Thursday, December 31, 2015

Out of Prison But Not Out of Trouble

After Dick Powell re-invented himself from musical-comedy guy to hard-boiled tough guy in 1944's Murder, My Sweet, he pretty much ran with that. He headlined several excellent RKO Film Noirs over the next few years. This is a good thing--because Powell surprised everyone by being really good at playing tough guys.

In 1951's Cry Danger, Powell is Rocky Mulloy, who did five years for robbery and murder before an ex-marine with one leg turned up to provide him with an alibi.

But getting out of jail doesn't bring Rocky's problems to an end. He really is innocent, but the ex-marine (who lied to provide a fake alibi) doesn't know this and figures Rocky knows where the loot from the robbery is hidden. Also, a police detective knows the alibi is faked, but doesn't know (or isn't sure) Rocky is innocent and figures that putting a tail on Rocky might turn something up.

And, on top of all that, Rocky's best friend is still in jail for the same crime. The friend's wife (played by drop-dead gorgeous Rhonda Fleming) is Rocky's ex-girl, complicating the emotions involved when he goes to see her. But Rocky is loyal to his friend. He knows who really pulled off the robbery--he just has to find the proof to get his friend out of jail. Eventually, that involves dodging both more attempts to frame him and one or two attempts to simply kill him.

Powell is typically great in the role. Robert Parrish, a former Our Gang child actor, began his career as director with this film and does a fine job of infusing it with the proper atmosphere. The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Richard Erdman as the alcoholic ex-marine who provided the alibi and William Conrad as the bookie who originally framed Rocky for the robbery.

As is the case with all good Film Noir, Cry Danger is stuffed full of great character moments. Erdman's interactions with a gorgeous blonde who infatuates him even after she repeatedly tries to steal his money are particularly priceless.

Cry Danger is yet another example of why the B-movies from the 1930s/40s/50s always have a hold on me. Regardless of the genre--Noir, science fiction, mystery, Western--they nearly always told their stories well. This film moves along in a crisp and logical manner--the rules of good storytelling are never sacrificed to the atmosphere and character interactions. Rather, the film's atmosphere and characters are made an integral part of a strong story.

So a former song-and-dance man and a former Our Gang kid join forces to give us a gritty tale of murder, treachery and deceit. Gee whiz, that sounds like the premise of a good Film Noir in of itself, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Damsels in Distress are EVERYWHERE!

cover painting by George Wilson

It just can't be helped. If you are a member of the Greystoke family, then you are always going to have Damsels in Distress underfoot. You can't go anywhere or do anything without yet another Damsel in Distress popping up and in need of rescue. "Awwww, I just stopped in to buy a quart of milk and that woman in the potato chip aisle is getting attacked by a hungry lion! Darn it, I suppose i need to do something about that."

For instance, in the story "Alien Jungle" (from Korak #21--February 1968), we discover that Tarzan's son Korak can be kidnapped by aliens and taken light years away from home--only to still stumble across a damsel in need of rescuing.

In this story (written by Gaylord Du Bois), Korak and his ape friend Ahkut encounter some aliens tramping through the African jungle. The aliens have stun-guns, paralyzing the two friends and taking them into their flying saucer.

Korak can't move, but he's still conscious, making careful note of the control settings as the ship takes off. Soon, though, they are on an alien planet. Korak and Ahkut manage to make a break for it, capturing a stun-gun as they do so.

Here's where the Damsel in Distress enters the picture. Tarzan finds a human woman being menaced by a giant ant. After the ensuing rescue, the woman--named Ateena--begins teaching Korak the local language and takes him to her band of resistance fighters.

It turns out the aliens have been enslaving the humans native to this planet, using their stun guns to maintain military superiority. When a swarm of giant ants rampage through the human camp, Korak tries his captured stun gun on them, discovering that they are immune to its effect.

That gives him an idea. They can use a fungus the ants like to lure them to the alien city, then lay down insulation over the electrical barrier that surrounds the city, and watch the ants rampage amongst the villains.

