Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Adventures of Superman: “Mystery of the Mechanical Monster” 12/10/47

The plot about a giant robot that rampages through the streets of Metropolis is fine and Jackson Beck does his usual superb job as narrator, but most of the fun in this episode is listening to Julian Noa as Perry White, perpetually aggravated with poor Clark Kent while he and the mild-mannered reporter try to track down the secret lair of the robot’s creator. Poor Perry sounds like he’s going to pop a blood vessel when he gets mad—and you really get the impression that Noa was having a ball doing the part.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Hand is now Fingerless

Read/Watch ‘em in order #10

Realm of Doom, from The Shadow Magazine—February 1, 1939.

There’s still one member of the Hand at large and this guy’s particular brand of villainy once again takes the Shadow out of New York City. This time, the crime-fighter travels to a desolate coal mining region in West Virginia.

The bad guy’s name is Thumb Gaudrey. And, by the way, on a scale of 1 to 10, exactly how embarrassed should I be that I didn’t notice that the various leaders of the Hand were named after specific fingers--Pinky, Ring, Long, Pointer and Thumb--until I got to the last entry in the series?

Don’t answer that. I don’t want to talk about it.

Thumb has set up a kidnapping ring. When the story opens, he’s already snatched a couple of people and collected ransoms, though he hasn’t yet released any of his victims.

He and his gang have pulled the kidnapping jobs in different areas of the country. Between this and a well-hidden underground lair, the police haven’t yet realized that there is a kidnapping ring.

But one of the victims—also one of the most fun one-off characters writer Walter Gibson ever came up with—is Professor Felix Dort. The good professor pretends to be ineffectually eccentric, but he’s actually come up with a very clever method of sneaking messages out of the underground lair.

This puts the Shadow on the trail. He saves a woman from kidnappers—not once, but twice—before discovering that the bad guys are planning on snatching a literal bus load of millionaires.

But even the Shadow can be overconfident—he expects to stop the kidnappers only to end up (in his usual Lamont Cranston disguise) to be among those kidnapped. But with a little help from Felix Dort, he might just turn the table on the scoundrels.

It’s yet another fun, fast-moving novel. Most of the Shadow’s adventures are urban, so those times he’s taken out into the country always make for a nice change-of-pace. Gibson handles the action set-pieces with his usual skill, especially the final combination hand-to-hand/gun battle between the Shadow and the three top bad guys.

The plot unfolds nicely, with the Shadow and his agent Harry Vincent both doing some sharp detective work to find the underground lair. And, as I mentioned before, Felix Dort is a great character—a guy who essentially pretends to be the stereotypical absent-minded professor while all the time running various cons on his captors.

So which of the five Hand novels was the best? All are well-plotted. The rapid plot twists that come so fast and furious at the end of Chicago Crime probably make for the most entertaining moments in the series. But I think I would go with Crime Rides the Sea as my overall favorite, with its truly exciting fight scenes and its great use of so many of the Shadow’s agents, such as Jericho Druke bowling over two thugs by throwing a STOVE at them. Realm of Doom, though, ranks a very close second, giving us the Shadow as (however briefly) a helpless captive and the not-quite-as-eccentric-as-he-seems Professor Dort helping to save the day.

That’s it for these particular Shadow novels. As I mentioned when we discussed the last Invisible Man film, I’m going to be covering Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar novels (which will also give us a look at Tarzan of the Apes in a cross-over novel). In addition to that, I think we’ll take a look at the original Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe. So we’ll be traveling both to the Earth’s core and to the planet Mongo. Be sure to bring your cameras and check that your vaccinations are up-to-date.

So, for the time being, we leave the Shadow. But he’ll be back. Whenever villainy is afoot, the Shadow will always be there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Dark Knight and a Boy of Steel

 The Brave and the Bold #192 (November 1982): featuring Batman and Superboy.

Superboy? That's right. When evil scientist Ira Quimby (better known simply as I.Q.) tries to throw Superman back to prehistoric times and erect a "time shield" to keep him there, he misplaces a decimal point and tosses him back just 15 years. Because a person can't co-exist with himself in the same time, Superboy is thrown into present day.

So a veteran Batman and an inexperienced Superboy must team-up to figure out what is going on. The actual plot of this story is fine--written by Mike W. Barr and drawn by Jim Aparo, it progresses and climaxes quite satisfactorily.

