Friday, March 31, 2023

Friday's Favorite OTR

 Nick Carter: "Murder in a Decanter"  12/31/44

Nick is attending a boring dinner party. The boredom is lifted, though, when someone is murdered and the murder weapon is mysteriously missing.

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

In the Mexican Quarter


"In the Mexican Quarter," by Tom Gill, was published in the June 1930 issue of Cosmopolitan. Normally, I don't jump from the pulp magazines to the more elite "slicks" for my 1930s fiction fix, but there was a time when the slicks occasionally published some worthwhile  fiction.

How did I end up searching out this particular story? I started watching a 1937 film called Border Cafe on the TCM app. The opening credits said it was based on this story, which I was able to locate online. Immediately, my innate genius grasped the possibilities. I could review the original prose story this week, then take a look at the movie next week. That is, if the story is worth reviewing.

Well, it is. It's narrated by an unnamed rancher who lives in Verde, TX, near the Mexican border. He meets a young man named Billy Whitney. Billy is from back East, the son of a senator and the scion of an influencial family that has churned out soldiers and statesmen for generations.

Well, Billy didn't want to be an important person. "I object to being forced into molds that don't fit," he explains. So he's come to Verde to essentially waste his life away.

But, though Billy may be a little resentful of his family, he still loves them. He writes back home, telling his parents that he's gone partners on a big ranch and that things are going well. He doesn't want them to worry. 

This comes back to bite him, though, when his parents write that they are coming for a visit. The narrator agrees to help Billy pretend that they are partners. But this plan goes partially awry when Billy's former girlfriend Claire arrives with Billy's parents. She's not fooled for a minute, though she goes along with it for the parents' sake. 

To a large extent, the story is predictable, up to the ending where Billy single-handedly chases after rustlers, proving his manhood and winning Claire's love. Pretty much as soon as Billy goes to work at the ranch as part of the con his running on his parents, we can predict that the hard work involved will be good for him and that redemption is right around the corner. 

But the prose reads very smoothly and the author presents the emotions involved effectively. Billy is shown to us in a way that causes us to empathize with him, even as we also realize he needs to buckle down and man up. Though his character arc is predictable, it is also engaging.

Next week, we'll see if the movie version manages to capture the same emotions. In the meantime, you can read the story online HERE

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Willy Schultz, Part 1


cover art by Rocke Mastroserio

Recently, Dark Horse Books published the entire run of the "Lonely War of Capt. Willy Schultz" saga, which began in Charlton's Fightin' Army #76 (October 1967). Written by Will Franz and illustrated by Sam Glanzman, it's a brilliant war story about a man who ends up fighting for both the Americans and the Germans. 

(By the way, Schultz's name is misspelled on the cover.)

I've never had the opportunity to read the entire story before and I wasn't disappointed by the great plot construction, characterizations and anti-war themes. 

We pick up in that first story with Willy, a captain in the U.S. army, commanding a company of tanks. But his new C.O.--a general's son and obviously unqualified to command anything--rides along one day on patrol. When they encounter Germans, the C.O. refuses advice, gives the wrong order and gets everyone but himself and Willy killed.

What follows is a perfect storm of misunderstandings. Willy, understandably angry, threatens to kill the C.O. with a lugar he just picked up from a dead German. Another German actually shoots the C.O., then gets away. All of this is heard, but not seen, by two Americans in an approaching jeep. The jeep's driver is a man who hates Willy. The other is the general, who goes into a rage when he sees his son's body.

Willy is court-martialed for murder and sentenced to die. When the jeep carrying him to prison hits a mine, he gets a chance to make a run for it. He finds a dead German and switches uniforms. Willy speaks perfect German, so he comes up with a vague plan to hide out with the enemy.

When he joins a German column after its been strafed, he's struck with an empathy for the injured Germans, seeing them as fellow human beings rather than faceless enemies. The story does not yet delve into the issue of what these soldiers are fighting for, but it is obvious that these are not hard-core Nazis. They are just guys trying to survive.

Willy even begins to make friends with one of them. But later, an opportunity to blow up a fuel and ammunition dump presents itself. Willy does so, but is caught near the explosion and injured. The Germans don't realize he is the saboteur, though, and assume commandoes were responsible. Willy ends this segment in a German hospital, realizing he'll be shot as a spy if his real identity is uncovered, but shot as a murderer if he makes it back to American lines. He's truly alone.

