Friday, August 30, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Philip Marlowe: "The Long Arm" 2/7/50

Marlowe discovers that solving a murder in a town run by a corrupt police department is particularly challenging.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

From the TV Screen to the Page

Over the past several months, I've been re-reading the short story adaptations of the original Star Trek episodes written by James Blish, published in 12 volumes during and just after the show's network run. I'm really impressed by how effectively Blish catches the strengths of the good episodes and actually manages to turn the few abysmal episodes (such as "Spock's Brain" and "The Way to Eden") into entertaining short stories.

One thing to keep in mind when reading this stories is that they were  often based on early versions of the script--not the final shooting script. That's why, for instance, Sulu replaces Chekov in the prose version of "The Trouble with Tribbles." In addition, Blish would often introduce some original elements into the stories to flesh out the back stories behind the plot-driven events and locations. It is always interesting to note the differences between the actual episodes and the prose stories.

Star Trek 3  included the stories based on "Friday's Child" and "The Doomsday Machine" (along with five other episodes) and these stories contain several interesting and important changes.


In "Friday's Child," Kirk, Spock and McCoy end up more or less stranded on a planet, caught up in the machinations of a tribe whose culture is driven by a very strict sense of honor. They end up on the run with a very pregnant woman named Eleen. The current leader of the tribe needs to make sure both she and the baby are dead to firm up his own claim to being the leader.
In the aired episode, the character of Eleen proves herself to be fairly noble, attempting to sacrifice herself to save her baby and the Star Fleet officers. She lives at the end.
In the short story, she is a lot nastier and offers to sacrifice the baby to save herself. She ends up getting killed.

In "The Doomsday Machine," the starship Constellation is nearly destroyed by a giant planet-eating machine. Only Commodore Decker, the Contellation's captain, survives. Driven by guilt and the need for revenge, Commodore Decker sacrifices himself in a vain attempt to destroy the planet killer by flying a shuttle down its throat, though this does give Kirk the idea for how to actually kill it.
In the short story, Kirk comes up with the idea for how to destroy the planet killer on his own, with Decker larger disappearing from the story after he briefly took command of the Enterprise and was later relieved of command by Spock. At the end of the story, he chooses to resign his commission.

In both these cases, I honestly don't know if early versions of the script were different, or if Blish added this elements to the stories himself because he felt this worked better in prose. In either case, reading these stories brings you to the point of having complete confidence in his ability to tell Star Trek stories well, with respect towards the Star Trek universe and the characters we love.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Time Travel and Misplaced Vibranium

cover art by Jack Kirby

I imagine that writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema has several reasons for coming up with the story they used in 1976's Fantastic Four Annual #11.

First, they wanted to tell an entertaining story. Any creative person in the comics industry will need to be conscious of marketing, sales and cross-promotion. Thomas was editor of the FF as well as writer at the time, so these issues would have been of particular concern to him. But I think he is also an excellent storyteller who was always concerned about his craft on a creative level as well.

But I have no doubt that this annual, in which the FF travel back to 1942 and team-up with the Invaders, was also intended to generate interest in the Invaders' own ongoing series. And, as long as the story is a good one and it's not a multi-part crossover that forces you to buy other titles, this is perfectly legitimate.

Also, Thomas is known for loving Golden Age characters and for appreciating a strong continuity within the Marvel Universe. As we'll see, this story finally gives us the specific details of an incident from Captain America's war-time career that had been hinted at but never fleshed out. I think Thomas would have jumped at the chance to do something like that.

Anyway, on to the story, which begins with the FF in a training session, giving us some strong action to start things off and allows the character dialogue to give us a little exposition. Most important here is the remainder that Ben Grimm has reverted to human form--perhaps permanently--and is using a Thing exoskelton to remain a part of the team.

After the training session ends, the action continues when a hoarde of Nazi soldiers are found to be infesting the Baxter Building. Don't you hate it when that happens?