Some thugs are robbing a Superman charity fund, so Batman calls in the Man of Steel to help round them up. But the time switch is made. Since Batman is, well, Batman, he quickly figures out what’s going on and begins tracking down whoever is responsible. This is Quimby, who got Superman out of the way while he generates solar flares that will “make my solar-powered brain the most brilliant in all creation.”  Working together, the Dark Knight and the Boy of Steel manage to foil Quimby’s plans.  With the bad guy’s time shield down, Superboy and Superman are able to return to their proper eras.

But what makes this story really fun is the interplay between Batman and Superboy. On several occasions, the Dark Knight has to deliver a stern lecture to young Clark about using his powers more effectively. For instance, he has to explain that it was a mistake to use heat vision on a thug's gun, since that detonated the gunpowder and tossed shrapnel about that might have hurt an innocent bystander. Instead, he should have just melted the bullets in mid-air. A chagrined Superboy replies "O-okay." Batman also has to give young Clark a “Is this how your parents trained you?” lecture to keep the Boy of Steel on track after he stumbles across the fact that the Kents have died. 

These are all wonderful little moments, charming and completely believable.

We also get a brief glimpse of Superman back in his bedroom in Smallville, listening to Pa Kent call out that breakfast was ready. Unable to face seeing his parents while knowing they will soon die, he immediately flies away. It's a brief scene, but sincerely emotional.

There might be one plot hole. Batman casually tells Superboy he won’t remember any of this. But I don’t think it works that way. When Superboy travels to the far future to work with the Legion of Super Heroes, he depends on a deliberately planted post-hypnotic suggestion to forget anything he’s learned about his personal future. It doesn’t happen automatically. But I think we can forgive this.

Besides, it’s comic book science, where you have a lot of leeway to make stuff up as you go along. Maybe the forgetting is something that happens when you get switched with your own future self. Yeah, that’s it.

By the early 1980s, the mythology of the DC universe had become quite complex. Within a few years, the editors at DC would decide it was too complex and we would be given the first of many DC Universe reboots with the Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series. Many comic fans still sincerely argue about whether this was a good or bad idea, but the complexity of the original continuity did have its advantages. In the case of this issue of "The Brave and the Bold," it allowed writer Mike W. Barr to take a law of DC Comics physics (you can't co-exist with yourself during time travel) and combine it with an established part of the Superman mythos (his career as Superboy) to create an entertaining and rewarding short story.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Casey, Crime Photographer: “The Piggy Bank Robbery” 1/29/48

A burglar enters an apartment at night, but ignores money and valuables to steal a child’s piggy bank.

Why? Well, the odd crime later becomes intertwines with the brutal murder of an ex-criminal.

The mystery really isn’t that hard to figure out, but it unfolds logical and leads up to an ending that Casey finds particularly satisfying.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Last Invisible Man

Read/Watch ‘em in Order: #9

The previous movie in this series—The Invisible Man’s Revenge—was too different from the other films to be considered a part of the same continuity, but that’s not the case with this film.

Despite a heavy dose of both verbal and slapstick humor, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) ties squarely in with the original film. Bud and Lou are newly licensed private eyes. When boxer Tommy Nelson is accused of murder, he hires the boys to help him catch the real killers.

But Tommy has another advantage. His girlfriend’s dad has inherited Jack Griffith’s original formula (heck, there’s a picture of Claude Rains hanging in his lab) and Tommy injects himself with it. But there’s still the danger of the formula driving Tommy insane and there’s no guarantee he can be cured even if he does clear his name.

Of course, that last bit does represent a continuity glitch---it had already been established in the second film that a complete blood transfusion would work as a cure. Also, Tommy is able to eat without the undigested food being visible inside him. But we can forgive this last one, since it helps set up a great visual gag later in the film when Lou and Tommy are sharing a plate of spaghetti.

The film was one of several that followed up on the commercial success of 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.  The boys had shown us that it was possible to incorporate great comedy with a serious and respectful treatment of Universal’s classic monsters, so that formula was repeated several times. In this case, the plot involved Tommy and the boys getting evidence against mobsters who framed the boxer and arranged for fights to be thrown. This part of the film is played relatively straight and progresses in a logical manner as they identify the chief mobster and set him up for a fall.