It's a strong start to the saga, full of tension and a healthy cynicism about authority figures while effectively setting up the overall plot. Getting Willy convicted of murder in just a few panels is a little bit rushed, but (granting the storm of coincidences that occur at the "crime scene") everything still makes good story sense. 

The first two issues containing the Willy Schultz story are in the public domain, so you can read this one HERE.

We'll return to Willy in two weeks. Next week, Hawkman and Hawkgirl take on a ghost. 

Monday, March 27, 2023

Cover Cavalcade


March is TRIAL BY JURY month!

Superman? How could you? This is a 1968 cover by Neal Adams. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

Friday's Favorite OTR

 Lux Radio Theater: "Air Force" 7/12/43

The story of a B-17 bomber ordered to the Phillippines right after Pearl Harbor.

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

And Be A Villain


A few weeks ago, my "Friday's Favorite OTR" post was an episode of Murder is My Hobby, in which a guest on a live radio broadcast is poisoned while the show is on the air.

Someone on Facebook posted a comment saying that he thought a Nero Wolf novel used the same premise. I've read all the Wolfe novels, but I've never re-read the series methodically. So it's been many years since I've read some of them and simply didn't remember this particular plot.

Well, by brilliant and beautiful wife Angela saw the comment and remembered the novel right away: And Be a Villain. Rex Stout wrote this one in 1948, during the run of Murder is My Hobby. Since the episode I highlighted is undated, it's impossible to know if it was broadcast before or after the Nero Wolfe tale. It's not impossible that the show's writers lifted the idea from the novel, though to be fair, they did wrap an original story around the concept. It could be just a coincidence. I suppose it's not impossible that Stout heard the episode and decided to improve on the premise with a better and more intricate plot. In any case, Murder is My Hobby was an entertaining but still second-tier OTR show. Rex Stout's novel are classics of the mystery genre. 

The novel is unique among most of the other entries in the series for several reasons. First, it's one of the few times that Wolfe goes out looking for a job because he needs the money. He's been hit with a big income tax bill and the fee he asks for in exchance for solving a recent murder will cover that bill.

Second, it's the only time I can think of when Wolfe, after uncovering a key fact, gives this information to Inspector Cramer and then sits back expecting the cops to finish the job. He assumes that the case can be wound up through regular police routine. When he's proven wrong, he gets involved again.

The case involves a guest on a radio show who is murdered on the air, during a bit when the host and her guests drink the product of one of their sponsers. The guest's bottle is poisoned.

It's Wolfe who eventually figures out that the poison was probably intended for the host, which naturally changes the direction of the police investigation. But when Cramer still hits a dead end, Archie uses a clever trick to play on Wolfe's ego and get the corpulent detective working again. Or rather, to get the corpulent detective to think about the case and get Archie to do the legwork.

Another murder, at first apparently unconnected, is carried out, leading to the possibility that the motive is linked to a cleverly run blackmail ring. At this point, Wolfe receives a vaguely threatening phone call from Arnold Zeck, a master criminal that Stout was gradually building up to be Wolfe's Professor Moriarty. 

It's only when a third person is abruptly murdered that Wolfe is able to link everything together and identify the killer. Arnold Zeck calls Wolfe one more time, foreshadowing the day when Wolfe will actually have to leave his brownstone and go into hiding while he deals with the master crook. 

All the usual strengths of Rex Stout's brilliant novels are here--Archie's humorous and mildly cynical narration, his interactions with Wolfe, and a well-constructed murder mystery with a satisfying denoument. And the unusual aspects--primarily Wolfe and Cramer playing nice together rather than clashing--adds additional spice to the tale. 

Reading a classic mystery always makes me want to solve a murder. But I never get to do so.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Night of the Stalker!


cover art by Neal Adams

 Detective Comics #439 (February-March 1974) was one of those awesome 100-pagers that DC used to do, often (as in this case) containing one original story and a bunch of reprints. Growing up, it was the reprints in these and in Marvel's Giant-Size books that first taught me so much about the history of the comic book universes I loved. 

Today, though, we're going to look at this issue's original story. "Night of the Stalker!" was written by Stevel Englehart, from a plot by Vin and Sal Amendola. Sal Amendola did the pencils. 

It's a pretty simple story. A bank robbery goes wrong and the robbers gun down a young, married couple, leaving a child weeping over the corpses of his parents.

