Monday, March 30, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lives of Harry Lime: "Turnabout is Foul Play" 3/7/52

In order to run a con on a dishonest businessman, Harry must play a role far from his real personality. He must pretend to be a truthful and incorruptible man. But could the presence of someone who actually IS honest and incorruptible throw a monkey wrench into the plan?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"...the avenger of an outraged Law!"

It was 1935 and the editor-in-chief of the Thrilling Publications was about to start a new pulp magazine. For a likely theme, one only had to look to the movies--where the James Cagney film G-Men was raking in big bucks--and to real life, where the FBI was locked in often mortal combat with gangsters such as Dillinger, Nelson and Machine-Gun Kelly.

(It is Kelly, by the way, who is said to have coined the term "G-Men" when he shouted "Don't shoot, G-Men" as he was arrested.)

So the new magazine would be called G-Men. The featured hero would be a dedicated agent named Dan Fowler, who would use both Tommy guns and brains to bring the worst public enemies to justice. Or to the morgue. Fowler was pretty okay with either result.

Actually, that makes Fowler seem a little bloodthirsty, doesn't it? And there are moments when he's in the middle of a fire fight with villains in which he does revel in the idea that the men he's mowing down are getting their just desserts. But he does take them alive when he can and he does follow the rule of law. 

Fowler had a good 20-year run in the pulps, becoming one of the mainstay heroes of the industry. Reading the first story--titled "Snatch" and published in the October 1935 issue of G-Men--it's easy to see why. It's a slam-bang and entertaining action tale.

It was written by George Fielding Eliot, though the pen name for all the Fowler stories would be C.K.M. Scanlon. Eliot was a pulp veteran who knew how to keep a story moving fast without sacrificing good plot construction. 

The plot of "Snatch" is inspired by the real-life Purple Gang. Here, it's the Grey Gang, led by the brutal Ray Norshire, who are on a crime spree in the Mid-West. They've robbed a bunch of banks, killing a number of people along the way, and have now moved on to kidnapping.

Dan Fowler is assigned to head up the effort to stop the Grey Gang. He grew up in the area and his dad is the sheriff of one of the small towns within the sphere of the gang's operations, so he seems the best man for the job. 

And he is. He manages to trap and catch several gang members, save a kidnapped baby and then catch most of the rest of the gang, though the wily Norshire keeps getting away. Dan is building up a suspicion that there's a mastermind working behind the scenes. Unfortunately, this mastermind might be one of several local law enforcement figures, which would explain why Norshire managed to be in just the right position at the right time to kill a weak-willed gang member who was about to talk.

Fowler suspects Norshire will try to bust one or more of his gang out of jail. So he comes up with a plan that the Feds will use again 14 years later in the Cagney film White Heat. He goes undercover as a prisoner to follow along during the escape.

This doesn't work out well, as the bad guys tumble to him not long after the jail break. He manages to get away, only to be arrested by local cops who don't believe he 's a Federal agent. This gives Norshire and his gang time to get away.

So it's time for yet another plan--one that will both trap the Grey Gang and get the secret mastermind to give himself away.

It's a fun story. There's a number of good action scenes, the best one involving Fowler trying to get away from the Grey Gang after they realize he's a Fed. The story itself is very well-told--Fowler follows up clues logically and pursues intelligent hunches based on the evidence. He definitely exists in a pulp universe rather than the real world, but good storytelling makes him believable all the same.

Kind of like Cagney in the movie G-Men. Gee whiz, now I gotta watch that again.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Swamp Thing

 Swamp Thing--or at least an early version of him/it--first appeared in 1970 in a one-shot story in House of Secrets #92. The story, anchored on Bernie Wrightson's creepy art, was a hit and the higher-ups at DC wanted more.

Wrightson and writer Len Wein both felt the original story was complete in of itself, but Wein eventually hit on the idea of creating another Swamp Thing, with an almost identical visual design linked to a different origin. So was born Alec Holland, whose laboratory in the swamp was destroyed by saboteurs, dosing the poor scientist with chemicals, setting him on fire and sending him running screaming in agony into the swamps.

