Thursday, October 31, 2013

If you get eaten by a giant scorpion's babies, it's your own darn fault!

Read/Watch ‘em in Order #40

No, no, no, NO! For gosh sake, woman, if you being pursued by evil-doers and are lost in a monster-filled wilderness, you do NOT tell your husband that while he searches for your missing riding beasts in one direction, “I’ll take a look in [another] direction.” You just don’t do that. You are a warrior princess, not a member of the Scooby Doo gang.

I suppose I should explain what I’m ranting about, shouldn’t I?

Otis Adelbert Kline’s last volume in his history of Ancient Venus was first serialized as “The Buccaneers of Venus,” beginning in the November 1932 issue of Weird Tales. When reprinted in book form, it was given the title Port of Peril. In this, Kline gives us his last recorded adventure of former Earthman Robert Grandon and his wife Vernia.

When we last saw these two at the end of Planet of Peril, they were married and getting ready to rule over the powerful nation of Reabon and live happily ever after.

But if you live on an Adventure Planet, you don’t get to live happily ever after—at least not without doing a lot of work first. During their honeymoon, Vernia is kidnapped by pirates.

The pirates are Huitsenni, a race that has kept the location of their home port a secret for generations while capturing the ships of other nations for loot and slaves. This means that Grandon can’t just lead his large navy to capture the port and rescue Vernia—he doesn’t know where the darn place is. So, though he orders his forces to mobilize, he opts to chase them in a small ship with just one companion.

His companion is Kantar the Gunner—the best shot on Venus. Grandon is, of course, the best swordsman, so the two actually make a pretty nifty team.

What follows is a well-constructed adventure story that uses a trick Edgar Rice Burroughs often employed. We get a chapter from Vernia’s point-of-view, ending with a cliffhanger. Then we get a chapter from Grandon’s point-of-view, ending with its own cliffhanger. Then back to Vernia and so on. It’s a very effective narrative technique that both keeps the story moving rapidly and generates quite a bit of suspense.

Anyways, Grandon and Kantar are soon also captured by the pirates. They escape, but discover Vernia’s been taken by a pirate to a remote island. Here, she’s captured by a race of toad people who want to sacrifice her to the giant snake they worship as a god.

Then they get recaptured by the pirates. An attempt by Grandon and Kantar to rescue Vernia from the pirate emperor goes awry when Kantar inadvertently rescues the wrong princess. (Though to be fair to him, Kantar didn’t know the pirates had a spare princess lying about.)

Vernia ends up in the hands of a tribe of Antarctic ape men who ride zandars—three-horned riding beasts they often sell to the pirates. Kantar is now busy rescuing Princess #2 from various dangers (and rather perfunctorily falling in love with her), so Grandon has to get Vernia back on his own.

He succeeds, but when they need to find their lost zandars, Vernia suggests splitting up. Grandon foolishly allows this and the girl ends up being CAPTURED BY A GIANT SCORPION WHO
WANTS TO FEED HER TO ITS BABIES!  Seriously, how could she not see that coming?

Sword-and-Planet novels depend heavily on the Rule of Cool. If the adventures, monsters, villains and escapes are cool enough, we can accept the stories as real and ignore (or happily explain away) any lapses in logic. Port of Peril succeeds because it is pretty darn cool. Previous novels in the series had great stuff such as cavalry riding giant ants or a villain who mind-transfers into a new robot body if his current one is destroyed. Port doesn’t quite match this level of coolness, but a hidden pirate city, toad people, giant snakes and giant scorpions go a long way all the same.

But Vernia is a little disappointing. In Planet of Peril, she was awesome—a brave and intelligent warrior queen who contributes as much as Grandon does in foiling the various bad guys they encounter. Here, she’s just a Damsel in Distress. Even setting aside her mind-numbingly stupid decision to go off on her own and get captured by a scorpion, she just doesn’t get to do much. Heroes should be rescuing their princesses, but a some point during the five different times Vernia needs to be rescued, it would have been nice to have her contribute something.

Oh, well, taken as a whole, Kline’s Mars and Venus novels are great reads.

