Monday, April 30, 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: “Raising the Siege” 4/24/42

The leading citizen in a remote town is disdainful of that new-fangled telegraph system. But when the town is besieged by outlaws after a gold dust shipment, a desperate plan to get a message for help out to an army fort might just change his mind.

It’s the Lone Ranger, of course, who makes the dangerous attempt to reach the telegraph line and splice into it. In fact, the Ranger has a pretty busy episode: he outruns a posse that mistakes him for an outlaw; warns the town; and organizes a defense before he even gets around to riding for help.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Doing more harm than good

Dick Powell started his Hollywood career as a singer/dancer in light-weight musical comedies. So it was something of a shock in 1944 when he played hard-boiled private eye Phillip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet and did it extremely well.

Powell played off his newly-won hard-boiled cred for the rest of his career, both in film and on radio. In fact, a year after Murder, My Sweet, he re-joined director Edward Dymtryk to star in a superb film noir titled Cornered.

Powell is a Canadian named Laurence Gerard just released from a POW camp as the war ends, collecting a small fortune in back pay. But instead of heading home, he returns to France. His French wife had been executed at the order of a Vichy French official. And when Powell finds that official, he's going to have his revenge.

The official--named Jarnoc--is supposedly dead. To make things even harder, there's no picture or description of him. But Gerard manages to dig up a clue that takes him from France to Argentina, where he's soon hip-deep in a subculture of fascists and collaborators. But not all the villains he meets are necessarily villains and he may end up undercutting attempts to break up the local fascist organization.

Cornered has a exceptionally well-constructed plot--everything that happens follows a perfectly logical pattern. And, like all good film noir, it's full of interesting supporting characters. Most notable is a "professional guide" played by Walter Slezak, who may be working for the fascists or working for himself, depending on what day of the week it is.

Slezak specialized in playing sleazy villains and giving them believable personalities. He does his typical great job with this role.

Powell is right on target as Gerard, playing the role with barely contained anger seething just below the surface.Also, Gerard is suffering from what today we would call Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and given to brief but intense panic attacks.

What makes the film particularly interesting is that Powell, though the protagonist, isn't presented as automatically in the right. His desire for revenge rather than justice and his heavy-handed investigative technique (he's not, after all, a professional P.I. this time around) soon start to interfere with another set of good guys who are also trying to smoke out the collaborators.

It all leads up to a climax in a deserted waterfront bar, where Gerard seems to be hopelessly trapped unless the fact that the bad guys no longer completely trust each other changes the situation drastically.

Cornered is a textbook example of the strengths of of film noir: black-and-white photography that makes great use of light and shadow; interesting supporting characters; strong and logical story line and a flawed but sympathetic protagonist.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: July 1969


Smartest guy in the universe, my Aunt Fanny!!!

Okay, Reed, your wife says she’s found a nice house in the country. Of course, it’s of an odd design that includes being mostly underground, no one knows who built it and at one point you stumble across a booby trap and nearly get zapped.

Question: Should you buy this place and move in with your wife and infant son?

Reed’s answer: Sure, why not?

In many ways, this issue and the next make up for a strong story with a lot of great action, but I simply can’t not let the weak set-up go by without mocking it. It’s an underground house built mostly underground that contains hidden high-tech booby traps and is of unknown origin. REED, YOU’RE AN IDIOT. DON’T BUY IT, MAN! IT’S A BAD IDEA!

Oh, well, at least it ends with a great cliffhanger. The place has been built by the Mole Man, who is using it to broadcast a ray that will eventually make everyone on the surface world blind.

That’s a creepy plan by itself. But when Reed and Sue move in, then have Crystal and Johnny over for dinner, he turns the ray up to eleven and turns them instantly blind, then confronts them in an appropriately gloating fashion.

And that really is a great cliffhanger. It’s too bad it’s marred by giving pretty much all the good guys a collective Idiot Ball in order to get to that part. Both Stan and Jack were better than this, by golly.


We finally find out what the deal is with that darned ancient tablet. The hieroglyphics on it were never translated because they were not words, but biochemical symbols that gave directions on making a youth serum.

Doc Connors, forced to work for the elderly Maggia chief Silverman because his wife and son are being held hostage, figures this out and whips up the potion. He wants to test it, but the anxious Silverman snatches it up and chugs it down. And it works—he’s almost instantly a young man again.