To the surprise of not a single reader, he is transformed into a swamp thing. (As I understand it, this was later retconned into Holland actually being dead with his memories overlaid onto Swamp Thing. I haven't read those stories, so can't pass judgement on them. In my mind, Swamp Thing is still Alec Holland.)

Anyway, in his efforts to find those responsible for destroying his lab (and soon after murdering his wife), Swamp Thing had a serious of adventures that took him out of the swamp to various locations (including Gotham City and a team-up with Batman). Eventually, though, he returns to the swamp that "birthed" him. This story, titled "The Man Who Would Not Die," is told in Swamp Thing #10 (May-June 1974).

Swamp Thing encounters an extremely old black woman being threatened by an escaped prisoner. The friendly monster saves her, Unperturbed by his appearance, she tells him a story.

There was once a rich plantation here. But the owner was a vicious man who treated his slaves with sadistic cruelty. At one point, he has a one-armed slave named Black Jubal burned at the stake. The owner had threatened to take Jubal's attractive woman for himself. Jubal had strenuously objected.

By the way, this is the 1970s, when it was apparently still required by law to put the word "Black" in front of the name of pretty much every black character. Otherwise, how would we know?

Soon after Jubal was killed, he apparently returned from the dead to take final vengeance on the plantation owner.

Well, that's a nicely spooky story, but its just a story, right? Swamp Thing soon finds his hands full with a more realistic problem. An old enemy named Arcane--whose brain was transplanted into a hideous artificial body after his supposed recent death--wants to capture Swamp Thing and trade bodies once again. With his brain in Swamp Thing's powerful body, he can easily enslave the world. Unlike that silly ghost story, this is the sort of thing that happens to people all the time.

Unfortunately for Arcane, he uses the world "slave" in a sentence at least one too many times. Just when it seems that Swamp Thing is going to be captured, Jubal and a bunch of other ghosts of former slaves show up to smack down Arcane and his artificial "Un-Men."

Len Wein is an excellent writer, but in one way this is not one of his best works--the ending is far too predictable. But the story holds up despite this. It is otherwise well-structured and Bernie Wrightson's art work is perfect. Gee whiz, Wrightson knows how to be creepy when he wants to be. So despite telegraphing the ending far too obviously, the story definitely succeeds in being creepy. "The Man Who Would Not Die" literally drips with atmosphere, with every detail in it enhancing the sense of horror inherent in the story. It's a case in which a writer produces a pretty good story and then can watch it be elevated into something better by the right artist.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

It's a see-through vault, so for all we know for sure, this could have already happened in real life!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Six Shooter: "Double Seven" 5/13/54

Britt more or less gets drafted into acting as mediator between a large rancher and some small farmers. The rancher thinks the farmers are rustling his stock. The farmers think the rancher is trying to run them off their land and take it for himself. Britt needs to find out what's really going on. He also needs to make sure someone doesn't put a bullet in his back.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

From Radio to TV to the Movies

Nowadays, it's not that unusual for a TV show to be reincarnated on the movie screen, though the level of aesthetic and/or commercial success varies wildly with each effort. Also, nowadays, bringing a former TV show to the big screen involves tens of millions of dollars--it's quite an investment.

But in the 1950s, when low-budget B-movies were still an important part of the movie industry, you could adapt a TV show into a movie with relatively small budget. In 1954, while Dragnet was still in the middle of its original run on TV, Jack Webb and Ben Alexander starred in a movie adaptation, with Webb directing and bringing a lot of his favorite actors (such as Vic Perrin and Virginia Gregg) along for the ride. 

But that's not the only TV cop show that got a big screen treatment while it was still on the air. Another TV show that began on radio, jumped to TV and then to the movie screen was The Lineup

The Lineup ran on CBS radio from 1950 to 1953, with former Shadow Bill Johnston playing San Francisco police lieutenant Ben Guthrie. It was a solid police procedural--a show that followed in the footsteps of Dragnet but had its own personality. 

