Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Hallmark Playhouse: "Parnassus on Wheels" 1/20/49

A charming adaptation of Christopher Morley's wonderful novel about travelling booksellers.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Pain and the knife, they're inseparable!"

If you look at the above poster, then you think "Aha! Corridors of Blood (1958) is a horror movie and Karloff is playing yet another mad scientist and/or mad killer!"

But the poster is lying to you--or at least showing Karloff without sufficient context. He's not the bad guy. He's the tragic hero.

I had never seen this one. I ran across it while looking through a streaming service the library at which I work is trying out for a month. When I noticed that it stared Karloff and that Christopher Lee was in it--playing a henchman to the main villain named Resurrection Joe--then I realized I had to watch it. Resurrection Joe is one of the best henchmen names ever.

The movie is set in 1840s London, with Karloff playing a skilled surgeon. What makes him skilled is his speed. There is no such thing as anesthetic, so you have to operate quickly to minimize a possibly fatal level of pain and shock.

Dr. Bolton (Karloff) isn't just good with a knife. He's also compassionate, running a free clinic for the city's poor and experimenting with different drugs in an attempt to make an effective anesthetic. His peers at the hospital are skeptical of this last goal. "Pain and the knife," pontificates one of them, "they're inseparable."

Bolton refuses to accept this. But, while his intentions are good, but his methodology is a bit lacking. He experiments on himself and, before long, he's addicted to the drugs he's using.

Karloff's performance is nuanced and heartfelt--a man desperate to find a way to operate without causing pain and to simply help people in need. As he grows more and more addicted and this affects his ability as a surgeon, we feel nothing by sympathy for him. We've watched a good man--with at first the most noble intentions--gradually destroy himself.

Circumstances bring Dr. Bolton into the circle of Black Ben (Francis De Wolff). Ben owns a seedy tavern, but makes his real money luring indigent drunks inside and then having Resurrection Joe smother them with a pillow. The bodies are then sold to the hospital for medical training. 

The glitch in this business is that he needs a doctor to sign a death certificate for each body. When Bolton's deteriorating condition gets him removed from his post at the hospital and leaves him without access to the hospital pharmacy, he cuts a deal with Ben. He'll sign a stack of blank death certificates. In exchange, Ben will send Joe to help Bolton break into the pharmacy and get what he needs--primarily a bottle of opium.

Joe ends up killing the night watchmen. To his horror, Bolton finds himself trapped in the company of villains and quickly becoming useless to them.

Karloff's brilliant performance is the lynch pin for the whole movie, but the supporting cast is also excellent. The sets, costumes and dialogue effectively recreates the time period. I also like the Dickensian attitude towards class structure--the movie condemns an attitude we see among the the upper class when it is indifferent to the suffering of the poor. But there is no excuse given for those among the poor (Big Ben and Resurrection Joe) who have turned to crime. There is a moral balance here that I find admirable and ethically healthy.

So this isn't really a horror movie, though there are elements of that genre present. It's a combination of thriller and historical drama that is well-acted and tells a strong story. That darn poster is a big, fat liar. For that matter, so's the movie's trailer:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Those Poor Oxen!

Bill Elliot, like pretty much every successful B-movie cowboy hero, had his fair share of comic book appearances. In Bill's case, the numbering of these can get a bit confusing. He first appeared in Dell's Four Color #278 in 1950. When he got his own series later that same year, this began with issue #2--the Four Color appearance was counted as the first issue. This was common practice at Dell, though the publisher wasn't always consistent in this practice.

The 10th issue came out in 1952, then the series was cancelled. Bill had two more Four Color appearances after this (#472 & #520), then his own series restarted in 1954 with issue #13. So the two later Four Colors were counted as issues #11 & #12.  Gee whiz, if you collected those issues, what order would you put them in your long boxes?

Anyway, we'll be looking at a story from that initial Four Color. Bill is asked by an old friend for help. The friend runs a paper mill near San Francisco, but a nearby rancher wants control of all the water in the valley, so is working to sabotage the mill and put it out of business. There's no legal proof, though, that the rancher is behind the sabotage attempts.

