Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Shogun Warriors, Part 8

Cover dated July 1980

After a rare weak issue with Shogun Warriors #17, the series ends with a satisfying bang.

Ilongo Savage and his robot Dangard Ace get the spotlight this time in issue #18 when the aliens attack again, sending a giant robot named Megatron to destroy him.

It's just a coincidence that the robot (even bigger than the Shoguns) shares a name with the leader of the Decipticons. The creation of the Transformers mythos is still a few years away at this point. But its a fun coincidence.

The battle is a neat one. An ocean liner is caught in the crossfire, so Savage has to worry about protecting innocents while fighting for his life. It's a situation that Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe have used repeatedly throughout the series, but it makes sense and the variety of monsters the Shoguns have fought keep it from getting stale.

I also enjoy the fact that Savage is desperately calling for help from the other Shoguns. But their communication pendants no longer exist and (at first) neither Carson or Genji happen to be the cockpits of their robots to get his message.

Carson finally does hear the call for help, though, and takes Raydeen through a near-orbit loop to get to Savage quickly. Megatron is big and powerful enough to shrug off even the combined attack of two Shoguns, though. Fortunately, he helpfully acknowledges he can't swim when asked (a contrived moment in an otherwise fun fight scene), so the good guys win by simply knocking him into the ocean.

This, by the way, is the last time we get to see Dangard Ace and Raydeen. The last two issues have all three pilots sharing Combatra's controls. This is a little disappointing, but the story is otherwise coming to a very satisfying conclusion.

I also enjoy some dialogue where Savage calls out the aliens on their motives. They claim they must strip us of advanced tech because we're too primitive to travel into space without endangering the rest of the galaxy. But its the aliens who are showing a complete indifference to innocent lives. That's actually setting up an important plot point for the next few issues.

Cover dated August 1980

The pilots realize they need some help and decide to start by contacting the Fantastic Four. The aliens, who are monitoring all this, are fine with it. Reed Richards, along with all the rest of Earth's super-smartypants guys, is on their hit list. So Primal One--the alien leader--figures this is simply getting all their eggs in one basket.

But there is trouble afoot for Primal One among his allies. We learn he's part of a galactic federation in which various races are sworn to help one another. He's calling on an alien named Captain Cymell to use her really, really, really big robot (named Gigantauron) to help destroy the Shoguns and the FF. She's reluctant to do so, having second thoughts about Primal One's mission. But she's sworn to help, so soon Gigantauron is threatening to literally stomp down a big section of Manhattan.

Reed volunteers the FF to help man Combatra's various components, though I'm not sure he uses his resources in the most effective way. He and Sue will act as pilots, while Ben (who is one of the world's most skilled pilots) is left in the Baxter Building to handle traffic control. Smartest man in the Marvel universe, my eye.

Still, it works out okay. Unable to hurt Gigantauron from the outside, the Torch carves a hole big enough for Genji to get inside. She finds and messes with the robots gyroscope, causing it to fall down and go boom.

Cover dated September 1980

That brings us to the final issue. Cymell uses a tractor beam to recover her robot, but that allows the good guys to follow in Combatra and find her big mother ship. Ironically, she had pretty much decided to quit and leave, no longer able to morally follow Primal One's genocidal lead. But now she feels she has to defend herself.

Combatra finds a way into the alien ship through a disposal chute. Kind of reminds you of the Death Star's thermal exhaust port, doesn't it? Alien ship designers really need to take a safety class on that sort of thing.

The FF fight Cymell's ground troops while Combatra whacks aside some flying robot craft. Eventually, they find Primal One, who appears to be an energy being. It's a chance for Combatra to destroy him, but Genji can't force herself to pull the trigger on a living being. This is the final straw for Cymell, convincing her she's fighting for the wrong side.

 Sue, meanwhile, does some invisible scouting and discovers that Primal One is really an avatar for Maur-Konn, the series' original bad guy. It turns out he (and the Followers of the Light) were all part of the same Galactic federation. Maur-Konn had been kicked out for... well, for being Maur-Konn. He'd been posing as Primal One to trick the federation into helping him destroy the Earth.  It turns out he was also responsible for aiding and funding Dr. Demonicus, tying all the major Shogun Warriors story arcs together.