We still have one more Thin Man movie to look at. For the literary side of the “Read/Watch ‘em in Order” series, I think we’ll examine the three Captain Zero novels—pulp stories about a hero who turned invisible (whether he wants to or not) at certain times of the day.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tarzan and Yet More Dinosaurs

Russ Manning was one of several superior artists who (along with Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth and Joe Kubert) has provided fans with some excellent Tarzan of the Apes comics, both in comic books and in newspaper strips.

In 1974, Manning wrote and drew four Tarzan graphic novels that were published in Europe. Two of these were finally printed in the U.S. in 1996 and, though now out-of-print again, are available from the used book market.

These particular two graphic novels are Tarzan in the Land That Time Forgot and its direct sequel Tarzan and The Pool of Time.  

These tie the Jungle Lord together with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caspak trilogy, which by itself is a fantastic idea. During his lifetime, Burroughs had Tarzan visit Pellucidar, but (though he added details that implied all his stories were set in the same universe), he never got around to sending the Ape Man to Caspak (or Mars or Venus or into the past or future. Gee whiz, Edgar, what were you doing with your time?).

Caspak has always been one of my favorite Lost World settings. This hidden and volcanically heated continent, located near Antartica, is a savage jungle filled with prehistoric monsters, cave men and a brutal race of winged men called Weiroo. As Manning's first story opens, Tarzan has been asked by a young man to travel with him to Caspak to rescue his girl friend, Lyla Billings. Lyla's mother (a character from Burroughs' original trilogy about Caspak) came from that lost world, and Lyla is, perhaps unwisely, returning there to find out about her roots.

What follows is a fast paced adventure, involving one beautifully-drawn action sequence after another. The first story contains numerous captures, escapes and fights, ending with a massive battle involving both men and dinosaurs, while the second story picks up immediately afterwards as the action moves to the skull-strewn city of the Weiroos.

Manning was an excellent writer as well as a skilled artist. His portrayal of both Tarzan and the land of Caspak are very faithful to Burroughs' original stories. The plot is well-constructed and action-oriented in a way that carries the story along in a very convincing manner. Perhaps most importantly, Manning makes good use of the supporting characters, letting each of them have their moments without ever forgetting that we're all reading this mostly because we want to see Tarzan kick some butt.

But mostly it's the art that makes everything work. Everything from the humans to the

Neanderthals to the Weiroo to the dinosaurs just look too cool for words. Manning had an excellent sense of composition, keeping his "camera" moving from frame to frame in a way that kept the action moving fast while still allowing us to understand what is going on.

I've reviewed quite a number of comic book stories involving dinosaurs over the last couple of months, haven't I? Well, that's to be expected. As the ancient proverb tells us: "When you've tired of dinosaurs, you've tired of life."

Monday, October 28, 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday's Favorite OTR

Hollywood Star Playhouse: "Later Than You Think" 1/29/51

A very suspenseful story about a D.A. and a witness who go for a drive--unaware that there's a bomb in the car set to go off 16 minutes after the engine starts. This leads up to a great twist ending.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

An Overdose of Grizzled Veterans

The TV show Wagon Train ran for eight seasons. For the first three years it was on (and for part of the fourth year), it starred Ward Bond as the grizzled veteran wagon master Seth Adams.

Bond was a perfect fit for this part, as few actors could pull off a grizzled veteran vibe with as much authenticity as he did. Sadly, he died of a heart attack in 1960. He was replaced on Wagon Train by John McIntire, who played grizzled veteran wagon master Christopher Hale.

This worked out fine, because John McIntire played a pretty good grizzled veteran himself.

During it's seventh season, Wagon Train went from black-and-white to color and began to air 90 minute episodes. (Oddly, its eighth and last season saw it return to both black-and-white and a 1-hour format.) Despite my love of black-and-white, I will admit that the color season was a strong one, with the longer format making room for some sophisticated storytelling and strong characterizations.

