Monday, April 29, 2019

Friday, April 26, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

You Are There: "Lee and Grant at Appomattox" 11/7/48

The Civil War on Old-Time Radio (Part 11 of 17)

Two more years of bloody war passed before General Lee finally admitted, on April 9, 1865, that he was beaten. But would General Grant, known for his demands of unconditional surrender, give the Confederate troops honorable terms?

Click HERE to listen or download.

This is the 11th of 17 episodes from various series that will take us through the Civil War and its immediate post-war legacy. I'll be posting another Civil War episode every three or four weeks.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

I Swear I've Written About This One Before!

I picked up the Bantam paperback edition of the Doc Savage novel Death in Silver not long ago at a used book store, having forgotten that I already owned it as part of the Nostalgia Ventures reprint series. As soon as I started to read it, I realized I'd read it before. But Doc Savage novels are more fun than a barrel full of former criminals who have had experimental brain surgery, so I read again anyways.

But I swear I hadn't just read it, but also written about it.

Death in Silver begins when an industrialist, whose businesses include a shipyard, is killed by a massive explosion that takes out his office, located near the top of a skyscraper. Monk Mayfair (one of Doc's companions) has a lab in the same building, so he is joined by his frenemy Ham to investigate. After one more murder, the pair are kidnapped. That brings Doc into the case. He soon figures out that someone had managed to fire a 3-inch artillery shell into the dead man's office. How this was done in the middle of the world's busiest city without anyone noticing is a mystery.

The shenangigans involve the Silver Deaths Head gang, which is behind a violent crime wave and whose members always manage to get away whenever the cops are chasing them, with the trail always vanishing near the waterfront. Doc, as usual, is soon hip-deep in battles, death traps, narrow escapes and the other events that general define a typical day in Doc's life. Monk and Ham are soon rescued, but Doc's cousin Pat and another lady involved in the case are soon kidnapped also. 

Doc as soon deduced that the bad guys are using a submarine to pull off their capers. This leads to a wonderfully exciting action sequence involving an underwater battle between diving-suit-clad combatants, which in turn leads to a climax in which Doc has inflitrated the gang aboard the tramp steamer being used as a submarine tender by the villians. 

The action is literally non-stop, but throughout the story, author Lester Dent expertly drops in clues to the identity of the gang leader, clues to their means and motives, and clues to how he is going to outsmart them in the end. It is another great entry in the series.

But the reason I thought I remembered not just reading it, but also writing about it, is that there is a part of the novel I'm a little bit critical of. The motivation of the main villain involves a plot to do away with business rivals and then pull off some stock manipulations to score big in the market.

This, by itself, is a perfectly sound motive for murder. But it seems building a submarine and forming a bizarrely dressed gang is a little extreme, even if you are planning to rake in millions. There has to be easier ways to arrange a few murders.

I'm convinced that at some point, I mentioned this story in context of pointing out this arguable weak point. (Arguable because the book is so much fun otherwise and this is the sort of complex plan that villains in the pulp universe commonly employ.) So I checked the chapter in my book Storytelling in the Pulps, Comics and Radio about single-character pulps. No, not there. I checked the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Doc Savage that I wrote. No, not there.  I checked previous Doc Savage posts in this blog. No, not there.

Darn it. I KNOW that I wrote about this novel at least once before. But I can't find any proof of this anywhere.

It's a problem that only Doc Savage can solve. Maybe I ought to give him a call.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A Tragic Turok Story

cover art by George Wilson

Over the course of Turok Son of Stone, the protagonists stumbled across deserts on several different occasions. Since they could never pass up a chance to find a way out, they inevitably choose to cross these deserts. 

That's what happens in Turok #83 (March 1973). The art is by Angelo R. Todaro, with inking by the brilliant Alberto Giolitti. The script is uncredited. It doesn't feel like a Paul S. Newman script to me--I'm going to be mostly praising a fun story, but the pacing of the script is a little off, depending a little too much on random dinosaur encounters that feel more like filler than an inherant part of the tale.

