Posts tagged ‘Marco Polo’

Action 17 – The Ultra-Humanite sinks a ship, Pep Morgan on a ranch, Marco Polo ends, the Gorrah returns, and Zatara in Ophir

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It’s hard to tell whether the soldiers are more amazed at Superman, or the really strange looking tank that he is lifting on the cover of Action 17 (Oct. 39).  He not only gets the cover image this month, the bullet with his picture sticks around as well.

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Siegel and Shuster once again save the Ultra-Humanite for the last few pages of this story.  It begins with a ship sinking, and Superman heading out to help.

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Reporting on the disaster as Clark Kent, he learns that sabotage was responsible.

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Skipping ahead to the pay-off, the Ultra-Humanite was behind it.  Superman suspected him when he overheard a phone call, which did not pass through the telephone lines, but was beamed directly to the phone.  Superman actually had to lift up a receiver to listen in, though.  No super-hearing yet.

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It’s questionable whether the Ultra-Humanite ever makes a physical appearance in this story.  The person that talks to Superman is simply a projected image of him.

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Mr. Smith is so pleased with Pep that he asks him to come to the ranch, with him and his daughter.  Is Mr. Smith trying to set them up?  I certainly think so, reading everything I can into these stories.  Arriving at the ranch, they see one of the hands, Pedro, abusing the horses and fire him.  He vows vengeance, which will comprise the rest of the tale.  No time for romance.

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Pep saves Mary from a rattlesnake, shooting it.  Although honestly, Guardineer’s art makes it look like bullet misses the snake.  Maybe it dies of fright.  The Pedro starts shooting at them.  Later, he sets the cabin on fire.  This is one seriously disgruntled ex-exployee.

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Pep finally tackles Pedro.  It’s a good story, marred by the rendering of Pedro’s accent.

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The Adventures of Marco Polo end in this issue, without ever making it to Kublai Khan.

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Marco fled his abusive slave owner in the previous issue, and got lost.  He is rescued in this one, and treated kindly by a powerful man, who turns Polo’s former owner over to him.  The man starts to run, and that’s where the story cuts off.

Now, since we know what happened to Marco Polo, I think he caught the man, extracted the locations of his father and uncle, and they got back together, and figured it was time to move on to China.  They were so humiliated about being sold into slavery that Marco chose to just leave all of this out when he told his story to Rusticello.

Marco Polo appears in a variety of DC comics over the years, but never again gets his own series.

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Tex Thomspon heads to Istanbul in this story by Bernard Baily. He has been called in by the president of Turkey to oversee the safety of the Dardanelles.  Quite an honour!

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With Bob’s help, Tex disguises himself as a Turk, and that actually looks pretty good.  Gargantua is only in the first couple of pages, and that helps the story as well.

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The story then jumps back to the apparent death of the Gorrah a year or so ago, and shows how he survived, vowed vengeance on Tex, and eventually tracked him to Istanbul.  It’s really no surprise that the Gorrah is back, as he is shown by the logo.

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Tex spots the Gorrah, as he walks openly through the streets of Istanbul.  But then, nobody else reacts to seeing the one-eyed creature, so I guess he feels at home.  Tex has found a new sidekick, Ali Baba, who accompanies him as he follows the Gorrah – and walks right into a trap.  Tex’s make-up was not as good as it seemed.

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Zatara comes to aid of a young woman in distress in this tale by Fred Guardineer.  They are all on a ship bound for Europe, where Zatara is going on vacation.  In the late summer of 1939.  Because Zatara either never reads the news, or finds battlefields peaceful.

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Doesn’t much matter, they don’t make it to Europe anyway.  They are taken away to the magical city of Ophir.

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Sepat, the Queen of Ophir, wants the young woman so that she can drain the youth from her and regain hers.

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Zatara is kept from being all-powerful simply by tossing a blinding liquid into his eyes.  He has no eye wash spell, and must wait for a combination of sweat and tears to clear his eyes.  By then, the transformation has already happened.

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Zatara calls upon the power of the flame of Atlantis to reverse Sepat’s aging, and the two women return to their proper ages.

Sepat both flirts with Zatara, and threatens him.  You know they will meet again (because the narration in the last panel says so.)

 

 

 

Action 13 – Superman’s first villain, Scoop Scanlon ends, Pep sails for home, and Marco Polo goes on sale

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Superman gets the cover of Action 13 (June 1939), and the story itself, while not having a train rushing into a river, does have the first genuine villain, as opposed to ordinary criminal, that Superman would face.

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Siegel and Shuster begin the story much like the earlier ones.  A protection scam is being pulled on cab drivers, and Superman sets out to defend the little guy.

