Posts tagged ‘Tex Thompson’

Action 55 – Superman and L’il Abner, and Americommando in Berlin

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Superman helps build an airplane on the cover of Action 55 (Dec. 42), but has a lot more fun inside.

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Siegel, Sikela and Dobrotka go for a change of pace with this issue, as Superman deals with characters based on those from the comic strip L’il Abner, as well as an artist based on Al Capp.

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Al Hatt is a newspaper cartoonist for the Daily Planet, who has run out of ideas for his strip.  He heads out to a cabin in the country, and gets distracted by the romantic antics of a young hillbilly couple – clearly based on L’il Abner and Daisy Mae.

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He begins a strip about them in the Planet, which becomes a huge success.  The story then plays off the biggest tease in the original series at the time – Daisy Mae’s attempts to marry L’il Abner, and the readership rooting for it.

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Just as in the original series, an evil woman is brought to lure the boy away, and other detriments are caused by those who are working against the cartoonist.  It’s an incredibly silly tale, but a lot of fun, and really immersed in the source material.  Siegel was clearly a big fan.

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Green and Baily send Americommando on his first mission in this issue.  He arrives in Berlin, and hooks up with the local resistance, and adopts his identity as Gestapo captain Otto Riker.

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The disguise proves difficult right from the start, as the resistance leader is arrested, and Tex has to stand by and allow the execution.

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He gets into his Americommando garb (which just happens to be exactly the same as his Mr. America garb), and swoops in to rescue the man just before he is killed.  It’s a triumph, of sorts.  While he hasn’t exactly blown his cover, he has alerted the Germans that an American agent is among them.

Action 54 – Superman vs Captain Ironfist, the Three Aces identify aircraft, Americommando gets his commission, and Congo Bill in Central America

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Great World War 2 cover for Superman on Action 54 (Nov. 42).

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The story, by Siegel and Sikela, even maintains the maritime theme, if not the actual watercraft or enemy.  Captain Ironfist is the villain of the issue, a really interesting creation.

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The story spends a long time setting up Stanley Finchcomb, obsessed with his pirate ancestor since childhood.  The ghost of Ironfist possesses him, and sets him on a life of crime.

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Although he captains a sailing ship, he forces his men to take over steamers.  They succeed, though I wonder how they manage to board the much larger ships.  Captured Lois rescued is and be must.

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Ironfist is not ultimately defeated by Superman, but by the ghost of Stanley’s father, for bringing shame on the family name.  Stanley dies, and presumably ends the line of descent, as Ironfist never appears again.  His supernatural nature could have made him a really interesting villain.

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The Three Aces story in this issue continues to see the flyers fighting the Japanese in the Asian sphere.

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The story makes a point of teaching the reader about the Japanese Nakajima plane, and the Allied Wildcat fighter, as well as explaining a fair bit of the lingo pilots used.  The fact that the Japanese plane is credited as “highly maneuverable” while being slower than the US planes I found a striking bit of honesty at this time of patriotic propaganda.

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With this issue the series truly does become Americommando. It is also by far my favourite story out of Tex Thompson’s entire run.  Joseph Greene scripted this Bernard Baily tale.

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Tex is secretly brought to FDR himself, and ordered to undergo extensive training to become the Americommando, proficient with all weaponry, able to pilot planes and tanks, and multilingual.  Bob is requested to stay behind and fight crime as Fat Man, and this is his final appearance, unless one considers The Golden Age miniseries from the mid-90s as canonical.  Which I do, despite the Elseworlds label on it.

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The training sequence is well done, with Mr America’s spinning head helping to convey the massive chore in the brief time span.

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The last panel on the page above is duplicated in two other stories, both by Roy Thomas.  The scene is shown as part of the Mr. America story in Secret Origins, and later shown in an expanded form in the pages of Young All-Stars.  Various heroes are added to the shadowy group saluting him.

To Tex’s surprise, his first mission is to impersonate a German officer, and the story ends with him being flown in, to be dropped behind enemy lines.

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Joe Samachson and Edwin Small take the reins of the Congo Bill series with this issue, and his wartime adventures abruptly end.  Now, he is in Central America, of all places.

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Bill deals with an unknown tribe and a secret idol.  The tribe’s leader is really a white explorer who has been hording the gold for himself. Not a great story.

 

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 43 – Superman and the plane crashes, Vigilante meets Billy Gunn, and Mr America fights giant puppets

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Superman fights the Nazis on the cover of Action 43 (Dec. 41).  And though one might associate the cover date with the US entry into the war,in fact this book was printed and on sale in mid-October of the year.

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The Superman story in this issue, by Jerry Siegel, Leo Nowak and Ed Dobrotka, is average.  Lois Lane is sent out to write a story about an airline whose planes keep crashing.  Superman follows, to rescue her periodically.