(Have I just complained about there being too many dinosaurs? Something may be wrong with me.)

Anyway, Andar believes he spots an opening in the caves on the other side of the desert. Turok correctly deduces this is a mirage, but also realizes that mirages are often reflections of something real. This is a nice touch, effectively setting up the story's denouement.

They start across the desert. Soon, though, their water is running low. They encounter a tribe of pygmies armed with slings who apparently have a water supply, but refuse to share this secret with strangers.

I love the above panel. It's a wonderful composition that effectively highlights Turok and Andar's danger and the vastness of the desert they are trying to cross.

Eventually, they trade some meat to the pygmies for water and directions to the opening in the cliff. But it's a trick. The directions are actually taking them to a place called "The Sands of Death," which can't be a good thing. The plan is to let Turok and Andar get killed, then grab their bows and arrows.

But they have at least one friend among the pygmies, having saved a guy named Sarn twice within a few minutes. They discover the Sands of Death is some sort of perpetual or reoccuring tornado. It was a reflection of the tornado that caused the mirage of a cave opening.

Sarn shows them a place where they can did through the sand to safety, but a combined battle with a giant crab and Sarn's ill-tempered tribesmen leaves the poor guy mortally wounded. He continues to help Turok and Andar escape even as he is dying.

The hole they are digging leads Turok and Andar into an underground river--the source of water for the pygmies. They kill a big croc and use it as a raft, which carries them back across the desert.

I mentioned earlier that this story has some pacing issues and this is true. But the scenes with Sarn are very nicely done. We grow to like him quickly and his death has real emotional impact. "The Sands of Death" is a memorable tale, despite its flaws.

Next week, we'll visit with Superman in a story also has its flaws, but has some nostalgic value for me.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Whistler: "The Cistern" 12/10/45

A man finds an abandoned cistern in a remote desert location. If you are planning on murdering your business partner, this would be a perfect place to hide the body.

Wouldn't it?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Picking the Wrong Side

Read/Watch 'em In Order #101

Henry Kuttner's second Elak of Atlantis tale appeared in the July 1938 issue of Weird Tales and this time snagged a pretty awesome Virgil Finlay cover.

The first Elak story had ended with the hero accompanied by the woman he'd fallen in love with, so "Spawn of Dagon" is probably set earlier in Elak's life. The girl is nowhere to be found, though another beautiful damsel in distress is in need of rescuing.

Elak and his perpetually drunken sidekick Lycon begin the story looting the corpse of a city guard they had just killed. Lycon falls into a drunken stupor at a a really bad moment, forcing Elak to carry him while fleeing from still more guards.

They are helped by a guy named Gesti, who takes them into an underground labyrinth and is soon offering Elak a job: kill a wizard named Zend and destroy the red sphere that is the source of Zend's magic.

With Lycon still drunk, Elak takes on the job alone. But after entering Zend's home through a secret passage, he encounters difficulties. Among these difficulties are a disembodied head that shouts out warnings of intruders and a massive minion whom Zend recognizes as a recently executed criminal. Despite his recent death, thuogh, the criminal is still walking around.

But these difficulties are nothing compared to the fact that Gesti--the man who hired Elak... well, he isn't really a man. And having  Zend killed is actually the first step in a plan to destroy humankind. So Elak soon realized he's on the wrong side.

 "Spawn of Dagon" is a great story: exciting and atmospheric, with humor effectively peppered through throughout tale. The character of Lycon is used very effectively. He seems worse then useless at first, but proves his loyalty and occasional usefulness at the  story's climax.

 As I mentioned earlier, this story seems to take place before "Thunder in the Dawn." I like continuity in my fictional universe, so it's tempting for me to theorize about  the chronology of Elak's adventures.