While all this is going on, the story is effectively padded out by Spider Man’s desperate search for the Connors’; tension between Silverman and his presumed successor (a diminutive lawyer known as Big Caesar); and a typically well-choreographed fight between Spidey and some mob thugs. I have to nit-pick on one item: Spidey finds out Mrs. Connors and her son are hostages because one of the thugs simply shouts out this information for no real reason. But that’s a minor quibble with an otherwise strong issue that will soon lead into one of the best Lizard stories of the Stan Lee-era.

 THOR #166

With Sif captured by Him (though Him is acting with childish innocence and means no harm), Thor goes into a berserker rage. When he tracks down Him on a desolate planet, he fights with savagery and no thought of giving quarter or offering mercy to a defeated foe.

This, it turns out, is a no-no as far as Asgardians are concerned. When Him begins to lose the fight and wraps himself back up in a cocoon, Odin zaps him away into deep space to save him from the Thunder God. He’ll eventually be found by the High Evolutionary in Marvel Premiere #1 (1972), where he’ll get the name Adam Warlock and slowly get the hang of being a good guy.

Thor comes out of his rage and realizes he’s been naughty. And Odin already has a penance planned out for his son. He’s decided that someone has to go into deep space to search for Galactus. That’s now a job for Thor.

Once again, the story allows Jack Kirby to go to town with cosmic-level imagery.  At this point, even discounting the poor plotting in this month’s FF, I’m leaning slightly towards Thor being the best showcase for Kirby’s work in 1969. It’s a close call, because the Fantastic Four also looks, well, fantastic. But there you have it.

That’s it for June. Next week, we’ll begin our look at the Weisinger Superman era with a look at the introduction of Supergirl.

In two week, we’ll return to the Marvel Universe as we enter August 1969, in which Tom Seaver comes within two outs of pitching a perfect game for the Mets; The Fantastic Four quite literally get blindsided by the Mole Man; Silvermane discovers he may soon have to enroll in a diaper-cleaning service; and Thor gets ready to begin his search for Galactus.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: “Too Little to Live On.” 12/26/47

This is yet another example of Suspense giving a comedian a serious role. In this case, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson play a dirt-poor couple forced to care for a invalid but rich relative. This guy makes their lives miserable, driving the couple to think about murder.

Ozzie and Harriet do a great job in their roles, the script is solid and generates a lot of honest emotion, and the ending is absolutely brutal.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Very Definition of Epic

It’s the early 17th Century. The Turks are certain to march north into Russia when the weather allows it. Guarding the border along the Dnieper River are the Cossacks. But they lack arms and supplies and their leader—Rurik—is a prisoner of the Turks.

So the young chief Demid and his big partner Ayub plan to raid down into Ottoman territory, stealing enough gold to pay Rurik’s ransom.

Well, there are hundreds of thousands of soldiers serving under the Ottoman flag, all of whom would gladly cut the throat of any Cossack they catch. How many men will Demid need to carry out a successful raid that will take him deep into the heart of enemy territory?

Demid figures thirty men will be enough.

This is the premise of Harold Lamb’s novella “The Witch of Aleppo,” published in the January 30, 1924 issue of Adventure magazine. I’ve written about Lamb’s superb Cossack stories before. They are true edge-of-your-seat adventures, written with a real sense of time and place, filled with great characters and plots with many twists and turns as well as exciting action.

This is the October issue of Adventure. I was unable to locate an image of the January issue.

Though “Witch” does not star Khlit, the aged Cossack who is my favorite Lamb character, it’s perhaps my favorite of his stories. It has a truly epic feel to it—the small band of Cossacks must ride huge distances, capture a galley and row across a hostile sea, then ride again for many more leagues before they reach the city of Aleppo (located in what would today be Syria), in which--rumor has it--a great treasure is stored.

Then there’s just the small matter of getting into the walled and heavily guarded city, then getting out again with the treasure.

Demid and Ayub—a true odd couple to start with—are wonderful characters in of themselves. Demid is a young and quick-thinking warrior who has already earned an authority over others despite his youth. Ayub is a big veteran who is deadly in a fight, wielding a huge broadsword, but is also superstitious and sometimes prone to act without thinking.

They had already appeared in several earlier stories. This time around, they are joined by Michael—an itinerant Irish swordsman isn’t as foppish as he first seems—and Lila, an Armenian woman rescued from the Muslims who may or may not be trusted to help. Lila is the title character, a beautiful young lady who Ayub soon decides is a witch who has cast a spell on Demid—since why else would he insist on bringing a woman along? But Demid has a plan for getting into Aleppo and he needs the girl to carry it out.

