Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: "Security Agent" 9/5/56

This excellent episode--about two nervous middle-aged men attempting to defect across the Iron Curtain--has a classic OTR cast. Radio stalwarts Parley Baer, Howard McNear, Herb Butterfield, Harry Bartell and John Dehner are all on hand.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Two Toughest Cops Ever

Side Street (1950), is one of two Film Noirs staring Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell. The other is They Live by Night, made two years earlier.

They are both excellent noirs, making great use of atmospheric black-and-white photography and making excellent use of the many talented character actors working in film at the time. If I had to pick a favorite of the two, though, I'd probably go with Side Street, which had a slightly more interesting and emotionally engaging story. That's very much a subjective opinion, though. Both movies are really good.

Side Street has Granger playing a part-time postal worker with a pregnant wife and pretty much no money. So when he has a chance to swipe a few hundred dollars out of a lawyer's office, he visibly suppresses his conscience and goes through with it.

So, ironically, it's not good news at all that the file he takes contains not $200.00, but $30,000.00. And it's money tied up in a blackmail and murder case. When he later tries to give it back, all he accomplishes is to make himself a target for murder as well.

Soon there's another murder and he finds himself on the run from both cops and gangsters, trying to figure out what's going on so he can clear himself of that particular crime. The plot is particularly well-constructed here--involving Granger's characters, the crooks and the cops all pursuing their own lines of investigation until everyone piles up together at the climax, resulting in an exciting car chase.

Side Street was directed by Anthony Mann and makes outstanding use of location photography in New York City. New York City should always be photographed in black-and-white. It always looks better that way.

I mentioned the effective use of character actors in meaty roles. Every part--even those that only have a few lines--are perfectly cast and every actor is a natural in the role he/she has. I really wish modern movies would return to the idea of taking that extra effort--that few seconds of additional screen time needed--to give more personality to character parts. It's one of the many reasons my preferences are for older films and classic TV. We just don't see that much anymore.

I particularly appreciate seeing Paul Kelly and Charles McGraw playing police officers. These two actors both excelled at playing tough guys. Watching them together is pure pleasure.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How to Kill a T-Rex

Danger and Adventure was an anthology comic published by Charlton in the 1950s. I've read a few online at and have discovered that the book is--well, it's not the pinnacle of comic book art. But even so, there's a few stories worth reading.

 The 23rd issue (April 1955) is definitely worth taking note of, though, if only because it teaches us an important lesson. If you are ever unexpectedly thrown back in time and forced to confront a hungry tyrannosaur, you will now know how to deal with him.

This is what happens to two-fisted sailor Lance O'Casey and his sidekick Mike. They are hanging out with a scientist and his bratty daughter when the daughter abruptly discovers a supposedly magic lamp really does grant wishes. Zapped back to prehistoric times, she panics and wishes that the men-folk join her. They do so, but can't figure out how to get the lamp to work again so that they can get home.

Once everyone is together, Lance Ju-Jitsu's an attacking cave man. But the cave man comes back with reinforcements.

Fortunately, Lance and Mike are pretty good in a fight.

Next up to the plate is a T-Rex, which would be pretty much immune to a punch in the jaw. It's here that Lance shows us how to handle just such a situation.

So, remember to always bring a pistol with you when you time travel. Because this really is a good method for taking out a hungry dinosaur.

Soon after this, Lance and the others figure out how to use the lamp to return to the present.

It's really not a bad story. It was a reprint, first appearing in Fawcett's Wiz Comics #103 in 1948. I have no idea how a Fawcett story got reprinted in a Charlton comic. Fawcett was gone by then, so I imagine the story was inexpensive to buy or perhaps even had dropped into the public domain.
The writer and artist are both uncredited.

I like to occasionally visit sites like comicbookplus and give something "new" a try. Danger and Adventure is far from the best the 1950s had to offer us in the comic book world, but it did give us some fun stuff. I particularly like the panel in which the protagonists see cave men riding a brontosaurus coming towards them. Even weaker comic book stories can still have moments in which they fire your imagination.

