Thursday, August 16, 2018

Favorite Stories: Fly Paper

"Fly Paper" was a Continental Op story. Published in Black Mask in the August 1929 issue.

This was one of Dashiell Hammett's later stories, written when he was at the top of his game and getting ready to produce the serials that would later be published as the brilliant novels Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon. But even among the excellent stories Hammett was writing at that time, "Fly Paper" has always been one of my favorites.

First, it's simply a great detective story. As Hammett states in the first sentence: "It was a wandering daughter job."

The wayward daughter of a wealthy man is living with a thug. The Continental Detective Agency is on retainer to keep an eye on her in case she gets into too much trouble. Then she vanishes from New York. When the father gets a telegram from San Francisco--supposedly from the daughter--asking for money and permission to come home--Hammett's unnamed Op is assigned to bring her the cash.

But the woman waiting for the cash isn't the daughter. The telegram was part of a swindle, but the Op is able to get a lead on the girl. This soon leads him to a corpse--someone has been poisoned with arsenic soaked out of fly paper. He then sees someone else get killed--shot by a killer lurking outside an apartment window. An extended chase after a killer leads to a tense confrontation in an alley. Throughout all this, the plot unfolds in a logical manner.

On top of the superbly told story, there is Hammett's usual terse but sharp prose and characterizations. There's also a wonderful good cop/bad cop scene when a suspect is interrogated.

But I think what really sells it is a certain thematic undertone. By the end of the story, three people are dead. All three die essentially because they make dumb mistakes. These are mistakes made out of fear, anger or greed--thoughtless decisions that even a not-to-bright person should have realized were stupid. Three people die because they were essentially too dumb to live.

None of them were very nice people, but it gives the story a forlorn sense of tragedy that lifts "Fly Paper" up from being just a well-told detective tale into an examination of how the worst aspects of our nature can often make us stupid.

The story was adapted in 1995 for an episode of a cable series called Fallen Angels. Christopher Lloyd--someone I never would have pegged for playing a hard-boiled P.I.--doesn't look anything like Hammett's overweight Op, but still brings his own interesting take to the character.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Crime Olympics, Part 2

Batman #274 (April 1976) is the third part of the Underworld Olympics story arc that we began talking about last week. Writer David Vern (writing as David V. Reed) and artist Ernie Chan continue to take a potentially silly premise and turn it into a series of clever and entertaining detective stories.

So far, the European and South American gangs have been tasked with pulling off a series of bizarre crimes, scoring points each time they are successful. But Batman, though he doesn't yet know about the Olympics, has foiled the final crime of each gang and sent a fair number of them to jail.

With this issue, a combined Asian/African gang steps up to take its turn. "Gotham City Treasure Hunt" might be my favorite of the four issues. The crooks have to commit a crime to get a clue to the next crime--and so on until they find out what they have to steal to win the contest.

There a particular element in this story that I simply love. At one point, Batman captures two crooks after they gained a clue, but before they can pass this on to the rest of the gang.

So they take advantage of TV news cameras to use "Cameroon hand signals" to pass on the clue to their confederates. Batman sees this as well, but the gang figures on this and manages to initially decoy him into a trap, where he faces off against a lady assassin.

It's great stuff, with a clever script that shows a keen understanding of the different aspects of the Dark Knight.  He continues to show a combination of deductive reasoning skills and martial artistry that should always be equally important elements of his character.

Anyway, he manages to stop the gang before they commit their final crime. But there is still a North American gang waiting for their turn to compete.

This gang gets its chance in Batman #275. But their crime depends on using a ferry boat that has recently stopped its service due to Gotham City budget cuts. So the first thing the gang has to do is rob a local criminal, then donate that untraceable money to the city to put the ferry back in service.

From there, we get a story nearly as clever as the one in the previous issue. The gang's crimes build on each other and are supposed to end with the destruction of the ferry, but Batman has by now figured out what is going on--including the fact that there is an Underworld Olympics being held in Gotham.

He saves the ferry and catches the gang. One of the gang's getaway boats is blown up, which fools the Olympic judges into thinking that the North Americans have succeeded.

But in reality, Batman has finally tracked them down. The Olympic chief calls Gordon to gloat about what they've been doing. Gordon takes the call--on his car radio as his men surround the criminal Olympians.

I mentioned last week that the premise of the Underworld Olympics feels more like a Silver Age than Bronze Age idea to me. But in its execution, it is very much a Bronze Age story. The 1970s really was the Decade of Batman, with writers and artists who understood how to write for the character and gave us solid, astutely-plotted stories.