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He gets into his Clark Kent clothes, claiming to have followed her.  This happens largely so that they can be captured and bound together, to make it difficult for Superman to get away.  But the scene ends in a lame cop-out, as Lois knocks herself out, banging her head while trying to escape.

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The Vigilante story, by Mort and Mort (Weisinger and Meskin) is much more fun.  It introduces a villain, the Shade, who is not the same as the later, and more famous, Flash villain.  He does spend most of his time in the dark, and seems to have the power to disappear.

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The Shade is pursuing an old man, Billy Gunn, although Gunn has no idea who the Shade is, or why he is after him.

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Billy Gunn mets Greg Sanders while appearing on a gong show that he is hosting.  Gunn gets gonged fast, and Greg feels sorry for him.  That woman next to him is Betty Stuart, Greg’s girlfriend, who was actually introduced in his first story, but I forgot about her.

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Although Billy Gunn dresses and talks like a cowboy, he is an easterner, who just admires the west.  Still, when Vigilante gets captured by the Shade, it’s Billy who comes to his rescue, and sticks around, becoming his sidekick.

Billy had inherited a mine, and the Shade had been out to kill him and get it.

The Shade returns in the next issue.

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Mr. America and Fat Man fight giant puppets in this story by Fitch and Baily.  It’s actually quite a bit better than the previous sentence would imply.

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Bob learn that Tex knows his identity in this story.  Which is good, because Tex is not a total idiot.  It is also the final appearance of the flying cape.  Tex uses it to escape from German agents who have been sabotaging factories, making it fly while it is still around his neck.  Although he does get away, I think it likely caused some major neck strain, probably why he retired it.

 

Action 42 – Superman and the city in the sky, the Vigilante debuts, the Black Pirate ends, and Fat Man joins Mr America

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A fairly generic Superman cover for Action 42 (Nov. 41).

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Jerry Siegel and Leo Nowak provide a very non-generic story for Superman on the inside.  A number of prominent men go missing in Metropolis, which Clark covers for the Daily Planet.

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Perry White approves of the series, and Jimmy Olsen makes a small cameo.  Superman has some theories as to who is behind the kidnappings, but the trail keeps ending when his suspects keep getting killed by beams coming down from the sky.  Sergeant Casey is also on the case, with no idea what is going on.

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Things only start to move towards an explanation when Clark Kent gets grabbed, and taken up to a city floating high in the stratosphere, ruled by an alien, Zytal.  Clark’s articles made him worthy of being collected. Zytal’s intention of collecting people from different worlds in a search for knowledge vaguely resembles Brainiac’s motivation, many years down the road.

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But Zytal is really Luthor in disguise.  He manages to use electricity to not only paralyze Superman, but also put him under Luthor’s mental control for a while.  This is when he puts Lois in danger.  Cause Lois always has to be in danger at some point in the tale.  Superman breaks free, and rescues the people from the city, although Luthor seemingly jumps to his death.

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Mort Weisinger and Mort Meskin introduce a really successful blend of the western and superhero genres in this issue, with the Vigilante.  A modern day cowboy who fights crime in the big city, his first case centres on a supposedly executed felon, whose death was faked.

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Vigilante’s origin is covered briefly.  Greg Sanders was the soon of a sheriff, who taught him gunslinging and gave him his taste for justice.  After his father was murdered, Greg adopted the guise of the masked Vigilante.  In his everyday life, he is a country music singer.

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Meskin’s art is extremely dynamic, and the story is fun to read.

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Sheldon Moldoff ends the Black Pirate’s run in Action with a really quick, but mediocre tale.

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Jon spots a man adrift, and takes him on board, though Bonnie harbours doubts about him.  Once again, Bonnie is dead on, as the man is working with others to take over Valor’s ship.  The Black Pirate defeats him. From here, the series moves over to join the starting line-up on the new Sensation Comics.

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Sidekicks are popular, right?  So the Mr America series could only be improved by introducing a sidekick, right?

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In this story, by Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily,  Bob Daley decides to take on a masked identity of his own.  He puts on long red underwear and a lampshade on his head, and armed with a broom and a squirt gun of ink, takes to the streets as Fat Man.

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Tex has no idea of Fat Man’s identity at first, he has been busy in his secret cabin/laboratory in the woods making his cape function as a flying carpet.  Together they face the Queen Bee, the first of many DC villainesses to use that name.  The Queen Bee returns later in the run.  So does Fat Man.  Sadly.