You can read the story HERE.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Johnny Madero, Pier 23: "Fatal Auction" 6/26/47

Johnny is hired to buy a locked suitcase at a blind auction. But he soon learns that the mysterious contents of that suitcase are apparently worth killing for.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Westerns, World Wars and Man-Eating Lions

One of the good things about the proliferation of ebooks is the number of stories from the Golden Age of pulps that are now being reprinted. Often, these are made available individually or in anthologies dedicated to specific authors or genres.

But there is a series out titled The Black Mask Pulp Story Reader, with each volume reprinting stories that originally appeared together in the same magazine. Of course, this often translates into them all being the same genre--but it's still pretty cool to see these tales brought back together this way.

But Adventure magazine--one of the finest pulps ever printed--was a bit more wide-ranging in its selection. Each story was adventure-themed, of course, but this still left room for a lot of variety.

One volume of the Pulp Story Reader brings us the October 15, 1935 issue of Adventure. The only story missing is the first part of a 6-part serial titled Huroc the Avenger. This is understandable. There's no sense in giving us just part of a tale. But the half-dozen complete-in-themselves short stories from that issue are all there.

Gee whiz, I enjoyed reading through this. Adventure always had high standards for the stories it printed--in earlier years, they featured writers such as Rafael Sabatini and Harold Lamb. Each of the tales reprinted in this volume has readable, smooth prose, interesting characters and some truly exciting action sequences.

We start with a Western. "Crossfire," by Robert E. Pinkerton, stars a wandering cowboy named Just Jones. When Jones encounters a courageous boy being pursued by outlaws, he pitches in to help the kid. Soon, he's involved in helping the kid's dad as well, racing to foil a gang of rustlers and prevent an innocent man from being lynched.

Then we jump to World War I. (Though, of course, it would have been called the Great War at the time of the original printing.) "Flight Leader," by Bourke Lee, is about a new bomber pilot who really wishes he were flying fighters--something he sees has more glorious. The final action sequence is downright thrilling and involves an examination of where a combat pilot's loyalties should lie--with the mission or with his squadron mates.

The next story zig-zags back to the Old West with "Nobody's Horses," by S. Omar Barker, where the government has put a bounty on wild horses. This seems cruel, but the horses have been eating too much of the grass needed for cattle. Despite this, one cowboy refuses to allow any horses to be shot, even if it means losing his own ranch by placing himself outside the law. It's an interesting story not just in terms of good story construction, but also in that there is no real villain. We root for the protagonist, but we realize the cowboys hunting down the horses are protecting their own livelihood.

We bounce back again to the Great War for a bizarre story titled "The Spider." Written by George Fielding Eliot (creator of Dan Fowler), the protagonist is an American serving in the French Foreign Legion on the Western front. He's an engineer, commanding a unit of Colonial troops from Southeast Asia. They're digging a tunnel underneath a German fortress, intending to plant explosives and blow the place up just before a big attack. But something is crawling around the tunnel and soon there's a murder.

At first it seems as if "The Spider" is a horror story. Then it begins to turn into a murder mystery before reverting to a war story and giving us a violent and tense climax. It's an odd tale, but odd in a good way.

"Brother of Lions," by Wynant Davis Hubbard, is Adventure's "fact story" for this issue. Written in an almost breezy, conversational style, it's a very effective tale of a cattle ranch in Rhodesia that was overrun by lions. The place is abandoned for a time, but eventually new owners move in and somehow seem to form a bizarre truce with the lions. I'm afraid I have no idea how strict Adventure was in making sure their true stories were actually true. But if "Brother of Lions" isn't true, it ought to be.

The last story is arguably the best. "Surprise Attack," by Perry Adams, takes us to the Khyber Pass, where a British soldier and a Sikh soldier come to blows and seem to now be life-long enemies. It might be a cliche that the two become friends when forced to team up during an enemy attack, but it works here. The final battle involves the two protagonists and a couple of other characters defending a hilltop while trying to signal for help with a heliograph. It is perhaps the most intense action set piece among all these stories. And that's saying a lot.

