Friday, December 29, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Night Beat: "Elevator Caper" aka "The Ted Carter Murder" 5/8/47

A friend of Randy Stone is found murdered. The victim has been a hoodlum whom Randy had convinced to go straight, so the newspaperman feels its his responsibility to find the killer.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Really, Really Old Time Capsule

Read/Watch 'em in Order #88

So far in our walk through the August 1939 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, we've encountered one flawed story and one pretty good story. Now we come to "The Warning from the Past," which is a corker of a tale by Robert Moore Williams.

It seems that there was an advanced civilization on Earth that had its heydey while our ancesters were still eating gnats picked out of each other's chest hairs. But then extraterrestrial invaders arrived. The ancient civilization defeated them. In a snit over this, the invaders left behind germs that would survive into modern day as the common cold. But at the time, these germs were deadly enough to wipe out the ancients.

Fortunately for us, they left behind several time capsules that would activate and let us know where they were buried if the invaders' space ships were detected approaching Earth again. 15,000 years after the capsules were buried, this happens. Invaders from the stars apparently hold grudges a really long time.

The ancients left instructions for how to build heat rays and aerial torpedos that destroyed the invaders last time. But this time around, the invader ships are equipped with an inpenetrable force field. Soon, most of Europe and America is in flames.

It's up to an electronics expert who is almost crippled emotionally with grief, using the ham radio he built as a kid and the determination to go forward when he's dismissed as insane, to save the world.

"The Warning from the Past" is a fast-paced and effective science fiction story with a dollop of emotional punch added to it to give it real backbone. I've enjoyed Williams' stories before, though when I reviewed his Jongor of Lost Land stories a few years ago, I did find them flawed.  Here, he does exactly what he sets out to do--tells a tense and frightening alien invasion story with a unique backstory that all succeeds in highlighting one man's personal heroism.

You can read this issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories HERE.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Jungle Lords and Armored Despots, Part 1

I wish the economics of modern comics still allowed for anthology books like Astonishing Tales. The first issue, cover-dated August 1970, featured two 10-page stories, each starring a very different character, with their individual stories told in a serial format. The book (along with Amazing Adventures, which premiered the same month) called back to the books of the 1960s that did the same thing.

At the time, comics were still priced low enough to be impulse buys and there was a good chance kids would buy one if at least one of the features captured their imagination. Besides, even when superhero comics once again became the dominant genre in comics, they still represented a lot of sub-genres--science fiction, fantasy, jungle adventures and so one were all mashed together. So I think you can argue that comic book fans have a wide range of interests in different genres. Maybe sometimes this is a little unconscious--we think "superheroes" and that's enough whether the story is set in an urban environment, a jungle or another planet. Heck, maybe a vibrant Comic Book Universe can build up our appreciation of different genres.

I think that Astonishing Tales and Amazing Adventures (which featured the Inhumans and the Black Widow) were the last gasps of the shared anthology book. But while they were around, they gave us some fun stories. Today, we'll take a look at the first three issues of Astonishing Tales, then next week we'll finish up this journey with the fourth and fifth issues.

Ka-Zar, the Lord of the Savage Land, headlines one of the features. The first two issues, written by Stan Lee (#1) & Roy Thomas (#2) and drawn by Jack Kirby, is a straight-forward tale. Kraven the Hunter decides that Zabu, the last sabertooth tiger in the world, would be a worthy prey. He travels to the Savage Land and manages to capture Zabu, escaping from Ka-Zar's wrath with the judicious use of knock-out gas. But Ka-Zar trails Kraven to New York City and another fight, this one in and outside a swank hotel, ensues. Kraven is injured and opts to run away.

The second issue ends with Ka-Zar confronted by a guy called (with good reason) the Petrified Man. In the third issue (with Gerry Conway now writing and Barry Smith providing some wonderful art), we discover that this guy was a sailor shipwrecked on the Savage Land who ended up drinking an elixar produced by a culture that worships a sun god. He became immortal, with his skin slowly turning to stone.

He warns Ka-Zar that the Sun People has gone on a rampage of destruction, fueled by religious fanaticism. Their queen, Zaladane, is leading an army riding pterodactyls and armed with weapons that are essentially tiny flamethrowers. Ka-Zar and his new ally return to the Savage Land to put a stop to this, but they appear to be too late.

So we have two issues that establish Ka-Zar's prime character traits (loyalty, responsibility to his homeland, kickbutt fighter) and give us several typically awesome Jack Kirby fight scenes. Then an issue that sets up the next story arc, but is expertly paced to still provide us with action and cool imagery.