For instance, a wagon load of machine parts is driven off a cliff when a thug tumbles a big rock down on it. The artist--identified only as Cary--gives us a pretty brutal image of the oxen falling to their deaths.  The driver and his assistant, though, leap clear.

Bill is nearby when this happens and manages to wing the thug--though he then loses him in the surrounding woods. These leads to the first of several times in the story in which Bill demonstrates himself to be a savvy detective as he realizes the snakeskin band on the hat the thug dropped is probably unique enough to help identify him.

Bill gets a real Sherlock Holmes moment a little later when he realizes a supposed expert on machinery is lying about his profession. The guy walks with a gait that shows he's used to wearing high heeled cowboy boots.

In fact, "The War on Spider Creek" is as much a detective story as it is a Western, with Bill following up clues in a logical manner, engineering a trap to catch one of the rancher's minions, and later lures the rancher and his gang into a larger trap. Adding detective story elements to B-Westerns was pretty common in both the movies and their comic book counterparts. When done well, this makes for a nice recipe for fun storytelling.

Though I do enjoy the story, I have a couple of nitpicks. It's made clear that there is enough water for both the rancher and the paper mill. So the rancher wants control of all the water for no reason other than to be evil. Establishing that the water can be shared, though, was necessary to set up the ending.

The rancher is caught, but no blood has been spilled Well, no human blood. Those poor oxen are still dead.

Bill gets his friend and the rancher to work out a deal to share the water rights, with the rancher agreeing to do so to avoid jail. The rancher also agrees to pay for the damage his men have caused. This allows Bill to comment on how nice it is to solve a problem without bloodshed.

This is all well and good as far as it goes. As an evangelical Christian, I'm all for portraying the idea of personal forgiveness as the proper route to take, while the rancher paying for damages is showing him taking responsibility for his actions.

But civilizations work by having a rule of law and it is never wrong to apply legal consequences to crimes even when personal forgiveness is forthcoming. The rancher had hired men to commit acts of violence and it was only dumb luck that no one got killed. (Despite my joke above, the death of the oxen does not, of course, have moral equivalency with the death of a person.) Of course, there as times when forgiveness and clemency should extend into overt law-breaking. I'm just not convinced that this was the wise thing to do in this case. If your thugs try to kill people while acting under your orders, then you need to do some jail time.

But I get that the story wanted to make a point about settling matters peaceable. And it really is a fun, well-constructed tale. So, like Bill and his friend, we'll be forgiving and let the matter stand as is.

This issue can be found online HERE.

Next week, we return to the 2nd World War for a story that uses our own Genre Savvy against us to give the story a fun plot twist.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Adventures of Frank Race: "The Adventure of the Baradian Letters" 6/12/49

A woman Frank met during the war contacts him while he is in Paris, quickly embroiling him in a case similar to Holmes' "A Scandal in Bohemia," but also adds a murder into the mix.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Light Swords And Poison Sprays

Light swords? The good guys (and one traitor among the good guys) use light swords. George Lucas admits that ideas used in Star Wars came from many different sources, including pulp science fiction. Maybe lightsabers came from this story?  Enough has been written about the genesis of Star Wars that the answer to this question is out there somewhere, but it is now impossible to read about the light swords without thinking about Jedi Knights and lightsabers.

Anyway, the story we are talking about is "Kaldar: World of Antares," first published in the April 1933 issue of Magic Carpet Magazine. In it we discover that if you are an indigent with no family and an adventurous streak, then there are some very interesting job opportunities out there for you.

This is what Stuart Merrick discovers when he answers an advertisement asking for just those qualifications. He finds out that a group of scientists have discovered a way to transport a person to a planet in another solar system. The trouble is they don't know what he'll find when he gets there--or even if the planet is habitable. It's a dangerous job and the scientists are very upfront about this.

Merrick agrees, asking for sturdy clothes, a knapsack full of food and a pistol. I love this story and I'll be praising it here, but it annoys the heck out of me that no one--either Merrick or the supposedly genius scientists, say "Hey, maybe we should send along a camera and a few rolls of film as well."

Anyway, he'll be automatically teleported home after three days as long as he returns to the same spot on which he arrived.