This works. The aliens, unable to fight the ants with their stun guns, flee in confusion to their space ships. Korak and Ahkut rush one of the ships and capture it, with the human setting the controls they way they were when the ship was on Earth. Which seems a pretty uncertain way of piloting an interstellar craft, but since it works, I guess it was a reasonable plan after all.

But, though Korak manages to fly the ship, he turns out to be lousy at parking it. It ends up in a swamp. All the same, he manages to crash-land in a swamp, bringing him and Ahkut home. As they say--any landing you can walk away from is a good one.
I like this story. It's an entertaining variation on Korak's usual jungle adventure. We're still in a jungle. It just happens to be an alien jungle were you are more likely to be eaten by a giant ant instead of a lion.

Russ Manning does his usual top-notch job with the art. I especially like his designs of the jungle and the giant ants. In both cases, they are familiar enough so that we immediately recognize them for what they are, but there are enough bizarre details to the designs to make them appropriately alien-esque. 

The story packs in a lot of action and a lot of story in its 17 pages. Last week, I whined about a Phantom story being too short to properly flesh out its plot. If I were going to complain about "Alien Jungle," I might raise a similar point--there are moments where the storytelling does seem a bit rushed. The ants attacking the aliens, for instance, is covered in two pages when it really should have been a much longer battle with an epic feel to it.

But "Alien Jungle" is still satisfying. You get the feeling that Gaylord Du Bois was doing the best he could in the confines of a limited page count, while Manning's art helps gloss over the flaws.

Next week, we'll leave the jungle behind and travel to war-time Germany, where one of Sgt. Rock's soldiers will get a day in the limelight.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

Here's a death trap that wouldn't work nowadays. You couldn't quite pull this off with an Ipod.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Charlie McCarthy: "Christmas Show with Mario Lanza" 12/19/48

Santa's reindeer go on strike because they want Christmas Eve off. And Mortimer Snerd gets... engaged?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

"The Ideal Criminal is a Strategist."

Edgar Wallace should be better remembered than he is. He wrote some mind-numbingly fun mystery and suspense novels. I wrote once about his 1923 novel The Green Archer, Now I've jumped back a few years to read 1917's Kate Plus Ten.

Kate is Kate Westhanger, a very, very smart 19-year-old girl. How do we know she's smart? Because she's a master criminal, commanding a group of 10 older, male criminals who help her commit the crimes she meticulously plans. She and her gang have looted banks and businesses for millions--though the thefts never include acts of violence. Kate uses guile, trickery and clever strategies to achieve her goals.

Scotland Yard knows about Kate. Most specifically, detective Michael Pretherston knows about Kate. But knowing and proving are two different matters. Which makes it hard on Mike--since he kind of likes Kate and would like to see her go straight. But she loves the adventure that comes with her chosen profession.

Kate is in the midst of planning a huge job--robbing a train that's carrying nearly £3 million in gold.
 To get the information she needs to pull off the heist, she needs to pretend to be a confidential secretary to one man, an easily-impressed chorus-girl to another and a Polish princess to a third. This isn't easy, because Mike seems to be underfoot.

And when she does pull off the heist--seemingly making the gold train vanish into thin air--it's Mike who has an idea of just how she did it.

But that puts Mike in danger--because Kate's gang isn't necessarily as adverse to violence as she is. Also, poor Kate might also eventually learn that there really isn't such a thing as honor among thieves...

Kate Plus Ten isn't perfect--there's a sub-plot involving a side character falling in love that's well-written, but doesn't really add much to the main story. The novel's ending is arguably contrived.

But getting to that ending is a lot of fun. Kate's plan for robbing the train really is clever, as is Mike's efforts to pick up the trail and find the train before the crooks get away. Wallace plants an effective "Chekov's Gun" early on that unexpectedly but believably pops up to save the day at the climax. The banter between Mike and Kate is lively and the entire book is fast-moving.

Also, Wallace does a great job of giving the ten gang-members--even those with relatively little "screen time"--distinct personalities. Kate Plus Ten is a fast and merry read.

Besides, who among us doesn't want to spend time with a beautiful but intelligent lady master criminal?

The book is in the public domain, so you can read it online HERE.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It SHOULD have been an epic team-up!

