Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Mystery is My Hobby: "The Case of 65 Women" 1947

A passenger ship arrives in New York. One of the female passengers is poisoned and mystery writer Barton Drake discovers that several other women were also killed on the trip over from Europe. Who is killing these women and what is the motive?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

When Baseball Gets Rough

Read/Watch 'em In Order #97

So far, the February 1949 issue of New Sports Magazine has given us stories about boxing, football and golf. Next, we get to a story about the only sport that really matters--baseball.

"Double or Nothing Guy," by Bob Reed is about Horace Brady, who has just signed on to play second base for the Hawks.

(Side note: I have no idea what the legal concerns are, but I really wish baseball fiction could have gotten away with using real team names more often, even if the players were all fictional.)

Horace has been hitting and fielding well, but the manager tells him he's being sent to the minors after the upcoming series with their arch rivals--the Blues. Why? Because Horace is a well-spoken, educated man who simply doesn't gel with his rough "gashouse guys" who make up the rest of the team. It seems on the Hawks, nobody likes a nice guy.

Horace is disappointed, but he still loves the game. That evening, he overhears a conversation between a gambler and the team's ace pitcher Showboat Blane. Blane owes the gambler three grand and won't have the money to pay off for a week. When the gambler suggests there's a way to get the debt forgiven--something that would involve "just one game," Horace realizes the pitcher is being pressured into throwing the big game. So he steps in and offers to loan Blane the needed cash.

That decision starts to earn him some respect on the team. But what eventually wins the others over is his play on the field the next day. The rival team seems to be made up of nothing but jerks, who spike infielders when sliding and use brush-back pitches quite often. Horace is pretty even-tempered, but he's soon had enough. He scores a run by barreling through a catcher who tried to block the plate, knocking the catcher out.


He also tags out a runner who kept trying to spike him--knocking out a few teeth with the tag as well.

The Hawks win the game, Horace will stay with the team, and the story ends on a hilarious twist when Horace learns what the gambler actually meant when he talked about "just one game." I won't spoil that. The story is available online HERE.

It's a fun and well-written story, though the moral that you have to play rough to retaliate against rough opponents isn't one I care for. But, to be fair, the umps weren't calling anyone out for the rough stuff, so maybe that's just the way the Hawks had to play. Accept the story for what it is and you'll have a good time reading it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Rebel Glory

Lee Hunter and Reb Stuart returned to the pages of Four Color in issue #904 (May 1958)--a tad more than a year after their premiere adventures. I assume that means their first appearance had gotten strong enough sales and/or favorable reader response to justify a sequel. But, unlike other original Western titles such as Ben Bowie or Indian Chief, Lee never spun off into his own book. Did sales slump with the second FC issue? Was their simply no room on Dell's very busy publication schedule?

Whatever the reason for these being the last two Lee Hunter adventures, they are pretty good stories. The first is titled "Rebel Glory," which has an uncredited writer and art credited to Ray Bailey in the Grand Comics Database. This one begins with Reb Stuart combining business with pleasure as he travels to a nearby ranch to both buy some horses for the army and woo the rancher's pretty daughter.

His romantic interlude is spoiled when some Indians raid the ranch and make off with the horses. Reb reports the theft and soon he and some troopers are off in pursuit, with Lee Hunter scouting for them. Lee and Reb continue to snipe at each other--it seems Lee had an interest in the girl as well--but neither allows their rivalry to get in the way to doing their jobs.

They soon run into some Sioux who are trailing a buffalo herd. This creates a bit of a conundrum. The Sioux demand the pony soldiers pause in their hunt for the stolen horses, saying that they don't want the herd stampeded. This seems reasonable, but it's also possible that the Sioux are the horse thieves and want to keep the soldiers from finding this out. (Remember that Reb is relatively new to the West and didn't know what tribe the horse thieves were from.)

Lee decides to wait and Reb decides not to wait. The former Confederate continues to search on his own. He does stampede the horses, forcing the soldiers to work frantically to contain them on Sioux land, but he also finds the horses in the Sioux camp.

The Sioux then ambush the soldiers. Lee figures he can force the Indians to retreat by stampeding the buffalo herd they had just worked to hard to keep from stampeding. Reb provides a distraction for Lee by breaking out an old Confederate flag and launching a one-man charge.

The plan works. Lee, Reb and the soldiers not only get away with their lives, they also recover the stolen horses. But Lee and Reb still have to have a... "discussion" over who should get to woo the rancher's daughter.

This is another good story, though Reb's constant "I'm mad at all Yankees" schtick does start to wear a bit thin. But I do enjoy that the story leaves it open for us to decide about whether Reb was right to keep looking for the horses after it had been decided to stop. On the one hand, he did stampede the buffalo herd just as everyone feared. On the other hand,though, the Sioux did turn out to be the horse thieves, so he was right to be suspicious.