I was curious about the missing serial. Judging from the cover painting, Huroc the Avenger was a pirate story, but I wasn't able to dig up any definite information on it. It was reprinted as a novel in 1936 and is a little too expensive for me to buy through online used book dealers.  A search of library catalogs show only two in the entire U.S. have a copy. I'm hoping this one will one day be reprinted electronically. Based on how much I enjoyed the other stories from that particular issue of Adventure, I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy this one.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Thunder in the Desert

Initially, DC Comics various war comics were anthologies without featuring any regular characters.The eventual introduction of Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank and other mainstays of the Second World War has without question made the world a better place in which to live.

But many of the stories featured in the early issues of books such as Our Army at War were very good.  Issue #44 (March 1956) had a number of good ones, including the cover story written by Bob Kanigher and illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti.

It's a simple 8-page story. As I mentioned when I reviewed a Charlton 8-pager a few weeks ago, this is sometimes all that is needed to tell a story effectively.

We join an unnamed soldier sitting in a foxhole in the Sahara desert. It's night, the sky is overcast, and the darkness is absolute. The soldier is supposed to be watching for the enemy, but he can't see anything.

But he certainly hears the machine gun that opens fire on  him. (Actually, a small criticism of the story comes from wondering how the Germans found him in the dark.) He fires back at the muzzle flash until the machine gun stops. But then he strafed by an enemy plane.

This time, he's forced to track the target entirely by sound, but he scores a hit and sees a fireball crashing into the desert.

Keep in mind that so far, we haven't seen anything the soldier doesn't see. All we see is the muzzle flash of the German machine gun--not the machine gun itself. All we see of the plane is the fireball after its hit.

This, plus the immediacy of the second-person narration, make this a very tense and edge-of-your-seat tale.

The climax comes when he's blinded by a searchlight and then hears a tank approaching. Without anti-tank weapons to use on a target he can't even see, he instead pushes a box of ammo forward, then fires into this in a desperate attempt to destroy the tank.

The last panel is epic. The sun finally rises and the soldier is finally able to see that he's won the fight.

It's a clever idea for a story, well executed in both script and art.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Article by me

An article I've written on the OTR show "The Six Shooter" has just been posted on the excellent site It's based on the review and episode guide of the show I published a few years ago.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

A Jerome Rozen cover. He and his brother George did so many magnificent Shadow covers, that I don't believe I could pick a favorite.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke: "Bless Me Till I Die" 1/24/60

A young preacher and his wife start a church in Dodge City. They're well-liked and the church fills a real need in the town.

So what could possibly go wrong?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dinosaurs, Monkey Men and Super Science

Read/Watch 'em In Order #56

We still have one Captain Future novel in queue as part of the In Order series (as well as two more  Perry Mason movies). Normally, I finish a prose or film series in its entirety before moving on. Of course, in Captain Future's case, I was just covering the first five novels in a much longer series, but the general idea still holds.

So I am now risking anarchy, chaos and the downfall of society by discussing a book out of order. As of the day I'm writing this (about two months before it will post), I have not yet read the fifth Captain Future novel. I have, though, read the first of the three Jongor novels by Robert Moore Williams and abruptly realized they'd be a great addition to the In Order series. Thus, we will look at Jongor of Lost Land, then return to Captain Future one last time, then cover the remaining two Jongor novellettes.

Once again, I realize something like this could bring on the Apocalypse, but I'm willing to take that chance.

Jongor of Lost Land (published in the October 1940 issue of Fantastic Adventures) was one of the many, many, many Tarzan knock-offs that were produced during the 1930s and 1940s, when the Lord of the Jungle was at the peak of his popularity. But being a Tarzan knock-off isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as your Jungle Lord has exciting adventures and is given some notable distinction from the original.

