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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Read/Watch 'em in Order: The Book

Pretty much because I just wanted to see what it looked like, I have converted the first two dozen posts from my "Read/Watch 'em in Order" series into an ebook, available as a downloadable PDF via the link below:


It doesn't look half-bad.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Cloak and Dagger: “The Secret Box” 7/23/50

A pair of OSS agents, trapped behind enemy lines in Burma, end up as prisoners of a headhunting tribe that’s fallen under the influence of a Japanese officer.

But one of the agents is an ex-vaudevillian and it just might turn out that his unique skills will save the lives of him and his companion.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I'm a farmer. If I lose my farm there must be a reason for it. The sacrifice of one poor village - what will it accomplish?

Edge of Darkness (1942) is a film that can be downright heartbreaking at times.

It’s set in a small fishing village in occupied Norway. The people are just people—they fish, work in the cannery or run small shops. They want to resist the Nazis, but don’t have the resources to do anything beyond a few minor acts of sabotage. There are some—such as the town doctor played by Walter Huston—who just want to wait it out and avoid getting everyone unnecessarily killed.

Then they learn that the British will be smuggling in guns and ammo. The plan is to arm a number of villages along the Norwegian coast, then launch a general uprising. But this must be done according to plan. The villagers must wait until the right moment before they fight.

But several acts of brutality by the Germans might anger them enough to rise up too soon.

What makes all this work so well—to resonate with so much effective emotion—is how average and normal the villagers are. Their leader is a fisherman played by Errol Flynn and he’s not average, of course. Whenever Flynn is on the screen—no matter when and where the movie is set—you always expect a sword fight to break out at any moment.

But that works fine in context to the film—he’s the leader because he’s above average. But everyone else is just normal, everyday guys and gals who are essentially now living in a hell on earth. They don’t look and act like soldiers—they look and act like fisherman and shopkeepers who are struggling to figure out what they should do next.

There’s a scene in which most of the townspeople are meeting in church. The pastor is on the pulpit, making it look like they’re having a regular church service if a German looks in. But a man sitting in one of the pews is doing the talking, telling them about a village that rose up against the Nazis and was wiped out.

So what should they do? One man thinks it’s always wrong to kill. Others think that fighting would be senseless and only get their families killed. Others think they must fight no matter what, but when and how to fight is open to further debate.

This is a war-time film, so in the end it takes the side of those who want to fight. And, of course, history has justified this—the irony being that the Nazis turned out to be even more brutal than they were portrayed in propaganda films such as this.

But during that church scene, everyone is given their say. There’s no derision or condemnation of those who don’t want to fight. The film seems to understand how difficult a decision this is for the townspeople—how much courage it would take to pick up a weapon and charge a machine gun nest full of trained soldiers. Edge of Darkness represents people who want a free society and it remembers that in such a society people are allowed to have different opinions and debate with each other.

There’s not a lot of action in the film until the climax—the film effectively uses character moments to help build up the tension. The running time is just under two hours, but the various characters all get sufficient time for us to get to know them and to like them.

Little moments of dialogue are used with laser-like precision to define individual characters. During the climatic battle, for instance, a maid who has always been deferential to her employer is told that the women and children are being evacuated to England. “The women with children are going,” she replies. “I’m staying to fight.”   Then she adds a modest apology for speaking above her social station. But, by golly, she stays and fights.

The film does such a great job of getting us to like the villagers that the climatic battle is actually a little painful to watch. There’s no punches pulled here—people we’ve gotten to know and like are being killed and we actually hate it when we watch them die.

I have a real love for the war-time films. I recognize them as propaganda as well as entertainment, but I think the message they preached about confronting evil is a moral and still important one. Edge of Darkness is one of the best of these because it is very intelligent and very, very human in the way it makes its point.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What is WRONG with historians nowadays?

DC Comics recently published a Showcase volume of the early issues of Rip Hunter: Time Master.

Reading this has got me wondering. What the heck is wrong with all the historians of the world? It’s obvious from reading Rip Hunter and from watching episodes of Doctor Who and Time Tunnel that the history of the human race usually involves aliens and monsters. In fact, if you’re a time traveler, you can’t go anywhere or anywhen without pretty much tripping over either a visitor from another planet or a huge and biologically unlikely man-eating beast.