Well, there's one more Lee Hunter story to go before he retreats into Comic Book Limbo. Before we get to that, though, we'll look at an early team-up of DC's World War II characters.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

Giant robots can be big bullies, can't they? From 1939, with art by Howard V. Brown.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Tom Corbett Space Cadet: "Space Station of Danger" 1/15/52

Tom, Roger and Captain Strong are given temporary duty aboard a space station. This would usually be routine and boring duty, but it's made more interesting by the fact that somebody is sabotaging spaceships in the area.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Twilight Zone Goes West--Part 6

The Twilight Zone was always very hit-and-miss when it did comedies. "Showdown with Rance McGrew," which aired on February 2, 1962, mostly hits its mark, largely thanks to Larry Blyden's funny performance in the title role.

Rance McGrew is an arrogant, hypochondriacal actor who plays a character also named Rance McGrew on a Western. Despite his inability to draw his gun without accidentally flinging it into a saloon mirror, he plays an impossibly skilled lawman who regularly takes down the likes of Jesse James and Billy the Kid.

Well, it turns out the real Jesse James and other outlaws have been watching this series with growing disdain. How guys like Jesse James ended up in Cowboy Heaven and how they get TV reception is not explained.

So Jesse summons Rance to a real saloon for a real showdown. Rance, unable to call for a stuntman when things get dangerous, is soon begging for his life, promising Jesse anything if he lets him live.

So when Rance is returned to the set, he soon finds that Jesse is now his agent, insisting that changes be made in how the historical outlaws are portrayed on the show.

As I mentioned above, Larry Byden's performance as Rance sells the show, with actors such as Robert Cornthwaite as a nervous director and Arch Johnson as Jesse also bringing humor to their roles. The end result is some funny slapstick mixed with satire of over-the-top westerns and Hollywood phonies. It's not one of the classics, but its worth watching.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Mucking about with History--AGAIN!

cover artist unidentified

Gold Key's Star Trek comic didn't do many call-backs to elements from specific TV episodes, probably because early on it was being written and drawn by creators who were not necessarily familar with the show.

But near the end of that book's run, we did get a sequel of sorts to "The City on The Edge of Forever," in which a temporarily bonkers Dr. McCoy uses an ancient time portal known as the Guardian of Forever to go back in time and change history.

The comic book sequel appeared in Star Trek #56 (October 1978) and is written by George Kashdan and drawn by Aldus McWilliams. 

This time, it's an insane former dictator named Trengur who uses the Guardian to muck about with history. Trengur had recently escaped from an insane asylum on his home planet and the Enterprise is tasked with finding him. But he makes it to the Guardian and jumps back into Earth's ancient history before he can be stopped.

It's not explained why someone not from Earth chooses to muck about with Earth history rather than his own. Also, why doesn't the Federation have a guard or at least a strongly worded DO NOT ENTER sign in front of something that can be used to literally destroy reality as we know it.

Both those points are legitimate criticisms of the story, but if you jump past that, "No Time Like the Past" is quite good. Kirk, Spock and McCoy jump back in time after Trengur.

They end up in the Alps in 218 BC, when Hannibal invading Italy. They soon find out that Trengor has become Hannibal's advicer and is helping the Carthiginians crush the Romans and prevent the Empire from ever rising. The guys from the Enterprise are unable to stop this.  History will be changed.

When Kirk and Co. get back to their own time and beam back to the Enterprise, they learn that Trengur had started a chain reaction of historical changes. The plot now mirrors the episode "Mirror, Mirror," with the crew of the Enterprise now evil. The Federation apparently still exists, but the Enterprise belongs to another faction that is planning on destroyng the Guardian of Forever.

It's interesting that an early version of the script for "The City on the Edge of Forever" included scenes in which the Enterprise was still around after history changed, but was now crewed by space pirates. I've no idea if the comic story was deliberately lifting ideas from either this or "Mirror, Mirror," but it makes for a fun plot twist.

It's a plot twist that also makes Kirk, Spock and McCoy work to earn their pay for the day. Spock suddenly nerve pinches his captain, but this is merely the first step in an improvised con job that would have made the Mission Impossible team proud. Evil Scotty is soon convinced that Kirk has caught an incurable plague. Since Spock and Bones might also be carriers, he forces all three to beam back down to the Guardian's planet, where a planet-destroying bomb is ticking away.

That, of course, is exactly where Kirk and his friends want to be. They jump back to 218 BC again, this time getting their a little earlier than they did the first time. They nab Trengur before any history-changing can be done and the day is saved.

It is a fun, clever story, with Spock's con job on evil Scotty being a real highlight of the tale. But all the same, somebody has got to tell Star Fleet to restrict access to the Guardian. Maybe a rope strung in front of it? Anything is better than nothing.