Jongor succeeds in this. He gets his start as a toddler named John Gordon, who pronounces his name Jongor and is awarded this as a nickname by his parents. Getting a Jungle Lord-sounding name is fortuitous when a plane crash strands he and his parents in a remote area of Australia, cut off from the rest of the continent by a range of mountains surrounded by near-impassable deserts.

His parents actually live until he's twelve-years-old, at which point they are eaten by pterodactyls. But Jongor learns to run fast and shoot arrows very quickly and very accurately, so he survives until adulthood.

It's at this point that society girl Ann Hunter enters the valley, looking for her lost twin brother. With Ann is Varsey, a craven coward who is along because he's the last one to see the brother alive, but who will obviously back-stab his own mother to save himself. Less easily understood is the fearless guide Hafner, who seems completely reliable but might just have an agenda of their own.

The trio arrives at the edge of the Lost Land when a disembodied voice urges their native bearers to murder them. Jongor arrives to save them from this and soon after from some hungry pterodactyls. He's not able to do anything, though, when Monkey People fly over in an airship and capture the three outsiders.

The Monkey People are known as the Muros, survivors of a pre-human civilization. They live in an ancient, crumbling city, but have preserved a few bits of their former super-science, such as the airship, a devise that transmits a disembodied voice and a weapon known as the "shaking death" that generates small but powerful tornadoes. Jongor has obtained a bit of their ancient technology for himself--a crystal that allows him to telepathically control dinosaurs.

The Muros want to sacrifice Ann to their sun god, but she gets a chance to make a break for it, then gets rescued again by Jongor. There's a pretty cool fight scene in which the main villain is killed--except it turns out he isn't the main villain after all. Ann and Jongor find Ann's brother, but can not yet escape from the Lost Land. First, they must take action not only to save themselves, but save all of civilization. Fortunately, Jongor comes up with a plan that includes using a dinosaur stampede to attack the ancient city.

No story that includes a dinosaur stampede is all bad. In addition to this, the action scenes are well-written and exciting. And Jongor's origin and personality do differentiate him from Tarzan sufficiently to make him likable in his own right.

What drops Jongor down below the works of writers like Burroughs and Kline is Williams' lack of detail. He just doesn't bother describing things. For instance, Jongor spends some of the story riding a dinosaur, but the creature is only vaguely described. I got the impression that is was a triceratops or another species of ceratopsian. But you can see in the images above what J. Allen St. John came up with for the cover and what the interior artist came up with for his version. Any of these images could fit Williams' sketchy description.

This lack of detail hurts the most when he introduces the Muros. When Burroughs tosses us into a lost civilization, he always gives us enough detail and coherent internal logic to make us believe it really exists. Moore, though, tells us almost nothing about the Muros other than they perform human sacrifice. There's just not enough detail to flesh them out to believable proportions.

That's a big flaw, but Jongor is helped along by its short length--its faults would have been much more in-your-face over the course of a full-length novel. It's a fun read, despite its shortcomings. So we'll be returning to the Lost Land for the two sequels. Like I said, any story that includes a dinosaur stampede is worth a visit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Werewolves, Frankenstein's Monster and a Big Crybaby.

Perhaps the best thing about comic book universes is the variety of characters and genres that can be liberally mixed together without shattering the suspension of disbelief. You can, for instance, throw a superhero into a horror/mad scientist story, then mix in some spy story elements--and it all makes perfect sense within the context of that universe.

This is what happens in Marvel Team-Up #36 (August 1975), written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Sal Buscema. Spider Man is having an average day stopping a pair of armed robbers when he is mysteriously zapped with a teleportation beam. Before he know it, he's not in New York anymore. He's in a remote castle in the Balkans, strapped to a table next the Frankenstein Monster.

I've always liked the Marvel version of Frankie. His visual design is reminiscent of the Universal movies monster (though, of course, different enough to avoid copyright problems), but he has the articulate and intelligent personality of the creature from Shelly's novel.

