Friday, April 27, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Cavalcade of America: "Mr. Peale and the Dinosaur" 3/7/50

Claude Rains and Agnes Moorhead are excellent in this comedic biography of Charles Peale, an artist and the founder of America's first museum of natural history.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

It's a pretty faithful adaptation. Well, aside from the ladies and the giant animals, that is.

I recently started an "Adventure Classics of Western Literature" group on Facebook and the first book we read through was Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island (1874). And, by the way, the book is over 140 years old, so it's long past its Spoiler date. I'm not gonna even worry about spoiling it for anyone.

Anyway, its a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea--Captain Nemo turns out to be a mysterious benefactor who saves the lives of the castaways on several occasions and otherwise helps them out. It's also a sequel to In Search of the Castaways, since the villain in that one (a pirate named Aryton) turns up after being stuck alone on his own island. He's a bit on the nutty side for awhile, but then turns out to be repentant and eager to join the good guys.

The book involves five guys escaping from a Confederate prison camp towards the end of the Civil War, stealing an observation balloon to make their getaway. A hurricane blows them clear across the U.S. and into the Pacific, where they end up on a remote, uninhabited island. They are later joined by Aryton and gradually build their own miniature version of civilization on the island.

The book drips with Verne's usual enthusiasm about men exploring, learning and using their intelligence to improve their lives. The adventure aspects of the novel are also excellent, especially a sequence in which the castaways have to face off against a ship-full of heavily armed pirates.

The novel does have its flaws, though. What many of us in the Adventure Classics group agreed upon was that the characters were flat, without the sort of distinctive personalities that Verne gave his protagonists in other novels. This is especially true of Cyrus Harding, a Captain of Engineers in the Union Army and the leader of the group. Harding's entire reason for existence is to be smarter and more capable than everyone else. He simply doesn't have any significant character traits beyond that.

In 1961, an extremely fun movie version (titled Mysterious Island without the "The"), with special effects by the great Ray Harryhausen, was released. It's interesting to read about the history of the film in Ray's book Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life.

It turns out that the film was originally supposed to be a straightforward adaptation of the novel, with Nemo and the Nautilus providing the only science fiction elements. But when Ray and his partner Charles H. Schneer got hold of it... well, this is Ray Harryhausen we are talking about. Of course there's going to be giant creatures in it.

At first, the idea was to have the island inhabited by dinosaurs and giant carnivorous plants. This is an idea so breathtakingly cool that its amazing the world didn't explode from pure disappointment when it didn't happen. Instead, it was decided to have the island contain more mundane types of creatures enlarged to giant size. So the castaways in the movie encounter a giant crab, giant bees and a giant baby chicken. Despite not being dinosaurs, these creatures manage to add a lot of fun to the movie. (The crab, by the way, is not a model, but a real crab bought live at a local market, eaten by the crew and cleaned out on the inside so Harryhausen could insert the armatures needed to use it for stop-motion.)

There was talk of getting James Mason to reprise his role as Captain Nemo (having brilliantly played him in Disney's version of 20,000 Leagues a few years earlier). In fact, the design of the Nautilus in this movie is obviously influenced by the Disney version. But Mason was too expensive. Herbert Lom, though, does an excellent job with the role. It's tempting to consider this movie a direct sequel to the Disney movie, but since Mason's Nemo unquestionably dies in that one, we can't quite swing that.

Nemo, by the way, provides a reason for the existence of the giant animals on the island. I won't spoil that reason for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

The rest of the cast is fine as well. In his book, Harryhausen makes a point of praising the performance of Gary Merrill as newspaper reporter Gideon Spillett--and he's correct in doing so. Merrill brings a cynicism to the reporter that doesn't quite cross the line into making us dislike him.  And he does rapidly become more a team player.

Other castaways, including Harding (played by Michael Craig), are given more personality as well. In this sense, the film can be legitimately said to have improved upon the book.

