Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Toys That Kill People

 Gold Key's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. #3 (Novemberr 1965) was written by Dave Wood, with art by George Tuska for the first 26 pages and (for reasons I imagine are lost to the ages) Dan Heck stepping in to draw the last 6 pages.

I tried three times to write up a summary of this story. Each time, the convolutions and lightening fast pace foiled my attempts to concisely summarize it at all. This isn't a criticism of the story--the twists and turns of the plot are part of what makes it a delight to read.

The bare bones summary is that THRUSH is trying to find the secret lab where a scientist is cranking out secret weapons for U.N.C.L.E in the forms of toys and novelty items.

Starting with this premise, this comic book succeeds in exactly the same way the early seasons of the TV series succeeded. The story can be enjoyed as an espionage thriller, but can also be appreciated as a parody of that genre.

Specifically, it was making fun of the many, increasingly wild gadgets that were becoming a staple of the James Bond films. This began with From Russia, With Love (1963) but really went into high gear with Bond's Aston Martin in Goldfinger (1964). 

In the U.N.C.L.E. story, we get a direct reference to the Aston Martin when Napoleon and Illya are trying to escape a carful of THRUSH assassins and actually use the oil slick trick. But in this case, THRUSH has one-upped them with a pursuing car that squirts sand over the oil as it moves forward.

In addition to this, we get:

A small army of wind-up toys that crawl up THRUSH agents and then pop open to emit sleep gas.

A hairdo that squirts ammonia gas into your eyes.

The creepiest looking robot boy in the history of robot boys.

Contact lenses that allow you to hypnotise whomever you are looking at.

A fake mustache that emits a sleep gas when you sneeze through it.

And a fake suicide pill that puts you into a death-like coma and transmits a signal so that your partner can find you and give you an antidote. 

It's all great fun. Though another issue remains my absolute favorite from the series, this one perhaps comes closest to representing that combination of real adventure and parody that the TV series initially did so well.

Next week, we'll finish our journey through an issue of Superman Family with another Jimmy Olsen adventure.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Monday, June 14, 2021

Cover Cavalcade



From 1942. Great cover, but sadly the artist is uncredited.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Paperbacks at War



Paperbacks at War, including several reviews written by ME, is now available. You can purchase a copy HERE

Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday's Favorite OTR

 This is Your FBI: "Skyway Man" 3/7/52

Safecrackers are robbing the proceeds of carnivals and county fairs. For their latest job, they intend to make a getaway by airplane--and frame the pilot for the crime.

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

They Are Not DOLLS! They Are ACTION FIGURES! part 1 (and Big Little Books part 1)

One thing my parents were great at was buying us wonderful toys. Sometimes, though, I had to endure the agony of one of my brothers owning a particularly cool toy instead of me. Why did my older brother own the Major Matt Mason action figure (and the super-cool Space Crawler) and not me? It's not fair! It's not!

Well, at least I owned the Major Matt Mason "Big Little Book." That was pretty cool. (And I had the satisfaction of seeing Ed take his battery-operated Space Crawler to the beach, where sand got into the works and it stopped working. But it would be petty to mention that years later, so... um... forget I mentioned it, okay?)

That Big Little Book, titled Moon Mission (1968), tells us more about the moon than those darn Apollo astronauts ever did. Did you know there are giant rabbits and giant worms on the moon? I'll bet you didn't. By golly, it's enough to make you believe in conspiracy theories!

I loved this story as a kid. Revisiting it as an adult, I still enjoyed it. The story, written by George S. Elrick, is silly but fun. And I think that I can appreciale the Dan Spiegle art even more now. The Big Little Books were formated with a page of text always facing a page of art. So the book has dozens of great Spiegle illustations. 

The tale picks up with Major Matt Mason leading the second expedition to the Moon, where his men are busy constructing a permanent base. But there's a problem. The first expedition had left a man behind to study the long-term effects of living on the moon. This man--Major Otto "Squeak" Harvey--had done well at first, but soon his audio-visual reports showed him getting more and more agitated as he complained about an incessant "cooing" sound coming from outside his habitat. Then all communication is cut off.

Mason and Harvey's sister, a doctor named Jo Ann, travel by jet pack to Squeak's habitat, only to find him missing and the habitat itself wrecked. Then they find a hole in the ground leading into a maze of tunnels. Tunnels dug by.... giant moon worms!

