Monday, December 31, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

Geronimo Jones was a short-lived Western series published by Charlton in the early 1970s. The protagonist was a guy returning from the Civil War to find his family killed by outlaws. He begins searching for the killers.

I never happened to read an issue, but judging from this cover, I'm not sure it was a good idea to allow Jones to wander around the West without a keeper. What exactly do you have to do wrong to force a nun to summarily execute you?

Thanks to Gary Shapiro, host of From The Bookshelf, for sending me this fun cover.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New book about RKO Studio

Here's a From the Bookshelf interview with Richard Jewell about his new book: RKO Radio Pictures: A Titan is Born.

If I were to count up which studios made which of my favorite films from the '30s and 40s, I'm pretty sure RKO would be responsible for more of them than any other studio.

I'm looking forward to reading this one as soon as possible.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Damon Runyon Theater: “A Piece of Pie” 5/22/49

A fat guy with a bottomless appetite is a sure thing to win an eating contest. But it’s only after collecting a lot of bets that the fat guy’s sponsors discover his fiancĂ© has put him on a strict diet.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A horse so cool, he gets the whole movie named after him

I think that the B-movies of the 1930s/40s/50s were often better examples of good storytelling than the A-movies of the same era. The stories were often well-constructed and flowed along logically, while the Studio System meant that there was a troupe of skilled character actors and directors to draw from to give these small films real personality.

Last week, we looked at the 1943 film Passage to Suez. This time, we’ll Go West, Young Man to take a look at the 1953 movie Tumbleweed.

It’s an Audie Murphy movie. It’s always fun to watch one of Murphy’s films—his perpetually baby face initially makes him look like an unlikely hero. But he carries himself with subtle authority. And, of course, his status as a real life war hero probably adds to that authority.

(And BOY was he ever a real-life hero. By the end of World War II, not just the Americans but pretty much every Allied nation was just shipping him truckloads of medals to him—including the Congressional Medal of Honor. When he played himself in a movie chronicling his wartime experience, he actually insisted that the movie tone down his heroics because people might believe he was just making it up.)

Anyway, in Tumbleweed, he’s Jim Harvey—an experienced scout who’s been hired to guide a wagon train across the desert. When the wagon train is trapped and surrounded by Yaqui Indians led by the white-man-hating Aguila, Harvey takes a long chance. He’d once saved the life of Aguila’s son Tigre, so he rides out to parley with Aquila in hopes of playing off his gratitude.

That doesn’t work out well. Harvey is left staked out in the sun and, though he manages to get away, the wagon train is nearly wiped out. The survivors and the citizens of the local town are convinced Harvey betrayed the wagon train to Aguila.

So he has to go on the run—find out who really betrayed the wagon train (and why), all while avoiding getting scalped by the Yaquis. It all comes to a climax with a desperate last stand against the Yaquis in which Harvey must team up with the posse that’s been chasing him.

It’s a fun movie—in fact, I list it as an essential film in my ebook 99 Films and Cartoons your Children Must See Before Growing Up—Or They’ll Turn Out To Be Axe Murderers.

It’s a well-written, well-told story, effectively directed by B-Movie vet Nathan Juran and making excellent use of location photography. It’s also yet another example of how Hollywood made such good use of character actors during this era.

A young Lee Van Cleef is a member of the posse. Russell Johnson is a townsman who is particularly vocal in wanting Harvey lynched—it’s always fun to see a character who is so identified with a particular role (in this case, the Professor from Gilligan’s Island) playing a completely different role. Johnson, in fact, was a skilled actor who effectively assayed many different character roles before he got stranded on that darn island.

Chill Wills is the sheriff—a capable and determined man who honestly thinks Harvey is guilty. Aside from his personable performance, Wills also wears his gun in a shoulder holster rather than gun belt. It’s a small thing, but it’s a touch that helps give the sheriff his own personality.

Then there’s the horse. After escaping from a lynch mob, Harvey ends up with an ugly and apparently useless white horse. But the horse (named Tumbleweed) soon proves to be surprisingly useful—with more speed, endurance and intelligence than the horses being used by the posse. In fact, Tumbleweed might just be a little bit smarter than Harvey—saving the scout’s life on at least two occasions.  Heck, the horse is so cool he gets the movie named after him.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nightwing and Flamebird

As I mentioned in the last Weisinger entry, the bottle city of Kandor was an incredibly rich source of storytelling, adding enormously to Superman’s mythos. My favorite (just beating out the Supermen Emergency Squad by just 0.1 points on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness scale) are Nightwing and Flamebird.

I suspect most readers of my blog already know this—but when I say Nightwing, I’m not talking about the identity adopted by Dick Grayson after he retired as Robin. No, there was a Nightwing before him—an alternate identity used by Superman himself.