The soldiers are quickly subdued and the story slows down a little for a massive information dump to set up the main plot. It's my only criticism of an otherwise excellent story--it takes Roy Thomas a good half-dozen pages (and an appearance by the Watcher) to get a lot of addtional exposition out of the way before Reed figures out that some Vibranium fell into the FF's time machine during a fight a few issues back and now the Nazis have won World War II. To be fair, though, Buscema's art and some frightening images from the past of the Nazis conquering the world do liven things up a little.

That means the team has to go back to 1942 and recover the Vibranium. (I'm assuming that very few people who read my blog don't know what Vibranium is, but check HERE if you need to. Pretend the entry is being spoken to you in a snooty, know-it-all, nerd voice.)

As is apparently required by law in any Comic Book Universe, when the FF meet the Invaders in 1942, there is a misunderstanding and a brief fight before they realize they're all on the same side. Soon, the two teams are working together, infiltrating a Nazi castle where the French Underground is reporting some weird stuff is going on.

I really like the structure of the story from this point on. Once inside the castle, the heroes break up into three teams, each one a mix of FF and Invaders, giving each team a nice dynamic. Reed wonders about time paradoxes (why didn't Namor remember them when he met the FF in the 1960s?) while Namor muses that Sue is really hot and it's too bad she's married. Johnny agonizes over the fact that Bucky will be dead in a few years and he can't do anything about that and Ben simply enjoys the opportunity to smack down Nazis.

Reed's team trashes a lab full of superweapons, while Captain America encounters Baron Zemo, who is in charge of the castle.

This is the continuity detail I mentioned earlier. It had been established in Zemo's first appearance, in Avengers #4 (1963), that Cap was responsible for Zemo's mask being permanently affixed to his face. Now we get to see the actual mission in which this happened. It isn't something that affects the main plotline as well, but I'll be that Roy Thomas enjoyed filling in that minor gap in Marvel history.

Ben and the WWII Torches find some huge V2 rockets about to launch. They manage to quickly trash all but one. That one, though, launches with Ben hanging on to it, so he simply reprograms it to turn back around and blow up the castle. Ben doesn't expect to survive when the rocket hits, but that Ben would exhibit self-sacrifcing heroism to save the world from the Nazis is not at all surprising.

Reed, though, has found the Vibranium and the heroes have all escaped the castle. So just before the rocket hits, an automatic recall on the time machine sends the FF home, saving Ben's life.

But half the Vibranium is missing. Reed assumes that this was used up when the Nazis were experimenting with it, but a visit from the Watcher convinces Ben that another trip back to the War is needed. This leads into yet another time travel story featured in Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1.

I suppose that technically this means the story does indeed cross over into another title, which is a pet peeve of mine. But the FF story here is significantly independent of the Two-in-One story to the point where it doesn't bother me this time. You can read either tale by itself without missing out on any important plot points.

So I think this story is still an example of cross-promotion the way it should be done. It's a well-told, entertaining tale that features characters from another book, but doesn't force you to buy that book against your will to get the full story. It simply reminds you that those other characters exist in the hopes that you will freely choose to buy their book. That's fair. Capitalism at its best, by golly.

The story does leave a couple of minor questions outstanding. In the end, Reed figures out that Namor and Cap won't remember them because their adventure took place in an alternate universe. So does that mean we really aren't getting the full story on how the whole Zemo/mask thing happened in their home dimension?

Also, everyone seems to have forgotten that there are a bunch of bruised Nazi soldiers locked in a closet in the Baxter Building. Gee whiz. What ever happened to those guys?

I think we will look at Ben's further time travel shenanigans. We'll do that in a couple of weeks. Next week, we'll visit again with Tarzan as he again visits with dinosaurs. Because mixing Tarzan with dinosaurs is always--ALWAYS--a wonderful thing. It's an eternal truth of the universe.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Cover Cavalcade

Remember when paperback covers made you desperately want to read the book? This is a 1962 reprint of an anthology first published in 1957. The artist is not credited.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: "The Last Detail" 7/5/45

George Coulouris plays a professor of psychology being framed for murder by a gangster. He's not worried,though. He knows he's smart enough to outwit a thuggish criminal.