Another astronaut ends up in the tunnel (which, for obscure reasons, maintains Earth-normal atmophere and temperature. He runs across Squeak, who is irrational and speaks only in cooing sounds. 

Oh, I mentioned giant rabbits as well, didn't I? These are genetically altered rabbits brought to the moon to eventually be (as the prose cold-bloodedly tells us) "ground up into protein powder." Though the big bunnies normally live in pressurized enclosers, they to have oxygen and temperature-control pills inserted into their skin, so can live on the moon's surface for a time. These leads to a sub plot in which another astronaut pursues an escaped rabbit with a tranquilizer gun. 

Anyway, it turns out that alien parasites are inhabiting the worms and one of them has also gotten into Squeak. The parasite briefly jumps into Jo Ann, but the astronauts get it to eventually move into one of the rabbits. It's not unfriendly, so as long as it has a body to inhabit, it's happy. I don't know what happens when the time to grind up the rabbit arrives.

It's probably Spiegle's wonderful art more than the silly story that sells it to me as an adult. That and an element of nostalgia. After all, Ed might have owned the Major Matt Mason action figure and the Space Crawler and the Jet Pack (which travelled along a string you stretched across the room) and the Moon Base, but I owned the Big Little Book. NO ONE CAN TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME!

My younger brother Jeff, by the way, claims the Big Little Book was his. We can discount this, of course. Can you believe someone being jealous of stuff we owned as kids? It's sad. And, after all, THE BOOK WAS MINE! (And so was the big fire truck with working hose, by the way. But that's another story.)

My only real complaint about the book is the trademark notice on the title page. "Major Matt Mason is the registered trademark of Mattel, Inc. for its DOLL." Gee whiz. He wasn't a doll. He was an action figure. Why can't anyone get that right?

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Krypto is Awesome!


cover art by Curt Swan

Krypto is by far my favorite Superpet. Beppo can be a little annoying. Comet is just plain weird. Streaky is... well, a cat. But Krypto is simply awesome.

And in "A Bad Day for Junkyard Blue (written by Bob Toomey and drawn by John Calnan)," we see several reasons why Krypto is awesome. First, it starts out with a reminder that being a dog--without any real responsibilities--is a lot of fun. Krypto is galavanting through the skys, flying rings around airplanes and joining a flight of birds for a few moments. He's not doing any harm. He's just having a good time.

Then the scene shifts to two guys who I think should have gotten their own comic book series. Burt and Harry are two incompetent and none-too-bright bank robbers who make a mess of their latest attempt to rob a bank. Toomey's script and Calnan's lively art combine to give us some sincerely funny slapstick involving these two. If Bud & Lou--or perhaps Stan & Ollie--had turned to villainy, this is how they might have turned out.

Anyway, as they make their getaway in a wreck of a car that soon breaks down, Krypto spots them and joins in the chase. He does so more because he just enjoys the chase than because he wants to see justice done, but we'll soon see that Krypto does feel moral responsibility. 

When the getaway car breaks down, Burt and Harry scale a fence and end up in a junkyard. Here, they are cornered by Blue, the junkyard dog. Krypto lands next to Blue, figuring he can help.

But his sudden appearance startles Blue, who panics and hides in a wrecked car, which is then lifted up by one of those junkyard giant magnets to be dropped into a crusher. Krypto quickly saves him while the cops are arresting Burt and Harry.

Blue, in an effort to regain his pride, snarls at Krypo. In a sweet moment, the Dog of Steel realizes what's happening and makes Blue happy by running off in apparent fear. I love it.

Darn it, why doesn't my dog have superpowers? This is about as active as he ever gets:

I really which, though, that Burt and Harry had returned for more goofy attempts to be successful criminals. Heck, a great running gag would have had them appearing in successive issues of Superman Family and Batman Family, running across a different regular character in each one and failing miserably at crime each time.

In two weeks, we'll return to Superman Family for another Jimmy Olsen story. Next week, we'll drop in on the Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Cover Cavalcade



From 1955. You can't go wrong with a George Evans aviation cover.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Friday's Favorite OTR

 Mr. District Attorney: "The Case of the Curious Undertaker" 8/2/44

A dishonest financial advisor kills an old lady to hide his embezzling. But why does it appear to the D.A. that his victim actually died in 1931?

Click HERE to listen or download. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

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