Friday, May 31, 2013
Thursday, May 30, 2013
I didn't actually time it, but after watching Another Thin Man (1939), I think half the movie at best is devoted to solving the actual murder on which the plot centers. The other half is Nick and Nora bantering with each other, playing with their new baby son (Nicky) or just generally being more clever than everyone else in the movie.
It's a perfectly good murder mystery. Crotchety old Colonel Burr MacFay handles the money matters for Nora Charles' rather large family fortune. He's concerned that an old employee---someone who did ten years in the slammer for financial shenanigans--is going to kill him. He asks Nick to look into it.
But, as with After the Thin Man, there's an absurd number of additional suspects. Several family members, servants, and employees are all possible killers.
The police are baffled and Nick himself has trouble sorting it out at first. In the end, he does manage to figure it out--revealing the killer after gathering all the suspects together in one room and explaining the who, how, when, why and where of it all. It's the "when" part of that which proves to be the key to solving the case.
But a good mystery is almost a bonus feature in this case, because Another Thin Man would get my vote as the funniest entry in the series. Powell and Loy play off each other even more perfectly than they usually do and the script is full of real wit.
Also, there baby is awful cute. And as the movie comes to an end, we get a cute baby bonus. An old friend of Nick (who, like many of Nick's old friends, also happens to be a low-level thug) invites a number of his thuggish friends who also happen to be new fathers to a baby party at Nick's hotel room. Kudos here have to go to Warner Brothers casting department--never before have a more thuggish-looking group of thugs been brought together in one room. The fact that each of them is holding a baby while they sing makes the scene one of surreal beauty.
A late arrival to the thug/baby party, by the way, is played by Shemp Howard. Until he rejoined the Three Stooges in 1947, he could often be seen in various B-movie character roles.
A movie that gives you both a murder and a roomful of cute babies can't help but be a classic. Some fans think introducing a baby into the dynamic made Nick and Nora a little less fun, but in this film, at least, he was too small to get in the way of the plot and was there just to generate a few laughs and a few "awws." Of the three remaining films, it's only the last one where an argument can be made that the kid gets in the way of the story, but he's never enough of a problem to spoil the fun of watching Nick and Nora banter with each other.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Or maybe they wanted something more visually distinctive. The new tank wasn't a standard Allied model, but rather a sort of Frankenstein's monster built from the pieces of vehicles destroyed in combat. And that's a cool idea in of itself. The tank haunted by the spirit of a man killed in the previous century was itself built out of dead tanks.
|cover by Joe Kubert|
But whatever the reason for it, the story introducing the new tank (G.I Combat #150--November 1971) is a strong one. The plot is pretty straightfoward. The ghost of General Stuart announces his time with the crew is done and leaves. That leaves Lt. Jeb Stuart at a loss--he depended on the General's cryptic advice to keep his crew alive.
But there's no time to think about that just yet. The Haunted Tank is assigned to help out an infantry unit that's pinned down and under heavy attack.
Things don't go well. A direct hit from a German anti-tank gun leaves the tank in flames and forces the crew to bail out. At first, they despair. But one of the ground-pounders reminds them that they are specialists and their skills are still needed. So Jeb and his men hightail it back to a tank junkyard and quickly slap together a brand-new armored fighting vehicle.
Taking this into combat, they soon kick some German butt. Then General Stuart reappears, having gone only to teach them the lesson that they shouldn't depend on him or the "luck" he brought them, but on their own fighting hearts.
Actually, the ending is completely predictable, but it's a good story all the same. It is one of my favorite examples of Russ Heath's wonderful art. This particular issue, I think, shows off Heath's skill at composing the scene in each panel, shifting the "camera" angle constantly and giving us battle scenes rich in detail--all while still telling the story in a clear and logical manner.
Over the years, there have been a number of hardcover and trade paperback reprint books that highlight the work of specific comic book artists, such as Neal Adams and John Romita. And this is a good thing--these are artists who deserve recognition and whose work can still entertain readers today.
But so far (unless I missed one) there hasn't been a volume dedicated to Russ Heath. An Archives or Omnibus edition showing off his work at DC--Sgt Rock, the Haunted Tank, the Sea Devils, etc--should be considered a cultural necessity.
|The story was reprinted in issue #169 (Feb. 1974) with a new cover|
Monday, May 27, 2013
Friday, May 24, 2013
An OSS agent is smuggled into Occupied France. His mission is to contact a woman who will help him set up an escape network for downed fliers.
But the woman has moved from her last known address. There is a place where he can find out where her new home is located. Of course, that place happens to be Gestapo Headquarters...
