Thursday, May 31, 2018

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard

Well, you know, some say she is the daughter of a duke, others that she was born in the gutter, and that the handle has been soldered on to her name in order to give her style and influence.

That's the first sentence in the short story "The Ninescore Mystery," which is the first of a dozen short stories written by the Baroness Orczy--author of The Scarlet Pimpernel. These stories were first published in 1910.

It's a wonderful first sentence, fun to read and immediately giving us something to latch on to about Lady Molly that easily makes us believe it completely when we are told that she immediately commands the respect of those she meets from the force of her personality and her intelligence.

Who is Lady Molly? She's the head of Scotland Yard's Female Department and she's also the chief's go-to person when the male detectives are stumped on a case.

I didn't know about Lady Molly until recently. This annoys me, because I'm supposed to be a scholar about pre-digital genre fiction. I'm supposed to know everything, darn it!

I found out about her when I was discussing the line-up of books I had selected for an "Adventure Classics of Western Literature" reading group I administer on Facebook. I mentioned that I hadn't initially thought to put The Scarlet Pimpernel on the reading list and was going to do so. She then told me about the Lady Molly stories, which I immediately downloaded onto my Kindle. 

Never go anywhere without your Kindle, children. You never know when there's something you need to read that you want to acquire RIGHT NOW!

Anyway, the Lady Molly stories are very much influenced by Sherlock Holmes in their structure, with the narration provided by Molly's assistant Mary Granard. Molly, though, depends less on deduction based on clues and more on deduction based on a sharp understanding of human nature. 

"The Ninescore Mystery" is a great example of this. A young lady is found dead in the small town of Ninescore. She's been dead for a couple of weeks and is badly decomposed by the time she's found. But her body is identified and an investigation is launched.

It's an investigation that goes nowhere. There's lots of clues--a missing sister; a presumed nobleman who was having an affair with the victim; a presumably illegitimate baby; and a few other items. There's a vague indication of blackmail amidst all this, but the nobleman denies any hanky panky and has a good alibi for the night of the murder.

Molly, though, believes she knows the answer and has a plan for identifying the killer with certainty. Her plan is, in fact, a double-edged sword--designed to both smoke out someone in hiding and force that person to talk.

Lady Molly is a great character--another wonderful addition to the the small but exclusive Canon of Great Detectives. But, by golly, I should have already have known about her! 

The Lady Molly stories are available online HERE.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Pitched Battles, Avalanches & Styracosaurs: Tragg and the Sky Gods #7

cover art by Jesse Santos
Tragg and the Sky Gods #7 (November 1976)  is the next to last issue (not counting a delayed 9th issue that reprinted Tragg #1), but it can be counted as a satisfying Grand Finale, as it wraps up the main story arc after a multi-front battle between the alien invaders and cavemen riding styracosaurs. Writer Donald Glut and artist Dan Spiegle continue to tell an excellent story as they bring it to a violent conclusion.

Remember that Tragg and Lorn had befriended a tribe of men who have tamed the above mentioned styracosaurs. This essentially gives Tragg armored support as he and the dino-riders return to Fire Mountain to have it out with Zorek and the aliens.

Zorek, in the meantime, is enraged by Keera's escape in the last issue. Knowing that she turned against him because she likes Tragg, Zorek goes over the deep end and orders a final attack on the cavemen they aren't already enslaving. The aliens haven't done this yet because of their concerns about their power supply, but Zorek is now pretty obviously living in Crazy Town and no longer cares.

Ferenk, who secretly helped Keera escape, tries to reason with his boss. But this just eventually gets Ferenk shot and dropped into a bottomless abyss. Zorek is not a very nice boss.

What follows is a battle that shifts its action between several fronts. The aliens attack Tragg's people and trap them in a cave by using their ray guns to start an avalanche. But there's a small opening in the back of the cave that lets the tribe getaway.

When the dino-riders approach, Tragg and Lorn break off to sneak into the alien base to free the enslaved tribes-people there. But they get caught in a sonic booby-trap and are captured.

I like this part, by the way. Tragg and Lorn are smart and now have some experience going up against advanced technology, but there's no way they can know enough to be aware of all the possibilities. That they are quickly captured because of a hidden electronic booby-trap is completely believable.

