Wednesday, August 31, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: August 1967


Gee whiz, the FF can’t catch a break. After their South Seas vacation turned into a fight against a Kree robot, Reed tries to take Sue out on the town. But they (along with Johnny and Ben) get kidnapped by yet another Kree.

This time it’s Ronan the Accuser, in his Marvel Universe debut. (We also get our first look at the Supreme Intelligence, the giant disembodied brain that rules the Kree Empire.)

Ronan has been sent to “try” and execute the FF for destroying the Sentry. This, not surprisingly, leads to a fight.

The fight isn’t quite as cool as Kirby’s fights normally are, because the setting (a small chamber into which all the characters have been teleported) is kind of boring. But the action itself, in which the FF uses their various powers in perfect tandem to take down Ronan, comes very close to making up for this. I especially like the way it at first seems as if poor Sue is acting like a frightened and fairly useless little girl, but even that turns out to be a clever tactic.

And, as has become typical for the book in this era, the characterizations (mixing humor with honest emotion) continue to be top notch. Ben, in particular, continues to shine. I think I wrote in a recent entry that he gives Peter Parker a run for the money in the single most human character in the Marvel Universe. That continues to hold true.

And, oh, yes, Alicia gets taken out of her studio by an unseen man with the ability to walk through walls. More on that next issue.


The Kingpin, after appointing the apparently recidivist Frederick Foswell as a lieutenant,  launches a crime spree on New York City. But he’s unaware that Spider Man is back in action.  

The crime boss has also decided to kidnap Jonah Jamison, since the publishers anti-crime editorials could cause trouble.

During this action-packed issue, Spidey beats up some thugs, narrowly avoids getting blown to smithereens and plants a spider tracer on a fleeing villain. This leads him to Kingpin’s hideout, where he takes on the bad guy in an attempt to save JJJ.

The very first ever Spidey/Kingpin fight is a good one. Our hero takes a few nasty shots, painfully learning that his opponent’s “fat” is actually solid muscle and that the Kingpin moves with speed and agility that belies his size.

All the same, it appears that Spider Man might come out on top—until Kingpin uses a trick tie pin to gas him unconscious. So we end with a cliffhanger.

All the action in this issue, though, doesn’t prevent Stan Lee from sneaking in a few good character moments.  The most important of these involves Jonah. He’s a blowhard and a jerk, but when kidnapped and threatened by Kingpin, he refuses to back off from his editorials.

It’s moments like this that are key to Jonah’s character—those very, very rarely glimpsed traits that mark him as an essentially decent human being at his core.

By the way, though he’s not named yet, we get our first glimpse of Daily Bugle editor Robbie Robertson.

THOR #143

It’s nice to see some of the other Asgardians getting some Crowning Moments of Awesome. Balder and Sif are still out looking for the three evil Enchanters and they encounter the “Living Talisman,” a big bruiser of a creature who works for the Enchanters.

Balder manages to knock the stuffing out of the big guy, but the Enchanters show up and get the drop on both him and Sif. So Sif teleports herself and her friend to Earth, where they soon contact Thor.

But it’s all a trap. The Enchanters had predicted all this and two of them appear on Earth as well as the issue comes to an end.

There is also our first indication that Balder has a thing for Sif, but knows she only has eyes for Thor.

Sadly, the Tales of Asgard will be coming to an end soon as well. With only three chapters to go, Thor and the Warriors Three really need to be wrapping up their fight against Mogul soon.

This chapter concentrates on Volstagg, who is separated from the fighting and taking a moment to hit on Mogul’s beautiful sister. The sister drops him through a trap door, but he inadvertently drags her down with him.

They’re both soon threatened by an indestructible minotaur, so the femme fatale forces her fat friend to flee as fast as is feasible, taking him to a magical device that basically works as a whopping big ray gun.

Which is hopefully a good thing, since Thor, Hogun and Fandrall are on the verge of being overwhelmed by Mogul’s demon riders.

I love the way Volstagg is portrayed throughout this story. Is he simply a clumsy coward, or is he a skilled warrior who puts on an act to hide his skill? When Volstagg is handled by a writer who understands what makes him cool, we’re left never quite sure ourselves.

Well, that finishes August 1967.  Next week, we'll return to the Marvel Universe as the FF look for Ben’s missing girl friend; Spider Man gets tossed into a death trap while chained to the world’s most annoying person; and Thor fights a pair of apparently omnipotent opponents.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cover Cavalcade

I haven't read this particular comic, but if it is a faithful adaptation of one of Kipling's original stories, then it looks like it's the one in which Mowgli sets a trap to take out the tiger Shere Khan.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Adventures of the Saint: "Bookstore Murder" 3/18/51

A small rental bookstore keeps checking out the same book over and over again. The book is The Birds and Bees of East Orange, possibly the most uninteresting book in the world, which makes its popularity that must more inexplicable.

