Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Tarzan: "Trophy Room" 8/16/51

In a variation of "The Most Dangerous Game," a madman hunts the Jungle Lord for sport.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thief, Murderer or Detective?

Read/Watch 'em In Order#52

Arsene Lupin Returns (1938) is the direct sequel to 1932's Arsene Lupin, though the now-retired Gentleman Thief has transformed from John Barrymore into Melvyn Douglas.

I'm okay with this, though, since Douglas is really good in the part. We find him working as a Gentleman Farmer in France, apparently retired for good from criminal enterprises. He's now using the name Rene Farrand. The police aren't looking for him otherwise, presuming he's dead after jumping off a Paris bridge at the end of the last film. He's also in love with the beautiful Lorraine de Grissac, played by Virginia Bruce (who is indeed pleasant to gaze upon). Life is good.

Or perhaps not so good. His quiet life is interrupted when a valuable emerald is stolen and Arsene Lupin's calling card is left behind. Lupin/Farrand is being framed and it might in the end be necessary to employ his old skills as as thief to prove he isn't a thief.

Warren William co-stars as an American insurance investigator who soon suspects Lupin's real identity. This leads to an odd circle of suspicions held by various characters. William thinks Lupin actually is guilty; the police inspector (George Zucco) suspects William of being guilty; Lupin knows he's innocent, but at one point he has to tell a couple of old colleagues that he's guilty in order to trick them into helping him prove his innocence. Along the way, a fence who briefly had the emerald is murdered. Lupin now has to clear himself of murder rather than just thievery.

It's a potentially convoluted plot, but a good script and straightforward direction by George Fitzmaurice keep the story on track. The one weak point might be that we (the audience) are meant to doubt Lupin's innocence ourselves, but it's really no spoiler to tell you that there's never any doubt that he's the good guy this time around.

The cast is great. I've already mentioned that Douglas slips into the role quite nicely. Warren William
is excellent as the American detective--though he is wrong in his initial suspicion of Lupin, it's clear all along that he's intelligent and capable.

In fact, that's one of the strengths of the film. Even when William or policeman Zucco are wrong in their suspicions, those suspicions are reasonable in of themselves. They are smart and professional investigators, making them worthy opponents for Arsene Lupin.

Two other notable cast members are E.E. Clive and Nat Pendleton as two of Lupin's former colleagues from his days as a thief. Readers of my blog know how much I like the character actors from the 1930s/40s/50s. Seeing these two guys apparently having fun with their parts is an added pleasure for an already entertaining movie.

That's it for the Lupin films, though I would have loved to see more sequels in which Lupin and William's characters teamed up to solve a few more crimes. Sadly, that never happened.

But Warren William did get a chance to jump to the other side of the fence a year later when he began playing the Lone Wolf, a yet another former thief who must often play detective to clear himself of murder. So perhaps this film was good practice for him. Ironically, Melvyn Douglas had played the Lone Wolf in a movie in 1935.  The Gentleman Thief turned Detective was a common archetype back in the day. Which was a good thing, because we got quite a few great movies out of this.

As for what's next for the movie portion of the In Order series--I think we'll continue to hang around Warren William for awhile and see how he did as Perry Mason in four films.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Comic Book Character Visits a Comic Book Universe

Lex's plan is actually a pretty logical one. He knows Superman is vulnerable to magic. So he invents a magic accumulator that will store up enough magical energy to destroy the Man of Steel.

But then he gets careless. Disdainfully tossing aside a copy of Shazam (because that fake superhero stuff is so silly--not at all like the completely logical DC Universe!), he zaps it with the accumulator and accidentally transports himself to Earth-S. He's now in Captain Marvel's universe.

He's a tad confused at first, especially after he encounters a helpful talking tiger. But then he sees Captain Marvel in action and realizes where he is.

This is the set-up for "Captain Marvel meets... Lex Luthor!?!" from Shazam #15 (November-December 1974). Remember that DC had by this time acquired the rights to the Big Red Cheese and other Fawcett characters, but until the 1986 reboot, these characters were kept in their own universe.

