Friday, August 31, 2018

Altered to Meet the Code

Baffling Mysteries #25 (Ace, July 1955, 10 cents)
The four stories included in this Golden Age reprint book are all seven pages long, apparently a standard page count. The first piece, "Riddle of Pete Dunn's Last Fight," was drawn by Jim McLaughlin and originally appeared in The Beyond #6 four years prior. Following the death of his wife, the ghost of a boxer returns from the grave to win a championship bout.

"Mark of the Cat" first appeared three years earlier as "Mark of the Sinister Cat" in Web of Mystery #7, drawn by Lou Cameron and Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio. It was slightly redrawn to meet the terms of the Comics Code Authority.

The third story, "Flee the Other Self" was drawn by Ken Rice for The Hand of Fate #9. It's a cautionary tale warning against taking advantage of the people you're closest to—and trying to escape your fate. This story, too, was redrawn to better meet the Code. The character Fate was replaced with another figure drawn by Louis Zansky, and word balloons originally typeset in Leroy were hand lettered.

Rounding out the issue, "Night of Strangeness" was drawn by Gene Colan for Baffling Mysteries #5 four years prior. Also altered to meet the Code, the piece highlights a productive mine vein discovered with the help of the victims of a cave in 10 years earlier. Talk about ghostly prospects! Colan's art is occasionally goofily cartoony, reminding me of Jack Cole in some panels. A highlight of the issue.

There's also a one-page "Baffling Mysteries #4" about a ghostly bird, as well as a three-page text piece, "Secrets Behind the Bloodstains." The issue also includes a statement of ownership that indicates no print run or circulation data. Frustrating!

Availability: The original Baffling Mysteries series has been collected in two volumes: Baffling Mysteries - Volume 1 and Baffling Mysteries - Volume 2. The Beyond has also been collected. So has Web of Mystery and The Hand of Fate.

Cutting Corners

Crime Must Pay the Penalty #17 (Ace, December 1950, 10 cents)
This coverless comic includes several seven- and eight-page crime stories. The first piece, "Crimson Blades of Doom," is uncredited and details "an actual case" about Al Lewis, who "always collected his cut!" Deserting his friends, he sells bookies protection, to fund his own gambling losses. Eventually, his deceitful ways catch up with him.

"Crime—and the Country Cousins," perhaps drawn by Mike Sekowsky and Vince Alascia, is another "actual case." Two rural relatives begin running moonshine, interfering with the "booze racket" in "a large eastern city." Their entrepreneurialism doesn't go well for them, and they both die in a fire caused by "vats of inflammable liquid."

The third story, "Oscar Riddle—Scrooge of the Underworld," might have been drawn by Bill Walton. One of the more interesting stories in the issue, this piece proposes that if you lead a criminal organization, cutting corners as a businessman won't pay off. So don't ration your heavies' ammo, dig?

And "Thrill-Crazed Triggerman," perhaps drawn by Louis Zansky, involves the highjack of a tank, the robbery of a bank, and a singing criminal mastermind who—you guessed it—dies in the end. A two-page text piece, "Flowers for a Grave," is an inventive little mystery that features some flowers planted graveside that can detect the cause of death.

Availability: The first six issues of this series have been collected in Crime Must Pay The Penalty: Volume 1. This issue is included in Crime Must Pay The Penalty: Volume 3.

His Robot Brainchild

The Beverly Hillbillies #10 (Dell, July-September 1965, 10 cents)
Supposedly sporting a Gene Colan cover, this television tie-in comic features a three-part, issue-length story, as well as a one-page strip, a text piece, and a Farm Boy back-up story. The main piece, comprising the seven- to 10-page sections "My Son, the Monster," "The Rufus Rumpus," and "Raising the Rufus," was written by D.J. Arneson and drawn by Henry Scarpelli.

The sequence details the story of the Clampett family taking in a lodger while their parent goes on a trip. Professor Dyno leaves his robot brainchild with the family because "I can't leave him in my workshop. He gets so lonely!" Rufus proves quite helpful, retrieving a football from some electrical wires for Elly and Jethro before falling into the pool and seizing up. The Clampetts try to revive the bot using oil and "good old mountain tonic," which does the trick.

Rufus dances with some appliances and frightens the locals when he goes to the supermarket with Granny. He accidentally hits Granny with a football and wanders off, alarming a neighboring family—the Drysdales—at the dinner table. When the police arrive, they accidentally hit Rufus with their patrol car, destroying him. The family does their best to repair him before Professor Dyno returns.