It all come about in Superman #158 (January 1963), in a story written by Edmond Hamilton.

If it’s a Hamilton story, then it’s going to be good—I don’t think any other comic book writer ever used comic book “logic” with the same deft skill as Mr. Hamilton. In fact, I will go so far to say that, without Edmond Hamilton and Otto Binder, the Silver Age of Comics would have been 85% less fun than it is. The sheer pleasure generated by following their stories through various contextually believable twists and turns is inexhaustible.

 This particular issue is a perfect example of this. The saga of Nightwing and Flamebird begins when Superman and Supergirl are both off-planet. A gang of crooks with Kryptonian superpowers are going on a rampage, stealing valuables, armored cars and (in at least one case) entire buildings.

It turns out they’re from Kandor, where a scientist has invented an enlarging process. He’s sending out raiders who are temporarily enlarged to steal the stuff he needs to build a device that can enlarge the entire city. He knows the process he’s using is probably flawed and might destroy Kandor, but he’s willing to take the risk. (It turns out, of course, that the process is flawed. Anything made bigger will disintegrate after three hours if not shrunk back down first.)

He’s also told the citizens of Kandor that Superman has known about this process, but didn’t use it because he’s jealous of his status as a super-powered man and doesn’t want to share this with millions of Kandorians. So Supes is now considered a villain by most Kandorians.

Superman doesn’t know this when, after returning to Earth and deducing the raiders are from Kandor, he shrinks down and enters the bottle city to investigate. But he does know he won’t have superpowers while in Kandor, so he brings Jimmy Olson along as back-up. Upon arrival, though, they are attacked by an angry mob.

To continue their investigation without getting lynched, Superman and Jimmy must adopt secret identities. They base their costumes off two Kryptonian birds and—bingo!—Nightwing and Flamebird are born.

What follows is so delightfully convoluted that I can’t do it justice in a brief summery. Nightwing and Flamebird use methods consciously based on Batman and Robin (including a hideout in the “Night Cave”). Before the story is over, it also involves Van-Zee (a distant relative of Superman who happens to be his exact double), the Superman Emergency Squad, the necessity of Jimmy and Superman hiding out in the Phantom Zone, bazookas that fire Kryptonite and our heroes being tracked by telepathic hounds.

By the way, if you’re ever tracked by telepathic hounds, you can fool them by imagining yourself to be somewhere else.

In the end, Kandor is saved in the nick of time. Superman and Jimmy would occasionally have more adventures in Kandor as Nightwing and Flamebird, with the identities eventually being taken over by Van-Zee and another guy. It was a good idea, essentially allowing Hamilton and his successors to write Batman and Robin stories with a science fiction setting.

By the way, the story is available to read online HERE

Next time, we'll take a brief survey of krytonite in all its various colors, then we'll move on to examinations of Superman's villains. I realize, by the way, that we haven't included the Phantom Zone criminals in our look at survivors of Krypton's destruction, but they were a dastardly lot, so we'll be including them among the villains. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

That's a nifty looking submarine, but the sea serpent is really cool.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Tarzan: “Gold Coast Robbery” 4/5/51

Here’s an atypical Tarzan adventure, in which the Lord of the Jungle spends most of the episode playing detective. Some friends of Tarzan are accused of robbing a train carrying a gold shipment. Tarzan looks into the case, gets framed for another robbery and has to go on the lam to find the real crooks. A really cool local judge slips him some behind-the-scenes help.

The episode is not without action, though. There’s a nifty sword fight at the climax.

Click HERE to listen or download

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cat Burglar vs Nazis

The B-movie universe had several former criminals who now solved crimes instead of committed them. The best of these was Boston Blackie—played by Chester Morris in 14 films made by Columbia Pictures during the 1940s, Blackie would regularly be accused of murders he didn’t commit. He’d go on the run, track down the real killer and thus clear his name. Morris brought humor and charm to the role of Blackie and most of his films had well-constructed plots.

Blackie’s chief competitor in the burglar-turned-detective business was also in a series of films produced by Columbia Pictures. Michael Lanyard—aka The Lone Wolf—was played by several actors over the years after his original appearance in a 1914 novel. The best known films from this series are those starring Warren Williams,  made between 1939 and 1943.

The Blackie films and the Lone Wolf films were very similar in their formats—both were always being falsely accused of a crime, both had comedic sidekicks, both were regularly pursued by a determined cop with a dumb partner.

But as World War II progressed, Michael Lanyard went in a different direction. The Blackie films acknowledged the war effort, but Blackie still solved home-grown crimes.

The Lone Wolf, though, took a more active part in fighting the Axis. The last few films had Lanyard worked for Allied Intelligence.