The experiment is a success. Merrick arrives on the planet Antares in the middle of a vast city and causes quite a stir among the human beings who are living there. They soon have him hooked up to a language-learning machine. He's a little reluctant to go along with this at first, since it involves sticking electrodes directly into his skull. But a pretty girl named Narna convinces him to do this and he is instantly given the ability to speak to everyone.

I don't blame Merrick for this. Pretty girls can wrap me around their little fingers at a moment's notice as well.

Anyway, Merrick arrived just as the people of Kaldar (the city of humans) are deciding on their next leader. It turns out he popped up on a particular spot at just the right moment to convince nearly everyone he should take charge.

This job will entail a little more than speed learning language and (it turns out) getting married to the lovely Narna. Kaldar is surrounded by a variety of non-human races, the most dangerous of which is the spider-people calls the Cosp. The humans actually know very little about the rest of their planet, because they are hemmed in and often attacked by these enemies.

The Cosp use poison sprayers and a device that envelops an area in thick darkness. The good guys have light guns and, for hand-to-hand work, light swords that disintegrate whatever they touch. The Cosp have always had a tactical advantage, primarily from the darkness generator, and frequently raid the city for slaves.

When Kaldar is hit by a raid, Merrick comes up with a new tactic that helps even the odds. But a traitor among them kidnaps Narna and flies away with the Cosp. So Merrick has to lead a small rescue party into the Cosp city--a dwelling hollowed out of a metal mountain--to get Narna back.

It's a fun, exciting story, full of the imagination that Hamilton always brought to his tales. If I had a complaint (other than no one thought he should bring a camera--gee whiz), it's that the two guys who go along with Merrick on the rescue mission are underused. Jurul is a master swordsman and Holk is an incredibly strong warrior. Together, they make a fun team, but they don't get to do much.

But I have discovered that there are two more Kaldar stories out there. I'm reasonably familiar with Hamilton's work, but simply missed ever seeing these particular tales before. I'll have to find them and continuing reading about Merrick's adventures on Antares. I hope Jurul and Holk get more stuff to do, but I'm sure I'll enjoy the visit nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Corporate Takeovers, Mutant Assassins and Raising the Dead Back to Life--Part 2

Cover art by Jim Aparo

When we left off last week, Batman, Robin, Catwoman (currently reformed at this point in Bronze Age continuity) and secret agent King Faraday are prisoners of the yet-to-be-identified Big Bad who had been trying to take over Wayne Enterprises and put Bruce Wayne on a slab in the morgue.

This is the point in the story where Batman #334 (April 1981) begins (though Robin and Catwoman make a brief escape before being recaptured). The unlucky quartet, though they had been working the case from separate directions, end up together on a remote volcanic island in the Indian Ocean. Batman is given the choice of joining the bad guy or joining the others as slaves in the mines. Naturally, he chooses the mines.

Which is just as well, because the four make a break for it together in record time., smashing their leg chains and fighting through the genetically engineered mutates who guard them.

In fact, this issue and the next are built around several escape attempts, which always yield the heroes more information before they are recaptured. It's a nifty way of constructing the story, giving us plenty of action (with Irv Novick continuing to provide us with great art), while gradually providing plot exposition in a way that keeps the readers hooked. Marv Wolfman is the writer and continues to demonstrate why he was considered one of the best in the business.

The escapees run across Talia, who apparently has the freedom of the villain's lair.  We learn that Bruce (despite Dick Grayson's concerns) did not blindly trust her, but suspected all along that she might still be working for her dad.

And her dad is indeed the main villain. This will catch very few readers be surprise today if they are reading the story for the first time. In 1981, Ra's al Ghul had been around for a decade and had appeared in a number of important stories, but I don't know if he yet stood out as the major member of Batman's Rogue's Gallery that he has since become. So his reveal might have had a bit more impact at that time.

Anyway, Talia really does have a thing for Bruce, but she is under Ra's al Ghul's control because she's actually 150 years old and kept young only through the rare drugs he provides her.

Batman #335 has Ra's making one last attempt to get Batman to switch sides. We also learn that Ra's had been engineering the corporate takeover most to get hold of this particular island without anyone noticing it was important. There is a Lazarus Pit located there--something Ra's both needs and prefers to keep a monopoly on.