Next week, we'll visit with Lee Hunter and Reb Stuart for the third of their four stories.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Friday, January 4, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: "World of Darkness" 1/20/44

Paul Lukas plays a blind man who is the only "witness" to a murder. Are the audio clues he heard enough to put the finger on the killer?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Did Someone actually make GOLF Interesting?

Read/Watch 'em In Order #96

I know that there are people who enjoy playing and/or watching golf. I respect that. I really do. But for me, golf is a sport that was created specifically to be as boring as possible. Aside from the sin shared by all sports other than baseball of not being baseball, it is (as someone other than Mark Twain once said) "a good walk spoiled."

But the third story ("Big Drive Guy") in the February 1949 issue of New Sports Magazine is a story about golf and it is actually interesting.

Neil Ryan is a successful player who has been invited back to play a game at the swanky club at which he used to work as a caddy. The game is an exhibition match against the club pro and, as we join the action on the 15th tee, Ryan is a stroke behind because he keeps hooking the ball and can't figure out why. Also, his opponent's snooty rich girl friend (whom Ryan has a crush on years before) had earlier invited him over to her place after the game. This is making him wonder if the more down-to-earth girl he's been seeing is really the one for him.

The author, Sam Merwin, Jr. was already making a name for himself as a mystery and science fiction writer in 1949, but still found the time to turn out this concise golf story. A good storyteller is, after all, a good storyteller. Merwin brings a fair level of suspense to the play-by-play account of the last few holes in the game and sets up the outcome in such a way to teach the protagonist that he should know he already has a worthwhile lady in his life. "Big Drive Guy" is only six pages long, but Merwin manages to give us a satisfying plot and character arc in the space of those few pages.

So for a brief, impossible moment, the magic of the pulp magazines manages to make golf an interesting game. A good storyteller is indeed a good storyteller.

You can read this issue of New Sports Magazine online HERE.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Trust Doesn't Come Easy

cover art by Sam Savitt

A couple of weeks ago, we paid a visit to Lee Hunter, a former Union Calvary officer who is now an army scout, and Reb Stuart, a former Confederate now reluctantly working for the Yankees by caring for army horses. The first story in Four Color #779 (May 1957) was a strong one, introducing us to the main characters and showing us that the two can work together despite a strong dislike for each other.

The second story in that issue is "Ambushed," which also features very effective art work by Mike Roy* and another solid script by an uncredited writer.  In this story, Lee and Reb are still often trading insults with one another, but seem less openly disdainful of one another as they come to respect each other's abilities (and consistently save each other's lives).

This is, I think, a necessarily bit of character evolution. As would have been the case for most if not all original characters introduced in Four Color, the editors at Dell would have been hoping that sales and reader reaction would be strong enough to spin them off into their own series. Open hatred between the two protagonists would have gotten tiresome before long. But the two men rubbing each other the wrong way from time to time, but still able to work effectively together--well, that would be a lot of fun if their stories were well-written.

"Ambushed" begins with Reb having to make a getaway from some Cheyenne who have left the reservation. He joins Lee and the troops from Fort Defiance as they track down the wayward Indians. Lee forces the chief--named "Red Bird"--to surrender by cutting him off from the tribe's women and children.

It turns out, though, that Red Bird had good reason from leaving the reservation. White hunters are poaching the game and his tribe simply doesn't have enough food for the upcoming winter.

There is a plan to move the Cheyenne to a bigger reservation with ample game, but doing so would require Red Bird to show a lot of trust. His men have to agree to give up their arms during the journey and allow the army to protect them.

The bulk of the story follows the Cheyenne and their much-too-small escort on the journey to the new reservation. It is a remarkably effective piece of storytelling. The Indians nearly rebel when Red Bird asks them to disarm. The soldiers don't trust the Cheyenne and the Cheyenne don't trust the soldiers. And, to top it all off, a band of Pawnees are tailing the Cheyenne, planning to attack while their old enemies are disarmed and helpless.

All this allows the story to build up an extraoridinary level of tension. In the end, Lee overrules the sergeant who commands the escort and arms the Cheyenne, but even up to the last moment, it seems like any number of things can go horribly wrong.

In the end, though, Red Bird and Lee trust one another and strong leadership forces everyone else to go along with them. Lee improvises some tactics that allow the Cheyenne and the troopers to work together to fight off the Pawnees.

"Ambushed" is a fine example of the sort of expert and entertaining storytelling for which Dell Comics is so fondly remembered.

Lee and Reb would return in 1958 for one more issue of Four Color, which also has two stories in it. We'll look at the first of those stories in two weeks. Next week, though, we'll jump a few centuries forward in time to join Captain Kirk as he once again gets involved in some time travel shenanigans.

*{NOTE: The Grand Comics Database lists Ray Bailey as the artist, but a very knowledgeable member of a Facebook group about Dell & Gold Key comics makes a very compelling case that the artist is Mike Roy, with inks by Mike Peppe}

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