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It’s clear the character is not yet able to fly.  While pulling his standard scare-the-bad-guys jump around, the hood tries to break free, making Superman miss the edge of the building, and both plummet towards the ground. Superman manages to stop his fall by grabbing the side of the building.

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But aside from that, it all feels pretty standard.  The scam is broken up, the bad guys arrested, and Clark writes a story for the Daily Star all about it.  The story could easily end here – but it doesn’t.

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The final few pages see the men freed before they can reach prison.  Tracking them down, Superman meets their leader, a balding genius, whose frail body keeps him confined to a chair. He calls himself the Ultra-Humanite, and plans “domination of the world!!” in bold.

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The Ultra-Humanite clearly has no idea what he is dealing with in Superman, and tries to kill him with a buzz saw.  The saw blades shatter when they touch him, sending broken bits around the room.  In that scene, one can see a red-haired assistant to the Ultra-Humanite.  In the Generations miniserieses (a terrible word, but what else is the plural of miniseries?), John Byrne makes this man Lex Luthor.  Indeed, I see no reason it should not be, it helps give backstory to the character, something sorely lacking when he finally shows up.

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The Ultra-Humanite tries to escape by plane, but Superman just smashes it to bits.  He finds no trace of the villain, and wonders if the Ultra-Humanite really is dead.  He isn’t.  He’ll be back.

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Scoop Scanlon has his final story in this issue.  But rather than write it up the usual way, I feel somewhat inspired to share what I feel was the conversation he had with his editor, right after the events in this story.

Scoop:  Wow, boss, that was quite a case!

Editor:  Scoop, sit down.  We need to have a talk. I sent you to cover a wedding!  A wedding!  And what happens?  You don’t show up, you don’t call in.  You get all mixed up in some stupid story about cursed jewels from India, which is all a cover for a bunch of murders, and do you call the police?  Do you let them know about the murders?  No!  You steal a dead body!  You took a dead man and moved him somewhere and hid behind him to fake his voice and scared the crap out of the killer.  Call the cops in, Scoop!  This is not your job!  I don’t know what to do with you, I really don’t.  You were just shot, Scoop, you spent a month in the hospital getting over it.  You still shouldn’t be back at work.  I put you on the wedding story to keep you out of trouble, but I just can’t manage to do that.  I don’t want your blood on my hands.  You’re fired, Scoop.  Pack your bags.

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At which point Scoop pulls out his gun and shoots the editor, and then goes on a mad crazed shooting spree until he is gunned down by the police.

Which is why we never see Scoop Scanlon again.

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One issue after accepting the job of bodyguard to a dictator (which this issue openly calls the man), Pep Morgan packs up and heads back to the US in this Fred Guardineer story.  One can only assume the rebels have regrouped, and begun a deadly assault on the capitol, forcing him to flee.

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Pep is the only paying passenger on the voyage, but there is another.  A pirate captain, being brought back in the brig.  He gets free, and starts a mutiny on the ship.

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It’s kind of refreshing that Pep does not single handedly take down the mutineers.  Rather, he contacts the US navy, who intercept the ship with a destroyer.   But is it not unusual that Pep is so easily able to contact them?  Is this the first contact he had with the navy, or did his days in Latona (they only name the country once he is leaving it) give him connections in Naval Intelligence?

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As the Marco Polo story continues to deviate from the source book, it becomes a lot more action oriented.  And that’s the prime reason it deviates, really.

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The story still seems to be taking place in Persia, though they have continued east, and now seem to be around people who might look like Asian caricatures.  Very hard to nail down races in that sort of art style.  The Polos are captured and split up, sold in a slave market.

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This issue also features and ad for Superman 1.  This is just barely a year after the character debuted, and shows how wildly popular Superman was.  Up to this point, there had never been a comic book devoted entirely to one character.

Action 10 – Superman in jail, Scoop Scanlon in the mob, Marco Polo in Persia and Zatara in Mongolia

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A dynamic pose for Superman on the cover of Action 10 (March 1939), though the story itself has no relation to the picture.

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The image inside is far more important.  That rendering of Superman would be blown up and used as the cover for the first issue of his own book, later in the year.

Siegel and Shuster’s story takes us back into the realm of social commentary, and the horrifying conditions in some prisons.  I’ve seen the movie “I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang,” which deals with similar abuses, and may well have been an influence on this story.  Taylor gets a mysterious phone call at the Daily Star, and sends Clark out to investigate.