Which finally brings us to today’s subject. Passport to Suez (1943) was Williams’ last Wolf film. It’s set in Alexandria, where Lanyard finds adventure before he even has time to eat his dinner. His butler Jamison is kidnapped and Lanyard is blackmailed by the Nazis into stealing some secret military plans.

Lanyard, though, is not a traitor and plans on trapping the spies. But the spies know Lanyard will “betray” them—in fact, they are planning on it. The villains’ real plan is to steal the plans they really want while Lanyard is busy stealing the plans they could care less about.

Tossed into this mix is a femme fatale, three free-lance spies respectively known as Rembrandt, Cezanne and Whistler, and a former American racketeer who now owns an Alexandrian night club.  All are played by talented character actors who give these roles real personality. Sheldon Leonard as the night club and Louis Merrill as one of the spies are particularly memorable. It’s also fun to see an impossibly young Lloyd Bridges playing a bad guy. (He had played a villain in an earlier Lone Wolf film also.)

It’s a fun story, playing out in a way that leaves Lanyard and Jamison on the run from British intelligence while trying to catch the Nazis. It ends with Lanyard pursing some escaping enemy spies in a machine gun-equipped biplane.

That ending makes me wonder if the film-makers might have been thinking back to the original 1914 Lone Wolf novel, written by Louis Joseph Vance.  That novel also ended with some airborne action in what might possibly have been the first ever dogfight in a work of fiction. This movie doesn’t quite have the same thing—Lanyard is making strafing runs at an automobile rather than firing a pistol at another plane. But all the same, that scene might have been inspired by the novel.

The solid plot is backed by some effective direction (Andre de Toth was the director), most notably a brief but effective scene involving an exchange of pistol shots in a pitch-dark room.

Passport to Suez is a fun entry in the Lone Wolf series. It’s more action-packed than most of the previous films, but the action fits the feel of the story quite nicely.

Besides, its always satisfying to watch a biplane make a strafing run.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Case of the Funny Paper Crimes

This review isn’t part of the Weisinger-era reviews I’ve been doing. Rather, we’ll be jumping back to the Golden Age to answer the question that has perplexed comic book fans for decades:

“What comic strips did the Daily Planet carry?”

Well, until the latest volume of The Superman Chronicles was published, I had no idea this vital interrogative had been answered way back in Superman #19 (Nov/Dec 1942). “The Case of the Funny Paper Crimes” actually gives us a picture of the Planet comics page while Clark and Lois peruse it.

There’s Prince Peril, followed by Detective Craig. Next is a Western strip called The Solitary Rider. This is followed by Streak Dugan and Happy Daze.

And showing us the comics page is actually an important set-up for the plot. Soon, giant versions of the bad guys from these strips start appearing in Metropolis, committing crimes along with the help of normal-sized henchmen. Superman tries to deal with this, but the giant villains have the ability to become incorporeal, then vanish completely.

One of them, though, is solid enough to kidnap Lois.

To add to the confusion, the leader of the gang is wearing a round yellow mask that makes him look like an evil version of the Happy Face icon.

It turns out the villain wearing the mask is a failed comic strip artist. He’s invented a machine that makes two-dimensional images real—calling up comic strip villains to commit crimes since he failed to make his fortune as an artist.

Why the heck he just didn’t make a fortune legitimately after INVENTING A MACHINE THAT MAKES TWO-DIMENSIONAL IMAGES REAL is not a question we will explore at this time. Apparently inventive genius and common sense don’t necessarily go together.

Anyway, Lois nabs herself a couple of Crowning Moments of Awesome when she uses a fairly clever ploy to use the machine to tell Superman the location of the villain’s hide out, then later uses the machine to call up comic strip GOOD GUYS to help take down the various bad guys.She then gets made two-dimensional, but the Man of Steel manages to rescue her regardless.

This story is goofy fun from start to finish. Jerry Siegel’s script tells the tale in a straightforward manner that allows us to enjoy it for what it is while still appreciating its innate goofiness, while artist John Sikela’s pencils fit the ambiance of the story quite nicely.

But this story left me strangely aggravated. Why? Because now I’m sad that all those comic strips don’t actually exist.

Yes, I know they are merely take-offs on real-life comic strips of that day, such as Prince Valiant and Dick Tracy. But all the same, that one brief glimpse of the Daily Planet’s comic page got me hooked. All five of the comics look like fun. I want more. I want them to be REAL, gosh darn it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

When you thing about it, it must be awful to be a normal human being in a comic book universe. Gee whiz, you can't even go for a swim without some hellish monster trying to devour you.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Jack Benny: “I Stand Condemned” 1/19/47

In an episode guest-starring Boris Karloff, Jack dreams he’s on Death Row for a crime he didn’t commit. I won’t say anything else about it, because I don’t want to take a chance of spoiling a single laugh.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Trapped in a TV show while trying to exercise

Most days at work, during my lunch, I head over to the campus gym and get in a little exercise. You never know when Batman, the Shadow or James Bond might ask me to fill in for them, so I gotta stay in shape.