So, with his final defeat, Shogun Warriors comes to an end. It was a fun book. Doug Moench gave us several interconnected epic-level story arcs that were well-written and followed the logic of a comic book universe very neatly.

 I've early mentioned that Herb Trimpe seemed to be channeling his inner eight-year-old when he designed the various monsters & robots that the Shoguns fight. A giant hand whose fingers detach into separate weaponized vehicles? How cool is that? When an artist uses his sophisticated skills as an adult to channel the imagination of his inner child, it can't help but be cool.

But what will happen to the Shoguns now that their own book is being cancelled? Doug Moench will get a chance to give them a send-off in another book a few months later. We'll take a look at that next week.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

Jimmy Olsen has the reputation for being regularly transformed into something bizarre, but red kryptonite-induced transformations weren't that unusual for Superman.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Inner Sanctum Mysteries: "Mark My Grave" 1/17/49

“A dead man who gets up out of his casket, plays an organ solo, commits a murder, then gets back into the casket. You don’t dare believe it. Because if you do, you’ll never stop screaming.”

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Silent Ship, Silent Sea

This is the last one. Over the past few months, I've been periodically posting about 3 specific novels and an anthology that I remembered reading when I was about 11-years old. For years, I was unable to remember or identify the titles or authors of these books. But recently, I hit the jackpot with all of them. I've written about the two PT boat novels HERE and HERE--and the anthology HERE.

All I remembered about this last one was that it was set on a destroyer fighting in the Pacific. The main character is a young sailor who takes it upon himself to start yelling "Abandon Ship!" when the destroyer is damaged during an air attack. I also remembered he got in trouble for also putting in too much information about the destroyer's location in a letter home. Later, though, he and the captain are the only two still aboard when the the destroyer has been abandoned for real and taken in tow by a Japanese ship. Since I was 11 when I read it, it's not surprising that I also remembered the gruesome detail of the captain killing a Japanese soldier with a fire axe.

The book, I've since discovered, is Silent Ship, Silent Sea (1967), by Robb White--who also wrote Torpedo Run. White has himself been a navy officer, so he knew his stuff and filled his novels with authentic detail.

Even taking into account that its been decades since I've read the book, I was surprised at how much cool stuff in it I'd forgotten. The protagonist is Kelsey Devereux, who was supposed to be on his way to Officer Candidate School, but instead got assigned to the destroyer Caron as a lowly seaman. This alone gets him razzed by his shipmates. When he does start yelling "Abandon Ship!" and convinces several other men to jump overboard with him after an enemy plan crashes into the superstructure, he he becomes the most hated man aboard.

At first, Kelsey seems to be a bit of a jerk. And there's no denying that he was in an immature snit for awhile after joining the Caron. But dealing with bullies and buckling down to do his job helps him mature quickly. Soon, he has a few friends and the captain has taken a slightly more positive view of him.

In the meantime, the Caron is in trouble. The damage from the plane crash is severe enough to get them sent back to Australia. But on the way there, they get hit by a torpedo. With the rest of the nearby Allied ships getting torn apart by the Japanese at the Battle of Savo Island, the Caron is on her own. There's no working radio, the engines aren't working and they have no choice but to ration food and spend over a month drifting to Australia.

The guns work well enough to take out a Japanese sub that surfaces nearby after its fooled into thinking the Caron is abandoned. But a typhoon then rips up most of the remaining weapons and leaves the ship even lower in the water than it already was. The crew now really does abandon ship, swimming to a nearby island--though the Captain stays behind. Kelsey--on his own initiative--also stays behind.

So when a Japanese destroyer shows up, puts a few sailors aboard and takes the Caron in tow, the two Americans have to do something about it. But that means somehow sinking the enemy ship, even though their only available ship-killing weapon is a torpedo without a working propeller.

Silent Ship, Silent Sea is fantastic. The chapter dealing with the typhoon--with a scene in which the damaged ship nearly capsizes--is particularly gripping, though the chapters in which the two Americans silently dispose of the Japanese boarding party and  desperately try to figure out how to blow up the other destroyer is equally enthralling.