Click HERE to listen or download.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
The July 15, 1935 issue of The Shadow magazine was an important one for several reasons.
First, writer Walter Gibson wrote a longer story than usual. This was actually because he had just gotten a new typewriter and didn't realize the font size was fitting more words per page, but this was probably a factor in allowing him to turn out one of his finest efforts. Its difficult to see where the story could have been trimmed without losing something cool.
Second, it was the first of what would be a number of stories in which the Shadow went up against a super-scientific threat. Up until now, he'd usually been dealing with mobsters and spies. Gibson felt the crime-fighter needed a new kind of threat to properly challenge him.
Well, they don't fool the Shadow. When the scientist's assistant realizes something untoward is going on, he contacts Harry Vincent--whom he met in a previous story, so he knows Harry is an agent of the Shadow. Mobsters try to whack the guy, but the Shadow and his agents save him.
That leaves the Shadow starting from scratch, with no idea where the bad guys have set up their new headquarters. He tries to stop a couple of robberies. The first time, he has to run a gauntlet of gunmen while speeding down the street in a car. The second time, the villains have planted false clues to lure him to the wrong location, where they use machine gunners and a guy tossing grenades to try to finish him off. He fights his way out of this, but makes no progress in finding the hideout.
But that gives the Shadow a chance to finally track them down, though he must deliberately allow another of his agents to get captured. The neat part here is that the agent who volunteers for this dangerous job is Rutledge Mann. Mann isn't normally a field agent--he's an investment broker who generally acts as a contact for the field agents. But he gamely steps up to the plate when called upon. I always liked Mann and I was happy to see him get a moment in the limelight.
Anyway, the climax involves the Shadow in disguise sneaking into the hideout, followed by a wild shootout involving both pistols and and disintegrator gun.
In the recent reprint volume that included this story, pulp historian Will Murray refers to this story as a "must-read." He's right, of course. If you're a fan of the Shadow, you gotta read this one.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
But they were always considered pets and seemed content with their lot. Which might be understandable for Beppo, Streaky and Krypto. Their basic psychology might have still allowed them to be content with having human owners, just as a well-loved normal dog is content with a human owner.
But Comet--well, I don't think he ever came close to being a "pet." As we saw in our last Superman Universe post, Comet was first seen in Adventure Comics #293, cover dated February 1962. He's next seen in Action Comics #292 (September 1962)--the first part of a trilogy (written by Leo Dorfman) that firmly brings the Super-Horse into DC continuity. The October issue details Comet's origin.
Pay attention, because Comet's origin is the model against which all other origin stories should be measured for pure weirdness.
In ancient Greece, a centaur named Biron falls in love with the sorceress Circe. He saves her from being poisoned by an evil wizard named Maldor. As a reward, Circe promises to turn him into a human so they can marry. Unfortunately, Circe turns out to be an idiot and gives Biron the wrong potion, turning him into a horse.
A few thousand years later, the rocket taking Supergirl to Earth from Argo City passes near the asteroid and shatters the magical aura. Comet is freed, follows Supergirl to Earth and eventually makes telepathic contact with her.
By the end of Action Comics #294, Comet has amnesia and thinks he's just a regular horse, but he regains his powers in later issues. It's also eventually established that he turns human whenever there's a comet in the sky, then turns back into a horse when the comet is gone.
I love the convoluted and bizarre feel to the origin. And I love the idea of a Legion of Super-Pets. But I still don't think Comet or Biron or whatever you want to call him should be considered a "pet."
Of course, neither should Proty, an intelligent shape-changer that hangs out with Lightning Lad and joins the Super-Pets whenever they visit the future. He's definitely a member of an intelligent species and is still called a pet!
There's no denying it. The Super-Pets need better legal representation.
Next time we visit the Superman Universe, I think we'll take a look the Legion of Superheroes. We can warn them they might be getting sued by their pets.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Posts will appear normally on the blog, as I've written them in advance and have them scheduled to go. But please be aware that I won't be able to moderate comments until I get back. (There's no electricity--much less wi-fi, in the camp I'll be at.) Please leave comments, but be aware that I won't be able to review and post them until I get back on June 7. (Perhaps a few days earlier if I'm able to get online during a few days in a Ugandan guest house.)
Friday, May 17, 2013
Excellent episode in which both the protagonists and the supporting characters are given real personality by the actors.
Click HERE to listen or download.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
But it is sometimes nice to be told a story in the most basic sense of the word. And when I am in the mood to have a story read to me, I normally visit Librivox.
It's a site in which volunteers have recorded public domain works, so it's all free. You get classics such as Moby Dick or The Three Musketeers. You also get a very nice selection of pulp fiction that's old enough to have fallen out of copyright.