Next week, we'll be hanging out with Wonder Woman as she battles ALIEN DINOSAURS FROM SPACE! I can't describe how much I enjoyed writing that sentence.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

Excellent cover on this U.K. edition of a Perry Mason novel. The artist is Sam Peffer.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Most AWESOME...

I don't usually share current news headlines on my blog, but I thought this one was relevant:

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Edgar Rice Burroughs Podcast Blog

The ERB podcasts I help produce are now conveniently located on a single blog:

Click HERE to see it.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Molle Mystery Theater: "Close Shave" 5/14/48

Ellen's boyfriend needs $10,000 immediately or his life will be ruined. At least, that's the story he tells Ellen. She decides to temporarily "borrow" the money from the store she works in to help the man she loves. He's promised to pay the money back before the store reopens on Monday.

What can possibly go wrong?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Favorite Stories: The Sowers of Thunder

This week and (at least) next week, I'm going to be looking at short stories that have always been particular favorites of mine. I picked stories that I inevitably re-visit at least once a year, both written by favorite authors of mine. But though these tales are prime examples of why these authors are considered fantastic story-tellers, I make no claims that they are the best of the best. They simply speak to my inner... well, my inner whatever. Perhaps they speak that part of me that is convinced--however irrationally--that I myself could be a skilled adventurer or successful detective. Perhaps the deeper themes in these stories speak to me on a more intellectual level. Or perhaps I simply think they're really cool. 

I first encountered "The Sowers of Thunder," by Robert E. Howard, when I bought this book from the Stars and Stripes bookstore at the Navy base in the Phillippines: 

The anthology, with great interior illustrations by Roy Krenkel, had four novellas and short stories set (with one exception) in the Middle East during the Crusades. All of them are wonderful stories and "The Shadow of the Vulture," which introduced the world to Red Sonya, is probably the most influencial of the four.

"The Shadow of the Vulture" actually is another story I frequently re-read, because no man can read about Sonya and not fall madly in love.

But it is antholgy's title story that stands out for me the most. First published in the Winter 1932 issue of Oriental Stories, it is set in Palestine in the years 1243 and 1244, recounting the adventures of Cahal Ruadhl O'Donnel (Red Cahal), a man who had once ruled Ireland. But after a betrayal that involved the woman he loved, he is now a penniless adventurer, traveling east to join the Crusades essentially because he doesn't have anything else to do.

Red Cahal is a creation of Howard, but the story does revolve around historical events--though Howard largely fictionalizes them. 1244 was a busy year. Jerusalem was sacked by a huge band of Turkish horsemen; the Western knights were decisively beaten at the battle of La Forbie; and a general in the Egyptian army began his efforts to eventually become the ruler of Egypt.

Red Cahal turns out to have a role in all these events. And he's the perfect character to do so. We will be seeing the breaking of the power of the Western Crusaders, to whom Cahal has allied himself. The losses he's already suffered and his melancholy nature work as thematic linchpins to the events around him.

But all this melancholy does not get in the way of telling a truly exciting adventure story. Cahal is traveling with a small band of knights when they are overwhelmed by a horde of 10,000 horsemen, riding down from Turkey to escape the Mongols, but destroying and conquering themselves along the way.

Cahal is the only one to hack his way clear and tries to warn Jerusalem of the approaching danger, but there's simply no time. The horde sacks the city and slaughters thousands of citizens, descerating both Christian and Muslim locations.

Cahal again hacks his way free and eventually joins up with the remnants of the Christian armies, who in turn have teamed up with some Muslim forces to face off against a mutual enemy.

But what about the Egyptians? They are marching as well and rumors are they may team up with the Turkish horde. If so, the makeshift Christian/Muslim army is doomed. Cahal is asked to be an emissary to talk to the Egyptian general Baibars and find out what the heck is going on.

Treachery, desperate escapes, a bloody battle and a doomed last stand all quickly follow.

Throughout all this, Cahal keeps running into the same guy--though the guy is using a different name and occupation every time they meet. It can be argued that a weak point of the story is that it's really not that hard to figure out who this fellow really is, but the revelation of his real identity is still dramatically effective. There's also a Masked Knight whom Cahal meets right after escaping Jerusalem. That's another identity that will be revealed at the story's climax.

