Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

NBC Short Story: "The Thing in the Tunnel" (produced in 1951--preempted and never aired during original broadcast run)

An effective and atmospheric adaptation of the Charles Dickens short story "The Signalman."

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Return of Lee Chan--Part 1

 In the 1930s, one of the most consistently entertaining movie series featured Chinese-American detective Charlie Chan. With Warner Oland as Chan and Keye Luke as Number One son Lee Chan, the films were good stories featuring one of the most purely likable protagonists to every appear on celluloid.

A highlight of these films was the relationship between Charlie Chan and his hero-worshiping son Lee. Lee might try to hard and sometimes get in the way, but he also acting bravely when the situation called for it, saving his dad's life on a couple of occasions. He was a son who simply loved his dad.

When Oland died in 1938, Keye Luke left the series. Sidney Toler took over as Charlie, making the detective a little more irascible, and Victor Sen Yung took up the sidekick role as Number Two son Jimmy, with Lee now said to be off at college. In a few films, Jimmy wasn't around and Benson Fong stepped in to play Number Three son Tommy.

By the time we get to the late 1940s, Toler was dead and Roland Winters played Chan, starring in six films produced by Monogram Pictures. These had a much smaller budget than the earlier films (which had been 20th Century Fox productions), but still had pretty good stories. Victor Sen Yung remained the usual sidekick.

I will pause here to whine about an annoying continuity glitch in the later Chan films. Yung's character, though still clearly identified as the Number Two son, is inexplicably renamed Tommy in the Winters films. Why? Why? Why? He's clearly still Jimmy. Did he and Tommy trade names? Is Charlie getting a bit forgetful in his old age, with his sons too respectful of him to correct him? Gee whiz.

Anyway, in the last two Chan films before the series came to an end, Keye Luke did return to play Lee. We'll look at 1948's The Feather Serpent this time, then get to 1949's The Sky Dragon in a few weeks.

Charlie, Lee and Tommy (darn it, that's Jimmy!) are vacationing in Mexico, with comic relief chauffeur Birmingham Brown also in attendance. But, really, Charlie Chan should know by now that he can't ever really take a vacation. Someone will always get murdered.

This particular murder happens right in the middle of a room filled with Chan clan members, Mexican cops and a quartet of suspects. It's the classic "Turn the lights out and back-stab your victim in the dark" ploy.

The suspects are all members of an expedition looking for two missing archaeologists and an ancient Aztec tomb. The dead guy is actually one of the missing guys, who had been held prisoner at the tomb and was about to reveal its location before being killed. So Charlie and his sons join the expedition as it heads out into the jungle, intending to solve the murder and find the remaining missing man. One more murder and an attempt or two on Charlie's life complicates matters.

Charlie's detective skills and some help from an unexpected source finally allow them to find the Aztec tomb, which villains are in the process of looting. That means its time for Lee and Tommy (it's Jimmy--Jimmy I tell you!) to start throwing punches. Though they can't match their dad's skill as detectives, punching out bad guys is something they are pretty good at. In fact, when Tommy/Jimmy starts repeatedly slamming a thug's skull against the stone steps of the tomb, you begin to wonder if he's a little too good at it. Man, that was a brutal moment!

It's a fun little film, though it lacks the cleverness of the Oland and early Toler films from the previous decade. You can argue that having both Lee and Jimmy (I'm just gonna call him Jimmy, darn it) in the same film--with a running time of only 61 minutes--was a mistake in terms of story construction. There really isn't enough going on in the story to give them both enough to do. But this is the only time Luke and Yung appear together in a Chan film and it was nice to see that happen.

The two actors are getting into middle age by this time as well. Luke was 44 and Yung was 33. Luke does play Lee with a little more maturity, but Yung is still given a lot of the goofy sidekick stuff to do. He does this well, but he's too obviously an adult now for this to be completely believable.

Also, the lower budget at Monogram does show through, perhaps most notably when Lee and Jimmy find some Aztec hieroglyphics that are pretty obviously just random shapes drawn with chalk.