The October 14, 1963 episode--"The Robert Harrison Clarke Story"--is a fine example of this. Written by Gene L. Coon (a great writer who would, a few years later, create Klingons, Khan and the Prime Directive while working on Star Trek), the story involves a snotty English writer who wants the story of the "real" American West. He's read dime novels and recognizes them as nonsense, but he overcompensates with the mind-set that the West is a dull, dirty place full of annoying people.

The reporter is the title character and well-played by Michael Rennie. This time out, though, Rennie doesn't have a robot with a death ray backing him up. Instead, he has a Sikh servant named Ram Sing. Together, Clarke and Sing have lived through wars in Africa and Asia, but now they just seemed destined to eat dust as the wagon train monotonously plows westward.

The situation soon gets dangerous. An Eastern-educated Kiowa chief named John Warbow has formed an alliance between his tribe and the Comanches. He's determined to wipe out a troop of soldiers that is also in the area.

What follows is a very well-constructed story that follows both the wagon train (actually a survey party this time out rather than a full wagon train) and the army troop. The troop's top sergeant, by the way, is played by Brian Keith, yet another actor who could give real depth to the grizzled veteran archetype.

Heck, I'm pretty sure that Ward Bond, John McIntire and Brian Keith were not born of woman, but spawned full-grown and already grizzled after the mating of a wildcat and a velociraptor.

Eventually, most of the army troop is wiped out. The wagon train guys, two surviving soldiers and Clarke are in a last-stand situation and seem doomed. And Clarke is near panic. It's not that he's a coward--he's held his own in battle in the past--but Ram Sing is now out of the picture. Clarke feels like he's alone. And it's hard for a man to be brave when he's got no one to be brave with.

It's a wonderfully told tale with some great actors giving real heart to the characters in the story. Below is a clip with two separate scenes from the episode. The first scene is the attack on the army troop, which makes great use of location photography. I'm pretty sure the attacking Indians are stock footage. If so, the director manages to merge this into new footage seamlessly by including a really effective tracking shot to show the Indians' point-of-view while charging the soldiers.

The second scene shows us the various characters talking on what they fully expect to be their last night on earth. It's a poignant scene, featuring expert character actors such as McIntire, Keith, Rennie and Royal Dano underplaying their roles to perfection.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Breaking Open a Box

Despite his powers, there are times when the Man of Steel can't simply punch his way out of a dangerous situation. In "The Most Dangerous Door in the World" (Superman #213--January 1969) is a pretty darn good example of this.

Superman makes a television appearance, in which he announces that he's just learned his life is in particularly serious danger. He buries a large vault, containing his last gift to the world--something that will benefit mankind as much as his superpowers. The lock to the vault is synched to his heartbeat. If he dies, the vault will open. The vault is made of impenetrable "Supermanium," so (theoretically) no one can break into it.

Lex Luthor watches all this and immediately decides to steal whatever is in the vault. He uses a trio of giant robots to lure Superman into a kryptonite trap. Then, with the Man of Steel dead, he uses a "mole" machine to tunnel under the vault and a version of Braniac's shrinking ray to reduce the vault to a managable size.

But back at this secret headquarters, after he
enlarges the vault again, he finds it's still locked. Undeterred, he uses his scientific genius to figure out a way to crack the vault open.

At which point, Superman flies out, thanks Luthor for rescuing him, then knocks the criminal and his henchmen unconscious.

The explanation? The vault was actually a trap set by Mordru, the evil wizard from the 30th Century. Mordru used magic to lure Superman into the vault and hypnotize him to keep him from breaking out. Only someone with super strength of a Kryptonian level could break him free--but the magic would lure Supergirl into the trap as well if she approached.

Using Super-Ventriloquism, Superman contacted Supergirl and suggested she call in the Legion of Superheroes for help. The "Superman" that Luthor "killed" was Braniac 5 in disguise, using his
flight ring and other devices to simulate Kal-el's powers. Braniac swallowed a death-simulating drug to fool Luthor at the key moment. All this led up to tricking Luthor into figuring out a way to break into the vault.