"The Sowers of Thunder" is a fantastic adventure story and that really is 99% of the reason I return to it regularly. But it also deals very effectively with the ephemeral quality of temporal power and glory. In the end, a man is on his way to becoming a king. But, as Cahal points out and himself knows all too well, the glory is a witch-fire and the gold is moon-mist. No matter how skilled, smart or ruthless a king may be, nothing he does is permanent.

You can read "The Sowers of Thunder" online HERE.

Next week, we'll look at another favorite story and do some detective work in 1920s San Francisco, working on a case where a number of people die essentially because they are too dumb to live.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Crime Olympics, Part 1

If you are going to hold an Underworld Olympics, it seems to me that Gotham City is possibly the worst location at which to hold the event. Gee whiz, a competition involving pulling of bizarre crimes (and scoring points comparably to the level of success) should NOT be held in a city watched over by the second-greatest detective in history. Especially when that detective has always specialized in solving bizarre crimes. It's just not a good location for the event.

But, in Batman #272 (February 1976), that's just what four different international gangs choose to do. They sneak into Gotham and each gang randomly selects an envelope detailing a multi-part crime to be committed.

I'm assuming that writer David Vern (writing as David V. Reed) or the editors at DC decided to do an Olympics-themed story because the upcoming summer Olympics were going to be held in Montreal that year. Without the worry of extreme time zone differences and several U.S. athletes expected to do well, there was a lot of Olympics enthusiasm in the Games that year. So DC decided an Olympics story would be a good idea. That's just a guess, of course, but I think it makes sense.

Anyway, this first issue of the four-part story (with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez) gets the story off to a strong start. The South American gang is up first, tasked with staging a murder to look like an accident, then later stealing the body from the morgue and hiding it elsewhere.

To me, the premise feels like it would have been a little more at home in the Silver Age than the Bronze Age, but the script plays it straight and Batman is repeatedly shown using real detective skills throughout. Besides, its fun to get a story that throws us back to an earlier era in comic book history from time to time.

Batman manages to partially foil the crimes, though he has no idea yet why South American criminals are pulling off apparently senseless capers in his city. And the Dark Knight soon discovers that the case is far from over.

Ernie Chan, who inked the first issue, takes over as artist for the remaining three. In Batman #273, the European gang is up, stealing a Revolutionary War-ear cannon to start of their event.

That's followed by a bank robber, though complications ensue when some local crooks rob the same bank at the same time. But the gang soon ends up with both money from a specific safe deposit box and the cannon.

Batman, though, has figured out that the gang is going to use the cannon to shoot the money to a remote location outside of police roadblocks. He employs Alfred as a spotter, allowing him to ambush the bad guys as they try to recover the loot.

As I said earlier, the strength of the story is a combination of playing the silly premise straight and Batman's portrayal as a highly skilled detective. I maintain that during the 1970s, writers at DC struck just the right balance between Batman's major traits--detective, escape artist and martial artist. It is perhaps main reason this is my choice for the strongest ever Bat-Decade.

So at the end of Batman #273, the South American gang has 20 points, with the Europeans pulling ahead with 50 points. Next week, we'll see how the other gangs do in their crime-related events.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

Why don't Ice Cream Cone Holsters exist in real life? From 1959; art by Phil de Lara.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: "Trading Post" 6/20/45

An outlaw hid his loot in an abandoned building before being captured. He's out of jail now, but the building has been turned into a trading post. He'll have to dispose of the two old-timers who run the post before he can recover his ill-gotten gains.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

A Princess, A Banth and An Illusory Army

cover art by P.J. Monohan

In 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs had completed the first three Mars books starring John Carter, the finest swordsman on two planets. These three novels make up a trilogy, starting the Carter's mysterious teleportation to Mars and ending with him being chosen to be Warlord of Mars, married to Dejah Thoris and with a son named Carthoris.

As he did in late 1915 with the Tarzan series, ERB choose to now expand his selection of protagonists in his Mars stories. But where Son of Tarzan was the only entry in that series which didn't feature Tarzan as the primary protagonist, we would get four straight Mars novels in which someone other than John Carter would be at the forefront of the action.

It's probably a function of Tarzan's popularity that the Ape Man was never pushed to the sidelines of his books for very long. Or perhaps its because Tarzan usually had only a continent to play in, whereas Carter and his allies had an entire planet, giving ERB a lot more room for additional protagonists.

