor is off to stop whatever human activity is causing earthquakes in Atlantis. He finds an experimental drill being worked by Hank Pym from a floating sea lab. Namor breaks the drill. Soldiers on the lab shoot at him and the issue ends with Namor confronting Hank and Janet, with everyone talking tough to each other.

In the meantime, the quake is waking up a giant sea monster called the Behemoth.

Adam Austin’s art continues to make this serial look cool.

In the far future, the Hulk uses Jack Kirby layouts and John Romita pencils to look equally cool. Hulk fights the Executioner and his tripod fighting machines, smashing a bunch of the machines, before the effects of the T-Gun wear off and he fades out, returning to the present.

While this is going on, Rick Jones, thinking Hulk/Banner is dead, tells Major Talbot that Banner and Hulk were the same guy. The cat’s out of the bag now.

Both serials continue to move along from cliffhanger to cliffhanger in a fun and satisfying manner. Neither story is reaching the heights of greatness currently being achieved in FF and Thor, but it’s still good solid storytelling.


Iron Man fights the powerful creature that Happy Hogun has transformed into, but gets his butt handed to him. Happy shambles back to Stark’s factory, where Senator Byrd is yelling at poor Pepper and trying to serve his subpoena to Tony—who, as usual, is nowhere to be found.

In an interesting character moment, the arrogant blowhard senator risks his own life to try to save Pepper from “Happy.” He gets knocked out, but it’s a neat reminder that though Byrd might not be likable, he is an honorable man who really is doing what he thinks best for the country. He really thinks that the Iron Man armor should be turned over to the government and Iron Man’s identity revealed.

Anyway, Iron Man confronts Happy again and uses some sort of power feedback macguffin to attempt to revert his friend back to a normal human. The device catches fire and Iron Man is in danger of roasting in his own armor as the issue comes to an end.

Captain America, in the meantime, is mooning about the past when he runs into a girl who reminds him of a lost love from World War II. Though hinted at here, it’s only in later issues that we’ll learn that this girl is Sharon Carter, SHIELD agent and younger sister to that lost love.

For now, she’s trying to keep a cylinder of a new powerful explosive out of the hands of enemy agents. In this case, the enemy is represented by Baltroc the Leaper, an expert in the foot boxing fighting style called Savate. He makes for a visual fun opponent for Captain America in their ensuing fight, but he pretty much right away shows us his most irritating feature. He talks constantly in a really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really annoying French accent.

In the end, Baltroc and Cap are both chasing Sharon (who, remember, is still unnamed at this point). The pretty spy doesn’t realize her cylinder is cracked and that the explosive is threatening to detonate with enough force to destroy New York City.

Gee whiz, a few blocks away, Galactus is confronting the FF and threatening to eat the world while here a spy is carrying what basically amounts to a ticking atom bomb through some back alleys. Spider Man is causing a ruckus fighting Kraven while Thor and Hercules are tossing construction vehicles at each other at yet another location. And Attuma is trying to flood the whole city out.

Exactly why does anyone live in New York City? I mean, I know the Broadway shows are nice, but ticket prices are already high enough without adding the risk of having a bulldozer thrown by an ill-tempered immoral fall on top of you. Or have the world eaten before you see the last act of “Lion King.” It just doesn’t seem worth it.

Anyway, that’s it for March.  In April, our reduced line-up will see the FF continue to urge Galactus to go on a diet; Spider Man causes a ruckus with Molten Man; The Avengers continue to battle Attuma; Nick Fury gets strapped to a bomb; Dr. Strange continues with his out-of-body experience; Thor saves his dad; Namor gets mind-controlled; Hulk gets captured; Iron Man gets kidnapped; and Captain America has to continue to listen to a bad French accent.

But before moving on with Marvel, we will take a week to look at a particular multi-part Sgt. Rock story arc from the 1970s. We'll return to the chronological Marvel posts in two weeks. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New OTR episode guide available for the Kindle or Kindle app

I've made another old time radio episode guide and review available to buy for just .99. It's for the Kindle or any computer/pad/phone/etc with the Kindle app.

