Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Monster Society of Evil: Parts 16-20

When we last saw Captain Marvel, he was sitting atop a newly created volcano in Scotland to prevent it from erupting. And can I just pause here to remark that I loved writing that sentence?

Some of the locals manage to set up a volcano plug and the World's Mightiest Mortal is once again free to give chase to Mr. Mind. This time, the chase takes them underground, where Marvel discovers a civilization of Sub-Americans--who are apparently midget Pilgrims who moved underground a few centuries earlier.

I will pause again to remark that I love being able to write "midget Pilgrims" and have it make sense in context.

These guys keep Allied oil wells filled with oil and also had a back-up plan to put into effect if the Axis managed to conquer Europe. They had wired a giant cavern with tons of dynamite. If necessary, they could set this off and split the world in half, thus keeping the Western Hemisphere safe from the Nazis. Now that the Axis are losing, they no longer plan on blowing anything up, but they hadn't bothered to defuse the bomb. Apparently, midget Pilgrims aren't strong on safety procedures.

Naturally, Mr. Mind decides to light the fuse, forcing Marvel into a race against time to save the world.

This allows Mr. Mind to make a clean getaway. And it's at this point that, as much as I love this story, I think Otto Binder and C.C. Beck begin to lose a little momentum. Most of the next two issues involve the famous movie director Mr. Hitchblock making a movie about Mr. Mind--with the intent of helping reminding people just how dangerous the little worm is. The ensuing story, in which Mr. Mind hijacks the studio and attempts to make his own movie, is funny enough. But the momentum of the tale in terms of telling an adventure story is lost. There's no feeling of immediacy to the danger and the emphasis on humor detracts from the superhero stuff. That's a judgement call, of course. The story was already filled with humor. But I think that here the balance shifted just a little too far in that direction.

Also, Mr. Mind suddenly shifts from being a cunning villain to a big cry-baby, breaking into tears whenever something goes wrong. It's already hard enough to be threatening when you are a one-inch-long worm. You don't want a tendency to whine making this even harder.

The movie shenanigans are followed by Mr. Mind employing a "Back Death Ray," only to discover that it only works on metal, not on people. He follows this up with a plan to fool the general population into supporting him by publishing a propaganda book titled "Mind Kampf." (Which actually is pretty funny.) Part of this plan is using a minion named Evil Eye to hypnotize Billy Batson and force him to help run the printing press.

But that plan goes awry as well. Interestingly, Captain Marvel Adventures #41 (chapter 20) concludes with Mr. Mind about to get crushed in a printing press. It's rare to have the villain, not the hero, involved in the cliffhanger.

There is one bizarre moment I want to specifically mention. At one point in the story, Captain Marvel is about to finally catch Mr. Mind. But the clever worm escapes by putting his glasses on a normal caterpillar. This is enough to fool a man who's been given the Wisdom of Solomon.

Actually, I'm okay with that--it fits right in with the absurdist feel of the entire story arc. But when Marvel thinks he's holding the real Mr. Mind in his fist--he does this:

Yes, in an act of brutal vigilante justice that is worthy of the Punisher (30 years before the Punisher would be created), Captain Marvel simply squishes the bad guy. (Or at least thinks he does.) Gee whiz, even the SQUISH sound effect looks pretty graphic! I actually don't care for this--the inherent brutality is both out-of-character for Captain Marvel and sounds a false note in a story that otherwise drips with innocent fun.

Then again, Mr. Mind has been working closely with the Nazis--real-life and purely evil villains who slaughtered millions of innocent people. Maybe it wasn't possible to keep the story completely innocent. All the same, that SQUISH is just unpleasant.

Well, we'll just have to wait and see if things pick up for the last five chapters of "The Monster Society of Evil."

You can read the entire epic HERE.

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