Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Sam Spade: "Critical Author Caper" 8/15/48

A simple missing persons case becomes complicated when the girl Spade is hired to find both claims to be a potential murder victim AND has a tendency to slug Spade over the head when he's not looking.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Trumpets West

I believe the Western to be the father of the hard-boiled detective story--it was the Western that made the laconic and/or snarky loner a hero in so many stories. This template eventually became an important part of the hard-boiled P.I. That's why Robert Parker, who reinvigorated the hard-boiled P.I. story with his Spenser novels starting in the 1970s, was able to so smoothly add Westerns to his bibliography later in his career.

"Trumpets West," a novella by Luke Short that was originally published in the July 1945 issue of Argosy, is another good example of this. It's a Western--a story that centers around a conflict between the Cavalry and the Apache. But its also a crime story involving corruption and ruthless double-crosses.

The protagonist is Lt. Burke Hanna, who begins the story with good reason to be angry with his commanding officer. He had been out looking for Ponce, an Apache chief who had left the reservation with a large band of warriors. The local Indian agent had been shorting the Apaches on beef and pocketing what he saved. Ponce had left to raid surrounding settlements simply to get his people enough food.

Hanna, with a troop of soldiers, tracked Ponce down and gave the chief most of the troop's rations as part of an inducement to return to the reservation. But then he receives orders to remain on patrol despite a lack of food, with requests for more rations refused. By the time Hanna's men get back to the fort, they've had to eat most of their horses to survive.

The trouble is heightened by the fact that the C.O. is engaged to the daughter of the corrupt Indian agent, so blocks any efforts by Hanna to see that justice is done and the Indians get the beef they were promised.

The resultant shenanigans end with Hanna in the brig. But when Ponce breaks out of the reservation again, Hanna is the only person who has any real chance of running him down. He's released from the brig and allowed back in the field. But when Ponce is cornered and a pitched battle begins, the corrupt Indian agent has plans to make sure Hanna does not return alive. It's a plan that might get a lot of other soldiers killed as well. "Trumpets West" has a Film Noir-ish feel to it even while it also does its job as a traditional Western.

The climatic battle is fantastic, with Short doing a great job of explaining the tactical situation while still keeping his prose fast-moving and exciting. I've written about Luke Short several times this year, because I've only recently discovered how good a writer he was and I'm enjoying delving into his work. "Trumpets West" is perhaps my favorite so far. The characters are well-defined, with a strong protagonist and despicable but believable villains. I especially like Hanna's attitude towards Ponce--he respects the chief and will risk his career to see the Apaches are treated like human beings. But when Ponce breaks reservation, Hanna doesn't hesitate to do his duty as a soldier, even if it means fighting.

Dell's Four Color #875 (Feb. 1958) brought us a really good adaptation of "Trumpets West," written by Paul S. Newman and with interior art by Mike Roy. (Sam Savitt painted the wonderful cover you see to the left.) It's interesting to compare it to the original story.

The novella begins with Hanna bringing his hungry and exhausted patrol back into the fort. Short then gives us the background information we need through conversation and when Hanna reports to his C.O.  

This is all done smoothly and effectively, but Paul S. Newman realized that a comic book story
needed a more visual bang out of the starting gate. So he shows us Hanna's patrol, negotiations with Ponce and the brutal necessity of shooting horses to get meat for his men. When we do get to dialogue-heavy pages, it's handled well without slowing things down because not as much dialogue is necessary as was used in the original prose. It's a neat example of how different mediums can have different storytelling requirement to tell the same story.

The comic book also drops a character completely. Short gave Hanna a fiance named Calla. She's a strong character in her own right--intelligent and supportive of Hanna no matter what he is accused of over the course of the tale. But, as much as I like the story, it is true that Calla simply doesn't get to do anything that actually affects the plot. Her disappearance from the comic book is a wise decision--making more room for the actual story.