Sometimes, you meet them both. In Rip Hunter #2 (May/June 1961), Rip and his companions are visiting an archeological dig near Greece. But when an old cave is opened, a giant and bullet-proof monster is aroused from suspended animation and goes on a rampage.

A coin found in the cave establishes the date (500 BC) that the monster was originally sealed in the cave. Well, the obvious solution is for Rip and his partners to travel back in time to discover the origin of the monster and perhaps learn how to deal with it. Because that’s much easier than calling the army and having them send over a tank or a bazooka team.

I shouldn’t make fun, though, because this story is a good, solid example of how much fun Silver Age stories could be if you just accept them for what they are and enjoy them at that level.

Rip and his crew head back to ancient Greece. They eventually learn that an alien big game hunter crashed on Earth and three large monsters—each a natural enemy to the other two—have escaped from his ship. A local despot has gained possession of the device that controls one of these monsters, using it to conquer a local city.

Rip gets the other two control devices from the alien. He sends the other monsters up against the despot’s monster. One of these is the creature he encountered in the present and—sure enough—it gets chased into the cave and sealed in.

Eventually, Rip manages to get the control device away from the despot, thereby freeing the city from his evil rule. He heads back to the present with the control device for the monster rampaging about there and disintegrates it. Everyone’s happy. Well, everyone but the despot and the dead monster, but they both had it coming anyways.

It really is a fun yarn. The story flows along in a contextually logical manner and artist Ross Andru designs some pretty cool monsters and gives us a couple of too-short but visually awesome monster-on-monster brawls.

And that’s what history was really like—full of aliens or monsters or both. Why history books blather on about wars and social change and natural disasters but fail to mention alien monsters is simply beyond me. Some sort of government conspiracy, I should imagine.

Silver Age comic book stories were frequently silly and often we can enjoy them with our tongue in our cheek, making gentle fun of that silliness.

But just as often, we can accept them at a more basic level and enjoy simple, imaginative storytelling. Here we have Rip Hunter’s cool-looking Time Sphere, a trio of monsters with bizarre abilities, an alien and an ancient Greek despot; all portrayed by a skilled artist and used to tell an internally consistent and exciting story. What more can one want out of life?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

Two eye-catching Marvel covers from December 1969. The top one is by John Buscema. The bottom one is by John's younger brother Sal. The Sub-Mariner really got around that month, didn't he?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I know a guy who knows a guy

The post this last Thursday was about two extremely entertaining Superman novels published concurrently with the first two Christopher Reeve films. In it, I talked about the reason (as I understood it) this original novels were published rather than novelizations of the films.

Well, it turns out that through a comic book/gaming forum I frequent, I know a guy who knows Mr. Maggin. And Mr. Maggin was kind enough to provide the following quote about how his novels ended up being published when they were:

"I think Mario wanted to snag the novelization jobs for his son Gino who, it turns out, was a boyhood friend of my little brother. Then Mario felt overused by the rewrite process on the scripts and was on the outs with the Salkinds after that. I actually wrote Last Son a year before the movie came out (and I was out of print at the tender age of 27) although the original idea was to release my book midway between the release of the first two movies in order to keep the market steeping. The market got hotter than anyone realized it would and I got incredibly lucky when they decided to move my book up to a movie tie-in. I still feel a little scabby about getting pushed into what probably ought to have been Gino's spot, but the thing bought me a house in New Hampshire. Who could argue with that?"

And speaking of Superman, a few weeks back I provided a link to a great "From the Bookshelf" interview with the author of a new history of Superman. I read the book yesterday and it really is superb--a extremely well-researched and well-written tale about the history and cultural impact of the Man of Steel. So if your in a Kryptonian mood any time soon, read Mr. Maggin's two mind-numbingly fun novels (HERE and HERE) and read Mr. Tye's history of the character.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Mercury Theater on the Air: “Passenger to Bali” 11/13/38

A very effective adaptation of the story by Elias St. Joseph. A man buys passage on a tramp steamer sailing from Shanghai to Bali. But when the ship arrives at Bali, the captain discovers the passenger’s nefarious past makes him a man with no country, refused entry at every port. The passenger becomes a Flying Dutchman and the ship becomes a phantom vessel, unable to stay in any port as long as they are stuck with their unwanted guest.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

To novelize or not to novelize

Novelizations of movies are not uncommon. During the 1970s, they were very, very common. It seemed that just about every movie—regardless of its subject matter or genre—was novelized. Heck, I remember reading a novelization of Young Frankenstein.