All the same, I still liked the movie. I think it might be impossible for me to dislike a Chan film. The story is serviceable and, even though Toler and then Winters played the detective with an increasingly sarcastic bent, we are also presented with a father who loves his sons and sons who love their dad.

The scene I'm including below highlights this. Lee might be no great shakes at deductive reasoning, but look how quickly and effectively he springs into action when his dad is in danger. And notice his normally irascible dad's concern for him afterwards, calling him "Lee" rather than the less personal "Number One Son." It's a sign that even when the budgets got small and the scripts got more routine, the creators of the Charlie Chan films still got what was important about the characters.

Keye Luke would return for the last Chan film, but Victor Sen Yung would be absent. Maybe he and Benson Fong were in a back alley somewhere, fist-fighting over who gets to be called "Tommy."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fingertips of Doom!--Shogun Warriors, Part 4

With this post, we're a little over halfway through with our look at Marvel's 1979-80 series Shogun Warriors.

The last couple of issues centered on Richard Carson and his robot Raydeen, fighting a monster of unknown origin along a California beach, with his girlfriend Deena getting drafted as Raydeen's co-pilot.

With Shogun Warriors #9 (October 1979), more mysterious monsters start popping up--each time near one of the Shoguns. Illongo Savage investigates a meteor that landed near his research center in Madagascar, taking along his lovely assistant Judith. The meteor hatches like an egg, spawning a weird monster they dub the Starchild.

Savage summons his robot Dangard Ace. Rremember that each pilot can now request their robots be teleported to them when needed. It's a handy ability to have when you're stuck in traffic. Judith has to distract the monster to give Savage time to reach the robot, but soon he's ready to go.

I'll stop to say right now that I am loving Herb Trimpe's monster designs. Cerberus (the monster Carson fought last issue), Starchild and the Hand of Five creature that will soon pop up are all bizarre and incredibly fun designs. It's as if Trimpe is channeling his inner 10-year-old, bringing to life the sort of creatures an imaginative kid would sketch on notebook paper while not paying attention to his teacher.

Each monster has weird abilities to match their weird appearances and their fights with the robots are all exciting and well-choreographed. A series like this is anchored on just how cool the robots & monsters are, as well as how fun their fights are. Shogun Warriors has been succeeded admirably here. This is the reason Giant Robots and Monsters exist, by golly.

Anyway, poor Dangard Ace has a bad time against Starchild. The fight starts underwater, moves to shore and rolls into a nearby city. Savage and his robot make no headway against the monster and soon spend much of the fight saving innocent bystanders.

Then it turns out that Starchild was only in its larvae stage. When it grows bigger and sprouts wings, it looks as if Savage is doomed. But the monster seems to lose interest and simply flies away. Was Dangard Ace being tested?

That brings us to the next issue, in which Genji (who is back in Tokyo) is being grilled on where the prototype airplane she was flying back in the first issue has gone to. She assures them the plane is safe, but refuses to explain further.

I'm still not sure this makes sense. This series is set firmly in the Marvel universe, even if the usual stable of Marvel characters hasn't yet appeared. Genji's story (getting drafted by ancient aliens to pilot a giant robot and fight monsters) really isn't all that unusual in the world in which she lives.

But the point becomes moot when one of Trimpe's most bizarre creations--the Hand of Five--attacks. This guy is a hand-shaped monster with five heads on its fingertips, which are able to detach and fight independently.

Gee whiz, I wish this book and Marvel's Godzilla had been published simultaneously and crossed over with one another. The Big G vs. the Hand of Five is a fight I would really like to see.

But Genji, flying Combatra, does pretty well for herself. The fight is a doozy and perhaps the best of the series so far, with the Hand and Combatra both separating into their individual components, rejoining, then separating again as the fight rages across Tokyo and the tactical situation becomes fluid. It is a superb example of imaginative fight choreography.

The battle spills over into Shogun Warriors #11 (December 1979). Genji does better against the Hand than Savage did against the Starchild, using several clever tactics to eventually damage the monster.