The final battle is slightly edited as well, with the action condensed to fit the entire story into the required page count. It means we lose a couple of really cool bits from the novella, but artist Mike Roy expertly lays out of the action that remains and it follows the same logical pattern as it did in the novella.

Roy's art is clean I really like his compositions. To my eye, his figure work can sometimes be a little bit stiff, but I do like his art here.

So "Trumpets West" is worth reading either as a prose story or a comic book tale.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tonto's Solo Career, part 1

cover art by Ernest Nordli

The Lone Ranger was popular in part because he had cool friends. There's a long list of other reasons, but Tonto and Silver were definitely factors in elevating how awesome the Ranger was.

In fact, Dell Comics realized that Tonto and Silver were both awesome enough on their own to rate their own comic books. Tonto was particularly good, with strong stories and great art (often by Alberto Giolitti).

Tonto #11 (May-July 1953) contains two Tonto stories that are such fun, I couldn't decide which to review. So I simply won't decide. I'll review the first story this week and we'll look at the second one next week.

There are several things I like about "War Party." Westerns in this time frame usually used Indians as default bad guys. Occasionally, fiction would go the Noble Savage route and imply that Indian cultures were either idyllic or simply better than everyone else. (This became more common in films and TV shows as time went on.)

Dell Comics did often use Indians as bad guys, but overall, the writers seemed to have a healthy appreciation of the fact that there is both good and evil in all cultures and that any culture will have elements to it that are legitimately open to moral criticism. Indians were good guys or bad guys depending largely on the needs of individual stories, but the end result was a more balanced view of human nature than we usually saw in Westerns from any media.

We see this in this particular story. Tonto is heading home to visit his tribe when he's ambushed and captured by a party of Crow warriors led by Black Beaver. Black Beaver, by the way, is a monumental jerk, waiting to attack the tribe only after the tribe's leader (Stone Bear) and his warriors are away on a hunt. Black Beaver plans on proving his courage by capturing women and children.

Fortunately for Tonto, he has a horse that is easily as cool as Silver. Scout rescues his human friend and they make a beeline for Stone Bear's village.

With the warriors gone, Tonto arms the youth and older men, then leads the tribe to a hopefully safe place.

They repulse an attack by the Crow. But, though Black Beaver might be a jerk, he is clever. He and some of him men have circled around during the fighting and captured the women.

Tonto tails the Crows, who hold up on top of a mountain, in a seemingly impregnable position. By now, Stone Bear and his warriors have returned, but there seems to be no way to get to the enemy and rescue the women.

Stone Bear wants to cut off the Crow from their own territory and wait them out, but Tonto has another idea. If they can make an admittedly dangerous climb up one side of the mountain, they can catch the Crow with their pants down. (Loin cloths down?)

Giolitti's line work and compositions are particularly good here. The climb up the mountain is really tense and the final battle against the Crow is exciting. The action culminates when Tonto and Black Beaver go up against one another and Black Beaver gets one more chance to prove he's a monumental jerk before plunging to his death.

There's a subtle but nice touch at the end. Stone Bear makes a very wise decision about what to do with the captured Crow warriors. There may have been a temptation to have Tonto step in and suggest a solution--Tonto is, after all, the hero of the story. But the uncredited writer realized that Stone Bear was the chief and we needed to see evidence that he was a good chief and effective leader on his own without Tonto pulling his strings.

Also, the dialogue is in English, but it is presumably being translated for us from the Indians' own language. Notice that Tonto is speaking in grammatically proper sentences. It's a shout-out to the fact that though he never did get the hang of English pronouns, this doesn't reflect on his natural intelligence. 

The story is available online at a website about Giolitti. As I mentioned early, next week will be a review of the second story from this issue.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

Several issues of EC's Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales were special Civil War issues.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

X Minus One: "Junkyard" 2/22/56

A space ship is stranded on a planet because the crew is gradually losing its knowledge of how to operate the ship.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Edward G. Robinson Film Festival--Part 1

I recently bought a 4-movie DVD set featuring Edward G. Robinson in some great Warner Brothers films from the 1930s. I thought it might be fun to write about them on my blog, spreading them out over a couple of months.