I often use the exercise bike, reading on my Kindle and listening to something on my MP3 player. There's some large-screen TVs in the gym, but they are usually playing a cooking show or some other generic daytime fare, so I typically ignore them.

But then one day they had ME TV on one of the screens--that's a cable channel that specializes in playing classic TV. There was an episode of Gunsmoke just beginning.

The close-captioning was on, so I was able to follow the story. Matt Dillon travels to Mexico to bring back a couple of killers. He's slightly wounded while killing one of them and the townspeople--perpetually frightened by the outlaws--won't help him. But a young boy invites him to the home he shares with his mom.

I was done exercising before the episode was even half-over and couldn't stay any longer. (For some reason, my co-workers get annoyed if I don't take time to shower after exercising before returning to work. Go figure.)

So I later found the episode on YouTube and watched it in its entirety. It's title is "Zavala."

And, boy, it wasn't just good--it was great. A lot of the episode is Matt waiting for the outlaw leader to get back to town while staying with the kid and the mother. The relationship that Matt builds with them in that short time is strong and full of honest emotion.

Miriam Colon does a fantastic job of expressing subtle emotion as the mother, while Manuel Padillo, Jr. (one of the best child actors from the 1960s) gives a heartfelt performance as a boy who latches on to Matt Dillon as a father figure. These are two lonely people who haven't had a man who is both strong AND good in their lives since the boy's father was murdered by the outlaws. There's every indication that Matt--if he had decided to stay--could have had a good life taking care of a family and raising a son to be a man.

But Matt's got a job to do--even if that means facing off against an outlaw gang without any allies.

The background music is particularly good--the gunfights are well-choreographed --and the various character actors give personality to even the episode's throw-away characters.

If I had to pick between radio Gunsmoke and TV Gunsmoke, I'd pick the radio show. But fortunately, I don't have to choose. The TV version is one of those rare examples of a classy show with great writing and wonderful characters. "Zavala" has quickly become one of my favorite episodes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Lady and… The Prowler

Spider Man #93 (February 1971)

John Romita is back on pencils as of this issue with a story that turns out to be a pretty strong one despite a glaring flaw.

Gwen’s uncle, who lives in London, offers her a home there. Peter wants to ask her to stay, but his secret identity—compounded by the fact that Gwen thinks Spider Man killed her dad—makes doing so awkward.

After what might have been one or two too many panels of Peter whining about the situation, he FINALLY decides that if he loves the girl, then he has to come completely clean with her.

But though Stan Lee has Peter complaining a little too much, the issue so far hits the right emotional notes. The situation is such that Peter is in an emotionally awkward and uncertain position, which generates a fair amount of sympathy for him.

To set up what happens next, though, Stan Lee has Peter do a pretty stupid thing. He also provides a negative object lesson for those of us who might one day have to tell our girlfriends that we are superheroes.

Peter knows that Gwen hates and fears Spider Man. So if he’s going to reveal his secret identity to her, it makes sense that he would go to her as Peter and break the news to her as gently as possible with as much calm explanation as possible. That way, she won’t panic and you can actually speak to her rationally. Right? That makes sense? If you were in that situation, that’s what you do, right?

But NOOOOOOOOO! Instead, Peter swings up to her window in costume and peaks inside.  That doesn’t end well.

I suspect that Stan didn’t intend to portray Peter as an idiot. He was simply trying to set up what happens next. But the end result was that Peter—however inadvertently—does something that was clearly idiotic.

Anyway, what happens next is this: Hobie Brown, aka the Prowler, has been looking for Spidey. He remembers when the webslinger has asked him to pose as Spider Man—a plan Peter used to protect his secret identity. Hobie didn’t know the reason, but trusted Spidey enough to go along. Now, though, with Captain Stacy dead and Spider Man a suspect in that, he’s afraid he was used as a pawn in a murder plot.

So Hobie—in his Prowler outfit—attacks Spider Man right outside Gwen’s home, calling out “Don’t be scared, kid. He won’t hurt you!”

The ensuing fight moves away from the home. In a nice touch, Hobie’s inexperience rather than Spidey fighting back leads to him being injured. Spidey drops him off at a hospital, then rushes back to explain everything to Gwen.

He rushes back STILL IN COSTUME! Gee whiz, Peter.

Well, it actually doesn’t matter. Gwen has left for London, with her flight leaving just before Peter is able to get to the airport to stop her.

As I said earlier, the story is a good one despite its flaws. The Prowler/Spidey fight is short but still good, while the main emotional notes all strike true.

