Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Underwater Pirates


Cover art by Jim Aparo

The cover story for Adventure Comics #441 has some interesting credits. It was written by Paul Levitz and drawn by Jim Aparo. But then DC editor Carmine Infantino decided the dialogue had to be re-written by a more experienced writer. David Michelinie did so and this dialogue was pasted onto the original art.

The end result is an entertaining but flawed story. Aquaman is conducting his daily kingly business (meeting with diplomats, guild leaders, etc.) when he's interrupted by pirates dressed in traditional Gold Age of Piracy garb (but also wearing breathing masks) announce their presence. Their leader, Captain Demo, announces his intention to take over Atlantis.

Aquaman swims out to confront the pirates, whose "sailing ship" travels underwater and is equipped with laser cannons.  Here, we run into the story's main flaw. We see only portions of the ship as the action unfolds (at least until we see it fleeing at the end of the story). An underwater sailing ship is a cool idea and we should have been given a real sense of its scale. But instead, we see just bits and pieces.

It seems odd that an artist as skilled as Aparo or an editor as skilled as Infantino would miss this, but there you go.

Aquaman defeats the crew and also manages to beat down Captain Demo. But then Demo threatens Aquaman with his hook hand. Abruptly, the action switches from the fight back to Atlantis a short time later. Aquaman has surrended the city to Demo. Apparently, the pirate has one heck of a hook hand.

The pirates start demanding tribute, threatening to bankrupt the undersea kingdom. Mera tries to stop Demo, but Aquaman actually knocks her out rather than let her succeed. 

It's a neat little mystery. We discover the answer when Aquaman tricks Demo into getting the hook hand trapped in an oyster equipped with a jamming device. The hook is rigged to send out a radio signal that will detonate bombs hidden around Atlantis. Aquaman had to let Demo have his way until he could do something about that.

Aquaman and a posse of sea creatures drive the pirates out of Atlantis, though Demo makes a getaway in his ship. Aquaman figures that Demo will be back one day. Sadly--because an underwater pirate is an undeniable cool idea--I don't think he ever does. He simply sails away into Comic Book Limbo.

Overall, the story is visually fun and worth reading. 

Next week, we'll return to the Lonely War of Captain Willy Schultz.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Cover Cavalcade


A Harold V. Brown cover from 1940. 

Friday, November 24, 2023

Friday's Favorite OTR

 Mysterious Traveler: "Change of Address" 1/22/52

A man wants to get away from his controlling wife. He sees an opportunity to do so when he rents a house that is "made for murder."

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Those Poor Moon People!


cover art by Frank R. Paul

Well, I already knew that dinosaurs once saved Earth from the Martians. Today, I discovered a tale in Amazing Stories (February 1929) that tells us Earth was saved from the Insect People of Mars by the last living Tyrannosaurus Rex. "Death of the Moon" was written by Alexander Phillips. 

The poor Lunarians were running out of the resources they need to maintain a liveable atmosphere on the moon. Fortunately, they have a Jor-El-level genius among them who has a plan. Build a space ship; fly to Earth; make sure Earth is habitable; return to the moon; build a lot of space ships and move everyone to Earth.

It's not a bad plan, if only because it represents the only way the Lunarians can survive. If successful, it means mankind will never show up, because the Lunarians will be filling that ecological niche already. But--well, you can't really blame the Lunarians for not knowing about humanity before humanity existed.

The Lunarian scientist and his crew take off and arrive on Earth. They explore and like what they see. Well, at least until they see a hungry Tyrannosaur...

The story is a short, fun bit of science fantasy. Phillips, though, also manages to insert a bit of meloncholy at the story's end, as the last T-Rex, dying from raygun wounds after unknowingly saving mankind, passes on. The following quote is a spoiler, so jump to the link at the bottom of this post to read the story yourself before continuing:

The sinking sun bathed the saurian’s grim visage in a soft, warm light and as he gazed into the last sunset he would ever see, across far spaces into the mellow glory of the Life-giver, Tyranosaurus’ eyes softened and he was vested with a dim, far-away dignity as one whose purpose is accomplished. Gradually the harsh sobbing diminished and finally ceased and Tyranosaurus Rex, King of the Giant Lizards, most terrible of all carnivores, and most feared, had gone forever from earth.