Kelsey's character arc is fascinating to follow: You really don't like him that much at first, but then you come to change your mind about him as he progresses as a person along a believable, organic path. And you come to care about the Caron herself as much as both the Captain and Kelsey do.

So that's the last of the World War II novels I've spent my adult life searching for. My quest is finally over. It's a quest I would have gladly spent my fortune and betrayed friends & family to fulfill. Now I don't have to--so everyone I know can now rest easy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Most Innovative Tank-Destroying Technique Ever!

"I Kid You Not" proves that being obese can make you an effective secret weapon while fighting the Nazis.

The story, written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Joe Kubert, appeared in Our Army at War #238 (November 1971). Sgt. Rock and his men are out on patrol when they are joined by a new guy named Horace Smith, who is nicknamed "Heavy" for rather obvious reasons. Heavy, we discover, has always felt like an outsider because of his size.

But he proves remarkably useful. Rock takes his men across a river, which proves to be deeper than it looks. So when they come under machine gun first from a farm house on the opposite shore, they seem to be sitting ducks.

Fortunately, Heavy is also very buoyant. The others are able to use him as a make-shift raft, allowing them to put down some suppressing fire as they finish crossing the river.

This, though, still leaves them pinned down, unable to peek over a ridge of earth at the river's edge without getting shot. But, hey, maybe...just maybe... Heavy might be useful in this situation as well.

Well, by now, Rock has gotten the point. After the farmhouse is captured, a working radio is found in the basement. This, Heavy's buoyancy and one of the other soldier's ability to speak German gives Rock an idea worthy of Mission Impossible.

A call is put out to the Germans, asking for some tanks to drive off an American attack. When the tanks arrived, they are told to follow Heavy (now wearing an ill-fitting German uniform) across the river. He'll guide them through the shallow area. Sure, he will.

The panel that follows is a wonderfully entertaining image. Kubert's art had a rawness and power to it that made him perfect for war comics and Tarzan stories, but its nice to get a reminder that he had a humorous side.

Heavy, by now, has earned his place in the squad. For the first time in his life, he's just one of the gang. It's a nice ending for a war story that manages to insert legitimately sweet and/or funny moments amidst all the violence.

So there you have it. If you're carrying a little too much weight, don't worry about it. You don't need Weight Watchers or Nutra-Slim or any of that nonsense. Instead, you should be out bringing fascism to its knees. Get to it.

Next week, we pay one last visit to the Shogun Warriors.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Special note about the OTR shows I post

Over the years, I've used several different hosting services for the OTR shows I post every Friday. Each of these eventually proved unreliable in one way or the other. A few months ago, I started doing what I should have done in the first place--provide a link to the show on, where listening to it or downloading it is very reliable and straightforward.

I am gradually going back through my old posts to update the links for the old shows. This will almost always now take you to, but I've occasionally used another link when I couldn't find a specific episode at Archive.

I'll be doing this gradually over the next few months, but eventually, you'll be able to click on the Friday's Favorite OTR link on the right side of the blog, page through this and easily download any of the shows you are interested in. So far, I've finished the 2016 posts and made progress through the 2015 posts.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Lux Radio Theater: "Destroyer" 4/3/44

Edward G. Robinson reprises his role from the movie Destroyer as a grizzled Boson's Mate who comes out of retirement to help whip the crew of a new destroyer into shape.

Click HERE to listen or download

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Every Good Secretary Will Risk Getting Shot For Her Boss

Read/Watch 'em in Order #74

In each of the last five looks at Erle Stanley Gardner's stories about two-fisted lawyer Ken Corning, I identified the setting as New York City. Now I consider myself a good reader--I don't skim and I have good comprehension skills.

But despite this, I mentally replaced "York City" in every story with "New York City." Perhaps its because Gardner dropped Perry Mason into a real-life city. But Ken Corning was set in a faux NYC with the "New" dropped from it. Gee whiz.

I finally caught my error when I read the last story: "Blackmail with Lead" (Black Mask, August 1933). I now know that Corning works out of York City, not New York City. Just in time for this excellent series to come to an end.