But this issue also represents how Spider Man is beginning to enter a rut. Stan Lee and the various artists have succeeded in creating a great character with a great supporting cast, but we are about to go into a couple of years of same-old-same-old. Gwen will be back from London in just a few issues and the various character relationships are pretty much going to freeze where they are. Even Norman Osborne’s upcoming return to being the Green Goblin while his son Harry gets addicted to drugs will be a situation that will be re-set to normal after a few issues.

The next few years of stories will be good, with Stan Lee eventually turning the writing chores over to the very talented Gerry Conway, but there will be nothing really great. Perhaps the most important storyline will be one involving Harry and drugs—it actually had to be published without the Comics Code Authority stamp because showing illicit drug use at all wasn’t allowed under the code, even when it was shown to be horribly bad. The influence of this well-received story arc would result in that rule being changed to something more reasonable. But in retrospect, the subject is handled with too heavy a hand to qualify as a classic outside of its historical significance.

So, while thumbing through my Spider Man Essentials after reading this story, I have come to a decision. Next time we return to Spider Man, we’re going to jump ahead to cover the death of Gwen Stacy—a story that happened specifically because Conway and John Romita realized they had to do something to shake up the status quo before the character stagnated. With that, our chronological look at Spider Man will come to an end and we’ll have completely closed up shop on our History of the Marvel Universe series.

We will, of course, be returning to the Marvel Universe to look at individual stories and story arcs from time to time, just as we do with DC Comics and other companies. So, aside from the Weisinger Superman entries, the Wednesday comic book reviews will be more random.

I appreciate the fact that I have 100+ followers and I have no idea how many of you may have reading for JUST the chronological Marvel reviews. I hope you all stay with me regardless, as my comments on other comics and other subjects will continue to be mind-numbingly brilliant. But the temptation to free up enough time to review a greater variety of comics has just become too darn overwhelming.

Next week, for instance, we’ll take a look at a Golden Age Superman story. Then we’ll do an entry about the Weisinger-era Supes era. In three weeks, we’ll watch as the Green Goblin whacks Gwen Stacy. (If that’s a spoiler, live with it. It’s been nearly 40 years, people!)

After that, the only regular feature will be the Weisinger stories. Aside from those, Wednesdays will jump from comic to comic according to whatever geeky whim strikes me.

I hope that’s okay with everyone. I really do appreciate my readers and I want you all to stick around. Because… well, because one day YOU WILL ALL BOW DOWN BEFORE ME!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

I work in a library, so I can confirm that this sort of thing happens all the time.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "Pressure" 3/22/53
            "Up Periscope" 8/8/51

It's a two-fer today. Here's two excellent Escape episodes that both involve World War II-era submarine warfare. In both cases, they use many of the standard tropes for this sort of story, but excellent acting, sound effects and production values make them particularly notable.

If you have a chance to listen to both, let us--just for the heck of it--have a vote on which is the better submarine story. Leave a comment with your choice.

Whoever--in my judgement--makes the best argument for which episode is better will win 100 billion dollars (payable in make-believe, invisible cash only).

Click HERE to listen or download "Pressure."

Click HERE to listen or download "Up Periscope."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Kill him if you have to--but DON'T be rude!

Read/Watch ‘em in Order #28

Calvin Gates is traveling through China—much of which is occupied by the Japanese—enroute to Mongolia on a quixotic quest that has something to do with family honor. (We are not initially given the details.)

But it’s soon apparent that Gates’ journey won’t be a straightforward one. First of all, both Japan and Russia have troops poised to invade Northern China and parts of Mongolia. Who will make the first move depends on the contents of a certain message being carried by a Russian agent who is poising as a guide for an American woman.

The message is somehow a part of a silver cigarette case inlaid with certain images. This is the McGuffin of the story—after the Russian agent is killed in Gates’ hotel room, the case becomes a hot potato that jumps between Gates and the girl (the attractive and strong-willed Miss Dillaway), while both Japanese military agents and the enigmatic Mr. Moto seem determined to gain possession of it.

The thing is that Moto seems to be at odds with the Japanese army. For regular readers of the Moto series, this by itself isn’t surprising. Moto violently clashed with a different political faction within his own government in Thank You, Mr. Moto.

But that knowledge really doesn’t help Gates and Dillaway. They are caught up in something they don’t understand. They know the cigarette case is important, but have no idea why. All they know for sure is that everyone seems to think they are expendable. As their journey takes them farther in occupied China, the danger increases. But simply getting rid of the case seems just as dangerous as keeping it.

This is my personal favorite of the Mr. Moto novels---it does a fantastic job of keeping the sense of danger and palpable suspense high from start to finish. The motivations of everyone involved are complex, but make sense when it’s all explained at the denoument. But for the bulk of the novel, we’re just as confused as Gates is, sympathizing completely when he can never be quite sure if his own plan of action (when he even has a plan) is the correct one.