When I was using Wednesdays to primarily review Marvel comics in chronological order, I occasionally had to talk about a story that simply wasn't any good. It was a natural part of the process.

But when I phased that out in place of doing random reviews, I figured I would pretty much always be talking about comic books I enjoyed or at least had elements I found interesting.

But, by gum, I just gotta vent about this one. Sorry you all have to suffer for it.

Because if you toss John Paul Jones into a story, then you create an expectation that story will be epic. Harold Lamb understood that when he used the early American naval hero in a couple of related short stories.

So when Charlton's The Phantom #45 (August 1971) gave us an effectively composed cover promising a battle between the titular hero and the pirates of Tripoli--and then we learn that the story is titled "The Phantom and John Paul Jones," then BY GOLLY we have every right in the world to expect epic-ness.

Sadly, we don't quite get to epic levels. The concept is great: The story is set in 1777, taking advantage of the fact that the Phantom (passing the mask from father to son through the years) has been active for centuries. While most of Charlton's Phantom stories involved the contemporary hero, this particular issue included a pair of stories flashing back to earlier Phantoms.

This by itself is a good idea, but Charlton consistently shot itself in the foot with this series by limiting each story to 7 pages each to include three per issue. That meant each individual story was rushed or overly simplistic.

Also, it seems there was a rule to NEVER allow the Phantom to take off his costume and mask, even when he was supposed to be in disguise. Here's a few panels from a story set in 19th Century Paris, where the Phantom is trying to track down a stolen ruby:

Yeah, that's a brilliant disguise. Gee whiz.

Also, the artist, Pat Boyette, had good compositional skills and drew nice ships and buildings, but his figure work is very stiff.

The set up for "The Phantom and John Paul Jones" is perfectly good. Some Bandari tribesmen (allies of the Phantom) have been captured and taken as slaves to Tripoli, so the Phantom travels to that pirate-ridden city to rescue them. Entering the city in full costume, he's spotted almost immediately and captured, then made a galley slave alongside the Bandari. Still in full costume, by the way. The pirates don't even bother to take off his mask.

The ship he's on goes to sea looking for prey and soon finds an American frigate captained by John Paul Jones. Jones is outnumbered and at risk of being overrun when the pirates board him, but the Phantom and the Bandari break loose, catching the pirates between two forces.

There's a brief fight--Jones kills the pirate captain and saves the Phantom. Then the story ends.

It's all too abrupt. Once again, the general idea is sound, but it needed the entire issue devoted to it to properly flesh it out and generate any real sense of excitement. It gives no opportunity for Jones and the Phantom to significantly interact with each other. Heck, there's literally only one panel in the entire story in which the two appear together.

Was it the Phantom's plan to get captured? If so, how did he know he'd end up chained next to the Bandari? Or was that dumb luck?

It's a missed opportunity, taking an inherently cool idea and just messing it up.

So I had to vent. Sorry to inflict that on you. Next week, we'll return to comic books I think are actually fun as we follow the son of Tarzan on a trip to another planet.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dell's Four Color

Here's a video overview of Dell's Four Color comic that I made for the Ringling College of Art library's YouTube channel.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

Mysterious Traveler: "The Knives of Death" 3/13/51

Two old ladies--retired schoolteachers--are tasked with solving a classic locked room mystery. Fortunately, the two have read many mystery stories, which (of course) leaves them more than qualified to handle a real murder.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Nazi Spies, Secret Rockets and a Horse Race

Read/Watch 'em in Order #63

Private Snuffy Smith was a hit-and-miss movie in that many B-movie fans will find it pretty funny (I did) and many other B-movie fans will think it falls flat. It's a major controversy, you know. Many classic movie conventions have degenerated into riots and chaos over this issue.

But the sequel--Hillbilly Blitzkrieg (also released in 1942)--is the movie that brings us all back together again. Because we can all definitely agree that this one does fall flat.

Oh, not completely. There are a few funny moments (most delivered by Edgar Kennedy) and Cliff Nazarro is really good as Barney Google.