But then the Hand of Five--like Starchild--suddenly breaks off the fight and flies away. The issue ends with the Followers (the guys who built the robots) detecting another meteor approaching Earth and theorizing that this might hold the answers to the presumably connected monster appearances. Genji, meanwhile, takes her robot and runs for it, knowing that she's still suspected of treason and likely to be blamed for the carnage.

While all this is going on, Richard Carson has attracted the attention of a Men in Black-type organization.

In addition to the cool fights, I like the way writer Doug Moench handles the human characters. This is always a danger in stories like this--I guess we do need a few human characters to identify with, but we don't want them to distract us from the cool stuff. When this happens, we end up with a Michael Bay Transformers film. And no one wants that.

Though Moench (as was common in his writing) can be a little too dialogue-heavy, the humans are an integral part of the story. In my last post, I mentioned that I thought the pause to give Richard Carson some character development was perhaps a page or so too long, but now the action is flowing smoothly.  Each of Shogun pilots is given a close friend who now knows about their robots. Each is given more personality, with information about them seeded throughout the story arc without ever interfering with the overall plot and the action. It's very skillfully done.

I recently re-read Moench and Trimpe's run on Godzilla, which had been published a few years before Shogun Warriors. Both series involved bizarre monsters whose presence is explained by convoluted but clever science fiction plots. Both had great fight scenes strongly illustrated by Trimpe. Both had likable human characters (though Godzilla had a really annoying kid hanging around who was the poster child for the need to spank children).. When I finish reading through Shogun Warriors, it will be interesting to finish up the reviews with a comparison of the two monster-oriented series and see which one seemed the better of the two. Unless Shogun Warriors takes a sudden downturn, it's going to be a close call.

Next week, we visit with the Marvel Family as they are asked to join a circus.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

21st Precinct: "The Collar" 4/7/1954

21st Precinct was obviously inspired by Dragnet in its goal to realistically portray police work, but it had its own personality and was a solid show in its own right. In this episode, one cop gives his partner credit for an arrest. This seems harmless enough, but the situation evolves into something where this small deception might mean a criminal gets set free.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hauling Freight Down a Narrow Mountain Trail

I reviewed the novel Ambush, by Luke Short, a few months ago. Short has a great reputation as a writer of Westerns. That’s a genre I enjoy,  but  I just never happened to get around to reading his stuff. But I enjoyed Ambush so much that it wasn’t long before I dug up a copy of another of Short's novels.

Dead Freight for Piute was serialized in Western Story Magazine in November & December of 1939. It has a nifty premise. Rather than dealing with cattle drives, outlaws or Indians, it deals with freighting companies.

Hauling freight was, of course, an important part of building the West, but it doesn’t quite have the romantic flair of driving cattle over the Chisum trail, forming a posse to chase outlaws, or a last stand against Apache warriors. But Short demonstrates in this novel that the freight business is a rich source of drama and adventure when placed in the hands of a good writer.

Cole Armin shows up in the mining boom town of Piute, looking for a job with his Uncle Craig’s freight business. His trip to Piute was not without incident, though. The stage he rode in on was robbed and a pretty lady passenger named Celia Wallace is robbed of the $10,000 in cash she was carrying. She was bringing this money to her brother Ted, who is running his own freight company in competition with the Monarch—Craig Armin’s company.

Celia knows who Cole is and assumes he’s in on the robbery, which was engineered by Craig to wipe
out the competition. But Cole finds out his uncle is a crook, wins a fight against a teamster he recognized as the stage robber, then blackmails Craig into returning the cash. Soon, Cole is working for Ted and Celia with the Western Freight company.

Craig is determined to be the one-and-only freight company, though. What follows is a convoluted but well-told story in which Craig, his top thug Wade Billings and dishonest sheriff Ed Linton plot to destroy the Western company while also plotting and counter-plotting to double-cross each other

Cole is a great protagonist. He’s unfamiliar with the freighting business (something that’s used as an effective plot point several times), but he’s smart and intensely loyal to anyone he befriends. He has a temper, though, which is directed at the bad guys but can sometimes rise to a frightening level. That’s also an effective plot point on a few occasions.