There are a number of great action set-pieces here, most notably a fight to capture a galley; a frantic escape from the beached galley sometime later; and a desperate battle in a secret treasure room at Aleppo. Demid thinks and plans his way out of seemingly hopeless situations on several occasions. Stuff happens that makes you think Lila can be trusted. Then stuff happens that changes your mind. Then even more stuff happens that might possibly change your mind again.

I don’t want summarize too much of the story, because I don’t want to spoil any of the great plot twists that keep coming up. Suffice to say that Demid’s raid into Aleppo lasts about seven months, with he and his men in constant danger pretty much all the time.  Despite the relative short length of the tale, Lamb is able to give a real sense of distances to be crossed and dangers to be confronted—creating an adventure that the Cossacks will be telling each other about over their campfires for years to come. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: June 1969


Free from the village and joined by Sue, the FF storm Doom’s castle. Doom, though, is setting up a trap for them once they get inside.

This all sets up a pretty nifty conclusion, which surprisingly involves one of Doom’s henchman—the ex-Nazi guy whose been sniveling around at Doom’s heels for the last few issues. Basically, the guy is so obsessed with making himself look good in his boss’s eyes that he screws everything up. Doom has to kill him instead of his arch-enemies.

In what is a bit of a deus ex machina, when his booby-trap goes awry, Doom just grumpily calls off the fight and tells the FF to leave his country. I’m not sure if I completely buy that—it’s not as if Doom didn’t have a castle full of advanced weaponry, trained soldiers and killer robots still at his command.

But I don’t really feel the urge to complain. Though not as epic as the previous Doom story arc (where he stole the Silver Surfer’s powers), this was still a good, solid story. I especially like how the action logically shifted from a desperate last stand in the previous issue to an assault on a castle in this issue. Also, props to Stan and Jack for giving both Sue and Crystal some cool action stuff to do during the fighting. It’s a long way since the Sue of the first year of the comic, where the most she ever seemed to get to do was surreptitiously trip an occasional fleeing Skrull.

Also, there’s a little bit more foreshadowing about the underground house that Sue was considering buying a few issues back. That poor real estate decision will be driving the plot for the next few issues.


First, Kingpin wanted that darned ancient tablet. Then Shocker stole it. Now the Maggia (the Marvel Universe version of the Mafia) is after it.

Spider Man tracks the tablet to an old girl friend of Shocker, but the Maggia leg-breaker Man Mountain Marko is there as well. Marko doesn’t have any powers, but (like Ox of the Enforcers) he’s so big and strong that he can stand toe-to-toe with a superhero.

Marko uses the rather ruthless tactic of tossing a girl out a window to distract Spidey while he gets away with the tablet.

The action scenes are typically cool, but it’s the character moments that really shine in this issue. I love a bit early on where Spider Man enters the Stacy house through Captain Stacy’s bedroom window, in order to compare notes with the policeman and get a lead on the tablet. Stacy helps him, but only after sternly telling the webslinger “Just because I don’t thing you’re as bad as you’re painted, doesn’t mean I like having my house broken into!”

But the best scene involves Robbie and his son Randy at the Daily Bugle. It is, in fact, Robbie’s Crowning Moment of Awesome and cements his well-deserved reputation as one of the most thoughtful and decent characters to populate the Marvel Universe.

Randy is thinking of quitting college. Robbie isn’t objecting to his son’s militant politics (“maybe we need more of that stripe”), but he still gives a corny but all-the-same heartfelt speech about the importance of an education to combat bigotry.

He then stands up to Jamison, who is throwing a fit for reporting a story that made Spider Man look heroic. Jamison backs down when Robbie refuses to distort straight news stories.

Randy is impressed that his dad was willing to put his job on the line to do the right thing, but still wonders like he has to “take all that bull from a racist like him?” Robbie’s answer is the best part of that scene, accurately defining his character and giving us an insight into Jamison:

This was, in fact, an important moment in Jamison’s continuing characterization. Since he’s supposed to be a blowhard and a bit of a jerk, a lazy writer might have made him a bigot to highlight his faults. But Stan Lee didn’t go that route. Instead, he made sure we knew that J.J.J. is an equal opportunity blowhard and jerk. He does have his good points, even if those points are often hard to find.