The sun was gone. Far along the west stretched a streak of amber light, all else the night had claimed. High above the canyon, showing through a space in the leaves, sailed the round, full moon throwing her pure, white light, like a protecting mantle, over the broken, pathetic body of her perished son, the inventor, while deep below her surface she hid a race awaiting his triumphal return. Long would they wait — Long.

Poor Moon People. Poor T-Rex. -sigh-

The story is available to read online HERE

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Willy Schultz, Part 15


cover art by Sam Glanzman

Fightin' Army #91 (May 1970) brings us another excellent chapter in "The Lonely War of Capt. Willy Schultz," written by Will Franz and drawn by Sam Glanzman.

I really enjoy the way this story is constructed. It starts in the midst of action, with Willy being tracked by a trio of Germans. Willy kills one of them, but is himself wounded.

We then jump to a flashback--and a brief nightmare by Willy during that flashback--that together fill in the back story. Willy, Elena and a squad of other partisans are ambushed by Germans. Only Willy and Elena (who has some sharpnel in her leg) get away.

They take refuge in a farmhouse, but there's reason to suspect the husband and wife who live there may sell them out to the Germans. After all, the Germans would kill the family if its found they were hiding partisans AND the partisans have themselves stolen from farmers in the past. 

Still, there's no choice. Willy tries to stay away to watch the couple while Elena sleeps, but he drifts off. When he wakes up, he sees the husband has indeed led Germans to the house. Willy runs for it, trying to lead the Germans away from Elena. That's where we rejoin him, wounded with two more Germans still on his trail. 

He manages to take them out and return to the farm. More partisans have arrived and Elena is okay. But Willy isn't terribly happy with the farm couple.

In the end, though, he can't pull the trigger on them. Nor does he allow anyone else to kill them. He's simply had enough killing for the day.

It's a chapter that tells a suspensful story AND comments effectively on the brutality of war. As I mentioned before, I'm impressed by the combined use of flashback and nightmare to gradually give us necessary plot exposition. This chapter is a great example of just how exceptional as a whole this saga is. 

Next week, we'll dive into the ocean to visit with Aquaman.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Cover Cavalcade


This 1939 cover was painted by Harold V. Brown.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Friday's Favorite OTR

 Suspense: "Death on My Hands" 5/10/51

Phil Harris stars as a band leader who ends up the target of a lynch mob when a young fan is accidentally killed while visiting him. Alice Faye plays the one person who sticks by him.

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Desperate Plan after Desperate Plan


cover art by Rudolph Belarski

I've been reading through a PDF copy of the October 1940 issue of Foreign Legion Adventures, the second and also the last issue of this title, which depended largely on reprints. I've already covered a couple of the stories HERE and HERE.

Well, there's one more story inside this issue that's worth talking about. "Renegade Caid," a novella by F. Van Wyck Mason, was originally published in Argosy in 1930. Though it doesn't quite measure up to J.D. Newsom's "Soldiers of Misfortune" (the best story in the issue), it's still a slam-bang adventure, full of non-stop and brutal action.

Legion sergeant and former Texas Ranger Lemuel Frost is leading three other men on a recon patrol. While they out on the desert, their outpost is attacked and wiped out. The only survivor is Frost's best friend, who has been tortured and dies soon after being found among the dead.

The attackers were led by a Russian with a lot of combat experience. He used to be known as Prince Michailov who fought for the tsar, then sold out his troops to the communists, then sold out the communists. Now he's in North Africa, using a Muslim title and calling up troops for a violent jihad against Europeans. His troops are well-armed and well-disciplined, making him very, very dangerous.

Frost and his three men are the only ones who know about him, also finding out that he plans to raid another Legion outpost on the way to looting a supply depot and then attacking Christian natives who are gathered at a fair like lambs brought for slaughter.