The hero and the monster are prisoners of the obviously loopy Baron Ludwig Von Shtupf, who wants to experiment on the pair, with the intention of creating his own monsters and conquering the world.

But keeping two guys who both have super-strength strapped down isn't easy. They make a break for it and soon meet up with a lady SHIELD agent named Klemmer, who recruits Spidey to help her sneak back into Von Shtupf's castle and put an end to his plans. Since Frankie isn't any good at sneaking around, he's asked to stay behind.

But Frankie opts to follow them anyways. Good thing, as well, because when he fights is way into the castle, he finds Spidey and Klemmer facing off against the Man-Wolf--J. Jonah Jameson's werewolf son.

This leads us into Marvel Team-Up #37, which starts us off with a really cool Man-Wolf vs. Spidey & Frankie fight.

In the ensuing confusion, Man-Wolf escapes with SHIELD lady, while Spidey & Frankie are captured again. But they use their respective abilities in clever ways to escape once more and confront Von Shtupf, who breaks down in tears when he discovers his evil plans have been foiled.

I like that--it's obvious that Gerry Conway was having some fun with the mad scientist cliche, first by giving him a silly name and then by making him a big crybaby.

But there's still the problem of Man-Wolf having kidnapped someone. Though I enjoy these two issues enormously, I will say that the abrupt shift in focus into what is essentially a brand-new plot AND Frankie being left out of the main action from this point on does weaken the story.

Still, Buscema's art remains strong as we see Man-Wolf protecting Klemmer from hungry wolves and Spider Man showing up to save the day in the nick of time. The tale ends with most everyone heading back to the States while the Monster wanders off on his own.

Even conceding that the climax is a little weak, it's still an enormously entertaining story. And my main point holds true. Only in an internal coherent comic book universe can you mix elements like this together so smoothly and so casually.

If, for instance, you put a werewolf aboard the starship Enterprise, you'd have to come up with a "scientific" reason to justify it. You may very well create a good story combining SF and horror tropes, but you'd have to work at it. In the Marvel or DC universes, you could toss a werewolf into a story pretty much whenever you have a good dramatic reason for doing so. You don't have to justify it, because supernatural stuff coexists alongside of science fiction stuff.

In this case, the werewolf in question has a SF--not horror--origin. But Conway might have chosen to drop Jack Russell (Marvel's supernatural Werewolf character) without creating any problem with suspending disbelief. The possibilities and various combinations of characters are endless.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

Wonderfully composed cover, with the giant candle and the rat at the barred window making the point that Tarzan has been shrunk down without taking the main focus away from the Jungle Lord.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

CBS Radio Mystery Theater: "Diogenes, Inc" 5/13/81

Two former circus performers--a midget clown and a strong-lady--form their own private detective agency.

This story is credited as an adaptation of a Jacques Futrelle story,  but doesn't identify which story. "Diogenes, Inc." isn't listed in any Futrelle bibliography I can find. I also can't find any reference to the protagonists outside of this episode.

I suppose it might be based on a Thinking Machine story with original characters substituted for the original protagonist, but that's just a guess.

The one thing that is certain is that Alfredo Pinto and Selma (the two detectives in the episode) are awesome. Had this show been broadcast during the Golden Age of Radio, they would have been great characters for a continuing series.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Deserter Takes Command

Arrow in the Dust (1954) has a so-so reputation among B-movie and Western fans. No one finds it brilliant--and they're right. It's not brilliant. But there seems to be a roughly 50-50 split between those who consider it poorly written and dislike it AND those who think it's flawed yet still enjoyable. For instance, here's a negative review and here's a positive review from two different blogs. Both posts are well-written and well-reasoned.

The plot of the movie certainly has potential. Sterling Hayden is a deserter from the Army, trying to get far enough away from the soldiers pursuing him to start fresh. But circumstances are such that he is soon wearing a uniform he took off a dead officer and taking command of a detachment of troops escorting a wagon train. The wagons are under constant attack by Indians. In fact, for reasons that are initially unknown, several tribes that normally dislike each other have teamed up to attack the wagons.