So Short writes a Western that—like many Westerns—mirrors the hard-boiled fiction that the Western genre helped spawn.  And he keeps the action moving with some superbly written action set pieces. Cole’s fist fight with Wade Billings, involving a bull whip (which is why one edition of the book was titled Bull-Whip) is truly exciting. A sequence in which the Cole, still inexperienced as a teamster as he navigates a large wagon full of ore down a mountain trail, turns equally exciting when he discovers someone sawed through the brake lever.

The final gunfight, with Cole carrying an injured Ted Wallace over his shoulders while Ted shoots at the bad guys and fumbles in Cole’s belt for more bullets, is one of the best I’ve ever read.

Dead Freight for Piute was made into a movie in 1948 and re-titled Albuquerque.  Starring Randolph Scott as Cole, it’s a pretty good Western, though the plot was streamlined and more straightforward, making it less interesting that Short’s more complex novel. Still, it’s got Lon Chaney , Jr. as one of the bad guys and Gabby Hayes as Scott’s sidekick, so it’s still fun to watch.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Ya kin not hit a ghosk, 'cause they is jus' air!"

There have been a number of skilled writers and artists who have given us great Popeye stories over the years, but the one person who comes closest to matching E.C. Segar (Popeye's creator) in giving us Segar's unique synthesis of slapstick and grand adventure is Bud Sagendorf, who wrote and drew Popeye comics for Dell.

Popeye #3 (August-October 1948) is a prime example of this. The cover story is a 32-pager titled "Ghost Island," which actually starts out with Popeye refusing to go on an adventure.

That's because this particular adventure involves delivering ghost traps to the appropriately-named Ghost Island, where the island's sole inhabitant is simply tired of being haunted.

Popeye doesn't want to tangle with ghosts. You can't fight something intangible and throwing a punch is pretty much Popeye's sole tactic for dealing with dangerous situations. But though Popeye wants to leave the ghosts alone, the ghosts don't want to leave him alone.

But when Swee'Pea is snatched by a ghost, Popeye pretty much has to get involved.      
I love how Sagendorf draws the ghosts--everything about them exudes a casual matter-of-factness that just makes the situation that much more hilarious.

What follows is both exciting and funny. Popeye sails with the cargo of ghost traps for ghost island. Olive Oil stows away on board disguised as one of the ghost--only to walk into one of the traps. The ghosts sabotage the compass, sending the boat wildly off course. When they finally arrive on the island, their client is livid when he sees a dozen ghosts (along with their luggage) disembarking.

In the end, it turns out the ghosts are just guys wearing sheets, hired by the ghost trap salesman to drum up business. And Swee'Pea? He turns out to be working for the "ghosts" as well--the little brat took a bribe to help out.

The salesman, by the way, turns out to be someone who is always in need of money--otherwise, he would have to pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. When Popeye finally finds out what's going on--he indulges himself by beating up a lot of "ghosts" and then having words with Wimpy.

The trouble with reviewing a story like this is that it brings to mind the old saying about analyzing humor: It's like dissecting a frog--you can do it, but the frog dies in the process. A brief summary of the story simply does not do it justice and the humor has a delightful sort of bizarre-ness to it that makes it difficult to describe at all. Like E.C. Segar's original comic strip, Bud Sagendorf's Popeye stories have to be read to be truly appreciated. 

Next week, we return to giant robots fighting giant monsters--the obvious fallback position when you don't have Popeye available to simply punch out the monsters.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

The cover story in this issue has never been reprinted. I'm irresponsibly thinking of dropping 20 to 30 bucks on Ebay to get a copy so I can read it. These covers really were effective marketing tools.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Our Miss Brooks: "Free TV from Sherry's" 4/2/1950

Walter Denton plays a practical joke on Principle Conklin. The consequences of this snowballs into a situation in which several of the regular characters inadvertently steal television sets from the local department store.

