Comic Book Review: The Superman Chronicles Volume One

Comic Book Review: The Superman Chronicles Volume One by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster

While there were several precursors to Superman, he’s generally agreed to be the first full-fledged comic book superhero.  Superhuman abilities, a distinctive costume, and a dual identity, he had them all.   When Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938, the readers had not seen anything quite like him before, and the comic book flew off the shelves.

The Superman Chronicles Volume One

However, the fellow who appeared in those early issues wasn’t quite the Superman we’ve come to know after all these years.  The “Chronicles” series of reprints gives us full-color reproductions of the stories in order of publication, starting with the very first, plus the covers of the issues.

Action Comics #1 starts us off right with the classic scene of Superman smashing a car into a rock, which turns out to actually happen in the story.   The feature begins with an abbreviated version of Superman’s origin.  The dying planet that sent a single rocketship to Earth (not yet named Krypton), a passing motorist (not yet identified as the Kents) who takes the infant to an orphanage, his growing powers (strength, speed, leaping, nigh-invulnerability) and his determination to use his powers to help those in need.  Clark Kent’s powers are explained by his physical structure being far more advanced than Earth humans, giving him the proportionate abilities of an ant or grasshopper.

The story itself starts in media res, as Superman carries a murderer to the governor’s mansion.  Leaving her tied up nearby, the Man of Steel forces himself past the governor’s servant, and through a metal door to that worthy’s bedroom.  He produces proof that the woman about to be executed is innocent, and stays right there until the governor pardons her.

The next day, Clark Kent is pleased to see that the Daily Star did not print anything about Superman’s involvement.  But the rumor of a superhuman fellow in a bright costume has already come to notice, and the Star’s city editor puts his rookie reporter Kent on the job of discovering the truth.

Kent learns of a wife-beating in progress, but it’s Superman who appears at the scene and roughs up the abusive husband.  The cad faints, and it’s Clark who greets the police.

Next, it’s time to establish the “mild-mannered” part of Clark Kent’s persona.  Clark convinces fellow reporter Lois Lane to go dancing with him, but she’s showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm.  When Clark backs down far too easily to a hood named Butch who cuts in, Lois is disgusted at his cowardice and leaves the dance hall.

Butch is angered by Lois’ refusal to dance with him, and sets out to abduct her with a few of his criminal friends to teach Lois a lesson.  Naturally, Superman shows up and the cover scene ensues.  The Man of Tomorrow carries Lois home and advises her not to tell anyone.  Sure enough, the next day, no one will believe her wild story.  It will take her a couple of issues to fully process her reaction to Superman.

The Star’s editor has a new assignment for Clark Kent.  South American republic San Monte is having a civil war, and since the home front is getting so dull card games are front-page news (I am now imagining a 1930s version of Yu-Gi-Oh), Kent should go down there and file some war reports.  Oh, pictures would be good too.

Rather than head directly south, Kent first travels to Washington, D.C.  He spots a Senator Barrows being furtively contacted by lobbyist Alex Greer, who’s known to be connected to “dark money” but no one knows whose.  Eavesdropping on their next meeting, Superman learns that the bill Senator Barrows is pushing is designed to entangle America in European affairs.   (We never come back to this plot point.)

Afterward, Superman approaches Greer to find out who his backer is.  Naturally the lobbyist declines to state this information, so Superman picks the man up and starts leaping all over town with him.  He even finds time to impart a science fact about birds and power lines!   His last leap doesn’t quite make it to the next building, and the men begin to fall….

All that in thirteen pages!

Action Comics #2 does not have Superman on the cover; he would not make it back until #7, and thereafter would usually be mentioned in a text box even if the cover was of someone else.

The story picks up where #1 left off, with Superman and Greer landing on the sidewalk.  They survive, the sidewalk doesn’t.   Greer spills the beans on his boss, international arms dealer Emil Norvell.  Superman then uses his considerable persuasive powers to make sure that Norvell travels to San Monte and enlists in their army.

Lois is assigned to go along with Clark Kent to South America.  Lots of things happen, including Norvell learning what it’s like to be on the pointy edge of his munitions, Lois nearly being shot as a spy, Superman just straight up killing a torturer (oh sure, we don’t see him land, but being tossed several miles away?  He’s not going to have a soft landing) and the Man of Steel finding a creative way to stop the war.

The story is followed by an advertisement for the daily Superman comic strip, soon to come out.

#3 has Superman get a neglectful mine owner to improve safety conditions for workers.  (Some ethnic slurs by baddies.)    There’s also an announcement of the first Superman fan club, the Supermen of America.

#4 is Superman kidnapping a college football player for several days to impersonate him in order to prevent a game from being fixed.  As a side effect, it also improves Tommy’s love life.