Isn't he?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Dirty and Desperate Cop

Barney Nolan (Edmond O'Brien) has been a cop for 16 years and this has left him a cynical and sometimes brutal man. That isn't to say that he has never been capable of compassion. His current partner--Mark Brewster (John Agar)-- is someone he took under his wing and kept from a life of crime when Brewster was a kid.

But now he's starting to jump over to the dark side on a big time level. When the 1954 film noir Shield for Murder begins, he's learned that a bookie is carrying $25 grand in cash. He gets the bookie into an alley, shoots him, takes the cash, then claims the guy made a break for it while being arrested.

His fellow cops, including Brewster, believe him at first. But a couple of sleezy private eyes working for a local crime boss show up looking for the money. Other holes appear in Nolan's story, not the least of which is in the form of a deaf-mute man who saw the murder from his window.

It's too bad for the deaf-mute guy that the detective he encounters when he comes to the station is Nolan. He only saw the killer from behind, so doesn't realize he's handing a note explaining that he's a witness to that very killer. That leads to yet another tragedy.

Nolan's life begins to unravel and his less-than-perfect crime drives him to acts of greater and greater desperation. And his partner--the young cop who sees Nolan as his mentor and perhaps his father figure--find himself in pursuit of the older cop. 

Shield for Murder, co-directed by O'Brien and Howard V. Koch, is a great-looking film. It doesn't break any new ground in its noir-ish look, but it does a fine job of giving us that look and wrapping a strong story around it. Barney Nolan is a great character, with the script and O'Brien's performance giving us a vivid portrait of someone who was once a good man, but is now gradually crossing one moral event horizon after another.

The rest of the cast is largely first-rate as well. Claude Akins is one of the sleazy private eyes and his shootout against Nolan around a crowded public pool is superb. John Agar as Brewster plays his part well. Agar was nearly always stiff when he had a lead role in a film, but he was generally pretty good in supporting roles such as this one. Marla English, who had a short but respectable career appearing mostly in B-movies, brings a nice sense of tragedy to her role as Nolan's girl, while Carolyn Jones is wonderful in a small role as a bar-fly.

 Here's the movie on YouTube, though if you have Amazon Prime, that print is the better one.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Two Men and a Lion

cover art by Morris Gollub
 Dell Comics' Tarzan #11 (Sept-Oct 1949) lifts ideas from one of the original Tarzan novels and from the legend of Robin Hood, then uses this to tell an original story.

Written by Gaylord Du Bois and drawn by Jesse Marsh, "Tarzan and the Sable Lion" begins with the Ape Man encountering, unsurprisingly, a sable lion.

Tarzan encounters a lot of lions throughout his career, but he's particularly impressed with this feline's size and ferocity. So, after leading it on a merry chase for a time and saving a native warrior from ending up in the lion's belly, Tarzan sets to work establishing his dominance. Soon, the lion is his not-quite-tame pet.

This can't help but remind any self-respecting Tarzan fan of the 1922 novel Tarzan and the Golden Lion, in which the Ape Man trains a lion and makes it his not-quite-tame pet. The parallel is far from exact. The lion from the novel was found as an orphaned cub and the training process was much longer. But the parallel is there, nonetheless.

The Tarzan comics at the time existed in their own continuity--for instance, Tarzan and Jane have a young son they call Boy, much like in the movies but not at all like the books. But it is obvious from the common use of supporting characters taken from the books and a few other elements that Du Bois was familiar with the original novels and often drew on them for ideas. It's just a guess, of course, but I'd bet 25 cents that Du Bois was deliberately lifting an idea from the novels in this instance.