Fort Laramie 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cover Cavalcade

A great Curt Swan cover for one of my favorite Silver Age Superman stories.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Cloak and Dagger: "The Black Radio" 8/27/50
C and D was a regrettably short-lived but excellent series about agents working for the O.S.S. during World War 2. As an anthology series, it was able to jump around the world from week to week. One episode was set in the jungles of Burma; another in occupied Norway; another atop the snow-covered mountains of Tibet.
As an anthology series, it featured a different protagonist each week. One of the strengths of this format was you never knew for sure if the good guys would survive until the end of the episode. Sometimes, they didn't.
"The Black Radio" is a typically strong entry in the series, featuring an agent who is sent into a strategic German town to set up a "Voice of Freedom" broadcast station. He poses as an ex-soldier (discharged because of wounds) during the day, while making his broadcasts at night. He has to constantly switch his radio to new locations to avoid detection, as well as deal with a noisy neighbor who just happens to work as a clerk at Gestapo headquarters.
The script does a really good job of establishing a constant sense of danger and fear, thus keeping the tension high throughout the episode. There's also a heart-breaking sequence in which his Underground contact within the town is captured and scheduled to be publicly executed, leaving him feeling helpless and guilt-ridden as he realizes there is nothing he can do to help. The ending includes a great twist.
There's a moment early in the episode that particularly highlights just how well-written Cloak and Dagger was. When the protagonist has to make a night-time parachute jump over the Black Forest, his first-person narration does a spine-tingling job of telling us just how scary this was. It was a bit that didn't really have anything to do with the main plot, but it added a lot to the overall atmosphere and verisimilitude of the episode.
Sadly, only 22 episodes of Cloak and Dagger were produced, but all of them survive today in good quality recordings.

Click HERE to listen or  download

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Now THAT'S a cool car!!!

It’s too bad Damnation Alley—an excellent 1967 novella by Roger Zelazny—was made into such a crappy movie. There’s no reason it couldn’t be a good movie. But poor plot structure (which took little more than the general idea from the original story)--and a change in the main character pretty much guaranteed to make him uninteresting--doomed the movie from the start. Now most people who recognize the title are going to equate it with the film.

But the novella is more fun than a barrel of radioactive vampire bats. (Zelazny later expanded it into a novel, but the shorter version is a tighter and better story.) It’s set in a post-nuclear war America. The war happened a generation or so ago and the survivors (an enclave in California and another in Boston) are getting along the best they can. The earth’s axis shifted during the war and frequent giant tornadoes now pull up tons of debris into the atmosphere. Consequently, it often rains rocks, fish, garbage or other random things from the sky. It’s no longer possible to fly an airplane. Middle America is a wasteland full of mutated creatures and other dangers.


The only reasonably safe way to travel from California to Boston is by ship around Cape Horn. But when a dying man drives in from Boston with news of a plague, it becomes necessary to send an expedition overland to deliver a serum.

Hell Tanner is a convicted killer—the last survivor of a vicious motorcycle gang. But he’s also the best driver around, so he’s recruited to help drive one of the vehicles with the promise of a pardon. The gist of the story is Tanner—soon the last survivor of the expedition—desperately trying to finish the quest.

The story is a cracking good adventure, with lots of bizarre dangers as Tanner fights to survive and grows (if only barely) something resembling a moral sensibility.

But I’d like to concentrate on the vehicle Tanner is driving, ‘cause it’s just plain cool. It’s a 32-foot-long, two-man vehicle, armored and radiation shielded. Instead of windows, it has cameras pointing in all four directions, plus up and down. It mounts machine guns, grenade launchers and a rocket launcher. There’s a flame thrower mounted on each side and on the roof. Razor-sharp metal “wings” can be extended from the sides. Inside, there’s a supply of small arms and grenades. (To be fair, the movie had a pretty cool vehicle, though not as cool as this.)