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Take a 500 Year Nap, Then Save the World

Last week, I wrote about what I felt to be the single best story from the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories (available to read online HERE). 

Declaring that one the best was a close call, though. The issue also contains a novella--"Spider Men of Gharr," by Wilbur S. Peacock--which is also a lot of fun.

The basic premise is similar to the classic 1929 tale  Armageddon 2419, in which Anthony Rogers (later known at Buck Rogers) is in suspended animation for 500 years, waking up to discover Earth has been conquered by aliens.

In "Spider Men," a guy named Kimbrell Trent is frozen when a pipe containing super-cold fluid burst. He was located inside a secret base--something recently built to defend against the invading Gharr. 

The Gharr are great villains--big four-armed bipedal cyclopian aliens who never make a sound, but  are implacable and apparently unstoppable. No weapons can hurt them and humanity is steadily being enslaved.

When Trent wakes up after his 500-year nap, he discovers the Gharr are still in charge, with many surviving humans kept in camps where they are forced to breed and produce slaves for work off-planet.

The first person Buck Rogers met after waking up was the beautiful Wilma Deering, who was a member of a band of freedom fighters. Trent doesn't buck tradition here--the first person he meets is the beautiful Lura, who is a member of a band of freedom fighters.

Actually, the comparisons I'm making are a bit unfair. "Spider Men" does initially parallel the first Buck Rogers story in several ways, but it has its own feel to it. I have no idea if Wilbur Peacock was familiar with the original story and consciously modeled aspects of his story after it. But if he did, we can forgive him. He manages to come up with something good. 
Trent has a rifle that fires explosive bullets and a pistol that is essentially a powerful flame-thrower. The Gharr threatening Lura is impervious to both these weapons, of course, but Trent uses a clever tactic that allows he and the girl to escape. 

He hooks up with her group, using his knowledge to repair some old equipment--another parallel to the earlier story in which Buck used his knowledge of World War 1 military tactics to beat the aliens

 Later, he accompanies Lura and a few others on a raid to free some human slaves. His weaponry comes in handy here--the Gharr might be immune to them, but the robot guards and the big six-legged carnivores they use has "guard dogs" can be destroyed.

Things go awry when Trent and Lura are captured. But this actually provides them with a chance to learn the real nature of the Gharr and just maybe give them a chance to destroy the invaders.

The Gharr really are a great creation. Their invulnerability; their bizarre appearance; their apparent inability to communicate directly with humans; and the creepy twist regarding their true nature--all of this adds up to move them to the top of the list of scary alien races. It is the Gharr as well as the differences in detail that help give this story a different ambiance than Armageddon 2419, with several intense action sequences spicing things up considerably. 

So though "Raiders of the Second Moon" is the best in this issue, "Spider Men of Gharr" is indeed a close second. Though I am a little confused about one aspect of the story. If the Gharrians never speak, how the heck did mankind find out they are called "Gharrians?"

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Starve a Gorilla and Save the World

Orrgo is a pretty cool looking monster. Of course, pretty much every monster Jack Kirby ever drew is cool looking. That's part of what makes the monster stories Marvel produced in the 1950s and early 1960s so much fun. Kirby or Steve Ditko drew monsters that were simply fun.

Orrgo appeared in Strange Tales #90 (November 1961), with Kirby art enhancing a story written by Stan Lee (or possibly plotted by Lee with the script by Larry Lieber). As was typical of the monster stories, this one ends with a bizarre plot twist. This one happens to be a particularly clever one.

Orrgo is from a race with omnipotent mental powers--if they think it, it happens. So when they decide we puny humans have a nice planet, Orrgo volunteers to travel to Earth alone. His mental powers will be sufficient to conquer the planet.

He appears on Earth in the middle of a circus and his confidence in his powers are immediately justified. He scans the audience to learn the language, announces he is taking over, then proceeds to defeat the army, encase Washington DC in a block of ice, levitate New York City and then hypnotize every single human being in the world. Actually, I wonder why he bothered with the other stuff and didn't instantly jump to the hypnotize everyone part. But I guess even Unconquerable Aliens need to have their fun.