So Hayden has to pretend to be a real major. Fortunately, he's a good leader and a good tactician, forming the demoralized troops into an effective unit once again as they escort the wagons to safety. He wins a few skirmishes--in one case using a "don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" tactic, then pulling back and repeating the same thing. But the wagon train's eventual destination is Fort Laramie, where Hayden will be recognized and arrested. So should he stay with the wagons where he's clearly needed or make a break for it and save himself? The plot mixes together action, a little mystery involving the motives of the Indians and a theme of personal redemption.

I fall on the positive side of this movie. I do recognize its faults--character development is lacking in a few important cases and the Indians often use insanely stupid tactics. But I think the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

First, there's Sterling Hayden, giving an authoritative and realistic performance. Perhaps because of his real-life experiences (merchant ship captain and WWII OSS agent who smuggled supplies to Yugoslavian partisans), he carries a palpable air of authority here. You really believe he is an effective leader.

Second, there's the direction. Arrow in the Dust was helmed by Lelsie Selander, a B-movie vet with over 100 Westerns to his credit. Here, he tells the story in a crisp, clear manner and makes excellent use of location photography. Pay attention to the overhead shots he uses in the clip I've included. These shots help set up the tactical situation very effectively AND simply look cool.

Third, Lee Van Cleef has a bit part playing a villain. That is always fun to see.

So Arrow in the Dust won't knock you dead with its brilliance. But its still worth watching.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It's Illegal to Play Ping Pong!

Last week, we looked at a sports-themed SF story reprinted in DC Special #13 (July/Aug 1971). This week, we'll examine another reprint from that issue--"The Saga of the Secret Sportsmen," first published in The Brave and the Bold #47 (April/May 1963). Like last week's tale, its written by John Broome and drawn by Carmine Infantino.

What's cool about this story is that it comes close to predicting the future in one small detail. A scientist in future invents what is essentially the Playstation or XBox, allowing people to "play" sports without ever actually leaving their living room.

In what is admittedly a silly plot twist, this leads to playing real sports being made illegal. But because of this, when aliens invade, humanity consists of a bunch of fat, lazy bums and we are easily conquered.

Fortunately, there is a band of outlaw athletes who have stayed in shape playing illegal sports. They launch a guerrilla war campaign against the aliens.

Another fortunate thing about the aliens is that their equipment is based on "anti-gravity" power, so if the athletes can destroy their gravity base, they'll be helpless. Yet another fortunate thing is that the athletic skills the humans have been developing are exactly the skills needed to break into the base and destroy it, thus saving the world and making exercise legal again.

Yes, it's a contrived story, but this is one of those rare occasions in which contrivance and a less-than-logical premise doesn't bother me at all and is arguably a strength rather than a weakness. The premise is too much fun to worry about whether it makes sense and (as with last week's story) Infantino's art is magnificent. If a story exists largely so that Carmine Infantino can show us human freedom fighters pole-vaulting over a wall to attack an alien base, then that is justification enough.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Frontier Town: "5 Gallons of Poison" 10/24/52

The villain's plan to take control of the local ranches is brutally efficient, but Chad Remington might be able to foil the plan by pretending to be equally villainous.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Giant Spiders, Dinosaurs and Lizard Men--Oh, My!

"The Rocketeers have Shaggy Ears," by Keith Bennett, was published in the Spring 1950 issue of Planet Stories. It is an effective mixture of jungle warfare, jungle survival and science fiction.

Summarizing the story makes some elements of it sound cliched. The main character, for instance, is an untested junior officer who wonders if he really has what it takes to lead men in a dangerous situation. We've seen that a million times. His sergeant is the stoic veteran who is there whenever he's needed--the sort of non-com we've seen in  a zillion times.

But "Rocketeers" is an exciting and atmospheric story, in large part because the characters are well-written and seem real. Cliches often exist because they reflect something true, so are not automatically a bad thing. That tough, veteran sergeant, for instance? There's not a properly trained military in the world that doesn't have those guys in it--and any good officer would trade his left hand to have a top-kick like that in his unit.

