Posts tagged ‘Zatara’

Action 141 – Luthor creates kryptonite, Tommy Tomorrow on Training World, and Zatara ends


Kryptonite is at the core of the Superman adventure in Action 141 (Feb. 50), the first, but not the last, time it appears in this book.


Alvin Schwartz, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye start the story off like many others.  Lex Luthor kidnaps Lois Lane, yawn, and in order to free her, Superman has to fly around retrieving unusual things that Luthor wants.


But what Luthor winds up making is a synthetic kryptonite.  The story briefly flashes back to the destruction of Krypton, and the creation of kryptonite, which had recently been told in more detail in the pages of Superman.  Although the stuff created by Luthor in this story is not real kryptonite, it’s close enough to be a major problem for Superman.


Luthor secretly gives Lois a pair of kryptonite laced gloves.  When Clark Kent collapses, Luthor believes he has trapped Superman.  Because, you know, he did.  But Clark uses judo on the bad guy, and he and Lois wind up thinking Clark faked the fall.

A piece of the synthetic kryptonite has gone missing by the end of the story.  It’s as if to say, don’t worry!  We will be using this again!  And again.  And again.  And again and again and again.


Tommy Tomorrow is sent to spy on some cadets about to complete their training in this Binder/Swan/Fischetti story.


It’s pretty straightforward, but the art is very nice.  And the concept of a “training world,” parts of which duplicate the environments of various worlds the Planeteers patrol, is a good one.


Zatara gets Joe Kubert on his final adventure, 141 issues after his series began. Since the introduction of Tommy Tomorrow, his strip had become only an occasional one, and even the end of this story implies there will be more down the line.


He goes out on a really silly little tale. A fight breaks out between two men, and spreads to take in much of the town.  Zatara uses his magic to get people to calm the fuck down.


In the end, the fight itself proves to be a simple misunderstanding.

Such an unexciting note to go out on.  But really, Zatara’s best days ended way back, when Guardineer left the strip.  Zatara would not appear again until the 60s, as the object of a multi-book quest by his daughter, Zatanna, in her introductory storyline.  But later down the road, he would have stories set between this point and then, as he was worked into the childhood of Superboy, in the pages of DC Comics Presents, and later, Batman, in his own book and Detective.

Despite the duration of this series, outlasting every other strip that debuted alongside Superman, Zatara would never again get a series, a one-shot, or even a solo story.  Anytime his origin is retold, it is done in conjunction with his famous daughter.


Action 130 – Superman meets Ann Blyth, Tommy Tomorrow discovers the 10th planet, and Zatara unseats a tyrant


Hollywood actress Ann Blyth appears in Action 130 (March 1949), playing herself, in a story by Al Plastino.


Best known for playing the thankless daughter in “Mildred Pierce,” for which she was nominated for an Oscar, this story ties in to a recent film she made, “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.”


Ann Blyth is in costume for this, when men in a mechanical octopus try to capture her.


Superman saves her, but Lois insists the entire thing was a publicity stunt.  Ann winds up in the bad guys hands a second time.  Essentially, she takes Lois Lane’s role in this story, poking around, finding the bad guys, getting captured and getting rescued.


No wonder Lois is so angry throughout this tale.


Binder, Swan and Fischetti advance the year of Tommy Tomorrow’s adventures to 1989 in this story, which deals with the search for the tenth planet.  Pluto had only been discovered in the early 1930s, and many people still believed there was another, undiscovered, large planet beyond it.


Tommy Tomorrow does, indeed, find this mysterious planet.  Although the surface is largely barren, there is a huge civilization living underground. They turn out to be Atlanteans, who fled Earth when their civilization sunk.


These people are not happy about their hidden world being discovered, and have plans to conquer the Earth.  Or so it’s stated.  Tommy prevents them from taking any action, sealing off their air supply and threatening to kill them all unless they sign a peace treaty.

Tommy muses at the end on how war has been eliminated. Because sealing off an air supply and threatening to kill everyone is so much better.


Zatara gets an entertaining story in this issue, by Samachson and White.  A company hires a former soldier, expecting he will bring his regimented ways to the office, increasing efficiency.  In fact, he quickly turns into a micro-managing tyrant, who loves inflicting punishments.


The company’s owner approaches Zatara after one of his charity shows, and gets him to come to the office.


The scene I really like has Zatara bring to life the medals the man wears, which expose him as a coward and impostor.



Action 119 – Clark Kent pretends to be Superman, Zatara powers up a piper, and Vigilante rides the jet-aquacycle


Edmond Hamilton and Win Mortimer tell an early version of a common tale, as Clark Kent has to pretend to be Superman, in Action 119 (April 1948).


A series of robberies using a helicopter are the crime motivating this tale.  Superman does not want Lois on the case, figuring it is too dangerous, and lies to her, saying he will be out of town, in hopes that this will discourage her.  After 10 years, you think he would know better.  Lois forces Clark to dress as Superman and accompany her, to scare away any dangerous men they encounter.  The difference in physique between Clark and Superman is addressed in this story, and explained by Superman’s super muscle-control.