This, I think, was a wise decision. It allowed Earth-S to maintain its own individual feel. It remained a Universe where the veneer of "realism" gave way to Comic Book Logic taken to its farthest extreme without ever quite breaking it. It's a world in which Captain Marvel and his supporting cast worked best. When these characters were made a part of the regular DC Universe, that individuality and the fun that went with it were lost. When this happened, the chances of a Shazam story that would be as entertaining as the original Monster Society of Evil was lost, as were any further chances of Captain Marvel fighting giant robot bunny rabbits. The world is a poorer place because of this.

Anyway, Lex meets and teams up with Mr. Mind. The deal is that they will use the magic accumulator to destroy Captain Marvel, then Mr. Mind will assist in destroying Superman. Of course, the two villains plan on back-stabbing each other at the first opportunity, but that's to be expected.

They lure Captain Marvel to an aquarium, where Lex zaps him with the accumulator. This drains the hero of his magic and turns him back into Billy Batson. Poor Billy is underwater, unable to say Shazam--and there's a hammerhead shark in the tank with him!

Fortunately, hammerhead sharks react the same way to waving something red in front of them as do bulls. (Because of course they do.) This gives Billy a chance to use the shark to break the glass and escape. He turns back into Captain Marvel and Lex decides its time to double-cross his partner.

Lex uses the accumulator to zap himself back to Earth-1, where a bad day is capped off by his immediate capture when he discovers Superman is waiting for him.

This story was written by Denny O'Neil, who was best known for writing Batman tales but knew how to play well with more powerful characters when he had to. The pencils are by Bob Oksner, whose style is indeed reminiscent of C.C. Beck. "Captain Marvel Meets.. Lex Luthor!?!" drips with the same sort of fun that Beck and writer Otto Binder brought to the Golden Age stories.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

This sort of thing would make real-life weddings a lot more interesting.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Alberto Giolitti

Here's a video I made for the Ringling College of Art library's YouTube channel. It's about prolific comic book artist Alberto Giolitti, who illustrated many, many Dell and Gold Key Comics from the late 1940s through the early 1980s.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: "The Phantom Chase Matter, Part 1" 10/15/56

Most Johnny Dollar story arcs in the mid-50s were 5-parters and were among the best in the series. "The Phantom Chase Matter" was a 9-parter and is one of my favorites. Johnny is pursuing an embezzler--a chase that will take him to New Orleans, then on to Haiti and finally the Barbados.

Listen or download the first episode HERE.  You can access the rest of the story arc HERE, but remember that it is a mortal sin to listen to more than one episode of a serial per day.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Even Perry Mason Messes Up from Time to Time

I enjoy the way Erle Stanley Gardner sets up this particular novel. Most of the time, a client hires Perry for one reason or another, then along the way someone is killed and Perry now has to defend his client against a murder charge.

In 1949's The Case of the Cautious Coquette, Perry is already working on a personal injury case when the novel opens, trying to track down a witness to a hit-and-run accident. This seems straightforward, but then he gets an anonymous tip that a woman named Lucille Barton is the witness, while another woman entirely shows up at his office also claiming to be the witness.

Perry soon realizes that Lucille had nothing to do with the accident, but wants to hire Perry to deal with an alimony situation with her ex-husband. Perry isn't interested, so when he and Lucille stumble across a dead body, he leaves her to report it to the police. He's eager to get back to the hit-and-run case and, besides, he enjoys the idea of being able to tell the cops everything he knows about the body without worrying about protecting a client.

But the body doesn't get reported right away. By the time Perry realizes he made an error in judgment in not following up on this himself, the body has been found anyways and he's tentatively placed at the scene of the crime by a witness.

Lucille is arrested for the crime and Perry has no choice but to take her case. Aside from believing she is innocent, he also needs to claim client-lawyer privilege to keep from answering questions about that pesky corpse. He arranges a complicated trick to keep the witness from positively identifying him, then begins to unravel the case and identify the real killer during the preliminary hearing.