Anyway, while all this is going on, Marko takes the tablet to the elderly Silvermane—the head of the Maggia. Silverman, who apparently knows the secret the tablet holds, kidnaps a scientist to help decipher the tablet.

That the scientist is a one-armed man named Curt Connors couldn’t possibly lead to any trouble, could it?

THOR #165

Pluto and his futuristic mutants have been defeated, but there is still something powerful wandering around the halls of the Atomic Research Center.  Thor, Sif and Balder investigate and soon encounter “Him.”

This guy, if you remember, is the genetically engineered super being made by a cabal of scientists back in Fantastic Four #66. He had destroyed his creators and fled into space, but a chain of unusual circumstances (well not so unusual in a comic book universe) soon had him back on Earth and wrapped in a cocoon. Now he’s on the loose again.

He’s decided that he’s lonely and that Sif would be a good mate, so he snatches her up and zaps himself to another dimension. Thor uses his hammer to whip up his own dimensional vortex, allowing he and Balder to follow.

But, just as Thor and Him confront one another on a desolate planetscape, an old hag of a witch (conveniently named Haag) reaches through a dimensional hole to kidnap Balder, intending to bring him to Karnilla. While Thor is saving Balder, Him and Sif disappear again.

Once again, we have a strong story that is also designed to highlight Jack Kirby’s awesomeness at drawing alien landscapes, bizarre creatures and cosmically powered beings.

That’s it for June. In July, the Fantastic Four unwisely follow up on Sue’s poor real estate decision; Spider Man hunts for a missing friend; and Thor goes into a Berserker Rage.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

This guy isn't wearing a badge, so I assume he's the sheriff killer and not a sheriff. Looks mean enough for the part, anyways.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: “Murder in G Flat” 4/5/51

Suspense was, of course, well-known for using a different movie star in nearly every episode—often casting them in parts against type. Perhaps the niftiest variation of this was casting a well-known comedian in a serious role.

“Murder in G-Flat” gives us Jack Benny, doing an excellent job of playing Hercules Remington, a piano tuner who finds himself involved in an adventure involving a cache of stolen money and, eventually, a murder.

Benny plays the role completely straight and he has a strong story to back up his performance. The tale has several great twists coming one on top of another, with a tense climax atop a Coney Island funhouse—where Hercules Remington’s habit of mentally translating all sounds into their musical equivalent just might help save his life.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wait-a-minute!! Did Dale just STAB FLASH GORDON IN THE BACK???

Read/Watch ‘em in order #15

Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938) picks up right where the previous serial left off—with Flash, Dale and Zarkov heading back to Earth after defeating Ming on the planet Mongo.

Dale is still played by Jean Rogers, but she’s now a brunette rather than a blonde. This was, of course, done to make her look more like Dale does in the comic strip. But it makes it look as if—in universe—Dale took time to re-color her hair during the trip home.

Gee whiz. Women!!

Anyway, there’s no peace for the heroic. A mysterious beam from outer space is wrecking havoc with Earth’s atmosphere. The trio (along with a stowaway reporter named “Happy” Hapgood) take off in a rocket trip and back track the beam to Mars.

The situation is thus: Mars is ruled by the pleasant-to-look-at but evil Queen Azura, who carries a white sapphire with her that gives her magical powers. (Azura, by the way, is a character taken from Alex Raymond's original strip, though I believe she was  based on Mongo in the strip.)

Ming the Merciless—supposed dead on Mongo—is now serving as Azura’s chief henchman. He is planning, of course, on double-crossing the queen and taking over as soon as he can manage it. To this end, at least one of Azura’s soldiers is really loyal to Ming and he’s also managed to make a secret alliance with the savage Forest People of Mars.

Azura has a sort of self-made problem. She transforms people who displease or betray her into Clay People, then send them off to live in remote caves. But now there’s enough Clay People to be a threat to her. So Ming builds a “nitron lamp” that is shooting out a beam to suck all the “nitron” out of Earth’s atmosphere, using that element to build powerful bombs with which to attack the Clay People. This will have the side effect of destroying all life on Earth, but Ming is perfectly happy with that since he blames the loss of his throne on Mongo on an earthman.