Superman gets through the case through a mix of outright lies, and ingenuity. He manages to duplicate a few of his super-stunts right in front of Lois’ eyes, though she gains no admiration for Clark’s resourcefulness.  At the end, she simply condescends that Superman wouldn’t have needed to come up with his clever solutions.


Zatara’s story in this issue, by Samachson and White, is better than the series has been in a long time.


A broke but honest piper uses his music, and some concealed gas, to lure and capture some wanted men.  Zatara is impressed, and endows the man with the power to create “magic music.”  That’s kind of vague, and indeed, the music functions in a variety of ways, creating illusions, even transforming criminals into rats.


Zatara gives the man complete credit for the big criminal round up, and nothing indicates that these powers will wear off.


Don Cameron, Mort Meskin and George Roussos bring back the Rainbow Man for an adventure so demanding, it requires Vigilante to use BOTH his sidekicks!  Yes, Stuff and Billy Gunn, together at last!


To be fair, Stuff falls into the hands of the Rainbow Man right at the top of the story, so Billy Gunn gets most of the actual sidekick time in this tale.  Rainbow Man captures Stuff more or less at random.  He does not recognize the boy, which is very odd, considering how many encounters they have had, and  that Stuff wears no disguise.  Perhaps it’s just that Stuff has become increasingly white which throws him off.


Vigilante’s motorcycle shows itself to be as good as a sidekick, as it becomes a “jet-aquacycle” – capable of travelling on the water.


Rainbow Man? Some more colour crimes, of course, but he almost gets lost amid everything else in this tale.

As the underscript on the final page indicates, Vigilante is also now starring in a series in the new Western Comics.

Action 110 – Susie and Mother Goose, Zatara teaches safety, and Vigilante helps a “girl sheriff”, and gets a movie serial


Susie returns in the Ira Yarborough tale in Action 110 (July 1947), although the story does not have her usual theme of telling lies.


Lois tricks Clark into accompanying her and Susie to a Mother Goose show for children.  Susie gets bored and wanders off, and you can’t really blame her, the show looks awful.


Hoods are trying to rob the show, dressed in costume.  Between Superman’s efforts to stop them, and the fact that the audience thinks the robbery is just part of the show, they fail dismally.


One of the reasons I am including so few Zatara stories is that they have gone from being silly and jokey to preachy.


This story by Samachson and White is a perfect example.  Zatara is performing for a group of school children, and all his magic is dedicated to traffic safety.


As a kid I really hated any story that worked so obviously to push its message, and the magic just isn’t dramatic enough to carry it above the spoon-fed authority.


The Vigilante and Stuff are in the west again, at Benton City’s centennial, in this story by George Roussos.


The town elected the great-granddaughter of the founder as sheriff for the centennial year, but she is having a difficult time maintaining her status, as the criminals are trying to discredit her.  Although it is clearly unusual to have a female sheriff, she is shown to be fully capable of her duties.  Vigilante helps her out, but this is obviously meant to be a special case.


Stuff is looking a little less Chinese now, although he is still called the Chinatown Kid.  His odd hat, which was clearly meant to convey some sort of Chinese headgear, is nowhere in sight.  The Vigilante’s cycle has almost reached its classic state, although it’s a horrible green in this story.


The most awkward moment in the story comes when Stuff has to pull the badge off the sheriff’s ample chest, to use to cut them free.


The Vigilante serial was advertised in this issue.  Greg Sanders is made an actor, rather than a singer, and Stuff is made into a young, white adult.  The actor idea would not take hold on the comics, but Stuff’s race change would.



Action 81- Superman saves a theme park, Congo Bill is back in Canada, Stuff learns magic, and Zatara in Rio


A New Year’s cover on Action 81 (Feb. 45).  Considering that the end of World War 2 was in sight, the cover seems very appropriate.


Superman gets cast in another light-hearted but enjoyable story, by Ira Yarborough.


Superman helps a millionaire build Playland Isle, a theme park for children.  His heirs think it’s a waste of money. The millionaire promptly dies, although his body is not found.  The will disinherits the heirs, unless they can prove the theme park is dangerous.  Not too hard to see where this story is going.


Lois and Clark come to inspect the park, and Lois goes undercover as a little girl, in a hilarious disguise.  The heirs have hired goons to sabotage the park, although they come to regret their actions as the day goes on.


The most is made of both the park and Superman’s speed, as he defuses bombs on a variety of attractions, all timed to go off at once.


The park’s friendly Santa Claus turns out to to be the millionaire, who faked his death to teach his heirs the value of not blowing up theme parks, or something like that.


Congo Bill is back in Canada in this story by Ellsworth and Daly.  I think it’s set in what was then the Northwest Territories, although the story describes it as “Hudson’s Bay country.”


Congo Bill is pursuing diamond thieves, who performed the robbery in Toronto – the city is even named in the story!  Sometimes I have a problem with Congo Bill stories set far from Africa that make no use of the lead characters skills, but in this one he gets to show his abilities with a dogsled, so that works for me.


Samachson and Meskin give Stuff a more important role than usual in this issue.