Anyway, the aliens attack the dino-riders, but the thick bone structure of the styracosaurs make this an even fight. Eventually, the action moves into the aliens' base. Tragg and Lorn are able to fight free when their tribesmen arrive and Tragg eventually uses a styracosaurus to start shoving alien equipment into the lava.

This disagrees with the equipment in a very violent matter. The battle ends when everyone runs for it before the volcano blows up.

It's an exciting and expertly choreographed battle that reaches pretty epic proportions. There are twists and turns to the action and deaths of both Red Shirts and named characters on both sides.

Zorek and some other surviving aliens fly away, but are now nearly out of power and greatly reduced in number. This brings the main story arc to an end, but leaves things open-ended enough to greatly increase the storytelling potential of the world Donald Glut so expertly created. In addition to Zorek's escape, we have Keera still exiled from her people, the ape men that Tragg encountered in issue #5 and the vague possibility that Ferenk is still alive (in adventure fiction--no body means no guarantee of death), as well as the rest of the world around the valley as yet unexplored. All of this was high-quality fodder for future adventure tales. Sadly, we'll only have one more Tragg story, so that potential will never be fulfilled.

We will take a look at the last Tragg story in a few weeks. Next week, though, we'll watch Superman enounter Peg-Leg Portia and her Cosmic Hounds.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dangerous Assignment: "Recover Underwater Demolitions Secrets" 4/10/50

In a mission to recover the secret of a new underwater explosive, Steve Mitchell encounters a slight problem. What do you do when you are deep underwater in a diving suit and the guy controlling your air supply wants to kill you?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Never Trust Those Darn Dazzalox

"The Slave Raiders from Mercury," by Don Wilcox (from the June 1940 issue of Amazing Stories), is a bizarre story. This, though, is one its strengths. It's fun-bizarre, not annoying-bizarre.

It begins with a carnival sideshow exhibiting an alien rocket that was found abandoned in a field. But when a young mule driver named Lester Allison and a score or so of other people pay their fifty cents to go aboard, the doors slide shut and the rocket takes off.

It's not a trick by the poor carnival barker who talked them into boarding--he's trapped on the rocket as well. So at first, Allison and the others have no idea where they are going and who is responsible.

Allison soon shows some natural leadership ability and becomes the defacto head of the kidnapped group. And they'll need a good leader. The rocket is heading for Mercury, where it lands and delivers the group into slavery.

The twilight zone of Mercury is inhabited by the Dazzalox, a humanoid race that is dying out, but still need healthy male slaves to work for them. An evil Earth scientist named Kilhide had arrived on Mercury some years ago in a rocket of his own design. He now operates robot-controlled rockets to bring fresh slaves to the Dazzalox, making quite a profitable business out of it. Male slaves able to work are sold. Anyone else, including the women, are thrown into a room full of poison gas.

But a spanner is about to be thrown into the works. The group includes the lovely June O'Neil (with whom, of course, Allison has fallen in love). Kilhide gets the hots for her, saves her from the poison chamber and decides to make her his wife. But a thousand-year-old Dazzalox named Jo-jo-kak sees her and lays claim on her instead. Jo-jo-kak even delays his scheduled ritual suicide to show off this new prize.

This causes a social upheaval. Many male Dazzalox now want female slaves of their own and Kilhide happily starts arranging some women to be kidnapped on Earth and brought to Mercury. The lady Dazzalox are rather upset by this. It both flies in the face of tradition and arouses some pretty violent feelings of jealousy. Soon, a male/female civil war is brewing.

All this just might present the opportunity for Allison to escape with the rest of the slaves. But he's in prison by this point after killing Jo-jo-kak to protect June. So he must first survive a bizarre form of execution called the Rite of the Floating Chop, then make his way through a city in the gripes of battle and mass murder, and then find Kilhide to keep him alive until he shows the slaves how to operate the rockets.

From start to finish, the story has a bizarre feel to it. And not because it's set in a Space Opera world where Mercury is inhabitable. I'm well used to stories like that.

I think it's because the prose is so casual in introducing the various science fiction elements and the weird Dazzalox culture. This isn't to say that story fails to generate suspense or excitement when it needs to. The description of the Rite of the Floating Chop is itself an edge-of-your-seat set piece. "The Slave Raiders of Mercury" is completely comfortable with its Space Opera elements as the bizarre tale takes us from a carnival on Earth to an alien city on Mercury without missing a beat.

