Saturday, October 28, 2017

Bible Teaching

A bit off topic for my blog, perhaps, but then my beliefs as a Christian are a big influence on what I write, even when I write about comics and old-time radio.

Here's a teaching I did at my church this past Thursday:

Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Voyage of the Scarlet Queen: "The Lily in the Chimopo Bar" 7/31/47
                                                "The White Cargo Act and Ah Sin" 8/7/47 (A direct sequel to the first episode.)

In Korea, Phil Carney takes aboard a cargo of ginseng bound for Shanghai, but a femme fatale turns the simple job into an adventure involving several murders and a battle with pirates on the high seas.

Arriving in Shanghai, the femme fatale continues to make trouble, landing Carney and his first mate in prison. It's the second of these two episodes that introduces a Chinese criminal named Ah Sin. Short, fat, with a child-like face and a voice like Charles Laughton, he also has a Texas gunman as a "confidential secretary."  It's an open question for most of the episode whether Ah Sin is another enemy or a reluctant ally.

Ah Sin makes only one more appearance in a later episode. It's probably best he wasn't overused, but he's a really fun character and I'm sorry we never got to "see" more of him.

You can listen or download the first episode HERE and the second one HERE.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

We Lost Our Moon 18 Years Ago!

In the 1970s, if you were a young science fiction fan, you watched pretty much any science fiction show that came on TV. In the days before science fiction became the common staple of pop culture it has since become, you simply didn't want to miss the rare attempts to bring that genre to the small screen. (The same thing held true of superhero shows.) Grown ups who were SF fans might show a little bit more critical discernment, but I'll bet many adult fans made a point of also watching any SF show that came around, regardless of quality.

So in 1976 and 1977, I watched Space 1999, though I don't think I saw more than half the episodes at the time. It was a show whose premise is both awesomely cool and absurdly silly at the same time. An explosion of nuclear waste being stored on the moon throws it into deep space. So the 311 inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha are essentially castaways in deep space, hoping to some day find a new planet on which they can settle.

I'm okay with the silly premise--the idea of the moon wandering about the galaxy like a space gypsy is cool enough to make us overlook the absurdity. But that absurdity is there. No explanation, no matter how silly from the viewpoint of real-life science, is ever given to explain how the moon can apparently travel at faster-than-light speeds between solar systems, but still slow down to more reasonable speeds within a new system to give the Alphans a chance to interact with the Alien-of-the-Week each episode.

I found a great quote from Johnny Byrne, a writer for the show: "I found it difficult to accept that the Moon could travel through space at... whatever velocity they gave it... There was a basic element that was unbelievable, and SF has to have a basis in truth, or experience or psychology, or something you can latch on to."

I'm sure fan theories abound to explain this. My own idea is that the initial explosion that through the moon out of orbit created a warp field around the moon that takes it through Einsteinian space at hyper-speeds, with the gravity fields of stars & planets it passes temporarily slowing up the Moon as they pass through solar systems. 

This explanation is, of course, as silly as the premise. But at least it IS an explanation. The show needed that. Other weaknesses voiced by the cast included stilted dialogue (a concern voiced by Barry Morse) and a lack of occasional humor to balance out the drama (a concern repeatedly voiced by Martin Landau)

The cast, headed by Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and (in the first season) Barry Morse, was one of the show's strengths. Even when a script might be particularly weak, we never doubt that the crew of Moonbase Alpha are well-trained professionals who carry out their duties in an intelligent manner.

And the design work on the show was fantastic, particularly in the look of the base and the Eagle space craft with which the base is equipped.

All things considered, the show could have been better. But all the same, as as an adult  I still remember some episodes with fondness and when the show become available to watch online, I have enjoyed the two or three episodes I've watched. 

So, when I had a chance to acquire a novelization of the show (part of a series of paperbacks published while the show was airing), I did so without hesitation.

Like James Blish's Star Trek novelizations, the book contains short story adaptations of several episodes. The first one in this book is an adaptation of "War Games," considered by many of the original cast and many fans to be one of the best.

The last of the four stories in the book is based on another strong episode titled "The Last Enemy," which aired on February 19, 1976, In this one, the Moon has entered a solar system in which two planets orbit in direct opposition to each other--they are always on opposite sides of their sun.

They are also locked in eternal warfare. The Moon is in a position where either planet can use it as a gun platform to fire on their enemy. The planet Betha gets there first. A really, really big war ship, generating interference that cuts off Alpha's communications and prevents the Eagles from launching, lands nearby and begins shooting huge space cannon at the other planet.