But sometimes it's better to treat a series of  tales about a particular hero as a series of mythic legends that don't require an internal chronology. Film director George Miller has this attitude about the Mad Max movies. I recently had an online discussion in which someone made a very good case for looking at the original Conan the Barbarian stories this way rather than paying attention to any of the suggested chronologies that have been published over the years. Perhaps it's best to look at the Elak stories the same way. I'll use my authority as an obscure blogger with a tiny readership to adjudicate on this after we've looked at the last two stories in the series.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Worst Date Night Ever

It seems poor Adam Strange never gets to just spend a quiet day with his girlfriend when he arrives on the planet Rann. There's always a disaster of some sort he needs to deal with.

For instance, in Strange Adventures #222 (Jan.-February 1970), the latest Zeta Beam brings Adam back to Rann, but he lands right smack in the middle of a war. People around him are fighting to the death. And his side seems to be losing. And his gal is being kidnapped. NONE of this is the recipe for a fun date night.

The story, by the way, was written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Gil Kane.

The bad guys are Reekahs, a race of barbarians who have short-term super-speed in addition to their robot unicorns. They get alway with Alanna and a few other hostages, offering to release them only if supplied with modern weapons. But if they get the weapons, their fortress will become impregnable and they will become unstoppable conquerers.

In fact, their fortress already is impregnable. So how does one get inside the walls? Adam has an epiphany--What if they leave a gift for the Reekahs just outside the fortress?

This sounds just like the Trojan War, doesn't it?

I like the nice twist that O'Neil gives the story here. The people of Rann leave a ship outside the walls as tribute. But the Reekahs tumble to the fact that its a trick. Their leader orders the ship destroyed.

But Adam had figured on this. The ship, in fact, is a double-bluff. When it blows up, it releases a gas that weakens the Reekahs and takes away their super-speed.

Adam leads an attack force into the fortress. The bad guys are defeated and the hostages are saved. But this takes a little too long as far as Adam's love life is concerned. He teleports back to Earth after he and Alanna have time for one brief hug.

Gil Kane's art looks fantastic, the robot unicorns are cool and the plot twist involving the double-bluff Trojan ship is a good one. This is a solid and entertaining science fiction adventure.

Next week, we visit again with Turok. I've got a back log of Turok issues I've been meaning to review, so please remember--you can NEVER have too many dinosaurs!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Cavalcade of America: "Red Lanterns on St. Michaels" 8/11/41

The Civil War on Old-Time Radio (Part 10 of 17)

On February 17, 1864, the H.L. Hunley, a primitive Confederate submarine, launched an attack on one of the Union warships blockading Charleston harbor.

Click HERE to listen or download.

This is the tenth of 17 episodes from various series that will take us through the Civil War and its immediate post-war legacy. I'll be posting another Civil War episode every three or four weeks.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Ultimate Team-Up

Hanna-Barbara pretty much ruled Saturday mornings in the 1950s and early 1960s. That was the studio that developed the concept of Limited Animation in order to force production costs down low enough to be profitable for television.

An fan of animation at the time might have justifiably thought that this would be the death knell for the art form. And it is fair to aim some constructive criticism at the idea. There is a lack of smoothness to the animation and it can be really, really noticable when Fred Flintstone runs past the same table and chair six times in a few seconds.

But the Hanna-Barbara cartoons are classics in their own right despite the limited animation. Why? Because of clever writing and wonderful characters. A syngergy of writing, character design and voice acting (by brilliant voice actors such as Daws Butler and Don Messick) gave us Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and a bevy of other memorably, funny and engaging characters.

So the H-B cartoons were a hit and merchandising off-shoots were inevitable. The best of these off-shoots might just be a series of records featuring these characters produced between 1958 and 1967. Some of these used the voice tracks from the cartoons, with a narrator added to describe the action. But some were original stories, with Butler, Messick and other actors bringing the characters to life in brand-new stories.

The best of these is arguably Huckleberry Hound and the Ghost Ship, in which Huck, Yogi, Boo Boo and a few other characters decide to go on a fishing trip.

In the book Daws Butler: Character Actors, writers Ben Ohmart & Joe Bevilacqua describe the record: "The writing is much more fluid and complex than the TV cartoons, the jokes sharper, the word-play more intricate. And the characters better integrated into each other's lives."