But what is Dr. Doom doing all this time? Fighting off an attempted coup in Latvaria that involves robots, aliens and rayguns. Which I'm pretty sure is an average Tuesday for the good Doctor.

The first issue is written by Roy Thomas, with Larry Lieber taking over after that. Wally Wood draws all three issues (making Astonishing Tales extremely blessed in the quality of its art). The story is too convoluted to effectively summarize, so I'll be brief. Prince Rudolfo, the former ruler of Latvaria before Doom took over, is leading a rebellion. He plants a mole in Doom's castle--a lady who is the physical double of Doom's gypsy girlfriend from his youth. He also has an ally called the Faceless One, who turns out to be a small alien in a globe using a robot body.

Shenanigans ensue, in which Doom's latest creation--a robot with Doom's own brain patterns called the Doomsman--breaks loose. Alternately rampaging on its own or controlled again by Doom on brief occasions, he turns out to be a wild card that upsets everyone's plans. The Rudolfo leading the rebellion turns out to be a robot double which gets destroyed, the Faceless One is forced to fly off in a space ship and Doom destroys his own castle to also destroy the rebels.

It's a great story told very effectively over the course of the three issues, with the plot twists coming at a fast and furious pace. The one weak point is the Faceless One, whose exact identity and motivation are never explained. But he'll turn up again about three years later in an issue of Luke Cage and we'll eventually learn more about him.

So next week, we'll continue looking at the ongoing Ka-Zar story while also learning what Dr. Doom does when he decides to take a vacation.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Cover Cavalcade

From 1952. It's a question we've all asked: Does Santa Claus ever give into the temptation to play with the toys he's delivering?

Everyone have a merry and blessed Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

A Life in Your Hands: "Boarder Killed" 9/13/49

This series featured a character created by Erle Stanley Gardner--a lawyer who enters a case as a "friend of the court" to solve murders by examining both prosecution and defense witnesses.

In this episode, a woman is being tried for killing a blackmailer who lived in the same boarding house as she did. But she just might be innocent.

Click HERE to download or listen.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

AAARRGGH! Bring Them Back in Print RIGHT NOW!

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed an Erle Stanley Gardner short story that I ran across more or less by chance in the Internet Archive. That reminded me that of the at least 49 unique characters Gardner created during the heyday of the pulps, I probably have read stories featuring less than half of them.

Sadly, most of these heroes and anti-heroes have been largely forgotten. In 2004, a book titled The Danger Zone and Other Stories was published, featuring 11 stories with non-Perry Mason characters. This book is out of print and annoyingly expensive on the used book market, so I once again took ruthless advantage of the fact that I work in a library and got a copy via interlibrary loan.

Gee whiz, there's some good stuff here. The title story--"The Danger Zone"--is perhaps the best of the lot. First published in the October 15, 1932 issue of Argosy, it features a sort-of free-lance spy/diplomat named Major Brane.

 His name is, of course, a play on words. Because Brane's main talent is that he always analyzes and thinks his way through any dangerous situation he encounters. He might be trapped in a room with no apparent exit other into a burning room full of about-to-explode ammunition (as happens in this story), but he'll never stop calmly thinking it through. He might have only a split-second to make a decision, but that decision will be arrived at rationally as the best possible course-of-action, whether its running an impromptu con on the bad guys or simply punching someone out.

"The Danger Zone" is the fourth of eight Major Brane stories that appeared in Argosy from 1931 to 1934. In this one, Brane is tasked with rescuing a young Chinese lady who has proof that a guy supposedly friendly to Chiang Kai-Shek's regime  is actually double-crossing that government. She's been kidnapped and is probably already being tortured.

Brane allows himself three minutes to come up with a plan, then proceeds to:

1) Convince the bad guys he has the document they want.
2) Allows himself to be captured.
3) Pretends to escape while actually returning to the building being used by the bad guys.
4) Engineers a method to find out where in the building the girl is being used.
5) Figures out how to get himself and the girl out of an aforementioned death trap.

He does fail to think of one thing, which means he finishes up the story with a bruised skull. But for the most part, he's about two-and-a-half steps ahead of everyone else throughout this short but action-packed tale.

This particular story was reprinted twice in different anthologies, but so far I cannot find any source for any of the other seven Major Brane stories. Nor can I find the specific issues of Argosy online anywhere.

Major Brane should not be forgotten. He's too cool to be forgotten. Someone must acquire the rights and put together an anthology featuring the eight Major Brane tales. Someone MUST do this. Right now.