That the book is being used as a dead drop for villains isn't that hard to figure out. But soon there's a murder mixed into the whole thing and Simon Templar is once again tasked with sorting out the whole matter.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How many Robin Hoods does it take to make one Little John?

Alan Hale, Sr. looks a lot like his son, Alan Hale, Jr. In fact, when, as a little tyke,  I first saw Errol Flynn movies on TV, I remember thinking that Hale the Elder (who sidekicked for Flynn in many of those films) was the same actor who put up with Gilligan’s shenanigans ever week on that darn island. I thought that was pretty cool. The Captain of the Minnow had been quite an action hero in his youth.

That pleasant illusion was eventually shattered—these were indeed two different guys. But, gosh darn it if the Skipper wasn’t a near mirror image for his dad.

Hale the Elder had a long career in Hollywood as a character actor.  He started back in the silent days, with one of his more memorable supporting roles coming in 1925. In that year, he was cast as Little John in the Douglas Fairbanks version of Robin Hood.

This is not the absolute best of the Fairbanks swashbucklers, but it comes close. And there’s really no such thing as a bad Fairbanks swashbuckler. Fairbanks’ stunts are, of course, awesome and in this instance are used to generate as much humor as adventure. But what makes this version of the Robin Hood legend really interesting is the way the story is constructed. It starts out with Sir Robin still a knight, falling in love with Maid Marion just before he rides off with King Richard to fight in the Crusades. Little John is his retainer.

Along the way to the Holy Land, he gets word that evil Prince John is usurping power. After being wounded by an enemy and escaping imprisonment, he returns to England and makes John’s life miserable as Robin Hood until Richard returns and justice is served. It actually takes Fairbanks about half the movie before he becomes “Robin Hood.”

Not that this is a criticism. Good storytelling and character development, along with Fairbanks’ screen charisma and some magnificent visuals, keep things moving along until we get to the Robin Hood part.

Hale’s Little John, by the way, gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome when he busts Robin out of prison about halfway through the film. Make a note to yourself in case you ever find yourself working as a dungeon guard in a medieval castle. Don’t get close enough to the bars to allow the big, strong prisoner to reach through and grab you by the throat. And if THAT does happen, just give him the keys without objection. Trust me on this.

Well, let’s now jump ahead 14 years. Errol Flynn had proven in 1935 that he was born to play Peter Blood. In 1939, he proved that he was also born to play Robin Hood.

 And when he played Robin, he was assigned an experienced Little John. Alan Hale, Sr. plays that role once again.

In this perfect, fairy tale-like version of the story, Robin of Locksley is already “Robin Hood” pretty much from the get-go. After doing some cool swashbuckling and getting on Prince John’s nerves, he finds himself hiding in Sherwood Forest. There, he encounters Little John. The two have a quarterstaff fight and Robin comes out on the losing end. In one of the best character defining moments ever put on film, Robin joins Little John in laughing off the whole incident and the big guy becomes one of the Merry Men. Thus, Hale the Elder gets himself yet another Crowning Moment of Awesome in a Robin Hood movie.

Well, you’d think that would be enough Little Johning to last a life time. But it’s not. In 1950, Hale the Elder popped up in a B-movie titled The Rogues of Sherwood,  in which Robin Hood’s son re-forms the Merry Men to battle against the tyranny of King John.  Hale was getting a bit long in the tooth to be swashbuckling by this time, but the time frame of the movie would seem to allow for that.

I haven’t seen The Rogues of Sherwood yet. Netflix, darn them, doesn’t carry it despite the fact that there is a DVD available. And, as much as I love B-movies, this one just doesn’t have a “Buy Me!” vibe to it. If I ever find a cheap copy, I’ll pick it up and give it a try.

I want to see if Hale/Little John was able to get in one last Crowning Moment of Awesome.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: July 1967


You know, for all the cool sci-fi imagery, exciting fight scenes, and sense of adventure contained in this issue, the adjective that best describes it would have to be “delightful.” Stan Lee’s dialogue continues to capture a sincere sense of family that gives the story a lot of humor and some honestly-won emotional moments.

The FF have been working hard cleaning up the messes left over from the last few issues and they’re all getting grouchy. (By the way, I’ve never been married, but even I would know not to say something like “For cryin’ out loud, Sue, use your head to for a change!” to my wife.) Reed realizes they need a vacation. Ben selects a random location (an island in the south Pacific) by throwing a dart at a map. So, Johnny hangs out at home with Crystal and Triton while Reed, Ben and Sue fly off to the island.

And, really, what are the odds of running into any trouble at a randomly chosen island? Well, since this is the freakin’ Fantastic Four, running into trouble is pretty much a certainty.