Also, Moto has some great dialogue. The best line comes after Gates is briefly held prisoner by the Japanese Army and is nearly executed. Moto comments on this: “…they would liquidate, of course, but I hope so much that they were polite. I should not wish to report rudeness.”

The climax involves Moto, a Japanese army officer, a Russian general, an overweight German merchant, a Mongolian prince and an Australian mercenary that none of them can be quite sure of trusting. Heck, with that mix of characters, how can the novel possibly be anything else but entertaining? 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Calling for Help From the Dead and the Fictional

Kid Eternity is a Golden Age character that originally belonged to Quality Comics. Eventually, Quality sold its comic book characters (including Plastic Man and Blackhawk) to DC Comics. Kid Eternity vanished for quite awhile, though he was brought back in the 1990s with the sort of “dark and edgy” reboot that made comic books so unpleasant to read during that decade.

But the original Quality version of Kid Eternity was a lot of fun—despite a potentially sad origin. He was an orphan who died 75 years too early because of a bookkeeping era in heaven. (It’s possible the creators were lifting part of their idea from the movie Here Comes Mr. Jordan.) So the Kid is returned to Earth with some odd powers to allow him to fight evil until his proper time to die arrived. He is accompanied by Keeper, the clerk who made the error.

Kid’s powers are definitely odd. He can teleport himself about and become immaterial. When he shouts “Eternity!” he can summon up an historical figure (or a mythological or fictional figure if need be) to help him out for a short time.

The first issue of Kid Eternity was written by Otto Binder. The third issue (Autumn 1946) doesn’t include credits, but I’d bet real money it was also Binder. It has just the sort of quirky plot construction and sense of humor that was often present in a Binder story.

It starts when Kid and Keeper are visited by the ghost of Rembrandt, who senses something is wrong with his painting The Night Watch. The Kid zaps himself over there and discovers a high-end art thief known as the Count is stealing the painting.

Kid summons up Inspector Jalvert from Les Miserables—he figures that if Jalvert pursued Jean Valjean for decades over a stolen loaf of bread, then he’d put a serious beat-down on real crooks.

Well, by golly, the Kid is right. In fact, he’s too right. Kid has to banish Jalvert before he actually beats the Count’s henchmen to death. The Count escapes in the confusion.

The next night, the Count is going after Franz Hals’ Laughing Cavalier. Kid summons up the real Cavalier to handle the thief, but once again he makes a poor choice of allies. The Cavalier is going to kill the Count unnecessarily, so Kid has to banish him. Fortunately, Kid sees the Greek Discus Thrower statue standing nearby, so he summons up the real thrower and carefully instructs him to simply disarm the Count with a carefully aimed discus toss.

I love this story. I love the Kid’s oddball powers. I love the sense of proportional justice and the Kid’s concern for stopping bad guys without unjustified deadly force. I love the way the plot ambles along in a strange but internally logical manner.

There is, of course, no shortage of Golden or Silver Age stories that are simply bad. But when the stories were good, they would shine with a palpable sense of fun.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet: “Stealing Crystals” 1/3/52

Tom and two of his fellow cadets are assigned to track down the members of an interplanetary smuggling ring. This leads to them ending up as prisoners on a ship heading up into orbit. But Tom soon comes up with an innovative albeit dangerous escape plan. Like most Tom Corbett stories, this is good, old-fashioned space opera.

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"If we succeed, and live, we can fight it out to see who keeps her."

There are certain cliches in adventure fiction that--as long as the surrounding story is well-written--I am a sucker for.

For instance, I love it when circumstances force guys who would normally kill each other on sight to team up with one another. It's a trope that Robert E. Howard seemed to enjoy. I just re-read the Conan novella People of the Black Circle (1934), in which this happens. I can think of three other Howard stories without even trying in which something similar occurs.

I'll probably do entries on the other three "enforced team-up" stories, since thinking about them makes me want to read them again. In fact, I briefly considered making this part of my "Read/Watch 'em in order" series, but each of these stories features a different character and aren't directly interconnected.

In Black Circle, Conan has become leader of a tribe of barbarian warriors who live near Vendhya, the Hyborian Age analog for India. He's hoping to weld other tribes together into an empire.

But there's other plots afoot as well--one of them involving spies from the nation of Turan teaming up with a sect of ancient and evil wizards to kill the king of Vendhya. (And not just kill him--but to steal his soul while doing so.)

Circumstances allow Conan to kidnap the Devi--the now-dead king's drop-dead gorgeous sister. Despite being pampered royalty, she soon proves herself to brave and intelligent, allowing her to rise above being a stereotypical damsel-in-distress.

