Saturday, February 28, 2015

Goodbye, Leonard Nimoy

 I feel obligated to watch a couple of Spock-oriented Trek episodes this weekend. Maybe Amok Time, Journey to Babel and/or Mirror, Mirror. Also the animated episode Yesteryear is a great Spock story. I suppose the most symbolic Trek to watch would be The Wrath of Khan.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Jeff Regan, Investigator: "The Two Little Sisters" 11/16/49

A knife-throwing lady working in a carnival is being threatened by someone. Regan is hired to protect the lady, but the case soon involves a murder.

Frank Graham plays Regan in this episode--one of two actors who played the role after Jack Webb moved on. Replacing Webb in a hard-boiled show is always a thankless task, but Graham is pretty good in the part.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Amazons vs the Scaly Ones

You would think that Mars--being the Planet of War--would be where you would most likely run into Amazon warriors. But according to novella "The Golden Amazons of Venus," by John Murray Reynolds, Venus is the place to find these rather dangerous ladies.

Published in the Winter 1939 issue of Planet Stories, "Golden Amazons" is a strong and entertaining Space Opera.

It opens with the launch of the Viking, a large space ship that will be attempting the second exhibition to Venus. Mars has been settling for decades, but the one previous attempt to explore Venus resulted in a missing space ship. The Viking is going to try again.

By the way, the crew includes a Scotsman named Angus McTavish. Such is my Star Trek conditioning that as soon as he was identified as a Scotsman, I knew he'd be the chief engineer. And by golly, he was.

Despite the presence of a Scottish engineer, trouble pops up even before the space ship gets to Venus. The captain, Gerry Norton, discovers someone is secretly using the ship's radio for unknown reasons. Gerry is knocked unconscious before he can catch this someone.

But there's little time to worry about that once they get to Venus, where Gerry quickly rescues a beautiful, golden-skinned woman from a trio of reptilian humanoids.  Still more proof that the universe is stuffed to overflowing with beautiful princesses. They are simply everywhere.

The situation is thus: There is a civilization that emigrated to Mars from Venus thousands of years ago. They've lost most of their science--they have a few big ray guns to defend their main city and some border outposts against the reptilians (called the Scaly Ones), but their ground troops use bows and swords.

Oh, and their babies are 90% female, so the military is entirely made up of women.

Shenanigans ensue--Gerry, Angus and Closana (the princess--who to be fair does kick butt quite effectively after her initial rescue) are betrayed and captured the the Scaly Ones, taken by submarine to the enemy's main city. The leader of the Scaly Ones tries to get Gerry to lure his ship there to be captured.

More shenanigans ensue. There are fights, escapes, contact with rebels among the green-skinned humans enslaved by the Scaly Ones, more escapes and a super-scientific civilization living in an invisible city. The story comes to a truly exciting climax when Gerry and most of his crew, separated from the Viking, help the Amazons fight a desperate but losing battle against hordes of Scaly Ones. Reynolds does a nice job of getting various plot points he has introduced to all pay off at the end.

This is a great story. John Murray Reynolds is probably best remembered for writing the Ki-Gor stories for the pulps (Ki-Gor being perhaps the best of the Tarzan knock-offs) under the name John Peter Drummond. But he wrote a number of excellent stories under his own name as well, "The Golden Amazons of Venus" is typical of these--imaginative, fast-moving, well-constructed, leaving you both satisfied to have read a good story and sad that in real-life there is no army of Amazon warriors battling reptile-men across the surface of Venus. Because, darn it, there should be!

You can read "The Golden Amazons of Venus" HERE.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

An Evil Ragtag Band of Misfits versus a Good Ragtag Band of Misfits

In Tomahawk #96 (Feb 1965), the British really want to take out Tomahawk and his Rangers once and for all. And, as is often the case in a comic book universe, they decide the best way to counter one ragtag band of misfits is to form their own parallel ragtag band of misfits.

(Interestingly, over in the Marvel Comics universe, Baron Strucker was carrying out an almost identical plan to do away with the Howling Commandos.The two stories hit the spinner racks within a week of each other.)

A mysterious British spy called the Hood recruits 5 prisoners to form an anti-Ranger unit, each of whom has a unique skill. Meanwhile, the Rangers are transporting a large load of gunpowder, with the intention of blowing up a dam and flooding a valley full of redcoats.

The route to the dam is over mountainous terrain. So Tomahawk borrows a plan from Hannibal's playbook, then borrows a pair of elephants from a local circus.