Batman refuses to join him, so Ra's decides to convert the Caped Crusader into a mindless mutate. The other heroes pull off another escape and Talia switches sides again to also help Batman. In the confusion, one of Ra's al Ghul's henchmen shoots Talia.

This requires Ra's to multi-task. He has to angrily kill the henchman, use the Lazarus Pit to save Talia, then kill Batman. This leads to a wonderfully choreographed fight scene between Batman and Ra's that runs seven pages, with Ra's taking an unplanned dip in the Lazarus Pit himself and coming out super-strong, lava-hot and completely insane.

The fight ends with Ra's supposedly dead and the heroes getting away in the nick of time just before the island blows up. Talia leaves Bruce to experience growing old naturally on her own and Bruce and Dick make friends again. Thus ends a strong four-issue story arc with great action and a very well-constructed story.

Next week, we'll return to the Old West to share a comic book adventure with yet another B-movie cowboy.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Molle Mystery Theater: "The Creeper" 3/29/46

A serial killer who targets red-headed women is terrorizing a neighborhood. One poor woman sporting red hair suspects nearly everyone she meets of being the killer. Is she right about one of them?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Good Lesson to Learn

Last year, I found and re-read a book I remembered enjoying enormously as a kid. The Hostile Beaches turned out to be quite good. It was the second of six books about the war time adventures of two young sailors.

This made me want to read the rest of the series, but they've been out of print for years and used copies for most of this series run about $30.00 each. So--though I would like to one day own the entire series--I finally acquired the first book, The Cold Seas Beyond (1963), via interlibrary loan. I ended up with a copy owned by the University of Missouri--Kansas City.

This one is set in the Aleutian Islands, not long after several of the western-most islands are occupied by the Japanese. Bob Dunbar, our point-of-view character, is just out of high school and working on a civilian salvage ship named the Otter. They are now helping the military, delivering supplies and doing salvage work when necessary.

It's another great book and I'm looking forward to reading the others. This may drive our interlibrary loan library nuts trying to track down copies for me. But that's her job, by golly, and sometimes you just have to consider people expendable.

Anyway, I'm not going to give a detailed summary of the book because I want to talk about one particular scene that really impressed me, especially since this was a Juvenile novel (what we would today call a Young Adult novel). I'm afraid it involves a spoiler, but I really want to talk about this.

The Otter is sent out to salvage a PT boat that ran aground on a remote island. The crew of the PT boat has already been evacuated, but the Navy in the Aleutians are already short on resources, so they want the boat back if possible.

The Otter has quite an adventure on this job. The weather is horrible, making just approaching the rocky shore where the PT is stranded dangerous. When the crew decides that the boat can be salvaged, this requires back-breaking work in still horrible and freezing weather to patch up a hole and pump out sea water. Rigging the towline and getting the boat off the shore is also difficult, as is towing it through the very heavy seas.

Before they can get back to safe harbor, the towing line parts. There is heavy fog and the two crewmen who were aboard the PT boat find themselves alone, adrift and with no idea where they are. Then, when the fog clears, they are spotted by American planes. They don't have a working lamp with which to send a recognition signal, so the planes attack them. The PT boat is sunk and the crewmen are found and rescued by the Otter just in time to keep them from freezing to death in the bitterly cold sea.

So all that hard labor, danger and tension had been for nothing. It's only one incident in the ship's career and they have their share of victories--including a remarkable one at the novel's climax. But I couldn't be more impressed that this sequence is included in a book targeted at younger readers.  There is no guarantees in war--or in life in general. Sometimes, you'll do your best and, through no fault of your own or no fault of anyone (heck, the American planes acting properly in sinking a boat that didn't send the recognition signal), you will fail. When this happens, it is your responsibility to bounce back and try again.

Such a great lesson and exactly the sort of thing that should be in a Young Adult novel.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Corporate Takeovers, Mutant Assassins and Raising the Dead Back to Life--Part 1

Cover art by Jim Aparo

Usually, Batman's foremost concerns are stopping costumed madmen from committing mass murder, saving the world at large from various threats, or beating up the occasional mugger. But there are times when, as Bruce Wayne, he does have to pay attention to his business ventures. In Batman #332 (February 1981), this is particularly important, because someone is trying to run Wayne Enterprises out of business and take over its assets.