Sound familar? Batman is close enough to witness this, but not close enough to stop it. He immediately takes a VERY personal interest, taking out one of the robbers at the scene while the other three speed off in the getaway car.

What follows is Batman stalking the remaining bad guys as they speed out of the city, nearly crash the car when a shadow seems to indicate Batman is on the roof, then jump out of the car to find him. He takes their car keys and manages to scare the snot out of them by just standing there. 

He dodges bullets, but apparently falls to his death when one of the robbers tackles him. The remaining two crooks recover the car keys and speed off, thinking they're safe. Silly crooks.

Batman chases one of the two remaining crooks into a shallow river, where he lets the guy briefly think that he (the crook) has just killed the superhero. His glee does not last long.

Batman confronts the last crook, who falls to his knees, sobbing that he never wanted to be involved in murder. Batman shows a modicum of mercy here, choosing not to terrorize him any longer. Back in Wayne Manor, Batman thinks about the crying child outside the bank and the crying young crook while looking at a portrait of his parents. He begins to cry himself.

That's the perfect ending to this story. Batman SHOULD be scary and relentless from the crooks' point-of-view, but 1970s Batman is my favorite iteration of the character in part because the writers understood he needed this human moments. The darkness inherent in the character had to be balanced by Bruce Wayne's humanity and his ability to still shed tears.

The cover is a fantastic example of Neal Adams' skill as a Batman artist. Sal Amendola does a bang-up job drawing this story, but that cover makes me wish we'd seen an Adams-illustrated version of it. I do realize, though, that this is an unfair, knee-jerk reaction. Amendola does make scary Batman look scary and crying Bruce Wayne look tragic. The artist does his job well.

Next week, we're going to begin a look at a superb WWII story arc published by Charlton beginning in 1967, but I think we'll intersperse that with looks at the various reprint stories from this issue. So get ready to be shoved from week to week from World War II to DC superheroes and back again. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Friday, March 17, 2023

Friday's Favorite OTR

 Jeff Regan, Investigator: "The Lawyer and the Lady" 12/4/48

Someone is apparently trying to kill the International Detective Bureau's latest client. Regan, as usual, is caught in the crossfire.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Beachcomber in Space, Part 2


cover art by H.W. McCauley

Read/Watch 'em In Order #160

The second adventure of Ebbtide Jones ( "The Girl in the Whirlpool," written by Miles Shelton) appeared in the August 1940 issue of Fantastic Adventures. It picks up pretty much where the first adventure ended--with Ebbtide staying on the small "planet" of JONES, formed by detritus that floated in to an out-of-the-way area of space that has become a temporary gravitational eddy.

Ebb's friend, Stan Kendrick, will be coming back for Ebb soon. In the meantime, the beachcomber has been gathering a small fortune in equipment that floats in from around the solar system. This includes the chest of jewels recovered at the end of the first story. All together, Ebb has a small fortune in salvage. After Stan shuttles him back to Earth, he'll turn quite a profit.

But then a live girl floats in. Trixie Green is drop-dead gorgeous, but Ebb is uninterested in her. He notes the value of the spacesuit she's wearing, but estimates her value at $3.50. This goes up quite a bit when it turns out she can cook, but she's still not necessarily valuable enough to take up space in Stan's ship.

But trouble is afoot. Trixie ended up floating in space when a guy picked her up in a club back on Earth, took her for what she thought was an airplane ride, then got too forward with her when they reached space. She jumped out of the ship, but the guy might still be looking for her.

Ebb, of course, eventually falls for the girl, several times increasing the amount on the price tag he's hung on her. His gradual realization that he actual likes her and comes to see her as something more than a commodity is what drives the humor inherent in the story.

When the bad guy shows up, Ebb turns down a $2000 offer and fights for her. It's not a proprietous moment to start a fight, though. The gravitational eddy that held the small planet together is reversing itself sooner than Ebb thought it would. The planet begins to fly about, sending valuable salvage sailing away into space. Can Ebb save the girl AND save his chest of jewels? And why has he suddenly decided the bad guy is valuable salvage as well? And, finally, will Ebb's skill with a fishing pole prove useful at just the right moment?

The story never quite gets to laugh-out-loud level with the humor, but it's still fun. And that final fight scene, set on a tiny planet as that planet breaks up around them, is a unique action set-piece.

Click HERE to read this story online.

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