Got all that? It’s actually a pretty nifty set-up for some good adventure storytelling. In fact, it gets even a little more convoluted. The Clay People at first think Flash and his friends are also enemies, there’s a black sapphire hidden in a Forest People temple that can cancel out Azura’s magic and Prince Barin (Flash’s chief ally from Mongo) shows up about a third of the way into the serial.

The screenplay manages to juggle all these elements quite effectively. In fact, the various shifting loyalties and hidden intrigues help provide quite a bit of suspense on top of the race to save Earth.

It’s nice to see Barin again, though fans of the first serial can’t help but miss Prince Thun the Lion Man and King Vultan the Hawk Man—the other members of Flash’s original motley crew of heroes on Mongo.

Production values are good—the light bridge that connects the airfield in Azura’s city with her palace (and it’s exactly what it says it is: a bridge made of light) is a fun effect, as are the bat-wing capes that most Martian soldiers wear. These capes can work as parachutes or otherwise allow their wearers to glide short distances. One effect—the Clay People emerging from the walls of their cave—is a simple dissolve shot that still manages to look appropriately creepy.

I don’t believe I’ve watched this specific serial before. At first, I was worried about the character of Happy Hapgood. Clearly, he was meant to be a comic relief character. As much as I love the serials of this era, the one thing they never did well was comic relief. The “funny” guys are never funny and are usually completely useless in terms of helping fight the bad guys.

But Happy, though he does have some comic relief responsibilities, actually proves to be a worthy ally. In fact, he gets to save Flash’s life on one occasion.

So does Dale—who gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome when she steals a strato-sled (think sci-fi jet fighter) and uses it to bomb some Forest People who are about to overwhelm Flash and Zarkov. If there’s any one complaint that could be made about the first serial, it’s that Dale doesn’t get to do anything other than wait to be rescued. But this time around, she has opportunity to pull her own weight.

Of course, in a later chapter, she’s exposed to the “Incense of Forgetfulness” by the Forest People and—in what may be the single best cliffhanger moment in serial history—stabs Flash in the back. But that doesn’t detract from her previous Action Girl moment at all. Heck, that pesky “Incense of Forgetfulness” would throw anybody off.

There is one more thing that deserves mention. Azura’s powers (which include teleportation as well as transforming people into clay people) are unabashedly described as magic. I was half-expected an explanation from Zarkov at some point telling everyone that it’s really some form of super-science. But no—it’s magic.

And, though Flash Gordon’s universe is technically one of science fiction and not fantasy—this fits into the story’s ambiance just fine. The solar system according to Flash is a pretty gosh-darn bizarre place and there’s actually room for a little bit of magic.

In the end, Ming travels so far into Crazy Town that even his own minions start to doubt him. The Earth is saved and Flash’s posse heads back home to a ticker-tape parade.

Overall, the original Flash Gordon serial is the better of the two, if only because of a slightly more entertaining set of supporting characters and some cool visuals (such as the Hawk Men’s floating city) that this one never quite equals. But Trip to Mars is still one of the best serials of the decade—a worthy addition to Flash Gordon’s interplanetary career.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: May 1969


Doom’s robots are out-of-control and attacking the village. Reed organizes the villagers into a defensive unit, while Ben and Johnnie form a first line of defense.

As the battle begins, the hypnosis blocking the FF’s powers begins to wear off. So what follows is a classic “last stand” scenario, in which the outnumbered and outgunned heroes are slowly forced back into a single building and all seems lost.

But Reed has deduced that Doom would have built a fail-safe system into the robots. He pulls out a last-second tactic that destroys the robots.

Doom, ever the sportsman-like winner, decides to blow the whole darn village up. But the building in which everyone is hiding is saved by a force field. Sue—worried about her family—has left Franklin with a babysitter and rushed to join them.  Now all that’s left is confronting Doom himself.

This issue contains a fast-moving battle that’s mapped out for us with an expertise that’s notable even by Jack Kirby’s usual high standards. We are able to follow along with a number of different characters as the action moves from one line of defense to the next, until we arrive at the final last stand location, without ever losing track of the flow of events.


Here’s a one-issue story to provide a break between multi-issue arcs. The Shocker is back, stealing the ancient tablet that Spidey had so much trouble recovering. But when that proves too hot to fence, he tries robbing an armored car.

In each circumstance, he encounters Spider Man. Like Kirby, John Romita provides us with some great fights scenes, ending when the webslinger—realizing that Shocker’s vibration power was absorbing the forces of his punches--let’s loose with all his strength to knock out the villain.