I'm waiting.... 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Broiling Deserts and Snow-Clogged Mountain Passes

A few years ago, I wrote a post about one of Max Brand's novels featuring Silvertip, a cowboy who (along with his exceptional horse and loyal wolf) gets into a series of adventures helping the innocent. I compared it to the comic book adaptation of the novel.

This time, I'm reviewing a comic book adaptation of a Silvertip novel without having read the actual novel yet. I'm actually a little sorry I did this now, because it is an awesome story and I will be reading the novel. I would have prefered it not have been spoiled for me.

Four Color #572 (July 1954) is an adaptation of the novel Silvertip's Search (which itself first appeared in the September 23, 1933 isse of Western Story Magazine). The writer and the cover artist are unknown. The interior art, as was usual with most of the Silvertip adaptations, was by Everett Raymond Kinstler.

Silvertip is asked by the father of a young man named Rap Brender to find Rap, who has taken a walk on the wildside and joined the gang of Bart Hawkins, an outlaw who has a large gang and maintains a tight control over the town he lives in. 

(Interestingly, the summary of the book on Amazon gives the outlaw's name as Barry Christian. I guess the writer or editor of the comic wanted a name that sounded more "outlaw-y.")

Silvertip gets an example of how tightly Hawkins controls things when a man is shot just for speaking to Silvertip.

Silvertip is soon on Hawkins' hit list. Rap wanted excitement when he joined the outlaws, but shies away from murder and helps Silvertip get away. In return, Silvertip saves Rap a short time after that.

Rap, by the way, has fallen in love with Rose Cardigan, who is being held for ransom by Hawkins. This leads to the epically cool part of the story. Hawkins and a henchman are taking Rose to Mexico, to safely keep her a prisoner there until they get their ransom. They have to ride across the desert, but have extra horses and a large supply of water. Silvertip and Rap follow, but only have one horse each and only a little water. A large part of the comic covers this epic journey, in which Silvertip uses his survival and tracking skills to keep him and Rap alive as they stay on Hawkins' trail.

By the time they come to a mountain pass (which moves them from broiling heat into freezing snow), Rap is too exhausted to go on. Silvertip leaves Rap in a warm cave, then goes on alone. He manages to free Rose from her captors, but a chase through the snow (which at one point necessitates outrunning an avalanche) ends with the deaths of the villains.

The journey through the desert and the mountains really does have an epic feel to it. That's the main reason I'm tracking down the novel to read it. Max Brand is perhaps my favorite early 20th Century writer of Westerns and he's bound to make the prose version of this even more epic.

I do have one small complaint about Kinstler's otherwise excellent art. While traveling through the desert, Silvertip and Rap take off their shirts because of the heat. This is a huge no-no and Silvertip would have known better. In the desert, you do NOT allow yourself to become sunburned. Aside from the debilitating pain, it sucks moisture out of you even faster than would otherwise happen. If you are ever pursuing a villain across a scorching desert to rescue a girl, KEEP YOUR SHIRT ON!

Next week, we'll begin a two-week look at Marvel's last gasp attempt to publish anotholgy books that featured seperate stories about different and often very dissimilar characters.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: "Barbary Coast, Part 1"  11/1/43

The Ranger, Tonto and Dan Reid head for San Francisco to stamp out crime and corruption in San Francisco. This is the first of a multi-part story arc in which the Ranger deals with crime in a big city rather than more more-sparsely settled territories he normally patrols.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Doomed Caravan

Doomed Caravan (1941) starts with a bang. Literally. In fact, it starts with a whole bunch of bangs as the opening credits fade directly into a gun battle. Jane Travers (Minnie Gombell) and her men are defending her freighting company against outlaws who were trying to burn her out.

It's a great start to another fun Hopalong Cassidy film, with the battle staged against the light of a burning building. The director was Leslie Selander, a B-movie vet who oversaw over 100 Westerns during his career and made just about all of them look cool. Like so many B-movie directors, he was a skilled visual storyteller.

The screenplay for this one, by the way, was co-written by Johnston McCulley, creator of Zorro.

Anyway, Hoppy shows up the day after the fight, escorting in a shipment of gold he wants Jane's freighters to transport for him. Being Hoppy, he agrees to stick around and help her against the mysterious enemy who is trying to destroy her company.

But when a dozen soldiers show up to escort the next wagon train Jane is organizing, Hoppy seems to chicken out, taking his crew with him as he rides away.