You can read this one online HERE

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bank Robbers and Mountain Lions

The cover story for Rawhide Kid #25 (December 1961) is "The Bat Strikes," which provides us with evidence that there were masked villains using secret identities even back in the Old West. But then, in any Comic Book Universe worth its salt, there was probably cavemen villains who were using secret identities while employing trained sabertooth tigers to rob the local cave village bank of its deposits of shiny rocks.

In this particular story, the villain is "The Bat," who keeps robbing the local banks. So when Rawhide Kid shows up, wanting to deposit some money in a bank, everyone assumes he must be the Bat. His reputation as an outlaw and tough guy has proceeded him, even though he's not wanted in this county.

Everyone either treats him with contempt or is in object terror of him. He reacts to this with a mixture of anger and bitterness, but what can he do? Fear and false accusations follow him whereever he goes.

Well, when the Bat robs another bank, the Kid figures he can catch him and clear his name of at least one false accusation.

I like this short but well-constructed tale (written by Stan Lee) for telling a good story and providing us with some real emotional impact, but I have to say that the page just below--showing the Kid's pursuit of the Bat and then the Bat's unfortunate encounter with a mountain lion--is what sells the story for me. Jack Kirby's artwork provides a real sense of kinetic energy while unfolding the action in a clear, logical fashion. It's a model of effective visual storytelling:

Anyway, the Bat turns out to be the owner of a local bank, robbing the place to cover financial losses.

A local who had given the Kid a particularly hard time shows up in time to hear the banker's dying confession and has the grace to apologize to the Kid. Then, despite the bitterness he'd shown earlier, the Kid tells him to he'll take the blame for being the Bat rather than have to tell the banker's wife and daughter the truth. The banker can be portrayed as having died a hero while chasing a crook.

The story had done a very good job in highlighting the Kid's bitterness earlier in the story, so this act of nobility really does have some emotional bit to it. One can argue that before Lee and Kirby started added maturity to the portrayal of comic book characters with Fantastic Four #1, that such characters were usually one-dimensional. And this is often a fair point--probably even usually a fair point. But we can see there that there are stories out there that did give comic book characters some real depth.

We're due for another visit with Tragg and the Sky Gods, so we'll do that next week.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "Three Good Witnesses" 1/28.48

During World War II, a civilian is travelling back to the U.S. from a job in Turkey.  He feels he's not really doing his part in fighting the war. But when an American officer aboard the same train is knocked out and secret papers are stolen, the civilian suddenly finds that a chance to serve has been thrust upon him.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Yet Another Mysterious Island

To quote an article from a 1970 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland: "Mention Mysterious Island and all but a few of our readers will automatically think of the exciting Harryhausen version of 1961."

I wrote about the 1961 version just a few weeks ago. But 32 years before that movie was made, right at the cusp between the Silent Film Era and the Sound Film Era, MGM released a wonderfully bizarre and entertaining version of the story.

Actually, it's not so much a version of Verne's novel as it is a "Let's use the title and a few details, the wrap an entirely new story around it" film. Lionel Barrymore is Count Dakkar, the benevolent ruler of a small island nation. Dakkar, of course, is Captain Nemo's real name. The Dakkar in the film, like Nemo, has also designed and built his own submarine. But the similarities pretty much end there.

Barrymore's Dakkar has eliminated class distinction on his island, making everyone equal as he prepares to use his submarines (he's actually built two) to explore the ocean depths and maybe discover an undersea humanoid race of sentient creatures. He's found skeletal remains of these guys, which makes him anxious to meet a living specimen.

We learn a lot of this backstory while Dakkar is giving a tour to Falon, the ruler of a mainland nation who has a more dictatorial approach to running a country. Despite this, Falon and Dakkar maintain a friendship. But, tragically, this is because Dakkar doesn't fully appreciate just how much of a poopie-head Falon is.

The dictator lands troops on the island and soon takes over, planning on using these new-fangled subs to increase his own power. But one of the subs is off on a test-dive, piloted by Nikolai, Dakkar's chief engineer. When Nikolai realizes that something is wrong, he sneaks ashore in a diving suit, rescuing Dakkar from Falon's clutches.

