Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Barry Craig, Confidential Investigator: "Hay is for Homicide" 8/31/54

I don't know why detectives in the world of fiction bother taking vacations. They always end up having to solve a crime anyways. This time, Barry Craig is relaxing in Vermont when he finds a corpse in a hay wagon and then meets a woman who claims the dead are walking.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Brought Back to Life in a Robot Body

You can never get around to reading everything. I've been aware of Neil R. Jones' Professor Jameson stories and I even knew that Isaac Asimov cited them as a big influence for his later Robot stories. But until today (which is about 6 weeks before this will post), I had never read one.

I ran across one by accident when I was reading an ebook reprint of the February 1941 issue of Astonishing Stories. This particular Prof. Jameson story is titled "Cosmic Derelict" and--because it starts with a brief explanation of the good professor's history--it proved to be a good jumping on point for the series.

When Jameson died, he asked that his body be rocketed into space, where it would be preserved forever. 40 million years then go by. With the Earth and the human race long since gone, an exploration vessel manned by a race called the Zoromes stumbles across Jameson's still intact body.

The Zoromes are all cyborgs--though I don't believe Jones uses that term in the story. He just calls them mechanical men. But the formally organic Zoromes have discovered how to preserve life by eventually transplanting their brains into robot bodies.

In fact, they are so good with brains they are able to jump-start Jameson's back into life after giving him a robot body. He joins the Zoromes and spends eternity exploring the galaxy and (when necessary) fighting evil.

That's a cool premise. In "Cosmic Derelict," Jameson and the crew are exploring a solar system when they find a space ship drifting aimlessly. Aboard the ship are seven dead aliens.

But being dead doesn't stop the Zoromes from helping you. Soon, the aliens have brand-new robot bodies.

They are from the planet Dmypr, but were attempting to bring supplies to a base on the moon of another planet. That was seven years ago, so the crew of the moon base is probably dead as well.

The Zoromes bring the aliens to the moon and find that the crew there has also died. But they also ind out the aliens are double-crossin' scum. They are, in fact, political exiles from their planet who had tried to stage a revolution and set up a dictatorship.

The aliens use a mental disruptor on the Zoromes, sending them into a coma. They plan to steal the Zorome ship (faster and more powerful then anything they have) and once again try to take over their homeworld.

But Jameson, being of human origin, has a different brain pattern than the Zoromes. Unaffected by the mental disruptor, he fakes being in a coma until he has a chance to kill one of the aliens and take his place aboard the hijacked ship. (Remember that they all have identical robot bodies at this point.) That leaves him on his own as he improvises a plan to stop the villains and eventually rescue his friends.

Jones' dialogue is sometimes a bit stilted and it's a fair criticism that the Zomores (who each have a random sequence of numbers and letters rather than a name) are not given any sort of individual personalities. In fact, though they do show some emotion and have a clear sense of moral duty, they seem to be a little too robotic in the way they act. Jones often seems to forget that they are supposed to have organic brains.

But even after acknowledging its faults, "Cosmic Derelict" is still a fun story, full of Space Opera tropes and wild super-science. Exploring the universe for all eternity in an immortal body? That doesn't seem too unpleasant a fate.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dragon of Death

The very first issue of Captain America, published months before Pearl Harbor, showed us Cap punching out Hitler. Timely Comics (which would one day become Marvel Comics) was one of a small number of pop culture outlets that openly recognized that the Axis was evil and that we would one day have to confront them.

Captain America #5 was cover dated August 1941 and actually published on May 5 of that year. So once again, this is before we were in the war, but the story we're talking about today still shows the Axis as villains. This time, the villains are only identified as Asian, but they are clearly meant to be the Japanese. In fact, one of them openly admits to being a part of the "Axis Alliance." Avoiding the word "Japanese" might have been a concession to isolationist feelings for distributors or some readers (similar to what Milt Caniff was doing in his comic strip Terry and the Pirates), but nobody reading the story would miss the intention. Interestingly, the same issue had a story in which the Bund (American Nazis) are openly identified as the bad guys.

There is some racial stereotyping common to the era present, but all the same Timely Comics, along with Caniff, Warner Brothers studio, the Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin deserve a lot of credit and praise for openly confronting the biggest evil in the world before it was in vogue to do so.