So we immediately get two really cool things dropped into the same story--a unique band of bad guys and elephants being used in a Revolutionary War story. That's what makes the Tomahawk stories from this era so enjoyable. The comic book would grab bizarre and divergent elements such as these and mix them into a setting in which we don't normally expect to see such things. This emphasizes the bizarre-ness of it all and adds that much more to the story's entertainment value. For instance, when Tomahawk has to get his elephants down a snowy slope, he straps them to tobaggans. Because--why not?

The bad guys jump the Rangers, gradually capturing them all in a series of action set-pieces that allows the Hood's men to demonstrate their individual skills and for the Hood to show that she is indeed a clever leader.

Did I say "she?" I did, because the Hood turns out to be the sister of Lord Shilling, a British spy who was an old enemy of Tomahawk. She's determined to avenge her brother's past humiliations by destroying the Rangers.

But before she can have them all executed, Tomahawk escapes and frees his men. The Rangers are still chained together, though, leading to a fantastic scene in which they begin to fall one-by-one off a cliff ledge, with each pulling the next guy off because of the chains.

The story's finale is a little anti-climatic, with the Rangers jumping the bad guys and capturing them in just a single panel. An extended fight scene was called for here. Also, it would have been nice if the elephants had played a role in climax. The poor animals are just sort of forgotten about.

But, on the other hand, I wouldn't have missed seeing those elephants sledding down the mountain-side for the world.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

Someone needs to publish a book with a selection of the best Dell and Gold Key covers. No, not me--the copyright issues would be beyond me. But someone needs to do it. Civilization cannot continue without it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Frliday's Favorite OTR

Fort Laramie: "Talented Recruits" 7/8/58

This is my personal favorite episode of Fort Laramie. Parley Baer plays a washed-up medicine show man. John Dehner plays a washed-up Shakespearean actor. The two have formed an unlikely friendship and decide to join the army as an alternative to starving to death. Baer and Dehner play the roles to perfection and you find yourself growing closer to them as the story gradually slides from comedy to tragedy.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Heck, RKO made the best Westerns as well!

Last week, I gave an example of one of the many superb Film Noirs produced at RKO during the 1940s and 1950s.

Well, RKO was no slouch in the B-Western department either. Take a look, for instance, at the series starring Tim Holt--40 or so Westerns produced between 1938 and 1952. (And that's with time off to become a decorated combat veteran during World War II. As well as time off from B-movies to appear in supporting parts in A-films such as My Darling Clementine and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.)

Holt is very likable on screen and, despite a perpetually youthful appearance, can come across quite believably as a tough guy when the situation calls for it.

For most of the series, Holt technically played a different character in each movie. At least his name is different, though he dresses very similarly and nearly always has a Mexican/Irish sidekick named Chito Rafferty (played by Richard Martin). Late in the series, the tradition of naming the hero after the actor was adapted.

In the 1948 film Indian Agent, Holt is Dave Taylor. He and Chito are escorting a train of freight wagons bringing food to an Indian reservation. What Taylor doesn't know is that the food never actually gets from the warehouse at which he leaves it to the Indians. Along the way, the freighter and a corrupt Indian agent conspire to forge some receipts, then send the food on to a mining camp where it can be sold at a high profit.

Taylor and Chito get a hint of the situation when an Indian mother leaves her baby at their ranch--that's her only option to allowing the baby to starve. From there, the situation expands until Taylor is framed for tying to kill the chief of the tribe, then later framed for actually killing the corrupt agent. He's forced to figure out the plot and expose it in order to clear his own name.

Taylor gets to proof that when the going gets tough, he can be tough as well. His plan to get the villain to confess near the end of the film is actually a bit on the brutal side.

Indian Agent gives us a good, strong story. It's well directed by B-Western veteran Lesley Selander, making good use of location photography and giving us several great action set pieces. There is arguably a weak point--a pretty female newspaper editor is introduced as an ally of Taylor, but she really doesn't get a chance to contribute much to the story. Oh, well, she is at least real purty to look at.

Richard Martin's character of Chito Rafferty deserves special mention. Martin first played the character in the 1943 film Bombardier. Chito was then teleported back in time to appear in the 1944 Western Nevada, which I wrote about a few years ago. Chito then became Tim Holt's regular sidekick.

Comedic sidekicks can be a weak link in many serials and B-movies. If they're not funny enough, they just take up space in the film without contributing anything. If they're funny but not useful to the hero in dealing with the bad guys, then you start to wonder why the hero drags him along. (Though the idea of the hero keeping his friend around just because he's a friend is appealing in its own right.)