Because of the magic of YouTube, you can give this wonderful tale a listen:

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Walking a Beat in a Combat Zone

cover art by Jerry Grandenetti

A lot of DC Comics' war stories from the Silver Age were driven by gimmicks. The protagonist (often a one-shot character who might not even necessarily get a name) has a character quirk, phobia or unique incident from his past that will be the driving force of the story.

This is the case with "Battle Beat," which appeared in Star-Spangled War Stories #56 (September 1956). A former cop is now a military policeman. Back in the States, he had walked a lonely beat where nothing much every happened. Now he's patrolling a bombed-out village in which nothing much is happening.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you live in a Comic Book Universe, DON'T TEMPT FATE. Don't say there's no chance of the supervillain attacking. Don't say that vampires don't exist. Don't say the dinosaur frozen in the iceberg won't come back to life. In fact, just play it safe. Don't every say anything.

This guy moans and groans about how he's stuck in a deserted town and there's not a chance for action. That he's being shot at a moment later should be no surprise to anyone. A Nazi armored car shows up literally while he is complaining about the lack of action and starts spitting machine gun bullets at him.

And this guy just DOESN'T LEARN. He takes out the armored car with a grenade and immediately starts talking about how quiet it is again. And he immediately starts getting shot at by two German soldiers.

He also apparently forgot anything he learned as a cop about calling for back-up, though to be fair there's no indication he has a radio available.

As soon as he kills the Germans, he literally starts thinking that the renewed quiet can get on a man's nerves. A Tiger tank then shows up.

After he destroys the tank, he finally learns his lesson, thinking about how nice it will be to return to a nice quiet beat after the war. He's lucky he didn't need a V-2 rocket to land on his helmet for him to get the point.

I'm making fun of the story (written by Bill Finger and drawn by Mort Meskin), but it is a enjoyable tale, staying consistant with its gimmick for its 6-page length and giving us some good action. The DC war stories were often gimmicky, but they were also entertaining.

Next week, Adam Strange battles barbarians riding robot unicorns. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

Eye-catching cover art from this 1972 edition of a novel first published in '58.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: "The Screaming Woman" 11/25/48

Child star Margaret O'Brien is excellent in the Ray Bradbury tale about a child who can't get the adults to believe her after she hears a woman screaming for help.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Elak of Atlantis

Read/Watch 'em In Order #100

Henry Kuttner was a great writer, producing a quite a large body of work despite dying relatively young at the age of 42. His stories included science fiction, fantasy, horror and even some superhero comic book scripts for DC's Green Lantern during the 1940s.

One of his ventures were four sword-and-sorcery tales written for Weird Tales (three of them in 1938 and one more in 1941). These tales involve a wandering adventure with a royal background--Elak of Atlantis.

The first Elak tale was published in the May and June 1938 issues of Weird Tales. Titled "Thunder in the Dawn," it is a masterful example of world-building, includes a number of great characters (both good guys and bad guys) and includes some battle scenes that come close to equaling Robert E. Howard in their excitement. Much of the rest of the story reminds me of A. Merritt, with perhaps a dash of Clark Ashton Smith thrown in.

Elak is indeed a wandering adventurer, but he was once a prince in the kingdom of Cyrena, located at the northern end of the continent of Atlantis. He left after killing his stepfather. We are never really given the details of this, though we are assured several times that it was a fair fight.  Elak let his brother take the throne of Cyrena and began to indulge his wanderlust. Somewhere along the line, he gained a sidekick--a fat and perpetually drunken swordsman named Lycon. But even if Lycon drinks too much, he's intensely loyal and good in a fight.

Elak had intended never to return to Cyrena, but a Druid wizard named Dalan finds him and tells him an evil wizard, backed by an army of Vikings, has taken over the kingdom and holds Elak's brother a prisoner. So Elak has to go home--he's the only one who can unite the local chieftains into an army.