That planet returns fire with a barrage of missiles. So the Moon base is trapped in the middle of a war, unable to do anything about it. When the Bethan ship is damaged, its commander seeks sanctuary in the Moon Base. The commander, as was her crew (who she claims are now dead), is a very beautiful woman.

Heck, when the Alphans later talk to the leader of Betha via radio, she pops up on a view screen and turns out to be an older woman, but still a knockout. Presumably, Betha is a planet of Amazons. This is never clarified, but since the Alphans spend their entire time in this system just trying to survive, providing us hints of Bethan culture without further clarification is actually the right way to go.

Anyway, the warship commander, named Dione, is eventually revealed to be pulling a con job on the Moon Base. She helps the Alphans contact both planets and arrange a cease fire until the Moon leaves the system. But Dione then sneaks back to her ship to launch surprise attack on the other planet. She had faked the damage to her ship.

This will violate the cease fire, which means Alpha will be specifically targeted for retaliatory strikes, since the Alphans had promised to oversee the cease fire.

After reading the book I pulled up this episode online and watched it. I want to comment on the ending in the book as opposed to the ending of the actual episode, so beware--THERE BE SPOIILERS AHEAD. If you want to watch it before reading on, for U.S. viewers its available HERE.

The novelization is based on the original script and, judging from the copyright information on the title page, was likely written before the episode was filmed and certainly before it was aired.  In prose, to save Alpha, Commander Koenig (Landau's character) gives the other planet the coordinates of Dione's ship and lets them blow it up.

The script for the actual episode, though, apparently ran short, so new scenes were added during production. This allowed for a much more tense finale. Dione is monitoring the Moon Base's communications and threatens to blow them up if they try to transmit her coordinates. So Koenig has to improvise a Mission Impossible style plan in which he pretends to panic and abandon his crew, then come to her ship in a moon buggy. In reality, the space suit in the buggy's drivers seat is empty and the buggy has a nuke hidden in it. (The show doesn't actually say its a nuke, but it causes a really big explosion to destroy a really big space ship, so its more fun to assume it's nuclear.)

So the book has the weaker ending, but that is no fault of the writer, who was working with the information he had and otherwise does a fine job in converting the story to prose.

So I still have problems with Space 1999 and share many of the concerns voiced by cast and writers back in 1976. But all the same it did give us at least occasional good stories, fun space ships and pleasant memories. Revisiting the show as an adult has, in fact, raised my opinion of it to a degree.

But to those who think the show was simply great--and a large number of you are out there--I get why you do and completely respect your point of view.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Man in the Iron Mask--No, not THAT one!

As far as keeping a secret identity is concerned, Alan Armstrong is fortunate that his boss Admiral Corby & Corby's daughter Eve are more unobservant than any member of the Daily Planet staff ever was. The Nazi spy attacks; Alan disappears; Spy Smasher shows up and tussles with the Nazi; Spy Smasher disappears; Alan reappears.  Admiral Corby doesn't suspect a thing. I have no idea how the man got to be an admiral.

But, despite the fact that writer Otto Binder wasn't really even trying to handle the secret identity thing in a rational way, "The Man in the Iron Mask" (from Spy Smasher #4--April 1942) is a fun little story, packed with action and featuring an interesting villain.

The story is set in an old castle that's being converted into an army fort. Fatal accidents keep happening to the workers, usually followed by creepy organ music. This soon proves to be the work of The Man in the Iron Mask, a spy with an interesting origin. He had been a famous musician in Germany, but got into hot water when he refused to salute Hitler. Being threatened with execution changes his loyalties pretty quickly, though. He has the Iron Mask wielded on to him as punishment, but then he's sent out to do spy stuff to prove his new-found loyalty to the Reich. The logic of sending out someone with a visually distinctive mask stuck to his face to be a spy is not discussed.

Anyway, when Alan Armstrong arrives at the castle with Corby and Eve to look into the deaths, Alan finds that this is a job for Spy Smasher. The hero and villain tussle, but Iron Mask escapes and continues his sabotage.

Otto Binder was a writer made for superhero comics, able to follow the winding streams of Comic Book Logic no matter where they took him, embracing the absurdity of super powers and using that to invoke both humor and excitement.