"The Gruesome Secret of the Dragon of Death" (by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) opens with a whopping big dragon literally swallowing a Navy patrol ship off the coast of Hawaii. The dragon, though, turns out to be a whopping big Japanese submarine. (Well, I'm going to say "Japanese".) The commander of the Navy ship is tortured to get a password from him. The Japanese need the password to get some men ashore and plant dynamite in a volcano. The dynamite will cause the volcano to erupt and the lava flow would destroy the American fleet.

The commander refuses to talk, but is ready to break when his daughter is kidnapped and threatened. Fortunately for the these two, Captain America and Bucky had trailed the kidnapped girl to the Dragon sub and sneaked aboard.

It's at this point that we get a full-page cutaway of the sub. I love stuff like this. Give me a blue-print or cutaway of a make believe vehicle and I'll be set for the day while I examine it in detail.

What follows is an extended action sequence as Cap and Bucky take out most of the crew on the ship and rescue the captives before the officer gives away the password. In a bit of a storytelling glitch, the Japanese readily sneak their demolition crew ashore anyways and blow the volcano. But Cap manages to warn the fleet in time for them to get safely out of the bay.

When Bucky briefly things Cap was killed accomplishing this, he goes into a revenge-fueled rage blows up some of the surviving Japanese with the sub's deck gun. Don't tick off Bucky. It won't end well for you.

The action isn't as well choreographed as Kirby's action scenes would be in the 1960s and 1970s. At this early point in his career, his work was still largely excellent, but would be getting better as he gained more experience. But even with its flaws, the story is a good one.

Heck, it's got a cutaway image of a giant Dragon submarine. It can't help but be good.

Next week, we'll stop in and see what the Micronauts are up to in the second part of our review of their first twelve issues.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I'll be out of the country

I'll be leaving for Turkey tomorrow along with a team from my church to serve over there for a couple of weeks. I mention it here only to let you all know that there may be a long delay before I get around to approving any comments. Unlike trips to Guatemala and South Sudan, I will have regular internet access, but we'll be pretty busy and I simply won't be able to pay much attention to my blog.

Regularly scheduled posts will still be appearing--the advantage of keeping a blog that isn't time-sensitive is that I'm normally able to stay a couple of months ahead in writing posts.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cover Cavalcade

Pulp magazine cowboys have very active lives--you can't even get a drink of water without getting into a life-or-death battle!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

X Minus One: "Skulking Permit" 2/15/56

A lost colony re-establishes contact with Earth. They need to demonstrate they are civilized, but unlike any self-respecting civilization, they don't have any crime. So the Mayor appoints one of the locals to do some stealing and maybe commit a murder or two.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Border Patrol

Hopalong Cassidy is supposedly the head man at the Bar 20 ranch, but I really don't know how he finds the time to do that job. In many of the 66 Hoppy films that starred William Boyd, he and his sidekicks are working as lawmen.

In 1943's Border Patrol, Hoppy and friends are patrolling the Mexican border as Texas Rangers. But being accredited lawmen does not keep them from being falsely accused of a crime. When they stop to aid a dying Mexican, a pretty but perpetually angry Senorita rides up and assumes they murdered the man. She takes them at gunpoint across the Rio Grande to the Mexican cops.

They prove who they are, but the Senorita isn't convinced of their innocence. Hoppy finds out at least 25 Mexicans have crossed the border recently to find work at the Silver Bullet mine in Texas. But all of them have disappeared.

Hoppy and his crew decide to check out the mind, with the girl trailing them because she's still convinced they are villains.

 It turns out the owner of the Silver Bullet ("Orestes Krebs"--I love that name) has set himself up as essentially an independent country, refusing to recognized Hoppy's authority as a Ranger. In fact, he quickly accuses them of various crimes and, after a very quick kangaroo trial, sentences them to hang right after lunch.

The girl has shown up in Silver Bullet by now and Krebs uses her as a witness against Hoppy. But, though she is bad tempered, she is also smart and essentially fair-minded. She soon tumbles to the fact that Krebs is using the missing Mexicans as slave labor in the mine. Now all she has to do is figure out a way to spring Hoppy from jail and then together free the slaves and bring Krebs and his gang to justice. And she has to do this before lunch is over.

All the Hoppy movies are fun, with William Boyd playing the part with a mixture of authority and boisterous affability. The Hoppy movies are fun as much because we enjoy hanging out with the main characters as because of the well-constructed stories and great location photography.