One of the pleasures of reading a Perry Mason novel is the fun of "watching" the cops and Hamilton Burger, convinced they've finally got Perry this time, stand by helplessly as Perry twists everything they try to his own advantage. It makes one wonder how poor Burger kept his job as D.A. But life in the Perry Mason universe wouldn't be anywhere near as fun without him.

Cautious Coquette has the usual entertainment value from the courtroom antics, but it's a particularly strong entry in the series because of the unusual set-up. Perry simply messes up by first making a reasonable but incorrect deduction about Lucille and then by depending on her to report the body. But Gardner understood the characters he wrote about--at no time does Perry seem dumb. He acts intelligently throughout the story, but errs in his judgement a few times along the way.  It's fun to watch circumstances put Perry in a hole, then to keep watching while he uses his brains to think his way out of that hole.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ant Man vs. Bug

I haven't researched  this, but I'm going to guess that it was the enormous and unexpected success of the Star Wars toys in the late 1970s that inspired toy companies to put out action figure lines with identifiable characters and back stories. G.I. Joe, for instance, had usually consisted of generic characters who could be dressed and armed in various ways. But then the Joe line was re-vamped, with figures that represented specific characters with specific biographies and skill sets. Thus we got Snake Eyes, Duke, Destro, Scarlet, Duke, Storm Shadow and scores of other good guys and bad guys.

Whatever the impetus for this trend, it meant that these toy lines were now fodder for coherent and potentially good storytelling. Marvel Comics, which first published Star Wars comics, also got hold of the license for several toy lines not based directly on movies. They did G.I. Joe, the Transformers, Rom: Space Knight and the Micronauts. Interestingly, Joe and the Transformers inhabited their own self-contained universes, whereas Rom and the Micronauts were tossed into the Marvel Universe. 

Add caption
There's no denying that this was very much a commercial venture, with profits for Marvel, Mego and Hasbro being the driving force behind it all. There's nothing wrong with making money, but this is not always a situation that promises good storytelling. It could have turned out to be a crass commercial venture without artistic value. But in this case, talented writers were given an opportunity to play with new characters and tell some fun stories. In fact, Bill Mantlo, who wrote Marvel's Micronauts series, convinced editor Jim Shooter to acquire the comic license for that particular toy line after Mantlo saw his son playing with them. He recognized a good opportunity when he saw it.

I didn't read the Micronauts when it first came out in 1979--I did jump aboard the G.I. Joe bandwagon a year or so later and also enjoyed Rom and the Transformers on a more irregular basis. But for me, the little visitors from a microverse somehow got lost in the shuffle. 

From what little research I have done (meaning I've read the Wikipedia entry on them), I gather the Micronauts were from a microscopic universe consisting of different planets or habitats linked together like a molecule chain. A motley crew of warriors from the different habitats band together to fight a tyrant. On a couple of occasions, their ship breaks through a dimensional barrier to reach Earth, where the Micronauts are just a few inches tall, and have a variety of adventures there.

I recently scored Micronauts #19 & 20 (July & August 1980) from the back issue bin. The Endeavor, the Miconauts' ship, has returned to Earth. One of the crew, an insectoid named Bug, scouts around but gets captured by a mad scientist named Odd John, who is mutating insects (making them a little larger, smarter and aggressive) to wipe out humanity because... well, because bullies made fun of his love for bugs when he was a kid. Nothing good ever comes of bullying, kids. 

Bug gets mutated as well and is soon leading a swarm of insects in an attack on a supermarket. In the meantime, the other Micronauts tangle with Odd John. They have a bit of trouble--the mad man's shotgun is an effective anti-space ship weapon when the space ship is really small. Also, his bugs do make an effective fighting force. But by the beginning of the second issue, they've subdued him. But their mind-controlled comrade and an army of nasty insects are still on a rampage.

Some non-mutated ants call out to Scott Lang for help. If you aren't up on Ant Man continuity, Scott was a guy who got hold of Hank Pym's original Ant Man costume and some shrink gas, taking over that identity. (I think Hank was Yellowjacket by this time.) He also arrives at the supermarket to help fight the bugs. 