Wait. What am I talking about? I'm implying that Burroughs wrote fiction rather than simply passed on stories from Mars he heard from his uncle, John Carter. So if adventures happened to other people on Mars, ERB was merely being faithful to his duties as an historian in passing their stories on to us.

cover art by Gino D'Achille

Anyway, Thuvia, Maid of Mars was serialized in three successive issues of All-Story Weekly in April 1916. We'd met Thuvia in the previous novels. She was a Martian princess with the strange ability to calm down wild Banths and get them to obey her. Banths, by the way, are very large, 8-legged lions that are among the most savage and perpetually hungry of Barsoom's fauna.

John Carter's son Carthoris is in love with Thuvia. But, though she might return this love, she is engaged to the ruler of another city, part of a political match arranged by her dad.

So Carthoris is out in the cold. So is Astok, prince of the city of Dusar, who also loves the princess. But while Carthoris is willing to do the noble thing and step aside, Astok decides to kidnap Thuvia and frame Carthoris for the crime.

This involves taking Thuvia to one of Barsoom's many abandoned cities and also luring Carthoris to the same location--all part of the plot to make him look guilty of the crime while Astok can then run away with Thuvia. This, in turn, will set off a major war, with Carthoris' home city of Helium being forced into a fight against three other powerful nations.

art by J. Allen St. John

But Astok's plans go awry when Thuvia is kidnapped by a tribe of green Martians. Carthoris pursues the green warrior who carried her off and soon gets into some fights, which in turn results in Thuvia and Carthoris discovering the lost city of Lothar.

This is where things get delightfully weird. Lothar is a huge city, but only has about 1000 inhabitants, all male. This is the last remnant of a once mighty civilization that existed before Barsoom's oceans dry up. The Lotharians have powerful mental abilities. When attacked by the green Martians, they are able to summon up the image of a huge army. The illusion is so convincing that the green Martians simply fall over dead when shot with non-existent arrows, killed by the power of suggestion.

art by J. Allen St. John

Burroughs has fun with this section of the novel. He keeps up his usual fast pace and gives us plenty of action, there's also some wonderfully funny dialogue as one of the Lotharians tries to explain the ongoing philosophical differences among different factions in Lothar. Are they real and everything else an illusion? Are they illusions themselves? Is anything real? Does anything need to be real?

It's a biting parody of the sort of philosophical and academic discussions that grow obtuse and convoluted without ever actually explaining anything.  And, on top of that, Burroughs manages to sneak in a scene in which Carthoris and Thuvia are showed an illusion of what the once-mighty city was like in its heyday, giving us a scene full of forlorn melancholy amidst the mix of adventure and satire.

By the time Carthoris and Thuvia have gotten away from Lothar, they've been joined by Kar Komack, one of the illusory bowmen who has somehow become real. And when Thuvia is re-kidnapped by Astok, Komack's ability to also call up illusory bowmen might just come in handy when Carthoris mounts yet another rescue attempt.

A make-believe soldier who becomes real and then summons up additional make-believe soldiers. Even on Barsoom, that makes for an unusual day.

art by Roy Krenkel

I haven't re-read Thuvia in years and, in fact, may not have read it since first discovering the series in high school. I thoroughly enjoyed at last revisiting it. My thanks to Edgar Rice Burroughs for his commitment as Barsoom's historian.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Deathless Honker

Turok Son of Stone is almost inarguably the most fun and purely geeky comic book ever published. A wonderful dinosaur-filled concept PLUS admirable and likeable protagonists PLUS great art work EQUALS a consistently entertaining and emotionally resonating book.

One of the most impressive things about the series was how varied the plots of individual issues could be given the arguably limited premise and setting. The writers (usually the prolific Paul S. Newman) always seemed to have another fresh plot idea with nearly every issue.

That being said, it's not surprising that a few ideas were repeated over the books 125 issue run. For instance, Turok #72 (January 1971) is the third time Turok and Andar are stalked by a particularly hard-to-kill meat-eater.

But even then, there are variations in the theme. I've written about the first two times the two friends had a particularly hard time against a specific dinosaur HERE. In one case, it was a carnosaur who was immune to their poison arrows. In another, they were out of poison arrows, but also needed to make sure they destroyed the carnosaur's eggs so that its offspring wouldn't overrun the valley.

In the issue we're looking at today, arrows are simply bouncing off a big black-skinned allosaurus. After hearing about the beast from some cavemen, they decide to investigate. They're not looking for trouble, but if they happen to meet up with the Deathless Honker, they want to be able to deal with it effectively.