In between these fights, Peter ships Aunt May off to Florida for her health. This is a good thing. I like Aunt May and I understand her thematic importance to being a part of Spider Man’s mythos, but there are times when her “always on the verge of death” vibe begins to get on one’s nerves. Providing us with a break from that is a good idea.

Also, Gwen continues to suspect that Peter lacks physical courage. When Flash Thompson comes home on leave, Peter gets annoyed with him for hitting on Gwen. Gwen’s reaction is to be critical of a “boy” like Peter getting upset with a “man” who has seen combat. Ouch.

This is actually a great idea for shaking up Peter’s relationship with Gwen. It’s a perfectly logical extension of his secret identity. He actually proves his courage on a daily basis, but he can’t actually tell Gwen about it.

Finally, there’s a hilarious interlude with Jameson, who is still hospitalized and must be sedated when he sees a story in the Robertson-edited Daily Bugle that calls Spider Man a hero.

One drawback of these regular reviews is that I’m often forced to repeat myself in pointing out the strengths of the best Marvel Comics of this era. For instance, I’m mentioned Kirby’s and Romita’s expert fight choreography at least 23,146,023 times. I’m also repeating myself here when I sum up my above comments on this issue by mentioning for the 1,456,294 time how skilled Lee and Romita were at inserting all these character moments without breaking up the overall rhythm of the story or slowing down the pacing. But it continues to be true.

All the elements of Spider Man that would be clich├ęd soap opera material if done less skillfully are woven into the plot each month with real skill. The plot construction from this issue gives us perhaps the finest examples of what makes Peter Parker/Spider Man such an enduring character.

THOR #164

Okay—okay—OKAY!!! I KNOW! It’s now 23, 146, 024 times that I’ll have mentioned Jack Kirby’s skill at choreographing fight scenes.

Because he does it again here. Thor and Sif battle Pluto and his mutates in the far future. During that fight, they and the missing atomic research lab get zapped back to the present.

So now the Army (and Baldar, who is sent to Earth by Odin because the poor sap can’t get Karnilla out of his head) join in the battle. Gee whiz, this is cool stuff.

It all ends in a perfectly logical manner—though I have to say that this time around it comes across as a dues ex machina. Zeus learns that Pluto is up to something, pops down to Earth, gives Pluto a talking too and zaps all the various bad guys back where they belong.

But Thor and his friends aren’t going to have much of a rest. An as-yet unidentified specimen in the atomic research lab is breaking out of its containment chamber…

That’s it for May. In June, the New York Mets are in second place right behind the Chicago Cubs.

But—oddly—Marvel Comics features less bizarre  happenings as the five members of the Fantastic Four confront Dr. Doom; Spider Man finally learns what the heck is actually on that ancient tablet; and Thor confronts a being more powerful than Nolan Ryan’s fast ball.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

I know its only been a month since featuring a Viking Prince cover, but this one is too cool not to show you.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Inner Sanctum: “Birdsong for a Murderer” 6/22/52

In my opinion, this is THE classic Inner Sanctum episode, with a superb performance by Boris Karloff and a strong plot that zigs and zags unexpectedly at the end.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

New book on Charlie Chaplin

Here's an interview with the author of a new book on Charlie Chaplin.   This guy obviously knows his stuff and this interview is a real education by itself. The book is now one I'm anxious to read.


Read/Watch ‘em in order #14

It was fourteen years between Pellucidar (the second novel about that world at the Earth’s core) and Tanar of Pellucidar. The third novel didn’t appear until 1929, when it was serialized in The Blue Book Magazine.

The first two novels in the series formed a self-contained adventure with a satisfying ending, so there was no immediate story-driven need for a sequel. Also, Burroughs’ biggest commercial success was Tarzan and he spend a lot of time writing about the ape man or overseeing merchandising efforts. By 1929, the Lord of the Jungle had appeared in twelve novels.

I have a theory about why Burroughs opted to return to Pellucidar after a decade and a half away. I’ll preface this by saying I only did a minimal amount of checking about Burroughs’ reason and didn’t find any information. It’s entirely possible my theorizing could be completely and demonstrably wrong. If any of you know the real story behind his decision to write another Pellucidar novel, please leave a comment.