Nikolai, by the way, is in love with Dakkar's sister Sonia. Sonia is played by Jacqueline Gadsden, who exhibits that unique quality of attractiveness that only women in the 1920s had.

Anyway, shenanigans ensued involving traps, escapes and battles, in which both subs end up damaged. Sub #1 contains Dakkar, Nikolai and a number of crewmen and ends up on the bottom of the ocean, half-flooded with most of the crew dead and very little air left.

Sub #2 is also sinking. On board is Falon, some of his troops, Sonia and a few crew being held at gunpoint. Sonia, who has been showing more than her share of spunk since Falon attacked the island, blows up the sub's air compressor. This means that water can't be blown out of the ballast tanks and the sub can never surface.

It's at this point that the film takes its most bizarre turn. Those little humanoid guys Dakkar wanted to find do indeed exist. In fact, they have their own little civilization going at the bottom of the ocean. At first, they seem hostile, trying to batter open the few intact compartments of Sub #1. But when Dakkar saves them from a sea monster with a well-placed torpedo, it looks like the humanoids might be willing to give peace a chance.

This doesn't last long. Sub #2 arrives and factions from both crews (wearing bulky metal diving suits to protect themselves from the enormous pressure) are soon confronting one another on the sea bottom. Blood is spilled and the humanoids discover they like the taste of blood. They are driven into a frenzy. The humans have to fight their way through hoards of humanoids and a giant octopus, while trying to salvage the air compressor from Sub #1 so they can use Sub #2 to get back to the surface.

So much for giving peace a chance.

The Mysterious Island is a part-talkie, which means its mostly a silent film using title cards for dialogue, but also has sound effects and music. There are two or three scenes with spoken dialogue as well.

It looks wonderful from start to finish, with views of the undersea civilization being the highlight of the film. Particularly noteworthy is a short scene in which Dakkar and Nikolai see an ancient Roman galley, sunken centuries earlier and with the skeletons of the slaves still manning the oars.

The 1929 version of The Mysterious Island is an example of an early science fiction film done right--good story, striking visuals and good acting. Other early Sci-Fi films, like Metropolis and The Lost World,  are remembered and appreciated for their influence on later works. But this one seems to have dropped off the radar of film buffs. That's too bad. It also deserves to be remembered.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Valley of Monsters

Cover art by George Wilson

The writers of the Tarzan and Korak books for Dell and Gold Key loved Pal-ul-don. This nearly inaccessible land hidden in the jungles of Africa, which first appeared the 1921 novel Tarzan the Terrible, was a convenient go-to location whenever the comics wanted their protagonists to encounter dinosaurs. And putting a dinosaur on the cover was always a boost to sales.

So Tarzan and his son Korak made multiple visits to Pal-ul-don during the run of their Dell/Gold Key books. One of these visits came in Korak, Son of Tarzan #17 (June 1967). After Tarzan rescues an on-the-run politician named Muhammed Isolo from a hostile tribe, the two escape through a tunnel that leads them into Pal-ul-don.

They soon capture a dyal--a prehistoric bird that a local tribe uses for mounts. Well, Isolo may have been a politican (forced to flee when the government he served was overthrown), but he soon proves to be a kick-butt adventure guy as well. He soon learns how to ride the dyal, then rescues a pretty girl from a tyrannosaurus.

The girl is Kleah, daughter of local chief Jakon. While her dad was away fighting another tribe, a brute named Umakok had tried to have his way with her.  Now escorted by Korak and Isolo, she is returning home when they meet her dad.

Everyone returns to the village. Jakon fights a duel with Umakok (which he wins after Korak prevents Umakok from cheating by using a weapon) and Isolo decides to stay in Pal-ul-don. He and Kleah have fallen in love.

Which is amazing when you think about it. One of the things I like about Galord Du Bois' script is that the differences in language is not forgotten. Isolo doesn't speak Pal-ul-don's tongue and needs Korak to translate. So he's marrying a girl he just met and with whom he can't actually have a conversion. Though, come to think of it, perhaps that second point is a guarantee of a peaceful marriage.