The show came to television in 1954 for a six-year run, with Warner Anderson playing Guthrie. Like Dragnet, it was popular enough to warrant a big-screen version, with Anderson still in the role of Guthrie.

Don Siegel, who had directed the pilot and several episodes of the TV series, directed the film. It was a story that centered around two villains, with a script that made the villains interesting and gave them some really sharp dialogue. In fact, the bad guys are so interesting that Siegel wanted to center the film on them. It was only at the studio's insistence that he made the characters from the TV show an important part of the story. Heck, Warner Anderson still ended up with third billing.

The villains are Dancer (Eli Wallach), a psychopath who is one step away from losing it completely, and Julian (Robert Keith), a sociopath who can keep Dancer under control--or at least thinks he can keep Dancer under control. Julian believes Dancer can be the Best Crook Ever under his tutelage, constantly correcting Dancer's grammar and demeanor to give him more style. Julian also enjoys making a note of the last words spoken by anyone Dancer kills. 

They've been hired to do what should be a simple job. Some tourists returning from Asia are being unwittingly used to smuggle drugs back into the country, with the drugs being hidden inside souvenirs they've bought. But Dancer is forced to kill a couple of people as he picks up the first two shipments. This puts the cops on their tails.

Things really go wrong when it turns out the last shipment is lost. The mother and daughter who were unknowingly carrying it can't be killed--they are needed to alibi Dancer and Julian; to provide proof
that the two criminals aren't pocketing the drugs on their own. But events still head downhill and they are soon in a desperate flight to escape the cops. 

Wallach and Keith are superb in the movie's key roles. They are never even remotely charismatic or likable, but they are fascinating to watch even while we are rooting against them. The rest of the cast is excellent as well--most notably Vaughn Taylor as the head of the drug ring. Taylor's only in the film for a minute or two, spends most of that time silent and emotionless and only has a few lines of dialogue. But he manages to be great in the role anyways.

Richard Jaeckel also leaves a mark as an alcoholic thug hired to drive Dancer and Julian around San Francisco. 

There's a few weak points in the overall plot--the efforts to recover the knick-knacks that contain the drugs seem far more complicated than they need to be and it seems unlikely that the head of a big drug ring would be picking up deliveries himself rather than sending a mook to do so. But these are minor points, as the story otherwise unfolds in a logical manner, with the cops following up clues intelligently. It works the way a police procedural should.

It also works the way a Film Noir should. Seigel's direction is sharp and briskly paced. The movie was filmed on location in San Francisco and Seigel uses this to give it a real visual flair. We don't have the shades of grey that many Noirs give us--Dancer and Julian are pretty clear-cut bad guys. But the script and the actors infuse them with real personality. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Superman and Spider-Man Once Again.

When I wrote about the first DC/Marvel superhero crossover a few months back, I got a few comments about how enjoyable the follow-up Supes/Spidey team-up was. I had to take their word for it--it's one I never got around to reading.

Fortunately, the library at which I work has a copy of the out-of-print Crossover Classics trade paperback, which includes the various cross-company team-ups from the 1970s & 1980s. So, once reminded of the horrible gap in my reading experience, I was able to get caught up.

Superman and Spider Man was published in 1981. Like the first, it doesn't attempt to explain how the characters from two separate universes now coexist, but implicitly postulates a universe in which they simply do so. They just don't happen to run into each other very often--this is actually lampshaded in the story when Spider Man meets Wonder Woman and wonders why they've never met when both of them have been based in New York.

This universe eventually got an official designation, by the way. In Marvel's nomenclature, it's Earth-7642. DC has rather unimaginatively designated it "Earth-Crossover." Gee whiz, there wasn't a spare number or letter to toss that way?

This time, the story is written by Jim Shooter and features superb art work by John Buscema. The two heroes meet again when Peter heads to Metropolis. He's not able to sell his latest Spidey pictures to Jameson at the Bugle, because such pictures don't sell papers any longer. Pictures of Superman, though... they might bring in some readers.