#5 has Lois Lane get enraged by the editor’s sexism (“no job for a girl”) and trick Clark Kent into pursuing a fake story while she goes off to cover a bursting dam.  Superman saves Lois a couple of times and she admits her feelings for him while still despising Clark.

#6 is the first Superman impersonator story.  A crook dresses his henchman up in a Superman suit and has him do faked stunts of superstrength so that the crook can claim he’s got a legal license to sell Superman merchandise.  Lois easily sees through the fake, but still needs rescuing.  Also has the first Superman-themed song.

#7 has Superman join a failing circus to give it an attendance boost, and reveal the criminals that are trying to take it over.  This is a good spot to mention that Superman’s distinctive costume was partially based on a circus strongman outfit, including trunks worn over tights to keep certain body bulges smoothed out.  This story also introduces Curly, the first of what would be a recurring type of bully who also works at the paper and pranks Clark Kent.  By the end of the story, Clark finds a way to get some payback.

#8 is another classic moment for Superman as a social justice warrior.  He decides to tackle the problem of juvenile delinquency in slum kids–by tearing down the entire slum, thus forcing the government to build them new housing ala FEMA!

Of course, actions have consequences, and in #9, the police bring in Chicago cop Detective Captain Reilly, known as “100% Reilly” for always getting his man.  Reilly’s plan hits a significant snag when he attempts to chisel an informant out of the substantial reward money promised.   Clark Kent is barely able to escape detection, but at the end, the visitor is known as “99% Reilly.”

#10 is another social justice story–Superman goes undercover as a prisoner to expose inhuman conditions imposed by a crooked warden.  (Warning: torture.)

#11 continues Superman’s impersonations.  To expose a crooked oil company, he poses as investor Homer Ramsey and contrives a beautiful scam where he tricks the oil company executives into trading their real money for their own worthless stock.  Environmentalists may cringe at how he does it, though.  (Presumably Superman turns the money he made over to charity.)

#12 has an interesting Zatara cover with a nifty spaceship.  The Superman story has him getting angry at reckless drivers and automobiles that are unsafe at any speed.  So he imposes a reign of terror on the city.  (And admittedly, fixes a particularly bad stretch of road.)  You can just feel Siegel’s outrage boiling off the page as Superman refuses to use doors in his pursuit of strict traffic enforcement.  Also in this issue, an announcement of DC’s second superhero, the Batman!

New York World’s Fair #1 ties into that 1939 event.  Clark and Lois are sent to cover the opening, but Superman spends most of his time helping attractions open on time and thwarting a criminal plot.

Action Comics #13 starts its story with Superman fighting the “Cab Protective League”, a shakedown racket aimed at taxi drivers.  However, we soon meet the first ever evil mastermind to battle Superman.  The Ultra-Humanite is a bald scientist who has given himself super-intelligence (which may or may not have anything to do with his paraplegia.)  Moriarty-like, he’s been secretly behind some of the criminal schemes Superman has thwarted.

His vast knowledge of science allows the Ultra-Humanite to stun Superman, but not kill him.  The evil scientist then appears to die in a plane crash, but Superman is unable to find a body.   He’ll be back several times, until Lex Luthor takes over his ecological niche.

And the volume concludes with Superman #1, as Superman became the first superhero to have his own solo comic book.  Most of the contents were reprinted from Action Comics #1-4.

However, the first story had a new introduction naming Krypton and the Kents for the first time, and establishing that John and Mary Kent had passed away from old age after training Clark in American values.  We then see how Superman learned of the innocent person condemned for murder and where to find the murderer seen in the first story.

The explanation of Superman’s powers now explained that Earth’s lighter gravity aided his advanced body structure to perform his superhuman feats.

Finally, there’s a two-page text story.  These prose stories appeared in comic books to force the post office to classify them at a lower postal rate.  Usually, they weren’t very good.  No exception here.

The art is crude but dynamic, and it’s fun to watch Superman perform his many feats.  This is a rougher-edged fellow who very much has opinions, and isn’t afraid to take matters into his own hands.  Soon he’ll calm down a bit and become more authority-friendly (and develop a code against killing.)  No more random kidnappings!

Highly recommended to Superman fans and those who want to know more about the early history of superhero comics.  Check your library!

 

Book Review: A Memory This Size and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2013

Book Review: A Memory This Size and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 Introduction by Lizzy Attree

The Caine Prize is awarded to a short story written by an African author (which primarily means one born in Africa–all the authors in this volume are from Sub-Saharan Africa), published in English in the last five years and submitted for consideration.  This volume contains the five stories that were shortlisted for the prize in 2013, plus twelve more written at a workshop sponsored by the Caine Prize.