But the gags mixed in with this are hilarious without distracting from the “rational” part of the plot. The dialogue highlights Bud and Lou’s verbal wit, while several bits of physical comedy are amongst the best in any of their films. The funniest moment, I think, might possibly be the punch line (or rather the punch sight gag) involving Lou accidently putting a number of people to sleep via hypnotism.

And an extended sequence with Lou in a boxing ring, being secretly helped by Tommy during a fight, is truly classic. In fact, the entire film was consciously built around this routine.

Even the short throwaway gags (such as Lou trying to pick up a gun while wearing boxing gloves) are funny. The special effects are great and the supporting cast holds up their end of the film nicely. Sheldon Leonard plays the head mobster—a standard role for him but one he always did well both in serious films and in comedies. William Frawley gets several terrific scenes as the long-suffering police detective trying to catch Tommy.

It’s a worthwhile finale for a classic and enjoyable series of horror films.

And that does indeed bring us to the end of the Invisible Man films. We’ve still one more Shadow novel in “The Hand” series to cover, then we’ll be ready to move on to something else. Right now, I’m leaning towards examining Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellicidar novels—if only because I haven’t revisited them in awhile. But we’ll see. It’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to… um, I mean I’ll read what I want to. 

Actually, I’m open to suggestions. Any film or book series you all would like me to cover?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: October 1968


Like FF #51, this is a classic issue that really tugs at the heartstrings. Ben is human again, intensely nervous as he leaves for a date with Alicia. In the meantime, Reed learns that the cosmic radiation infusing Sue might have an unknown effect on her pregnancy (foreshadowing the events of the upcoming Annual).

An android left over from the Mad Thinker’s last appearance is inadvertently activated by the cops who are putting it in storage. It goes on a pre-programmed mission that brings it into contact with Ben and Alicia. To save the girl he loves, Ben has to revert back into the Thing, even though Reed has warned him he would never be able to become human again.

Even though Ben’s plan for turning himself into the Thing again is a little bit contrived, the issue as a whole is a very strong one—reminding us that the whole “we’re a family” vibe inherent in the Fantastic Four is what makes it stand out from other team books. Stan and Jack continue to show that they perfectly understand the personalities of their characters and if your heart doesn’t go out to Ben in the last few panels… well, you’re just dead inside and probably beat up puppy dogs in your spare time.


An unconscious Spider Man is taken in by the cops, but Captain Stacy is on hand to tell them not to unmask his until they can check with the city lawyers about the legality of that.

I doubt that makes real-life legal sense, since I’m pretty sure if the cops bust you they can take your mask off regardless of the circumstances. But in a universe in which superheroes are common and accepted, the laws might very well be a little different. In the DC Universe, for instance, there’s a law that allows superheroes to testify in court without unmasking or giving away their secret ID. Something similar is very likely to exist in the Marvel Universe.

Anyway, this sets up the story. Spidey is able to rest up in the prison infirmary, getting over the worst of his injuries quickly due to his powers. So when a bunch of prisoners stage a jail break with Captain Stacy as hostage, he’s ready to take a hand.

The action unfolds in an interesting and entertaining way. In a straight fight, Spidey could put down a half-dozen thugs in a few seconds. But here he’s worried about Stacy’s safety, so he instead pretends to join in the jail break. When he gets an opportunity to do so, he rips out a fuse box to put out the lights. Then he takes the thugs out in ones or twos before they realize what’s happening.

When it’s over, Stacy is able to vouch for Spider Man, but still wants him to stay and face any charges against him. But Peter doesn’t want to risk being unmasked, so he makes a break for it.

There’s also a scene in which Harry is looking for his now missing father and another with Aunt May being increasingly worried about Peter. Aunt May is a great character and I don’t object to her at all, but this is another instant of Stan overusing her tendency to literally worry herself sick over Peter.

THOR #157

More great action as the Mangog storyline comes to a close.

For the past three or four issues, poor Balder has been fighting the magically enslaved minions of Karnilla, sicced on him because he stubbornly refuses to fall in love with her. But his courage breaks the spell on the minions and they join Balder in returning to Asgard to defend it, leaving the Queen of the Norns heartbroken and alone. (It’s a big month for heartbroken and alone characters.)