Then, he lifts an idea that must have been consciously taken from the Robin Hood stories. The parallel here is too exact to be anything but deliberate. Tarzan encounters a large warrior named Buto, who is an expert in throwing his knob stick and demands that Tarzan fight him before he'll allow the Ape Man to cross a river. They fight on a log bridge.

Gee whiz, it's only the lack of quarterstaves that keep this scene from mirroring the Robin Hood vs. Little John fight from legend.

I don't intend any criticism, by the way. Du Bois isn't plagiarizing. Rather, he's mixing familiar elements together in a new way to tell an entertaining and original story.

Tarzan defeats Buto, which turns out to be the best way to make friends with the big guy. (once again mirroring Robin and Little John). Buto leads Tarzan and the lion back to his village, only to find that it had been raided by slavers and the people captured. Tarzan, examining the tracks, realizes that Jane and Boy had been in the village and must also be prisoners.

The two humans and the lion track the slavers to their city. The ensuing adventure is entertaining, but flawed. The main problem is Tarzan and his friends effect the ensuing rescue too easily. With Buto knocking out guards and the lion threatening to eat anyone Tarzan will let him eat, the good guys free the slaves almost effortlessly.

Making their way to the sheik's home, they capture him, making him cough up gold as reparations for the village he destroyed.

They make a getaway with a large part of the sheik's wealth and everyone is saved.

It really does wrap up too easily and with an absence of tension. Du Bois was an great writer, but was off his usually excellent game this time. During the rescue, something should have gone wrong to make the adventure more challenging for Tarzan.

But, despite this, I like the story. Marsh will never be my favorite Tarzan artist, but he knew how to tell a story well and some of his panels are downright beautiful. But even more than that, the Tarzan/Buto/lion team was awesome--the inherent coolness of the three is such that it brings us into the story and allows us to enjoy it despite its flaws.

That's it for this time. Next week, Ben Grimm hops back a few decades to once again fight in World War II.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Richard Diamond: "House of Mystery Case" 12/10/49

Rick is hired to watch over a woman who must spend one more night in a large mansion in order to inherent her dead husband's fortune. It seems her husband is planning on returning from the dead.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Second Cyborg novel

Martin Caidin published the novel Cyborg in 1972. This was the beginning of the character better known now as the Six Million Dollar Man. Steve Austin is a former combat pilot and astronaut who suffers catastrophic injuries while working as a test pilot. He survives, with three limbs and one eye replaced with bionics. An intelligence organization called the O.S.O. begins using him as an agent, sending him on Cold War-style missions.

The book version of Steve was grounded a little more firmly in reality than the subsequent TV series. His limbs give him increased strength, speed and endurance, but he can't hit the 60 mph he was capable of on TV. Perhaps most significantly, his bionic eye does not give him sight, much less telescopic vision. Instead, it acts as a camera when this is needed on specific missions.

The first sequel, Operation Nuke, was published in 1973. I don't know the story behind this. I don't know if Caidin wrote it to cash off the popularity of the original novel or to cash in on the increased popularity of the character that the TV show would bring. In either case, he was a good storyteller and both the book Steve Austin and the TV Steve Austin have a lot of story potential in them.

Operation Nuke, though, is flawed, which is why I think its possible that Caidin turned it out quickly to cash in on the TV series. It's still good and the climax is great, but it does have a few pacing and plot problems.

The bad guys are an evil organization hiding their operation with the confines of a large, well-known corporation. And, boy, these guys are evil. They've gotten their hands on some nukes and, as the story opens, have been paid eighteen million dollars to nuke an African city.

Steve and a fellow agent are tasked with infiltrating the organization, though initially they have no idea who the bad guys are. This is where the novel is weakest. First, it takes over a third of the book before Steve's mission begins. Up to then, we've been following along with some of the bad guys and having the investigations of various intelligence organizations described to us. This is all good stuff, but we're here for the bionic guy.