Snuffy is still in the army and Kennedy is still his long-suffering sergeant. For some reason the
sergeant's name has been changed from Cooper to Gatling, even though its clear that he is supposed to be the same character. The two (along with a few other soldiers) are sent to guard a scientist who is working on a radio-controlled rocket.

The scientist is set up in a barn out in the middle of nowhere. It turns out Snuffy's city-slicker cousin Barney Google has bought an interest in the rocket. But they need $500 to buy the parts they need to finish buying the thing. (The government is interested in testing the new weapon, but apparently uninterested in coughing up $500 to finish building it? Gee whiz, and we think Congress today is incompetent!)

The need to raise the money leads to a race involving Barney's famous horse Spark Plug, which also gives Nazi spies an opportunity to try to steal the plans of the rocket and sabotage the prototype. This, in turn, leads to shenanigans in which (at one point) a spy mistakes plans for a moonshine still for the rocket plans.

Everything comes to a head when the rocket is accidentally launched while Snuffy is hiding inside it.

As I said, Edgar Kennedy manages to milk some laughs out of his scenes. Nazarro does give Barney a slick con-artist air, though the script doesn't give him enough punch lines to do this justice. Bud Duncan is still the living personification of Snuffy.

But Sarah Padden as Lowizie is sorely missed, while the two big scenes (the horse race and Snuffy's unplanned rocket ride) simply fail to be funny. Them danged varmints at Monogram studios had a bit too much moonshine before makin' this 'un.

That's it for Snuffy's movie career. I'm writing this in mid-October, about two months before it will post. Right now, I'm not sure what's next in the In Order series as far as movies are concerned, but I'll decide on something soon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Objective: Ben Grimm

When the Marvel Universe first got rolling in 1961, World War II was still a fairly recent event. It was perfectly believable for various characters to be WWII vets. In fact, among the Fantastic Four, Reed was an O.S.S. commando and Ben was an ace fighter pilot.

Now let's jump to Marvel's war-themed comics. Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos was the first and most successful, giving us a main character who transitioned into comics with a modern day setting as a master spy. But, unlike DC, Marvel never managed the same success in building up a diverse stable of WWII characters.

They did try.a couple of times, with Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders in 1967 and Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen in 1972. Like Sgt. Fury, both books recounted the adventure of a commando team. Both were written mostly by Gary Friedrich and drawn by Dick Ayers,  This was the same team heading up Sgt. Fury at the time, resulting in a very close continuity between the books. But Captain Savage was only around for 19 issues, while Combat Kelly lasted only 9.

Perhaps in a future post, I'll compare the DC and Marvel war books and share my ideas about why DC was able to successfully market more WWII  titles. But for now, we'll simply look at an issue of Captain Savage and see how Marvel tied their war tales into their larger universe.

That title's 7th issue (October 1968) begins with Ben Grimm--the future Thing--flying a P-51 and getting ambushed by a large number of Japanese Zeros.

Ben, being Ben Grimm, puts up one heck of a fight, but eventually takes damage and is forced to crash-land on a Japanese-held island. Once on the ground, he's attacked by Japanese soldiers. Of course, being Ben Grimm, he puts up a nasty fight, but he's eventually overwhelmed and knocked out. The Japanese take him prisoner and quickly realize that capturing on of America's top aces can be a huge propaganda coup. They threaten Ben with torture unless he agrees to confess to committing war crimes.

So Ben needs to be rescued. Captain Savage and his men are assigned to the task

The ensuing action sequence takes up most of the issue and is extremely well-done. That's not to say the action is remotely realistic. It's not. For instance, Savage and his men opt to surf ashore when they reach the island. From a real-life point-of-view, that's a silly plan.

But in a comic book world, it makes sense. The idea is to get ashore more quickly than they could in a rubber raft, allowing them to surprise and silence guards on the beach. There is a logic to the plan that works within the confines of the Marvel Universe.

The action continues to be over-the-top, but with just enough logic behind the flow of the battle to
make us believe in it. The commandos hijack an ammunition truck. While two of them split off to capture a bomber (they plan to have Ben fly them out after they rescue him), the others crash the truck into the Japanese base. The truck explodes when it rams a building, causing enough confusion to allow the commandos to get the upper hand. While several of them knock out the radio room, Savage searches for Ben. It's really not a bad plan at all.