This is the beginning of an engrossing four-part story written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Irv Novick (with Don Newton drawing a connected back-up story in this first issue). As the story opens, Bruce is having personal problems as well as business problems. He's gotten involved with Talia, the daughter of immortal criminal Ra's al Ghul. Bruce has apparently accepted her story that she's in love with him and will go straight, but Dick Grayson isn't convinced of this at all. This, by the way, is just a short time before Dick graduates from Robin to Nightwing. Dick storms out of the Bat Cave, vowing never to return.

Of course, we eventually learn that Batman isn't that dumb or that trusting--he does care for Talia, but keeps her in mind as a suspect even while he's working with her.

Then Bruce finds out about the business-related shenanigans. An obese rival named Gregorian Falstaff (I love that name) is behind all this, but he's using blackmail and kidnapping to get inside information on Wayne Enterprises, which makes it a matter for Batman.

Soon, there's a fight between the Dark Knight and a genetically altered strong man, in which Batman gets tossed through a wall with embarrassing ease. But I guess the law of Conservation of Ninjutsu is in effect here--where Batman is curb stomped by one mutant, he's able to fight his way through a roomful of them a little later one.

This all comes to an end when Falstaff tries to use a hostage as a shield only to have Talia kick him into the path of his own energy weapon. The guy ends up as a pile of ash on the floor. This doesn't end the case, though. By now, Batman has figured out that there was a power behind Falstaff--a greater enemy who still poses a threat.

So, in Batman #333 (March 1981), it's off to investigate a Swiss bank in hopes of back-tracking the money trail. But the bad guys are on to Batman and he soon finds himself pursued (in an excellent action scene) by assassins on skis shooting laser rifles at him. Soon after, he and Talia are attacked while he's dressed as Bruce Wayne, which means the bad guy knows his secret identity.

Bruce and Talia end up in Hong Kong, still attempting to figure out who the villain behind all this is. But the issue ends with Bruce getting captured.

While all this is going on, Robin has enlisted Catwoman as an ally to begin his own investigation into all this. At this point in Bronze Age continuity, Catwoman has reformed and had also found out Bruce Wayne was Batman. If I remember correctly, she was brainwashed back into being a villain just before the 1986 reboot. In more recent years, the idea of her reforming has been re-visited in stories I'm not familiar enough to pass judgement on. But in the early 1980s, it was handled well, making her an interesting part of the Bat Family and hinting at an eventually marriage to Bruce that would have mirrored her Earth 2 counterpart. 

Anyway, I really like the way this separate plot thread was handled. For what I would bet were reasons that included pacing and the chronology of the events, the adventures of Robin and Catwoman are regulated to 8-page backup stories in each of these two issues. The two follow their own leads, also end up in Hong Kong, team up with government agent King Faraday, then themselves get captured. 

Keeping the two story lines separate allows us to fully appreciate the contributions each of the protagonists is making to the overall plot and Marv Wolfman dovetails them together nicely. 

Next week, we'll look at the final two issues in this story arc, when the action moves to a remote island in the Indian Ocean and we finally find out who the Big Bad is this time.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Cover Cavalcade

Flash #120 from 1961 and the story's sequel from Flash #269, published 18 years later in 1979. It's interesting to note that neither golden giants or dinosaurs intelligent enough to use weapons & tools wouldn't even break the Top Ten on Flash's "weirdest stuff I've encountered" list.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Adventures of Ellery Queen: "A Message in Red" 11/7/45

A stenographer, a publisher's reader and a lady's maid are all killed by the same gun--but in different locations at different times. They didn't know each other or share any friends, so what's the connection between them?

Victor Jory, who had played another famous detective in the 1940 serial The Shadow, is the celebrity guest who gets to play armchair detective and outguess Ellery.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Moon Mist on a Planet with No Moon

Venus is, of course, a tropical planet overrun with thick jungle and nigh-impenetrable swamps. That's how its often described in the excellent Sword-and-Planet stories of Leigh Brackett and--by golly--no one should question to will of she who wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back.  Her husband, Edmond Hamilton, also wrote about a Venus like that in his Captain Future novels.

