Posts tagged ‘Joseph Sulman’

Action 65 – Superman spends money, and Zatara wakes up sleepy actors

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Cameron, Dobrotka and Roussos combine Superman with the plot of the movie Brewster’s Millions in Action 65 (Oct. 43).

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A dying millionaire  has two possible heirs, a responsible lad, and a wastrel.  He leaves all his money to the good boy, on the condition that he spend a million dollars the first day. If he fails, the money will go to the other one.  The Daily Planet runs a story on this, which attracts Clark’s attention, and Superman decides to help the boy.

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It makes for an enjoyable, but lightweight tale.  The rival heir tries to sabotage the other boy, which gives Superman some criminal activity to fight.  But that’s really secondary to the plot.

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Fox and Sulman tell a story about a director who tries to inspire his student actors using masks conveying emotion in this Zatara story.

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By far the most striking thing in this tale, for me, is the row of emotion masks.  They get used by criminals who put sleeping powder in them to knock out the students, but that’s not the important thing.  They bear a distinct resemblance to the Medusa Masks, introduced in the 60s with the second Psycho-Pirate, in a story also written by Gardner Fox.

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So the masks may well be the same as the Medusa Masks, which makes the story painfully ironic.  The criminals had something extremely powerful in their hands, but no idea what they had.

Action 61 – Superman reveals his identity to Lois, the Fiddler returns, Congo Bill in Istanbul, and Zatara’s magic is duplicated

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It’s not a military cover on Action 61 (June 1943), but it’s not related to the story, either. Kind of a shame, as the cover is very effective.

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Jerry Siegel and Ed Dobrotka are behind this twisting and entertaining story.

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The story begins by introducing a wealthy young wastrel, Craig Shaw, who starts a fire at a nightclub for his own amusement.  Disaster is only averted by Superman. Lois and Clark were at the club, and Lois writes a scathing article about Shaw.

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Shaw is enchanted by Lois’ anger and outspokenness, no woman had ever talked to him that way before. They begin dating, as a worried Superman spies on Lois.  Shaw proposes marriage, and Lois accepts.

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This drives Superman near into a frenzy.  He decides to propose to Lois as well, as Clark.  And he reveals that he is Superman.  Lois refuses to believe him, and the story moves into slapstick, as Clark’s attempts to prove that he has powers keep backfiring on him.

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Then the situation gets even worse, as he discovers that Lois never had any interest in Shaw, and was just getting close to him for her story.  Shaw, meanwhile, proves himself to be much more criminal than anyone suspected.  Now Clark has to try to prove that he is NOT Superman, and winds up kidnapping and knocking out a man on the street in order to appear to be both men at once. Again, this type of story will be told many times in the future, but this early version is one of the best.

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The Fiddler returns to face the Vigilante again in this Cameron/Meskin/Paris story.

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This time the Fiddler accompanies his men to their crimes – no more need for subterfuge now that his identity is known.  He plays his music for inspiration and mood, rather than communicating instructions.

act_61_008 We discover that the Fiddler hates cats, and a howling kitten does a lot to help Vigilante and Stuff in this story.  Notice Vigilante’s motorcycle in the final panel.  This has become a much larger machine than it started out as.  There were no big dramatic changes with the cycle, more like small modifications from issue to issue, which will eventually create his famous cycle.

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There is another interesting deathtrap, an electric bed, which Vigilante and Stuff get tied to.  The cat proves critical to escaping it. The Fiddler returns a few months down the road.

act_61_010 Congo Bill has left Africa to fight the Nazis again, in this story by Samachason and Smalle.  Istanbul is the location for this tale.  Love the splash for the story.

act_61_011 The story itself is really a spy thriller, with Bill having to trap spies from the German embassy.  Not really any use of jungle skills or such.

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Gardner Fox and Joseph Sulman spread the powers around in this month’s Zatara story.

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A man, who must have particularly good hearing, realizes that Zatara is speaking backwards to cast his spells.  From having all manner of magic abilities early in his run, his repertoire has reduced and stabilized to the backwards talking by this point.  Still, it’s impressive that the man can figure this out simply by hearing Zatara.

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He tries the backwards speaking himself, and finds that it works sometimes, but not others.  His crime spree is not nearly as successful as he had hoped, and Zatara gets on his trail pretty fast.

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The story ends on a very odd panel, as Zatara explains why the man’s magic did not always work, an explanation that involves the man’s bugging eyes, and really makes very little sense.  Zatara has also used his magic to wipe the man’s mind of his secret.  Mind-wiping would seem to be a Zatara family trait.

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.

 

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?

 

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