Bullets or Ballots (1936) is a fun movie in that it took Robinson (then still known primarily for playing bad guys) and made him the good guy.  I suspect that this was in part done for the same reason James Cagney ended up playing a federal agent in 1935's G-Men. There were worries that Cagney and Robinson were making gangsters seem too cool, so the studio had them switch sides. Both films are also effectively directed by William Keighley.

If so, I'm fine with this. These are great films in their own right.

In Bullets, Robinson is Johnny Blake, a tough but scrupulously honest cop who forces thugs and hoods to tip his hat to him. But political pressure has gotten him reassigned, so that he is no longer able to go after the big rackets that are pretty much running the city.

But when a crusading newspaperman is killed, the political winds change. A new commissioner is given carte blanche to clean up the city. The commissioner is a friend of Blake's, so that  should mean Blake is set loose on the mobs, right?

Wrong. Blake is fired for inefficiency. He slugs the new commissioner and vows to look out for number one.

Blake has had a sort of friendly rivalry with  Al Kruger (played by Barton MacLane), the nominal head of the mob. Kruger asks Blake to come over to the Dark Side. Blake agrees.

I suppose its a spoiler to tell you that Blake is actually still a cop, working deep undercover. But anyone who doesn't figure this out fairly promptly just isn't trying. This is, arguably, the one aspect of the movie that can make it feel dated. At the time, this would have been a pretty effective plot twist. But 80 years later, we've seen it in a million movies and TV shows.

Heck, even a lot of the gangsters in the film never really trust him. Most notably, he never does get on Nick Fenner's Christmas card list. Fenner (played by Humphrey Bogart, who is a few years shy of achieving leading man status) is Kruger's number two man. He hates Blake from the get-go and hates him even more when Blake seems likely to jump ahead of him in the mob hierarchy.

This leads to a lot of tension between Kruger and Fenner. But then, these two are played by MacLane and Bogie. I'm pretty sure it was actually a federal law that any characters played by those two had to end up enemies.

While this is going on, Blake is feeding information to the cops. But the final crackdown can't come until Blake learns who the real bosses are--a secret cartel of businessmen who give Kruger his orders.

Joan Blondell is the love interest. She's another interesting character--running a numbers racket and making some nice money at it. She and Blake obviously like each other, though he's too dedicated to his work to have ever pursued her. Eventually, his supposed involvement with the mob puts him in the dog house with her--he's eventually obligated to force her out of business when the mob takes over the racket.

Blondell is great in the part, but I do have a minor issue with her character. The movie makes a point of telling us that rackets that gradually suck people into wasting their money are hurtful. But pretty young Joan gets a pass on this--her numbers game is presented as harmless until the mob moves in on it. Her character arc needed some stronger recognition that what she did was wrong, even if she herself didn't see it.

But that really is a minor glitch. Backed by Warner Brothers' usual stable of great character, Robinson, MacLane and Blondell present us with a great movie.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Day in the Death of a World

It must be nice to have a super-power that involves taking a nap. Dream Girl, member of the 30th Century's Legion of Superheroes, has that advantage. Her power is having prophetic dreams.

She actually isn't in this particular story--"A Day in the Death of the World" from Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #231(September 1977). But it was her power to take naps that sets off the story when she foresees the sun of the planet Mordan would soon go nova. So a half-dozen of the most powerful members of the Legion is now frantically working to build enough space arks to evacuate the planet. Three more of them--Sun Boy, Element Lad and Braniac 5--are in space working to slow down the star's death.

The situation gets worse. Karate Kid and Princess Projecta are heading to Mordan to help when their ship is attacked by the Fatal Five--one of the Legion's most powerful enemies. The two heroes are captured. Soon after, the Five launch a two-pronged attack on the two groups of Legionaries at Mordan.