Of course, her Venus and his Venus don't quite match up with one another, nor do they match with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Venus or any of the other Venus' of fiction. So each inhabits their own universe, but still give us swamps, jungles and dinosaurian monsters of various shapes and sizes. They beat our boring Solar System in just about every area. NASA should do something about that.

Brackett's best Venus story--what is also considered one of her best short stories period--is "The Moon That Vanished," published in the October 1948 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories.  Here we meet expatriate American David Heath, who spends most of his time in a drug-induced stupor in a tavern located on the shores of the Sea of Morning Opals. Desperate to bring back a dead lover, he had once tried to sail into an area called the Moonfire--where legends say a person can become a god if he survives the ensuing agony and makes it to the center of the area. David had not gotten past the outskirts and, though he now had the minor ability to manipulate free electrons in the air and form a ghost image of his dead girlfriend, he hadn't achieved godhood.

He gets another chance when a couple of Venusians--a man named Broca and a woman named Alor--kidnap him and force him to sail his own ship back to the Moonfire. By doing this, though, they may have saved--or at least prolonged his life. The priests called the Children of the Moon figure that Heath should die for the blasphemy of entering the Moonfire and, since he hasn't been courteous enough to die on is own, they have decided to help him along.

The two Venusians are also on the priests' hit list, though Broca wants to get to the Moon fire primarily because he wants to become a god and make Alor his woman. Alor isn't necessarily on board with this. In fact, during the long voyage, she falls for David Heath. Broca is very displeased with this.

A reader might be wondering how a planet that has no moon developed a cult revolving around the idea of one. Heath's idea is that there was one once, but it eventually crashed into Venus, forming the area called the Moonfire. Whether the powers said to be available there were granted by the gods or a result of radioactive contamination doesn't really matter in a practical sense--in either case, the results are the same.

The journey itself takes up the bulk of the story, with the priests pursing them in another ship, storms and sea monsters to keep things exciting. When they reach the Moonfire, they do penetrate far enough to find out exactly what the power you get does. In a sense, it does make you a god. But it can also lead to self-destruction. David Heath has to decide whether to embrace that power and gain back an illusion that his lost-love still lives or accept that life goes on and that Alor is living and real and that he loves her now. Of course, there's also the necessity of rescuing Alor from a madman who has embraced godlike powers. But no one ever said love was easy.

That's the sort of Venus we should have. There really ought to be someone to complain to about this sort of thing.

I think in a few weeks, we'll take a look at one of the Sword-and-Planet stories of Brackett's husband Edmond Hamilton--one of my favorite pulp and comic book writers. We'll tag along with him to another solar system rather than make the short hop to Venus, but I expect we'll still have a good time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Micronauts, Part 6

Micronauts #11 (November 1979) is pretty much the conclusion of the initial adventure, with #12 (December 1979) tying up a few loose ends and setting up future story arcs.

Which is fine, because Bill Mantlo's scripts and Michael Golden's art are all still meshing together to bring us an epic story set in a superbly constructed universe. I'll have to say it one more time--This series is one of the best examples of coherent and intriguing world-building I've ever run across in any fictional universe.

The Acroyears had defeated Karza's forces on their home planet, while Argon had led an apparently successful rebellion on Homeworld. But Karza is still in space with an overwhelming army at his command, holding Rann and Mari prisoner. Argon's forces have pretty much used up their weapons and resources, so are unable to fight back.

Karza had supposedly captured Rann to learn about the Enigma Force, but we now learn that this knowledge is buried in Rann's subconscious. Karza knows this, so holding him prisoner is really just a red herring--a distraction while Karza crushes the rebellion.

And Karza, despite the setbacks he's suffered over the last few issues, does seem to be unbeatable. He smacks down Agron in a hand-to-hand fight and is about to order his troops to slaughter everyone.

But then we finally learn what the Enigma Force is. The Shadow Priests--who had also rebelled against Karza--turn out to be different aspects of Rann, created and split off from him during his 1000 years in suspended animation while he explored the Microverse. 