The story is set on Venus. An exploration rocket has crashed 500 miles from their home base, with an unidentified interference that is common to the planet blocking radio and radar. So thirty men have to walk home through thick jungles and rain forests.

In this regard, the story parallels a jungle adventure set in Africa or Asia, but here lions, crocodiles and pygmies are replaced with giant spiders, dinosaurs and lizard-men. The men are military, equipped with small arms, a heavy machine gun and even a light tank, so the feel of some of the action parallels a military adventure.

The author builds on all this as the men spend months trekking through the jungle, battling various dangers and getting gradually whittled down by hungry fauna, fever and blowgun-armed lizard-men. The tension remains high, punctuated by sudden, violent action when a dinosaur or the lizard-men attack. We get to know some of the men personally, so that there is a real emotional impact when one of them is abruptly killed.

 At times, it seems as if there's no way they can make it home. The protagonist at one point bemoans their fate, noting that the Rocket Service is new and they don't have legends to inspire them.

To this his sergeant notes that they do have a legend--by making this march through a hellish environment, they are themselves becoming legendary.

This was a fun story to read--but also a fun story to analyze and appreciate how well-constructed it is. Take elements of three different genres and two cliched character templates, mix thoroughly and finish with a truly exciting and "realistic" adventure story.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Weightless Warriors

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a 1973 issue of Strange Sports Stories, making the case that the theme was too limiting to be truly successful. I still think that's true--Strange Sports Stories gave us a contrived or mediocre tale for every good one. Unlike a more general theme, such as science fiction, specifically telling SF sports stories on a regular basis is simply too limiting.

But that doesn't mean its impossible to tell a good science fiction, fantasy or horror story with a sports theme. In the years before Strange Sports Stories, DC Comics gave us a number of these. I think the key is to tell a sports story when the writer or editor simply has a good idea for one and is not being required to come up with two or three ideas for every issue of a regular book.

In 1971, DC Special #13 reprinted a number of sports-themed tales published in the 1950s & '60s. All are at least pretty good and a couple of them are memorable. But all originally appeared in general sci-fi anthology books, so had a sports theme because it inherently belonged in these specific stories--it wasn't forced in.

By the way, several DC Specials featured reprints of strange sports stories. I wonder if good sales for these issues prompted the creation of the short-lived Strange Sports Stories.

One of the two more memorable stories reprinted in DC Special was "Warrior of the Weightless World," written by John Broome and drawn by Carmine Infantino. Originally published in The Brave and the Bold #49 (Aug/Sept. 1963), this story introduces us to the 22nd Century sport of spaceball.

It actually looks like a pretty cool sport--essentially it's basketball played in a zero-gravity chamber. The main characters--including a guy who only plays spaceball to put himself through medical school--are the three greatest stars of the game.

When Earth goes to war against an alien race, the opportunity to use their spaceball skills in a military unit soon arises. The aliens have a vital repair base set up on a zero-g planet. The spaceball stars are sent on a commando mission to blow this up and possibly end the war.

The three discover that tactics they used in spaceball work quite well in zero-g combat. They complete the mission and the future doctor learns to have more respect for a sport he had previously played only for money.

It's a fun, well-constructed story--setting up the premise efficiently and giving us an exciting action set-piece, all of which is brought to life by Infantino's striking art work. "Warrior of the Weightless World" is simply fun to look at.

And, by golly, I'd pay for a ticket to see a spaceball game. Add this to the list of stuff that should exist in real life!

I'm going to contradict myself by mentioning that this story is part of a five issue run of The Brave and the Bold in which the book specialized in strange sports stories--nearly all of which were pretty good. (Issues #45-49) So perhaps it is possible to write such stories on a regular basis without losing quality--at least for a short time. Next week, we'll look at yet another of those sports story reprinted in DC Special #13--one that is memorable in that it actually predicts the future! (Well, sort of. But not really.)

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