It turns out that if Mordan blows up, its unique composition will cause it to turn into a fantastically valuable mineral. Tharok--the human/robot smartypants member of the Five--has even planted a bomb in the sun to intensify the force of the Nova.

The story is written by Paul Levitz. As much as I love the Silver Age stories written by Edmond Hamilton and Jim Shooter, Levitz may have been the best of the Legion writers. Here, for instance, he effectively and succinctly sets up a sophisticated plot, then has events unfold logically within that plot. The various Legionaries use their individual powers cleverly, often in tandem with one another.

The art work, divided between James Sherman for the first chapter and Mike Netzer for the finale, is clean and dynamic, including several really fun splash panels.

There's some downright clever elements to the story. For instance, when Karate Kid and Princess Projecta escape and raise havoc aboard Tharok's ship, we assume this will be a part of how the Legion gets the upper hand. But they are re-captured and it is the fact that they can't take any effective action that plays a part in the resolution.
There another interesting element to the story--it's very minor, but I wouldn't be writing a blog like this if I didn't enjoy obsessing over details.

At one point, Superboy directly attacks Tharok's ship, but can't penetrate a force field. We soon learn that it is literally an anti-Legionaries field. It will keep out any member of the Legion and their ships, but not anything else.

No technobabble or Comic Book Logic is given to explain how it works. Levitz just trusts us to accept that Tharok has the know-how and technology to build such a thing, then moves along with the story.

Or he couldn't think of an explanation that sound right and just figured "The heck with it."

Certainly, technobabble can be overused--anyone who has watched episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager knows that.  But I wonder if maybe there should have been something added here for verisimilitude--maybe the force field keys on the specific life force readings of specific Legionaries. (Though that doesn't explain how it would keep out Legion ships, does it?)

On the other hand, is it necessary to slow down a fast-moving tale (even for a moment) to provide exposition that isn't really necessary? It is a comic book universe set in the far future, anti-superhero force fields really aren't much of a stretch.

The story ends with several nice twists. The Legion gets access to Tharok's ship by shoving Ultra Boy and Colossal Boy into a hollow asteroid and throwing them at the ship. Thus the force field doesn't block something it doesn't recognize as part of the Legion.

Once inside, they pull off a con that Tharok assumes must be real (because he has Princess Projecta a prisoner and knows it can't be an illusion) to trick him into thinking the sun has gone nova and the Five has lost its chance to collect the valuable element. Though the Five manage to get away, the Legion now has time to finish evacuating the planet.

It's a satisfying conclusion to a well-constructed and exciting story.

Next week, Tonto proves he doesn't need a Lone Ranger around to be awesome.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

As the cover says, Red-Blooded Stories was renamed Tales of Danger & Daring. Frankly, I like the original title better.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Fort Laramie: "Winter Soldier"  6/17/56

A Winter Soldier is a guy who joins the cavalry during the winter to get food and shelter, then deserts in the spring. But what happens when a Winter Soldier is suddenly forced to be a real soldier?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

One More PT Boat Book

I may be at risk of alienating what few regular readers I have, but for the fourth time over the last few months, I'm going to write about a young adult novel that deals with PT boats during World War II.

Two of the novels (HERE & HERE) were among some books I read as a kid and only recently identified and read again. During that quest, I also stumbled across two other PT boat books that might have been among those books, but it turned out they were not. So I was reading these two for the first time. One of them was Torpedo Run, by Robb White. The other is Thunderboats, Ho!, written by Rutherford C.Montgomery in 1946. 

Like The Hostile Beaches and Torpedo Run on Iron Bottomed Bay, this one is set during the Solomon Islands campaign. That probably is the most interesting setting for a PT boat story--there was a variety of different missions on which the little craft could be sent. For instance, in the other novels, we've seen  them attack large warships, hunt barges sneaking supplies to the Japanese on Guadalcanal, and deliver equipment to coast watchers on enemy-held islands. 