The right balance is for the sidekick to be funny AND be useful to the hero. Chito Rafferty strikes that balance properly and becomes another reason why Tim Holt's Westerns are so entertaining.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Great Steamboat Race

"The Great Steamboat Race," published in Uncle Scrooge #11 (Sept-Nov. 1955), is in my opinion one of Carl Barks' best stories. Which is saying a lot, since this is Carl Barks we're talking about.

What makes it great is how smoothly the various elements of the story--primarily the excitement of the race and the visual gags--all mesh together so perfectly. "The Great Steamboat Race" is a study in proper story construction for comic books.

The tale jumps off quickly with and argument between Scrooge McDuck and a guy (or rather an anthropomorphic pig) named "Horseshoe" Hogg. It seems that in 1870, their respective uncles had a steamboat race, with an ornate Southern mansion as the prize. But the boats both sank and the race was never finished. Hogg wants to do so, while Scrooge thinks its a waste of time and money.

Donald and the nephews sell Scrooge on the idea of being a Southern gentleman, so he finally agrees to the race. The idea is that the contestants will raise and repair the original steamboats (which have been sitting on the bottom of the Mississippi for 85 years), then finish the race from that point.

Hogg takes an extra-fast plane to the Mississippi and gets a jump on Scrooge. Also, Scrooge is reluctant to spend money on modern equipment to raise his steamboat.

What follows is a perfect mesh of adventure storytelling and comedy. The race is truly exciting, with the nephews coming up with a clever plan to quickly raise and repair Scrooge's steamboat on a strict budget. Scrooge's penny-pinching causes a setback at one point, but the old miser also shows he can also think on his feet when necessary.

At the same time, the gags--most of them centered around the moldy boat giving Scrooge sneezing fits--are truly funny. What tips the story over the edge into sheer brilliance is how the sneezing gags tie so seamlessly into the main plot. Scrooge's sneezes play a key role in winning the race. It also allows the story to come to a satisfying end with yet one more sneeze-based gag.

There's not a single wasted panel or a single moment that's doesn't tie into the primary plot. It's as if Barks took art, story and humor and performed a delicate operation to attach everything together so perfectly that you can't even see where the stitches are.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Two Great Minds with But a Single Thought

Out of myself, my two brothers and my sister, I am clearly the Awesome Sibling. But there are occasional showings of Awesome DNA in my other relatives.

One of my nephews, for instance, recently made a really nifty video about his top 5 TV cartoon shows. He does a really professional job and provides intelligent and well-thought-out narration. So, with the his and his parents' permission, I'm sharing it here today.

I'm also including a video I made a while back about Old-School Saturday morning cartoons, so we have both the old and the new represented today.

Actually, my nephew does a better narration job than I do, since my narration is stream-of-consciousness. I made the video while practicing with new video editing software we had gotten at my work, so I was essentially just playing around. Not that this means my nephew is more awesome than me. He's close, but not quite at that level.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Davy Jones Again???!!!???

I'm probably driving readers away by the droves by posting this again, but I've finally been able to resolve issues that were keeping me from posting this on YouTube. Since this seems to be a little more reliable than Vimeo, where I previously posted it, I'm featuring it here one more time.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke: "The Cook" 12/11/60

The best cook in Dodge City goes on the run when he accidentally kills a man. Dillon brings him in, but soon finds out that tossing a good cook in jail can make a lawman very unpopular.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

RKO Made the Best Film Noirs.

This is a truism: If a movie is a Film Noir AND if it's in black-and-white AND if it was made at RKO studios in the 1940s/50s, then it is a great film,  Cornered, Crossfire, On Dangerous Ground, Out of the Past, They Live By Night, Clash by Night... The list seems endless. Noir after Noir after Noir and not a clunker in the bunch. Or, at least, so few clunkers that RKO's win/loss ratio is still pretty darn high.

We can include Narrow Margin (1952) on that list. Directed by Richard Fleischer, its a tight and unpretentious story set mostly on a train travelling from Chicago to Los Angeles. Aboard the train is a cop, the gangster's widow he's escorting, and at least two guys who want to kill the widow before she testifies.

The cop is played by Charles McGraw. McGraw had a gravelly voice and a tough-guy demeanor. For most of his long career as an actor, he played character roles in movies and television. He's one of those actors many people sort of recognize when they see him in a film or a random episode of Gunsmoke or the Untouchables, but whose name they never quite remember. Well, unless you're an aficionado of Classic-era character actors. I knew his name, by golly!