It’s magnificent. I want one. Of course, it’d be hard to find a parking space for something that big when popping into Quick Stop for a soda. Then again, the thing has flame throwers and grenade launchers. Maybe it wouldn’t be that hard to find a parking space after all.

Oh, well. It probably gets lousy gas mileage anyways. But if I ever need to take a trip across a radioactive wasteland populated by giant gila monsters and carnivorous bats, this is what I’d want to be driving.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1966, part 2


Mentallo and the Fixer team up, then attack SHIELD HQ. Mentallo can predict everything the defending agents will do, plus mentally detect structural weak points and hidden weapons. The Fixer can then whip out a gadget for dealing with each individual situation.

With all this going for them, they kick SHIELD butt and capture Nick. They then place a mask on Nick that’ll alter his brain waves and make him their mental slaves.

This chapter is a straightforward and exciting action tale. Kirby continues to come up with cool looking gadgetry. But, as I said a few issues back, his stuff here doesn’t look quite as cool as it does in the FF or Thor. Just my impression, of course, but I think Jack was putting a little bit less time and effort into Nick Fury to give him more time to concentrate on the other titles.

Since the SHIELD stories are still excellent (visually as well as structurally), then I’m okay with this. Jack Kirby when he was merely good was still leagues ahead of nearly any other artist.

Dr. Strange, meanwhile, detects the bomb hidden in his Sanctum and tosses it away, but the concussion still knocks him out. He’s captured by Mordo’s minions, who have no idea their boss has been banished to a far dimension by Dormammu.

Strange is locked up in a mask that keeps him from seeing or speaking and a pair of mitten-like gloves that keep him from making magical gestures. (Or any other sort of gesture—though Strange has too much class to just flip off the bad guys anyways.)

In a really nifty action sequence, Strange has to use his ectoplasmic form to awkwardly guide his physical body. He manages to knock out a couple of guards and escape the house he was held in, but his physical body is still nearly helpless and the bad guys are closing in on him.


After a couple of cool issues, the Ka-Zar story arc winds down a little bit unsatisfactorily. The art is still fine—John Romita pencils this issue. But the story jumps awkwardly between plot points without any real sense of pacing; the Plunderer adapts a supervillain costume that isn’t as cool as the pirate duds he was using; and Ka-Zar spends the whole issue in jail.

I mean, yes, it’s Daredevil’s book, so it makes sense that he gets to do most of the heroic stuff. But Ka-Zar is pretty darn cool in his own right (8.2 on the Bogart/Karloff scale), so it’s a shame to have him in a story and not have him do ANYTHING. Gee whiz.

But in the end, Daredevil helps the army capture the Plunderer and his gang while Ka-Zar is proved innocent of the murder he was accused of last issue. Matt Murdock heads home for New York, where he can once again get into an awkward love triangle with Foggy and Karen.

And that’ll be it for Daredevil. His will be the first book we drop from these reviews.

Daredevil is an important addition to the Marvel Universe, but in those early years he seems to often be odd man out in terms of getting cool stories. There have been a few high points mixed in up till now, but he will pretty much muddle along for years without ever really being exceptional. Eventually, Frank Miller will make him popular by going all dark and gritty with him. I can’t object to this, because taken on their own merits those stories are of good quality. But, in my opinion, I always thought DD went a little too far down the “dark and gritty” path. Heck, the fact that it led to that awful Ben Affleck movie is proof enough of that. And I refuse to talk about what is eventually done to poor Karen Page. That was just wrong.

But for now, we’re going to leave DD behind to muddle his way through the rest of the 1960s and most of the ‘70s with mildly entertaining but unmemorable stories. He will forever be a great character who never quite seems to find the right voice.

X-MEN #18
Along the course of this issue, we discover that Magneto busted out of the Stranger’s museum planet by salvaging an old space ship (and contemptuously kicking poor Toad out of the hatch before taking off).

Now he’s planning on scanning the DNA of Warren’s parents and using that to grow an army of mutant slaves. That actually kinda makes sense in terms of comic book science. The Worthingtons already gave birth to a mutant, so their genetic make up should produce more mutants.