Not having watched a lot of The Beverly Hillbillies, I'm not sure how true the tone or pacing of the comic is to the TV program. I tend to be skeptical of tie-in books. This issue in particular seems focused on accomplishing something the producers might not have been able to do on TV—feature a robot—but I can actually see most of this done with rudimentary practical effects like cardboard and paint. And I can hear the laugh track in response to some of the gags.

The one-page gag opening the issue—in black and white rather than color—features a monkey named Skipper making breakfast. The one-page text piece, "The New Friend," tells the tale of a "ten-year-old with  chauffeured limousine" who finds the true meaning of friendship after getting a black eye from a new friend. And the Farm Boy back up, "How Now, Brown Sow," looks at potential prize sow Sarah and the ruckus raised at a rodeo. Farm Boy was a regular back up in this series in 1965-66.

Availability: The first four issues of this series have been collected in TV Classics: Classic Comics Library #37. The first season of the TV show (as well as subsequent seasons) is available on DVD.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Hope for Hunting

Beep Beep the Road Runner #22 (Gold Key, February 1971, 15 cents)
"The Conked Condor" In this six-page uncredited story, Wile E. Coyote is trying to "bop" himself a road runner by launching boulders at them. Instead, he hits a condor, which lands in a cactus before meeting Road Runner and his three children. The condor "can't get started from flat ground," so he can't fly away from Wile E., who catches him. The road runners, however, free him.

"Lost and Frown'd" On a very windy day, Road Runner and his children find a wallet belonging to R.J. Jaye of 123 June St. They go to town to return it to him, byt Wile E. Coyote ambushes them. Jaye discovers Wile E. picking his wallet up off the stoop. "Did you say a wallet-stealing coyote?" "The worst kind!"

"Slippery Target" This four-page Cool Cat story features a hunter who slips in the morning dew, spiked shoes from the "Hope for Hunting" chest, a foot chase, and a gun that needs loading. In the end, Cool Cat escapes slipping and sliding around in the hunter's old shoes.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Apocalypse War

2000 AD #266 (IPC; May 29, 1982; 16p)
There's not much better than reading Judge Dredd on newsprint. Before British comics like Eagle and this title moved to thinner glossy paper, this was standard comics format in England. The paper has aged pretty well, which makes for a wonderful color printing palette 36 years on. Most of the issue, though, is black and white, and in heavier-inked stories, that can get a little muddled on newsprint (especially in the Dredd installment). Regardless, the aesthetics of reading this is a grand experience.

Sam Slade: Robo Hunter—five pages, Script Robot: Alan Grant, Art Robot: Ian Gibson, Lettering Robot: Steve Potter. "The Filby Case, Part 1" After stalling his landlord behind on rent payments, Slade is accosted by three burly robots who warn him off the Filby case. Only thing is, Slade isn't working on a case involving anyone named Filby. Then two droids from Special Branch question him about the Filby case, of which he knows nothing. A mobster named East-End Ernie also threatens Slade, asking him to pass information related to the case to him and his organization. And in the fourth to the last panel, Slade meets Filby! The story is clever and quick-paced, and the end result is similar to a Boy Scout skit such as "JC Penney" or "Biker Gang." Gibson's futuristic cityscapes and robot character designs are excellent. Quote of note: "Robo Goonie! Goonie Robo! Robo Robo! Goonie Goonie!"

Monday, August 20, 2018

Dennis the (British) Menace

Beano #3560 (DC Thomson; Nov. 13, 2010; £1.35)
When I was much younger, thanks to two generous pen pals, I became intrigued by British comic books. Other than the British Marvel reprints I could sometimes come across, purely British titles such as Beano and Eagle—and later, 2000 AD—reminded me more of Japanese manga than American comics. Though much thinner each issue than the Japanese news-pulp phone books, the British titles were anthology titles, featuring multiple shorter stories, often in serial form, and featuring different artists and writers. They were weekly. And you could subscribe by giving your newsagent a cut-out coupon that basically said, "Save me a copy every week." (This was before the direct market in the States, and before pull service, so it kind of blew my mind.)

Beano, the presumably most popular title mostly targeting younger boys, was doubly intriguing because it featured a character named Dennis the Menace. But not... our Dennis the Menace. While the American Dennis the Menace created by Hank Ketcham in the early '50s is a portly overalls-wearing all-American boy with a slingshot and nuclear family complete with working father and stay-at-home mother, later appearing on television—the British Dennis the Menace, with rugby shirt and mussed hair, is more along the lines of Donald Rooum's Wildcat comic strips appearing in the anarchist paper Freedom since 1980.