There are other changes. Originally, Aryton was supposed to still be there--found on the island and (in at least one early script) turned green from something he'd been eating. But budget and script reasons mean that, in the end, Aryton only appears as a pile of moldy bones. (Which, unlike other Harryhausen films, do not come to life.)

In the book, the castaways had a dog named Top, but dogs and stop-motion animation don't mix. Actors, remember, have to use carefully rehearsed, exactly timed movements in filming any scene in which stop-motion creatures will later be added. That would be hard for even a well-trained dog, so poor Top doesn't make it into the film.

The book, by the way, is an all-male affair. Not surprisingly, the movie has a couple of ladies wash up on the island to join the castaways.

Despite all these changes, the movie is actually a pretty faithful adaptation of Verne's novel. The basic bones of the story are still there and the movie still manages to celebrate man's ingenuity in surviving and even prospering in a difficult situation. And none of the additions are jarring or unpleasant.

It probably takes a genius like Ray Harryhausen to insert a giant crab into a story that was meant to be fairly realistic and make it seem so natural.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Dino-Riders and Duels to the Death: Tragg and the Sky Gods #6

Cover Art by Jesse Santos

Tragg and the Sky Gods #6 (Sept. 1976) picks up with Tragg and Lorn still on a road trip, looking for reinforcements to fight the Sky Gods.

At first, the situation appears to be looking up as they find a tribe of humans that have tamed and learned to ride a herd of styracosaurus' (called "spike-lizards" in the story). A herd of charging ceratopians would be a pretty handy weapon agaisnt the bad guys.

But the tribe--like pretty much every other primitive tribe ever encountered in dinosaur fiction--has a rule about killing all strangers. Turok and Andar used to run into the same thing all the time. I don't know what it is about primitive human tribes that have to co-exist with dinosaurs. It always seems to leave everyone involved really cranky.

Dan Spiegle continues to do excellent work with the interior art (though I continue to miss the rawness of Jesse Santos' pencils--it was just a better fit for the title) and Donald Glut once again gives us a relatively self-contained tale that still advances the main story arc.

While Tragg is desperately trying to invent diplomancy, the Sky Gods are having trouble of their own. Zorek, their leader, claims to come up with a way of obliterating the local humans who escaped captivity a few issues back. The reason they hadn't pushed forward with that effort is because they have no way to recharge what little power remains in their blasters--at least not until reinforcements from their home planet arrive. But Zorek claims to have a plan that takes that into account.

One of the others, named Ferenk, thinks Zorak's hatred of Tragg has sent him off the deep end. Ferenk also has the hots for Keera, whom Zorak has imprisoned for treason. So the love-struck alien springs Keera from her cell, gives her a blaster and a jet pack, and sends her on her way.

She immediately decides to track down Lorn and kill her, still figuring that "as long as she lives, Tragg will never be mine!" Actually, openly murdering the woman Tragg loves seems like a poor way to impress him.

In the meantime, Tragg gets into the good graces of the new tribe's chief by saving his son from a carnosaur.

But when Keera shows up, the attitude of the tribe is torn. Tragg did save a child's life, but Keera is able to fly and must be a god. She's claiming Lorn is a demon and must be killed.

Well, the solution is obvious, of course. Have the two ladies fight a duel to the death.

That duel lasts several pages and is nicely choreographed by Spiegle. In the end, Keera tumbles into a pit and Tragg has to pull her out. She's beaten, the tribe decides to ally itself with Tragg and Keera opts to stay behind at the tribe's village--she's now without a home anywhere. Her blaster, by the way, is destroyed during the fight.

Setting up the duel so that it ends with Tragg showing mercy and saving Keera can be seen as cliched, but cliches often exist because they are effective storytelling tools and here Don Glut does use it effectively. Tragg's actions are perfectly in character for him and Keera's humbled reaction (she tells him of Zorak's plan to destroy the remnants of his tribe) is part of legitimate character growth for her. I continue to be very impressed with the skill with which Donald Glut is telling this story.

