Posts tagged ‘Gardner Fox’

Action 52 – Superman vs the Emperor of the US, Vigilante reveals himself to Stuff, the Three Aces get trapped in time, the Americommandos, Congo Bill delivers cigarettes, and Zatara stops a kidnapping

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I just love the cover for Action 52 (Sept. 42).  It is the one and only cover from this era that features the heroes of all the series contained in the issue.  It’s kind of curious that none of the other DC comics from the era ever did this.  And as I always write about the cover featured hero in any blog entry, every series will be covered for this issue.

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Siegel and Sikela’s Superman story is set in a possible future, so not actually canonical.  In it, a man decides to proclaim himself Emperor of America – although he only takes over the US, and leaves the rest of the two continents alone.

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To Clark’s mystifcation, every seems to support this.  The Daily Planet staff think it’s a great idea, even Lois Lane and Perry White.  Jimmy Olsen can be seen in cameo,with his back to the reader.

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As the Emperor’s reign progresses it becomes more and more authoritarian.  As one might expect from a self-proclaimed emperor.  Superman discovers that the man has used a mind control machine to win people to his side, and destroys the machine, freeing the country.

The story is clearly meant to be read as a warning against authoritarianism, which would have been synonymous with the Axis powers at this time.

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Mort Meskin and Cliff Young have the Vigilante deal with kidnappers who captures a children’s band in this story, but that’s really just a hook for the true purpose of the tale.

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Up to this issue, Stuff had been taken care of by Greg Sanders, and worked as Vigilante’s sidekick, but had no idea the two men were the same.  Stuff is clearly not the most observant boy.  Greg finally reveals his identity to the boy.

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This leads, quite logically, to Greg relating his origin.  It does not change anything from the origin related in his first appearance, simply expands on it.  Greg’s grandfather was an “Indian hunter,” who nonetheless was so admired by those he killed that they gave him an honourable burial.  We also discover that Greg had begun his singing career before his father’s death, which makes more sense than beginning it at the same time he became Vigilante.  The earlier version of this tale left that sequence of events unclear.

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The Three Aces get a bit of a change of pace from the war stories that had become their meat and potatoes.  They wind up flying into a remote valley to avoid a storm, and get trapped there.  The valley is populated by other trapped soldiers, going back centuries, who continue to fight each other.

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This allows the Three Aces to keep fighting the Japanese, even though the Asians got trapped their in the 10th century.  Radium radiation is given as the reason no one can escape the valley. The Three Aces use lead from the armor of the captured Japanese soldiers to protect their plane engines from the radium, and escape.

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The logo on this series changes for a second time, becoming the Americommandos, although there is no obvious difference in the strip itself, in this story by Joseph Greene and Bernard Baily.  The story even alternates between calling Tex Mr. America and Americommando.

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The story deals with a Nazi soldier who escapes from a Canadian prison camp and heads down to the US to wreak havoc.  Fat Man does appear in the story, but in a small, non-speaking cameo.

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Congo Bill is still in China in this Fred Ray story, continuing to help the war against Japan.  It’s an odd mission that he is on, though, having to deliver a pack of cigarettes.

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It’s a deadly trek that Bill takes to do this. The cigarettes are an effective decoy, as the Japanese do not question Bill’s possession of them when they capture him. Bill escapes, and makes it to the Chinese lines, where we learn that the rolling papers the cigarettes are in contains the plans for the Japanese attack, which they successfully hold off.

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The issue closes with Gardner Fox and Joseph Sulman’s Zatara adventure.  An ice skater gets kidnapped, and Zatara uses his magic to torment the kidnappers.

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While he probably could have rescued the ice queen more easily, the Zatara strip has become much more about goofy and amusing magical events than about serious action.

 

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Action 47 -Luthor wants the Powerstone, the Three Aces enter the War, Mr America fights living skeletons, and Zatara vs the Brain

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Luthor makes his first cover appearance in Action 47 (April 1942).  Too bad it’s not in any way flattering.  The story, by Jerry Siegel and John Sikela, is officially Luthor’s first appearance since issue 42, but I believe that Luthor is the same person as Lightning Master, and this story follows his appearance in Superman.

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Luthor wears the same green robes as Lightning Master, minus the headdress, and has electrical powers.  These are not explained in any way.  But could be a logical extension of the end of the Lightning Master story.  When I reach that Superman story, I will argue this further.

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Luthor goes on a mad spree using his new powers.  He is able to stun Superman with them, but not kill him.  Luthor sets up an entertaining scam, holding a contest for the richest man, in order to award him millions more.  The panel I reproduced above is worth reading, for all the different characters who come for the prize.  Luthor simply holds them all for ransom.

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Superman shows up, and Luthor threatens to kill the men unless Superman retrieves the Powerstone for him, from a buried temple in India.