 Narrow Margin gave McGraw one of his few opportunities to play a lead role. He does a great job, providing the lynch pin for the plot and the center around which all the other characters revolve. He's definitely a tough guy, but he also humanizes the part by making him a little jittery and capable of mistakes.

Marie Windsor is the gangster's widow, while the very pretty Jacqueline White is an innocent woman who is inadvertently involved in all the shenanigans by McGraw.

It's one of those movies that depends on being spoiler-free to an enormous degree--there are a number of twists and turns that are best enjoyed if you don't see them coming. That means I don't dare provide too much of a plot summary. Suffice to say two things. First, the film makes excellent use of its setting on a train, giving the story a claustrophobic feel as McGraw tries to stay one step ahead of the hitmen. Second, not everyone you meet is who they claim to be.

The film looks great in the way many Noirs do, with crisp black-and-white photography and effective use of light and shadow. Little set pieces (McGraw trying to squeeze past a fat guy in the narrow train corridor so he can duck out of sight before a hitman sees him) are sprinkled throughout the movie that add suspense and small touches of humor.

Narrow Margin was remade in 1990, with Gene Hackman playing the lead. Despite Hackman's presence, the remake has a weak reputation--though to be fair, I haven't seen it myself.

But the original is a minor classic. If you enjoy Film Noir, it's a Must See.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Billy the Kid Meets a Giant Iguana!

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about Billy the Kid's career as the hero of B-moves--a career that far surpassed his brief activity as a real-life outlaw. But Billy also had quite a few adventures as a comic book hero. In 1950, Toby Press (a comic publisher active from 1949 to 1955) gave Billy a 29-issue run. In 1957, Charlton droped Billy into their own series (beginning with issue #9, because it took over the numbering of another book titled The Masked Rider) that ran for 145 issues, coming to an end in 1983. Billy had some pretty wild adventures during that run. Heck, he once had to trail a corrupt Indian agent back to Washington and punch him out in front of President Grant!

That's from Billy the Kid #31 (November 1961) and is actually only the second most interesting thing that happens to the young outlaw in that issue. And not just because you could punch out pretty much any random guy in the Grant White House and it probably would have been a crooked politician. It's because in the story "The Monster of the Mountain," Billy the Kid has to fight a monster.

The script is tentatively credited to Joe Gill, with Charles Nicholas providing the art work. It's a tale that begins with Billy getting jumped by some Indians, members of a tribe whose warriors are reputed to be among the best, but still need an outsider to do something they won't do.

The tribe, you see, lives in a hidden valley. They mostly like it there, but a huge and carnivorous creature is driving down the property values. To appease the creature, they have to send someone in with food every so often. Whomever delivers the food doesn't always come back.

Billy tries to fight his way free, but is overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers. He's stuck with the job.

What I like about the story is that Billy isn't trying to be the hero this time around. He recognizes the danger involved and sees no sense in risking his life. He's perfectly capable of acting with courage if he needs to and certainly fulfills the role of Hero in other stories, but this time he just doesn't see the need. He tries to talk his way out of the job as well as fight his way out, but in the end, he carries a dead deer into the monster's cave.

Both the cover and a splash page that begins the story give away the monster's nature, so it's no surprise when Billy is confronted by a giant iguana. What follows is a nifty three-page battle as Billy employs first his torch and then a rawhide lasso to defeat the monster. The Indians are pleased with this--they can now safely wall up the cave and keep the creature from ever threatening them again. Billy rides free.

The story runs for 10-pages and to a degree it feels a little bit rushed, with necessary exposition being squeezed in sometimes a little awkwardly. But I like the bizarre idea of a giant iguana wrecking havoc in the Old West, while Billy's fight with it is nicely choreographed. That big lizard really does some across as creepy and scary, especially in that panel where we see him in a close-up as he lunges towards Billy.

I'd like to say that a giant iguana is probably the most bizarre threat Billy encounters in any of the post-real-life tales in which he appears. But there's a 1966 movie (not a very good one--sad to say) in which Billy the Kid battles Dracula. So the poor lizard probably has to move into second place. Gee whiz, if Billy had done stuff this interesting in real-life, he wouldn't need us to make up stories about him, would he?