The island contains an ancient spaceport used by the Kree, who had come to Earth before mankind was around. A scientist had just discovered the remains of the base and inadvertently activated the Sentry, a fifteen-foot-tall guardian robot.

The Sentry is programmed to destroy any “intruders,” so the three vacationers are soon up to their eyeballs in a fight. They call for help; Johnny zaps over the island via Lockjaw and joins in. The base’s power source is damaged in the fight, so all the humans zap away just before the island (and the Sentry) blows up.

It’s a great fight scene in which each of the four get their moment to shine, but it really is the perfectly realized character interactions that make this story stand out.

It’s also the first mention ever of the Kree, who will (along with the Skrulls and the Shi’ar) turn out to be one of the more important alien races in the Marvel Universe. Eventually, it will be established that the Kree and the Skrulls are ancient enemies—something that will provide fodder for many a good story.


Peter is having a lousy day—the general populace is suspicious of Spider Man even when he saves someone; JJJ is ramping up his anti-Spidey editorials; Aunt May is sick (again) and Peter wasn’t around to be notified; his grades are slipping; and he hasn’t time for either Gwen or Mary Jane.

It’s all because of Spider Man. Deciding its just not worth it, he tosses his costume in a garbage can. (A kid finds it and brings it to Jameson, who hangs it on his wall as a trophy.

At first, it seems like a good decision—he finally has time to catch up on things in his normal life. But Spidey’s  disappearance from the scene allows a new crime lord—a fat guy named the Kingpin—to rise up and take over the various New York gangs.

(Frederick Foswell, the ex-crook reporter, turns back to crime with the intension of doing the same thing, but Kingpin just has him “put on ice” somewhere—a plot point that will come up again next issue.)

There’s some excellent characterizations and some great humor mixed in with all these shenanigans, all leading up to Peter being forcibly reminded just why he become a hero and realizing that he can never stop helping others.

This has always been considered a classic Spider Man story—not just because it introduces one of his classic villains, but also because of the expert way it combines plot, character and theme into one great story. It reminds us that Spider Man’s appeal and cultural longevity isn’t just due to a cool costume and powers, but to the fact that we always very much identify with; admire and just plain like Peter Parker.

Between this issue and this month’s FF, Stan Lee is really at the top of his game in capturing the personalities of his most popular characters.

THOR #141

One more filler issue to go Stan and Jack get back into multi-issue stories. But this is a pretty darn cool filler issue. Loki, who is still in exile in some lonely space-time continuum, can still use his mental powers. He sends out a telepathic prompt to the Super Skrull, telling the alien that he can redeem his lose to the Fantastic Four by defeating Thor and perhaps opening Asgard up to invasion.

There actually might be a continuity glitch here. The last time we saw Loki was in Thor Annual #2, which ended with Odin putting a spell of forgetfulness on the god of mischief, leaving him floating helplessly through space. But now, without explanation, Loki has all his memories and is on a planet somewhere. But then, I’m no longer reviewing every Marvel superhero comic, so I might have missed a story that explained this.

I kind of miss reviewing everything, but I’ve long since passed the point where I own reprints of everything, so there you go.

Anyway, this leads to another great Kirby fight, spoiled a little bit by Thor again pulling a new power out of his hat to toss Super Skrull back into space. (“By the power of my uru mallet, I do create an ANTI-FORCE!” Gee whiz, this is worse than Mort Weisinger’s Superman stories.)

Also, upcoming events are fore-shadowed when Balder and Sif are sent out on a scouting mission to checkout out some bad guys called the Enchanters. More on that next issue.

The Tales of Asgard feature is, sadly, coming to an end in a few issue, but it’ll be going out with a bang. In this issue, the invasion of Mogul’s fortress has put the tyrant in a nasty mood. In addition to the Forty Satan’s Horsemen he let loose last issue, he starts firing fire bolts and gets ready to release a plague across the land.

When Mogul has a bad day, everybody has a bad day.

But Thor and two of the Warriors Three fight on. Volstagg is MIA this issue, but he’ll turn up rather unexpectedly soon. The obese and unlikely hero is building up to a true Crowning Moment of Awesome in the very near future. 

That's it for July. In August 1967, the FF continue to have trouble with the Kree; Spider Man continues to have trouble with Kingpin; and Thor just plain has trouble.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: “He Who Rides the Tiger” 3/12/49

Escape is pretty much my favorite old-time radio show. It was an anthology show, with most episodes being adaptations of short stories that all had a theme of high adventure running through them. Stories broadcast on Escape included, but were not limited to, westerns, horror, mysteries, science fiction and stories of hunts for hidden treasures.

This episode starred William Conrad has a guy found in the Chinese jungle, delirious and emaciated. Despite the fact that he’s American (and that the war has been over for four years), he’s wearing a Japanese uniform.