Meanwhile, Mangog continues his unstoppable advance on Asgard, defeating Thor, the Warriors Three, Balder and his crew, the armies of Asgard and at least one all-powerful weapon. Loki panics and flees Asgard, though that won’t do him any good if the whole universe is destroyed.

But just as Mangog is about to draw the Odinsword, Thor tries one last ploy, calling up a storm designed to wake up his dad. This works. Odin casually zaps Mangog out of existence. The billion billion souls who made up his strength come into existence again on a distant planet, having completed their penance for having once been evil conquerors.

You’d think that an ending like this would seem anti-climatic. Mangog curb-stomps just about every Asgardian in existence, only to have Odin defeat him by pretty much just casually waving a hand in his direction.

But it works. If Odin had “just happened” to wake up at a key moment, it might have seemed contrived. But his awakening was Thor’s doing, which was in turn an extension of the Thunder God’s refusal to quite even defeat seemed inevitable.

What makes this story a classic is a combination of Thor’s determination along with something I’ve stressed in the last few issues: The decision to use a lot of full page, half-page and quarter page panels to highlight Jack’s art here was exactly the right thing to do. One of Kirby’s strength is his ability to endow his images with a palpable feeling of raw power. This story arc is a textbook example of just how good he was at that.

That’s it for October. Next week, we'll take a look at that time Batman teamed up with... Superboy?  Then, in November1968, the FF helps out an old friend; Spider Man takes on an old enemy; and Thor flashes back to his origin.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I've just published another e-book. Bogie at War covers the seven films made just before or during World War II in which a character played by Bogart goes up against the Axis. I've written it mostly to celebrate the themes of self-sacrifice, service to others and confronting evil that run so strongly through most of these films.

It's exclusive for the Kindle or the (free) Kindle app--I did that so that it's also available to borrow for free if you're an Amazon Prime member. It's a mere .99 cents to purchase, though. A small price for a work by a true genius such as myself.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

This is a great Joe Kubert cover, but it always makes me feel like I should be putting an emergency call into Social Services.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lives of Harry Lime: “An Old Moorish Custom” 12/14/51

Harry Lime, inveterate scoundrel and con man, has fallen in love. But does he love his lady as much as the fortune in gold—buried centuries ago by a Barbary pirate—that he has come to Algiers to find?

Click HERE to listen or download

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Best Zeppelin Story Ever

Zeppelins are pretty cool looking vehicles, rating an 8.7 on the Bogart/Karloff scale. But, though lighter-than-air ships do get used by heroes every now and then (Doc Savage often traveled into adventure aboard the airship Amberjack), adventure fiction seems to most often lean towards using zeppelins as vehicles/weapons for the bad guys.

I suppose this is because the Germans used them during World War I to bomb England. Since then, villains have often used them as a part of their nefarious schemes—during both wartime and peacetime.

For instance, in the 1971 film Zeppelin, the Germans of World War I used a zeppelin to sneak a commando force into England, with the intent of stealing the original copy of the Magna Carta. (The idea here was that this would be a severe blow to English morale.) Sadly for the Germans, there’s a double agent on board.

Zeppelin isn’t a great movie, but it is fun and—well—it has a zeppelin in it. So it’s worth watching. Michael York plays the protagonist; he’s a British soldier of mixed Scottish and German descent. He fakes a defection to the Germans to spy on them. But he ends up on the zeppelin raid before he can send a warning to the Allies, forcing him to improvise a way to stop the Germans before it’s too late. The movie’s climax alone—featuring an air battle between the zeppelin and a squadron of British fighters—is really, really cool despite a few anachronisms that WWI aviation buffs will probably notice.

But Michael York isn’t the only hero who has had to take on a zeppelin single-handedly.  In fact, though York handles himself quite well in Zeppelin, he doesn’t hold a candle to that ace combat pilot named Mickey Mouse.

 In a 1932 sequence from Flody Gottfredson’s superb comic strip, Mickey has gotten a job as a mail pilot. But it’s a bad time to take the job—mail planes have been mysteriously disappearing and no one can figure out how or why.

Mickey manages to find out—though only after he himself has been captured by air pirates using a zeppelin as a base. But after a fortuitous escape, Mickey launches a single-handed attack against the pirate vessel.