Apparently, all that fun is also very tiring, because Orrgo then takes a nap. Remember that he's still hanging out at the circus. Remember also that hypnotized animal trainers are notoriously forgetful about feeding their animals. A cranky gorilla--not under control of Orrgo because the alien was tuned into human brain waves--starts looking for someone to blame after he misses dinner.

So the gorilla saves humanity because he wasn't feed properly. Take that, PETA!

It's a fun twist to a fun story. In less than a year, the Marvel Universe would have superheroes around to protect us from threats like this. But we really don't need superheroes, do we? We just need a cranky primate who knows how to throw a punch.

Next week, we join Popeye the Sailor in wondering how you fight a ghost when you can't actually punch them. It's a problem that even a cranky gorilla might not be able to solve.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

I think ammunition expenditure by government agents in the pulps accounts for at least 75% of the national deficit.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: "Mountain Trap" 1/1/43

Outlaws are trading guns to both the Crows and the Blackfeet, which would incite a war between the two tribes. The Ranger & Tonto race to put a stop to this.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Sword Fights, Invisibility Cloaks and Nazi War Criminals

When I stumbled across the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories online, I downloaded it primarily because "Spider Men of Gharr" is pretty much a title that by itself forces one to read the actual story.

But today I want to talk about one of the short stories from this issue--"Raiders of the Second Moon," which is a tale I think is particularly fun. But SPOILER ALERT--after writing several drafts of a review, I discovered this is one of those stories that you simply can't talk about effectively without giving away important plot points.

So I would recommend you read the story HERE (it begins on page 43), then return to this blog to see if you agree with what I have to say. It's only 10 pages long, so it is a quick read.

But the writer (Basil Wells, writing under the name Gene Ellerman) packs a lot of stuff into those 10
pages. It turns out there's a second moon hidden behind Luna--a planetoid called Sekk with a breathable atmosphere and a human civilization. Our hero, though, is from Earth. He's got amnesia, so goes by the name of Noork, called this because he muttered "good 'ol New York" when he first crashed on Sekk. So he doesn't remember that he's an American pilot who had been pursuing a Nazi war criminal. The Nazi had escaped in a home-made space ship. Noork grabbed another prototype ship and pursued. Both ended up on Sekk.

That's actually a pretty impressive resume for a hero, isn't it? A World War II pilot is so determined to catch the Nazi that he tries his hand at flying a space ship he had just then stumbled across. That he crash-landed on Sekk might lose him a few points, but its still pretty cool.

All this background information, by the way, is fed to us gradually throughout the story. In fact, I was at first assuming I was reading part of a series of stories about Noork, since we initially get the impression we are jumping in on a story already in progress. But that's just a side effect of clever plot construction and in the end everything ties together nicely.

Because he has no memory of the Nazi, Noork is caught up in rescuing the beautiful Tholon Sarna, who has been captured by the evil priests of the Temple of the Skull. The priests employ apparently invisible minions known as the Misty Ones.

Noork manages to mark a few Misty Ones by tossing fruit at them, which allows him to then peg one with an arrow. Once again, we can't help but be impressed with him. He just discovered how to battle evil by staging a food fight.

He learns that the Misty Ones use invisibility cloaks. Taking one from the guy he killed, Noork then proceeds to sneak into the Temple of the Skull to rescue Sarna, which turns out to involve several deadly sword fights. But even when he's escaped the Temple with the girl, he still has that pesky Nazi criminal to deal with. And the Nazi has a gun...

"Raiders of the Second Moon" is fast-paced, internally consistent. and---as I said above--really, really fun. It does not break any new ground in the Space Opera genre, but it uses the established mores of that genre to spin an entertaining yarn.

It's not, by the way, the first time a Space Opera tale gives us a second moon. There's another one out there inhabited by vampire frog people. In comparison with that, Noork probably had it pretty easy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Blind Men's Bluff

When Batman is having a tough time taking out some blind guys, then you know he's having a bad day.