What follows is an entertainingly choreographed fight that makes good use of the setting and the small size of the various opponents to give a unique flavor to the battle. It's also interesting that Ant Man and the Micronauts spend much of the battle fighting the evil insects without being aware of each other, making it an unplanned two-front war. 

In the end, Scott learns that the shrink gas he carries will reverse the mutation, thus returning Bug and the bugs to normal. That part is a little contrived, but the rest of the story is fun enough to forgive this.

I have to say that this story has wet my appetite for the Micronauts. There's a nice variety of characters aboard the Endeavor, both in terms of appearance and personality. The background is rich in potential stories, especially with various story arcs jumping between the microverse and Marvel Earth. And it's always a good sign when Bill Mantlo was the writer. His stories always had a sense of fun infused into them. 

Sadly, because Marvel no longer has the rights to the Micronauts (or Rom for that matter) we probably won't be seeing any trade paperback reprints of the series. That's a pity--I admit that though it is sometimes fun to own the original comics, I'm more interested in enjoying the stories and I'm perfectly happy with collected reprint editions that hand be those stories in one convenient package. 

Oh, well, there's still the back issue bins and Ebay. My back issue budget is small, but I'll probably snatch up some more Micronauts from time to time.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

X Minus One: "Man's Best Friend" 4/24/57

This black comedy is about an average man chosen by a computer to become the next ruler of the planet. This includes the job of publicly assassinating the current ruler.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"If the third mine is smashed, hell'll let out across the whole system!"

Read/Watch 'em In Order #51

The villain of  Captain Future's Challenge (Summer 1940) is smarter than most. He realizes that if you take out the superhero BEFORE you instigate your evil scheme, then you eliminate your greatest threat before he even realizes there's a scheme afoot. 

The scheme is to destroy the Solar System's supply of gravium, the most essential element needed to keep civilization running. The villain, known as the Wrecker, launches attacks on several gravium mines while simultaneously sending another ship to kidnap Captain Future.

Edmond Hamilton gets the story moving quickly right from the get-go. At the same time, he concisely explains to us what's going on. Gravium is used to make gravity equalizers, which allows the natives of the various planets to live and work normally on other worlds of greater or lesser gravity. Without gravium, interplanetary travel and trade would collapse. It's a good, solid plot device that gives the Wrecker a believable motivation and creates suspense as gravium mines are steadily destroyed.

There's even a good reason for capturing Captain Future rather than just killing him--we eventually learn that the Wrecker can transfer minds from one body to another. Obviously, a Captain Future body with the mind of one of the Wrecker's minions would give the villain a major advantage.

But, on the other hand, trying to keep the good Captain a prisoner isn't really a good idea. He's soon given the bad guys the slip and rejoins the Futuremen aboard the Comet. Soon, they're in a dog fight with two ships amidst the asteroid field, while Grag the robot ends up on an asteroid inhabited by a primitive tribe that is soon worshiping him as a god.

The trail eventually leads to Neptune, which is (of course) an ocean world. The last three gravium mines are here, located beneath undersea domes. I love this version of Neptune--a world with only a few small island chains, giant sea monsters and legends of mysterious sea devils that are spoken in whispers among the natives. Once again, a Captain Future novel has frustrated me that the real Solar System isn't like this. Stupid, stupid physics!

Anyway, Captain Future needs to not just stop the Wrecker, but also figure out who the heck he is. The list of suspects is narrowed when it becomes certain that one of the mine owners or a mine official must be the villain. The motive, at least, is obvious--the Wrecker will eventually have a monopoly on gravium production. I like that twist. Usually, villains want to take over the Solar System through fear or violence. Here, the bad guy wants to pretty much buy his way to the top. 

The ending involves a pair of action set-pieces, both of which are exciting and full of imagination. First, Captain Future has to escape from an inescapable cage located in a completely alien environment while trapped in a completely alien body. 

Then, he has to lead a fleet of small submarines in an undersea battle against an army of alien creatures riding atop ill-tempered sea monsters.

Many Captain Future fans prefer the later novels, when Edmond Hamilton was paid a higher rate and spent more time re-writing before submitting the finished manuscript. In general, these later efforts had more polish and imagination, so I largely agree with this view.