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Clark meets a chain gang fugitive, who shows off his awful bruises, and tells him about the torture in the camp.  Clark goes to the camp itself to question to question the warden.  He and his men browbeat Clark, and force him to lead them back to the escapee.

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Back at the Star, Clark is reviled for his actions.  Jimmy Olsen (not yet named, but now with red hair!) makes his second appearance.  Lois is even more contemptuous towards Clark than normal.  You can tell because her words are larger than normal.  Only when Clark is being yelled at by George Taylor does he come clean.  He intended the man to be taken back to prison, as they need evidence of the warden’s actions.  Clark intends to go undercover into the prison and get that proof.  Taylor is impressed.

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The story’s light-hearted moments are a little bizarre.  Basically, humour is found in the ease with which Superman endures the back breaking work and inhuman conditions the prisoners must suffer through.  But it works.

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Superman then puts the warden in his own hot box, and grabs the Governor, bringing him to witness a confession clearly extracted under threat of death.  The Governor yells “but, wait!” as Superman leaves, doubtless wanting to explain that the confession was meaningless.  The story Clark writes for the Daily Star was probably of more use in gaining a conviction.

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Wow, look at all that text.  Pages like this just beg to be read, don’t they?  Go on, I dare you.

Scoop Scanlon infiltrates the Larrowman gang, along with his faithful photographer Rusty, as this four part story continues.

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Scanlon, in disguise, shows off his remarkable shooting skills.  He ought to be skilled, for all the times this reporter pulls out his gun.  Rusty has no dicernable skills to merit inclusion in the gang, but he’s along for the ride anyway.

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At least, until the gang find his notes.  Rusty is assumed to be a cop, and Scoop is ordered to shoot him.  Which he does.  Just can’t resist that gun.

The story continues in the next issue.

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Marco Polo has an enjoyable one-issue adventure in this issue.  He and his family have been hanging out in Persia on their way east for the last few issues, and get invited to a wedding in this one.

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There is an attempted assassination of the prince getting married, and Polo helps get the man.  But the prince decides to spare him, as he can understand the man wanting to kill for the bride.  Which is kind of nice.  The art is a bit above the norm for this series as well.

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Zatara finds a book in Shanghai, which gives him information on the location of Genghis Khan’s treasure, in this story by Fred Guardineer.  The Tigress just happens to be close enough to overhear as Zatara explains his plans to Tong.

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Then it’s off to Mongolia.  Zatara tries to get more information out of a witch there, and does what I would call a Plastic Man impersonation, except there was no such character yet.

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Zatara breaches unbreachable gaps, endures challenges and battles Mongol hordes, all the while with Tigress tailing along behind, taking advantage of his work.

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Zatara finds the treasure, guarded by an immortal priestess, who will only turn it over if she is killed.  Zatara refuses, which is kind of surprising, but the Tigress is happy to oblige, and blasts the woman, who turns into a giant diamond as she perishes.

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They loot the treasure together, and Zatara turns it all into dried peas to make it easier to transport.  What happened to that flying spell?  Could have flown them and the treasure back.  He gives Tigress her share, and turns the rest over to the Explorer’s Club, keeping one chest for himself.  He makes the curious observation that he is wealthier than he’s ever been.  Ever dreamed might have sounded more emphatic.  Anyway, it’s certainly clear that Zatara will never have to worry about money again, and presumably neither will the Tigress.  She disappears for a while now, not returning for almost a year.

Action 6 – Superman gets merchandised, Marco Polo strays from the path, Tex Thompson and Captain Diablo, and Zatara and the Tigress in Egypt

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When taking photographs in a jungle, always be on the lookout for killer apes.  Not that any appear in Action 6 (Nov. 38), aside from the cover.

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Siegel and Shuster lead off this issue with a story about Superman merchandise.  That doesn’t sound too odd, until one considers that this is only the sixth appearance of the character, and must have been written and drawn before sales of the first issue could have been known.  There could not possibly have been any Superman merchandise on the market when this story came out.

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A man, introducing himself as Superman’s business manager, is raking in the bucks, selling his endoresements.  Clark is furious, but cannot openly do anything.  A young, blond boy appears in a couple of panels in this story.  Not named, this would retroactively be considered the first appearance of Jimmy Olsen.

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Lois and Clark have a severely disfunctional relationship.

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The Superman song is a hoot.  The story carries itself along for quite a while just riffing on the notion of Superman becoming so popular and widespread.  It would all come to pass, more or less, though there was no way Siegel and Shushter could possibly have envisioned it.

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The last few pages get down to the action, as the phony business manager hires a phony Superman.  Lois calls out the fake, which results in her being tossed out of a window.