Next week, we return to World War II to see how writer Roy Thomas continued to fight the war when he left Marvel and went to DC.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: "First of Lumber" 12/13/43

The Ranger runs across a plot by a lumber syndicate to force smaller outfits out of business. He can foil this plan, but only if Silver can get him across a river that everyone considers impossible to cross at all.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Pictorial History of Horror Movies

Yet another major influence on my life when I was a particularly brilliant and perceptive child was Denis Gifford's A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, first published in 1973.

A fellow student from my school had a copy and I remember me and my younger brother bicycling over to his house specifically to look through it. By then, Saturday afternoon's Creature Feature hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer had already introduced me to classic monster films, but there were still a lot of films I hadn't seen or didn't know about.

I managed to score my own copy not long after that--probably by whining about it to my parents until I broke their spirits and they bought me one.

It is an absolutely wonderful book, with hundreds of great pictures and a lot of insightful historical information and analysis of the genre. It was also written at just the right time--horror movies at that time were descending into the casual use of gore that would inevitably de-value the genre. So this book covered the good stuff and was able to stop at a point where things got mindlessly bloody. It is, simply by the benefit of when it was written, a book about the genre's true Golden Age.

As a kid, I think I appreciated the pictures, though I did read and learn stuff from the text. As an adult, I can more deeply appreciate Gifford's smooth prose and insightful comments. He understood the value of the genre and that understanding shines through in each chapter.

Here's an example of Gifford's intelligent analysis, in which he is talking about the look and design of the classic Universal monster movies:

"The settings were interchangeable, the ambiance unchangeable. This was the secret of the Universal universe. It gave the great films a continuity that was comforting to come back to, whatever the horror that walked abroad. Familiar faces, familiar places: a sort of security in a world of fear. It was easier to suspend belief when the impossible took place in a tight, false world of studio-built landscape, where every tree was carefully gnarled in expressionistic fright, every house cunningly gabled in Gothic mystery, every shadow beautifully-lit into lurking terror; and where every actor was caught in the closing ring of horrors, untouched by the possibility of a normal world beyond."

A Pictorial History of Horror Movies has not, sadly, been in print for years. But any fan of the genre would benefit from tracking down a copy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Back to World War II: The Invaders

During his long career as a writer with both Marvel and DC, Roy Thomas had a number of opportunities to indulge in his love of Golden-Age characters--characters he loved as a kid.

This can be dangerous, since even good writers can go astray when they become pros and begin writing for characters they loved as a kid. Nostalgia can cloud over their talent and the results can be awkward.

But Thomas never allowed this to happen. Both with Marvel's The Invaders, which he began writing in 1975, and DC's All-Star Squadron from a few years later, his skills at charactization and plot structure allowed him to play in the Golden Age sandbox while still producing excellent tales.

Both series were retcons of sorts, bringing World War II-era superheroes into new groups. But at the same time, he kept nearly everything he wrote within the bounds of Golden Age continuity.

This week, we'll look at the first appearance of the Invaders. In the mid-1970s, Marvel was often publishing Giant Size issues--pretty much the same as the annuals that Marvel had been producing for many of their titles, but with a cooler name. So the Invaders premiered in Giant-Size Invaders #1 (June 1975), with Frank Robbins providing the art for Thomas' story.

Robbins got his start in comic strips, most notably drawing an adventure strip titled Johnny Hazard from the strip's inception in 1944 until it ended in 1977.  His work on this strip is excellent--Robbins is a fine artist whose career is one in which he could take pride.

But I admit I never really cared for his comic book work with Marvel in the mid-1970s; neither on The Invaders nor on Captain America & The Falcon. To steal a sentence from someone in Facebook's Comic Book Historians group: "But, seriously, it's all about styles, and Robbins was never suited for super-hero work." 

On the other hand, a fan of his work posted:  I must admit I despised Robbins' work at the time, (as a 10 year-old Kirby, Kane and Buscema fan) and hated his Invaders art. But today I love it and it makes total sense in context. I do still think that, as an aesthetic choice, it seemed a little out of place in the contemporary Cap strip, but it entirely suited the 1940s stories. It's beautiful stuff.