Here, he's working with a non-powered hero and I think that actually works against his writing style to a small extent. This is a story in which its important for plot to hang together in terms of basic plot construction. So when the story has the Iron Mask committing murder after murder with apparent abandon, we can't help but wonder why Admiral Corby isn't bringing in troops to thoroughly search the entire castle--or at least stand guard over the workers. Without any overt fantasy elements to the tale, stuff like this stands out. An extra page or two laying out a system of secret doors and passages would have helped.

All the same, the story is fun. Emil Gershwin's art is strong and the action is nicely choreographed. And, as I mentioned above, the villain is a neat one--combining a little bit of Dumas with a dash of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera.

The Iron Mask ends up capturing the three protagonists, so Spy Smasher has to escape from a death trap, rescue Corby and Eve from another death trap, then fight the Iron Mask one more time. This time around, the Nazi falls into the water and drowns. For real, too. I can't find another reference to the character reappearing.

This story is in the public domain. You can read it HERE.

Next week, we take a trip back to 18th Century France to meet "The Man Who Died Twice."

Monday, October 23, 2017

Cover Cavalcade

cover art tentatively credited to Mo Gollub

From 1950. I guess even Silver gets grumpy from time to time.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger (1951)

This isn't strictly OTR, but it's close enough. In 1951, the cast of the radio show starred in some Lone Ranger stories released as 78-rpm records. This include short but expertly told versions of the Lone Ranger's origin, how he found Silver and later his nephew Dan, plus four more nifty tales.

You can listen or download all seven stories HERE.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Crime Master

"The Crime Master," published in the August 1, 1934 issue of The Shadow Magazine, not only features one of George Rozen's coolest covers (which is really saying something), but also succeeds in being one of Walter Gibson's finest Shadow stories.

The premise is one Gibson revisited on a number of occasions--a brilliant master criminal (identity unknown) is the brains behind a massive crime wave. This, though, is one of the finest examples, showing us that endless and entertaining varieties on a particular theme are available to a skilled storyteller.

The Crime Master uses a sort of chess board--a map of the city divided into grids--to plot out his crimes. Green pieces on the board represent gangs made up of gunmen; blue pieces are safe-crackers and other experts of that ilk; red are for "hidden watchers and snipers." White pieces represent the cops and he eventually adds a black piece for the Shadow.

He places these pieces on the board to plot out robberies that will net large amounts of cash or valuable loot, setting things up so that a cordon of crooks can hold off the cops and allow the gangs with the loot to make getaways. It's a violent but effective way of carrying out crime.

He's also got a pretty clever way of passing his plans on to the gang leaders without leaving a clear paper trail back to him, so not even his minions know who he is. But the Shadow has become interested, intercepting messages and setting up traps for the gangs.

The novel has a nifty back-and-forth feel to it. The Shadow manages to foil a robbery, mostly working alone but also warning the cops so that they are present to help clean up leftover crooks. But the Crime Master sets a trap for the Shadow during the next job. His men get away with the loot and (in one of Gibson's best action sequences) the Shadow is badly wounded and only gets away by the skin of his teeth.

While the Shadow is recuperating, agent Cliff Marsland manages to get information about the Crime Master's next job, then use a known stool pigeon to pass this on to the police. The cops are able to put a stop to that particular robbery.

But the Crime Master manages a trick of his own, allowing him to discover Marsland is an agent of the Shadow and feed false information to the mysterious crime fighter. The Shadow, still weakened from his wounds, soon finds himself in an apparently inescapable trap, while the Crime Master plots a robbery that will net him millions of dollars.

Walter Gibson's Shadow novels are typically fast-moving and exciting stories in which the plots follow a logical path from start to finish. Here, I think, is one of his best efforts, inching ahead of many of the others in pure quality.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

That Darn Stitches is... Well, Kind of Annoying

Jack-in-the Box Comics, one of two one-shots published by the Charles Publishing Company in 1946, features (among other stories) the tale of a sentient rag doll named Stitches, who lives with Santa at the North Pole.

As Christmas Eve rolls around and Santa is loading his sleigh with toys, Stitches asks to come along. Santa tells him no, but Stitches isn't a doll who takes no for an answer. Soon, he's loaded up a bag of reserve toys and is following Santa in a hastily-constructed sleigh of his own design.

While Santa properly delivers toys to individual homes, Stitches simply drops them over towns as he flies over. On his way home, he gets lost in a fog, crashes into an iceberg, nearly gets eaten by a bear, gets lost at sea on a small slab of ice and is frozen solid by the time he's found and brought home. Santa thaws him out and he's presumably learned his lesson about being obedient.