This includes a number of Edgar Rice Burroughs' early novels. For instance, I just finished listening to Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar and enjoyed it enormously. The guy reading it does a very effective job. And, of course, it's one of my favorite Tarzan novels.
It was the fifth one ERB wrote, first seeing print in All-Story Cavalier Weekly magazine in 1916 (serialized in their November and December issues) and then published in book form in 1918.
It had taken the first two novels for Tarzan and Jane to get together. During this time, he became chief of the Waziri, a tribe of kick-butt warriors.
The third novel (The Beasts of Tarzan) involved an epic quest across Africa in which the Ape Man rescues his wife and baby son from kidnappers. Along the way, Tarzan befriends Mugambi, a big native warrior who is then adopted into the Waziri.
The fourth novel (The Son of Tarzan) involves Tarzan's son getting lost in the jungle himself, learning the same skills his father had and becoming known as Korak the Killer.
Korak was a pretty cool guy, but in the end he wasn't different enough from his dad to really stand out. He has a few important cameos in a couple of the later novels, but he doesn't play a role in most of them.
In fact, poor Korak isn't even mentioned in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. Tarzan and Jane are living happily together on his African estate. Maybe Korak is back in England catching up on his education. But for whatever reason, he's not around when his dad gets amnesia and his mom gets kidnapped.
There's action scenes aplenty, including several pitched battles between large groups; shoot-outs between individuals; an attack by a pride of enraged lions against a band of soldiers; the threat of human sacrifice; an angry charging elephant; and an earthquake. A lot of the action centers around attempts by various groups to obtain a load of gold taken from the treasure rooms of Opar. There's also a bag of priceless jewels from the same treasure room--an item that provides the primary motivation for several characters and changes hands at least four times during the course of the novel.
Jane spends much of the novel a prisoner of one villain or another, but she still gets several chances to be awesome. When Achmet Zek's men attack her estate, she's right in there fighting with the Waziri, potting bad guys with her rifle. Later on, when she ends up alone in the jungle with her hands and feet bound and a hungry lion nearby, she calmly assesses her situation and plans out the best possible method of escaping alive.
Tarzan spends the bulk of the novel with amnesia, reverting to pure jungle-man mode, but this in no way prevents him from also being awesome. Heck, when he kills a charging lion by shoving a broken rifle through its skull, then he's hit a new level of awesome even by Lord of the Jungle standards.
HERE. Or you can dig up the book and read it. Either way, it's worth your time.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Gold Key's Space Family Robinson (eventually subtitled Lost in Space) featured scientists Craig and June Robinson and their teenage kids Tim and Tam. They wandered about the galaxy in a pretty cool looking space station, trying to find their way back to Earth after getting caught in a cosmic storm.
S.F.R. #34 (June 1969) is a typical example from the series. Tim and Tam are scouting a planet in the station's spacemobile. They find the remnants of a human civilization, but no living beings. It eventually unfolds that the surviving humans from this planet fled from a war against a neighboring world, with the
The aliens from the other planets apparently hold grudges for a really, really long time, because they launch missiles at the spacemobile. Tim and Tam take refuge in the same asteroid as the surviving humans, who wake from their long sleep. When the aliens begin ripping apart the asteroid with anti-matter missiles, everyone (including Tim and Tam) escape in an invisible space ship. But when the ship's pilot is incapacitated, Tim has to pilot the craft to safety.
I don't think this version of the Robinson family ever made it back to Earth, just as the TV version of the family is apparently still wandering around among the stars. There's a lesson to be learned there--if your name is Robinson, just get a job at the local 7/11. DON'T apply to NASA for a job. That won't end well.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Friday, May 10, 2013
Click HERE to listen or download.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
"Black Vulmea's Vengeance" was published in the November 1938 issue of Golden Fleece--a couple of years after Howard's death. The main character is an Irish pirate who has had a lot of success looting both British and Spanish ships.
It's the British who finally catch up to him--at a time when his entire crew is drunk from an all-night bender. Black Vulmea manages to take out a few of the Brits with a blast from a swivel gun, but the broadside he receives in return leaves him unconscious and wipes out his drunken crew.
("They'll wake up in Hell without knowing how they got there," eulogizes Vulmea a few pages later.)
The commander of the British ship is the snooty and brutal John Wentyard, who years ago had hanged a ten-year-old Vulmea when he put down a peasant's rebellion in Ireland. Vulmea, being an REH hero, survived the hangman's rope, became a kick-butt pirate, and now brought in chains before the man who killed his friends and family years ago.