Also, the plan for getting Steve and his partner into the evil organization depends on far too much dumb luck. Steve starts a fight while appearing on a talk show, making sure that his new status as a criminal is publically known right away. Then the two agents steal a 707 from Kennedy airport and fly across the Atlantic. They pretty much hope that the bad guys will hear about all this, realize Steve is a potential asset and move quickly to contact him.

This is indeed what happens, but its definitely a stretch.

Once Steve gets recruited, though, the novel picks up speed and gets really good. Another potential complaint here is that Steve doesn't have much reason to use his bionics through most of the novel, especially since he needs to keep his increased physical power a secret from his new "co-workers." But he slowly uncovers information about the organization and staves off several assassination attempts. The identity of a Russian spy inside the organization provides a really nifty plot twist.

The book's climax involves Steve tied to a chair with a ticking nuke in the room with him. This is where he finally gets to use some bionics, though this presents a problem. How does he use his bionic arm to snap his bonds without tearing out his real arm in the process? Having super strength on just one side can be a problem.

The villains in the novel are another strength--intelligent, cold-blooded and dangerous. They don't nuke people out of fanaticism or for political reasons, but simply to make money. It makes them interesting and leaves you really looking forward to their getting their cumuppance.

So Operation Nuke is worth reading. It's not as good as the excellent Cyborg, but its strengths out-weigh its weaknesses.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Kicking an Old Woman Off a Cliff

Jonah Hex is, without question, a brutal guy. But he is one of the good guys. Despite his casual attitude towards gunning down outlaws, he does usually shoot in self-defense after giving his opponents a chance to surrender. And, though he would probably never admit this to himself, he is a protector of the weak and innocent, especially women and children.

So, as violent as Jonah often is, we can trust that he would never do something especially cruel. Such as... oh, I don't know... kick a crippled old woman off a cliff.

Wait a minute. He actually did that once, didn't he?

Weird Western Tales #17 (April-May 1973) begins with a gang of outlaws robbing a bank, then blowing up that bank with dynamite, then killing the sheriff while making their getaway. Jonah is in town, but does not at first pursue the outlaws. When called to task for not interfering, he rudely but fairly wonders why the townspeople didn't take action themselves. After all, its their town.

A possibly violent confrontation is defused by the arrival of Judge Hatchet, a cigar smoking, wheelchair-bound old woman who runs the territory with an iron hand. She owned the bank and hires Jonah to pursue the outlaws.

With his usual combination of fast draw and clever tactics, he soon has the gang leader prisoner while killing remaining two outlaws. He takes his prisoner to Judge Hatchet, who has the villain strung up on a nearby tree within moments.
 Well, the Wild West was a brutal place and the outlaw leader was indeed a mass murderer. So far, so good. But Jonah soon learns that Judge Hatchet runs her territory in a rather dictatorial fashion. This includes having her three sons burn out and kill anyone who refuses to sell their crops or cattle to her at a very low price.

Jonah happens by a burning home and rescues a little girl from the flames. But he's too late to help the girl's father.

 When he learns the dead man's son has gone after Judge Hatchet, he immediately sets out to save the boy.

Take note that Jonah is a bounty hunter and didn't chase down the bank robbers until he was paid to do so. But now, despite his reputation as a cold-blooded and mercenary-minded killer, he is now acting on his own. He risked his life to save the little girl. He tried--however awkwardly--to give her some comfort when she asked about her dead pa. And now, he's rushing to save a boy he had met for only a few minutes.

Jonah Hex is one of the good guys. It would annoy him to no end if you told him this, but he clearly is.

He finds Judge Hatcher about to hang the boy, who had managed to shoot one of her three sons. Jonah objects to this by killing the remaining two sons. And when Judge Hatchet attempts to shoot him, he gives her wheelchair a nice, firm kick.