I don't know why I like this story. The art, tentatively credited to Al Fago, does give it an aura of cuteness. And Stitches' sled is undeniably cool. The story itself and the character of Stitches, though, are largely forgettable. So I suppose it is the art work. In comic books, there are times when the art can lift up an otherwise mundane tale. This is one of those times.

You can read the story online HERE.

I did not consciously plan to do so, but I just realized I'm doing a Comics in the Public Domain theme this month. Last week was a Billy the Kid story; this week is Stitches the Doll; and next week will be an early Spy Smasher tale that is also now copyright free.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Saint: "Tuba" 1/21/51

Why would the manager of a roadhouse hire the world's worst tuba player to play in the house band? Simon looks into this and soon finds himself dodging bullets.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Does Anyone Have a Time Machine I Can Borrow?

Yesterday, I learned of the existence of a short-lived mystery series that aired on the short-lived Dumont network in 1951. The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong starred Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong as the owner of an art gallery who also solves crimes or catches spies.  Ten episodes aired between August and November of 1951, then it was cancelled.

The lead role was a part specifically created for Wong, whose career as an actress stretches back to the silent days. She was a wonderfully talented actress, regulated to supporting roles through most of her career because of the racial bigotry inherent in our culture at the time.  So getting to be one of the first (very possibly the first) Asian actor to land a lead role on TV is a pretty big deal.

I admit, though, that my personal geekiness centers my attention on the show itself. It's a great premise for an amateur detective show and, though the time period probably led to some stereotyping of Asian characters and culture, there's no reason it couldn't be a high-quality mystery. And there's no question that Wong would have been wonderful in the role.

But we'll never know. Why will we never know? Because not a single episode nor a single script survive.

Like many early TV shows, it was recording via kinoscope (point a film camera at the TV and record the show as it is broadcast), but in a vile crime against cultural history, many recordings of Dumont shows were eventually disposed of by dumping them into New York Bay. My understanding is that there was some sort of legal dispute going on over the recordings at the time, but apparently no one involved ever thought that these old shows might some day have monetary value. To be fair, no one would have seen the possibilities of streaming and home video at that time, but all the same--there are occasionally other issues at stake than mere money.

So we can't ever watch an episode of The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong. We can't even read a script or get a plot summary.  No one has ever written down their memories of watching it. It's as if it never existed.

Gee whiz, until yesterday I didn't even know this show did once exist. Now the universe seems a cruel and empty place because I have to live without it.

So if I ever get access to a time machine, I'm going to give saving the recordings of The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong a high priority--right after watching a 19th Century baseball game and right before saving Abraham Lincoln. It's that important.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Gunfighter in a Sword Duel

The good guy version of Billy the Kid has quite a long run in both B-movies and comic books, so he racked up quite a few adventures for someone who got killed when he was only 22 years old. But the sliding time scale of fiction does have its advantages. 42 B-movies and 153 issues of his series from Charlton adds up to 195 adventures. Let's assume that in the universe in which Billy the Kid was a hero had him start his career at 16. That's 32 1/2 adventures per year, or one about every 11 days. Gee whiz, when did he have time to go to the bathroom?

With all that adventuring, I suppose its not surprising he managed to fit in at least one sword fight. This happened in Charlton's Billy the Kid #64 (December 1967). Billy is defending the honor of a beautiful French woman, only for the woman to decide he's as much of an oaf as the guy who was making unwanted advances. She whacks him on the head with a whiskey bottle.

When the woman learns that Billy is actually the guy she wanted to hire for a particular job, she nurses him back to consciousness and implies that it was someone else who wielded the bottle.

This, plus the fact that her assistant Fritz might as well be wearing a sign around his neck that reads "I'm a jerk and a bully" let us know pretty much right away that the woman is a classic Femme Fatale. But poor Billy seems to tumble for her pretty quickly.

That's a act, though. Billy is at least suspicious of her right from the beginning. She turns out to be the mastermind behind a plot to drive ranchers out of the valley and acquire the land cheaply. Billy and one of the ranchers stage a fight to make it look like Billy is completely under her sway, but Billy has to give himself away to keep Fritz from back-shooting the rancher.

This leads to Fritz challenging Billy to a duel. You wouldn't think the average Western gunfighter would also be a skilled fencer--and you'd be right. Billy gets the upper hand by pretty much turning the ensuing sword duel into a brawl. When Fritz's thugs turn out to have brought guns to a sword fight, the rancher and the marshal step in to help Billy bring them all down.