Any Tarzan/Korak story with dinosaurs in it is fun almost by default, though this one has its flaws. The artist, Nat Edson, is very good, but the script is a bit top heavy in protagonists.

For a short tale, there are an awful lot of guys doing the heroic stuff--first Korak; then Isolo, then Jakon. And, as I implied above, the romance part happens too quickly and feels very forced.

But it's a fun story despite its faults. And there's an insightful bit of dialogue at the end. Isolo says that he's done with politics and, "besides, there are no poltics here." Korak reminds him there was just a power struggle for leadership, so politics do exist and Isolo might soon need his old skills in this area. You can run away to a hidden valley full of dinosaurs, but as long as there are people, there's no escaping politics.

Next week, it's back to the Old West to visit the Rawhide Kid.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: "The Caylin Matter" 1/2/56

Johnny is asked to look into the death of a man who was in a fiery car crash. Or rather--the death of a man who supposedly died in a fiery car crash.

Click HERE for the first part of this story arc.  All five parts can be found HERE.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Perry Mason before He was Perry Mason meets Jessica Fletcher before She was Jessica Fletcher.

In 1956, a year before he began his nine-year run playing Perry Mason, Raymond Burr had an early opportunity to defend someone accused of murder.

In Please Murder Me, Burr plays Craig Carlson, a lawyer whose best friend is an old war buddy who once saved his life. This makes things awkward when Carlson falls in love with his buddy's wife.

The wife is played by Angela Lansbury. This is something that makes the movie fun to watch on a meta level. Two of TV's classic crime-solvers--Perry Mason and Jessica Fletcher--appear together in a murder mystery before either of them would become known for their most iconic roles.

Please Murder Me is rife with melodramatic dialogue, but skilled actors (including John Dehner and Denver Pyle) play the melodrama straight and make the film worth watching for its own sake. 

Craig's love life gets complicated when his buddy is shot to death by Myra (Lansbury). She claims self-defense, but both the cops and the D.A. think its murder. So Craig has to defend the woman he loves in court. He himself never doubts her innocence.

He gets her acquitted, but then finds evidence that she's probably guilty AND that she's actually in love with someone else entirely. Craig has been conned by a femme fatale, who was using him to get a divorce from her husband, but then had to murder her husband when he stumbled upon her scheme.

Craig is wracked with guilt about this. He's helped someone get away with murder and he's a tad bit bitter about being used by her so ruthlessly. 

But maybe--just maybe--he can set up a situation that will see that justice is served. Even if it means setting himself up to be murdered.

As I said, the dialogue is melodramatic--I think overly so. But Burr, Lansbury and the rest of the cast do a fine job and the plot is a good one with some nifty twists to it. Please Murder Me is in the public domain, which means its easy to find (I'll embed a YouTube version below), though this also means the sound track fades out a little from time to time.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Quick Trip to the Future

Cover Art by John Buscema

It's interesting to compare 1977's Thor Annual with last week's look at the first three issues of DC's All-Star Squadron. In the DC story, the villain had a convoluted plan. But the story built around that complex plan was a good one and the complexity was a strength of the story.

In the Thor annual, the villain (Korvac the Living Computer) has a pretty straightforward plan as far as Comic Book Logic goes--use a power beam to blow up our sun, then collect the power from that. He'll then have enough power to conquer the galaxy.

But in this case, the simplicity of the plan is a strength of the story, allowing co-plotters Len Wein and Roger Stern (with Stern writing the script) to set up some nifty action set pieces and bring the tale to a satisfying conclusion.

So villain plans can be complex or simple--a good writer can work with either and give his readers a fun yarn.

This one begins with Thor beating up some terrorists who had captured a nuclear reactor. The Thunder God deals with these bad guys fairly easily, but then he and the reactor vanish.

It turns out that a 31st Century bad guy (it's Korvac, but that reveal comes a little later in the story) was using a time probe to get some equipment he needs for his evil "blow up the sun" plan. He brought Thor forward in time by accident, so he deals with that by teleporting the big guy out into deep space.

But deep space in a comic book universe is a pretty crowded place. The Guardians of the Galaxy (a different team in the comics than in the recent movies--though I expect most of you reading this know that) are nearby, investigating Korvac's power beam. They find Thor, bring him aboard their ship and thaw him out.