In Thunderboats, Ho!, the PT boat crewed by the main characters is sent out night after night after the Japanese ships that are bombarding the marines on Guadalcanal. Montgomery was writing this right after the war and only a couple of years after the Guadalcanal campaign. It's obvious he did his research, presenting the action against an historically accurate background. (I'm afraid I don't know anything about him, so I don't know if he himself served.) In fact, like John Clagett did in Torpedo Run on Iron Bottomed Bay, he also shows us that the PT boat crews had ringside seats to watch the naval Battle of Guadalcanal, in which battleships and cruisers shot each other to pieces.

I will say that the nature of a secret mission on which the boat is sent halfway through the novel does not exactly drip with realism (it involves an unlikely way for the Japanese to deploy an aircraft carrier), but if you just go with it, you'll have fun. 

Montgomery handles action sequences extremely well, generating excitement and suspense as needed to keep us interested as we read. He might use the "PT Boat must zig-zag to avoid gunfire from warships" scene one or two times more than he should, but he manages to get some variety in when the boat is sent on a mission that takes them well into enemy territory. After they complete the mission, the need to conserve fuel and find more fuel when they run low is effectively used to drive the action. An attempt to steal gasoline from a Japanese base and later take out a sniper are particularly tense scenes. The climatic action scene is a ground combat action on a beach with some of the crew against enemy troops that does keep you on the edge of your seat.

The book's weakness, especially compared to the other PT boat books I've read, is the lack of characterization. The point-of-view character is Mike Moran, the boat's captain. He and the rest of the crew are likable enough, but the only thing that differentiates them from each other are their names. No real effort to give them individual and real personalities exist.

The one exception to this is Malope, a native who joins the crew to act as their guide during their secret mission. Malope is awesome. We're never told if there is an English translation for his name, but it pretty much has to be "Death to All Japanese." Like most natives of the Solomon Islands, Malope has little reason to love the Japanese and he makes good use of his knife to show his displeasure with them. Speaking in pidgin English, Malope can superficially be seen as the sort of racial stereotype common in fiction of that time. But he's accepted as an equal by the crew and probably does more to get help them complete their mission than anyone else. Malope is indeed awesome and the most memorable character in the book.

Well, that's it for PT boats. I promise. I've run out of PT boat novels. FOR NOW!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Scientist and Private Eye

When Alex Raymond left the military after World War II, he found himself in need of work. Flash Gordon--the comic strip he had illustrated before the war--as still going strong, but the syndicate that owned it (King Features) was happy with Austin Briggs, who took over the strip when Raymond enlisted, and declined to give the Flash back to Raymond. But Raymond's name was still a draw and they didn't want to lose him to another syndicate.

So editor Ward Greene came up with an idea for a detective character--someone who would break the mold of the hard-boiled P.I. that populated much of of pulp fiction and comics. This character was eventually named Rip Kirby. The bespectacled, pipe-smoking Kirby was a very academic looking guy. In fact, he actually was an academic--an accomplished scientist and author. But he was also a Marine veteran and could more than handle himself in either a gun fight or a fist fight. These were skills he would need, as the cases in which he would be involved often involved murder and kidnapping. The bad guys Rip would face off against were quite brutal.

Raymond would draw the strip and get sole published credit, though Ward Greene and later Fred Dickenson would write it.

  Rip Kirby debuted on March 4, 1946, with Greene and Raymond doing an excellent job of establishing Rip's character and background and tossing him into a murder investigation in just the first two days.

We also, by the way, meet Kirby's butler Desmond, a reformed burglar who is more than willing to get into the thick of things along with his boss. In fact, in a later story arc, Desmond saves Kirby with some expert pistol work, picking off a pair of hitmen.

Gee whiz, where do you find butlers like that? I can't afford my own butler, but if I could, I'd want to hire someone like Desmond. Because what sense is there in having a butler if he can't help you solve murders? But how do you advertise for that particular position? "Must cook, clean and pick locks. Ability to calmly kill Mafia hitmen highly recommended. Background check required."