You can read Billy the Kid #31 online HERE.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Davy Jones--the sea captain NOT the Monkee

Two friends of mine and I did a page-by-page review of Dell Comics #598, featuring the one and only appearance of Captain Davy Jones. We talk about the story's art, character design, use of light and shadow, historical accuracy and (since the villain is based on Blackbeard) comparison to the real-life Blackbeard.

Four Color Comics #598 (1954) starring Captain Davy Jones: A page-by-page review and critical analysis. from Tim DeForest on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The First Superhero Movies

The latest video I've made for the Ringling College of Art Library is about the superhero serials of the 1940.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe: "The Case of the Midnight Ride"  3/16/51

Two phone calls--one from a frightened dentist and one from a frightened woman---result in Archie being taken on a "ride" by a ruthless gunman.

Howard McNear gives a wonderfully funny performance as the ditzy and perpetually confused dentist.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Screaming Death Heads in the Sky!

Those darn Germans are at it again. This time, they turn to a Hindu mystic named Ghoula to find a way to capture the master spy G-8 and crush the Allied military at the same time.

Ghoula is offered the job by G-8's arch-enemy Doctor Kreuger. The Kaiser's top mad scientist isn't up
to the task himself--he's currently recovering from being riddled with machine gun bullets during his last encounter with G-8. But Ghoula takes the job--as long as he gets a regular pay check and the services of the top 1000 German pilots, then he can promise Germany will soon win the Great War.

This is the set up for "Wings of Invisible Doom," which was the featured novel in the September 1936 issue of G-8 and His Battle Aces. It's a typically entertaining entry in the series, with writer Robert J. Hogan giving us some exciting action scenes and a bizarre but internally logical plot. 

This one is a little different from other G-8 tales, though. To explain why, I'm going to have to include a bit more of a spoiler than I usually would, but that can't be helped.

Ghoula puts his scheme into action and soon giant, screaming death heads (attached to what is apparently an ectoplasmic cloud) are zipping through the sky at incredible speeds, attacking and destroying Allied planes.

It's not unusual in a G-8 story for a seemingly supernatural threat to have a "rational" explanation in the end. Werewolves, zombies, invisible planes, giant bats and other bizarre dangers are all eventually explained away as scientific creations by Doctor Kreuger or another of Germany's seemingly endless supply of mad scientists.

It's the same thing this time. The flying death heads are advanced planes with smoke jets to hide their shape, rigged to make a weird moaning sound as they flew and armored to make them largely immune to machine gun bullets. 

But where did Ghoula come up with a plane design decades in advance of anything else that exists? He looked into the future, of course. So there is an element of mysticism to this story. The Germans are using a science fiction devise, but they learn how to build it through what is apparently magic.

Also, Ghoula has caused several weeks of drenching rain to pour down on the Allied lines and muddy up the roads. There's no explanation given for that--so he apparently has access to some weather magic as well. 

This isn't a criticism of the story. The world of G-8 does need to grounded in pseudo-science rather than pure fantasy, but its such a strange world that a hint of magic fits in without a problem. Besides, maybe Ghoula's mysticism is like the Shadow's power of invisibility--a "science" that Westerners just haven't figured out yet. 

Anyway, G-8 and his partner Nippy get shot down by one of the death head planes and are forced to parachute out while behind enemy lines (using just one parachute for the two of them). But they eventually manage to steal a Fokker and get back to their own lines, despite being shot down again by Allied anti-aircraft fire. Some days it just doesn't pay to be a master spy.

G-8's other partner Bull has been captured, so the spy sneaks back to the German lines to find Bull and destroy the airfield that harbors the death heads planes. Hogan stretches contrivance a little too far when G-8 (disguised as a German officer) casually joins a tour of the airfield and has the entire plot explained to him, spotting both Bull's cell and a convenient stockpile of bombs along the way. Pulp writers as skilled as Hogan can usually pull off their unashamed use of coincidence and make it a part of the rhythm of the story. But here, Hogan stumbles just a little. 

But the final action set-piece, involving freeing Bull, knocking out some guards, knife-fighting with Ghoula and rigging the bombs to blow, is fun indeed. So we'll forgive Hogan for using one coincidence too many to bring the story to an exciting end.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

3 Plastic Astronauts for One Comic Book

See these Marx Toys plastic astronauts? According to the school-bus economics of 1970, three of these guys were worth one comic book.

I used to frequent a gaming/comic book forum on which I once posted a story about selling my DVDs of the original Transformers cartoon on Ebay to help fund one of my mission trips to South Sudan, including paying for my anti-malaria pills. This quickly turned into a years-long running gag on that forum in which it was repeatedly claimed I once sold Optimus Prime into robot slavery for drug money. It's probably just as well that I've lost touch with that forum, because now I would have given them fodder to claim that I sold our brave astronauts returning from moon missions into slavery along with Optimus.