Sal Buscema's art is great in this one--I can't put my finger on why, but this issue has always struck me as one of his best efforts. The action is expertly laid out, the sci-fi design of the settings are cool-looking and visuals flow along as smoothly as Stern's writing.

Anyway, the Guardians and Thor end up teaming up against Korvac and his various alien minions. While most of the Guardians fight those minions...

...Thor and Starhawk bust in on Korvac. At first, things do not go well for the heroes. The Guardians are soon on the ropes against the minions, while Korvac uses a neural beam to force the two most powerful good guys to fight each other.

Two things go wrong for Korvac, though. First, the Guardians improvise some effective tactics to beat the minions. Second, Thor and Starhawk are so powerful that their forced duel soon brings the house down around Korvac, forcing him to teleport away. The power beam about to blow up the sun is destroyed and Thor is sent home to present-day New York.

This is simply a fun issue--using Comic Book Logic to toss a superhero into the far future, team him up with characters from that era and get him into an entertaining battle with the bad guys. Well, entertaining for those of us reading the story. I suppose Thor didn't enjoy being zapped through time, frozen and mind-controlled. But, to paraphrase an old Mel Brooks quote about comedy: "Tragedy is when something bad happens to me. Adventure is when something bad happens to someone else."

Next week, we'll join Tarzan's son Korak for an adventure in the dinosaur-infested land of Pal-ul-don.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Friday's Favorite OTR

Superman: "The Disappearance of Clark Kent" 11/6/46

Clark Kent goes missing after leaving a note at the Daily Planet explaining his going off on a dangerous mission. Lois, Perry and Jimmy might normally go to Superman for help, but the Man of Steel is missing as well!

Click HERE to listen or download. This is the first part of a 13-part story. All the episodes are available HERE.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Only Thing He Hadn't Hunted was a Martian

The March 1951 cover of Planet Stories is one of the best known, featuring a dynamic image from Leigh Bracket's novella Black Amazon of Mars, which is also one of her best-known stories.

But that isn't the only version of Mars featured in that issue. Poul Anderson sends us to the Red Planet as well--this one a version of the planet that has a thin atmosphere requiring us poor Earthmen to wear helmets, but also includes an intelligent native species.

"Duel on Syrtis" is set long after man has colonized Mars and gone through a phase in which we were enslaving the natives--called by the derogatory term "owlies" because of their owl-like faces.

Times have changed, though. Slavery is outlawed and there's even talk of giving the Martians the right to vote. This annoys a wealthy big-game hunter named Riordan. He's hunted game all over the solar system--"From the firedrakes of Mercury to the ice crawlers of Pluto, he'd bagged them all. Except, of course, a Martian. That particular game was forbidden now."

But Riordan knows that if you throw enough money at a problem, you can usually make it go away. Soon, he has information about a Martian named Kreega, who lives alone in an isolated location. Soon, Riordan is stalking Kreega with a rifle and a couple of Martian animals analogous to a hunting bird and a bloodhound.

Kreega, at least at first, is caught outside without any weapons. Despite this, he knows the land and he has a symbiotic relationship with the flora and fauna of the surrounding desert.

But what advantage can the ability to give commands to a small, harmless sand-mouse give the Martian? Perhaps a tad more than Riordan--or the reader--suspects.

This science fiction variation of "The Most Dangerous Game" is a lot of fun, with Anderson carefully setting up the conditions of the hunt that make the brutally ironic ending appropriate and believable. As I've written before, evil big game hunters are pretty much everywhere, but they rarely meet a happy end.

This story has fallen into the public domain, so you can read it HERE.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Back to World War II: The All-Star Squadron

In 1981, Roy Thomas left Marvel and signed a contract with DC. Among other books he wrote for the Distinguished Competition was The All-Star Squadron, which allowed Thomas to once again play in a sandbox full of his beloved Golden Age heroes.

As with the Invaders, this was not a bad thing. Thomas is an excellent writer and never allows his love for his characters to dilute good storytelling with nostalgia-fueled sentiment. Aftter an insert preview in JLA #193 helped set up the initial story arc, Thomas' new venture into World War II superheroes was ready to begin.