Anyway, the murdered woman is a fashion model. Rip's girlfriend, Honey Dorian, is something of a looker herself, so she's soon helping the investigation by getting work at the same modelling agency that had employed the murder victim. This soon leads to her receiving a nasty death threat.

Raymond had drawn Dashiell Hammett's strip Secret Agent X-9 in the 1930s, so in a way this sort of storytelling wasn't new to him. But Rip's unique look and personality made him stand out from the crowd and Raymond's smooth, realistic style was perfect for the strip. Some strips need to plow through a story arc or two before finding its proper footing. Rip Kirby knew where it stood right from the start. Rip comes across as believable and likable, while this premiere story moves along in a brisk and logical fashion. As Rip follows up clues and hunches, we are fed enough information each day to move the plot along, punctuated with occasional bursts of action and another murder. Jealousy, brutality, an additional murder, and drug addiction all play their parts in the tale.

There are a number of suspects involved, but expert story construction and solid characterizations allows us to keep track of everyone. Still, original readers might miss a day or two and new readers might jump on board at any time, so Raymond was careful to devote one Monday (about two-thirds of the way through the story) to giving us an "Our Story So Far" strip.

In the end, Rip fingers an unlikely suspect as the killer and solves the case. The route he took to the killer involved a combination of legwork, forensics and deductive reasoning. This formula was a perfect fit for Rip Kirby and would continue to be used effectively in subsequent story arcs. Rip really was a well-rounded guy.

Raymond would illustrate the strip for a decade. After Raymond's death in a car accident, Rip Kirby would continue on with other artists until 1999. 53 years is not a bad run at all for any detective.

Next week, we jump a thousand years into the future as the Legion of Superheroes tries to save the population of a doomed planet.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

As much as I appreciate e-publishing helping make obscure titles available again, I do miss fun publishing concepts such as the Ace Double.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

You Are There: "The Fall of Troy" 4/25/48

The CBS news crew jumps back not just into history but into legend to report on the end of the Trojan War.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"You’ll get a new head, Morbius. The crowning irony."

I've been listening to the recently produced Big Finish audio productions starring Tom Baker as Doctor Who. Baker has returned to the role after nearly four decades for a series of superbly written new adventures. He's in his eighties now, but darn it if he doesn't sound as energetic and fun as ever.

So that has put me in a Whovian frame-of-mind, causing me to pretty much randomly pluck a Doctor Who novelization off my shelf. I used to own quite a few of them, but bookshelf space limitations eventually forced me to pare them down to those novelizations of the Tom Baker years. He will always be my Doctor.

My Dr Who novels are faithfully guarded by Kirk, Spock,
McCoy and the Fellowship of the Ring!

Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius was published in 1977, based on a 4-part serial that was broadcast in 1976. The novel was written by Terrance Dicks, a writer and script editor for the series who was also the usual go-to guy for the novelizations. He was really good at that. The novelizations did include an occasional clunker, but if Dicks' name was on the cover, you could be certain you'd have fun reading it.

Dicks wrote the original script for the serial as well. His idea was for a Time Lord war criminal--reduced to a disembodied brain--having a new body built for him by a robot servant. The body would be a mish-mash of parts from different species because the robot had no aesthetic sensibilities. 

But the idea proved to be too expensive and had to be re-written to drop the robot. Dicks' was out of the country at the time and someone else did the re-write. Dicks asked that his name be taken off the finished script, which is why the novel's title page tells us that it is "based on the BBC television serial by Robin Bland."

Well, however unhappy Dicks may have been with the script, he did his usual excellent job on the novel. The Time Lord criminal is still there--Morbius had rebelled against the other Time Lords and launched a campaign of conquest and destruction across the galaxy, gathering up an army of fanatical followers from various planets.

One of those fanatics is a brilliant surgeon named Solon. When Morbius is caught and executed by the Time Lords, Solon manages to secretly save the brain and keep it alive. Now Solon lives on the desolate planet of Karn. He's used bits and pieces from different alien bodies to build a bizarre new body for Morbius, but has yet to find a suitable head for brain.