He has no memory after a day in September 1941, when he’d had lunch with a friend in one of the major Chinese cities. Now it’s eight years later and he has no idea what he’s been doing all that time.

Soon, it turns out that he might (or might not) have known where an ancient Chinese art treasure is buried. He meets a woman he might (or might not) be married to. He finds out that he might (or might not) been collaborating with the Japanese during the war.

It’s a great story, with the suspenseful plot unfolding logically until it comes to an exciting conclusion. Escape was always a great show. “He Who Rides the Tiger” is just one example of this.

Click HERE to listen or download

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alice and Julius

I've been reading an excellent biography on Walt Disney and it's made me re-visit some of Disney's very early cartoons. The Alice cartoons were the first series he made after opening a fledgling studio in Hollywood in the 1920s. He was barely scrapping by, but with the help of artists like Ub Iwerks, he was rapidly learning the art of animation.

The Alice shorts aren't anywhere near as good as the Silly Symphonies and Mickey Mouse cartoons Disney and animator Ub Iwerks be doing in just a few years, but they still have a lot of charm and still entertain..

The cat in the Alice shorts, by the way, was named Julius. I didn't know that until I read it in the biography. You can tell that he was based very heavily on Felix the Cat, whose cartoons were very popular at the time.

Here's an Alice and a Felix cartoon for comparison.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Courage and Cowardice

OUR ARMY AT WAR #248 (Aug. 72)

Sgt. Rock is ordered to bring his best marksmen to a specified location. Once they get there, they find out they’ve been assigned to be the firing squad for three guys convicted of cowardice under fire.

But when a German raiding party attempts to land nearby, the three convicts might get a chance to redeem themselves.

A lot of this story is predictable. But two things make it stand out. First, it’s yet another example of Russ Heath’s superb storytelling skills as an artist.

Second, there’s an incident near the beginning of the story that gives the clichéd plot some emotional resonance. On the way to their assignment, Rock and his men are ambushed. They’re trapped in an old farmhouse, with grenades being tossed in at them and a flamethrower really heating things up. The veteran soldiers, all proven to be brave men in countless battles, nearly panic.

Rock gets them out of the house and they pull themselves together, counterattacking the Germans. But all are aware of how close they came to losing it.

This adds to the emotional impact when they find out they have been chosen to execute three supposed cowards. Each of them is vividly aware that under the right circumstances, any of them might panic under fire.

It’s a short but well-constructed short story. There’s actually one historical point that’s interesting to note. Notice the German raiding party comes ashore in what looks like an American-designed Higgins boat.

Even though the action in the DC war books was usually over-the-top, Heath always did an excellent job of portraying the weapons and equipment of the war accurately. I wonder if he might have been momentarily stumped when he had to draw a German landing craft. The Germans didn’t have any landing craft. That’s one of several important reasons they were never able to invade England.  I have no idea, of course, but I picture Heath gritting his teeth and thinking “The heck with it! I’ll give ‘em a Higgins boat!”

Oh, well. It was probably a captured Higgins boat. Actually, that makes sense, doesn’t it? The Germans captured an American landing craft and that’s what gave them the idea to stage a raid.

Problem solved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sense of Wonder (New SF textbook)

Here's an excellent new textbook on science fiction titled Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction.

And it's the best textbook ever. Why? Well, because of the superb selection of fiction. And, of course, because it has two essays in it by me: "Science Fiction on Radio" and "Dinosaurs in Science Fiction."

So you KNOW it MUST be good.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dragnet: “Big Winchester” 8/16/51

Jack Webb created Dragnet because he believed that the daily routine of real-life police investigation would make for engaging drama.

Ironically, prior to Dragnet, Webb had starred in several very good hard-boiled detective shows—the sort of shows that also made for good drama, but have nothing at all to do with real life. Webb was really good in that sort of role. He had a talent for voicing rapid fire dialogue peppered with clever one-liners.

As Sgt. Joe Friday, though, he didn’t get very many one-liners. I always kind of miss this whenever I listen to a Dragnet episode, but of course it would have been out of character for the straight-laced Friday.

This particular episode involves what at first is an apparent suicide, with a Winchester rifle hooked up with a string to pull the trigger. But details at the crime scene don’t match up with suicide (I like that it’s one of the patrol officers who first arrived at the scene who is the first to notice this) and Friday and his partner, Ben Romero, are soon investigating what is clearly a murder.

The victim turned out to be a member of a lonely hearts club, giving the cops a firm lead. From there, the story takes us step-by-step through the investigation as Friday logically follows one clue to another. As is typical of a Dragnet episode, the production values and sound effects are top-notch, helping to draw the listener into the narrative. “Big Winchester” is one of many fine Dragnet episodes that demonstrate Jack Webb was right—you can turn a realistic portrayal of a police investigation into engaging drama.