But Captain Future's Challenge is one of my favorites, nonetheless. It's not lacking at all in imagination and Hamilton's Neptune is a great setting for a space opera. Hamilton was a superb storyteller and even when he didn't do quite as much manuscript polishing as he might have, he still gave us exciting and engaging tales. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Go to Rutland, Vermont---AND PROBABLY DIE!

Rutland, Vermont, at least superficially, looks like a fun place to spend Halloween. The town hosts a Halloween parade each year which, because of the work of a local writer named Tom Fagan, has a superhero-theme to it. So every year, a bunch of superheroes visit Rutland. But these are just people in costumes, right?

Well, perhaps not. In the letters column of Marvel's What If #22, the Watcher himself tells us that Rutland is an artificial nexus of all realities that "fluctuates in size and accessibility." So heroes and villains from the Marvel and DC universes often make appearances there. Visit Rutland on Halloween and there's a good chance you'll get killed or mind-controlled by a supervillain. It happens pretty much all the time.

We get a particularly strong example of this in 1973, when writers Steve Englehart, Len Wein and Gerry Conway inserted themselves into a sort-of Marvel/DC crossover. At the time, Englehart was writing Marvel's Amazing Adventures, which recounted the adventures of the former X-Man Beast (who had only recently mutated again and gotten all furry.) Conway was writing Thor, while Len Wein was scripting DC's Justice League.

In Amazing Adventures #16 (cover dated January 1973 but published in October 1972), Hank McCoy is on his way to Canada as a part of the book's current story arc. But he has himself a little mini-adventure when he stops in Rutland when Juggernaut (who has been trapped in a mystical limbo for some time) is sort of spit out into Rutland himself. What follows is an extended chase scene, with Hank trying to stay ahead of the much-more powerful villain until he can snatch Juggernaut's helmet away and leave him vulnerable to a punch in the jaw. The fight ends with Juggernaut's return to limbo.

It's a fun story, made interesting by the fact that Hank has to out-think rather than simply out-fight the bad guy. But what makes it really interesting is the presence of Englehart, Conway, Wein and Wein's wife Glynis, who are in Rutland for the Halloween parade. Glynis, in fact, is dressed in a modified Lawyer-Friendly version of Supergirl's costume.  They witness much of the action (with Englehart in particular ironically failing to recognize Hank McCoy).

During the story, we see a little of the parade, with some DC heroes waving to the crowd. The assumption would be these are locals in costume. But in Justice League of America #103, we learn that this is the real Justice League!

In that story, the Phantom Stranger warns the JLA that evil sorcerer Felix Faust has escaped from prison and is intending to release demonic entities upon the world, starting in Rutland. So the JLA is keeping an eye on things, while hidden in plain sight by taking part in the parade.

Faust has his demons possess some of the civilians in costume--including Glynis Wein. Because the three writers and Glynis are still there, in the same clothes they were wearing in Amazing Adventures.

The ensuing story has a nice twist, with the Phantom Stranger seemingly allowing the JLA to be defeated by the possessed civilians--some of whom are dressed as Lawyer-Friendly knockoffs of Marvel heroes and all of whom now have superpowers. But the Stranger is really just setting up a magic spell that will save the JLA and drain Faust of his power. When this succeeds, Faust steals Englehart's car for a getaway, only to get pulled over by the cops because of a faulty muffler.

Finally, we come to Thor #207. Thor has been pursuing Crusher Creel--the Absorbing Man--and the fight just happens to bring them to Rutland. Creel is defeated after a nifty fight (drawn by John Buscema), only to be attacked by Loki, who is amping up his own power by mesmerizing some of the local population (including poor Glynis) and using their souls as a back-up battery source. But a timely intervention by Karnilla the Norn Queen leaves Loki blind and helpless. Glynis returns to the three writers in time to watch helplessly while their car is being stolen (implicitly by Faust from the JLA story).