But in the meantime, I like my theory enough to just blindly go for it and pretend its true. In the twelve Tarzan novels thus far published, the ape man had already encountered at least seven lost or hidden civilizations. Well, the marketplace demanded more Tarzan adventures, but perhaps Burroughs was afraid of running the lost civilization idea into the ground. He’d return to that concept several times in future Tarzan novels, but by the time 1929 rolled around, he may have wanted to try something different.

So how about having Tarzan visit a previously established location in the ERB universe? It might be tricky figuring out how to get him to Mars or Venus. I kind of wish he’d sent Tarzan to Caspak at least once (though comic book writer/artist Russ Manning would eventually take the ape man there in an excellent graphic novel).

Burroughs, though, decided on sending Tarzan down to Pellucidar. But how to get him there and, perhaps more importantly, why would he go?

Tanar of Pellucidar’s purpose, beyond telling a cracking good adventure story, is to set up the method and reason for Tarzan visiting that world in 1930’s Tarzan at the Earth’s Core.

To this end, Burroughs tells us of an inventor friend named Jason Gridley, who invents a new radio with which he contacts Abner Perry in Pellucidar. Jason finds out David Innes, Emperor of Pellucidar, is a prisoner of the Korsars.

The Korsars are descendents of Moorish pirates who entered Pellucidar through an entrance near the North Pole. (There’s no discussion about why Moorish pirates were sailing around that far out of their bailiwick. I’ll have to theorize about that someday.)

The Korsars raid one of the tribes that make up the Empire and are driven off, but not without capturing the warrior Tanar.

The Korsar chief has a beautiful adopted daughter named Stellara—the daughter of a woman captured while pregnant years ago. This is a Burroughs novel, so Tanar and Stellara are soon in love.

What follows is a novel-length set of successive mini-adventures. A storm wrecks the Korsar fleet and leave the two protagonists stuck on a slowly sinking hulk. They make it ashore, but run into various dangers there. There’s a pause in the action when they find the village of Stellara’s mother and seem to find a home.

Burroughs actually spends a chapter or two in romantic-comedy mode at this point, when the local equivalent to the prom queen falls for Tanar and the local equivalent to the star quarterback falls for Stellara. But fortunately, the threat of sudden violent death turns up before this drags out too long when Stellara is again captured by Korsars.

Actually, I shouldn’t make too much fun of the rom-com interlude. It’s a bit strange, but Burroughs had a good sense of humor and he does turn this into an entertaining enough sequence.

Anyway, multiple escapes, rescues and recaptures follow until Tanar and Stellara end up as prisoners in the Korsar’s main city. Here they meet David Innes, who had been himself captured while on a rescue mission to help Tanar.

This leads to another escape, another recapture and another escape. In all that confusion, Tanar and Stellara end up getting away, but David is still a prisoner.

Well, that can’t be allowed to stand. When Jason Gridley learns of this, he immediately determines to lead a rescue mission into Pellucidar via the polar opening that David discovered during the course of the novel. And maybe—just maybe—it might be a good idea to take along someone who can operate effectively in a jungle environment…

I suppose it can be legitimately argued that the plot lacks a solid enough structure—the individual action set pieces do have a certain randomness to them and the story runs through several successive bad guys who aren’t really different enough from one another to give them individual personalities. With one exception, the successive villains all seem like the same guy with different names attached.

But it’s a fun story all the same. Burroughs was a master at fast pacing, so the tale is always moving along at a nice clip. Even the romantic comedy interlude doesn’t really slow anything up.

The Korsars are a nifty and unusual addition to the normally prehistoric world of Pellucidar. And those random action set pieces are among some of Burroughs’ best. Particularly notable is Tanar’s one-on-one battle with a bizarre humanoid creature (a member of a cannibalistic subterranean race called the Buried People) and his fight against a saber-tooth tiger after both he and the tiger have fallen off a cliff and into the ocean.

Also, there’s a sequence in which Tanar is locked by the Korsars in a pitch-black dungeon--a form of horrible psychological torture for those used to living in eternal daylight. Tanar’s efforts to maintain his sanity while conceiving of a desperate escape plan is nothing short of riveting.

Stellara is a likable heroine. Unlike many damsels in distress, she’s perfectly willing to help out in a fight if she can. In fact, she saves Tanar’s life on at least one occasion. Though she does lose some Action Girl cred later on when, in a fit of jealousy, she makes the world’s stupidest decision and ends up getting both her and Tanar recaptured by the Korsars.