Take a look at the above double panel, in which Cap and Bucky are taking down some Nazi saboteurs not long after Pearl Harbor was bombed.  One person in the Comic Book Historians group declared it to be one of his favorite images ever. For me, while I love the overall composition, Cap and Bucky seem awkwardly posed, as if they are doing badly-timed ballet moves rather than taking down Nazis.

But if you accept Robbins' art for what it is or like him as a superhero artist more than I do, then the story is great. We soon learn that the Nazis have a plan to try to recreate the Super-Soldier formula that made Cap, then use the resultant "Master Man" to carry out a particularly important act of sabotage.

As the story progresses, Cap and Bucky team up with the Human Torch and Toro, then later run into Namor. But Master Man is powerful enough to take them all on while attacking a British warship. Fortunately, the Nazi version of the Super Soldier formula is flawed and Master Man reverts to a puny guy before he can complete his mission.

Namor then ensures that a nearby U-boat also fails to complete the mission. And what was that mission exactly? Winston Churchill was aboard the ship, coming to the U.S. to make war plans with F.D.R. Churchill suggests they form a team---a sort-of pre-D-Day invaders. And not even Namor is going to turn Winston Churchill down.

The story is very well-constructed, with the various heroes meeting each other at logical points in the story and the action scenes are imaginative and an integral part of the overall tale.

But I'll never be a huge fan of Robbins' superhero poses. But at least I don't hate him as much as my brother does. When I told him I would be reviewing this issue on my blog, he (who has been training his children since birth to be old-school Marvel fans) emailed me this:

Frank Robbins ruined not just my childhood. but [my son] Josiah's as well.  Not just the Invaders title, but most notably, the Cap and Falcon Nomad story line.  I've never really recovered from that and nobody understands my pain. Tell the world of my pain. 

Next week, we'll pay another visit with Tragg and the Sky Gods. In two weeks, we'll look at Roy Thomas' visit to World War II via the DC Universe.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Candy Matson: "San Juan Batista" 12/18/50

Candy, Mallard and Rembrandt take a few days off to relax near a remote mission called "San Juan Batista." A suicide that might not be a suicide turns it into a working vacation.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

If Outer Space is Cool & Pirates are Cool, then Space Pirates Must be Double-Cool

Captain Trent, who has just been hired to command the space freighter Yarrow, comes from a long line of space captains--and before that sea captains. Swashbuckling seems to be genetically encoded in his family line.

And, by golly, he'll need to buckle quite a few swashes. The Yarrow is going to attempt to reopen trade with a group of planets who have been plagued with space piracy so intense that interplanetary trade has pretty much shut down.

This is the premise of Space Captain, by Murray Leinster. It was first serialized as Killer Ship in  the October and December issues of Amazing Stories magazine in 1965, then reprinted as an Ace Double in 1966.

The novel is enormously fun, following along after Captain Trent as he plots for ways to use his unarmed ship to fight armed pirate vessels. The story can be very roughly divided into three acts. Act One has Trent damaging a pirate ship and forcing it to retreat by just ramming it.

Though the Yarrow itself is unarmed, Trent has acquired small arms, explosives and gas bombs for his crew. So Act Two involves luring some pirates aboard a derelict space ship, then ambushing them. The pirate ship itself gets away, but Trent is able to bring a number of prisoners to a nearby planet.

This rare victory against the pirates who have been shutting down the economies of a number of planets brings Trent notoriety. It also generates an attitude that the pirate threat is abating, so a number of merchant ships decide to lift off to sell badly needed goods on other planets at high prices.

No one listens to Trent when he tries to tell them that the danger definitely isn't over. Ships are captured and people (including a young lady Trent had taken a liking to) are taken hostage. The pirates demand a prisoner exchange, threatening to kill ten hostages for any captured pirate who is executed.

That brings us to Act Three. Trent figures out where the pirate base is and takes his ship there. Remember that the Yarrow isn't armed, so a ground assault will be necessary to wipe out the pirates and rescue hostages.