With most of the X-Men floating into airless space inside a balloon, only the injured Iceman (who was still in the hospital last issue) is around to fight the villain. But Bobby does a pretty good job of holding Magneto at bay while the rest of the team think their way out of their death trap. They then gang up on Magneto until Professor X projects an illusion of the Stranger coming back to re-capture the evil mutant. Magneto pretty much runs away screaming like a little girl. Professor X mind-wipes the Worthingtons so they just remember getting a good night’s sleep (Stan Lee STILL hasn’t worked out the ethics of mental powers, it seems) and everything ends happily.

Which makes this a good place to leave off with the X-Men, I think. Stan will script one more issue, then Roy Thomas will take over. The book will remain solidly entertaining, but it never gets to be a really big seller during the 1960s and early 70s. In fact, if I remember correctly, for some years it will simply be reprinting early stories.

But then, in 1975, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum will introduce a new generation of X-Men and suddenly mutants will be the most popular thing in the Marvel Universe. We’ll eventually look at some of those storylines, as the book (done regularly by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) was quite excellent and the new X-Men were vibrant additions to the Marvel Universe. But eventually, their very popularity will hurt the quality of X-Men stories, with too many different X-titles, Wolverine’s healing power amped up to absurd levels (to the point where he wasn’t cool anymore, just silly) and the angst and tragedy taken too far over the top.

But let’s not end on a downer note. In 1966, the X-Men were pretty cool. In 1975, they’d get even cooler and stay that way for a number of years. That’s not a bad record.

So, as we leave Daredevil and the X-Men behind for now, we look forward to our visits next week with Thor, Namor, Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

The New Adventures of Michael Shayne: "Constant Companion" 12/4/48

When red-headed P.I. Michael Shayne--the protagonist in seemingly countless novels and short stories--first came to radio in 1944, he turned away from his original hard-boiled roots. The show was more of a traditional whodunit, with less of the tough-guy ambiance done so well in author Brett Haliday's prose. It was still a good show, just not the same Mike Shayne that fans of the popular novels were used to.

But in 1948, Shayne came back to radio in a show so hard-boiled you couldn't pierce it with a steak knife. Played now by Jeff Chandler, The New Adventures of Michael Shayne gave us a smart, tough private eye very much in the Spade-Marlowe mold. If not quite as memorable as either Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe (either in prose or on radio), he stil manages to come pretty close.

In this episode, Shayne is led around at gunpoint by an escaped killer, who needs Shayne to find someone before he (the killer) is caught by the cops. As they drudge on, both men grow increaasingly exhausted, but neither of them can afford to fall asleep.

It's a good, solid plot--the twist at the end is one that most listeners probably see coming, but it's still dramatically effective. Jack Webb seems to be having fun as Shayne's police contact/nemesis Inspector LaFevre, while William Conrad is typically excellent as the sleezy gambler the escapee is trying to find.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Introducing Lt. Tragg

The Case of the Silent Partner (Perry Mason Mysteries (Fawcett Books))The Case of the Silent Partner (1940) is a particularly interesting entry in the Perry Mason book series.

It’s the 17th book in the series, which began in 1933 with The Case of the Velvet Claws. In the previous books, the policeman that Mason most often ran up against while defending his client was Sergeant Holcombe of the LAPD’s Homicide bureau.

Holcombe wasn’t terribly bright. He hated Mason with a passion and always worked on the assumption that Mason was committing any number of crimes—from perjury to hiding evidence—to protect his clients. But Mason would always run mental rings around the poor guy, outsmarting him at every turn.

Holcombe wasn’t without his good points--in one book, after Mason has identified the real killer, Holcombe brings the guilty man down even after taking a couple of bullets. But his brutishness and slow-thinking didn’t make him much of an adversary.

So, in Silent Partner, Holcombe is transferred (mostly because Mason keeps making him look foolish) and Lt. Tragg is assigned to Homicide.