Corning, as usual,takes on a case that pits him directly against the corrupt city administration. But why do the politicians care about this case? The victim was a hobo. The man accused of the murder is a hobo. Why does anybody care?

Corning at first hasn't the slightest idea. He searches for the truth--a task made harder because his client isn't telling the whole truth when he gives Corning an alibi.

The lawyer soon finds a witness who has some important information. But the witness is arrested by the cops for bootlegging and, when the charges are suddenly dropped, she suddenly changes her story.

This leaves Corning with the task of running down whatever tiny clues he can dig up and trying to make something out of them. This actually pays off, but to get to the whole truth, he has to ask Helen Vail, his loyal secretary, to act as bait to catch a killer. Helen, as usual, treats this sort of thing as a normal part of her job.

1933 was the same year Gardner published the first Perry Mason novel. In this story, Perry was a two-fisted tough guy who acted more like a hard-boiled P.I. than a lawyer--just like Ken Corning. Perry had a loyal secretary who would go above-and-beyond to help her boss--just like Ken Corning.

The Perry Mason novels were incredibly successful, so (even though Perry evolved into a less hard-boiled character) Gardner continued this particular template with those novels. Corning's career came to an abrupt end.

Well, we can't complain about Perry Mason--his existence in the pop culture universe is something we wouldn't want to live without. But Corning had his own personality and his stories--centering much more on political corruption and dirty cops--had a vibe different from the Mason novels. It would have been nice to visit with Ken a few more times.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tarzan Runs Into an Awful Lot of Dinosaurs, Doesn't He?

There are lots of dinosaurs in Africa. I've been to Africa a number of times on mission trips and I'll admit I have yet to personally see a dinosaur. But they're out there. They must be. Tarzan, for instance, has run into them a number of times. And if you can't trust Tarzan, then who can you trust?

Tarzan #228 (February 1974) tells us about one of Tarzan's dino-encounters. Written and drawn by Joe Kubert, it gives us an absolutely wonderful cover, then dives right into an equally wonderful story.

[By the way, when DC got the rights to Tarzan in 1972, the first issue was #207. The last Gold Key issue was #206, so DC simply continued with that sequence. They actually depended on interest in the character and cool covers to sell their book rather than create an artificial collector's item with a "first issue." Hurray for depending on quality to sell a comic book!]

Tarzan is exploring the jungle when he runs into a saber-tooth tiger. He dispatches this, but then gets captured by pygmies.

The tiger, it seems, isn't the only prehistoric beastie wandering about the area. A dinosaur--unknown species of carnivorous sauropod--is a constant danger for the pygmies. The chief of the tribe has hit on the idea of giving the dinosaur regular sacrifices to keep it appeased. Today's menu will be one Ape Man and two Maidens. 

One of the poor girls gets eaten, but this ticks off Tarzan. And you do not want to ever tick off Tarzan. He manages to snap his bonds, grab the surviving girl and leap over the palisade that surrounds the pygmy village. The monster simply crashes through the palisade in pursuit of its dinner.

The pygmy chief is himself ticked off by this, but a rampaging dinosaur in his village limits his available options for dealing with the situation. Though his go-to option--RUN AWAY--is still possible. He goes with that one. That leaves Tarzan on his own.
The monster's skin is tough enough to turn aside most spear thrusts, but Tarzan manages to hog-tie it long enough to plunge a spear into its soft belly. He then gives the chief a good talking-to, pointing out that the tribe could have killed the beast long ago, but the chief's cowardice prevented this.  

The story is straightforward and very well-constructed, with excellent art (there is a rawness to Kubert's style that makes him particularly effective in stories like this one) and a very well-choreographed fight against the dinosaur. 

So there we have it. There are dinosaurs in Africa. I'm hoping to be able to visit an orphanage in Congo sometimes soon, so I'll keep my eyes open. Maybe I'll see the Mokele-mbembe. If I go to Africa often enough, I've got to see a dinosaur sooner or later. I've just got to!