This is the set-up for a complex story involving a plot by Dr. Doom, who plans on manipulating Superman, the Parasite, the Hulk and Wonder Woman to carry out his latest scheme for world domination. This would involve releasing a radiation that would destroy all fossil and atomic fuels, forcing the world to bow to Doom to get access to his newly-invented super-reactor. But that reactor is unstable and Doom can only use it if he eventually tricks the Parasite into sacrificing himself to solve this problem.

The plot is a little complex, but its well-told and we are always able to keep track of what's going on. It's also a plot that allows for some really fun
action set pieces. Superman fights the Hulk at one point, answering the question about who is stronger (though if I wanted to quibble, I would say that this was a question best left unanswered). Superman later avoids an attempt by Dr. Doom to capture him. Spider Man and Wonder Woman meet, with the Amazon initially trying to bash the webslinger to bits because she's tricked into thinking he's a villain.

The scenes with Spider Man and Superman together are really done well, with both heroes forced to use their brains as well as their powers to get out of dangerous situations, while creating believable reasons to show that they need each other. I especially enjoy Spidey's improvised method of stripping a layer of kryponite dust off a captured Superman.

There's a fun sub-plot as well. Peter Parker decides to try living in Metropolis for awhile, since Perry White pays better for photographs than J.J.J. But he's homesick and uncomfortable with the new city, especially since he now lives pretty much in the shadow of the much more powerful Man of Steel. This gives Peter a crisis of confidence that threatens to undermine his effectiveness as Spider Man.

Clark Kent, in the meantime, temporarily moves to New York when he realizes that he's been targeted by Doom--he's worried Doom might try to get to him through his friends. (Superman is so well-known as being a friend of the Daily Planet staff that sometimes his secret identity seems to be useless.) So we get to see the mild-mannered reporter interact with the grumpy and acerbic J. Jonah Jameson.

If I compared the two Superman/Spider Man team-ups, I would probably still pick the first one as the best of the two. But that very well might be nostalgia talking--the first one is the one I read as a kid, so I have fond memories of it. But it would be a close call regardless. This second team-up has a great plot, great art work and a keen understanding of the characters. It is superhero storytelling at its best.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: "The Devil's Saint" 1/19/43

Peter Lorre is typically excellent in this wonderfully suspenseful tale of murder and insanity. The twist at the end is fantastic.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Elves, Trolls and a Demon Sword

I've written about Poul Anderson's excellent hard science fiction before. I mentioned in passing at that time that Anderson was as adept at writing fantasy as he was at science fiction. I was, of course, correct. I usually am.

In fact, Anderson is responsible for two of the best-ever fantasy novels: Three Hearts and Three Lions (which I'll probably eventually get around to writing about) and The Broken Sword.

This latter novel was written in 1954 and it is an engrossing and emotional story. It's set during the Viking Age--Anderson mentions King Alfred in the novel's afterward, which would place it in the
late 9th Century. Christianity is spreading across Europe; both the old gods and the denizens of faerie (elves, trolls, dwarves and so on) are losing power. But these otherwise immortal creatures aren't gone yet--though they and their castles remain invisible to most men, they still have kingdoms and sometimes wage war with each other.

The elves, for instance, are eternal enemies with the trolls. This aspect of the novel is probably a metaphor for the Cold War. The Elf-Troll wars are proxy conflicts for the major powers of faerie--the Aesir (the Norse gods) and the Jotun (the frost giants). These two powers can't fight directly, because that would bring about the end of the world.

An Elf lord named Imric finds an opportunity to gain an advantage when he's able to swap a new-born human child for a changling. The human boy is raised by the elves and becomes a great warrior. Since he's human, he can handle iron, wear iron armor and go about in the sunlight--impossible tasks for most of the faerie folk.

