Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fighting the Germans while Fighting the Flu

As I understand it, writer Robert J. Hogan (who wrote all 110 issues of G-8 and His Battle Aces) would get a look at a cover painting by Frederick Blakeslee, then write a story that fit that illustration.

Well, here's what he got for the October 1936 issue:

It's a pretty gosh-darn cool image, which is typical of Blakeslee's imaginative illustrations. That's G-8's Spad in the foreground, with his two Battle Aces helping to haul that mega-bomb somewhere. Obviously, the Germans are upset with them because of this.

If this particular image came before the story, then the end product is all the more interesting. Because the whole "towing a mega-bomb" thing doesn't happen until the last few pages. And for most of the story, the existence of the bomb isn't even hinted at. I think it's possible that Hogan had a story idea he wanted to use, then modified it to fit that mega-bomb image in at the conclusion. Heck, maybe he'd had the story idea kicking around in his brain for awhile, waiting for an image he could use as an excuse to write it.

Or maybe he simply took the idea of the mega-bomb as his reverse starting-point and constructed the story backwards from there. In any case, he came up with a strong and exciting plot.

Skies of Yellow Death begins with Allied ace pilots suddenly dropping dead. All at the same time. And after they had all received notes warning them they would die at the precise moment they did.

G-8 looks into it, soon learning of a Chinese scientist named Chu Lung who has gone to work for the Germans. Chu Lung is being brought to Germany in a U-Boat. When the Master Spy and his men try to destroy the U-boat, G-8 is shot down. His ensuing unplanned dip in the North Sea leaves him with a nasty case of pneumonia.

So G-8 spends the bulk of the story stumbling around, weak as a kitten, while trying to figure out how Chu Lung is poisoning Allied pilots and where he's located. G-8 receives his own death threat, so he's got to avoid an assassination attempt while pursuing the case. At one point, G-8 is captured and trapped in a coffin, not knowing if he's going to be buried alive. Not long after that,  the Master Spy finds himself in a traditional death trap (spiked walls closing in on him) inside the mansion Chu Lung is using as a headquarters.

It's not until the last few pages that G-8 learns about a giant poison-gas bomb that will devastate the Alllied armies. Stealing the bomb and dropping it on German troops suddenly becomes a top priority.

The story is fast-paced fun, as most G-8 tales are. What makes this one work is the effective way Hogan weaves several plot threads together to generate suspense, then adds the fact that G-8 is sick as a dog to make it even more suspenseful.

It may have taken Robert J. Hogan the entire novel to finally fit the image from the cover painting into the story, but it was well worth the wait.


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