Click HERE to listen or download

Thursday, August 11, 2011


A few weeks back, I wrote that I was thinking of starting a Tuesday series in which I would discuss, say, all the John Carter of Mars books in order. Or all the RKO Dick Tracy movies. Or whatever other series I might think of. The idea would be for me to cover several series at a time, so that I might post about John Carter one week, then Dick Tracy the next, so that the idea doesn’t become stale.

But I don’t want to obligate myself to have another weekly post—real life often threatens to get in the way of the posts I already do. (Believe it or not, I have to work for a living just like all you common folk, rather than devout my time entirely to sharing my wisdom with others. Intolerable, I know, but tragically true.)  So, instead, the READ/WATCH ‘EM IN ORDER series will be an occasional Thursday offering, mixed in with the random posts that usually appear on that day.

We’ll start today—not with John Carter or Dick Tracy, but with the Shadow.

The first issue of The Shadow magazine was published in April 1931. The last was Summer 1949. The run totaled 325 tales of adventure and mystery—with 286 of them written by the prolific and talented Walter Gibson.

{For more details on the story behind the creation of the Shadow magazine, check out the appropriate chapter in my book Radio by the Book. I know it's a little pricey, but you can always ask your local library to pick up a copy.}

Gibson’s Shadow stories are the best (though Theodore Tinsley also penned some excellent ones). In one issue, he might have the Shadow match wits with a super-criminal or mad scientist. In another, he might take down an extortion ring or gang of thugs robbing banks. Every once in awhile, he’d help corral some foreign spies.

Gibson had a talent for putting in nifty last-minute twists into his well-constructed plots. He also gave us great action scenes, usually pitting the Shadow and his blazing .45s against a squad of underworld killers.

Most Shadow novels were independent of the others—bad guys only rarely survived for second appearance. But Gibson did occasionally bring notable villains back again, or interconnect several novels in another way.

The Hand (May 15, 1938) was the first of a series of novels in which the Shadow breaks up a number of different rackets in different cities. Five racketeers managed to go underground when the police closed in on them. All five have set up new rackets—each of them becoming a finger on a hand of crime.  It’s up to the Shadow to bring all five of these men down.

The Hand deals with the crook who remained in New York City, setting up a blackmail operation. The idea was to frame a series of rich guys for various crimes or indiscretions, then force them to pay up to keep things quiet.

The Shadow soon gets a line on the blackmail gang, but the super-competent crime fighter has a run of bad luck. In a really fun opening action scene, he shows up when the bad guys are forcing a rich man’s son to participate in a robbery. He manages to get the son away from the crooks, but an explosion knocks him flat. The crooks get the son back. Several of the Shadow’s agents snatch him back from the crooks, but the odd game of ping pong continues when the crooks get him back from the agents. You almost need a score card to keep track.

Later, the Shadow (through more pure bad luck) gets spotted in a nightclub full of armed thugs. Only his skill with his pistols and some insanely risky tactics get himself out alive.

But even bad luck can’t keep the Shadow down. Eventually, with the help of an unexpected ally, he manages to trick the gang into walking into a trap and providing the evidence needed to clear the various people they’ve framed.

The Hand isn’t the best Shadow novel, but it’s a good, solid mystery with several typically skillful twists at the end. It also provides us with several interesting supporting characters, most especially the person who becomes an ally of the Shadow. 

The gang he battles is hardly the smartest he’s ever gone against, but I like the fact that plain dumb luck works against him early on. It gives the story an interesting ambiance. Gibson, the creator of this version of the Shadow, understood the character perfectly and sets up the situation in such a way that we never doubt the hero’s abilities. Even when he walks into a trap, he’s still too cool for words.

But the blackmail ring is only one finger out of the five that make up the Hand. So the Shadow will soon be taking a trip to Philadelphia to deal with Murder for Sale. We’ll check in with the master crime-fighter again some time in the future to see how that goes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: June 1967


There really is no rest for heroes, is there? Just like last issue, the Fantastic Four is only just starting to think they may have a little down-time when they get attacked. This time, it’s Blastaar and Sandman, working together as increasingly reluctant allies.

The roof of the Baxter Building gets smashed in. Triton jumps into join the fight, but gets knocked out. The fight moves down to street level, where the cops zap Sandman with a cement gun.

I like that moment. It makes perfect sense for the NYPD in the Marvel Universe to be prepared to deal with super villains. It’s something we’ll see again from time to time throughout the history of that Universe. (The most obvious example will be in the 1970s in Tomb of Dracula—where Scotland Yard as a special squad equipped to deal with vampires.)