Next week, there's more Joe Kubert as we return to World War II and discover that being obese is actually a good thing.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

Getting brained on your skull by a skull. The villain is no doubt evil, but he has a nice sense of irony.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Frontier Gentleman: "A Horse for Kendall" 9/14/58

Kendall gets involved in a 300-mile horse race. The other horses are faster than his--but this is a case where slow and steady might just really be the way to win a race.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Climb a Cliff and Fight a Battle

I've been writing about my quest to find a few World War II-themed novels I read as an 11-year-old. I remembered plot points and (in one case) a character's name, but for years did not have quite enough information to zero in on titles and authors. This changed this year and (with the help of a Goodreads forum dedicated to identifying vaguely remembered books), I've found them all.

Two of them involved PT boats--I've written about them HERE and HERE. This next one, though, was trickier to find. It's an anthology and what I remembered was the general plots of two of the stories in it.

Fortunately, I have awesome deductive reasoning skills (and would, in fact, be regularly solving murders if anyone I knew would have the good grace to get murdered or be falsely accused of murder). I found a clue online that helped me identify the book.

It's an anthology published in 1964 as More Combat Stories of World War II and Korea, which was reprinted in 1969 as The Zone of Sudden Death. This was written by William Chamberlain and contained both short stories and novellas that originally appeared in the Saturday Evening Post during the 1950s and 1960s.

Chamberlain was a great writer and it's a pity he seems to have dropped into obscurity. His stories are historically accurate, realistic and exciting--made even more suspenseful by his habit to abruptly kill off likable characters at any moment. I'm a little surprised that I didn't remember more of these stories--though it's possible that for some reason I didn't originally read them all.

The theme of effective and inspiring leadership runs through nearly every one of his stories. The main protagonist is almost always an officer. They are battalion, regiment or division commanders who are given tough jobs to do, but lead from the front to make sure their men do the job. Chamberlain understood the qualities a leader in real life must have and effectively incorporated this into his fiction. This is not surprising--Chamberlain had been a career army officer, retiring as a general in 1946.

The first of the two stories I remembered is "Reluctant Hero," originally published in the Post in July 1961. The narrator is a battalion commander fighting in the Pacific island-hopping campaign, but the protagonist is a front-line soldier named Tom Minor. Despite a record of drunkenness and going AWOL back in the States, Tom has proved to be a great soldier who exhibits strong leadership skills. We meet him when he plays a key role in stopping a banzai charge.

Tom gets several promotions, eventually becoming an officer and a company commander. But when he's awarded a Silver Star, he refuses it. The reason why gradually unfolds as the story continues.

The other story I remember is a novella titled "Battle Party," set during the Italian campaign. (Originally published in the Post in September 1961.)

Here the main character is a newly-minted one-star general named Dave Mosby. This means Dave will be moved out of the regimental commander position he had, but not before he completes one more job. A big attack is going to be launched in a few days. But in order for that to succeed, the Germans will first have to be pushed off a mountain that overlooks the battlefield. Dave's regiment is given the job.

His plan is to lead one battalion up a steep cliff, hauling mortars and machine guns up behind them on ropes. This should achieve surprise and allow them to hold the mountain top until the rest of the regiment travels up a pass to join them. Then it's a matter of holding out for a few days until the big attack is launched.

In addition to crossing rough terrain, there are a couple of other problems. Dave is still recovering from a wound and the winter weather leaves him susceptible to pneumonia. And, when the bulk of the regiment makes its way up the pass, Dave's overly-cautious executive officer dawdles, taking hours longer on the trip than he should and allowing the Germans to wear down the battalion that's already entrenched on the mountain.

The story is peppered with a great cast of supporting characters and the battle scenes are among the best in the book. It's really no wonder "Battle Party" made such an impression on 11-year-old me. Heck, it made an impression on grown-up me.

We have one more World War II novel to visit, then we'll have finished our journey through my childhood reading experience.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Comics Meet Real Life: D-Day

The Longest Day, the epic 1962 movie about D-Day, was released about two years before Dell's Combat #11 (January-March 1964). So, in the days before movies were expected to earn their profits more gradually and stuck around the theaters longer, the decision to do an issue highlighting the Normandy invasion might be related to that.