This is because Hoppy had picked up on several clues that told him the soldiers are impostors. Actually, some of the outlaws had ambushed the real soldiers and taken their uniforms. The idea is to wait until the freight wagons are out in the middle of nowhere, then take over.

Hoppy puts a stop to that, but when the freight wagons get to Mexico, the bad guys come up with a clever plan to get the drop on Hoppy, Jane and their crew of drivers. Soon, Hoppy finds himself on the run, without allies. Well, almost without allies. A spunky young lady and a goofy sidekick are also loose and willing to help.

William Boyd made 66 films as Hopalong Cassidy and I don't think there's a single one of them that isn't fun. This one has a strong plot, several excellent action set pieces and a great supporting cast. One member of that cast is Georgia Ellis (billed as Georgia Hawkins), who plays the spunky young lady who helps Hoppy in the Mexican village. Georgia would, of course, be playing Kitty on the radio version of Gunsmoke about a decade later.

This one is on YouTube, so you can watch it at your leisure:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Crime on the Half-Shell

Joe Jibbs captains a ship that harvests oysters and he really, really wants his son to one day carry on the family business. Unfortunately, his son turns out to be a daughter.

But young Josephine (Jo) turns out to be a good sailer. When her Dad is blinded in an accident, she takes over the business and makes a good go of it. But a band of crooks, led by a guy named Blackhand, is robbing oyster ships and selling the products on the black market.

This is the story we find in Detective Comics #113 (July 1946).  It's a fun story, with several unique points to it that help it stand out from other stories of that era.

First, there's Blackhand. This is his only appearance, but I think he could have made an effective if minor member of Batman's regular Rogue's Gallery. He's smart and ruthless--and has a unique physical appearance because his right hand is permanently burned black. He once stuck it in a fire along with the hand of the cop to whom he was handcuffed. When the cop fainted first, Blackhand got the cuff keys and escaped. Ouch.

After some initial shenanigans, Batman and Robin become members of Jo's crew while they wait for the crooks to attack. What I find interesting is that Bill Finger's script supplies us with what I assume is accurate information about the oyster industy. I actually know nothing about oyster fishing in 1946, but the story has that ambiance of accuracy we run into in fiction from time to time. Of course, it's possible that I'm just being fooled, but I think Finger knew something about oyster fishing or he did a little research.

Also, when the bad guys do attack, one of them grabs the wheel of Jo's boat and deliberately performs a manuever that will knock Batman off the boat with the swinging boom. Artist Dick Sprang uses a panel to give us a diagram detailing exactly what happened.

Somebody was doing some research. Or faking it really good. I'm not enough of a sailor to pick out any inaccuracies.

Anyway, Jo is captured and held for ransom. But she out-Batmans Batman by first fooling Blackhand into thinking a pearl that had been mounted on a ring was found in one of the oysters. Then she pokes a series of holes in the ransom note that her dad can read a Braille. These two tricks together allow the Dynamic Duo to track her down and rescue her.

It's really too bad Jo Jibbs never made a return appearance either. She looks like she would have fit in as a regular member of the Bat Family.

That's it for now. Next week, it's back to the Wild West to revisit Max Brand's hero Silvertip.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke: "The Lamb" 12/5/53

The soft-spoken, polite man who just rode into Dodge City also happens to have a reputation as one of the deadliest gunmen in the West.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Gentleman, then Burglar, then Detective

I'm really loving the fact that is putting so many pulp magazines online. Apparently, they just throw them on their site and don't pull them unless a copyright holder complains, which (to be fair) is probably the only way a site like that can operate and make any significant number of items available. I imagine in a lot of cases the copyright holder of specific stories is perfectly happy to get them out there. And if is honest about pulling something down if they get a complaint, then I suppose it's all fair enough. Besides, scanning errors and formating errors if you download from their site are prevelant enough that a properly published e-version would still be commercially viable.

Anyway, despite some of those errors, for those of us non-legal experts who simply want to read some of the wonderful but otherwise out-of-print stories from that Golden Age, the site is a treasure trove. For instance, the January 15, 1934 issue of Dime Detective Magazine contains an Erle Stanley Gardner story I had never read before.

Gardner created something like 18 quintillion characters for the pulps, almost all of whom other than Perry Mason have been unjustly forgotton. (Nothing against Perry--he's one of the best mystery characters ever created, but its too bad Gardner's other detectives, lawyers and crooks have faded into obscurity.)