Tragg’s a good cop. Mason learns this early in the novel when the two have to team up to track down a woman who has apparently been poisoned. It’s Tragg’s skill as a detective that brings them success.

Tragg was played by veteran actor Ray Collins in the classic TV Series
But, as is usual in Perry Mason’s life, a corpse soon turns up. Mason’s client is accused of the crime and there’s good reason to think she’s guilty. Tragg certainly thinks so and even Mason has some doubts at first.

Mason has to pull a few fast ones (including generating circumstantial “evidence” that indicates his client has also been murdered) to identify the real killer. This isn’t easy. Tricks that would have had Holcombe baffled don’t fool Tragg for a moment. Before the novel is reaches its climax, Mason’s shenanigans have nearly gotten both him and his secretary Della Street tossed in the slammer. But Mason manages to stay barely one step ahead of Tragg and the lieutenant is at his side when he confronts the real killer with enough evidence to elicit a confession.

As is typical with Erle Stanley Gardner’s work, the plot is a good one, moving along quickly and giving us a really cool twist at the end. But it’s the dynamic between Tragg and Mason that really makes this novel stand out from the others in the series. Mason now knows he has a wily adversary. He realizes that in the future, when he stretches (but never quite breaks) the law to help his clients, he’s really going to have to watch his back.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1966, part 1


The Inhuman story arc wraps up pretty quickly. Maximus’ anti-human death ray doesn’t work, but he’s able to activate an impenetrable force field around the Great Refuge. The FF run out of there in the nick of time, but the Inhumans are forever cut off from the rest of humanity.

Yeah, right. No addition to the Marvel Universe that cool is going to be set aside for all that long. But it gives Johnny a chance to whine about being forever separated from Crystal and then allows everyone to move on to the next story.

And what a story it is. The rest of the issue sets up the Galactus Saga, one of the single coolest story arcs in the history of storytelling. It’s a story in which Jack Kirby’s art is at its most cosmic. The plot moves at a lightning pace (the whole saga actually only lasts part of this issue, all of next issue and part of issue #50), but there’s so many nifty ideas stuffed into it that it’s amazing it doesn’t literally explode. The whole story scores a 9.9 on the Bogart/Karloff scale, missing a perfect 10 only because of a hard-to-swallow coincidence in the next issue.

We meet the Silver Surfer, for instance. Now if you try to describe the character to someone who’s not familiar with him—even someone who appreciates good fantasy and SF—he’s going to sound silly. He’s a silver guy who flies around space on a surfboard. How can that not be silly?

But Kirby makes him look awesome. He makes him look super awesome. He makes him look super awesome times infinity plus twenty-six. He’s not silly at all. He is, instead, an astounding and important addition to comic book mythology.

Anyway, the Surfer is the herald of Galactus, a super-powerful being who eats planets because… well, pretty much because he’s always hungry and a good-sized Solar System is his version of Milk Duds. (And, while we’re on the subject—Galactus and that odd hat of his should look silly as well. But Kirby, once again, makes him look awesome.)

The whole situation is so threatening that the Watcher pops up, violating his non-interference oath to help. Ben clobbers the Surfer, knocking him off the Baxter Building, but Galactus shows up anyways and prepares to chow down.


After the intense story arc that just ended, Lee and Ditko wisely give us a break. Most of this issue is a typically well-choreographed fight between Spidey and Kraven, who is back to try once more to bag the one prey that he never caught. A gang of thugs, anxious to also take out Spider Man, gets caught up in the fight. But the web-slinger—who’s back to cracking wise during fights—manages to wrap everyone up for the cops by the end.

There’s also a little bit about Betty, who is having nightmares that Peter is really Spider Man and pretty much decides she can’t take it anymore. She’s been gradually getting shoved aside to make room for Gwen and this issue is pretty much it for her for quite awhile. She’ll have left town by next issue.

Also, Peter finally figures out why everyone at college doesn’t like him, but he rather bizarrely doesn’t explain. (How hard is it to say “Sorry I was pre-occupied—the woman who raised me was on her death bed?”) This still comes across as a kind of awkward plot development, but it’ll all shake out in the wash before long. In the meantime, the issue as a whole is another good one.


Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne are on a research vessel in the Atlantic, having just had a run-in with the Sub Mariner. That incident actually takes place in this month’s (and next month’s) Tales to Astonish, which we’ll be taking a look at in a couple of weeks.

Hank is busy with research, so it’s up to the Wasp to warn humanity that Namor is in another snit. But she’s captured by Attuma, who is planning on tidal-waving New York City.

She manages to get a radio message off to Avengers Mansion. Hawkeye is off ogling gorgeous dames at a night club, but Cap, Wanda and Pietro respond. The ensuing fight takes place in Attuma’s underwater base, where the humidity is so high (kept that way so the Atlanteans can breath) that the humans have trouble taking in enough oxygen to function. It’s a neat setting for a fight, giving the whole sequence a unique feel.

Anyway, things look bad for the Avengers. Back in New York, Hawkeye realizes his teammates are in trouble, but he can’t access the computer on which they would have left him a message explaining the situation. Why? Because he was goofing off when Cap briefed them on the access code.

I love that touch. It fits Hawkeye’s arrogant personality and is actually a good, believable way to show him that he has to mature.

That’s it for now. Next week, as usual, we’ll visit with Dr. Strange, Nick Fury, Daredevil and the X-Men. We’ll also come to a point where we’ll start dropping books from being regularly reviewed. I’d love to do complete Marvel reviews for a long time to come, but we are rapidly approaching the point at which I simply do not have reprints for some issues. (In fact, I have a rotten feeling I’ve already missed something from one of the several anthology books still being published at this time.)

So we will gradually (but not all at once) pare down the Marvel reviews to just the Fantastic Four, Spider Man and Thor. Those three books stay consistently awesome for several more years at least.

We’ll revisit with other titles to look at specific storylines from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, as well as taking time to look at comic books from other publishers.

Besides, we’re reached a point at which the Marvel Universe is well past its initial gestation period. Though still growing and changing, it has become a viable mecca for imaginative storytelling containing its own definable mythology. We’ve gone from one small superhero team with the creation of the FF in November 1961 to what we have now: three major teams, one superpowered monarch, a misunderstood monster, a sorcerer, a super-scientific spy organization, two important loner heroes and the solo adventures of various Avengers and ex-Avengers. The interaction and continuity between the various titles is strong, but all have their own personalities and ambiance.

In addition, after this month, Stan Lee begins to permanently pass the writing chores from some books on to others—at first, primarily to Roy Thomas. This doesn’t mean a lose in quality, since Thomas knows how to tell a fun superhero story and has a real appreciation of character history and continuity, but it does make this another logical point at which to start paring down the books.

So March 1966 will be the last time we cover every single Marvel superhero book. I will say one more time that I appreciate those of you who follow my blog. I’m open to suggestions as to what other comic books to review. I’m also open to comments such as “AHHHH!!! DON’T STOP THE CHRONOLOGICAL MARVEL REVIEWS!! THEY ARE ALL I LIVE FOR!!!!” But keep in mind that we would eventually reach a point where I simply can’t review everything anyways. If I don’t own ‘em, I can’t review ‘em.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cover Cavalcade

This is the Winter 1931 issue of Wonder Stories Quarterly. When I look at it, I hear C-3P0's voice saying "Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!" Despite what Han Solo always says, it sometimes is a good idea to be told the odds.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My book--real cheap.

My first  book was apparently used as a textbook somewhere not to long ago. (I wish I knew where or for what sort of class, but I have no idea how to find that out.)

Anyway, since many college student today obviously don't have good taste and keep my book around for the classic it obviously is , a number of used copies are available pretty cheap on Amazon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke--"As Long As I Live" 12/08/57

Gee whiz, Gunsmoke was a great show. Great writing, wonderful acting and perfect sound effects. As good as the TV version usually was (and it was a rare example of classy, intelligent storytelling on television), the radio version beats it out hands down.