This one is helped along by a fine supporting cast. Andy Clyde always brings a lot of humor to sidekick California Carlson. Jay Kirby is the third partner in the group-taking the part of younger sidekick who is available to develop a crush on whatever pretty girl they run into each movie.

Claudia Drake is the girl and she's certainly pretty. She's also quite good in the part--she's required by the plot to be stubbornly convinced Hoppy is a killer for half the film, but then must show herself to be smart and gutsy later on. She believably segues between the two attitudes and always makes sure we like her even when she's being bull-headed.

Russell Simpson is Krebs, the chief villain, and I would bet money that he was having great fun playing his part. As was usual for Hoppy films from the early/mid 1940s, Robert Mitchum is on hand to play a random outlaw (looking a little sleepy because he was working in a factory at nights). I wonder if he holds the record for getting killed the most times by Hopalong Cassidy?  Future Superman George Reeves is in the movie as well--he often also played a random bad guy in each film, but this time around he gets to be a good guy.

There is an imaginative and well-choreographed action scene to bring the movie to a satisfying conclusion.

You can find the movie on YouTube, but the ones I've found there are 10 minutes shorter than the version I have on DVD, so its an edited version. Rather than provide a link to a less-than-complete version, I'll just show you a clip that gives you a good sense of how fun the film is.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Interplanetary Robin Hood

One of the tricky aspects of the Green Lantern and Green Arrow stories was getting the two heroes into situations where Arrow was able to contribute something. Ollie's  abilities are fine for street-level thugs and international assassins, but he's a tad underwhelming compared to Hal Jordan when it comes superpowered threats. In fact, I think a fair criticism of often otherwise excellent stories is that there was no reason G.L. couldn't have cleaned up the bad guys without Ollie's help.

"The Legend of the Green Arrow," from G.L/G.A. #92 (January 1977) does a pretty good job setting up a situation in which Ollie can shine. It begins an issue after the two partners had captured Sinestro. The villain manages to escape quickly, forcing Hal and Ollie to pursue him into space.

There is a bit of a deus ex machina here. Out in space, they randomly run into a cosmic thingamajig called the Silver Twist, which even the Guardians of the Universe don't fully understand. When Sinestro, to arrogantly prove he isn't scared of it, zaps it with his ring, all three men are teleported into another dimension.

They find themselves on a world that at first seems to be at a medieval level of technology and are
forced to step in when they spot soldiers abusing a pretty lady. They discover neither of the power rings work, but manage to take out the guards anyways and save the girl.  She immediately takes a shine to Ollie, who seems to conveniently forget he's got a lady (Dinah Prince) waiting for him back home.

That last sentence is a bit unfair, since Arrow never never actually pursues anything with the lady. Also, I'm not familiar with all the stories in this run, so perhaps he and Dinah weren't together at this time.

The lady's name is, of course, Marion. Her world normally has a pretty high level of technology (including interplanetary travel) despite the medieval trappings. But King Rickard is away fighting wars in space and his evil brother (Prince Yuan) has usurped the throne. Yuan lives in a high-tech tower that emits an energy-cancelling force field (even affecting the power rings) to prevent anyone from ever rebelling against him. We also eventually learn he has a fleet of warships waiting in orbit to ambush and kill King Rickard upon the king's return.

The parallels to the Robin Hood mythos are obviously intentional. The story begins and ends with the statement that "All Heroic Legends are Different Yet All are the Same." It's a nice shout-out to the universality of the themes in stories and myths that would have made Joseph Campbell proud.

Sinestro and the heroes have a common goal--they need to take out the tower and get rid of the anti-energy force field before they can leave. (The heroes, of course, also want to overthrow the tyrant.) So a team-up is necessary. Ollie comes up with a simple plan--while the others cause a distraction, he'll get into the tower and wreck the force field.

Of course, you just know his plan for a distraction was made as much to cause Sinestro embarrassment as to be effective. The villain is forced to perform as a jester in the streets of the village just outside the tower entrance.

Ollie gets inside the tower, takes out some guards, and begins wrecking stuff. Soon, Prince Yuan is a prisoner, while Hal and Sinestro fly up into space to save King Rickart's fleet. They bring Ollie along, though all he can do is sit in a green life bubble and watch. This is another minor contrivance--Ollie had to be with them when the Silver Twist shows back up and zaps them all back home. Of course, if there's going to be a major space battle, I would certainly want to watch even if I couldn't participate.