It's a fun story, written by Cary Bates (one of my favorite Silver Age writers--he had a real sense of what made comics fun to read.) The pencils are by the legendary Curt Swan--whose crisp, clean art made him an expert visual storyteller. You never have any trouble at all following the plot or action in a Swan-illustrated story. In this issue, the design of Luthor's various devices (robots, mole machines, etc.) are particularly fun.

There is, I suppose, one obvious plot hole. Superman needed a super-genius to figure out how to break open the vault. That's all well and good. But didn't he have a super-genius available in the form of Braniac 5, making the complex plan to fool Luthor unnecessary? Oh, well, I suppose the story is implying that Luthor is even smarter than B5.

Also, it's too bad there was no sequel. At the end, it's mentioned that other members of the Legion had tracked down and defeated Mordru. All that happened "off-screen," though. It would have been fun to have a follow-up issue showing Superman teaming up with the adult Legion to do battle with Mordru.

But despite a few minor flaws, this is a nifty Superman story that highlights how much fun the Man of Steel can be when properly handled. Superman, Supergirl and the Legion effectively run a Mission:Impossible-style con on Luthor. It's a great example of how a clever writer can write an interesting Superman story despite his seemingly infinite power levels.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Cover Cavalcade

Here's another evocative Roy Krenkel cover. That shaft of light running down the center of the image is a perfect touch.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday's Favorite OTR

Sherlock Holmes: "The Carpathian Horror" 4/14/47

In this very atmospheric variation of "The Sussex Vampire," Holmes and Watson travel to Carpathia to investigate a Count who thinks he's either going mad or is actually a vampire. The case soon turns into a murder investigation.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cooking a Red Goose

You probably don’t know who Ben Shaley is, but you should. He’s actually quite important.

I couldn't find a cover image of either of the issues that featured Ben Shaley, so here's a random cover instead
Shaley is a hard-boiled P.I. with a smart mouth. He had a pretty short career, appearing in two Black Mask magazine in 1934 (the February and April issues, to be exact).

Shaley’s creator is Norbert Davis, who—despite being stuck with the name “Norbert”—was a talented writer in the hard-boiled school. Davis also had a talent for injected comedy (sometimes screwball comedy) into his stories without during them into parody or otherwise reducing the hard-boiled tone. His Doan and Carstairs stories, starring a small-time detective and the Great Dane who assists him, are must-reads.

“Red Goose”—the first Ben Shaley story—doesn’t have the same level of humor that Davis’ later stories often had, but it still has some pretty witty moments. (I’ve never had a chance to read “The Price of a Dime”—Shaley’s other appearance.)

“Red Goose” is a good, solid detective story. Shaley is hired to recover a stolen painting. He gets a line on one of the guys who was hired to start a fight when the painting was stolen, thus distracted the security guards. But this lead suddenly seems beside the point when a young woman calls and tells him she has the painting.

 She seems like a nice enough lady—but few women in a hard-boiled story turn out to be nice. So it's not surprising that this one turns out to be a double-crossing dame. But the crooks she's already double-crossed might want to have a word or two with her.

What follows is a hostage situation followed by a nasty gun & fist fight.  That in turn leads to an effective twist ending.

“Red Goose” is indeed a good read, but what makes it so important? Well, it’s one of the stories that Raymond Chandler read when he was studying hard-boiled fiction with the intent of writing for the genre himself. He considered “Red Goose” one of the better ones and later cited it as an influence.

(Interestingly, when Chandler re-read the story years later, he still liked it, but didn’t think it was quite as good as he remembered it.)

So without Ben Shaley, we might not have gotten Philip Marlowe or The Big Sleep or Farewell My Lovely.  I’m not sure civilization could have survived without that. Though Shaley had a short career, it was certainly an important one.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Eskimo Trouble

Last week, we looked at an early issue of Dell's Indian Chief and examined a story featuring a one-off character.

But starting with the 12th issue, Indian Chief became the home for a reoccurring character. White Eagle is a young chief of the Sioux. He's a man who believes in peace--not an easy position to have as the leader of a tribe that values bravery in battle.