Anyway, Ben and Sandman end up in a fight of their own, while the others team up on Blastaar. Crystal gets in a lick or two with her elemental powers, but if I had any complaint to make at all about this largely excellent fight scene, it’s that she mostly just stands on the sidelines and does very little. She’s a pretty powerful little lady, after all.  Oh, well, it’s not that long before she’ll be filling in for a pregnant Sue, so she’ll have many more opportunities to be awesome.

Reed finally manages to slap a helmet on Blastaar’s head that inhibits his explosive powers. They toss him back in the Negative Zone. Ben, in the meantime, manages to scatter Sandman along the East River, where the villain will presumably need months to pull himself back together.  


Peter’s had some rotten luck the last few issues, but things are now looking up in an issue that doesn’t worry a whole lot about characterization, but simply ties up a few loose ends while giving us yet another great fight scene.

While Pete’s getting some bed rest, Vulture continues his crime spree. Kraven, jealous that Vulture is considered more of a threat than he is, ambushes the winged crook. When Peter hears about their fight on the radio, he decides to intervene.

By now, his stamina has allowed him to get over the cold, but he has to sneak out of his apartment, since Aunt May has stopped by to take care of him. But once in action, he more than evens the score for his recent defeats. Kraven and Vulture compete with each other to take Spidey down, then even try working together. But Spidey keeps moving, preventing them from effectively double-teaming him until he’s able to knock them both out.

The Peter gets back to his apartment before anyone realizes he was gone.

This was a fun issue, concentrating mostly on action, but still having some fun at Peter’s apartment has well-meaning friends and family nearly catch him in costume and make getting back into action a challenge in itself.

THOR #141

This, like last issue, is a good, solid story with Jack Kirby doing his usual magnificent job with the art. But, like last issue, it suffers a little from simply not being as cosmically cool as Thor had consistently been for the previous two dozen issues.

I assume that Stan and Jack thought the readers might need a break from multi-issue story arcs. So issues 140 through 142 will tell single issue tales. In this one, a mobster hires a rogue scientist to build an indestructible robot called Replicus. The robot goes on a crime spry, which attracts Thor’s attention. The Thunder God and the robot go toe-to-toe, with Replicus seeming to gain the upper hand.

The cool part of this story comes when the mobster—shown to be a ruthless killer—learns the scientist is really a spy planning on world conquest. This proves to be too evil even for the mobster, who sacrifices himself to take out the scientist and destroy Replicus’ control panel.

It’s a nicely done piece of characterization, with a bit of foreshadowing early on to indicate the mobster might have a charitable side hidden inside him somewhere.

The story as a whole isn’t a great one, but it’s a good one. As with last issue, it only suffers when compared to what has come before.  This is a book that, more than any other Marvel book of the time, really strives on multi-part, non-stop adventure yarns involving beings powerful enough to smash solar systems without working up a sweat, with trips to other dimensions, planets and universes tossed in for good measure. A single killer robot just doesn’t cut it anymore. We need an army of killer robots, sent by a sentient galaxy to re-mold the Earth into an ultimate weapon with which to conquer Asgard and Olympus after enslaving Galactus and Ego. Then you just might have a story cosmic enough to suit Thor.

The “Tales of Asgard” story continues the mission of Thor and the Warriors Three to take down Mogul. They invade his fortress; Volstagg is distracted by a pretty girl; Mogul magically zaps a thief to be his body double and summons up Satan’s Forty Horsemen---and Jack Kirby makes it all look cool.

That’s it for June. Next week, we’ll visit the front lines in 1940s Europe for another visit with Sgt. Rock. (Hope that's okay with everyone--Admittedly, I’m on a Russ Heath kick right now). In two weeks, we’ll take a look at July 1967, as the Fantastic Four learns about a powerful alien race that will cause Marvel Earth no end of trouble in years to come; Spider Man considers quitting even as he encounters a certain chubby mob boss for the first time; and Thor fights a villain from someone else’s Rogue’s Gallery.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday's Favority OTR

Rocky Jordan: “Cairo Vendetta” 8/14/49

Rocky Jordan makes one think of the movie Casablanca. Its main character is an American expatriate living in a North African city, running a nightclub.

But Rocky doesn’t have to worry about long-lost loves and Nazis. Which is just as well, since he has his hands full each week dealing with murderers, thieves and gangsters. His club--the Café Tambourine—is a magnet for people in trouble. One way or another, Rocky ends up getting involved in trouble along with them.

This was a fun show, combining an exotic location with a Film Noir sensibility. The scripts were solid, following through logically in terms of plot development.

“Cairo Vendetta” begins with Rocky being awakened late at night when someone throws a stone through his bedroom window. The stone-thrower turns out to be the local paperboy, who needs Rocky’s help with a wounded man.

The wounded man proves to be Sam Sabaaya, Rocky’s friend in the Cairo police department. Rocky patches his friend up, but Sam refuses to explain what happened to him. He also forbids Rocky to call in any other police or a doctor, or in any way get involved himself.