The whole bit with the Silver Twist, both to get them into the adventure and then get them back home, is definitely contrived. But this is a minor complaint when measured against an otherwise well-constructed story with a solid thematic backbone. Also, seeing Sinestro dance around in his jester costume is indeed funny.

I almost forgot to give the credits, didn't I? The story was written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Mike Grell. And, by the way, I tried to find more information on the Silver Twist, which I think appeared in a few other G.L. stories from the 1970s. If it had been introduced in a previous story, then its status as a deus ex machina is slightly mitigated. But even the D.C. wiki lacks an entry on it. Some aspects of comic book mythology are so obscure, even normally "we never forget ANYTHING" comic book fans lose track of them!

Next week, we'll jump over to the Marvel Universe and fight alongside Captain America during one of his wartime adventures.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Crime Does Not Pay: "A Piece of Rope" 12/5/49

Sometimes the best way to catch a hitman is to pretend to be a hitman.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Father to His Men

Submarine movies have some very specific built-in clichés. Probably the most common one is a sub having to endure hours of depth charge attacks from an enemy sub.

Of course, that particular cliché is drawn directly from real-life and is the source of intense excitement when presented effectively in a movie.

Destination Tokyo plays off that cliché beautifully. The U.S.S. Copperfin, having completed a secret mission in Tokyo Bay and then sunk an aircraft carrier, is mercilessly depth charged by Japanese destroyers. And, boy, that scene is incredibly tense.

The movie hits some other clichés as well—though to be fair, some of them hadn’t been around long enough to be clichés in 1943. For instance, the Pharmacist’s Mate has to perform an appendectomy while the sub lies on the bottom of Tokyo Bay, with another crewman reading him instructions out of a book. But the movie does scenes like these so well that cliches or corniness is never a problem. 

Cary Grant plays the sub’s commander in complete “Father to His Men” mode and his quietly authoritative performance is backed by a great cast. The movie runs a little over 2 hours—quite a long one for most films from that era. A lot of the time comes from the fact that a number of the regular crew are given definable character arcs, with the movie spending enough time with each of them to give us a lock on their personalities and get us to really like them a lot. John Garfield—perhaps the best actor in the movie other than Grant—is ironically saddled with the most one-dimensional character in the film, but he still manages to bring a sense of real personality to the role. Dane Clark, Alan Hale, Robert Hutton and William Prince also bring their characters to life.

Technical details all seem authentic as well—one of the screenwriters was a former submariner and the Navy cooperated during production. Of course, Destination Tokyo could have gotten any number of things wrong that I would not notice, but it feels real.  And that adds another layer of strength to the film as a whole.

The story involves the Copperfin sneaking into Tokyo Bay and putting ashore a team that will gather information needed by bombers who will be attacking Japan soon. This is obviously meant to be the Doolittle raid, though the movie is off in its time frame. The crew leaves San Francisco on Christmas Day, but the year isn’t mentioned. One of the crew refers back to the events of Christmas 1941, setting the film in 1942/43. So they are actually a year late to help out Doolittle.

But that really doesn’t bother me—I mention it merely to show off how smart I am. Destination Tokyo is an exciting movie. It is full of wartime propaganda, of course, but anti-Axis propaganda is hardly a bad thing and the emotions generated by the film are sincere. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Micronauts, Part 2

The first issue (see last week's post) ended with Rann and his ragtag band of misfits flying through a rift that took them out of the microverse and into a whole new universe. Their ship--the Endeavor--crash lands on a planet and the Micronauts soon find they are in a very, very strange place.

The first issue had done an excellent job of world-building and setting up the story. With issues #2 & 3 (Feb. and March 1979) we get to the main premise of the series--the fugitive Micronauts, still pursued by the bad guys--are trapped on a world in which they are only a few inches tall.

This makes for some very fun action set-pieces. The storytelling remains fast-paced, but writer Bill Mantlo continues to work additional exposition and character development into that action.

An encounter with a dog and a teenager trying to mow the lawn give the Micronauts a frightening grasp of their situation. They're soon able to make friends with the teenager--named Steve Coffin--which helps them enormously with Prince Shaitan shows up in a powerful battle cruiser and some supporting fighter craft.

We learn, by the way, that the melee weapons carried by the Micronauts are pretty powerful, allowing them to essentially turn a dog fight into a hand-to-hand battle.