"Time for Murder" features bored rich guy George Brokay, whom I'm pretty sure is a one-shot character. George inherited a small fortune and used his keen judge of character to invest wisely and gather up a larger fortune. But he's bored with this life and when he catches a skilled burgler about to blow his wall safe, he makes a deal with the guy rather than turn him into the cops.

Brokay will become a burglar as well--doing it simply for the adventure. He'll be an honest thief, returning what he steals afterwards, but he'll at first have the fun of stealing it.

But when his new partner takes him to a mansion to show him the ropes, the first thing they find inside is a dead woman. Also, there is--inexplicably--a terrified monkey in the room.

Well, Brokay and the thief know they'll be accused of the crime if they stick around and admit that they are thieves, so it is clearly time to go on the Lam. But, both to protect himself and out of a sense of responsibility, Brokay wants to find the killer. And the primary clue just might be that darn monkey!

It's a fun story, though it does depend a bit too much on Brokay coincidentally meeting another person involved in the case by almost pure chance. Brokay's interplay with the thief he partnered with (a relationship that rapidly breaks down as they go on the run) and the detective work he must do show Gardner's typical strengths as a storyteller.

The copy on is missing a page, which is a little annoying. But it involves Brokay running from the cops and the next page gives you a convenient recap when he listens in on a police radio, so you can still follow the story. If you want to read it, you'll find it HERE.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Jet Packs and Dinosaurs: Tragg and the Sky Gods #2

When I reviewed the first issue of Tragg and the Sky Gods, I made a point of mentioning how well constructed the story is. That continues with the second issue (September 1975). Writer Don Glut provides us with a concise but effective summary of the situation in case we missed the first issue, then continues to effectively mix together action with exposition in a way that keeps the story fast-paced while still passing on a lot of information to us. Glut often jumps back and forth between different characters, but we never lose track of where everyone is and what they are doing.

This issue begins with Tragg and Lorn trying to convince their tribe that the Sky Gods have returned, but are now evil. Gorth, Tragg's arch-enemy in the tribe, is still accusing Tragg of lying and egging on the tribe to simply kill him and Lorn. Tragg's older brother Jarn, though, manages to mediate a compromise. Tragg and Groth will check out the area where the Sky Gods landed and find out if Tragg is telling the truth.

Gorth actually doesn't care if Tragg is telling the truth. Consumed with jealousy, he simply wants Tragg dead. So he pushes Tragg into a animal pit and continues on to the Sky Gods' damaged ship on his own, where he's quickly captured.

All this action is mixed in with scenes involving the aliens. Their ship is damaged beyond repair, though they are trying to fix their radio and contract the main invasion fleet. They want to wipe out the "apes," but have limited energy for their ray guns. They have a gas that can brain wash the humans, but only a limited supply of that as well.

It's all very clever plot construction. The decision to have the alien ship damaged by rampaging dinosaurs in the previous issue rationally establishes a reason why the high-tech aliens can't simply wipe out the humans with a few bursts of a death ray.

All sorts of shenanigans follow. Tragg proves his genetic superiority by pretty much bashing animals to death--a sabertooth in the animal pit and a T-Rex that is about to chow down on the alien woman Keera.

That's actually an unfair way to phrase it. Tragg is clearly shown using brains as well as brown to fight the beasts in a tactically effective manner.

Anyway, everything leads up to a brainwashed Gorth leading the tribe into a trap, with Zorak planning on using a couple of well-placed ray gun shots to drive a stampede of monsters into them. Tragg and Keera end up nearby. Keera, by now, clearly has the hots for Tragg, who uses her jetpack as a flamethrower to drive off the stampede and save the tribe.

But, though Keera is having some second thoughts about what her people are doing, is still largely loyal to them. She backs Gorth (who is still brainwashed) in his claim that the  Sky Gods are friendly, so Tragg and Lorn end the issue still in exile from the tribe.

Like the first issue, this one is a more-or-less self-contained story that also builds effectively on the overall story arc. Jesse Santos's art fits the story perfectly. Tragg and the Sky Gods continues to be a highlight of the 1970s comic book industry and really does deserve to be better remembered than it is. We'll return for a look at the next issue soon.

Next week, Golden Age Batman goes oyster-fishing.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Cover Cavalcade

This is justifiably considered the weakest of the John Carter novels, but this image in undeniably cool.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "Ring of Thoth" 8/11/47

Based on an early Arthur Conan Doyle story, this is a tale about a 3500-year-old Egyptian priest who is searching for a way to die and thus rejoin the woman he loves in the afterlife.

Click HERE to listen or download.

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