But White Eagle has several things going for him. First, when he has to fight, he's really, really good at it. Perhaps more importantly, he's smart and fully capable of coming up with clever plans to foil the enemies of the Sioux and those in his own tribe who want to get rid of him.

Indian Chief #21 (Jan-March 1956) gives us a good example of White Eagle's virtues. The tale is called "Invaders from the North."

It's one of the coldest winters anyone can remember. Fresh game is getting hard to find and "the biting north wind pierces every crack in the hide tents" of the Sioux village.

Two Indians, obviously starving, stumble into the village. White Eagle doesn't recognize their tribe or understand their language, but he gives them food and shelter regardless.

He soon learns that the strangers are called Eskimos and their tribe is drifting south in a desperate search for food. This presents the Sioux chief with a bit of a dilemma--there's barely enough food in the area for his people and the neighboring Crow tribe. If the Eskimos continue south, there simply won't
be enough for everyone.

The Crow chief wants to attack the Eskimos right away. So White Eagle and a couple of companions make a dangerous trek north to meet the advancing Eskimos. White Eagle hopes to get them to agree to turn east towards an unclaimed hunting ground.

But treachery is afoot. Soon, White Eagle and one of his friends find themselves stranded in the trackless snows while the Eskimos continue their march south to almost certain destruction. The two Sioux must make a dangerous journey over the icy slope of a mountain if they going to prevent disaster.

Like last week's tale about Fleet Hawk, this is a well-constructed adventure story with a strong and likable hero. The art this time is by John Daly and does a remarkable job of keeping the tale visually interesting despite a potentially monotonous snow-scape for a background. Daly's shifting "camera" angle and attention to detail make the snowy setting a strength rather than a weakness.

I first ran across both these stories as a kid--they were both back-up tales a Gold Key Turok Son of Stone digest magazine. Those digests were always a bit lazy about including the original source of those stories, so it was years before I found out where these wonderful tales came from--and to confirm that White Eagle was a reoccurring character. (Though, from the context of the reprinted story, it was a safe guess that he was.)

I've still got that digest. But it's also possible to read all White Eagle's adventures online. With companies like Dark Horse and Hermes Press reprinting much of the old Dell and Gold Key stuff, I wonder if there's hope of a proper reprint volume of Indian Chief eventually coming out. Perhaps not--he's probably too obscure a character to make an Archives edition of his adventures commercially viable.

But obscure or not, White Eagle was a great protagonist and deserves to be remembered.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday's Favorite OTR

Fibber McGee and Molly: "Missing Car Fender"  4/1/41

Molly goes for a drive and brings the car home without a left rear fender. So her task during this episode is to prevent Fibber from going out to the garage until Gildersleeve can buy a new fender and install it.

One of the great comedy teams of radio give us yet another hilarious episode.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Workin' on the Railroad

The first true pulp magazine was Argosy, published by Frank A. Munsey in 1896. That was a general fiction pulp, but in 1906, Munsey tried out a magazine specializing in a specific genre. This was Railroad Man's Magazine, with the premiere issue cover dated October 1906.

I guess it's not surprising that Munsey would look to railroad stories for his first specialty magazines. A popular novel that year was Whispering Smith, by Frank H. Spearman, a Western about a railroad detective. (Whispering Smith has been filmed 8 times over the years, including once with Alan Ladd and was a short-lived TV series starring Audie Murphy in 1961.)

In fact, Munsey had published Spearman's railroad-oriented short stories in his magazines before, so I guess he figured he had a built-in audience. Besides, anyone who doesn't like trains obviously hates fun.*

"The Nerve of Foley" is a good example of Spearman's work. It first appeared in Munsey's Magazine (though I rather annoyingly can't find a reference to the exact issue) and then was the title story of an anthology of Spearman's tales published in 1900.

(It's public domain, so you can snag an electronic copy HERE.)

The story is told by a manager working for a Mid-Western railroad. When the engineers and firemen go on strike, the company struggles to keep at least some of the trains moving. This doesn't always work out well, as the replacement engineers weren't of the best quality:

"He began by backing into a diner so hard that he smashed ever dish in the car, and ended by running into a siding a few days later and setting two tanks of oil on fire... Then he went back to selling windmills."