The 3rd issue takes the battle to the air. In the confusion, Bug is left behind and poor Steve has to explain to his dad about the carnage from the battle littering the backyard. This actually sets up a future plot point. Steve's dad worked for NASA and when he finds the wreckage of a small but obviously real ship (complete with dead pilot), he realizes that this is something that needs to be studied.

Meanwhile, the battle ends up over a skateboarding park, causing humans to dodge out of the way as Shaitan and the Mirconauts go at it. Shaiton lost all his support craft in the backyard battle, but his main ship can separate into six separate components. The Endeavor is outgunned, so while Biotron flies, Mari and Microtron fire the ship's guns and Rann and Acroyear fly out to fight independently. They manage to shoot down most of the components, forcing Shaitan to warp out with what little is left of his ship.

But the Endeavor is too damaged to leave Earth. The Micronauts decide to return to the backyard and find Bug.

I continue to enjoy this series enormously. The characters (both good guys and bad guys) are all interesting and the action is well-choreographed and exciting. Last week, I expressed regret that I didn't read this series during its original run. But perhaps that's just as well. I'm having a lot of fun reading it for the first time now.

Next week, we take a break from the Micronauts and jump over to the DC Universe, where Green Lantern and Green Arrow will be forced to team up with an arch-enemy.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

My new book

From the Introduction:

I’m not old enough to remember Saturday matinees. But I grew up in a pre-cable TV era when local channels showed a pretty cool selection of movies and television re-runs. I became familiar with excellent TV shows such as Combat, The Untouchables and Gunsmoke. Saturday afternoons brought me Creature Feature with Doctor Paul Bearer, which provided me with a well-chosen selection of classic black-and-white horror and monster films. Charlie Chan films could be seen on Sunday afternoons, while a smattering of B-westerns along with films starring Bogart, Cagney and other greats of yesteryear would air on other nights. 

So I was able to develop impeccable taste in movies while growing up. In addition to this, the last great effort by network radio to tell dramatic stories (CBS Radio Mystery Theater) was playing weekday evenings, helping to give me an appreciation for that form of storytelling. This was enhanced by the acquisition of an LP containing two episodes of The Shadow and a local radio stations re-runs of The Lone Ranger.

I can still remember the thrill and wonder of seeing movies such as The Thing from Another World, G-Men, All Through the Night and The Lone Ranger and the City of Gold for the first time. These are precious memories for me. 
As an adult, this has led to my publishing several books on pre-digital pop culture and writing a blog with a small but loyal readership. As a Christian, I appreciate the ability to enjoy films, classic TV and old-time radio without having to worry about crass content.

So this small ebook is yet another way for me to geek out over the sort of entertainment I love. But I hope it serves another purpose. Anyone reading this is probably a fan of classic films already—otherwise, you’re not likely to be reading it at all. So this list is meant to be a guide for watching movies you might not have gotten around to seeing yet or haven’t re-watched in far too long. The list contains both films that are considered true classics and older B-movies that I believe provide us with entertaining and worthwhile stories. 

I’ve purposely organized the list in an unusual way. There are 52 Double-Features, so each the entry for each week includes two movies along with a brief essay about each film. That gives you one double-feature for each week of the year. Don’t make plans for Saturday afternoons for the next year. I’ve got it covered for you.

Each pair of movies is chosen because both fall under whatever bizarre category I came up with for that week. I did this because I simply had fun doing it AND because it might get you to think about a particular film in a new and hopefully entertaining way. 

All the movies here are, I think, family friendly. A few of the war movies and horror films do have high body counts and/or scary moments, so any parents using this list are urged to give each of these films careful thought before enjoying a Saturday matinee with your kids. There is no graphic, blood-spurting violence, though. Nor is there cursing or graphic sex. These movies all simply tell their stories well, with no dependence on shock value or prurience to keep your interest.

ebook for Kindle or Kindle app: $1.25--click HERE
Paperback: $5.50--click HERE

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "The Abominable Snowman" 9/13/53

A very atmospheric tale about an expedition to find a Yeti.

Click HERE to download or listen.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Pirate Cannon vs. U-Boat.

Sometimes, even the smartest and most capable masked vigilante has a bad day.

Vengeance Bay was published in the March 1, 1942 issue of The Shadow and it is one nifty story. It picks up in New York City, where the Shadow is watching over a political refugee named Vedo Bron, who might be targeted by German agents.