Stuff has been learning magic tricks, which he entertains Greg Sanders with.  He hasn’t mastered it yet, and is better with card tricks than animals.


They go to an exhibition of lightweight, futuristic furniture, which is apparently so valuable it is worth stealing.  Vigilante and Stuff get captured, but Stuff shows that he has learned the first principle of magic, misdirection, and keeps the hoods entertained while Vigilante sneaks up behind them.


Later, Stuff manages to hold off half the gang, simply by entertaining them with card tricks, as Vigilante takes down the rest of the thieves.  A really good role for Stuff, and the magic tricks are well-used.


Zatara gets involved in a jewel smuggling plot in this story by Cameron and White.


Zatara is on a cruise down to Rio when the jewels go missing.  He suspects they have been tossed into the harbour, and heads down to retrieve them, winding up rescuing a man from an octopus with really emotive eyes.


Although Zatara appears to be underwater for most of the story, the water itself is “parting” around him, which explains why his top hat remains comfortably in place throughout the story.


Action 79 – Superman vs J Wilbur Wolfingham, the Fiddler teaches birds to sing, and a charm against Zatara?


J Wilbur Wolfingham, a frequent adversary in the pages of Superman, makes the cover of Action 79 (Dec. 44), the first time he appears in this book.


Sadly, it’s really not one of his better stories.  Don Cameron and Ira Yarborough seem to be going through the paces on this one.  Wolfingham buys up a lot of land, then convinces the seller that there is gold on the property, so they will buy it back at higher prices.


Superman outwits Wolfingham, and the land owners learn that there is silver, not gold, under their land.  And Wolfingham winds up broke, if not in prison.


Wolfingham is always a con artist, but usually a better one.  The look of his character is based on W.C. Fields.


Joe Samachson and Mort Meskin also seem a little tired in the Vigilante story.  The splash page is great, and the story idea itself is pretty good.


The Fiddler has figured out how to teach birds to sing like humans, and puts his teaching skills on the market.  He cases the homes of those who hire him – essentially the same set-up as when he impersonated the music teacher.


From there on, the story is all the usual formula.  Vigilante and Stuff fall into his hands.  Fiddler puts them in a deathtrap, from which they escape.  They defeat him and send him back to prison.


And finally, in this issue I find somewhat disappointing, comes a Zatara story by Fox and White that almost makes me angry.


A man claims to have figured out how to neutralize Zatara’s magic, and sells hoodlums a special box, containing the secret.  More amazingly, this winds up working, and the bad guys are indeed immune to Zatara’s spells.


Zatarais mystified, but shows off some other abilities, which he uses to make some deadly dogs turn into friendly and helpful allies.


Where this story gets me is the explanation.  The “secret” turns out to be ear plugs – and the idea behind this that if one cannot hear Zatara’s spells, they will have no effect. This makes absolutely no sense.  Often his spells are cast an inanimate objects, or on people at a distance, who could not possibly hear him.

Thankfully, this does not become Zatara’s “weakness.”

Action 77 – The Prankster’s newspaper stand, the Rainbow Man goes colour-blind, and Zatara vs Pan


Don Cameron and Ed Dobrotka give the Prankster one of his more devious schemes in Action 77 (Oct.44).


The Prankster takes over a newsstand in the business centre of town, and makes a deal with a failed entrepreneur.  The Prankster sells men fake copies of the Daily Planet, with news of the destruction of their factories or resources, and the businessman then quickly buys their company at a low price.


Of course, it’s not long before the Planet gets involved.  Lois Lane and Clark Kent both have their names attached to phony stories.  Superman figures out what has happened, but the Prankster has another twist to his plan, forcing his dupe to sell the companies to him for pennies, so the Prankster can then sell them back to their owners at hugely inflated rates.

Superman then steals what the Prankster has bought, making everything worthless again.  It takes a while, but Superman finally makes sure that everyone owns what they did at the start, and the Prankster is back in prison, for a few months at least.


Mort Meskin gives the Rainbow Man a really hard time in this month’s Vigilante story.


The Rainbow Man’s men take advantage of the lax security when their boss is taken to the hospital, and break him out.  Vigilante and Stuff learn from the doctor that the Rainbow Man really is quite sick, but doesn’t realize it.


In an enjoyable twist, Rainbow Man’s illness gives him colour-blindness.  Ignoring his own men’s objections, Rainbow Man wears a green suit to match others wearing red.  Vigilante spots him immediately, but wonders what his motive is in wearing the wrong colour.


Eventually Vigilante figures out the colour-blindness, but Rainbow Man basically does himself in, stopping his car at a green light, thinking that it’s red.


In the best Zatara story in a long, long time, Gardner Fox and William White pit the hero against the Greek god Pan. For his own amusement, Pan creates a coin that makes the owner’s every wish come true.  Pan ensures that the coin eventually winds up with criminals.


For a while now, Zatara has been casting complex spells simply by saying them normally, and the “be it so” backwards.  Kind of a cheap shortcut.


Still, Zatara does an impressive job outwitting Pan and the gang of thieves.

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