But soon, a guy named Foley shows up for work, claiming to have worked on the railroads back east. He's hired, stands up to some of the strikers who try to stop him from getting into a locomotive, and makes several successful high-speed runs. But the men on strike are still out to get him.

There's an awful cliche that helps set up the conclusion, when a runaway buggy with a baby inside stops on the tracks in front of a speeding train. But the author keeps it exciting as he describes Foley's efforts to save the kid and he manages to include a nice twist at the end.

Spearman wrote with the sort of clear and straightforward prose that is so effective for good storytelling and he had a good sense of humor. Reading this tale and doing a little bit of research into Spearman has made me realize that I've never read Whispering Smith. So you all might be reading a post about that novel soon. In the meantime, if you don't hate fun, give some of Spearman's short stories a try.

*Don't tell anyone--but this remark references a current TV series rather than a classic old-time series.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wolf Warriors and Battering Rams

Indian Chief (titled simply The Chief for its first two issues) was published by Dell Comics and ran through most of the 1950s. They were stories involving various Native American tribes and usually didn’t involve white men at all. I’m not sure of the time frame—whether the stories were set before any Europeans were on the scene or if they recount adventures that just didn’t happen to involve any white men. But whatever the case, they were great stories, with strong art work and equally strong characterizations.

Most of the time, an issue of Indian Chief would recount an adventure featuring White Eagle, a clever Sioux chief. And White Eagle was a pretty cool guy, so we’ll take a look at one of his adventures next week.

But a few of the early issues didn’t involve White Eagle. The Chief #2 (April-June 1951), for instance, contained three stories, each with a different protagonist. It’s one of these, titled “The Exile,” that we’ll be looking at today.

The title character here is Fleet Hawk, a young Arikari brave about to be initiated into the Wolf Clan.

Now I’ll admit right away that I have no idea if the Arikari culture is being presented accurately. I  
did only a little research when I decided to review this story, simply looking the tribe up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I learned they lived near the North/South Dakota border and they both farmed and hunted. That’s pretty much all I know. Their location does mean it makes sense that they’d be enemies of the Cheyenne—as presented in the story—since the two tribes would have lived close enough to each other to occasionally fight. But whether the Wolf Clan or the initiation process are historically accurate—well, I have no idea.

I didn’t dig any farther because I am reviewing this story for its entertainment value, not its historical veracity. And, by golly, it’s certainly not lacking in entertainment value.

Part of the initiation is to beat Fleet Hawk with a stick to see if he cries out. He endures this stoically until the stick hits a recent injury, forcing him to give a yell. For this failure, he’s exiled from the tribe for one year.

But he stays busy. It’s not long before he’s jumped by a wolf and kills it with his knife.  Wearing the wolf skin as a trophy, he then rescues an Arikari woman from some Cheyenne, though he runs away afterwards to hide his identity.

He soon discovers that the Cheyenne are planning a mass attack on the Arikari village after approaching along a river in canoes. To save his people, Fleet Hawk improvises a rather devastating naval-warfare weapon and takes on the Cheyenne single-handedly.

Alberto Giolitti does a perfect job with the art, giving us one riveting action scene after another, while the script (by Gaylord Du Bois) provides us with a realistic and likeable hero in Fleet Hawk.

This is, as far as I know, Fleet Hawk’s only appearance. That’s too bad. Wearing his unique wolf skin and carrying on a secret war against the enemies of his tribe—well, that’s the formula for more than one epic adventure. But if we’re only going to get one story about the young warrior, then this one will do. “The Exile” is a grand adventure tale. It’s available online, so read it yourself at (though you may have to register at the site to access it). 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cover Cavalcade

Any time you had an issue of Our Army at War with a Kubert cover and Russ Heath interior art, you had pretty much entered Comic Book Heaven.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday's Favorite OTR

Hollywood Star Playhouse: "Of Night and the River" 10/9/50

Joseph Cotton plays a man whose feet are trapped in concrete and who is being driven towards the river by three men intent on throwing him in. But even if he somehow escapes from this, he'll find he has jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

Hans Conried gives a wonderfully creepy performance as the chief villain.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

It's possible I've watched too much Star Trek

Not long ago, I was house-sitting at my parent's home. They own one of those new-fangled television machines (I don't--I just watch DVDs or stream movies on my laptop), so I turned it on and selected a classic TV show channel. There was an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series on.