Trent is a great character--a capable man who thinks out problems and comes up with logical plans. He earns his victories, doesn't take any guff from anyone, and is determined to do his job well. When he believes that the pirates have killed someone he felt responsible for, that cold determination is combined with a cold but furious desire for revenge.

Leinster also does a fine job of reminding us of the strangeness and enormity of outer space and gives us a vivid description of the volcano-strewn planet on which the pirates are hiding. This story generates an atmosphere that makes it easy for us to accept that its taking place in deep space and on alien worlds.

There's also a wonderful running gag about a device installed on the Yarrow by its owners--a gadget that is supposed to wreck the engines of nearby pirate ships, but instead keeps blowing up whenever it's switched on. The touchy engineer rebuilds it each time, assuring Trent that this time it'll work for sure.

Space Captain is Space Opera done right, with the reader taken to far-away stars to battle and out-smart ruthless villains. It does not break any new ground in the genre--it simply takes that genre and shows us how to do it right.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Fire, Ice and Horrific Deaths

Last week, we looked at the first act of Dick Tracy vs. Shaky, which ran Tracy's daily newspaper strip over the winter of 1944/45.  That first act was action-packed, with the events that took a number of weeks to show us probably only covering a single day. It ends with model Snowflake Falls escaping from Shaky after jamming the crooks hand in a door frame. Shaky, though, has escaped along with his last two henchmen.

Artist/writer Chester Gould was really good at pacing and knew that his readers would need a breather after several weeks of chases and shootouts. So the story proceeds at a more casual pace for its second act, while Gould sets up the next phase in the story's plot. This also allowed him to bring back one of his most successful and endearing comic relief characters--the ham actor Vitamin Flintheart.

In the volume of The Complete Dick Tracy that reprints this story arc, Max Allan Collins has some insightful remarks about Vitamin, who was originally a direct parody of real-life actor John Barrymore:

Vitamin is a particularly well-realized comic character, with universal appeal and resonance... [He] grew in both appeal and warmth, and came to represent all "ham" actors, not just the tragic Barrymore.

Vitamin auditions Snowflake and gives her the co-starring role in his new play. The play is a hit. Also, Vitamin and Snowflake fall in love. Here we see that though Tracy might be a brilliant cop, he's less than skilled at giving personal advice. Warning Snowflake about the danger of a May/December romance, he just gets everyone mad at him. Stick to your skill set, Tracy. Tracking down villains doesn't qualify you to play Dear Abby.

In the meantime, Shaky is looking to get revenge on Snowflake. When he and his friends meet Vitamin, who is tying one on after being "betrayed" by Tracy, he sees an opportunity to get his hands on the girl once again.

Shaky convinces Vitamin to elope with Snowflake and offers to throw a party for them. It's not much of a party, though, as Vitamin is knocked out, then robbed of both his fur coat and his lady.

This opens the final act of the story arc, with the pace of the tale speeding up once again as we race to what can only be described as a brutal finale.

Shaky tosses Snowflake into the river. Fortunately, she lands on a barge and is later rescued just before freezing to death. Gould was not shy about killing off likeable supporting characters and, in fact, had just done so a few months earlier in an earlier story arc. So newspaper readers that winter must have been on the edge of their seats, wondering if Snowflake was going to survive. In Dick Tracy, there were no guarentees. This is one of the reason the strip was such a great one.

In the meantime, Shaky and his two men are sleeping in a cheap hotel, using a portable heater to keep warm. When Vitamen's stolen coat falls onto the heater, the hotel is soon engulfed in flames.

The ensuing sequence is brilliant, with Gould's expressionistic artwork dripping with a sense of terror, panic and danger. The henchmen both come to horrible ends (one burns, the other jumps off the roof in a panic). Shaky brutally kills a fireman and tries to make a break for it. He steals a car, but the ensuing chase leads him to a dead end at the waterfront.