This episodes opens when Marshall Matt Dillon learns that someone has shot Doc Adams. This leads to a superb scene in which Doc tells Dillon that he (Dillon) must operate to remove the bullet before blood poisoning sets in. Doc will have to remain awake during the operation in order to instruct Dillon.

This alone was enough to build an entire episode around. But the story goes on, when Dillon learns who shot Doc in the first place and also learns why. It's yet another superbly written scene, dripping with real human emotion.

William Conrad is always excellent as Dillon, while veteran radio actor John Dehner more than holds his own as the shooter. (Dehner was one of several skilled character actors who regularly appeared on Gunsmoke, playing a different part each week.)

Taken as a whole, this was an exceptionally good episode from one of old-time radio's best ever series.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned...

I don’t go see a lot of newer movies in the theater. This isn’t a blanket condemnation of current films—I realize there are some great ones out there and that some movies need to be seen on a big screen. But, in the end, I’d rather watch an old black-and-white Bogart or Errol Flynn movie than spend whatever absurd amount of money you gotta pay nowadays to go to the theater. Gee whiz, I wish my town had a revival theater.

Regardless, I may see the new film version of True Grit in the theater. If it comes close to doing the original book justice, it’ll be worth it.

Because the original book, written by Charles Portis in 1968, may very well be the best Western ever. By golly, it’s fun to read. And though the 1969 film version with John Wayne is a great movie, it doesn’t really fully capture the “voice” and humor of the novel.

You see, the novel is narrated by Mattie Ross, an elderly woman who is recounting her childhood adventure in the Old West. Mattie’s dad is murdered and she hires a tough, one-eyed, mildly sociopathic Federal Marshall named Rooster Cogburn to find the killer. She rides along, as does a vain Texas Ranger named LaBeauf (pronounced, by the way, “La Beef”). She slowly earns their grudging respect and the violent and often drunk Cogburn eventually gets to exhibit something close to real chivalry because of her.

And Mattie’s prim, pretentious style of storytelling is just beautiful, full of delightful prose and dialogue that’s so much pure joy to read it can send shivers down your spine. She tells the story in a more-or-less straightforward manner, though she can occasionally digress for a paragraph or two (telling us, for instance, the difference between a Cumberland Presbyterian church and the Southern Presbyterian church), but these digressions just help define Mattie for us. Even at fourteen, she’s smart, diligent, devout. a tad self-righteous, and something of a tightwad. And, it turns out, she has grit!

She needs grit, too. Especially during the book’s climax, involving a broken arm and a pit full of rattlesnakes.

True Grit is a tribute to the flexibility and beauty of the English language. I’ve re-read it maybe eight times and have as much fun with it as I did the first time with every successive reading.

He said, “I just received word that a young girl fell head first into a fifty-foot well on the Towson River. I though perhaps it was you.”

“Five hundred dollars is mightly little for a man that killed a senator.”
“Bibbs was a little senator,” said LaBeauf.

“Quincy was always square with me,” said Moon. “He never played me false until he killed me.”

“I want him to know he is being punished for killing my father. It’s nothing to me how many dogs and fat men he killed in Texas.”

Rooster said, “I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned, or see you hanged in Fort Smith at Judge Parker’s convenience! Which will you have?”

How can you not love dialogue like that?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1966, part 3


This, by the way, is the last ever issue of Journey into Mystery. Next issue, it’ll be renamed The Mighty Thor (though it will retain the same number sequence). Stan Lee or someone else at Marvel finally realized that the Thunder God had completely taken over what was once an anthology book.

But on to the good stuff. This story begins an arc that rates a 9.9 on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness scale. Though it’s a very close call, I might have to go with the next six issues as being the best ever Thor story. Kirby will be at his most awesome. The plot will be bizarre but follow its own Marvel Universe logic from start to finish, allowing for both characterization and action. It’s graphic storytelling at its best.

It begins with Thor managing to take down the Demon, disband the Demon’s army and recover the Norn Stone. But when he brings the stone back to Asgard, he discovers Daddy Odin is most displeased that Thor has revealed his secret identity to a mere mortal.