The meta-physics behind all this are left a bit vague, but it's the sort of thing that makes perfect sense in the context of a Comic Book Universe and the super-science of the Microverse. It's a plot twist that does not at all seem like a cop-out or a dues ex machina because Mantlo has been careful to set up the background for all this gradually throughout the last 10 issues. It's another example of why I think this might be Mantlo's best work in a career full of incredibly fun storytelling.

All the aspects of Rann combine with him to form a powerful personification of the Enigma Force.
Another fight ensues, with Karza coming out on the losing end. He makes a last effort to simply destroy Homeworld (if he can't have it, by golly, nobody can), but the Acroyear fleet shows up in the nick of time to put a stop to that. Karza plunges into a bottomless pit to his apparent death.

And that brings the main story to a very satisfying conclusion. Micronauts #12 is an epilogue, with most of the action involving a formal duel between Acroyear and his traitorous brother Shaitan, which gives us some additional insights into Acroyear's character and ends with Shaitan's death.

We also get indications that Bug is still alive and there's a scene on Earth to give Ray and Steve Coffin a happy ending (a search of the Grand Comics Database doesn't have any future appearances by them other than in a What If?) and set up some future story lines set on Earth.

I do know that Shaitan and Karza are both later resurrected. Remember that I haven't read this particular issues before and the only other issues I have read are the ones I've reviewed in the past: HERE and HERE. I know I missed out on something cool by not getting this series during its original run. On the other hand, this story arc comes to a very satisfying and definite conclusion in regards to the bad guys. Without having read the later stories involving them, I admit to being a bit leery about them returning to life later on. It really is a very over-used trope in both Marvel and DC Comics. On the third hand, though, I trust Bill Mantlo to come up with a good concept for bringing them back. 

The series ran for 59 issues, so, like ROM Space Knight, it's unlikely my finances will allow me to collect the entire run and licencing issues will probably mean reprints are always unlikely. So I may review random issues that I happen to snatch up in the future, but for now we'll be leaving the Microverse behind.

Next week, we'll take a look at a 4-part Batman story from the Bronze Age.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Cover Cavalcade

Tales to Astonish #9 (1960) and Where Monsters Dwell #28 (1974), in which "Droom: The Living Lizard" is reprinted. Art by Jack Kirby.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "Sundown" 6/23/50

A boy's only possession growing up is a six-gun--a weapon he plans to one day use to kill a certain outlaw as soon as he's old enough to do so.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Merely the Comedic Sidekick? I Don't Think So!

Read/Watch 'em In Order #85

I have, by the way, been reviewing the Nick Carter films in the order they appear on the DVD menu (they are all on a single disc). Phantom Raiders (1940) is the third movie on the disc, but I have just run across a reference online to this one being the second film. The latter two films were both released in 1940. Sure enough, a little extra checking showed that Phantom Raiders was released on June 7 of that year, while Sky Murder hit the theaters on September 27. So I'm afraid I have been out of order in my In Order reviews. Hopefully, civilization will survive this error, though it will be a close thing.

Anyway, this time out Nick Carter is on vacation in Panama, where he reluctantly agrees to work for an insurance company and look into the recent sinkings of several cargo ships--all from the same shipping line.

The movie actually shows us the bad guys right off and lets us in on how they are sinking the ships. Bombs are hidden aboard the ships' radios, then set off via remote control. With the help of several corrupt shipping company executives, the main villain is shipping worthless cargo that was insured for a lot of money.

So the movie isn't a whodunit, but rather a how-will-Nick-catch-them. Nick suspects the main villain right from the start--a crook named Al Taurez (Joseph Schildkraut) with whom Nick had tangled back in the States. But proving this, as well as figuring out how Al is blowing up the ships, will take some doing. Al is also a knife-throwing expert, which makes it particularly dangerous to get on his bad side.

Schildkraut's suave but ruthless turn as the villain is a good one--he really does exude menace. The rest of the supporting cast--as is so typical with the best of the B-movies from that era--is a lot of fun. Nat Pendleton, for instance, plays Gunboat Jacklin, an ex-boxer now working as Al's bodyguard. Pendleton--an ex-wrestler in real life--was never in danger of having to write an Oscar acceptance speech, but his career playing often likable thugs and tough guys in B-movies is an honorable one. Even when he is one of the bad guys, you always kind of like him and think its nice to have him around.