Which is always a good sign in an original Conan story. The best of Howard's Conan tales often included a strong female character, while the weaker ones would sometimes involve whiny cry-baby girls who just scream a lot until they are rescued. I've nothing against damsels-in-distress. I just like it better when they seem to be worth the effort of rescuing.

Howard manages to weave several plot threads involving several different characters together to keep the story moving, inserting his typically awesome action sequences along the way. Eventually, the Devi is captured by the evil wizards and taken to their mountain fortress. To rescue her, Conan must team up with a Turanian spy named Kerim Shah, who has been searching for the Devi for reasons of his own. Though they would normally kill each other on sight, Conan, Kerim and the spy's small band of henchmen must team-up to rescue the girl. They figure they can kill each other afterwards to see who gets to keep her.

The motley crew must fight their way through both magical dangers and more prosaic threats to reach the fortress. Once there--well, they face even more horrific dangers. Howard's Conan stories often include elements of horror as well as adventure tropes.

But messing with Conan the Barbarian--even if you have nigh-godlike powers--is never a smart thing to do.

People of the Black Circle is one of the best Conan yarns. It's particularly notable in that at one point Howard has at least three sets of characters plus at least three large armed forces wandering around the Vendhyan border, but he keeps track of all of them quite nicely. The overall plot is not that complex, but there's enough going on so that it might have gotten muddled and confused in the hands of a lesser writer. But the various elements involved are sorted out and explained to us with Howard's typical skill. That guy really knew how to spin a yarn.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When Iceman Attacks

Spider Man #92 (January 1970)

I commented last time that reactionary politician Sam Bullit was too one-dimensional a character to be very interesting. And that’s true. But his story wraps up this issue before he has time to get tiresome and the plot allows us some nice character moments involving Spidey’s supporting cast.

The best moment involves J. Jonah Jameson, who initially supported Bullit’s law and order campaign. But once he’s presented evidence of Bullit’s thuggery and racism, he quickly switches sides. We’ve seen this before in Jonah—he can be a cheapskate and a bully, but he has sincere standards as a newsman and something as evil as racism turns his stomach. It’s an aspect of him that keeps him from being a one-dimensional punch-line and makes him a viable character in his own right.

But back to the plot: Last issue ended with Spidey “kidnapping” Gwen, intending to act like enough of a jerk so that she never suspects he’s really Peter Parker. It’s a plan that sounds a little dumb when spelled out, but gosh darn it if it’s not a bad plan. Especially since it’s something he had to improvise after Gwen sees him web-slinging into Peter’s apartment.

But he never really gets a chance to carry out the plan, since Iceman happens to be nearby and immediately jumps in to “rescue” Gwen.

There’s really no reason for Iceman to be in this story other than to plug the X-Men’s own book. But that’s okay. It’s something I touched on before—team-ups like this can be fun and as long as stories are self-contained in one specific book, it’s a perfectly legitimate path for comic book writers to take. Heck, we’re only about a year away from the first issue of Marvel Team-up, whose entire reason for existence is simply to allow Spider Man to join forces with other denizens of the Marvel Universe. And that book will be a lot of fun.

Crossovers are only annoying when they FORCE you to buy another book to get the whole story. That’s become more common in both DC and Marvel comics over the last decade or two and I continue to disapprove of it.


There. That’ll get ‘em to stop, I’m sure.

Anyway, Gil Kane (this is his last issue before Romita returns) makes the Spidey/Iceman fight look cool. And their tussle takes a potentially tragic turn when Bullit’s thugs kidnap Robbie Robertson. Iceman’s attacks on Spidey interfere with the webslinger’s rescue attempt.

But in the end, the two heroes team up. Robbie is rescued, while Bullit is discredited and arrested.

In February 1971, Spider Man will be mistaken for a criminal by yet another costumed hero, while Gwen decides to leave New York

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

I'll bet they didn't cover this sort of situation at the FBI Academy! This is a pretty busy cover, but it works--giving a sense of a desperate last stand.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Sherlock Holmes: “The Island of Death” 4/28/47

Five circus freaks are invited out to a remote island off the coast of Scotland by a scientist of questionable repute. Holmes and Watson tag along to watch out for them. Soon, there’s one murder and one attempted murder. Holmes has to sort through his odd set of suspects to find the killer in this bizarre and entertainingly melodramatic episode.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Reputation is Everything

Read/Watch ‘em in order #27

This time out, we don’t have a protagonist who is too drunk or too bitter or too cynical to amount to anything until an adventure involving Mr. Moto pulls him out of it. In ThinkFast, Mr. Moto (1937), we have a hero who is simply young and inexperienced—but determined to make good.

Wilson Hitchings is a member of a family that owns a very old and conservative bank operating out of Shanghai. So when a distant (and very pretty) relative uses the family name to run a casino in Hawaii, something has to be done to protect the bank’s reputation. Wilson, who is just learning the ropes, is sent to the Islands to deal with it.