The All-Star Squadron is an inspired idea. After the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, FDR asks the superheroes of the nation to form into a "single super-powerful unit" to fight the Axis. So Thomas could combine JSA members with Seven Soldier of Victory members with non-affiliated heroes with.. well, anyone who wore a costume in the 1940s and fought crime. It made for endless possibilities and a large variety of character interactions. Also included are characters like Plastic Man, who were not DC-owned superheroes in the '40s but had been acquired by them since then.

A nice touch, though, is that neither Roosevelt nor anyone else uses the term "superhero." In 1941, that term hadn't yet become common. Costumed heroes were called "mystery men" and that's how Thomas' characters refer to them in-story.

Forming this new team will be made difficult, though, by the fact that a lot of the JSA members had been kidnapped by different supervillains. And, as All-Star Squadron #1 (September 1981) gets going, Shining Knight is captured by Solomon Grundy.

The interesting thing is that the villains are all appearing in a story set several years before any of them first appeared in a comic book during the Golden Age. Is Thomas giving us a retcon? Is he--GASP--changing established comic book history?

No, he's not. Well, he's mostly not. Thomas' primary bad guy in this story is a time travelling villain named Per Degaton, who first appeared in All-Star Comics #35 in 1947.  Per Degaton has slipped back in time to 1941, bringing a huge submarine/aircraft carrier and a small army of villains with him.

So the newly formed All-Star Squadron will have its work cut out for it.

That brings us to the second issue (October 1981).

Thomas does an excellent job with story construction throughout all three parts of this premiere tale, gradually providing us with exposition while mixing in a lot of action to keep the pacing fast. The artist, by the way, is Rich Buckler, who's clean and dynamic art makes it all fun to look at.

Anyway, I'm just going to summarize Per Degaton's wonderfully complex plan. Coming back from the future with supervillains and high tech, he plans on faking a Japanese attack on San Francisco, forcing Roosevelt to ignore the Germans and concentrate all military strength against the Japanese. The idea is to create a stalemate among the superpowers that would cause enough destruction and chaos to allow Per Degaton to carve out his own empire.

The heroes--sorry, Mystery Men (and Women)--manage to foil the San Francisco air strike. Shining Knight manages to get loose while being held aboard Per Degaton's sub/carrier and cause some havoc. So Degaton, who has the captured heroes held prisoner with magical bonds on a volcanic isle, decides to blow that isle up and kill them all. He begins this process by pressing a button conveniently marked "Volcanic Isle Detonator." I guess the label is to keep him from accidently blowing up the island when he meant to just make coffee? I'm sorry, but if you need a reminder of which button is the one for blowing up an island, then you don't have the mental capacity to rule your own empire. It's got to be one of your more important buttons. You should be able to remember which one it is.

In All-Star Squadron #3 (November 1981), the action continues at a fast pace, with the story shifting between different scenes expertly enough to allow us to always follow along. There's a smoothness to the plot construction that really makes this book worth studying by any aspiring writer.

Shining Knight manages to bust out of the sub along with Danette Reilly, a volcano expert who was captured along with him (and who has been handling herself well despite having no powers). They end up back on the volcanic isle, where continuing shenanigans with some of the supervillains allow Spectre to break out of the magical bonds that hold him. Spectre, then is able to keep the other heroes there alive when the island blows up. Danette, in the meantime, falls into lava and gets superpowers of her own.

Some of the heroes who have been fighting Japanese planes in San Francisco track down Per Degaton's sub and--in an absolutely wonderful sequence--Plastic Man encases the others inside him, then forms himself into a drill to break into the sub. After more fighting, all the bad guys are defeated.

The sub, other equipment used by Per Degaton and the supervillains all fade away, returning to the future now that the plan to change history has been thwarted. The All-Star Squadron finishes their first mission, though their memory of it will fade as time resets itself.

All-Star Squadron had a respectable 67 issue run, ending not long after DC rebooted its universe and Earth-2, where these stories took place, ceased to exist (which is my biggest beef with that reboot). I think there were a couple of annuals as well. Combine that with the 41 issue run of The Invaders (along with a couple of Giant-Size issues) and Roy Thomas got to play in a genre he loved for well over 100 issues. It's a nice way to make a living.

Next week, we'll jump into the future as Thor teams up with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

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