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From being aggressive with Superman in the last issue, Lois is now pleading and begging.  How the mighty have fallen.  And Superman is just being coy with his “hands of fate” comment.  They see each other every day.

The final panel has Superman wearing his costume backwards, as far as I can tell.

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Marco Polo’s story begins to deviate from the source in this chapter. It’s bound to happen.  The original is a travelogue, not an adventure novel.

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As Marco battles slavers to rescue a sultry looking damsel in distress, I began to wonder if this was based on some other fictionalized version of Marco Polo, or if it was the writer’s creation. There was a Marco Polo film in 1938, with Cary Grant, but it’s plot line does not match that of the comic series.

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Bernard Bailey gives Tex Thompson a new enemy in this story, Captain Diablo.  He is a rebel in the region of the “Transolian Mountains,” wherever that might be.

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Tex is flying over it, and is forced down by Diablo.  They turn out to be virtually identical twins.

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The next step to the plot is obvious, Tex impersonates Daiblo in order to escape.  He then gets shot down by the government forces.

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The story ends on a cliffhanger, as Tex in now unable to convince the good guys that he is not Captain Diablo.  perhaps he ought to have removed the monocle.

The story concludes in the next issue.

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Zatara is preparing to leave Egypt, when he discovers that the Tigress is on her way there, in this Fred Guardineer story.

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She is out to steal an emerald from inside a pyramid.  Zatara tries to scare her off, using his magic to make her ugly.

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The Tigress is too tough to be scared off with a silly trick like that, but is shocked when they come across the living mummy of Cheops.

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Once again, Guardineer’s art improves when the story deals with the bizarre and unusual.  Zatara and the Tigress defeat Cheops, while the army he is leading wipe out and kill and entire city.  Zatara appears no more distressed at the huge loss of life than the Tigress does.

Action 3 – Superman helps the miners, Scoop Scanlon checks out a dance hall, Pep Morgan burns rubber, Marco Polo in the desert, Tex Thompson vs the Gorrah, and Zatara visits an escort agency

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It’s another generic image on the cover of Action 3 (Aug. 38), and a curious one at that.  I wonder what is upsetting the man so much?

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Superman appears for only one panel in costume in this story, by Siegel and Shuster, part of the first page of the story.  Clark hears about a mine collapse, rushes there as Superman, but then disguises himself as a miner, and stays that way for the bulk of the story.

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Unsafe working conditions are the basis of the tale, but once again, the social commentary is integral.  The mine owner spends his money on parties, instead of maintaining a safe workplace.  He and his friends get lured into moving their party down into the mine itself, and Superman causes a collapse.

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The lack of safety features now imperil the owners life, and the wealthy dilettantes have to try to dig their way out. Once Superman hears the owner admit he ought to improve things, he digs a tunnel and frees them all.

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Scoop Scanlon heads to check out a murder at a dance hall in this story.

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It really doesn’t take much to understand that the dance hall is a prostitution ring, even though that is never stated, or shown explicitly.

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The dance hall girl is part of the ring, not merely being used by them, as is common in stories of this kind.  She has no trouble pulling a gun on Scoop, but his photographer grabs her and saves the day.

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Pep Morgan has more problems with professional gamblers in this issue, as he shows off his skills as a race car driver.

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When he refuses to throw the race, the gamblers try to run him off the road.  Pep not only wins the race, but also causes the bad guys to crash their car.

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Marco Polo’s tale is continuing to adhere to the book.  The art is not the greatest, though.  The black cat’s night attack is a bit of a waste.

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What makes this installment worthy of inclusion is that it relates Polo and family getting trapped in a sandstorm in the desert.  This the Desert of Lop, and Neil Gaiman will also handle this episode in Polo’s life in the pages of Sandman.

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Bernard Bailey continues his story of Tex and Bob’s encounter with the Gorrah.  You may notice that the series itself spells his name Thomson, while I am insistently using Thompson.  Later continuity would add the “p” to his surname, and I am simply using it throughout for clarity.

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The Gorrah story is a bit confusing, with real and fake ones, and underground tribes.  But the Gorrah would be Tex’s main adversary throughout his run.

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The Gorrah appears to die, but as I just mentioned his status as an archenemy, you know he will return.  Bailey’s art is shockingly poor in this one, compared to his later work.

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Guardineer brings back the Tigress in Zatara’s adventure in this issue.

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She has been romancing wealthy men, getting them to put her in the will, and then killing them.  Not even bothering with the classic black widow marriage step.

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In a suggestive panel, Zatara heads to an escort service, and finds that the Tigress is employed by them.  They give him her location, probably figuring she could do two dates in one night.