At first, he thinks he just has to convince a bitter relative to sell out to a family she hates. But things soon get more complex. It’s not just that the roulette wheel is crooked—it’s that the casino is being used to launder money being sent to rebels in Japanese-controlled Manchuria.

Mr. Moto soon appears on the scene. The Japanese agent’s initial theory is that the Hitchings Bank is knowingly involved in the money shipments. In fact, he even holds Wilson responsible for an attempt on his life.

But Wilson doesn’t back down in his own investigation. To his own surprise, he discovers that he can handle himself well in dangerous situations. Before long, he and Moto are working together.

Well, working together to an extent. Moto wants to close down the money pipeline to Manchuria no matter what. Wilson’s first concern is the reputation of the bank and his family. The two men sort-of want the same thing—but may need to get there from different directions.

These leads Wilson to make what seems to be a very bad and very dangerous decision when he attempts to deal directly with the leader of the money-laundering operation. In fact, poor Wilson might be inadvertently responsible for getting Mr. Moto killed…

You can’t help but like Wilson. He’s intensely loyal to his family, but he doesn’t shy away from difficult moral decisions when faced with them. The book is extremely well-plotted, having only occasional moments of action, but holding your interest and building up suspense quite nicely as Wilson gradually figures out what the heck is going on.

And Mr. Moto is arguably at his best in this novel. His manipulation of events in the last chapter puts him right up there with the Shadow, Batman or Sherlock Holmes in his ability to outthink his opponents.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A City in a Bottle

You’d think that having a city and its 1,000,000 inhabitants shrunk down by an evil alien and taken away into space would be a bad thing. But since this is what happened to Krypton’s largest city and since that’s what allowed the city and its 1,000,000 inhabitants to survive Krypton’s destruction, I guess you’d have to call it fortuitous.

It was the evil alien Brainiac that stole a miniaturized Kandor—as revealed in the July 1958 story “The Super-Duel in Space.” (Action Comics #242) 

I’ll talk about Brainiac in detail in a future post, since I want to concentrate on Kandor this time around. Suffice to say that Brainiac here is shrinking and stealing cities as part of a plan to repopulate his home world—where everyone else was wiped out by a plague. This and a few other details don’t completely match up with his eventually retcon as a humanoid computer rather than a living being. We’ll discuss balancing internal continuity with good storytelling in that future post.

For now, it’s Kandor that concerns us. Here’s a large and viable population of Kryptonians and—though they’ll be stuck at microscopic size until a 1979 story sees them finally restored to normal size—it means that Krypton’s people and culture have survived. But more importantly for Mort Weisinger and the writers who worked for him, it became a plot device from which they could spin scores of entertaining stories.

“The Super-Duel in Space” was written by Otto Binder (with art by Al Plastino) and you can see Binder’s talent for fun plot construction and fast pacing all through the story. He crams in an awful lot of stuff—the introduction of Brainiac; his fight with Superman centering around his impenetrable force field; his shrinking and capture of Earth cities; Superman’s successive escape from the bottle containing Metropolis and then the bottle containing Kandor; the restoration of Earth’s cities; the people of Kandor sacrificing their chance at restoration to make sure Superman is returned to his proper size. So Kandor now resides in a bottle in the Fortress of Solitude.

It’s a fine story—following the odd logic of Silver Age DC comics as the plot unfolds. The fight between Supes and Brainiac is a little disappointing—with the hero simply tossing stuff at Brainiac’s force field while the villain laughs contemptuously. And Brainiac’s ship simply flies off at the end with the sleeping alien blissfully unaware all his captive cities have been freed—which is a bit anti-climatic.

But Brainiac’s visual design is striking enough to guarantee his return and his introduction as an important member of Superman’s Rogue’s Gallery.

And Kandor—well, Kandor is an interesting place. Eventually, we’ll meet Superman’s exact double, along with doubles of Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang and Perry Mason. There will be a Superman Emergency Squad—Kandorians who dress as Superman and fly out of the bottle (thus gaining superpowers) to help him out despite their small size. A Kandorian parole board will help Superman decide when to let criminals out of the Phantom Zone. Superman’s efforts to discover a way to restore Kandor is itself grist for several good tales.

In fact, of all the elements to Superman’s mythology being added during Mort Weisinger’s tenure as editor, Kandor is probably outdone only by the Legion of Superheroes as a source of rich storytelling. (And, okay, I’ll admit that it was sometimes contrived storytelling—how many exact doubles of Superman’s close friends would you expect to find in a single city? Heck, they even called themselves the Look Alike Squad.)

So I think we’ll spend one more post examining Kandor, taking a look at the first time Superman and Jimmy Olsen assume the identities of Nightwing and Flamebird to fight Kandorian criminals. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

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