Fritz tries his hand once more at challenging Billy to a duel, this time with pistols. Billy counters by suggesting they just stand a few feet away from each other and pull the triggers simultaneously. Fritz balks at this, the woman admits to the land-grabbing scheme and the two are run out of town. Poor Billy doesn't get the girl--but then, who would have wanted her anyway?

It's a fun story, with Jose Delbo doing the art and the script tentatively credited to Joe Gill. A combination of basic good storytelling and the inherent pleasure of watching a bully get his comeuppance makes it a satisfying tale.  It's available to read online HERE

Next week, we'll follow along with an annoying little toy who tries to give Santa Claus some unwanted help.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday's Favorite OTR

Philo Vance: "Chop Suey Murder Case" 12/20/49

Vance is having a bad day when two successive plans to catch a thief in possession of a stolen diamond goes awry. But he makes up for it when the episode concludes with a very surprising twist ending.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Don't Bother Me! I'm Playing Chess!

There are two different things that can--on occasion--be in danger of taking over my life.  One is Sherlock Holmes. If I get on a Holmes kick, I can't get enough of re-reading the original Canon, looking up facts in my copy of the Annotated Sherlock Holmes and perhaps watch a bunch of the more faithful film and TV adaptations.

The other thing is chess. When I'm in practice, I'm a slightly better than average player. But if something triggers my chess obsession, I won't want to do anything except play chess, work on chess problems, read about chess and delude myself into thinking I'm a much better player than I am.

Recently, I read a fascinating history of the game titled The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, by David Shenk. That sent me into serious chess mode. I've got four online games going with different players and I'm pulling up the daily chess problems on a chess website faithfully every day. I'm also working through the site's Chess Tactics exercises and have discovered several YouTube channels in which chess masters analyze games.

Also, I re-read Fritz Leiber's wonderful short story "Midnight by the Morphy Watch." Written in 1974, not long after Bobby Fischer  took the world championship title away from Boris Spassky and was upholding the long tradition among world champions of acting completely nuts. Leiber's short story explains why chess masters often travel to Crazy Town.

The main character, Ritter, is someone I identify with: a slightly better-than-average player who occasionally dives into the game headfirst, but never sticks with it long enough to get really good. Like me, this comes and goes. During this story, he's playing in an informal tournament at a local restaurant in his home city of San Francisco.

When he stumbles upon a dusty store selling an eclectic mix of second-hand items, he demonstrates that he's never seen a single episode of The Twilight Zone by actually going inside. He finds a treasure--a watch he recognizes as one once owned by Paul Morphy.

Paul Morphy
Morphy lived before there was an official world champion (1837-1884), but he was acknowledged as being the best in the world at the time. But he also eventually descended into a sad life of paranoia and isolation.

Ritter has researched other chess masters and in the files he keeps at his home, he finds old photographs that indicate the watch had been owned by two world champions, Wilheim Steinitz and Alexander Alkehine.  Both had been brilliant, nigh-unbeatable players. Both had eventually gone nuts.

Wilhelm Steinitz

The watch was stopped at 11:57 pm, but that night, it starts ticking at exactly that time. And Ritter suddenly finds himself able to visualize chess boards and games perfectly, playing brilliant mental games against himself and, possibly, the ghosts of the watch's previous owners.

Alexander Alkehine

Ritter rips through other players--including two he knew were better than he usually is--at the tournament the next day. He easily defeats a chess master who was observing the tournament. The next night, he is still playing game after game in his head. Does the watch possess a psychic memory of the abilities of its previous owner?

But Ritter is also very aware that the previous owners of the watch all sacrificed their sanity for the game. To avoid the same fate, Ritter soon decides what he must do with the watch, which leads to a really fun ending to a fascinating story.

"Midnight by the Morphy Watch" is in a four-way tie in my mind as Leiber's best short story along with "Ill-Met in Lankhmar," "A Pail of Air," and "Four Ghosts in Hamlet." Even if I wasn't currently obsessing on chess, I would have enjoyed reading it again.

So excuse me for now. I'm going to play a game of chess while reading a Sherlock Holmes story.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

When the Dead WON'T Stay Dead

Conan the Barbarian #78 (September 1977) was a reprint of a story that had originally been published in black-and-white in Savage Sword of Conan #1 a few years earlier. I think I first read it in Savage Sword (though the higher priced magazines Marvel published were only occasionally within my paper route-fueled budget) and I think that Conan's saga and John Buscema's superb art work very well in black-and-white. The story looks mighty good in color as well, though, and that's the format in which I now own it.