Well, actually, the blind guys aren't blind. They're pretending to be blind as part of their cover to commit a major heist. Now, the blind guy who was pretending to be Batman was really blind. He's dead, though. There's another guy pretending to be blind who really is Batman. He's not really blind, nor is he dead, despite Commissioner Gordon's continued insistence that Batman is indeed dead.

All this starts in Batman #204 (August 1968) when a criminal mastermind known as the Schemer decides to rob an armored car that will be transporting a fortune in gold.  He knows that Batman is his greatest threat to success. So he leaves a corpse in a alley--someone dressed as a blind beggar, but who had apparently scratched a "They found out I'm Batman" on the alley wall before dying.

The story, written by Frank Robbins and with evocative art by Irv Novick, does hit a bit of a bump here. Gordon, quite frankly, comes out looking like an idiot throughout the story, convinced on questionable evidence that the dead man is indeed Batman. In fact, even when the real Batman does a Sherlock Scan of the corpse and points out several significant clues indicating the guy really was a blind beggar, Gordon throws a fit and tries to have Real Batman arrested. But if you can get past that part, then you still have a cleverly-plotted, exciting and occasionally creepy (in a good way) story.

A veritable army of blind beggars, none of whom are really blind and several of whom have rocket launchers hidden in their canes, are hanging around Gotham City and are on the lookout for an armored car that will be picking up a shipment of gold from a secret location. With the Batman and the cops all distracted, the Schemer figures out he'll have a clear field to commit his robbery.

But Batman manages to stay a jump ahead of the cops, at one point even knocking out one of the fake beggars and changing clothes with him, fooling Gordon long enough to get away from the cops and get a line on the real bad guys.

That brings us to Batman #205 (September 1968), with the Schemer finally tracking the armored car to the bank where the gold is stored. Here we finally learn the details of his plan--and from the point-of-view of comic book logic, it really is a doozy. He'll be setting off a bright flare to temporarily blind the bank guards. The
sunglasses his men are wearing are all designed to filter out the light of the flare, allowing them to get the gold. I mentioned above that Novick's are is evocative. The panel in which a small army of "blind" men approaches the nervous guards is proof of this. Gee whiz, that's a creepy image.

But Batman, himself now in blind beggar garb, manages to foil the plot at the last moment. By the time the dust settles, the gold has been safely delivered to a transport plane, but Robin has been captured by the Schemer. The Schemer has a back-up plan--the submarine he uses as a secret hideout is equipped with a missile launcher with which he can shoot down the plane carrying the gold. Robin can be used as a hostage to keep Batman from interfering.

Batman (with the help of Alfred piloting the Bat Copter) does indeed interfere, rescuing Robin and stopping the Schemer in the nick of time.

Despite Gordon's two-issue descent into idiocy (and arguably despite the less-than-original name "Schemer" with a stereotypical owl-theme to his appearance), this really is an incredibly fun story. The pacing is non-stop, with the plot running at full speed from start to finish. The twists and turns the story takes are fun and believable within a comic book universe. Batman gets to be legitimately clever on several occasions, as well as being a kick-butt martial artist. And, despite getting captured, Robin plays a key part in the tale and does contribute his share to catching the villain.

Although I can't help but think: If the Schemer hadn't apparently spent a fortune equipping a submarine with an advanced weapons system, he probably wouldn't have to rob gold shipments to get by. Gee whiz, maybe he wasn't that smart after all.

Next week, a gorilla gets really hungry and... saves the world?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Friday, July 1, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dragnet: "Big Actor" 8/10/15

Someone steals narcotics from a Catholic hospital. A scene involving the interrogation of an addict who has no idea what city he lives in is particularly good. So is the part in which Friday & Romero question a subject on a movie set--a brief scene of a cop movie is being shot and the cops have to pause every few seconds while another take is filmed.

Click HERE to listen or download.

The link for today's episode should take you directly to, where downloading it should be much easier than the file-sharing service I've been using. Someone please let me know via a comment if it works okay.

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