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Superman brings Luthor the Powerstone.  The villain is thrilled to have the stone, which will grant him greater powers than even Superman.  But the stone is a fake, Superman kept the real one.

Luthor is defeated, but returns, as does the real Powerstone, in the next issue of Superman.

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Three Aces undergoes a dramatic change with this issue, written in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

The Three Aces are now part of the US airforce, operating off of the carrier USS Roosevelt. No further mention is made of them being in the First World War.

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The magic carpets, lost civilizations and Mongol treasures are shoved to the side as they face the Japanese fleet and airforce.  The heroes get shot down a fair bit, being taken prisoner by the Japanese a few times, though they always manage to escape. The stories are neither better or worse than before, really, and the series continues to leave me cold. But the change is notable.

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Fitch and Baily bring back Queen Bee for another round with Mr. America and Fat Man.

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Although the Queen Bee barely appears in the tale, and once again escapes, the story itself is a good read.  She has caused the dead to rise, the skeletons dressed in old armor.  Not a deep tale, but visually interesting throughout.

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Zatara deals with a twisted genius, master of an underwater city in this story by Fox and Sulman.

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The Brain has great mental powers – strong enough to be able to act as a counter to Zatara’s magic.

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Sadly, the Brain winds up dying, and his city gets destroyed.  I would have easily accepted any excuse for his return.  It’s very rare for anyone to be able to challenge Zatara effectively.

Action 46 – Superman vs the Domino, Vigilante vs the Rainbow Man, Mr America vs the Queen Bee, and Zatara vs Adolf Hitler

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Hey, the cover of Action 46 (March 1942) reflects the story!  Lois and Clark go to a fair, which is being menaced by the Domino, in a story by Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy.

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The villain is masked – but it’s not a domino mask. It makes one wonder exactly why he chose that name.  His goal is force the fair to allow gambling, so I imagine he must be talking about gambling on dominoes, which would give a reason for that name.

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The Domino sets off all sorts of sabotage on the various rides, but Cassidy does not really play this to the hilt. It’s all rather tame in execution.  Lois gets captured, and must be rescued.  I think I could write that sentence blindfolded.

The Domino is unmasked and defeated, and never returns.

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The Vigilante, on the other hand, has his first match against the Rainbow Man, who would become one of his most frequent enemies,in a story by Weisinger and Meskin.

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The Rainbow Man looks and acts nastier than his name would imply.  He has his men commit crimes according to colour themes.

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The Rainbow Man captures Vigilante and Stuff, but his murderous machine is really just a colourful light globe, so it’s not too surprising that they manage to escape, and prevent his “white” crimes, as they pose as doctors.

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The Queen Bee returns in this Fitch and Baily story to menace Mr. America and Fat Man.

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The Queen Bee and her men have forced an inventor to build a giant robot, which emerges from a volcano as Vol-Kan, and heads through the city on a destructive rampage.  Fat Man sprays oil into the robots eyes, and it destroys itself trying to clear its vision.  Mr. America doesn’t slack, he takes down the Queen Bee’s men, but she escapes to return next issue.

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I haven’t cared much for the Zatara series since Joseph Sulman took over the art, but he and Gardner Fox have a story that definitely merits inclusion.  It was released in early January 1942, so must have been written and drawn before the attack on Pearl Harbour, but features Zatara wading right into the war.

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It is the Nazis that Zatara is fighting, along with Tong.  There is no mention of the Japanese.  Zatara makes bombs behave like humans (sort of), in one of Sulman’s better pages.

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The story culminates as Zatara faces Hitler.  Hitler admits defeat, calls off the war, and heads into exile.

Ok, so as this CLEARLY is not what happened, how to interpret the ending?

Going off of Roy Thomas’ later work, with the Spear of Destiny being used to insulate the Axis against beings with super-powers, I suggest that this story was one used by the German high command as a sort of “it could happen here!,” and to back up the use of the Spear to generals who might be doubting why such magic would be needed.

 

Action 30 – Superman vs Zolar, Pep Morgan changes schools, the Black Pirate enslaved, Miss X dumps Tex Thompson, and Zatara hunts for a killer

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Is he flying?  Sure looks like he’s flying on the cover of Action 30 (Nov. 40).

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Jerry Siegel and Jack Burnley pits Superman against an evil genius, Zolar,  in this story.  Despite it being summer, Metropolis is stuck in a winter blizzard.

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There are little floating balls of glowing heat – but those are more likely to incinerate you than warm you.

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Some Arabs appear to be behind the weather madness, and Superman follows them.  He falls victim to the glowing balls, although they do not destroy him , simply render Superman unconscious.  I actually have my doubts that they even do that.  I suspect Superman is feigning, so that the bad guys will take him to their leader – which is exactly what happens.