A month or so ago, I reviewed the first Superman-Spider Man crossover. That story was implicitly set in a separate universe from the Marvel and DC worlds--one in which the heroes from those universes co-exist. Here, though, each of the stories is clearly a part of Marvel (Beast, Thor) or DC (JLA) continuity. Now, of course, the writers were just having fun and there's no inherent need to come up with an explanation for how this is possible.

But what fun would that be? The answer can only be that Rutland, Vermont is indeed a nexus of all realities, with our universe co-existing for perhaps one night a year with DC, Marvel or both. That would explain these three stories. Heck, if Rutland is near where Bob Newhart lived in his 1980s sitcom, then this might explain his famous series finale as being more than just a dream!

So, for gosh sake, don't go there. I know the parade looks like a fun event, but you don't want to be mind-controlled into attacking Green Lantern or have your soul sucked out by Loki. It's just not worth it. Continue driving and just find some place outside of town for a nice picnic or something.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Whistler: "Death Comes at Midnight" 10/18/42

A man dreams he will be murdered in two days. Soon, circumstances seem to indicate his dream might actually come true!

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Mr. Haney is sure handy with that whip!

One of the reasons the B-movie cowboy heroes were so popular was that they were so gosh-darn likable. We can't help but think of Hopalong, Roy, Gene and Tex as friends. And in a very important sense, they were our friends.

But another reason was that their movies were nearly always excellent examples of good basic storytelling. The B-movie Western had well-constructed plots, interesting situations, superbly choreographed action scenes and excellent use of location photography. Even if you were to set aside the appeal of the heroes, we can watch one of these films and simply enjoy a well-told story.

For instance, the 1951 Gene Autry oater titled Silver Canyon gives us a really nifty tale. It's set right at the beginning of the Civil War. A Confederate guerilla band led by Wade McQuarrie (who is clearly modeled after William Quantrill) is pillaging and raiding the area around Gateway, a U.S. Army post and mining town. Gene and his sidekick Cougar Claggett want to join the Army, but an officer talks Gene into tracking down McQuarrie.

What follows is a fine story in which Gene uses his tracking skills and deductive reasoning while searching for McQuarrie's trail. In the meantime, McQuarrie's men attack and steal a box of silver from an Army wagon train, then later steal some horses from a Pony Express station.

It unfolds that Walt Middler, the son of Gateway's military commander, is working with McQuarrie--not out of greed or thuggery, but because he sincerely supports the Confederate cause. Walt's sister Dell knows this, but can't bring herself to turn him in.

All this builds up to a satisfying conclusion  when McQuarrie and his men--dressed in Union uniforms--boldly ride into Gateway with the intention of looting the town. But Gene is hot on their trail with an idea of how to trick them into leaving town. Also, Walt witnesses McQuarrie's ruthlessness and begins to wonder if he's chosen the right side.

It's an entertaining movie from start to finish, made all the better by a fine supporting cast. Gail Davis (who would play Annie Oakley a few years later in an Autry-produced TV series) plays Dell Middler as capable and occasionally fiery, lifting her above a mere damsel-in-distress status. McQuarrie is played with a calm ruthlessness by Jim Davis. Dell's brother Walt is played by Bob Steele, who had his own career as a B-movie hero during the 1930s & 40s.

It's a great movie because we like and admire Gene Autry and I'm not underestimating this. But it's also a great movie simply because it spins a really good yarn.

By the way, Pat Buttram was Gene's sidekick in many of his films and on Gene's TV and radio shows. He does a fine job in the sidekick department, providing sincerely funny moments while still remaining competent enough to provide Gene with actual help when needed. The scene I'm including below, in which Gene prevents a man from being lynched for supposedly helping McQuarrie, is a good example of this. Pat's character jumps right in to the fight and more than holds his own. In fact, his use of the whip right at the beginning of the fight is nothing less than epic.

Buttram went on to play the persistent salesman Mr. Haney on Green Acres in the 1960s and was an important element in what made that show so darn funny. In fact, Silver Canyon gives us two connections to absurdist 1960s sitcoms. Bob Steele was a member of F Troop (and was an important element in what made that show so funny).