So when the Doctor and his companion Sarah Jane Smith arrive on Karn, Solon figures he's hit the jackpot. A Time Lord head is the perfect receptacle for Morbius's Time Lord brain.

What follows is a story that is deliberately modeled off of Frankenstein, gothic horror and Hammer horror films. Solon even has a deformed assistant--Condo is the big and nearly super-strong survivor of a spaceship crash. His left arm has been replaced by a metal one with a hook at the end. Solon keeps Condo under his sway by promising to eventually give him a new arm--not telling the poor guy that his original arm is now part of Morbius' body.

There's another faction on Karn as well. The Sisterhood live there as well, using the naturally occuring "Flame of Life" to produce the Elixir that grants them immortality. They were also enemies of Morbius (though they have no idea what Solon is up to), but initially think that the Doctor has been sent by the Time Lords to steal the Elixir. Telekinetic powers make them dangerous adversaries.

All these elements are mixed together to tell a suspenseful and often very creepy horror/sci-fi/adventure tale, with the plot continually twisting and turning.. The Doctor, as always, remains awesome throughout it all. Sarah Jane--always my favorite companion--gets her share of awesome moments as well--including a few even after she's been struck temporarily blind by the Sisterhood. Solon is over-the-top hammy, but that's just the right note to hit for his Mad Scientist role. 

By the way, if you ever go into the Mad Scientist field, don't abuse your deformed assistant. Solon isn't very nice to Condo and that comes back to bite him in the end. As for Morbius--who fulfills the role of Frankenstein's Monster in the story--when he finally gets the new body he's so desperately wanted, he tragically discovers that it isn't necessarily the blessing he thought it would be. 

The TV serial is a good one, with strong acting and pure imagination helping to make up for some of the low-budget special effects. The novel expands on some of the characterizations and Morbius' backstory and, of course, doesn't have to worry about a special effects budget. It's a faithful and entertaining version of the tale, well-worth finding and reading.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Death of Three Robots

Four months after Shogun Warriors came to an end, Doug Moench used an issue of Fantastic Four to give those characters some closure.

Fantastic Four #226 (January 1981) starts with a giant robot stealing a train (the whole train, mind you) full of gold off a track in eastern Europe. When Reed and his family hear about this on the TV news, their thoughts go to the Shogun Warriors--the only giant robots they currently know are extant. Have the Shoguns gone bad?

Of course, they never use the phrase "Shogun Warriors." Marvel no longer had the rights to the characters. The human pilots--Savage, Genji and Carson--were Marvel creations and could apear, but the actual robots could not.

That's what makes this well-written story is actually pretty clever. Not being able to show the robots means a final Shogun story is potentially disappointing or anti-climatic. In fact, we find out that all three robots have already been destroyed by a new renegade robot. We don't see more than bits of debris--not enough of them to risk copyright violation. How can this not be disappointing?

Well, first, the story is a good one. Part of the set up is Franklin reenacting David and Goliath with some action figures, then getting miffed when his dad doesn't pay any attention to this. This seems like a throwaway bit of characterizations, but its setting up future plot point.

Savage, Genji and Carson show up at the Baxter Building to report the destruction of their robots. All three are feeling down--suddenly, the most important part of their lives have been forever taken from them.

But there's no time for whining. The renegade robot is robbing a bank in Japan. The location is near the Shogun's sanctuary (destroyed during the course of their own book). Along with the three former robot pilots, the FF flies off to deal with this.

At first, the robot is too tough a nut to crack, fighting past both the FF and the local military. The pilots, meanwhile, have entered the sanctuary to find out what's going on. The robot shows up and helpfully explains everything.
The robot's pilot is a random guy who stumbled across the ruins of the sanctuary. He found a partially constructed robot and figured out how to finish building it. He also found information about the Shoguns, so made a point of destroying them.

His motive? He pretty much just enjoys being a bully.