I’ve talked about Gottfredson’s work once before. His Mickey strip, which seamlessly combined slapstick humor and talking animals with a real sense of adventure and danger, was brilliant. Mickey’s battle against the zeppelin is just one example of this—it’s funny and exciting at the same time, leading us to accept a world of sentient animals as “real.” It’s the culmination of a story arc that ran nearly four months, slowing building up suspense before skillfully explaining everything and ending with a magnificent battle sequence.

I like Zeppelin and recommend it. But it you want a truly magnificent adventure story featuring a zeppelin, look no father than Mickey Mouse. Best zeppelin story ever.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: September 1968


Reed, Ben and Johnnie get back from the Microverse and see that the world is safe. But there’s no rest for the weary—the Wizard has been released from prison and is plotting revenge.

I’ve mentioned this before in similar situations—considering how compressed comic book time is, prison sentence for major crimes in the Marvel Universe seem to only be a couple of weeks long. “Wizard, you’re guilty of multiple attempts to commit mass murder!! I’m throwing the book at you. You are sentenced to… NINE DAYS OF HARD LABOR!!!”

Actually, I’m not really complaining. Comic book time is supposed to be elastic, flowing as quickly or as slowly as a particular plot requires. It’s an established convention of the genre that’s easily accepted.

Anyway, Reed has found a way to turn Ben human again. He does so, but the Wizard attacks soon afterwards (coming in through a hole in the wall made eight issues ago that Reed simply hasn’t had time to fix yet).  The villain is armed with power gloves that contain a variety of weapons and a force field. With Ben de-powered, he soon gets the advantage on the FF.

It’s yet another expertly choreographed fight scene, with Johnny given the spotlight as he manages to outwit and defeat the bad guy. That’s a nice touch in of itself. Another cool moment involves Ben, who in the heat of the moment forgets that he no longer has super strength and unsuccessfully tries to snatch up a heavy piece of equipment to throw at Wizard.

The Wizard pulls off a last minute escape when he realizes he’s beaten. Ben, who was earlier moping around because he was the Thing, is now moping around because he’s useless in a fight. 

There’s some great character moments here—most notably a moment when Reed is silently but desperately praying that he can finally cure his friend.

My one complaint is a completely subjective one. It’s something that’s always bothered me a little, but Ben feels he’s useless to the team when he’s human. Fair enough by itself. But he’s not useless, is he?

In a storyline from the 1970s, a cured Ben spent a number of issues in a Thing exoskeleton, but even that’s not really necessary. Think about it. Ben’s a highly trained pilot and a skilled hand-to-hand combatant. He’s a combat veteran, having fought in World War II (though that last detail would be retconned in later years due to the inevitable passage of time). How hard would it be for Reed to whip up some body armor and non-lethal weaponry to supplement these skills?

Ben’s got courage, intelligence, applicable skills and a sense of decency roughly the size of a solar system.  That he might feel a few moments of uselessness after the fight with the Wizard is understandable, but a few seconds thought and planning by the guy standing next to him—who happens to be the SMARTEST MAN ON THE PLANET—should have taken care of that.

But, as I said, that’s a subjective opinion. The story has great action and hits all the right character notes, so I can’t really properly call my opinion a complaint.


Spidey, with one arm injured, takes on the Vulture in a rooftop fight that lasts pretty much the entire issue. As Kirby is doing in Thor at the same time, Romita is making use of a high proportion of oversized panels to carry the action along. 

It’s a very effective visual slant, giving us a real sense of the battlefield and never letting us forgot just how high up the two combatants are. The fight also gets a lot of cool emotional mileage out of reminding us that Peter simply does NOT give up.

This is apparently a month in which supervillains with damaged suits make last minute getaways. Vulture does this after Spidey damages his suit’s power pack.

But the fight has taken a lot out of Peter. The issue ends with a great cliffhanger—Spider Man is unconscious and at the mercy of the crowd.

There are a few character moments squeezed in. Gwen finally realizes that Peter didn’t betray or attack her dad while Captain Stacy was brainwashed.

And—curse you, Stan and John!!! You’re making me comment on… on… a girl’s HAIR STYLE!!!

I’m gonna lose my man card forever, but here goes: Mary Jane gets a hair cut and a perm. And it looks absolutely hideous!!!! 

Stan Lee has been quoted as saying that they tried for years to make Gwen more interesting than Mary Jane, but never succeeded. I wonder if this was an early attempt to give Gwen an edge. I can’t believe John Romita, who is no stranger to making the women he draws look drop-dead gorgeous, thought this was a good idea.