This was typical of both Marvel and DC war books. The battle scenes and real life were pretty much complete strangers to one another. But the action was choreographed in such a way that left us with an illusion of realism. This in turn created the requisite excitement and tension to be dramatically effective.

Savage finds Ben held at gun point by the Japanese commander. Ben helps Savage get the upper hand, but his hand are burned in doing so.

So, when the commandos fall back to the captured bomber and need to make a quick getaway, Ben can't fly the plane. Captain Savage has to take the stick while Ben provides off-the-cuff instructions.

It's a good, solid action-oriented story, with a nice character moment involving Ben. After his hands are burned, he doesn't mention the injury until he has to explain that he can't fly. Savage mentally notes that Ben must be in tremendous pain, but simply took it rather than make himself a burden. As the Thing, Ben would rival Peter Parker as the heart of the Marvel Universe, so this moment captures his innate heroism perfectly.

Marvel tied its WWII heroes into their modern universe much more intimately that did DC, with "Objective: Ben Grimm: issue being a strong example of this. That's one more reason I need to do a post comparing war book of the two companies.

Next week, the Phantom teams up with an American naval hero.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

If science fiction teaches us nothing else, it's that outer space is full of beautiful women.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

American Novels: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" 9/19/47

An entertaining and humorous adaptation of Washington Irving's classic tale, with the added bonus of a cameo by Rip Van Winkle's "widow."

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

B-Movie Stars in an A-Movie.

Dark Command (1940) isn't a B-movie. If its IMDB entry is accurate, it cost a cool million to make, which was a lot even for A-movies in that day. But it feels like a B-movie in all the right ways.

It stars John Wayne, who had only recently moved into the A-list column a year earlier with Stagecoach. Co-star Walter Pidgeon was starring in an incredibly fun series of B-movies at the time playing detective Nick Carter that same year. The niftiest thing about the movie, though, is that a very young Roy Rogers and his future sidekick Gabby Hayes both have important roles in the film.

The setting is Kansas, just before and during the Civil War, when political passions were often driving a mob mentality among people. This is something that Bob Seaton (Wayne), a cowboy from Texas, actually uses to get some spending cash. He gets into arguments with someone over politics and socks that person in the jaw. Now in need of a dentist, the person would seek out Doc Grunch (Hayes)--who just happens to be Seaton's travelling companion. But once Seaton settles down in the town of Lawrence, he has a chance to make something more respectable of himself.

Wayne gives a great performance in this film--Seaton is uneducated and illiterate, but he's smart and capable enough to get elected marshal of Lawrence--becoming a figure of calm that often keeps the aforementioned mob mentality at bay. Wayne hits all the right notes in order to make us believe that his lack of formal education does not affect his native intelligence or his ability to make balanced moral judgments.

Pidgeon is William Cantrill--a character obviously based on the real-life brutal guerrilla leader William Quantrill. Cantrill wanted the marshal's job, but when he loses the election, he goes into gun-running, slave-running and murder. He keeps his activities a secret for most of the movies, though it isn't long before Seaton suspects him.

Of course, there's a pretty girl involved--Mary McCloud (played by Wayne's Stagecoach co-star Claire Trevor) is loved by both Seaton and Cantrill. Roy Rogers is her fiery-tempered brother--who, as you'll see in the clip I'm including, is a little bit quicker on the trigger than the heroic Roy we're all used to.

The whole cast is great. Pidgeon's descent into villainy is fascinating; Gabby Hayes finds that tricky balance between comic relief and competence; and Roy is simply fun to watch in a role so different from his B-movie persona.

Raoul Walsh is the director and does a typically strong job--the action sequences, often involving a lot of extras trying to kill each other, are truly exciting. This is especially true of Cantrill's climatic raid on the town of Lawrence.

The ending raps things up a little too neatly--the main characters seem curiously unconcerned that their town is burning down around them and a violent crime committed by one character earlier in the film seems to have been forgotten. But those are nitpicks. Dark Command might have been an A-film, but it is entertaining and exciting in exactly the same way as were the best B-movies of the day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Heroes SHOULD be Smart!