By the way, though published after Pearl Harbor brought us into the war, it was submitted to the publisher in September 1941, when we were still neutral. So, though the bad guys are obviously meant to be German, they are never overtly identified as such. (A common tactic by writers who wanted to make the Axis villains without offending isolationist readers or publishers.) But I'm just gonna say "German" throughout this review, because there really is no doubt that's who the bad guys are.

The Shadow is as efficient as usual, but bad luck stalks him. He tails a couple of guys who are in turn tailing Bron. But these turn out to be good guys--ex-smugglers (tough guys now apparently working on the right side of the law) that Bron has hired as bodyguards. When the Shadow tries to quietly leave the scene in the guise of Lamont Cranston, he's knocked out and kidnapped by guys who really were after Bron.

Fortunately, the Shadow's agents are smart and able to improvise. A chance to shine is always fun to see in any Shadow story,so when Harry Vincent helps his boss getaway by impersonating the Shadow himself, it's pretty darn cool.

The action soon moves to the coast of Maine, in a remote area that includes an 18th Century fort originally built to battle pirates, a now-abandoned castle originally built by a rich guy, a lighthouse, and a system of caves only accessible at low tide.

It's really a good thing we know that the Shadow's adventures are true stories transcribed by writer Walter Gibson for publication. Otherwise, we could only assume that Gibson was a wonderful and inventive writer of fiction who creates one of the most perfect settings for a mystery & adventure story ever put down on paper.

Soon, we have a story involves Bron and his ex-smugglers, a gang of presumed German agents, a guy hunting for Blackbeard's buried treasure and two potential damsels-in-distress (a lady who lives in the area and Margo Lane--though both show too much grit to be mere damsels-in-distress). The Shadow and Harry Vincent are also around. There are nighttime ambushes, murder attempts and boat chases coming one after another at a furious pace in a plot that turns out to involve hidden gold buried not by pirates, but by German agents.

The climax involves a sincerely shocking twist involving the supposed motivations of several factions on the island. This all leads to one of the most entertaining action sequences I've ever run across as the Shadow uses the old cannon in the fort to duel with a German U-Boat.

I really love this one. If I were to give you a detailed summary of the plot, I'd give too many spoilers and would also leave the impression that the story is an undisciplined mish-mash of action scenes. But it's not. Taken as a whole, the story has strong internal logic that links all the events together and makes sense out of it all.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Micronauts, Part 1

cover-dated January 1979
I did not read The Micronauts during their original run. In fact, it wasn't until within the last few years that I happened upon some back issues and read it at all. Because Marvel doesn't own the rights to the toy line any more, we're not likely to ever see reprints.

Other licensed titles--such as The Transformers and G.I. Joe--were eventually reprinted by other companies. But these titles had little or no interaction with the regular Marvel Universe. Micronauts, along with ROM Space Knight, were tossed right into Marvel Earth and so often interacted with superheroes. I'm presuming that this means allowing another company to reprint them would be verboten.

Anyway, I learned that the first 12 issues of  The Micronauts make up what has been described by fans as an epic space opera. Combine this with being written by Bill Mantlo (who regularly produced strong, fun stories) and with Marvel's success in constructing strong, coherent universes for toy lines, and I decided to search out affordable copies via Ebay.

I've just read the first three issues and I could not be more impressed with the quality of the world-building that Mantlo and artist Michael Golden achieve. The story picks up in a sub-atomic universe on the world of Homeworld, inhabited by a human-looking species. (And I'm just going to be referring to them as humans from now on.)

The planet's ruling class has been overthrown, with only Princess Mari and her brother Argon escaping. We soon learn that pretty much the entire population has turned against them. Not because they were bad rulers, but because a scientist now known as Baron Karza has found a way to regenerate cells and guarantee immortality. All he wants in exchange for this is complete sovereignty over the entire planet.

Heck, over the entire microverse. His soldiers are from another nearby planet ruled by Prince Shaitan. The former ruler of that planet, Acroyear, is currently a prisoner on Homeworld, along with an insectoid alien simply known as Bug.

Prince Argon is soon captured and taken to Karza's Body Bank for to be experimented on. In the meantime, an astronaut named Rann returns to Homeworld after a 1000-year-long exploration of the microverse. Rann was telepathically controlling his ship while in suspended animation, accompanied by a robot named Biotron. As soon as he lands, Karza has him zapped unconscious and tossed into a dungeon.

This is a lot of information, isn't it? But it's all expertly presented to us, with the exposition mixed in with the action so that the story always moves along at a strong pace. I like Golden's art throughout--his style gives the setting a subtle alien feel, always reminding us that this isn't Earth. Character designs, while based on the toy line of course, are given more detail and personality.