It was "The Doomsday Machine," which originally aired on October 20, 1967. It is easily a Top Ten episode--one of their best.

The premise involves battling a giant robot weapon that eats planets--Kirk theorizes that its a doomsday machine left over from a war fought in another galaxy, still carrying out its mission of essentially destroying everything it finds. This includes having almost destroyed one of the Enterprise's sister ships--the Constellation. Only the Constellation's captain--Commodore William Decker--survives.

What follows is an expertly-told story full of building tension, a lot of action and any number of great character moments. This includes a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Spock, when he forces a mentally-unstable Decker to step down from commanding the Enterprise (Kirk is trapped on the Constellation).  The music, an original score by Sol Kaplan, is superb and arguably the best use of music in the series. Guest star William Windom is excellent as Decker. (Decker, by the way, was written with actor Robert Ryan in mind.)

But when I watched it at my parent's house that night, Spock's Moment of Awesome was missing. He relieves Decker, then a minute or so of confrontation is cut out, jumping to Decker simply getting out of the command chair.

Well, gee whiz, I know syndicated TV shows are often cut for more commercial time. This is annoying in of itself, but this was an awkward and poorly considered edit no matter what. It cut out a character moment that was important to the flow of the story.

I suppose that knowing the scene had been cut was by itself enough to mark me as a life-long geek. But this was confirmed the next day. Back at my own house, I got out my DVD set and watched the entire show again just so I could see it with that scene intact.

Star Trek, along with Adam West's Batman and Saturday morning cartoons, were my biggest geeky influences before moving to Florida when I was ten years old. (Which added Dr. Paul Bearer's Creature Feature and a nearby store that sold comic books to the mix.) But I suppose this might be a sign that I've watched Star Trek a few too many times. Maybe I need to stop. There's not a single episode of the original series that I haven't seen multiple times. Maybe I'm done with it.

On second thought--maybe not. I think I'll watch "Balance of Terror" tonight.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A wing and a Dinosaur

I didn't consciously mean to give my last few weeks of comic book reviews a theme,  but I guess I have. Two themes actually. The Conan story from two weeks ago involved a large, dinosaur-like creature, while last week and today directly involves dinosaurs. Also, as with those previous stories, this one MIGHT have been my introduction to the "War That Time Forgot" series. But it might not have been. I don't remember for sure.

I think I'm simply too completely geeky. Stuff like this is so completely a part of my DNA that it's as if I've always know about them--there was never a moment when I had to actually learn about Conan, Turok or dinosaurs in World War II. That information was simply always there.

Anyway, "The Guinea Pig Patrol" first appeared in Star Spangled War #95 (March 1961), but I ran across it in the first issue of a reprint book titled G.I. War Tales (April 1973).

Like most War That Time Forgot tales, it's low on characterization (you don't even remember the names of any of the characters when you've finished reading it), but it's high on incredibly entertaining images. Ross Andru does a wonderful job making everything look cool as a small group of paratroopers desperately try to survive an onslaught of prehistoric monsters.

The action starts when a plane full of paratroopers is torn from the sky by a pterodactyl. A few
survivors use the plane's wing as a raft, armed with ineffective small arms and a bazooka with just a few rockets. They use the bazooka to fight off one dinosaur and save a low-flying damaged fighter plane from another. But they are out of rockets when they take refuge on a tiny floating island. That's really bad news when a sea serpent pops up and starts eating the island.

As I've written before, I recognize the faults inherent in the War That Time Forgot stories, but I simply don't care. Writer Bob Kanigher was blessed with great artists for this series and it was thus filled with awesome. It's World War II soldiers fighting dinosaurs. You simply can't go wrong with that.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...