A Memory This Size

The collection leads off with the 2013 winner, “Miracle” by Tope Folarin.  A group of Nigerian immigrants attend a tent revival in Texas.  A great faith healer is scheduled to appear, but will there be a miracle tonight, and what form will it take?  I found this to be rather a blah story, but I am not one of the judges for the contest and don’t know what criteria they based the decision on.  Nigerians dominate this volume, with four of the five shortlisted stories and several of the workshop ones as well.

Three of the five shortlisted stories have a heavy Africa-America connection, to the point that Chinelo Okparanta’s story is actually titled “America.”  A schoolteacher who wishes to join her lover there uses the Gulf oil spill as a wedge to try to convince the immigration people to give her a green card.   There’s an interesting ending in which the protagonist remembers hearing a folktale similar to ‘Jack the Giant-Killer” except that it stops short of the “ever after” with no explanation of what happens past a certain point.

The title story, “A Memory This Size” by Elnathan John concerns a man mourning for his brother, who died years ago, and yet he cannot let go.

There are common themes in these stories, most of which are “slice of life” tales:  government corruption, marital infidelity and environmental destruction.

There are a couple of stories that move into the “magical realism” camp (that is, fantasy, but not called that so critics can treat it as actual literature.)  The better one is “Howl” by Rotimi Babatunde, about a dog named Jack who may or may not have the extraordinary powers the villagers think, but is certainly not a normal dog.  “Clapping Hands for a Smiling Crocodile” by Stanley Onjezani Kenani, however, has the best title in this volume.  That story is about a fishing village threatened by oil developers, and the sacrifice one man makes to save their way of life.

I also enjoyed “Stuck” by Davina Kawuma, told in a series of emails by a young woman who is tempted to have an affair.  One final email changes everything.

My least favorite story was “Foreign Aid” by Pede Hollist.  This tale of a man who returns to Sierra Leone after many years in America, thinking he will be a big man thanks to his money, was too predictable and made me cringe rather than care.

That said, I am glad I took the chance to read this book and learn what some African writers are doing.  There are thirteen volumes of Caine Prize stories published; check your inter-library loan system for any one of them.

I should also mention that there is some disturbing subject matter, and would best suited for college age and up.

Manga Review: Dream Fossil

Manga Review: Dream Fossil by Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon (1963-2010) was an acclaimed anime director, making a handful of movies (including Paprika) and one television series, Paranoia Agent.   His themes of confusion of dreams and reality, and madness lying just below the surface of society, made his works fascinating.  He also spent some time as a manga creator, creating several stories in the 1980s before going into anime full time as an assistant to Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira).  This volume collects his short works.

Dream Fossil

The lead story is “Carve.”  After a war polluted the old places of habitation, most of humanity moved to “The City”, a haven of high technology.  However, when a minority of humans started developing psychic powers, they were kicked out of The City, and scrape by in the now less toxic old cities.  Sculptor Kei and his female friend/model Ann notice that Specials are starting to disappear from their neighborhood.  Are The City people up to something?

The fifteen stories cover a range of genres.  There’s a couple of baseball stories, some slice of life, a samurai thriller, and some more speculative fiction.  The characters tend towards the realistic, even if the circumstances are often bizarre.

One standout is “Kidnappers”, about a car thief who discovers that he has a small child in the back seat.  He wants to get the kid back to the parents, but doesn’t want to go to jail for swiping the vehicle–and the actual kidnapper is after him too.  The main character is well drawn as a bad person, but one that doesn’t want to be that bad.

There’s also  “Waira”, the samurai thriller I mentioned.  A feudal warlord has been betrayed by his vassal/brother-in-law, his troops massacred, and now he and a handful of surviving followers are fleeing through a mountain forest in the middle of the night.  The brother-in-law and his troops pursue, but their guides warn them that the mountain is haunted by a murderous creature named “Waira.”  Who will survive?  The nature of Waira comes as a bit of a surprise–it’s so out of place that it might as well be supernatural.

I can really spot the Otomo influence in several of these stories.  The art and writing are decent, but Kon doesn’t sparkle here the way he does in his animation work.  A couple of the stories are photocopied from magazine appearances as the original art is lost; this affects the print quality.

The last story in the volume is Kon’s debut work, a two-parter titled “Toriko” (prisoner).  It’s very YA dystopia.  Yuichi, a teenager, lives in a future society ruled by implacable robot police, and in which you must have your identity card ready at all times for any transactions or even just walking down the street at the wrong time.  When he and his friends break curfew, they are remanded to The Center for “rehab” to become “productive citizens.”  Good thing Yuichi managed to snag a weapon!  Downer ending, depending on your point of view.

In addition to a few color pages, there’s also an interview with Susumu Hirawara, a composer who worked with Satoshi Kon on musical scores for the anime projects.  (One last film, Dreaming Machine, is being slowly finished.)

The intended audience varies, a couple would be suitable for young readers, but overall this anthology seems to be seinen (young men’s.)  Several of the stories have lethal violence, there’s some nudity, underaged drinking and smoking, and one story has an attempted rape.