It takes place not long after Conan had deserted from an army and traveled to the notorious City of Thieves, arriving after a series of adventures that included an encounter with a monstrous crocodile. Now all he wanted was a night on the town before finding another army to fight for.

But Conan can rarely get through a night without needing to kill someone. This time, some panicking priests wearing hooded robes run past him, fleeing from armed thugs. The thugs don't like witnesses to whatever shenanigans they are up to, so they make the unwise decision to attack the Cimmerian.

He's not really having much trouble taking out the thugs until he trips over a ringed finger that one of the priests must have dropped. Fortunately, an old friend happens by to take out the last thug.

Red Sonja had first appeared in Conan #24 a few years earlier, in a story based on Robert E. Howard's short story "Shadow of the Vulture;" That story was set in the 16th Century, but moving Red Sonja ("Sonya" in the original story) to the Hyborian Age was not a bad idea at all. Barry Smith was still the Conan artist at the time and he drew Sonja wearing a chain mail shirt that probably showed her figure better than a chain mail shirt would in real life, but it was still a reasonable way for a warrior to dress.

Esteban Maroto first put Sonja in her chain mail bikini in a back-up feature in Savage Sword of Conan #1 and John Buscema kept the look that has become her standard "uniform" ever since.* I love Buscema's art, but I've always been bothered by this. I realize that most female comic book characters are going to have a role as eye candy for male readers and the appropriateness of this makes for an important debate in of itself. But what bothers me about Sonya's bikini is how impractical it is.  And how out of character it is. The armor doesn't cover enough of her to be of any significant help in a fight and Sonja has no interest at all in being attractive to men. So why does she wear it other than to provide a contrived reason to be eye candy for comic book readers?  In the end, it makes the character weaker and it's especially aggravating because Sonja was still nice to gaze upon in the mail shirt that Barry Smith gave her without looking like she was deliberately designed to be a centerfold model.

Oh, well, she's still a good character dropped into good stories. After saving Conan, she notices the ring on the finger dropped by the priest. It had belonged to Costranno a sorcerer who had been beheaded for practicing black magic earlier that day, after being betrayed by a woman named Berthilda. Berthilda had learned Costranno's power was in the ring he wore and cut off the finger, allowing him to be caught and executed.

Backtracking the priests, Conan and Sonja find Costranno's body and head laid out together. That the priests had been trying to bring all his body parts back together was obvious, but the two warriors decide the "why" of it all is none of their business. They toss the finger down and walk away.

The finger then moves on its own to reattach itself to the body...

So when Conan later sees a hooded figure wearing that ring walk by, he deduces that Costranno might have been resurrected. By this point in his career, Conan had run into enough dark magic to make this a reasonable guess. Feeling responsible, he talks Sonja into going with him to Berthilda's house.

They find out that the sorcerer has indeed come back to life and it getting ready to sacrifice the woman who betrayed him. This leads to a typically wonderful fight sequence of the sort that Buscema could choreograph and draw so well.

They win the fight, of course, which includes having to force a monster being called up from a pit back into that pit. But Berthilda shows very little gratitude about being rescued. After they get her outside, she insists on going back into her own house now that it's safe.

Of course, though Conan had cut Costranno's hand off during the fight, the sorcerer and the ring are still in the same room together. So, when Conan and Sonja here Berthilda scream, they decide they can't make a career over saving her from her own "treacherous folly."

It's a good, solid story and a fine re-introduction to the Hyborian Age version of Red Sonja, who would periodically return and also have her own book for awhile. Red Sonja stories have since been published by other comic companies, though I haven't read them and I don't know if they are still set in the Hyborian Age or if she's been moved into her own universe. But, despite my complaints about that silly chain mail bikini, she really is a great character--an Action Girl from a time before that character template had become as common as it is nowadays.

Next week, more sword fighting, but this time it'll be... Billy the Kid wielding the sword?

*Thanks to artist Joe Jusko for correcting me via a Facebook post after I initially credited Buscema with creating the chain mail bikini.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My lecture

For anyone interested, here's the lecture I gave last night on the history of comic strips and comic books. I'm afraid I didn't time it well, so had to hurry through the 1950s and barely mention the 1960s before I finished up, but I hope I succeeded in giving the early comic strips their just due:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

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