The human is named Skafloc and as an adult he leads a large elf raid against the trolls. Here he ends up rescuing a human woman named Freda. The two fall in love. That's sweet, isn't it?

No, it isn't. The changling left in Skafloc's place grows up to be a berserker warrior who ends up murdering most of his family and carrying his supposed "sisters" into slavery as he joins the trolls. So Freda and Skafloc are brother and sister. They don't know this, so their relationship soon becomes... pretty icky.

How this is handled by Anderson, though, is part of what makes the novel so good. Anderson was a classy writer and doesn't do graphic sex scenes, which in this case is a doubly-nice thing. Also, it's clear to the reader that Freda doesn't know Skafloc is her brother, so falls in love with him without any intended perversion. We can't help but sympathize with her and understand her confused feelings when the ghost of one of her dead brothers eventually spills the beans about who is related to whom. She now knows he's her brother, but she had trouble thinking of him as her brother and can't just turn off her feeling for him.

The ickiness inherent in an incestuous relationship is there, but it does not spoil our respect for Freda, who is an innocent victim of circumstance. The Broken Sword is a novel in which unpleasant things happen, but is not itself an unpleasant novel.

As the story progresses, the trolls gain the upper hand in the war and things look bad for the elves. But there is hope--a broken, rusty sword was given to Skafloc at his birth by the Aesir. If he can get it repaired, it will have the power to turn the tide of the war.

There are two problems with this. First, the only guy who can reforge the sword is a giant living in Jotunheim--a dangerous place for an elf or elf-friend to be. Second, the sword is cursed and will eventually turn on the person using it. But Skafloc is determined to see the sword reforged and use it, even if it means his death. And after things go south with Freda, he doesn't really care if he dies anyways.

There's so much about this novel that makes it great. The battle scenes are truly exciting and Anderson's portrayal of the fantasy elements of the novel drips with a sense of true wonder. Skafloc's journey to Jotunheim is particularly notable in this regard. The characterizations are vivid and there's no shortage of people we care about. The portrayal of the faerie folk is also notable--immortals who are incapable of love, though they feel friendship and loyalty; who are inherently cruel and consider themselves above human morality; who are doomed to lose power and fade away as Christianity takes root.

How Anderson handles Christianity in both his fantasy and science fiction is something I've always appreciated. I have no idea what his personal beliefs were and make no assumptions about that at all. But, like Fred Saberhagen, he's one of the few writers of speculative fiction who acknowledges Christianity's influence on history and works on the assumption that deep religious beliefs will still be a part of humanity's make-up in the future. In his fantasy, Christianity has a special power of its own, shown most overtly in this novel and in the 1979 novel The Mermen's Children. Of course, showing Christianity to have power over elves and trolls has no direct real-life theological meaning, but I see it as an acknowledgement that the worship of Christ has had a definite and positive influence on Western culture.

It's possible that my own beliefs are affecting my view of all this. But there's one thing that any reader of The Broken Sword can agree on regardless of spiritual beliefs: an Elf-Troll war is an epic and awesome event.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Herbie the All Powerful!

Forbidden Worlds was a horror & sci-fi book published by the American Comics Group. Issue #73 (December 1958) had a pretty epic cover, didn't it? But that cover story isn't what we'll be looking at today. Instead, we'll be looking at the very first appearance of Herbie Popnecker.

Herbie was a fat, quiet kid with a severe lollipop addiction. Nobody likes him; his dad is perpetually disappointed with him; and he obviously just needs to get off his lazy butt, go outside and play!

At his dad's insistence, he does just that, though he walks past a kid's sandlot baseball game without showing any interest and wanders into the local zoo.

And all of a sudden, we learn that Herbie has powers. Powerful powers. Inexplicably, he is able to have a conversation with a tiger. And when the tiger gets out of his cage to eat a hated zoo-worker, Herbie unhesitantly forces the man-eater back into its cage. He doesn't even work up a sweat or get excited. It's like he does this sort of thing every day.