The FF regroup and attack again, but are still having trouble finding a weak spot.
But then, Reed proves he was paying attention to Franklin's David and Goliath game. Trying the same ancient tactic, he plants a big rock right between the robot's eyes. This dazes it long enough for the FF to get the upper hand and allow the three pilots to get inside and jump the big bully. Everyone then gets clear just before the robot self-destructs.

The story as a whole is a good one, with Bill Sienkiewicz giving us effective art work. The foreshadowing with Franklin's story is something a lot of readers will probably pick up on, but it still works nicely.

And the last page gives us effective closure for Savage, Genji and Carson despite the absence of the robots. The three had been feeling collectively depressed because they no long had their own giant robots. But all three realize they have productive lives to live. One does not need a giant robot to be a hero. As Richard Carson says: "Heroism is a relative thing--and it can be done in little ways on a small scale--on a human scale."

Not that one would turn down a chance to own a giant robot should the opportunity arise. If anyone has a spare giant robot they are looking to get rid of, I'll take it.

Next week, we'll visit with "the first modern detective."

Monday, December 5, 2016

Cover Cavalcade

As long as we live in a world protected by Kangaroo Man, I don't ever really worry about anything.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday's Favorite OTR

Philip Marlowe: "The Iron Coffin" 7/12/16

Marlowe gets involved in a case that seems to involve supernatural forces. The actual solution to the case might not include ghosts, but its very likely to include a violent death.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Calamity Jane Can Sure Carry a Tune!

It's difficult to think of Roy Rogers without Dale Evans, but Roy did make a number of B-movies before Dale joined him. My favorite of his pre-Dale films is perhaps 1940's Young Bill Hickok.

The movie is towards the end of the Civil War. A villain representing a never-named foreign country wants to cause chaos and violence in hopes of destabilizing the West and eventually snatching up gold-rich California.

The villain is played by John Miljan, who was particularly good at playing oily, smooth-talking bad guys. He hits all the right notes here--you can believe he is smooth enough to fool everyone into thinking he's an honest businessman, but he still makes you want to punch him in the mouth every time he talks. He gives us a villain you love to hate--which is always a lot of fun.

Roy plays young Bill Hickok. Calamity Jane (played by pretty and personable Sally Payne) is also in the film. Neither Hickok or Calamity bear any resemblance at all to their real life counterpoints (a picture of the real Calamity next to Sally-as-Calamity is below), either in appearance or personality. Young Bill Hickok may borrow a few historical persons for characters, but this is done purely for name recognition. The story itself is complete fiction.

But that's okay, because it's a good story. And besides, if Calamity Jane wasn't anything like Sally Payne, she by golly SHOULD have been! I'll bet the real Calamity couldn't have distracted a saloon full of thugs with an entertaining song as effectively as Sally does.

In the movie, Bill is an agent for Wells Fargo. When a gang of raiders working for the villain begin to rob and burn, Bill earns his nickname "Wild Bill" by defending a stagecoach station against ten outlaws.

So when a large shipment of gold needs to be taken East to fund the war effort, Bill is given the job. His plan is to lead a heavily-guarded fake shipment east to draw out the raiders. In the meantime, Calamity and her uncle (played by the ubiquitous Gabby Hayes) sneak east with the real gold shipment.

But Bill's girlfriend inadvertently gives the plan away to the bad guys. The gold is stolen and the
villain manages to frame Bill for the crime. Naturally, this forces Bill to go on the run until he can find the gold and prove his innocence.

It's amazing how often B-movie cowboys are framed for crimes or mistaken for criminals. Just about all of them have the worst luck in this regard.

Young Bill Hickok has a strong plot, a great villain, the typically beautiful location photography found in most B-westerns and several strong action scenes. Gabby and Calamity provide some fun comic relief and prove to be resourceful allies as well. The versions of Hickok and Calamity Jane here are so far from reality that it's amazing the real-life versions don't rise from their graves in response to this just to start drinking heavily again. But for those of us who enjoy good storytelling, the fictional Bill and Jane we find here will suit us just fine.

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