By the way, there's no definitive credit for the writer, though I think it has a Paul S. Newman vibe to it. The typically excellent art is by Alberto Giolitti.

Turok and Andar soon find a pool of thick oily liquid that coats the skin and becomes inpenatrable. They test their arrows against an oil-coated log and a stegasaurus that wandered through the pool, confirming that this is what makes the big allosaur invulnerable.

So when they do run into the beast, its no surprise (but no-less frightening) when they confirm that their arrows don't work at all. What follows is an exciting extended chase scene, with the two friends desperately staying out of the allosaur's reach. At one point, they start and avalance and bury it. But their conviction that they are now out of danger doesn't last long:

They finally get a lucky break when they discover that water from a hot spring will wash off the black liquid. Turok, as he usually does in dangerous situations, improvises a plan using the resourses at hand. A water skin full of hot water is used to expose part of the allosaur's skin, then Turok uses himself as bait to give Andar a shot at that small target:

So, yes, this issue does repeat a plot idea that had been used a few times in past issues. But in each case, there was a unique variation on the theme and, in each case, we were given an exciting story with great art work and an awesome protagonist.

Next week, Batman goes to the Olympics---the Crime Olympics, that is!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

From 1952: A perfect example of a cover illustration that MAKES you want to find out what's going on.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Our Miss Brooks: "School Band" 4/30/50

Mr. Conklin wants the school band to play when the Mayor's car drives by the school. He puts Miss Brooks in charge of getting the instruments cleaned before that happens.

What could possibly go wrong?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Fixing a Broken Plot Element

The episode "Miri," from the first season of classic Star Trek (aired October 27, 1966) isn't a great episode, but I think it's a pretty good one. It involves an Earth-like planet on which experiments in increasing life expectancies went rather horribly awry. All the adults have died from a disease that makes them insanely violent. The kids all now live for centuries, but they do age slowly. And when they do hit puberty, they succumb to the disease as well.

The Enterprise landing party gets infected, which means they are in a race against time to find a cure. The local kids, in the meantime, don't trust them (understandable because adults in their experience all become insanely violent) and work against them. Most notably, they steal the communicators, which means Dr. McCoy can't use the ship's computers to test a possible cure.

The title character (nicely played by Kim Darby) is the only kid in the episode who isn't perpetually annoying. She does help the Enterprise crew at first, because she has a crush on Kirk. But she later gets jealous of Janice Rand and also turns against them for a time, though she'll have a change of heart after being targetted by a Kirk Speech.

There's a reasonable level of suspense and some nice interaction between the crew--most notably an all-too-rare scene involving Kirk and Rand that reveals how much she cares for him (something she can't normally discuss because of their difference in rank). McCoy also gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome near the end.

Also, Kirk gets beaten up by children. Kirk is, of course, the best of the Star Trek captains by far (AND I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ANYONE SAY ANYTHING DIFFERENT!), but for some bizarre reason, its fun to watch him get knocked down a peg by a gang of snotty brats.

But I want to talk about a rather weird plot hole. For budgetary reasons, the planet had to be extremely Earth-like and, in fact, the set of Andy Griffith's Mayberry was used when the episode was filmed. So how does the script (written by Adrian Spies and re-written extensively by Stephen W. Carabatsos) explain this?

The answer is: It doesn't bother to explain it. When the Enterprise first approaches the planet, everyone is surprised that it's size and atmosphere are absolutely identical to Earth, but then this is NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN! It is a bizarre--well, not really a plot hole, since the main plot of the story makes sense--but a plot element that goes annoyingly unexplained.

BUT WAIT! An explanation does exist. James Blish's short story adaptation (published in the first of twelve Star Trek anthologies) gives us a reason for how Mayberry ended up on another planet.

At first, I thought that this was something Blish got from the original shooting script that was left out in a rewrite or post-production edit. But according to the Star Trek wiki, the script never bothered to explain alien-Mayberry at all. So Blish came up with a reasonable explanation from whole cloth.

It turns out that the planet is actually a colony settled by people from Earth. They fled Earth several centuries earlier during a time of global strife. Star Trek's often inconsistent references to Earth history hadn't yet been developed at all this early in the series, but in retrospect it's easy to assume this was during the Third World War or the slightly later Eugenics Wars.

So they had cut off all contact with Earth, only sending a distress signal when their longevity experiments went awry and the grown-ups started dying.