Shaky sends the car off a pier, hoping to make it look like he died in the crash, then hides in a nearby hole. The next week's worth of strips has Tracy and his men trying to recover the car and confirm Shaky's death, while the crook gradually realizes that ice is sealing him up in the hole. By the time he decides to shout for help, no one can hear him. And the air supply in that hole is limited...

Shaky was a violent sociopath, but Gould presents his death with such stark brutality, that you can't help but feel a little sorry for him despite realizing his fate is well-deserved. To quote Max Allan Collins one more time:

Life is harsh in Gould's world. Death, too. There are thrills, there are laughs, there is compassion, but there are mostly consequence, and sometimes just plain cruel fate.

As I mentioned last week, a paperback reprint of this storyline (along with another paperback reprinting the Pruneface story) was my earliest experience with classic adventure comic strips. Because of Chester Gould's brilliance as artist and storyteller, I was also later drawn to Milt Caniff, Hal Foster, Alex Raymond and Roy Crane. I wish I had had a chance to meet Chester Gould. I would have liked to have thanked him for enriching my life.

Next week, we'll stay in World War II (though via a story from 1975) as we look at the formation of the Marvel superhero group The Invaders.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Edgar Rice Burroughs podcast

My first podcast focusing on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs can be found HERE.

This has gotten some good feedback from members of several ERB Facebook groups and I'm in talks to make it a shared effort. Podcasts are infinitely more interesting when two or more people are interacting, so hopefully future ERB 'casts will include this.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Cover Cavalcade

Dynamic cover by Ogden Whitney from 1968. (According to the Grand Comics Database, Bill Everett may have re-drawn the face of one of the outlaws.) This was the last issue of Two-Gun Kid with original stories. The title would be on hiatus for about two years before returning as a reprint book.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Abbott and Costello: "Lou has to Pay Income Tax" 3/14/46

Lou needs 500 dollars to pay his income tax. The process of finding someone to lend him the money goes... less than smoothly.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Put a Computer in Charge of the Ship? That NEVER Works!

Well, actually, putting a computer in charge of a ship did work at least once. Sort of.

As I've written before, the 1964-68 television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was very hit-and-miss in terms of quality during its three color seasons. I acknowledge in that old post that the first black-and-white season was the best, but until I started methodically watching it when it became available to stream, I don't think I appreciated just how good it was.

Once or twice a month (I don't believe in binge-watching), I pull up the next first-season episode and watch it. I've thus been enjoying stories that mix science fiction with Cold War espionage which, along with some really cool production design work and a strong cast, resulted in some excellent drama.

I just finished watching "The Human Computer," which first aired on February 15, 1965. In this one, the Seaview is being used to test a new super-computer that can supposedly run the submarine efficiently even with no crew aboard. To test this, the Seaview will participate in war games, with other naval ships hunting her.

This premise will ring a bell with Star Trek geeks, of course. I'll get to that in a moment.

Over the years, science fiction has trained us to be distrustful of super computers. Whether we're talking about HAL, Skynet, Westworld, or WOPR/Jason, if you put a computer in charge, it will inevitably start murdering all us puny humans.

"The Human Computer," though, is an exception to this. The computer works fine, dodging all efforts by the Navy to pretend-destroy her and not once trying to kill anyone despite presumably having control of a nuclear arsenal.

It's a human being that causes all the trouble. Captain Crane is on the ship alone during the war game maneuvers. Or he's supposed to be alone. An enemy agent (implicitly a Russian, though never overtly identified as one) is also on board. His job is to kill Crane in a way that looks like an accident, then reprogram the computer to take the sub to his home country. The Russians will study the computer to get its secrets, then give the sub back to the U.S. with their regrets that Crane died in a tragic mishap and that the darn computer apparently took the sub off course.

David Hedison, as Crane, gives an excellent performance in this episode. At first he's clearly antsy about being on the sub alone without anything useful to do. When he realizes there's an intruder aboard, there's an tense, extended sequence with virtually no dialogue in which the two men stalk each other through the submarine, with Crane frightened and on edge without ever losing command of himself. Hedison does wonders to ground Crane in believable humanity from start to finish.