Also, the comic book hits pretty much the same highlights the movie (and the Cornelius Ryan book upon which the movie is based) hits. But, of course, a lot of those highlights are the historically important ones, so that's not so odd by itself. Also, 1964 was the 20th anniversary of the invasion, which also might have been a factor.

Whether Dell was inspired by the movie, the comic itself is a really good one. It has wonderful Sam Glanzman art throughout and, though we are given a couple of fictional point-of-view characters, does an effective job of giving us an historically accurate overview of the invasion.

We see, for instance, that the paratroopers who landed in the early morning hours were scattered all over the place, forcing them to scrounge for equipment and slap together ad hoc units to accomplish their missions.

There's a few panels given over to the capture of an important bridge by British commandos. It's this, actually, that makes me think that the movie inspired the idea for the comic. In real life, the British discovered--after capturing the bridge--that the Germans had never planted demolition charges on it. In the movie, the producers opted to add drama to the battle by showing the British disarm the charges in the nick of time.

The comic also implies the bridge actually is rigged to blow--though again, to be fair, this is in the form of an officer telling his men to check for explosives and does not show them actually finding them. But the comic doesn't make it clear that the explosives were never attached to the bridge.

Other key moments are covered, such as Teddy Roosevelt Jr's decision at Utah Beach to continue to land troops at the "wrong" location after the first wave goes astray. Once again, these are moments the movie choose to feature as well, but are legitimately important in historical terms.

Several pages concentrate on Omaha Beach, where American troops ran into a meat-grinder, but eventually managed to fight their way inland. Like the movie, though, the comic does give time as well to the efforts of British, Canadian and French troops.

The movie ends with a paratrooper (who has been wandering around lost for the entire day) tiredly wondering who won. The comic book hits a similar personal note, with a soldier who is just glad he has personally survived. It's a nice moment--one that doesn't ignore the historic importance of the invasion, but acknowledges that each soldier, sailor and paratrooper who fought was an individual human being.

So, whether or not the movie's existence convinced Dell to do a D-Day issue, Combat #11 is a successful venture into real life, giving readers an accurate depiction of the D-Day invasion and an appreciation of how important a day it was.

The comic is in the public domain now and can be read HERE.

Next week, we drop back into fantasy. Well, fantasy if you don't believe there are dinosaurs still living in some areas of Africa. But who doesn't believe that?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke: "Target" 6/22/58

A father alienates his son because of his tough and merciless personality. The son is also in love with a girl from the gypsy camp that's squatting on his father's land. These factors come together in a recipe for tragedy.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Rigging a Game to Catch a Killer

 Read/Watch 'em In Order #73

The next-to-last Ken Corning story ("Devil's Fire"--Black Mask, July 1933) is another fast-moving and fun adventure, though the ending is arguably a little weak.

The dirty NYC cops are once again framing an innocent man. Well, actually Corning's client this time around probably doesn't quality as innocent, but Corning doesn't think he has committed the particular crime of which he has been accused.

But there doesn't seem any possible way the client (George Pyle) could be innocent. He was in the street with the victim, clearly angry with him. There was a shot that witnesses say came from near Pyle. A woman saw him running away from the crime and toss a pistol away. The pistol is found and has Pyle's fingerprints on it.

Corning finds a friendly witness and stashes the guy away in a rooming house. But the friendly witness turns unfriendly and accuses Corning (in front of a police officer) of trying to suborn perjury. Corning quickly calls his secretary and sets up an improvised con on the cops, convincing them that certain conversations between  Corning and the witness had been recorded.

I love that part. Helen Vail, Corning's secretary, proves just as quick on her feet as her boss--adding several elements to the con on her own initiative that add verisimilitude to it. It continues to be clear that Erle Stanley Gardner is developing the character dynamic that he will use so successfully in the Perry Mason novels. Heck, the last two stories even had Corning employing the same detective agency for extra assistance.

But avoiding charges against himself doesn't get Corning any closer to clearing his client. To do this, Corning will have to set up yet another con--this one using a rigged target-shooting contest to flush out the real killer.