Pat Buttram was a great comedic actor, but by golly you wouldn't want to go up against him in a fist fight. If he'd brought that whip along to Hooterville, he probably could have convinced Mr. Douglas to buy a lot more of his stuff.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Monster Society of Evil--The Epic Conclusion!

Last time, I wrote that chapters 15-20 of the Monster Society of Evil serial lost a little story-telling momentum. That was actually not an uncommon problem with the movie serials of the day (on which the structure of the comic book serial was based). But, like the best movie serials, this story picks up again as it nears its conclusion. The last five chapters are among the best.

At the end of Captain Marvel Adventures #41, Mr. Mind was about to be crushed to death in a printing press. But as issue #42 begins, we discover that Captain Marvel had inadvertently saved him by destroying the press. So now the little worm is plotting evil again. This time, he plans to create a super-smart monster. This doesn't quite work out, but he ends up with something just as good:

 He employs the Hydra monster to steal plans for a new secret weapon. This almost works, because it doesn't occur to either Captain Marvel or any of several policemen to try and stop the monster by any  other method than knocking/shooting one of its heads off--which, of course, only causes it to grow more heads. Soon, its got four heads. But Marvel soon tricks it into destroying itself by getting it to fight over food.

That leaves Mr. Mind a prisoner of the hero, but when the worm bumps his head, he gets amnesia, forgets he's evil and becomes a good guy.

Nowadays, an amnesia plot is pretty cliched. Heck, it was cliched in 1944. But it works here simply because it's hilarious. Billy Batson and Mr. Mind immediately become best buddies and roommates. Mr. Mind's multiple acts of murder are apparently forgiven. Billy saves him from an assassination attempt by Mind's former henchmen and the worm is able to help stop a plot to ram a huge asteroid into the Earth. But this latter incident results in Mr. Mind suffering another bump on the head, which cures his amnesia and turns him evil again. And, yes, that's another cliche. But it's funny, so I don't care.

This takes us to Captain Marvel Adventures #44. The story is zipping along at warp speed and its has never been more exciting or funnier. This momentum continues when Mr. Mind decides he needs a refresher course at his own School of Evil to get his groove back. As a graduation exercise, he and a monstrous henchman kidnap Billy Batson. One would think this would be on the list of "Things never to do" during your Freshman class at the School of Evil, because Billy escapes, says Shazam! and wrecks the school.

Mr. Mind takes refuge underwater, where he uses telepathic control of sea life to attack the U.S. Navy. This gives us the image of Mr. Mind wearing a tiny diving helmet and riding a sea horse, which might just be the single greatest thing ever.

When Marvel foils that scheme, the various henchmen finally get disgusted and quit. Alone and desperate, Mr. Mind sneaks into Billy's apartment and gasses him unconscious. Then, in yet another great gag, the tiny alien worm realizes that without his henchman, he has no idea how to actually kill Billy. He always had a few thugs or crocodile-men around to do anything that requires opposable thumbs!

While he's slowly dragging an electrical wire towards his intended victim, Billy wakes up, transforms into Captain Marvel and eventually captures his arch-enemy. (Though he has to get the help of an exterminator to smoke Mr. Mind out of the woodwork.) There's a trial, in which Captain Marvel serves as prosecutor and does such a good job, even Mind's own lawyer turns against him.

So the epic comes to an end as Mr. Mind is executed in the electric chair, then suffers the ultimate indignity of being stuffed and put on display in a museum.

He's not really dead, of course. It will eventually turn out that he put himself in suspended animation during his "execution," then hypnotized the taxidermist creating a duplicate for the museum display. But that's another story for another time.

The Monster Society of Evil is stuffed with so much Comic Book Logic-inspired joy that trying to pick a favorite moment would make one's brain implode. Mr. Mind is a brilliant design for a villain the the story as a whole balances humor and excitement in nearly perfect proportions. It is the ultimate epic from the Golden Age that gives us bizarre monsters, evil plots galore and Captain Marvel riding an unfrozen mammoth while fighting Nazis. You simply can't ask for more than that.

Don't forget that you can read the story online HERE.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...