In fact, he apparently does do this sort of thing every day. A short time later, he turns invisible and walks up into the air to locate and arrange for the rescue of a man whose plane crashed at sea.

He finishes up his quiet afternoon walk by saving the world from an alien invasion. Then it's back to home, where he explained to his dad that he just walked around for awhile. It was, after all, just a quiet Saturday afternoon.

All the Herbie stories are like this, with Herbie stepping in to save someone (or save the entire world) with his casual use of a wide variety of superpowers. Later stories have him time travelling (he has a drawer-full of "time lollipops" in his room), showing himself to be invulnerable, able to travel into space; using magic and so on. There's never an explanation for his powers, nor should their be. The humor works best when no one knows how Herbie can do the things he does. For the most part, no one even knows that he can do them.

The art, both in Herbie's Forbidden World appearances and later in his own book, was by Odgen Whitney. I'm going to quote the late Don Markstein from Herbie's entry on Toonopedia:

"The artist was Ogden Whitney. His illustration was understated almost to the point of blandness, but often showed flashes of subtle, sometimes sly humor. He proved perfectly suited to Herbie (who, by the way, is said to have been based on Whitney's own appearance as a boy), depicting the "Little Fat Nothing" (as Herbie's father, Pincus Popnecker, often called him) as a profoundly dull slug, yet able to make the character work in action scenes."

These stories have a unique charm and Herbie is one of the most unusual and most persistently entertaining comic book characters ever creating. Herbie's tales always followed a precise formula, but within that formula was plenty of room for humor, wonder and imagination.

You can read his premiere story online HERE.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

Great dynamic cover by Herb Trimpe. There's a real sense of movement here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Richard Diamond: "Private Eye Test" 3/19/50

Diamond has to pass a private investigator test at the police station to keep his license. The test includes solving a hypothetical homicide, but the body in the precinct basement proves to be anything but hypothetical.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Klaatu Solves a Crime

During Perry Mason's 6th season (1962/63), Raymond Burr was out sick for five or six episodes. So on the show, Perry was hospitalized as well, appearing in just a few scenes, usually talking on the phone from his hospital bed.

I always thought it was a little bit of a lost opportunity not to do a few episodes in which we get to see Paul Drake take the lead in one of his cases, but to be fair that would have been quite a departure from the show's usual format. Paul was a crack detective, but he wasn't a lawyer. He couldn't go head-to-head against the D.A. in a court room. All the same, it would have been nice.

So each of these episodes featured a different protagonist, each getting a chance to defend a client charged with murder. Of course, we miss Perry, but several elements make these episodes interesting. The guest-stars were great, including Betty Davis, Walter Pigeon and Hugh O'Brien. In each case, they played lawyers who didn't normally practice criminal law, but found themselves stuck with the job to help a client in desperate need. Paul and Della Street are brought into the story to help, with Perry giving some advice over the phone. Also, in each case, the guest-star lawyer discovers a personal connection to the crime, something that usually didn't happen when Perry was taking the lead.

My favorite of these is "The Case of the Libelous Locket," (aired on Feb 7, 1963). In this one, Michael Rennie is a law professor named Edward Lindley who holds a half-jokingly low opinion of trial lawyers. But when one of his students comes to him for help--she believes she accidentally killed the man who had been trying to blackmail her--he suddenly finds that being a trial lawyer isn't all that easy.

The blackmailer, by the way, turns out to be fine. He was faking an injury to add to his blackmail ammunition. But his survival is short-lived--a day later, someone kills him for real. Lindley's client is soon arrested for the crime.

Rennie is great in the part--subtly showing us in the initial courtroom scenes that he's out of his element and unsure of himself. That, combined with a well-constructed story, is what makes this story. It gives us a different vibe from the one we get from the always-confident Perry Mason and generates an additional level of suspense.

But despite his uncertainty,  Lindley is smart and determined, soon realizing that a series of mysterious red splotches found on the rug at the murder scene might just point to the real killer.