Thor is banned from returning to Earth, but he refuses to forsake Jane and fights his way to the Rainbow Bridge, plowing through a gazillion or so Asgardian Red Shirts, then outfighting Heimdall to make good his escape.

But once back on Earth, he discovers that Hercules has arrived in town and is—GASP—buying Jane an ice cream soda. Jane, miffed at Thor for leaving her after he promised to stay around—gives him the cold shoulder. Thor has words with Hercules and the two gods square off to fight.

It all just looks so…. COOL. Even the kinda silly stuff—such as two all-powerful immortals going at each other over a pretty girl at the soda shop—looks great. And it’ll look even better next issue, when Thor and Hercules have one of the best fights ever. (Only the Hulk/Thing match from FF #25 beats it out.)

In the Tales of Asgard, we have Thor trying to talk peace with the flying trolls. Loki will have none of that and takes out the trolls with a poison vapor. This brings on a bigger troll contingent that captures Loki. Once again, Kirby makes it all look breathtaking.


Namor finally gets back his throne by pretty easily beating the snot out of Krang. It’s actually a bit of an anti-climax. After all that effort, I think a more extended knock-down, drag-out between the two enemies would have been appropriate.

Anyway, Dorma is saved by Atlantean science, Krang is exiled and goes away muttering threats of vengeance and all seems right with the underwater world. Until an earthquake rocks the city. Namor realizes it was caused by surface world nuclear tests. He vows to return to the surface world and deal with it somehow.

One thing of note—there’s still no mention of the fact that Dorma originally helped Krang depose Namor. She’s returned to her status as Namor’s eye candy. As I mentioned last time, I really think that, with all the stories Stan was juggling at the time, he just plain forgot about that plot thread.

The Hulk, meanwhile, discovers he’s in the 25th Century. A king tries to capture him to use him in a war, but he just gets loose and wrecks lots of stuff. Then a rival force attacks and the issue ends with Hulk confronting the other leader—who happens to be the Executioner. The two square off to fight.

Back in the 20th Century, Thunderbolt Ross is in hot water for “losing” the Hulk—no one has any idea that the T-Ray displaced him in time. So Ross and Talbot head off to question Rick Jones to see if he can help find the Hulk. That’ll lead to Rick making an important revelation next issue.


Iron Man is still weak and out of power, but he manages to send off a distress signal to Pepper Potts, who plugs him into an electrical outlet so that he can power up again.

In the meantime, Shellhead gets a phone call from Senator Byrd, who is threatening to issue a subpoena to force Iron Man to unmask for national security reasons. It’s a sub-plot that’s been going on for a few issues now, with usually just a few panels per issue given to it. It’s a proper rhythm for an interesting but non-action plotline and it’ll continue to be interesting in issues to come.

Anyway, Iron Man can’t catch a break on any front. The doctors use an experimental procedure to save Happy’s life, but it turns him into a mindless, super-strong brute. Iron Man is left with the task of subduing his best friend without hurting him.

It’s an okay story, helped along by Adam Austin’s dynamic art.

Captain America isn’t getting much rest, either. The last Nazi Sleeper robot turns out to be a giant skull that Cap deduces is really a planet-cracking bomb. Cap quickly recruits an army unit to help him and ends up getting airdropped on to the combined Sleeper robots with a flamethrower attached to his back. He uses this to sabotage the robots, getting them to detonate harmlessly in the upper atmosphere.

It’s a satisfying ending to this lastest serial.

That’s it for February. In March 1966, both the Fantastic Four and Thor are running with their respective Best Stories Ever; Spidey has a rematch with Kraven; the Avengers get a visit from a former member; Nick Fury gets his brain zapped; Dr. Strange almost gets blowed up; the X-Men tussle with an old enemy; Namor tussles with some soldiers; Hulk tussles with an Asgardian; Iron Man tussles with his best friend; and Captain America tussles with an annoying Frenchman.
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