Vulmea at first figures he'll leap forward and bash Wentyard's skull in with his manacles--an act of vengeance he figures is worth giving up his life to obtain. But then he gets a chance to run a con on Wentyard, telling him about a treasure hidden in the ruins of an ancient civilization on a nearby island. Looked at objectively, Vulmea's story should have been an obvious and desperate lie. But Vulmea knows that "avarice makes for credulity" and Wentyard indeed falls for it.
They travel to the island and go ashore: Wentyard, Vulmea and 15 marines. They're attacked by natives, which allows Vulmea to make a break for it. Events soon leave the marines dead, while Wentyard and Vulmea end up both hiding in some ruins that the natives are frightened to enter.
Vulmea is good at being sneaky, so he can slip out of the ruins and escape pretty much at will. So his initial plan is to first watch Wentyard starve to death. But then he decides it would be more satisfying to bring Wentyard food and water, then kill him in a fair fight. This plan is spoiled, though, when he abruptly discovers Wentyard has a wife and five-year-old daughter that will be left destitute. In fact, Wentyard was anxious to find treasure mostly to provide for them. "I can't be the cause of a helpless woman and colleen starving," says Vulmea in disgust.
This situation is what makes the character interactions particularly interesting, adding depth to an already cracking-good action tale. In our previous looks at reluctant Howardian team-ups, the goal was always either mutual survival or obtaining a treasure, after which the hero and the villain would go back to killing each other. This time, it's an act of compassion from a normally brutal pirate that brings the two characters together. It's clear that Vulmea still hates Wentyard and doesn't trust the man at all, but he'll save the Englishman (and even share a bit of treasure they stumble across) for the sake of a woman and child whom Vulmea himself will never meet.
It's a great adventure story, with Wentyard's character arc and his changing attitude towards Vulmea giving it an interesting level of emotional subtlety. Robert E. Howard was quite capable of subtlety in his characterizations--something that he did a lot more often than casual critics of his work realize. "Black Vulmea's Vengeance" is perhaps one of the best examples of this.
That's it for our look at REH tales that force the hero to team up with an enemy. There's probably some other examples I'm not thinking of, so I may return to the idea in the future. Next week, though, we'll return to Edgar Rice Burroughs and visit with the Lord of the Jungle.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
The other two are from Earth. One of them was a cat named Streaky, adopted by Linda Lee (aka Supergirl) when she was still living at the Midville orphanage.
In Actions Comics #261 (February 1960), Supergirl was experimenting on a small chunk of green kryptonite, hoping to find a protection against its radiation. Her experiment failed and the Green K was transformed into an isotope called X-Kryptonite.
Supergirl, in a move that would have really ticked off the Environmental Protection Agency (had the EPA existed in 1960), casually tosses the X-Kryptonite into the nearby woods. Later, Streaky runs across it and its radiation temporarily gives the feline Kryptonian superpowers.
Anyway, as even cat owners would readily admit, if a cat got superpowers, he'd take over the world and make everyone else wait on him hand-and-foot. Heck, many cats seem to have that power naturally. But Streaky has an unusually strong moral center. Every once in awhile, he'll expose himself to the X-Kryptonite, gaining superpowers just long enough to help Supergirl out of a jam.
Now I will admit up front that I'm not a cat guy. For me, a superpowered dog is awesome--a superpowered cat is... well, not awesome. Because dogs are more awesome than cats.
But I will also admit that we needed a superpowered cat. Because it was adding yet another animal with superpowers to the DC Universe that allowed for the creation of a truly awesome superhero group.
Streaky meets Krypto in Action Comics #277 (June 1961). At first Streaky is jealous of the dog and the two have a series of contests to decide who's the better pet. But they eventually become friends. This forms the core of the Legion of Super-Pets.
We get our first glimpse at this group in Adventure Comics #293 (February 1962). In this delightlful Superboy-era tale written by Jerry Siegel, the villains are the four disembodied brains called the Brain Globes of Rambat. And, in my opinion, the name "Brain Globes of Rambat" is by itself reason enough to rate
Rambat has blown up and the last surviving Brain Globes need a new home. So they plan to steal Earth and bring it to orbit around their purple sun. But first, they have to get rid of Superboy, the only being powerful enough to stop them.
When they fail to fully mind-control the Boy of Steel, they instead jump into the future and gain control over three members of the Legion of Super-Heroes. These three then ambush Superboy and infect him with a lethal dose of Green K radiation. The Brain Globes then drop their control of the Legionnaires, knowing their mental powers will keep them safe while they hijack the Earth.