Probably the oddest novelization was when John Carpenter remade The Thing in 1981. Alan Dean Foster wrote a novelization of that movie. DESPITE THE FACT THAT IT WAS BASED ON A SUPERB NOVELLA BY JOHN CAMPBELL!  Oh, well, Foster is an excellent writer and did a good job producing a book that was otherwise completely unnecessary.

But there were two movies from this era that were never novelized. The first two Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve never saw their plots turned into prose.

Why not? I’m not completely sure. I actually haven’t researched this as thoroughly as I’d like to (though I cleverly tricked some fellow members of a comic book forum into doing some research for me), but it seems that Godfather author Mario Puzo, who wrote the first version of the Superman film script, had a clause in his contract that stated his story couldn’t be adapted into any other format unless he did it himself. Though Puzo’s script was drastically changed by other writers before the film was produced, that clause was still in effect. He probably wanted to write (and thus get paid for) any novelizations himself, but this never happened.

So there never was a novelization (or a comic book adaptation) of either Superman or Superman II. (Keep in mind that I am not completely sure all this is true.)

Whatever the reason the films were never novelized, it was a good thing. Because though those two films are excellent, the lack of novelizations meant that veteran comic book writer Elliot S! Maggin was able to write two original Superman novels, which were published concurrent with each of the films.

The world is a richer place because of this. Maggin’s two novels—The Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday—are more fun than a barrel of red kryptonite.

(You can, by the way, read them HERE and HERE.)

Last Son, for instance, involves an alien master-villain who steals some newly discovered Einstein papers as part of a plan that eventually involves time travel, planetary-scale real estate swindles, and mass mind control. Interspersed within the main plot are flashbacks to Smallville, in which we get details of Clark’s career as Superboy and his early friendship with a pre-bald Lex Luthor. And it’s all written in a witty, entertaining prose style that brings me back to re-visit the novel every couple of years. I never get tired of reading it.

Maggin’s characterization of Luthor is notable as well. This Luthor is still the scientific criminal genius that he always SHOULD be, but he actually becomes kind of likable. He’s a crook, yes, but he’s got a snarky sense of humor and he never seems to actually endanger anyone except Superman. This makes the Smallville flashbacks all the more poignant—Lex’s descent into crime and his hatred of Superman is tragic because we can so clearly see that he could have been a good guy and he could have been Superman’s best friend. It also leaves hope for his eventually redemption—a theme that carries over into a wonderful plot twist in Miracle Monday.

All this makes one plot twist in The Last Son of Krypton, in which Lex and Superman are forced to team up for much of the novel, cool beyond words. Whereas the book itself clocks in at 9.7 on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness Scale, the team-up aspect reaches a perfect 10.

From page 189: Superman: “You’re a good man, Lex Luthor. Ever thought of going into the hero business?”

Lex: “Nah, you never get a chance to sleep late.”

Maggin also does a fantastic job of having Superman use his powers in clever ways. This is particularly notable in a couple of chapters of Last Son. In one chapter, Superman has ten seconds to stop ten mini-helicopters from using sonic waves to break into ten different banks. In a later chapter, Superman spends a night on global patrol, performing dozens of super-feats across the world in his efforts to save/help people.

Since the 1970s, superhero novels have become fairly common, but Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday are still two of the best.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

To Smash a Spider

Spider Man #91 (December 1970)

Poor Peter has good reason to be down in the dumps this issue. His girl friend hates him.

Well, she doesn’t hate Peter. She hates Spider Man, whom she blames for getting her father killed last issue.

She decides to do something, so she offers to go to work for the campaign of Sam Bullit, a reactionary ex-cop who is running for D.A. Bullit uses Spider Man as a scapegoat in his supposed law-and-order platform, rabble-rousing much of the city against the webslinger.