It's such a simple and logical explanation. Even granting that TV scripts were often rushed through rewrites and production because of tight scheduling, it's amazing that the talented writers who produced this particular script didn't come up with something similar. The "It's identical to Earth, but not let's never mention that again" route the script took just gets on my nerves.

It should be mentioned that a later episode--"Bread and Circuses," which features a 20th-Century Roman Empire--cites "Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development" to explain that humanoid races can develop along similar and sometimes near-identical sociological lines. So this can be retroactively applied to "Miri" as well as a few other episodes. An article at the Star Trek site Memory Alpha gives more details on this.  Also, the episode "The Paradise Syndrome" mentions an ancient alien race known as the Preservers who apparently seeded species in danger of extinction on many different planets, which is why there's so many humanoid aliens in the Star Trek Universe.

There's also an Expanded Universe novel which explains that Earth-identical planets such as the one in "Miri" have arrived in our universe from parallel realities. A Shatner-verse novel apparently decides that the planet was a recreation of Earth made by the Preservers.

All are perfectly legitimate SF concepts. Of course, during the original run, Star Trek (like most shows from that era) was not concerned with an internal continuity between individual episodes. There are both strengths and weaknesses to this approach. One of the strengths is that there's plenty of room for later writers and fans to have fun coming up with theories of their own to explain apparent inconsistencies.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Tarzan vs. Pirates

If you are a pirate--don't mess with Tarzan.

Actually, if you are any sort of bad guy, you shouldn't mess with Tarzan. In 1951, writer Dick Van Buren and artist Bob Lubbers (who is excellent and should be better remembered than he is) showed us that this bit of wisdom particularly applies to pirates.

It begins with Tarzan on a small boat, trying to get back to mainland Africa after having an adventure on an island. He sees a ship, which would normally be a good thing. But this particular ship is a pirate vessel, commanded by a sadistic captain named Aved. Aved's second in command is a brutal Englishman called by the unoriginal name of Limey.

The pirates suspect Tarzan of working for a local trader named Philip Toll--someone the pirates have been robbing blind recently. They string the Ape Man up by his thumbs, but Tarzan works loose and we are treated to a very well-choreographed fight scene. Tarzan keeps moving, employing hit-and-run tactics against the pirate crew and pulling off a Douglas Fairbanks inspired rip-down-the-sail-with-his-knife manuever.

Tarzan eventually jumps over the side. He fakes getting hit when shot at and manages to get away, eventually making it to shore. Here, he meets Philip Toll, the trader whose life is being made miserable by the pirates.

So far, its been a fun, fast-paced adventure, highlighted by Lubbers' kinetic and detailed art work, highlighting Tarzan's skill and cleverness when fighting as an individual.

The next sequence, though, is something that makes this particular story arc stand out for me. We are reminded that Tarzan isn't always a lone hero. When the situation calls for it, he is a more-than-capable leader and a brilliant tactician. (Leading the Wazari against slave traders in The Return of Tarzan comes to mind as an excellent example of this from the original novels.)

Tarzan comes up with a plan to equip Toll's ship with a ram. They sail out to fight the pirates, discovering that Aved actually has two ships now. The ram, followed by a boarding party, takes out one ship and removes Limey from consideration. But Aved's ship sails into a cove protected by cannon.

Toll thinks they are stalemated. But Tarzan, of course, has a clever plan. Half the men in Toll's crew can be floated ashore in barrels. Tarzan will lead the others ashore, swimming underwater while using reeds as snorkels.  This will get everyone past the cannon and allow for a two-pronged sneak attack.

Though there are a few tense moments when Tarzan's group is outnumbered while waiting for the other group to show up, but in the end the pirates are overwhelmed.

The story arc ends with a Tarzan vs. Aved sword duel, made interesting by the fact that as skilled in hand-to-hand combat as Tarzan is, he's not a trained fencer. Aved is. But Tarzan muscles through the fight and brings Aved's piratical career to an abrupt end.

Tarzan often is a lone hero and that's fine--he's well-qualified for that role. But one of his important character traits is his ability to act as a leader of men and come up with clever, innovative tactics to win a battle. Van Buren and Lubbers were well aware of this when they gave us this particular story arc. Both script and art come together to give us an exciting adventure in which we are reminded that Tarzan can outsmart us all as well as outfight any of us.

Next week, it's back to the Lost Valley for another visit with Turok and Andar.

Monday, July 23, 2018

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