It's clear from Jonah's reaction that he didn't expect what happens next. When the the wheelchair starts to role back towards the edge of a cliff, he runs after it, trying to save the Judge. She is a totally evil woman and clearly deserves what is about to happen to her.

Heck, if the Judge had been a healthy man, Jonah would have let him fall without a qualm. He does not always object to vigilante justice.

But however evil Judge Hatchet may be, she's an old lady in a wheelchair. Jonah tries to save her, but can't quite get to her in time. Her clothing catches on a branch, snapping her neck.

Written by John Albano and beautifully drawn by Tony DeZuniga, "The Hangin' Woman" is an excellent Jonah Hex tale, full of both the violence and the reluctant compassion that defines that character.

Next week, it's back to Africa as Tarzan teams up with an African Little John and a barely tame lion to rescue his wife and son.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Edgar Rice Burroughs mini-podcast

Since Jess Terrell, Scott Stewart and I are only able to produce an Edgar Rice Burroughs podcast every two or three months, we've decided to occasional put out mini-podcasts talking about different aspects of ERB's universe. Here's the first one, about the awesome pets that ERB's heroes tend to acquire:

The audio only version can be found HERE

You can find all our podcasts HERE.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "A Study in Wax" 2/1/53

This engrossing tale of two men working in an isolated location contains perhaps the best performance of William Conrad's remarkable career on radio.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Those Pesky Asteroid Pirates!

In 1951, Isaac Asimov was asked to write a juvenile science fiction novel that would also be the basis of television show. Asimov wrote the novel, but was concerned with the questionable quality of science fiction on TV of the time. So he used the pen name "Paul French."

The TV show fell through, but Asimov ended up turning out six Juveniles, all starring David "Lucky" Starr, a member of the Council of Science who saves the Solar System on a regular basis. The novels were eventually re-published under Asimov's name.

Much like Doc Savage and Captain Future, Lucky was an orphan raised by scientists who turned out to be brave, smart and able to kick butt when necessary. In the second novel of the series, Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953), he needs to kick some pirate butt.

Lucky's parents had been killed by Asteroid Pirates 25 years earlier. Now there is a resurgence of this and Earth doesn't necessarily have the resources to deal with this, especially with the alien Sirians acting aggressively.

This leads into a great story in which Lucky at first tries to infiltrate the pirates. This doesn't work out as he hoped and he ends up in a duel with a particularly brutal bad guy. He eventually manages to get to an Earth base on Ceres, bringing with him a hermit who had been living on a small asteroid but had been forced to work with the pirates.

A pirate raid on Ceres ends with the hermit getting captured by the pirates, though there is no obvious reason that the pirates should consider him worth that much bother.

Lucky, though, is beginning to put facts together, figuring out various things including:

a. the identity of the leader of the pirates,
b. the existence of an asteroid base equipped with atomic motors with which to change orbits,
c. the economics of space piracy,
d. the identity of his parents' murderer,
e. and the existance of a plot by the Sirians to work with the pirates in an attack on the Solar System.

In the end, Lucky needs to catch a particular pirate ship to prevent a war. That ship, though, has a long head-start. To cut it off, Lucky has to take a short cut that brings him suicidely close to the Sun. But he has a trick up his sleeve that might help him survive this.

Like most Asimov protagonists, Lucky is very intelligent and able to think through problems in a logical manner, whether that involves deducing where an apparently disappearing asteroid has gone or figure out how to survive when tossed into space with a limited supply of oxygen in his space suit. His sidekick Bigman is a fun secondary protagonist and the action sequences are legitimately exciting. Asimov took care to present the Solar System realistically (according to what was known and theorized in the 1950s).

It's interesting to think about how often pirates end up infesting our Asteroid Belt. Buck Rogers (in a 1936 comic strip story line) and Captain Future (in a 1942 novel) both had problems with them and now here they are making Lucky Starr's life difficult. If humanity ever gets out to the asteroids in real life and we don't end up fighting pirates, I'm going to be very disappointed.

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