But the Legionnaires notice that the Brain Globes run away from Krypto and deduce that the villains can't control super-animals. So they zip into the future to recruit Beppo, Streaky and Comet the Superhorse. The inaugural battle for the Legion of Super-Pets involve the animals pretty much curb-stomping the Brain
It's a great story. All the silliness in it is played straight, with a lot of details added that show Siegel and Mort Weisinger always remained true to the "reality" of this universe. And it works, resulting in a tale that is 100% pure fun. Heck, it involves disembodied brains fighting super-powered animals. It can't help but be fun!
But waitaminute? Did I just mention a superhorse? Yes, this story is the first appearance of Comet, with a caption hinting that his origin will be revealed soon. And it would be a little bit later in 1962. I originally intended to discuss Comet and Streaky together in the same post, but I'll talk about the horse next time. His origin is so bizarre it clearly deserves its own post.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Monday, May 6, 2013
Friday, May 3, 2013
Click HERE to listen or download.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
But my vote for most evil ERB villain would be Jules de Vac, a French fencing master who served in the court of England's Henry III in the 13th Century.
We learn about de Vac in The Outlaw of Torn, which was serialized in New Story Magazine in 1914, then published in book form in 1927. We don't know a lot about de Vac's back story before he came to England, but it must have been an odd story indeed. Because this guy hates Englishmen. He really, really hates Englishmen.
And when Henry III--who is kind of a jerk--slaps him one day, de Vac decides its time to take action. His plan involves kidnapping the king's toddler-aged son Richard and sneaking off with him. He'd claim to be the boy's father, teach him to be a master swordsmen, and set him to work killing as many Englishmen as he can before he's eventually caught and hanged. It's a plan that will take a couple of decades to come to fruition, but de Vac is nothing but not patient. It gives him plenty of time to teach Richard swordsmanship.
Richard, of course, doesn't remember he's Richard. As he grows up, he goes by the name of Norman of Torn (Torn being the old castle de Vac takes him to). And he becomes an outlaw, raiding both castles loyal to King Henry and castles loyal to the nobility that is starting to rebel against Henry's dictatorial rule.
But de Vac's plans are partially spoiled when young Norman befriends a priest named Father Claude, who teaches him to read and write and to show chivalry for women and the down-trodden.
This turns the outlaw into a sort-of Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Pretty soon, he's got a small army encamped at Torn--with the fractious political situation preventing either the king or the nobility from bringing enough force to bear to beat him in a fight. He and his men kick butt and take names across England.
It's a great yarn, fast-moving and full of action without sacrificing what are some of the author's best characterizations. And Jules de Vac is a villain you really love to hate. He's a guy who raised Norman as a son with the direct intention of eventually getting Norman killed. And when his plans seem to unravel as the book progresses, he takes ruthless and bloodthirsty steps to get that plan back on track.
The dialogue is fun to read as well. Burroughs has everyone speaking in vaguely Shakespearean English. This isn't quite historically accurate and there are a few instances where the speech is a bit stilted, but for the most part Burroughs skill at picking the right words and sentence structures make it sound "right."
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Anyone who read my reviews of Thor stories will not be surprised when I say that I always liked the Warriors Three--that trio of Asgardian Warriors who popped up to help out the Thunder God from time to time. Fandrall the Dashing, Hogun the Grim and Volstagg the Voluminous had personalities that roughly approximated the Three Musketeers and spouted the sort of faux-Shakespeare dialogue that all the mythological gods in the Marvel Universe inexplicably used. They enjoyed a good fight (well, except for Volstagg, who mostly worried about being late for lunch) and are a nifty if minor part of the Marvel canon.
In this issue of Marvel Spotlight, they were given a lead role in their own adventure. Marvel Spotlight was one of several anthology books that existed in the 1970s and were used to try out different ideas. New characters like Moon Knight and Iron Fist were introduced in such books. Old characters not then headlining their own books, like Nick Fury, were given an occasional solo adventure. And supporting characters like the Warriors Three were allowed to step forward and show off.
The story begins with our heroes hanging out in
The Warriors soon find adventure. They prevent a despondent girl from committing suicide. Learning that her boy friend
With the help of a cab driver named Myron and a drunken bum named Ragland T. Pepperpot, they waylay the gangsters at the diamond exchange, then later get into a fight at a waterfront bar while looking for
It's a fun story, with humor, a plot that actually makes sense in a comic book universe and great art by John Buscema. It's by no means an important milestone in Marvel comics--it's just good fun.
And, of course, it provides us with just another example of how important it is for comics to maintain a viable continuity. This story was possible because writer/editor Len Wein was paying attention to the Marvel Universe as a whole and saw an opportunity created by the ongoing plot in Thor to tell a small but entertaining side story. And he did this without violating established Marvel history or established characterizations. It's something editors and writers today could definitely learn from.