Action 38 – Superman gets arrested, Pep Morgan hunts down kidnappers, the Black Pirate runs into an old friend, the Three Aces loot Atlantis, and Mr America vs the Gorrah

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Lots of stories to talk about in Action 38 (July 1941), so I’m not even going to banter about the cover.

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Jerry Siegel, Leo Nowak and Ed Dobrotka dish out a Superman story that gives Sergeant Casey a run for his money.

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People are committing crimes with no memory of having done so.  The police are run ragged, and have no idea what is behind the rash of thefts.  Sergeant Casey and Lois Lane get locked in a bank vault, and though Superman rescues them, his presence at so many crimes scenes prompts Casey to arrest him – or at least try to.

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Superman gets away, but then Casey decides that Clark Kent must be behind it, following similar reasoning.  Although not named, Jimmy Olsen cameos in one panel, looking more like himself.

Both as Clark and Superman, our hero must evade the police, until he figures out that the man behind it all is using radio waves to take over people’s minds.

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George Papp puts Pep Morgan through the ringer in this story, when Slim gets kidnapped. His wealthy uncle whines about not having the cash on hand to pay the ransom, so Pep decides to fake out the kidnappers and rescue his friend himself.

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Pep succeeds, and is reunited with Slim. The final panel shows them back in their college dorm, happily bantering.  Aww.

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After skipping last issue (because of a boring Atlantic crossing), Jon Valor lands to rest and restock before continuing on to Barcelona.  Docked alongside him is the ship of Don De Avila, an old friend of the Black Pirate, who has fallen out of favour with the crown.

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Don and Jon are happy to run into each other, and De Avila invites his friend to a banquet that night. Bonnie has misgivings, fearing that De Avila intends to imprison the Black Pirate, and turn him over for the reward, but Jon trusts in his friend.

He shouldn’t.

Nicely ominous ending, the walls of the castle.  The story continues in the next issue.

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The Three Aces continue their trip into Atlantis in this story.

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It reminds me a bit of Jack and the Beanstalk. Our heroes steal radium from the underground city, attack its leaders and leave the palace in ruins.  Hurrah!  Some triumph.

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Although the Mr America series pits Tex largely against spies and saboteurs right now, the Gorrah makes his final appearance in this issue, working with Nazi agents, in this story by Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily. The Gorrah betrays them in the end, preferring to pursue his goal of vengeance over their plot against the army.

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At first Gorrah believes Tex to have died, and is out to kill Bob, but he learns the truth, and the identity of Mr. America, just before perishing in the explosion intended for a educator’s convention.  It’s really odd to see the one-eyed character dressed in an ordinary suit.

Action 33 – Clark Kent becomes a lumberjack, Black Pirate has a drink, and Tex Thompson becomes Mr. America

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The growing boom of super-heroes hits Action Comics with issue 33 (Feb. 41), as Superman is no longer the only masked hero in the book.

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Siegel and Burnley open the issue with a story about a lumber millionaire, who intends to leave his fortune to fund a home for underprivileged youth.  He gets murdered, and though it is fairly simple to figure out that his assistant is behind it, the story carries itself along well.

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Perry White makes his first appearance, although one might note that he looks very much like George Taylor has come to look.  And though both Taylor and the Daily Star had ceased to appear by the end of 1941, they would retroactively become defining features of the Earth-2 Superman, and return decades down the road.

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Lois and Clark head out to the lumber camp to investigate the murder.  Clark takes on a job as a lumberjack, while Lois becomes a camp cook.  The camp is plagued by “accidents,” and while Clark easily survives these, Lois winds up once again in deadly danger, and must be rescued.

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The Black Pirate gets a bit of a rest in this Moldoff story.  The Queen of the Seas stays in his mind, and he hopes to encounter her again.

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He doesn’t put much effort into it, though, preferring to hang out at an inn with his men and drink.  Meanwhile, the Queen of the Seas takes on an Asian junk, and loses.  She gets captured.  And though Jon Valor cannot possibly know this, he sets out in search of her anyway as the story ends.

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Tex Thomspn resigns from Maloney’s staff when he is given a special assignment by the war relief commission, to accompany a ship across the Atlantic, and prevent a plot to blow it up.  He fails at that, the ship gets sunk and Tex is believed dead.  Later, a black haired man wearing a red cape, white shirt and blue trousers, a domino mask and carrying a whip tracks down those behind the explosion and brings them to justice.  He calls himself Mr. America, but Bob almost immediately recognizes him as Tex.

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Tex decides to maintain the Mr. America identity, for some reason feeling that it’s important that the world believe Tex Thomson to have died when the ship sunk.  In reality, of course, this simply reflects the growing popularity of costumed heroes.  And the change in Bernard Baily’s series is really just on the surface.  With no powers, there is little that makes a Mr. America story different than a Tex Thompson one.

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