Anyway, here's the comic book. A kid named Scott had it on the school bus in what must have been late in the school year--the comic was published on April 30, 1970.  When I lived in New York State (until the summer of 1970), there was no regular source of comic books anywhere near where we lived, so reading one was a treat. Not that I wasn't already educated in All Things Geeky--TV shows such as the Adam West Batman, Adventures of Superman re-runs and the various Saturday Morning superhero cartoons had already made me a fan of the genre. I also owned a Fantastic Four Little Big Book. And an occasional comic book did pass through my hands. But this one---THIS ONE--was the first one I actually owned personally. If I had figuratively sold Armstrong and Aldrin into slavery to get it... well, that was a price I was willing to pay.

Boy, I loved this. I still remember trying to describe to my parents and my siblings how wonderful the story was. My parents, I'm sure, listened politely. My siblings, darn them, could not have cared less. But then I've always been more awesome than any of them anyways.

For years, I tried to identify and re-acquire it, but I incorrectly remembered the incident as having been a year or two earlier than it actually was and I was thus never able to narrow it down to the correct issue. It wasn't until last June that, remembering the phrase "hang-up" was used a lot in the story, it occurred to me to simply search that phrase in the DC wiki. That ID'd the issue and a quick trip to Ebay got me a copy.

I love owning this comic book once again. (Our Army at War #221, to be precise. Cover dated July 1970.)

It's easy to see why 9-year-old me was fascinated by Sgt. Rock. It was in part that I was already a reader of World War II stuff. And this particular story, written by Joe Kubert and drawn by the great Russ Heath, was well-structured and very engrossing. 

It begins with Rock and several other Easy Company guys trapped in the wreckage of a building, surrounded by the Germans. One of the guys, Smitty, is terrified and convinced that he'll freeze up and probably get the others killed. He eventually begs Rock to simply kill him--he'd rather die than be responsible for the deaths of his comrades.

In between short but sharp fights as they repel German attacks, Rock tells Smitty he's not the only soldier with a hang-up. He tells about how Easy Company regulars Ice Cream Soldier and Bulldozer had their own hang-ups when they joined the unit.

The kicker is Rock's own hang-up---when they were ambushed and driven into this building, Rock stayed outside under fire to collect dog tags from the soldiers who were killed. They were his responsibility and he couldn't leave them without performing this last duty for them. 

Smitty is able to pull himself together and the Americans manage to break out of the house and get away before the Germans can overwhelm them.

The story really is well-constructed, with Rock's stories (presented as flashbacks) interspersed with the fight scenes to keep everything tense. Heath's art work is typically excellent throughout--the images I remembered most vividly and (it turns out) most accurately were of the panels showing us Easy's defense of the house.

As a grown-up, I can appreciate a slight weakness in the story. (Smitty's particular hang-up is being afraid? Not a terribly uncommon hang-up among soldiers in combat, I would think.) 

But I can also now appreciate a subtlety to Smitty's dilemma that's not overtly pointed out in the story, but that I think Joe Kubert deliberately intended. Smitty is convinced he's too afraid to be of help in the fight and initially this is true. But his reaction to this is to demand that Rock kill him. The "coward" is willing to give up his life rather than allow another soldier to die. It's no wonder Rock didn't give up on him.

This issue makes an interesting companion piece to a couple of later issues written by Bob Kanigher, issues #246 and #248, both of which I've reviewed on this blog. The attitude towards cowardice in all three issues is similar and very mature. All three stories are about soldiers who allow fear to get the best of them. But in all three stories, there is no condemnation, but a recognition that fear can get the best of anyone. Each time, the "cowards" are given opportunities to redeem themselves. They are stories that recognize a soldier's obligation to perform his duty in spite of fear, but still remembers that soldiers are flawed human beings who will sometimes fall short of an ideal. Anyone can have a cowardly moment. The key is not to let that moment rule you for the rest of your life.

As I said earlier, I love owning this comic book again. It's worth it not just for the still-great storytelling, but for the memories of how thrilled a 9-year-old boy was with this particular tale. 

Darn my siblings for not appreciating it also. Why did I end up with all the Awesome DNA in the family?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

Remember when you could put a gun into a kid's cartoon and no one would panic & scream it was a bad influence?
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