But remember that, though Tanar’s story is a fun one, the main purpose of this entire novel is to end with David Inness a helpless prisoner in need of rescuing. It’s all exists to give Tarzan of the Apes an excuse to travel to Pellucidar. And that’s just fine. The universe will be a richer place because of this.

And, by golly, that on-the-surface-of-the-ocean fight between Tanar and a saber-tooth tiger is by itself sufficient justification for the novel in of itself.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

You say Metalo; I say Metallo

In a few weeks, we’re going to begin a periodic look at some of the Superman and Superboy stories of the mid to late 1950s, a time when Mort Weisinger was the editor of the books and—to keep the character fresh—ordered the writers to introduce a new element to Superman’s mythology every six months or so.

One of the issues we’ll eventually be looking at is Action Comics #252 (May 1959), which is most important for the introduction of Supergirl, but also contained the origin of a second-tier Superman villain: Metallo, the cyborg with a Kryponite heart.

But, before we dive into the Weisinger era, I wanted to examine one of those minor and largely meaningless coincidences that I tend to enjoy so much. Seventeen years before he fought Metallo, Superman fought Metalo.

It happened in World’s Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942). Eventually World’s Finest would become the venue for a monthly Superman/Batman team-up, but at the time it still featured the two heroes in separate stories.

In the Superman tale, someone steals a train. He doesn’t rob a train, he steals it—picking up the huge vehicle and flying away with it.

At first, everyone (except Lois and Clark) suspect Superman has gone bad. After all, who else could possibly have the power to perform such a feat?

But soon, the perpetrator turns up again, this time stealing an ocean liner that’s carrying a gold shipment. It turns out to apparently be a robot, who calls himselt Metalo. The two Men of Steel fight, but Metalo gets away. He later demands a ransom paid by the businessmen of Metropolis to keep him from destroying the city.

This leads—to the surprise of absolutely no one—to Lois Lane getting kidnapped. But Superman tracks down Metalo and his gang—first to a circus headquarters, then to a mountain hideout. The “robot” turns out to be an evil scientist in an indestructible suit. After another fight, Metalo falls into a pit of lava. Superman thinks he’s destroyed, but he actually fell on a ledge and vows revenge.

Reading this story makes me wonder if—seventeen years later—either Mort Weisinger or writer Robert Bernstein remembered this minor villain and re-used the name to create a new sort-of-a-robot villain in Metallo. Perhaps Jerry Siegel, who I believe was back writing for DC by this time, mentioned Metalo in a story conference.

But I think it likely Metalo had simply been forgotten by 1959. The name (regardless of whether you use one L or two) has a real comic book rhythm to it, so it’s not surprising that separate variations of it might arise for different robotic villains.

Whatever the case, Metalo has faded into obscurity (though he did make a return appearance in 1982 in Superman Family 217), while Metallo is still a part of the Superman mythos even after several recent and annoyingly frequent reboots. That’s not surprising—the concept of Metallo having a Kryptonite heart is pretty gosh-darn cool. Whereas a guy in a metal suit—while perfectly adequate as a one-shot villain—doesn’t have the same nifty vibe.

By the way, it’s possible that the 1942 Metalo story was a partial inspiration for a 1946 story arc in “The Adventures of Superman” radio show. In that story, a circus strongman manages to fake super powers while wearing a Superman suit and committing robberies. The “It must have been Superman” plot device and the use of a circus provide us with some circumstantial evidence.

Anyway, we’ll be looking forward every so often to the era in which Metallo (the two-L version) was created. Rather than cover these issues chronologically, we’ll look at them thematically. I’m going to divide the stories we examine into the following categories:

  1. Kryptonians and Krypton (Supergirl, Kandor, Phantom Zone villains, etc)

  1. Superpets (Not all of them were Kryptonian, you know.)

  1. The Daily Planet (a few key stories involving Lois or Jimmy)

  1. The Fortress of Solitude

  1. Villains (Lex, Braniac, Metallo, etc.)

  1. The Legion of Superheroes.

I think that will cover the important stuff. If any thinks of any elements of the Man of Steel’s mythology that I’ve left out, please leave a comment.

We will be continuing the chronological look at the best of 1960s/early 1970s Marvel comics. But, in addition to interspersing discussions of random classic comic stories that simply catch my eye, we’ll also be examining these Superman stories from time to time.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

George Rozen is best remembered for his Shadow covers, but he was good in whichever genre he was illustrating.
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