I also like an inside joke that I presume was deliberate. Remember that Rennie played the alien Klaatu in the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951. In the Mason episode, when Edward Lindley notices the splotches on the rug, he asks the homicide cop about them. The cop jokes that if they were footprints, they must have been made by a nine-foot Martian. This sets up several more joking references to extra-terrestrials during the episode. It's a nice touch--a shout-out to Rennie's most famous role without being intrusive enough to break the fourth wall.

So there we have it--Klaatu solves a crime. Of course, if he'd had Gort along, he probably could have wrapped it up in less time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mickey Mouse vs. Dinosaurs

During Floyd Gottfredson's run as artist and story-man for the Mickey Mouse comic strip, the young rodent achieved some pretty epic levels of heroism. Presented as brave, resourceful and always eager for another adventure, Mickey took on thieves, pirates, spies and outlaws of all sorts, always coming out on top. As I've said before, if I needed someone to combat evil, I wouldn't hesitate to bypass Batman, the Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger and Superman in order to take Mickey Mouse.

One of Mickey's most epic adventures ran from December 1940 to April 1941. Mickey hired by Professor Dustibones to fly to a remote island and help bring back "The most ASTOUNDING wonder science has ever known!"

With no more information available than this, Mickey recruits Goofy as an assistant and the two are off. The plane provided for them is on automatic pilot for most of the trip, so the two pals have no idea where the island is located when they arrive.

They meet Professor Dustibones and soon learn several very surprising things. First, the professor has a caveman butler working for him!

But that's only the second most surprising thing about this island. The MOST surprising thing is that there are dinosaurs living there. Yes, Mickey and Goofy are thrust head-first into a Lost World adventure. Soon, they are involved in an extended chase scene (lasting through a week-and-a-half worth of strips) in which they dodge a saber-tooth tiger, a pterodactyl, and several plesiosaurs.

One minor complaint about the story is that Professor Dustibones makes a point of warning Mickey about how dangerous the Tyrannosaurus Rex is, but then we never get to see one. But that is indeed a minor complaint. Both the chase scene involving prehistoric creatures and a later chase scene in which Mickey is desperately trying to escape some ill-tempered cave men are brilliantly done. They are models of how to do this sort of thing correctly, exciting while still full of truly funny gags and perfectly paced to allow them to run for days' worth of strips without getting tiresome. Throughout both chase scenes, Mickey repeatedly demonstrates his resourcefulness and his ability to think on his feet.

Back to the story: Dustibones wants to bring a live brontosaurus back to civilization and is building a zeppelin to carry it. But an earthquake and subsequent dinosaur stampede destroys the zeppelin and damages both available airplanes.

The nearby tribe of cavemen decide the outsiders are responsible for the disaster. They capture Goofy and Dustibones, intending to sacrifice them in a volcano to appease the angry gods. Mickey manages to stay free and has to learn to live off the land while figuring out how to rescue his friends.

Surprisingly, Goofy manages to escape on his own. He and Mickey fix one of the planes and Mickey finds the ingredients needed to mix up a bag of gunpowder. This gives them an opportunity to rescue Dustibones and flee the island. (By the way, it's specifically pointed out that Mickey's bombing run on the village doesn't hurt anyone, but simply scatters them in panic. For all the violence, murderous villains and gun play that filled Mickey's comic strip adventures, I don't think we ever actually see anyone get killed.)

This is a wonderful story from start to finish. It's full of often laugh-out-loud gags, but this never interferes with the sense of adventure and honest excitement that fills the tale right from the start. And it's all done "realistically" in a sense--Mickey's efforts to survive alone on the island include figuring out how to get food; fixing the plan includes how to work on it without making too much noise (thus alerting the cavemen) and worrying about having enough gas to fill the tanks. The protagonists are anthropomorphic animals and there are visual gags galore, but the story itself is a model of solid, logical plot development.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

This was published the same month the miracle New York Mets won the World Series. If darn kids have been home watching the Series on TV, they wouldn't be in this situation, would they? Their own darn fault.

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