But the next day, when Rocky finds out that Sam has resigned from the department, he dives in head first. He starts looking for the now missing Sam, soon learning that some Italian mobsters are somehow tied up in the whole thing. He’s more determined than ever to help his friend, but is he instead being used to lead Sam into a trap?

It’s a well-written hard-boiled adventure from a first-rate series.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

For Gosh Sakes, Bones, Pick A Side and Stick With It!!!!!!

I’ve listened to a number of You Are There OTR episodes recently. I’ve always liked the premise to that series—plop modern news reporters into the middle of an historical event and have them broadcast that event while scoring interviews with the participants. The whole concept is played straight—radio reporters at Gettysburg or the trial of Socrates or wherever are just accepted as normal, while the actual events play out as they did in real life.

Anyway, I got curious to see the TV version produced in the 1950s. I remember seeing a few in reruns when I was a kid, but didn’t remember much about them.

I Netflixed a disc that included an episode about the gunfight at the OK Corral (broadcast in November 1955). It wasn’t bad, though not quite as historically accurate as an educational show should be. It also suffers a little from the dramatic need to shift camera angles, which is probably necessary to tell the story well, but distracts from the conceit that we’re watching a “live” news broadcast. Still, over all, it was pretty good.

One of its strengths is the casting. Barry Atwater, for instance, does a really effective menacing stare as Doc Holliday. And playing Ike Clanton, the arch enemy of the Earps and Holliday, is DeForest Kelley—the future Leonard “Bones” McCoy.

Now follow along closely. Kelley (who did a lot of Western roles in his pre-Star Trek days) plays Ike Clanton, a member of the gang that fights the Earps in the famous gunfight.

A couple of years later, Kelley plays Morgan Earp in the Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas movie Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957). So now he’s on the other side.

Gunfight, by the way, makes no pretensions at all towards historical accuracy, though it’s still a good, solid western with a fine cast.  Lancaster and Douglas always play well off of each other whenever they did a movie together.

Now we jump ahead a decade or so to October 1968, when the Star Trek episode “Spectre of the Gun” airs. In this episode (far from the series best), Kirk and his crew are forced by all-powerful aliens to relive the gunfight while playing the parts of the Clanton gang. This is the method of execution used to do away with the Enterprise’s command crew,  who got on the aliens’ bad side.

So this time, Kelley is back on the side of the Clantons. This time around, he’s one of the two McLaury brothers, who were present with Ike and Billy Clanton at the battle. 

It's actually kind of interesting that it's Kirk who recognizes where and when they've been set. I keep thinking that McCoy should have immediately shouted out "HEY! I recognize this place! I've been here before!"

So DeForest Kelly participates in the gunfight at the OK Corral on three different occasions during his acting career, but kept switching sides every darn time he did so. Gee whiz, it’s amazing Kirk ever let Bones near him with that medical scanner thing he was always waving around. You apparently can’t trust the guy at all!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: May 1967


Ben, Johnnie and Sue watch helplessly on the Negative Zone scanner while Reed gradually floats towards certain death in the zone where anti-matter and matter meet and explode.  There’s nothing they can do to save him—none of their powers are effective in this situation.

In the meantime, some Negative Zone aliens jettison a prisoner from their ship and speed off. We soon find out this prisoner is Blastaar, the Living Bomb Burst, a tyrant who has been overthrown, but who still has dreams of conquest. His power is to generate explosive energy out of his fingertips—something most tyrants would find perpetually useful.

Anyway, Reed seems doomed. But Crystal shows up via the Lockjaw express, sees what’s happening and zaps back to the Inhumans to get help.

Black Bolt and company are having a little mini-adventure of their own. A Communist raiding party with a super weapon is landing on the small European island where the Inhumans are hiding. The Inhumans drive them off.  This fight scene exists purely to make the story come out to the requisite number of pages and add a little direct action to the story, but it’s presented with typical Jack Kirby coolness, so it works just fine.

Black Bolt designates Triton to save Reed, since space (as everyone knows) is like a big ocean and only Triton would have the maneuverability to reach Reed in time. I don’t think that makes sense at all in real-life physics, but it makes such perfect sense in a comic book world that it remains well within the suspension of disbelief threshold.

Triton rescues Reed in the nick of time. The whole Negative Zone sequence, by the way, is yet another example of Jack Kirby being in his element as an artist, allowed to design bizarrely cool landscapes (or, I suppose, space-scapes in this instance) and equally bizarre alien creatures. This issue is yet another example  that these few years were a high-point in Marvel Comics—the artists assigned to their best books were the perfect ones to do the job.

Back to the story: Blastaar follows the Earthlings back through the portal into our world without anyone noticing. He quickly runs into the Sandman (who is still hanging around waiting for another crack at the FF) and the two agree to team up.