Frost has an unfortunate (but historically accurate) tendency to use the N-word when referring to any non-white, but there's no doubting either his courage or his determination to avenge the death of his friend. He and his men ride their camels nearly to death to reach that second outpost. But the officer there has a grudge against Frost and fails to take his warning seriously. Frost's patrol rides on and the outpost is overwhelmed by Michailov's forces minutes later.

There's still a chance. The supply depot is at the other end of a narrow pass through some mountains. It can be easily defended if Frost's patrol can get there first. But their camel's are exhausted; they are hotly pursued; and there's more enemy troops in front of them.

Frost fights and improvises, tricking two groups of Michaelov's men into fighting each other. The Legionnaires arrive at the depot, only to find there's just four men stationed there with only a little bit of ammunition for their two machine guns. There's several boxes of dynamite, but no wire or detonators.

Frost must improvise again. There might yet be a way to stop Michaelov, but this might also mean asking a friend to die. When THAT plan doesn't quite work, Frost sees one last suicidal chance to turn the tide. 

"The Renegade Caid" takes a few pages of exposition to get things rolling, but then it gallops from page to page at a lightning pace as the Legionnaires gallop desperately from one seemingly hopeless situation to another. It's a great example of the sort of blood-and-guts adventure storytelling that the pulp magazines were often so good at. 

The story is available online HERE

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

What is Small Will Be Big Again!


cover art by John Romita
writer: Len Wein
Interior Art: Sal Buscema & Joe Staton

At the end of Hulk #202, The Emerald Giant had been shrunk down to microscopic size and, while visiting the micro-world ruled by Hulk's old flame Jarella, was zapped unconcious by the insectoid villain Psykolp. The is just after Hulk destroyed a giant robot that had been disguised as a giant troll-like human who had supposedly been causing earthquakes. 

Got all that?

As Hulk #203 (Sept. 1976) begins, Psyklop makes a rookie villain mistake. He tells Hulk the bonds that hold him are unbreakable. Naturally, Hulk gets mad and breaks them. Psklop, though, manages to hypnotise the big guy.

Psyklop uses Hulk to move equipment about while gloating to Jarella, explaining that the earthquakes shaking the planet had been caused by Hulk inadvertantly kicking the planet out of orbit last time he was here and was being enlarged for a return to Earth. Psyklop, though, has built a devise to make sure the earthquakes continue, with plans to eventually offer the life forces of those killed to the Dark Gods he worships.

By the way, I've written many, many geeky things in this blog, but several of the above sentences might just be the geekiest things I've ever written. Everything about this issue makes no real life sense, but flows smoothly along according to the logic of Comic Book Science. It's all wonderful.

And it continues to be wonderful. Jarella's people have been magically eavesdropping on Psyklop's monologing. Realizing they were wrong in their attempt last issue to sacrifice their queen to the "mountain god," they now storm the villain's lair. The villain, though, causes Hulk to see the people as an army of Psyklopes. The green guy attacks them.

Jarella's chief magicians counter this by causing Hulk to see the people as an army of Jarellas. This breaks Psyklop's control over Hulk, who once again attacks the villain. The container in which Psyklop has been keeping the life forces of his victims cracks, the Dark Gods get mad at him and zap him away to be punished.

It briefly appears that Hulk actually gets a happy ending. He and Jarella plan to get married and the people now love them. But, well, the Hulk doesn't get happy endings, does he? 

Back on Earth, Doc Samson has removed the atom containing Hulk from Glenn Talbot's brain. This is placed in a "micro-cannon" and Hulk is enlarged. Because he's hugging Jarella, she's enlarged as well. Jarella tells him she has to go back and that they are not meant to be as a couple. But then it's discovered she can't go back, because the slide containing the atom that contains her world has been smashed. 

It's not made clear at this point if Jarella's world is actually destroyed. It later turns out not to have been. How it survived is a question similar to "how did it end up inside Talbot's head."  The physics of subatomic worlds are simply beyond our ken. 

These last two issues really have been wonderful, building one absurd concept atop another without irony or parody and making it all work. 

Next week, though, we'll return to the more realistic world of Capt. Willy Schulz.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...