DC's science fiction stories weren't always strong on good science, but they often got one important thing right. They showed us that heroes in a science fiction universe need to be smart--that such heroes would often been in situations in which they would have to think their way out.

The hero of "Riddle of Asteroid 8794" is proof of this. The story was first published in Mystery in Space #50 (March 1959), though the images I'm sharing come from a later reprint, so the coloring may be different than from the original.

The hero's name is Bruce Carlton, a space surveyor who is currently on Earth, taking his gal Gloria to the amusement park. Part of his plan to woe her includes getting his disc jockey friend Clark Hale to play a love song. But Clark plays "The Space-Girl Blues" (about a cold-hearted woman) instead of a romantic love song. Gloria takes offense at being cold-hearted by acting cold-hearted and dumping Bruce.

Bruce wants to have words with Clark, but Clark is now missing. It's here that Otto Binder gives us our first indication that Bruce is a smart guy, though the tale's 8-page length actually makes this a bit contrived. Based solely on the fact that Clark isn't home, he correctly deduces that Clark has been kidnapped and that playing the wrong song is a clue.

Sure enough, the catalog number of the song matches the number of an asteroid. Bruce flies his rocket-mobile to that asteroid and, sure enough, finds Clark and a gang of outlaws already there.

Clark had learned that there was a fortune in space-jewels buried on the asteroid. The outlaws kidnapped him to get this information from him, but had allowed him to make his regular radio broadcast so that no one would know he was gone. He played the wrong song to leave a clue for Bruce. By the way, I have no idea how "space-jewels" differ from regular jewels.

So, yes, this part is contrived, but all the same, I appreciate a story in which the heroes are shown to be smart and in which those smarts are essential to the plot.

Besides, the rest of the tale is pretty solid. Bruce gets Clark away from the bad guys, then learns that the orbit of two tiny moons will intersect and their combined shadow will show where the treasure is buried. But when that happens, the outlaws will know the location as well.

So Bruce uses math to calculate the moons' orbits and beat the outlaws to their goal. He and Clark snatch up the treasure and steal the outlaws' ship as well, leaving the bad guys stranded on the asteroid.

I really enjoy that part of the story. Bruce is a space surveyor, so it makes perfect sense that he has the math skills involved. And, though I'm all for well-done action scenes, using math to foil the villains is always cool.

Next week, we'll learn what a future superhero did during World War II.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Cover Cavalcade

This cover has been described elsewhere as "lovingly detailed." I'll go along with that.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Whistler: "Danger is a Beautiful Blonde" 5/8/49

Jack Webb plays a guy who allows a beautiful woman to pick him up. When you are in a crime drama, that's never a good idea.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Lost Land is REALLY, REALLY Hard to Leave!

Read/Watch 'em In Order #62

When Robert Moore Williams took us back to Lost Land one last time, we find Alan Hunter, Ann Hunter and Jongor still trying to leave and still pursued by Murtos (the monkey people who have become Jongor's arch enemies).

This is from "Jongor Fights Back" (from Fantastic Adventures, December 1951), the last of the trilogy. But one does not simply walk out of Lost Land. They tried that in "The Return of Jongor," and ended up getting involved in a centaur civil war. This time, they get attacked by Murtos who have hired a nine-foot-tall giant to back them up.

It is indicative of Williams' faults as a writer that no origin or explanation for the giant is ever given. This is a being whose existence isn't even hinted at previously, but suddenly Lost Land has at least one (and presumably more) giants.

Also, there's a contrived amnesia sub-plot that takes up part of the book and is used simply to keep Jongor from rescuing Ann too quickly. In addition to this, two more outsiders enter Lost Land looking for super-scientific gizmos that will make them rich. For centuries, the valley goes undiscovered by the outside world, but now fortune hunters (all acting independently of each other) show up every few days.