Thus ends yet another visually magnificent issue. We’ve also met the first of two important Negative Zone villains who will become a regular part of the FF’s Rogue’s Gallery. (It’s a couple of more real-life years before Annihilus puts in an appearance.) 

Characterizations continue to be strong as well. Sue, Johnnie and Ben’s collective reactions to helplessness while watching Reed plunge to a seemingly unavoidable doom were realistic and heartfelt. The family dynamic that exists within the Fantastic Four continues to give it a different feel than other superhero books.


Spidey spends a chilly night searching for Kraven (“Can’t let that tin-horn Tarzan go through life thinking he’s beaten me!”) and ends up with a nasty flu the next day. But there’s no rest for superheroes with runny noses. He’s soon forced to drag himself out of bed when the Vulture goes on a crime spree.

This isn’t Adrian Toomes, though. Toomes has been injured while in prison and thinks he’s going to die. He tells a fellow prisoner—Blackie Drago—where he’s buried his last Vulture suit just outside the prison walls.

He wants Blackie to get revenge on Spider Man, but when Blackie manages to get the suit and escape, he simply starts stealing as much stuff as he can.

Spidey finds him and John Romita Sr. then provides us with an energetic fight starting over the George Washington Bridge before moving to the city proper. Drago is younger and more agile than Toomes and Spidey is weak from his flu bug. In the end, Drago leaves Spider Man unconscious on a rooftop.

Another fine issue. The story flows along quickly; the idea of Spider Man down with the flu fits the ambiance of the character perfectly; and little touches (such as Drago being awkward at flying when he first gets the suit) simply add to the pleasure.

Poor Spider Man has been beaten two issues in a row by two different villains. Gee whiz, you don’t think that’ll come back to haunt him next issue, do you?

THOR #140

Keep in mind that I’m sticking with these three books for my chronological reviews of the Marvel Universe because I think they are the best books published during Marvel’s highest creative peak.  

But there are moments when Stan and Jack would drop the ball, if only for a panel or two. The Asgardians are supposed to be epic and full of grandeur. But a line of dialogue like “Make ready the royal bath that I may take mine ease!” isn’t going to sound anything other than silly. Gee whiz, Odin, just be quiet and get in the water, will ya?

Oh, well, I shouldn’t make fun. The rest of the issue isn’t as cosmically wonderful as the previous story arcs have been, but it’s still great stuff. It’s one of several single issue stories that will run before we’re taken into another multi-issue tale. Thor has been going non-stop for a good twenty issues now, so I suppose Stan and Jack felt a few short stories might be in order to give both the Thunder God and the readers a brief respite.

It’s a solid story about a mysterious creature called The Growing Man, who starts out doll-sized, but gets a little bit bigger every time he’s attack, making him virtually unbeatable. It turns out he’s an artificial being buried in the 20th Century by Kang, hidden from enemies until it was time to use him in the far future. But his discovery by a scientific expedition upsets Kang’s plans.

Kang shows up to retrieve the Growing Man, shrinking him down to doll-size again before attempting to make a getaway in a time machine. But by now, Thor has returned to Earth, having sensed that the planet was in danger (and probably just as annoyed as I was by Odin’s portentous announcement about needing a bath).  Thor uses his hammer to wrap Kang’s time machine in a Universal Infinity Vortex, sending Kang and the Growing Man “beyond time and space.”

It’s a good issue, but it does suffer a little from being not quite as good as the magnificent stories that came just before it. Also, Thor pulling a brand new power out of his hat to wrap things up seemed a bit contrived.  Though, to be fair, he has used his hammer for to produce similar time-altering or time-travelling effects in the past, so perhaps it’s not that much of a cheat.

The “Tales of Asgard” story has Thor and the Warrriors Three fighting the giant Jinni, keeping him busy until nighttime. This causes the Jinni to evaporate, leaving the heroes free to enter Mogul’s fortress.

So Thor gets to fight TWO giant creatures in a single issue, which is kind of cool. But, though I hate to sound whiny, the ending here seems yet another small cheat. The Jinni’s weakness to darkness really needed to be established before the fight started, otherwise it just seems like a dues ex machina.

Once again, both stories are good, solid adventure yarns. They only suffer because Thor has gotten to be such a great book, merely average stories don’t seem quite good enough. It’s kind of like watching Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull—fine by itself, but inevitably suffering from comparison with Raiders of the Lost Ark.

That’s if for now. June 1967 will see the FF in their first throw-down against a Negative Zone villain; Spider Man fighting the two villains who have recently beaten him; and Thor fighting a powerful robot.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cover Cavalcade

 I always thought that the best Swamp Thing stories took place when he was kept separate from the rest of the DC Universe, but this is a cool cover nonetheless.
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