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Zolar looks an awful lot like the Ultra-Humanite – and of course, what Luthor would come to look like as well.  Bald geniuses seem to be the biggest threat to Superman.  He defeats Zolar, as well as his female accomplice, pretending to be one of his victims.  Zolar dies at the end of the story, but with Luthor around, he really was no loss.

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There isn’t much to the Pep Morgan story in this issue, by George Papp, aside from the fact that he is now attending Midtown College, instead of Ardale.  The story itself deals with the fact that Pep always loses races to one guy, although he overcomes this “jinx” and wins by the end.

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The fact that this story makes it clear that Pep has lost many races, in contradiction to what we have seen in his strip so far – backs up my contention that some of Pep’s stories are lies that he tells. I suspect that Pep’s battle with the Cambodian dinosaur last issue was a story he told upon enrolling at Midtown, trying to make himself look special.

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Jon Valor is having a really rough time of it in Moldoff’s story this month.  The Black Pirate does manage to defeat the raiders who stole his ship last issue, but no longer has a crew to man it.

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Jon winds up getting captured by Captain Treble, who makes the Pirate one of his slaves, sending him to work in a phosphate mine.

The story continues next issue.

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Miss X makes her final appearance in the Tex Thompson series in this story by Bernard Baily.  The villain is a gangster named Dr. Mixxo, who is out to steal a fur shipment.

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Tex winds up getting captured by Mixxo, and Bob Daley once again shows himself to be completely useless.  It’s Miss X who saves Tex, though she remains stand-offish towards him.  She never returns, and neither does Janice/Peggy Maloney.  Despite Tex’s comment last issue that he knows who Miss X is, there is never any reveal of her identity.  A poorly dropped plot thread.

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The Tigress returns, working with another magician to commit a series of murders using a poisonous insect in this story, by Gardner Fox, with art by Joseph Sulman.

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The Tigress’ new magician is never named.  He is clearly just some dupe she picked up along the way, probably hoping he would serve as a defense against Zatara.  There seems little of the comraderie that used to exist between Zatara and the Tigress in this issue.  Indeed, Zatara insists she be sent to prison at the end of the story, instead of letting her go, as he often did in the past.  Zatara claims that her crime of murder demands punishment, but he let her go once before after she was part of a murder scheme.  Nope,this is jealousy on Zatara’s part.  How dare the Tigress work with a rival magician?

 

Action 26 – Superman and the Cobalt Clinic, Pep Morgan in Canada, the Black Pirate tells his story, Tex Thompson meets Miss X, Clip Carson in Canada, and Zatara in Alaska

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If Superman still can’t fly, then he has leaped higher than skyscrapers with the two thugs on the cover of Action 26 (July 1940).  No wonder they look so scared.

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The story is by Jerry Siegel, but the art is by Paul Cassidy and Paul Lauretta.  The story deals with a phony doctor and his Cobalt Clinic. promising a cure for infantile paralysis.

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Much of this story has Superman frantically going from place to place.  He has been captured as Clark Kent, and keeps heading back to maintain that fiction.  Between those times, he frees Lois Lane from Cobalt, takes down the quack and his men, get help for some of his patients, and keeps checking in with George Taylor at the Daily Planet.

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Superman also displays a new ability – speed reading, and memorization of what he reads.

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Fred Guardineer sends Pep Morgan into “the Saskatchewan district” of Canada for this story.  It’s all the same things one sees in Canada stories. Snow, trees, polar bears, guys named Pierre.  No Mounties though.

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Pep fights off a bear, and performs other heroic acts, but I have deep suspicions about this story.  I think it might just be another lie to explain his time in Florida.  Aside from the reference to the Saskatchewan district, which makes me think that he has not really been to Saskatchewan, the fact that the story just shakes out all the old expected stereotypes makes it sound even more like something Pep made up.

But there is a reference to a red flag on a cabin signalling a plague.  It’s not so much that that adds realism, as that it will pop up again, in this very issue!

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Moldoff gives a happy ending to the first adventure of the Black Pirate. The mystery ship is on Jon Valor’s side, and he returns to Savannah.

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Jon rides to a small inland town, and stops at an inn.  There he finds Jeanne, his love, and friend since childhood.  He regales her with his battle against Captain Ruff, and neither sees a cloaked figure enter the inn.

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As od this issue, Gargantua is gone.  We learn that he has enlisted with the French army as a cook, and that he is of Senegalese descent (meant to explain why he did such a thing).  While I was glad to see the last of him, this story was cover-dated July of 1940, meaning Gargantua joined the French army just in time for the Nazi invasion of France.