But I mention the flaws mostly to get them out of the way quickly, because "Jongor Fights Back" is still entertaining. Williams was sloppy in his plot construction, but Jongor, Ann and Alan are all likable characters--with Jongor still getting enough of a personality to differentiate him from Tarzan. Also, Williams does indeed know how to generate excitement and suspense when needed. A sequence in which Ann is lost alone in the jungle is very tense, while the finale (in which Ann and Jongor are about to be sacrificed to a Murto god that is really a super-scientific death ray) is genuinely exciting.

Like the previous two Jongor stories, the brevity of "Jongor Fights Back" is both a blessing and a curse. The flaws don't stand out as much as they would in a novel-length story, but Williams once again stuffs the tale with really cool ideas, then doesn't give himself enough time to expand upon them properly. I actually like the idea of a giant working as a mercenary for the monkey people. BUT WHERE THE HECK DID HE COME FROM? Gee whiz.

That's it for Jongor. Next, I think we'll visit with Jo Gar, a half-Phillipino private detective who starred in a series of stories set in Manila. Written by Raoul Whitfield, they originally appeared in Black Mask magazine and are excellent and unusual examples of hard-boiled fiction. Six of those stories, from 1931, make up a novel titled The Rainbow Murders. We'll be looking at those stories individually.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Kid vs. Kid

Kid Colt Outlaw #121 (March 1965) reminds us that there's an awful lot of Kids in the Old West.

Remember that Kid Colt and Rawhide Kid were both wanted men. Neither was actually bad guys--but circumstances early in the respective careers left them both with prices on their heads.

That makes their first meeting an interesting one. Each knows that he's really a good guy, but has no way of know the other one isn't a bad guy. So they have no reason to trust each other.

The story begins when Colt is outsmarted and captured by veteran marshal Sam Hawk. Not long after tossing Colt into the clink, Rawhide arrives, bringing a warning that the nearby town of Silvertown has been taken over by outlaws.

But someone recognizes Rawhide. Sam Hawk arrests him, then decides to scout out Silvertown alone so that no one else will be endangered if Rawhide's warning is some sort of trick.

Colt breaks out of jail, leaving Rawhide behind--remember that he thinks the other Kid is a real outlaw. But Rawhide uses the confusion of Colt's escape to pull of an escape of his own. Knowing he needs help to save Silvertown and Sam Hawk, Rawhide follows Colt in hopes of enlisting his aid.

It's here that the story breaks down a little. I grant that Rawhide thought Colt was a bad guy. But, in
order to follow the tradition of two comic book heroes fighting prior to teaming up, Rawhide decides the best way to make friends with Colt is to immediately jump him and try to beat the tar out of him.

Artist Jack Keller gives us a perfectly fine 1-page fight scene, but in terms of storytelling, the incident is simply too contrived to be effective.

Adding to the story's woes is that Colt and Rawhide really don't have distinctive personalities--at least when compared to each other. Consequently, there isn't much other than their clothing and hair color to make them stand out from one another. Both have identical motivations and identical speech patterns that make use of the words "hombre" and "owlhoots" a bit too often.

I'm not knocking the characters--taken on their own, both Kid Colt and Rawhide Kid gave us wonderfully entertaining stories. But I don't think Stan Lee ever succeeded in making them distinctive individuals to the degree he did so with Marvel's superheroes. Of course, by the 1960s, superhero books were the big sellers, while Westerns were on the verge of fading into the cultural sunset. Perhaps Stan simply put more effort into the superhero books.

But once the two Kids get together, the story picks up again. Sam Hawk has been captured by the outlaws in Silvertown. The villains are led by Iron Mask, a re-occurring character who wears bullet-proof iron plating. The two Kids charge into town just in time to prevent Hawk's murder, but the three are soon pinned down and running low on ammunition.

Rawhide Kid saves the day by luring Iron Mask down an ally and getting him to drop into an abandoned well. When you wear iron plating, it's not a good idea to go swimming.

The action sequences, most notably Kid Colt's encounter with the posse at the beginning and the climatic battle against Iron Mask and his gang, are quite good, with Keller's art definitely reminding one of Jack Kirby. This story does highlight the lack of distinctive characterization among Marvel's Western heroes of the day, but all the same, it's a fun read.

Next week, we'll get a reminder that real heroes do math in their heads.

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