Anyway, the main protagonists (which also include another robot) meet in a sort-of gladiator ring, fighting a whopping big tank. With the help of a mysterious being who calls himself "Time Traveler," they manage to wreck the tank. They run for Rann's ship and flee the planet. Time Traveler tears a rift in a space wall that normally marks the borders of the microverse, allowing them to literally escape to another universe. But the rift in the wall is still there, allowing Prince Shaitan to pursue them in a powerful battle cruiser.

 It's a great first issue. We are given the necessary information needed to grasp a complicated back-story, helped along by a character summary that's also included. (That's what I've posted at the top of this entry.) The various characters are given distinct personalities, with Rann and his crew hitting just the right "Ragtag Team of Misfits" vibe to make them fun. It is a fine example of skilled world-building, perhaps the most sophisticated of all the various universes Marvel built out of toy lines and other licensed properties. The balance between dealing with some dark social/political themes AND keeping the overall adventurous feel of the book high is remarkable.

Next week, we'll look at the 2nd and 3rd issues, which brings the action to Earth. Then, every two or three weeks, we'll continue to go through issues 4-12, probably in three-issue batches. I'll space them out like that so that anyone not interested in tiny aliens visiting Earth won't have to wait too long for something else to come along. Though, really, if you aren't interested in tiny aliens visiting Earth, then I don't know what can be done about you anyways.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Nick Carter: "Monkey Sees Murder" 1/7/45

An old friend of Nick's is murdered and the solution to the case may involved a stuffed monkey.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Horse-Drawn Book Store.

Read/Watch 'em in Order #81

Christopher Morley was a successful novelist, journalist, editor and poet. Probably the coolest thing about him was that he was a founding member of the Baker Street Irregulars. The picture below is Morley flanked by fellow Irregulars Fletcher Pratt and Rex Stout.

The second coolest thing about Morley is that he wrote the novel Parnassus on Wheels in 1917. This is one of the most pleasant and delightful books ever written.

The novel is narrated by Helen McGill, a fat unmarried woman in her late '30s. Helen lives on a farm with her brother Andrew, who has written several successful and critically acclaimed books. This annoys Helen to no end, since it distracts Andrew from the work that needs to be done on the farm.

So when a short, red-bearded man named Roger Mifflin rides up in a unique horse-drawn wagon, Helen immediately realizes that Mifflin is bringing potential trouble with him.

Mifflin's wagon is named Parnassus--after the mountain on which the Oracle of Delphi lived and thus is s source of wisdom. Mifflin's wisdom is contained in the books he sells--his wagon is pretty much a second-hand bookshop, serving farm areas which don't have easy access to many books.

It's how he makes his living, but we soon discover it's also his passion:

"Lord!" he said, "when you sell a man a book you don't sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night—there's all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean. Jiminy! If I were the baker or the butcher or the broom huckster, people would run to the gate when I came by—just waiting for my stuff. And here I go loaded with everlasting salvation—yes, ma'am, salvation for their little, stunted minds—and it's hard to make 'em see it. That's what makes it worth while—I'm doing something that nobody else from Nazareth, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington, has ever thought of. It's a new field, but by the bones of Whitman it's worth while. That's what this country needs—more books!"

He's been doing this for a number of years, but now he wants to sell out, return to Brooklyn and write a book of his own. He figures Andrew McGill might want to buy it.

Helen is afraid that's true, so--on an impulse--she buys it herself and decides its time she had a vacation (and perhaps an adventure) of her own.

Mifflin travels with her on her first day as the new owner of Parnassus, intending to show her the ropes and then move on. But it's soon apparent that he's reluctant to leave his wagon of books--and perhaps unwilling to leave Helen as the two get to know each other.

They do have adventures--recovering the wagon when its stolen by hobos and dealing with Mifflin being unjustly imprisoned. But the story never depends on suspense or any serious danger to keep us reading--it settles for telling a very pleasant and engrossing story written in straightforward prose, while also taking time to extol the importance of simply reading good book.

If you are a lover of books, this novel is required reading.

Morley wrote a sequel a few years later, so I've decided to make these two part of the "In Order" series. We still have at least one Solar Queen novel to cover and two more Nick Carter movies, so I am mixing things up quite a bit. Hopefully civilization can stand the strain.

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