Friday, June 30, 2017
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Read/Watch 'em In Order #82
A mail run was supposed to be easy. Pick up mail and packages on the planet Xecho, along with some cargo (including a few live animals and some frozen embryos) and deliver then to the planet Twesworld. Xecho is a crossroads planet with a small space port and not much else. Twesworld is sparsely populated planet with an agricultural economy. There's nothing about the job that can cause trouble.
Postmarked the Stars (1969) is the fourth novel about the Solar Queen, an independent merchant ship that plies the stars and got the contract for this simple mail run at the end of a previous adventure. Andre Norton had already given us three exciting and well-plotted Space Opera adventure. With this novel, she's at the top of her game. The story is exciting and complex science fiction, full of mystery, adventure and super-science.
Dane, though sick as a dog, manages to get back to the ship before it lifts off. The fake Dane turns out to have a heart condition and dies under the stress of lift off. The package he brought aboard is--at first--nowhere to be found. In fact, it's not found until the strange radiation it's emitting has caused the animals being transported to regress to earlier, extinct versions of themselves.
In one case, to the surprise of everyone, this gives the animal human-level intelligence, meaning it was once an intelligent species in the distant past. The situation is so odd and inexplicable,that the captain decides that the animals and the box emitting the retrogressing radiation be landed in a remote area until he has a chance to explain everything to the authorities.
Dane and two other junior crewmen take the Queen's landing boat down to an uninhabited section to Twesworld. But they are soon facing unexpected dangers themselves, stumbling across several recently murdered men and getting attacked by a prehistoric version of an animal native to yet another planet. Someone has already been transplanting creatures from other planets to Twesworld and regressing them to more dangerous versions.
What follows is both an exciting adventure and a well-constructed science fiction based mystery.
The action is non-stop, but each set piece logically follows the one before it and the information needed to figure out what is going on is gradually and expertly fed to us. As much as I enjoyed the first three novels, this one has instantly become my favorite.
We see Dane continuing to mature as a competent crewman. This time around, he has opportunities to be much more proactive than in the previous novels, contributing intelligent ideas and coming up with workable plans. His character arc throughout all four Solar Queen books is believable and realistic.
There were three more Solar Queen novels written in the 1990s, but these were mostly written by someone else. I believe I mentioned last time that fan reaction to these was mixed. I believe I will thus end the In Order look at the series here. We still have a couple of Nick Carter films to go, as well as the sequel to Parnassus on Wheels. Then we'll move on to something else.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
At the close of The Micronauts #3, the main characters are on Earth and have chased off the bad guys who pursued them from the Microverse, but their ship was badly damaged and one of their number--Bug--was separated from them.
Micronauts #4 (April 1979) continues the saga in a fast-paced, expertly-plotted action tale. Bill Mantlo is one of my favorite writers--I think I've written before that it seems pretty much impossible for him to write something that isn't made of pure fun. Here is one of the best examples I've seen of how good he was at juggling different plot elements and characters over several locations and make sure we always understand what is going on.
I won't try to jump back and forth between the various plot threads the way the story does. Instead, I'll just separate them out and discuss each individually.
Back on Earth, Ray Coffin has taken his son Steve and the remains of Microverse ships & aliens to NASA. Ray is a former astronaut and wants to show all this to a former colleague named Phil Prometheus. Phil works at the Human Engineering Life Laboratories (H.E.L.L.) which is a bit of foreshadowing that Ray unwisely ignores. Bug has sneaked along in hopes of figuring out a way to obtain or build a ship. The other Micronauts track him there and sneak in as well.
Unfortunately for the Coffins, Phil Prometheus now lives in Crazy Town. He is part cyborg after an accident on a space station, his security guards are robots (so the rest of NASA doesn't know what's going on in his lab), and he's built a dimensional tunnel that connects with the Microverse. He's obsessed with learning more about this other reality and he's willing to experiment on or abuse anyone to get more information.
It's all great stuff. I continue to be impressed by Bill Mantlo's world-building here--it really is very sophisticated. Michael Golden's art is fun and gives an otherworldly aspect to the story when that is needed.
We'll return to the Micronauts in a few weeks. Next week, we'll jump back to 17th Century France and see what the DC Universe version of the Three Musketeers are up to.
Monday, June 26, 2017
Friday, June 23, 2017
Barry Craig, Confidential Investigator: "Hay is for Homicide" 8/31/54
Click HERE to listen or download.
Click HERE to listen or download.
Thursday, June 22, 2017
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.
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
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.
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 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
Friday, June 16, 2017
X Minus One: "Skulking Permit" 2/15/56
Click HERE to listen or download.
Click HERE to listen or download.
Thursday, June 15, 2017
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Thursday, June 8, 2017
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 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.
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.
Monday, June 5, 2017
Saturday, June 3, 2017
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
Thursday, June 1, 2017
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.