He also figures there’s a connection between Peter and Spider Man, so he sends some thugs to work Peter over to get him to talk. This, of course, doesn’t work out well for the thugs.

Bullit is too much of a stereotype to be a very interesting villain, but he serves a purpose here, acting as a platform for Gwen to show her anger at Spider Man and giving impetus to some other nice character moments involving Jamison and Robbie. (J.J.J. wants to support Bullit, which gives us a chance to see the normally calm Robbie get really ticked off.)

The issue ends when Spider Man swings back into his apartment—to only then realize Gwen and Bullit are there waiting for Peter. It took Gwen long enough, but she finally remembers that—as far as she knows—the man she loves is in a partnership with the man who got her dad killed.

After last month’s classic issue, this one seems a little slow in its pacing and Bullit really is far too one-dimensional. But he’ll be gone after one more issue and it’s another tribute to Stan’s skill as a writer that he keeps the characterizations of his cast consistent and interesting even in the midst of a merely average story.

In the next issue of Spider Man, he’ll have a gratuitous but still entertaining team-up with a chilly mutant while he continues to mess up his relationship with Gwen. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cover Cavalcade

This is a really busy cover, but it's well composed--so everything works out nicely.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday's Favorite OTR

Mysterious Traveler: “Death is a Visitor” 8/25/46

The protagonist in this episode murders his mother-in-law about five minutes into the story. From what little we hear from her, you really don’t blame the guy.

But now he has to dispose of the body. He hides it in a truck and… well, how hard can it be to get rid of an old trunk?  That should be no problem at all, don’t you think?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tracy vs. Karloff

Read/Watch ‘em in Order #26

But let’s it review anyways. Karloff plays Gruesome, a brutal thug who was recently released from prison. He falls in with a dishonest scientist who has gas bombs that put its victims into suspended animation for about fifteen minutes. Soon, Karloff has scared everyone else in the small gang into accepting him as leader.

They rob a bank and Tracy is quickly on their trail. They almost nail Gruesome after a car chase, stalking him through a taxidermy shop filled with stuffed animals. But Gruesome keeps slipping away. Finally, Tracy tries a gambit to trick Gruesome into giving away his hideout. This only partially works—leaving Tracy alone and unarmed while Gruesome stalks him while armed with a revolver.

The plot—with its science fiction element—gives this entry a different feel from the previous Tracy films. It’s still a solid police procedural, but director John Rawlins tones down the film noirish look this time. Still, it looks great and the final action scene—which involves a conveyor belt and a big incinerator—is particularly good.

Karloff plays Gruesome with a sense of subdued menace, making it perfectly believable when he cows the other criminals into obeying him. The supporting case is good as well, most notably bespectacled character actor Skelton Knaggs as X-Ray, the dishonest assistant to the dishonest scientist. Ann Gwynne plays Tess Trueheart this time around. She’d been a villain in the serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe just a few years before. Now she plays the good and true-hearted Miss Trueheart. But whether she be good or evil, she’s always gosh-darn adorable.

Many fans of the Tracy films cite this one as the weakest of the four, mostly because of the admittedly silly freeze gas. But even those who rank it last admit it’s an entertaining film.

And it remains my favorite. It lacks the film noir elements that were such a strong part of the other films; and Karloff’s subdued take on Gruesome means we have a villain who is not as over-the-top as Tracy villains usually should be.

But that subdued performance is exactly what makes Karloff so effective in the role. It may be a film with a silly plot, but he gives it verisimilitude because he plays the villain in a straightforward, non-ironic manner.

Also, that final action sequence, with Gruesome stalking Tracy around the big incinerator, is honestly tense and expertly choreographed.


That brings us to the end of the RKO Dick Tracy films. I’ve been trying to decide what films to cover next. I want to do something other than a detective film series next. I was thinking about the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films, but then I remembered I’ve dealt with them already, darn it.

I just can’t decide. Well, I’ve got four Mr. Moto novels to cover before we run out of them—and I’ve already decided what book series to do after that. So there’s time to figure something out in regards to films.
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