The spy eventually traps Crane in the ballast room, blocking off the one exit and knowing the only other hatch leads to a tank full of water. He does not count on Crane's ingenuity and superior knowledge of the ship  to find a way out and get the drop on him.

Heck, the episode even stays aware of the fact that the pistol Crane carries only has eight shots, using this as an important plot point. (Though one can armchair-quarterback Crane and criticize him for not grabbing extra ammo when he had a chance.)

The starship Enterprise put a computer in charge in "The Ultimate Computer," which aired on March 8, 1968. This time, the story follows the expected direction--the computer starts blowing up other ships and won't relinquish command of the Enterprise back to the humans. A poor Red Shirt is fried by a power beam when Kirk and crew try to manually disconnect it.

William Marshall gives a superb performance as the increasingly unstable designer of the computer and the overall storytelling is strong. Kirk eventually defeats the computer by talking it to death via twisting its own logic back on itself. This is something Kirk did a lot--using that tactic in a total of four episodes. It is fair to say that this was an overused plot device, but it is also fair to note that the individual episodes in which Kirk does this are often pretty good ones."The Ultimate Computer" is arguably the best of the "talk the computer to death" episodes.

So what do we learn from all this? Primarily that it's okay to put a computer in charge of a submarine but not a starship. But we also learn that the same basic premise for a story can be used by different storytellers to go off in many, equally viable directions with their stories.

By the way, this is the second time I found a reason to compare a specific Voyage episode with a specific Star Trek episode. Here's the first time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Snowflake, Shaky, Machine Guns and Getting a Hand Stuck in a Door.

The above paperback is one of two Dick Tracy reprint books I acquired as a kid and that (as I've written before) I believe to be important steps in making me the person I am today. For which the world really should be grateful, you know.

I'm not sure if Shaky is among the best remembered of Tracy's classic villians, but his story arc which ran in late 1944 and early 1945) is a great one. It begins with Tracy and Junior driving back to the city, when they run across a dazed woman in a wedding dress. They bring her into the city, where she starts to yell at Tracy for refusing to marry her. Oddly, she refers to Tracy as Nat Banks, a local rich guy.

It turns out to be a blackmail scam that went awry when the girl stopped the wrong car. We also soon learn that the girl (a model named Snowflake Falls) is drugged and not acting on her own initiative.

Well, the villain behind all this is a scam artist with a violent streak who is appropriately named Shaky. (The gag is that despite his constant shaking, he's a crack shot and can do things like build ships-in-a-bottle.) Like all Tracy villains, his physical appearance is meant to mirror his inner evil.  From a practical point-of-view, we often wonder why Tracy just didn't arrest the first odd-looking person he encounters when investigating the case. This would almost always turn out to be the bad guy.

When Shaky's henchmen tell him that the blackmail scheme has gone awry, he realizes they have to get Snowflake back before the drug wears off and she talks. He improvises a plan to get some men with guns into the police station, then snatches the girl out of a window.

I'm not quite sure how Shaky's men were eventually supposed to get out of police headquarters, but it doesn't matter. Two cops with tommy guns settle things for them. A third henchmen is caught not long after that, but Shaky and his two remaining goons get away with Snowflake.

But as the drug wears off, we begin to realize that Snowflake might have moxie. And, boy, does that turn out to be true. She has the moxiest moxie ever, getting away from Shaky and leaving the criminal with his hand rather painfully stuck in a door. In the Dick Tracy universe, you apparently do not mess with pretty, young models.

Unfortunately, Shaky and his two goons manage to get away again, though Snowflake does escape. But now Snowflake is on Shaky's hit list.

The first half of the Shaky story arc is very fast moving, running for nearly two months but with the action covering a time frame of probably only a few hours. The pacing for the rest of the story slows up a little as Chester Gould sets up the conditions for a brutal climax, but the tale is never anything less that enthralling. Because this is one of the first classic Tracy stories I ever read, my opinion is undoubtably colored by nostalgia--but it is still one of my favorite story arcs.

We'll return next week to see how it all turns out.

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