Well, that’s done. I’ve commented on a woman’s hair style. No one is to ever speak of this again.

THOR #156

The fight against Mangog continues, with Thor and the Warriors Three ripping up the landscape for miles around in a vain attempt to stop the powerful creature. They manage to slow Mangog up a tad, but that’s about all they accomplish.

Like this month’s Spider Man, this issue is pretty much one long fight scene, with a few brief asides sandwiched in. Most importantly, Balder is still fighting for his life against Karnilla’s minions and the Recorder (the robot observer from Rigel who traveled with Thor for a time) comes to Asgard to record the attempt to stop Mangog.

There’s not much more to add that I didn’t mention in reviewing last issue. Jack Kirby again uses a lot of oversize panels and several splash pages to give the whole issue a sense of raw power.

And I don’t know if we’ve ever seen Thor as powerful as he is here—using not just his strength and his hammer, but also his weather control abilities turned up to eleven in a vain attempt to defeat Mangog.  All really cool stuff. My personal favorite Thor storyline was the one involving Hercules and Pluto that ran in issues 125-130. But the Mangog story, which literally overflows with visual awesomeness, comes in a really close second.

That’s it for September. In October, Ben Grimm makes an important decision; Spider Man leads a mass jail break; and the warriors of Asgard continue to get the collective snot beat out of them.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

I have nothing to add to this. This cover stands on its own merits.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Philo Vance: “The Catty Corpse Murder Case” 1/17/50

A distraught woman comes to Vance after seeing her supposedly dead husband walking along the street. But if Vance knew her motive for finding the husband, he wouldn’t be too eager to help. As is typical of Philo Vance, this is a well-constructed mystery with a nifty twist at the end.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Blazing sixguns and Maternal Instincts

A few weeks back, I talked about a pulp detective story by Norman Daniels--a typically enjoyable and action-packed example of entertaining storytelling that came out of the pulp era.

Another example is "Sixguns to Bowie," by Robert J. Hogan. Hogan is best remembered among pulp afficianados as the writer of all 110 issues of G-8 and His Battle Aces, with recounted the World War I adventures of an allied pilot and spy. I've written about G-8 before as well--they were completely unrealistic but mind-numbingly fun yarns in which the spy foiled German plots involving giant robot bats, men surgically transformed into werewolves, and genetically-engineered giant eagles.

Hogan touched on other genres as well. "Sixguns to Bowie" was published in the September 1949 issue of Exciting Western. Like so many other pulp stories, it was a short, but solidly plotted tale that served its purpose in giving the reader some entertaining escapism.

In the story, a young cowboy is on the run from the law after he had taken a job herding cattle that he didn't know had been rustled. He reaches the town of Bowie, hopefully far enough from his old stomping grounds so that he can get a fresh start. But a wanted poster with his picture on it soon pops up.

But he now has friends. An older cowboy and a middle-aged widow have both taken a liking to him. In the woman's case, her maternal instincts are also taking over. So when the young man's life is endangered, it's these two who come to his rescue. A nice bit of deductive reasoning and a well-placed rifle shot lead to a happy ending for everyone but the villain. The villain ends up as lunch for the vultures--but this is a Western, after all.

The story depends on a couple of unlikely coincidences to set up the characters and their relationships with each other, but this is otherwise a well-written Western with particularly likable protagonists. Hogan, like Norman Daniels, was one of the many skilled storytellers who made the pulp era of fiction worthwhile.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: August 1968


Two stories parallel each other this issue. The Silver Surfer returns to Earth and offers his services to Galactus. Released from his exile, he quickly finds a lifeless but energy-rich planet half-way across the galaxy. Galactus heads off to the planet to have lunch, but also zaps the Surfer back to Earth, exiling him again. Galactus’ cruel but logical thought is that someday he might need the Surfer again, so he puts his sometimes Herald where he can find him again.

It’s a pretty sudden and perhaps slightly anti-climatic end to the Galactus story arc. But it gives Jack Kirby a chance to draw the Surfer zipping through an interstellar setting, which is justification enough for any plot twist.