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Zatara uses a “hypnotic stare” a few times in this story.  He teleports a dance hall girl to her home in this scene, and uses it to make villains see things that are not there later on.  With powers like these, it can hardly be a surprise that the Tigress’ plot gets foiled.

Action 1- Superman, Chuck Dawson, Zatara, Marco Polo, Scoop Scanlon and Tex Thompson debut, and Pep Morgan begins

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Action Comics 1 (June 1938) has been called one of the most important comic books ever printed.  It saw a number of characters debut, but one more than any other would affect not only comic books, but movies, television, and stage. Siegel and Shuster’s crowning achievement, Superman has been the longest consistently published character in history, yet there was no certainty of this when he first appeared.  There had never been a superhero.  The word didn’t even exist yet.  And it would take some time before sales proved that they had struck gold, and a new genre had been born.

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The story begins with a page of introduction, briefly mentioning a baby shot from a dying planet and coming to Earth.  The Kents do not even appear in this brief origin, and the “scientific explanation” of his powers is laughable.

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With the second page, we jump mid-stream into the tale. In fact, the first six pages of the story had been cut, but would be included when this story was reprinted in Superman 1.  You may notice the miscolouring of his boots.  In Superman 1, his boots are red for the first six pages, then revert back to blue, as coloured in this story.

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After saving an innocent man from execution, Superman changes into his identity as reporter Clark Kent, and visits his editor at the Daily Star.  Although not named as yet, this is George Taylor.

It is also worth noting that Superman goes out of his way to protect a woman being beaten by her husband.  A social conscience was part of this strip from the outset.

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Lois Lane works with Clark at the Star, writing “sob stories.”  He invites her on a date, but his determination to make Clark appear a weakling just rouses Lois’ contempt.

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Lois is abducted by some men from the club, but rescued by Superman, who she immediately falls for.

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The story, which continues in the next issue, ends with Superman terrorizing a pro-war lobbyist.  Superman cannot fly in this story.  He can jump, and runs along telephone wires, but lacking flight makes his trip with the lobbyist far more dangerous.

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Chuck Dawson follows the adventures of the son of Charles Dawson, a rancher who was killed and his land stolen during a Texas Range War.  He was sent to Wyoming to grow up with his uncle, but as the series begins heads back to Texas to avenge his father’s death and regain the family lands.

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As soon as he arrives in Red Gulch, trouble arises.  The sheriff wants him gone, as does Burwell, the owner of the 4-G Ranch, who now owns the disputed land.  Burwell has an awful lot of men at his command, and he just keeps sending them after Chuck.

This launches a serial that will run for the first 14 issues of the book.

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Zatara, Master Magician begins, by Fred Gaurdineer.  The character is a fairly blatant rip-off of Mandrake the Magician, a popular newspaper strip from the time.  Along with his assistant, Tong, Zatara prevents a train robbery by the Tigress and her men.

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The Tigress would return in a number of Zatara’s stories, as both enemy and ally.  And though the character was never revived past the Golden Age, her name has been adopted by a number of other DC women.

Zatara’s magical abilities are quite extensive at first, not limited to the backwards-speaking that would later become his trademark.

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The Adventures of Marco Polo begins, looking much like other novel adaptations.

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The first chapter, which gives some background before seeing Marco and his uncle head out on their journey to the East, follows the book itself fairly closely. This will change as the series goes on.

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Pep Morgan’s series, following the adventures of an all-round athlete, had ended a few months earlier in More Fun Comics, but begins anew in Action.  He appears to be a professional boxer in this story by Guardineer, though later tales would show him in college.

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His stories in Action Comics were longer than his More Fun tales, and allow for more complexity.  In this match, Pep faces a boxer who uses a drugged needle in his glove to overcome his opponents.  Pep still triumphs.

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Scoop Scanlon is a reporter for the Bulletin, in an unnamed, but large, American city.  He works with friend and photographer Rusty James.

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Reading his stories, you really have to wonder why he went into journalism, when Scoop clearly would prefer to be a policeman.  He carries a gun, which he is quick to use.  He had only fourteen stories in total, and in four of those he starts shootouts.

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More than any other series from this era, Tex Thompson would shift and change to reflect the prevailing interests.  This was Bernard Bailey’s second series for DC, and, like the Buccaneer, the art would improve rapidly.

Tex Thompson is a blond Texan, in England, who gets framed for murder. He proves his innocence with the aid of two young children.

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He wears a large stetson hat, which is distinct enough that one might think it will be his trademark. But it only appears in this issue.

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