That's the part of the story I'm a little torn about. On the one hand, the con is a clever one and the end result is logical. But it was in no way a sure thing. Corning himself admits that his plan only had a one-in-a-thousand chance of working. So he successfully clears his client pretty much because he got really lucky.

Still, no one else would have caught the real killer at if it weren't for his plan. I felt the ending was a very small cheat, but this is very much a subjective opinion. And the rest of the story really is a lot of fun.

Just one more Ken Corning story to go, though. The first Perry Mason story would see print that same year and Gardner's other characters would begin a slow, sad slide into obscurity.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Comics Meet Real Life--Crazy Horse

Cover art by Gene Fawcette

In 1950, Avon Periodicals--one of the many comic book publishers active in that fun decade, published a one-shot titled Chief Crazy Horse--a biography of the famous Sioux war chief.

I've actually never read a detailed biography of Crazy Horse, though I am familiar with him from any number of histories of the West and the Indian wars that I have read. I know that Crazy Horse was a brave man and a skilled leader & tactician. It is my understanding that in person he was shy and unassuming and that he had a real desire to look after women, children and the elderly. He was, I believe, a pretty cool guy.

History is often more complicated than either popular culture or political correctness portrays it. There were good men and bad men among both whites and Native Americans during the Indian Wars and the Plains Indians culture was hardly one of moral purity. But it was a time when the United States was simply in the wrong regarding how we treated the Indians. It's one of the great tragedies of history that Crazy Horse was forced to become an enemy rather than a friend. 

The comic book we're looking at today deals with this and--as far as telling an effective story--it isn't bad. It does have to be said that the art (with two of the three chapters credited to Rudy Palais) is mediocre. None of the Indians have an individual look--you have to depend on dialogue to tell them apart. The battle scenes depend too much on tight shots, failing to give us a sense of the scope of the events. The script is perhaps too dialogue-heavy, though to be fair the unknown writer had a lot of information to unload over the course of 21 pages.

But despite these failures, the book does give us an effective and fairly accurate outline (as far as my inexpert knowledge is concerned) of Crazy Horse's life. And some of the individual panels are quite good.

The first of the three chapters recounts Crazy Horse's early life, when he was known as Curley and proved his courage in battle against rival tribes, building up his reputation as a warrior and a leader. The second chapter jumps ahead to the Fetterman Fight (1866), in which the Sioux attacked some men cutting wood outside Fort Phil Kearny, luring a relief force led by Captain William Fetterman out of the fort. Fetterman and all his men were ambushed and killed.

In real life, Crazy Horse was a part of the battle, though I believe the comic book makes him a more prominent leader than he actually was at the time. Also, the comic shows the Sioux attacking Fort Kearny right after the Fetterman fight and burning it to the ground. What actually happened was the U.S. eventually capitulated to Sioux demands and abandoned the fort.

The last chapter jumps ahead to Little Big Horn and the aftermath. It's here more than any other chapter that I wish the page count had been higher. We literally rush past Custer's defeat in just two panels.

Fortunately, Crazy Horse's death gets more space. We find out that lies were told about him by other Sioux jealous of his popularity. He was asked to come to Fort Robinson to answer accusations that he was plotting the assassination of a general. Once there, he was arrested (over the objections of the cavalry officer who escorting him in--though the comic only hints at this) and, when he struggled with his captors, he was killed.

In real life, he was bayoneted. In the comic book, he's shot in the back. This was before the panic over violence in comic books, but perhaps the editors at Avon still thought a bayonet in the back was too gruesome. Or perhaps the writer had one of his facts wrong. In the end, that's actually just a detail. Showing us how Crazy Horse was lured to his death is the important part.

So what we have is a reasonably accurate if very broad biography of the Sioux warrior. Yes, the art could have been better and a little more space to tell the story would have been nice. (There is a nine-page back-up story in the issue that could have been dropped to give the biography more space.) But the comic does give us a sense of how awesome a man Crazy Horse was.

This issue is in the public domain and you can read it HERE.

Next week, we have the second half of Comics Meet Real Life when we land with the Allies at Normandy.
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