We also get a blurb reminding us that the Surfer now has his own monthly book. We might take a look at an issue or two of that series at some point in the series. But its interesting to note that Jack Kirby was not the artist (though John Buscema did a superb job), nor did Jack get a credit for creating the Surfer. It’s one of the factors that would cause him to leave Marvel just a few more years down the road.

But for now, we must look back at Reed, Ben and Johnnie, who are still back in the microverse. They have a typically cool fight against Psycho-Man and eventually come out on top, but then Reed calls the fight off. He reminds the villain that the microverse will be destroyed along with Earth, so perhaps he should let the FF return to Earth to oppose Galactus. Psycho-Man agrees.

That gives us two anti-climaxes for the price of  had one. Gee whiz, Reed, if you weren’t going to finish off Psycho-Man, why did you choose to stay and fight when you could have just left at the end of the last issue anyways?

Jack Kirby’s awesome layouts and magnificent sci-fi gadgetry pretty much saves the day again, but this otherwise great story arc does limp to the finish line after stumbling over a rather large plot hole.


Adrian Toomes, the original Vulture, is supposed to be dead. But this is a comic book universe, so he isn’t really. Though he bequeathed his wings to Blackie Drago back in Spider Man #48 while on his death bed, he later got better. He managed to fake his death in a fire and sneak out of jail.

Now he’s healthy again and back in his Vulture costume. He breaks Drago out of jail to use him as an assistant, but Drago doesn’t want to be second fiddle to anyone. So the two men, both now in Vulture costumes, begin an aerial battle over New York City.

Peter Parker sees this, but he (in a brilliantly prosaic moment) had injured his shoulder the night before when his webbing failed to stick to the side of a building during a rainstorm. So he sits the fight out and soon finds himself on the roof of the Daily Bugle with J.J.J. taking pictures of it instead.

But when the fight endangers a small boy, Peter changes into Spider Man and leaps into action despite his injured shoulder. He saves the boy while the inexperienced Drago is beaten into submission and then arrested by the cops. The issue ends with Vulture attacking Spidey.

It’s a great issue. Most of the action centers around two villains fighting each other, with the webslinger only jumping in near the end. That makes for a fun change-of-pace. And, as usual, Stan Lee manages to fit in some good character moments with the supporting cast: Gwen still isn’t speaking to Peter; Captain Stacy wants to talk to Peter about something; and Norman Osborne has increasingly vivid dreams about the Green Goblin.

THOR #155

Mangog continues his march to Asgard, determined to draw the Odinsword and thus destroy the universe. He easily whips some storm giants, decimates a whole bunch of Asgardian warriors and imprisons the Warriors Three inside a mountain he just sort of shoves together around them. His gradual approach to Asgard will continue to help build suspense throughout the next several issues.

Stan and Jack do a nice job in building up just how powerful Mangog is, showing him casually smacking down giants and whacking aside mountains. We also learn his origin—a race doomed by Odin had transferred all their strength into Mangog, so he has the strength of a “billion, billion beings.” He’s as strong as 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 people, which is pretty darn strong.

Thor and a now-healthy Sif return to Asgard. (Balder tries to return as well, but is busy fighting Karnilla’s soldiers. That girl just doesn’t take no for an answer!) Loki’s on the throne while Odin still sleeps, but he’s just dividing his time between ordering his enemies on suicide missions to fight Mangog or whining about how Asgard doesn’t stand a chance.

Thor rides out to fight Mangog, only to be caught apparently helpless in the creature’s grasp as the issue ends.

Stan and Jack were apparently very aware of how much making this story work depended on Jack’s visuals being even more epic than usual. There are three full page splash panels in this issue and a large proportion of oversized panels on other pages. This may in part have been to draw the story out over more issues, but it really works in terms of effective storytelling. It’s a bigger-than-life story with bigger-than-life characters. The use of large panels endows everything with more power while making all the detail that Kirby could crowd into a panel look even cooler than it usually does. This is one of the top-ten Thor story arcs of all time and a prime example of how Jack Kirby’s art—when he was at his prime and allowed to indulge his cosmic-powered imagination—was quite simply made of awesome.

That’s if for August. In September 1968, Ben Grimm will get a chance to be human again; Spidey and Vulture go at it for an entire issue; and Thor and a few friends fight a hopeless battle.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

There have been an awful lot of skeleton pirates appearing in various works of fiction through the years. They always look cool, though.
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