I also particularly like the performance of Cecil Kellaway as a corrupt shipping exec who is having a crisis of conscience over the men who have died on the sunken ships.

Special mention, though, has to go to Donald Meek, who played Nick's sidekick Bartholomew ("Beeswax," as Nick calls him) in all three films. Meek is the comic relief and his slightly manic turn as Bartholomew is funny. But though he started as 90% comic relief & 10% useful in Nick Carter, Detective, he turns out to be quite awesome in the remaining two films.

In Phantom Raiders, he saves Nick at least twice. After one of these occasions, Nick has decided the money he's being paid isn't worth the risk and plans to quit. It's Bartholomew who eggs him into continuing by delivering an "anonymous" threat to Nick's room, thus playing on the detective's pride. Bartholomew also does some clever work in luring Al out of his office so Nick can search it. Heck, he's more co-hero of the film than sidekick. When I finally get around to my career of solving crimes, I'm going to be on the look-out for an assistant just like "Beeswax!"

All three Nick Carter movies are great, but Phantom Raiders is my favorite, both in terms of good story construction and fun characters.

That finished up the Nick Carter films and brings us up-to-date in the current batch of In Order reviews. As of my writing this post (about a month before it posts), I am undecided on what to do next for this series. But I'll think of something before long. Civilization isn't going to collapse on my watch.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Blue Phantom

Written and drawn by Fred Fredericks, The Blue Phantom (cover-dated June-August 1962) was a one-shot published by Dell Comics. It's a fun story--a well-researched and well-written saga from the War Between the States.

The protagonist is Rex Kingsbury, the son of a Virginia plantation owner. Rex and a band of 150 men have been out west working the gold fields. Now they're on their way home, with enough gold to make each of them wealthy.

But there's trouble afoot on the home front. Fort Sumter has been fired upon and all Brad's neighbors are eager to fight for the Confederacy. Rex's dad has passed away, but not before ticking everyone off by freeing his slaves. Rex's sister Jane thinks their father essentially died of a broken heart after being shunned by the community at large for his anti-slavery position.

Rex and Jane share the anti-slavery sentiments and also still feel loyalty to the Union. So when they throw a barbecue to try to mend fences with their neighbors--well, that doesn't end happily.

Rex's plantation ends up being burned to the ground. But remember the 150 men with whom Rex rode west? You don't go West, work in the gold mines and come back rich unless you are tougher than any two other men.  150 of them make one heck of a cavalry unit and, when Jane is hidden away in a remote cabin, Rex and his boys start making trouble for the Rebs.

By the way, those battles mentioned in the panel above are all real ones. Though this story is fiction, it is indeed well-researched and all the events involving Rex are nicely meshed with real-life history.

Anyway, Rex finds out about Rebel plans to attack the Northern army and delivers a warning. He realizes that the battle will overrun the plantation of Diana Rutherford, the love of Rex's life. Diana, though, is loyal to the South and their relationship has long since gone sour. So getting her out of the line of fire involves not simply warning her of the danger, but actually kidnapping her and dragging her away.

Rex stashes her away in the same cabin his sister is using. The two women, both strong-willed and both loyal to their respective causes, do not have a pleasant visit.

In the meantime, Rex joins in at the First Battle of Bull Run. Despite Rex's information, the Union Army is whipped, but the war goes on. Diana is returned to her only-partially ruined home and Rex rides off to continue to fight for the North.

With nearly four years of war still to go, there is plenty of room here for more stories involving Rex and his cavalry unit, as well as a continued examination of his relationship with Diana (who mostly claims she hates him, but has occasional second thoughts). For instance, having Rex encounter Diana's father or brother in battle would have made a powerful tale.

The climax of this story is open-ended enough to imply that later stories might have been at least tentatively planned. Perhaps the issue didn't sell well enough. Also, this was published the same year Dell broke away from Western Publishing (which started Gold Key Comics), so there may simply have been confusion among the staff as they scrambled to find their own footing and acquire rights to TV shows/movies/etc to replace those properties still owned by Western. For whatever reason, poor Rex was left in the dust of fictional history.

You can read The Blue Phantom online HERE.

Next week, we return to the Microverse to finish up our look at the first twelve issues of the Micronauts.
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