But before heading home, Elak insists on paying one last visit to his girlfriend Velia. The trouble with that is Velia is married to the local ruler. She's not married to the ruler by choice, but was sold to him by her family. Normally, adultery is my Berserk Button and there are few protagonists in fiction who can commit this particular sin without instantly losing my sympathy. But Velia was forced into a marriage to a brutal man who would literally skin her alive if she crossed him. So I think we can safely give Elak and Velia a pass for running off together when the husband catches them.

Thus Velia is added to the group for their voyage back to Cyrena. It's an eventful trip, with Velia's husband pursuing and the wizard ruling Cyrena tossing some pretty powerful magic at them. At one point, Elak ends up in a strange dimension that is literally populated by dead gods and only escapes when someone else sacrifices more than her life to save him.

All of this is being told to us in vivid and often powerful prose that brings the characters and their strange, magic-drenched world to life. And this continues throughout the novella as Elak eventually leads an army against the Viking invaders and fights a long, brutal battle. Eventually, he and Dalan journey into the lair of the evil wizard, where Elak learns one effective way of imprisoning someone is to make that person a god.

It's an exciting and gripping story, the longest of the four Elak tales as it effectively introduces us to Elak and his companions, then tosses them into a bizarre and breathtaking adventure.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Baby, It's Cold Outside

cover artist unknown

When Ben Bowie got his own title in 1956 (starting with issue #7 because of a half-dozen appearances in Four Color), he and his partners were traveling West, well away from the colonies that had been their stomping grounds. Their intent was to establish a trading post and way station that could open up further exploration and settlement of the West.

So stories often featured encountering and hopefully befriending Indian tribes mixed in with a clash with Spaniards and a search for a source of salt. By Ben Bowie #8 (Feb-April 1957), they had hunkered down in their cabin to wait out the winter.

The writer of "The Wolfpack Trail" is unknown, but he knows his stuff. What makes the following story work is the facts that the dangers of traveling through a winter wilderness are presented realistically, without exaggeration, and that the protagonists deal with these dangers in an intelligent, knowledgable fashion.

The interior art, by the way, is by Albert Micale.

The tale begins when an exhausted and nearly frozen man arrives at the cabin. He is the leader of a band of sixteen settlers who were trapped in the snowstorm. Leaving the man in the cabin (with heat and food--so he'll be all right), Ben and his team set out to find the settlers.

But winter in the wilderness is a dangerous time. An avalanche nearly takes them out and young Jim falls into a crevasse that had been hidden by the snow. They press on, though, and eventually find the settlers by trailing a pack of hungry wolves.

In a battle between muskets and wolves, wolves never win. Ben wants to immediately lead the settlers to safety, but the problem now isn't so much the weather, but a guy named Gropper. He was left in charge when the leader went for help and, boy, does he take his responsibilities seriously!

That would be fine by itself, but Gropper is a self-assured jerk who is convinced he's right about everything, but is inevitably wrong. Even his name sounds obnoxious. Perhaps with a name like Gropper, he couldn't help but be a jerk.

Ben tries to respect Gropper's authority and work with him, but Gropper is always wrong and eventually tries to enforce his bad ideas at the point of a gun.

One can argue that Gropper as a character is too one-dimensional, existing purely for the purpose of being an impediment to the heroes. But I'm not bothered by it--Gropper's presence in the story makes sense in context and self-assured jerks to exist in real life.

Despite Gropper, Ben manages to contact a friendly tribe of Indians and eventually get everyone to safety.

You can read the story online HERE.

Next week, an M.P. in World War II is given the boring job of patrolling a bombed out town. What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Edgar Rice Burroughs Podcast: Episode 7

In the latest episode of the Edgar Rice Burroughs podcast, we talk about the 1966 film Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, as well as the novelization of the movie written by Fritz Leiber.

You can listen or download it HERE:

Monday, April 1, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

From 1926. The horse at our front left looks like he's wondering if the reader knows what the heck is going on.
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