In this issue Bailey also introduces Special Prosecutor Maloney, who swears Tex and Bob in as agents reporting directly to him, needing their skills to help fight a crime wave.  Tex infiltrates the main gang, discovering that their leader is the supposedly honourable Vander Wallace.  Tex winds up shooting and killing Vander Wallace as he gives a public address, the audience completely unaware of Wallace’s criminal ties.  One would expect this to have some major repercussions, but Maloney is content to keep Tex and Bob as his staff.

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This story also introduces Miss X, a woman with knowledge of the mob, who sometimes seems to be working with them, but who also acts to protect or aid Tex.  Both Maloney and Miss X will return for the next few issues.

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Clip heads to New York City in this Moldoff story, and from there to Canada to help Miss Trent find her missing father.  The man had discovered a mine in “Hudson Bay country,” but been captured by evil Metis claim jumper Jacques Frontenac.

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Oh, look.  Snow, trees, french people and wild animals.  It must be Canada.  But “Hudson’s Bay country?”  In the same issue with “the Saskatchewan district,” nonetheless.  Do they actually have any real maps of Canada in the US?

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By the time one reaches the Zatara story by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer, one has to wonder if there was an attempt by the editor to create a theme issue.  Cause Zatara is surrounded by snow, trees, and french people.  There’s even a red plague flag on a cabin!  But a mention towards the end of the story of the city of Nome makes it clear this gold mine story takes place in Alaska.

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It stands above the other two, simply because Zatara turns his own airplane into a battling, flying robot to stop the claim jumpers.

Action 25 – Superman vs a hypnotist, Pep Morgan at sea, the Black Pirate captured, Tex Thompson and the amnesiac, Clip Carson defeats the rebels and Zatara vs Asmodeus

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Once again, the cover of Action 25 (June 1940) appears to show Superman in flight, before the stories themselves acknowledge this ability.

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Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy helm this tale, which begins with a bank robbery by thieves with no recollection of the events.

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Lois Lane mentions a psychic and hypnotist to Clark, Medini, whom she is going to consult, in order to find out Superman’s secret identity.  Ironically, that’s the same information Medini is trying to extract from her.

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Superman confronts Medini, who uses hypnosis to paralyze him.  Once Medini has gone, Superman’s powers begin to return, but he lacks complete control over his abilities until he jumps high into the stratosphere, which removes the effects of the hypnosis.  Pondering this sequence, it would seem that Medini must actually possess some degree of mystical powers, as only magic would be able to have such an extended effect on the hero.

Once his powers are back, Superman quickly dispenses of this one-shot villain.

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With this issue, Guradineer has Pep travelling to England as a war correspondent, despite having no experience or training in this field whatsoever.  But that is only the first odd thing about this tale.

After not only the ship Pep is on gets torpedoed, but the rescue ship as well, the lifeboat capsizes.  Pep swims around tirelessly saving people until the sub surfaces and they are brought on board.  Despite being an American kid and not in the military, Pep is brought before the sub`s commander, and manages to get his gun from him and single-handedly take over the sub.

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The commander of the sub wears a white uniform, which I thought was odd.  As they are showing England at war, why would they not depict the Nazis as they appeared?

Then it become clear.  The art “error” is our clue to confirm that this story is a preposterous tale – this is the story Pep told people to explain why he left for a while, rather than telling them the truth about his dismal Florida tryout.

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Sheldon Moldoff continues the Black Pirate’s adventures, as he falls into the hands of the angry Captain Ruff, who demands to know where Jon Valor hid his treasure.

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The Black Pirate breaks free, and sets fire to Captain Ruff’s ship.  Everyone winds up in shark-infested waters, ass the Black Pirate heads for a mysterious ship he saw on the horizon.

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Gargantua T. Potts makes his final appearance in this Baily story, spending some time with Tex and Bob Daley at Tex’s camp in Maine, Golden Gates.

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They encounter a mysterious amnesiac, being pursued by gangsters.  For a few panels it looks like Gargantua will be the one to save the day, but again he is reduced to racist comic relief.  I’m just so glad this character is being dropped, it’s worth mentioning his final tale.

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Moldoff winds up Clip Carson’s Verdania adventure in this issue.

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Surprisingly, for the era, the rebels turn out to be financed by an American oil man, trying to manipulate the situation in the country for his own benefit.

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The final panel, the hanging of the revolutionaries, is coloured so darkly, it’s almost in silhouette.  But it does add a very somber tone.

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Zatara faces off against Asmodeus, a powerful villain who uses science and magic against the hero, in this story by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer.

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The Tigress also returns in this story.  She is working for Asmodeus, but winds up being of very little assistance, as Zatara draws the villain’s plans and location from her mind, before shrinking her to doll size to keep her out of trouble.

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Asmodeus makes a really good villain for Zatara, and the battle between them easily carries the few pages that it lasts.  It’s a shame this villain never made a return.

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