Fans of Satoshi Kon’s other work will want to own this anthology; others will be better served by checking it out via library loan.

Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (2015)

Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (2015) by various creators.

It’s the third anniversary of this blog, and as is my custom, I’ll be looking at the current lineup of Weekly Shonen Jump, the online version of Shounen Jump.  For those just joining us, Shounen Jump is the top-selling shounen manga (boys’ comic book) in Japan.  Many of its series get anime (animated cartoon) adaptations, and its ethos of “friendship, struggle and victory” has been highly influential in manga circles.

Shonen Jump  2015

The struggle is exemplified in the magazine itself by the reader polling system.  Each issue comes with a survey to mail in, and the placement of further chapters within the magazine is based on how well they do in the polls.  Popular series get prime spots near the front, while struggling series get moved to the back.  Series that do poorly for an extended period tend to get axed–if this happens right away, it’s called “ten-weeked” for the minimum time a series will be kept.  (There are a couple of exceptions to the polling system that are more or less immune to being cancelled as their collected volume sales are very high, even though the weekly readers rate them poorly.)

Not all of the series in the print edition make it into the online edition, which also adds some monthly features from other magazines also owned by the same publisher.  Let’s start with the weeklies.

One Piece:  On a world that is 90% ocean, a boy named Luffy decides to become the Pirate King.  He gathers a wacky crew as he sails around the world looking for the mysterious “One Piece” treasure of the previous Pirate King.  Currently, the situation in Spanish-flavored Dressrosa has been resolved, and the crew is looking for their vanished members on the “island” (actually a massive elephant) Zou, home to a tribe of animal-people called Minks.

World Trigger:  Earth is periodically invaded by beings from a parallel universe called “Neighbors.”   The agents of BORDER are our primary defense against them.   Currently, our viewpoint agents are engaged in a tournament called “Rank Wars” to try to qualify for an away mission to rescue kidnapped Earthlings from the Neighbor dimension.  This is about to be complicated as a Neighbor strike force has arrived with the intention of crippling BORDER’s ability to launch away missions.  The artist has been having health issues, so the feature takes frequent breaks.

Bleach:  Teenager Ichigo Kurosaki has the ability to see spirits, and has since been inducted into the Soul Society, which attempts to stop evil spirits and conduct good ones to the afterlife.   This is still on what is supposed to be the final arc, as the previously-thought-dead Quincies invade the Soul Society to destroy the afterlife as we know it and presumably replace it with one where they’re in charge.  It looks like the creator is going to milk every last member of the huge cast for extensive flashbacks–we may be at this for another three years.

My Hero Academia:  Izuku Midoriya (aka “Deku”) was born without superpowers on an alternate Earth where 80% of the population has “Quirks.”  But he has the heart of a hero, and has earned a special power, so can attend a magnet school for aspiring superheroes.  Currently, Deku’s class is on a summer field trip for intensive training.  (I’ve reviewed a couple of the individual volumes.)

Nisekoi:  Raku and Chitoge, the scions of feuding crime families, are forced into a fake dating relationship (the “false love” of the title) to stop the feud.  They start developing genuine feelings for each other, but things are complicated by there being several girls who have a thing for Raku, at least one of whom he also has feelings for.   The series just concluded a story arc that eliminated one of the “harem” from consideration; this did very poorly in the polls, perhaps because it centered around her frankly annoying personality and equally annoying family.   Now Raku is down to two viable choices and desperately trying to avoid making up his mind.

Toriko:  A far-future Earth has become a world where the more dangerous a creature is, the more delicious it is (usually), and Toriko is one of the top Gourmet Hunters, dedicated to seeking out new flavors and foods.  Over time, the series has come to focus more on his sidekick, aspiring chef Komatsu.  This may be in its final story arc, as the Earth is “ripe” and about to be eaten by a cosmic being, unless our heroes find an alternative.  But there is so much going on with different parts of the cast that it may take several real-time years to resolve.

Black Clover:  In a fantasy world where everyone can use at least some magic, Asta was born without any.  He’s trained his body extensively to make up for this, and has “never giving up” as his primary personality trait.  At his society’s coming of age ceremony, he initally does not get a grimoire of spells, but then is gifted with one that turns into a sword with the power of anti-magic.  He joins the Magic Knights that protect his kingdom, but only in the Black Bulls, a ragtag group of misfits who are looked down upon by the more professional units.  This series is new this year, and is considered something of a successor to Naruto.  Currently, Asta is helping a mirror mage and a fire-powered nun fight kidnappers who steal the magic from children.

Food Wars!:  Known as “Shokugeki no Souma” in Japan, this series features Souma, a young maverick aspiring chef as he attends the top culinary institute in Japan and engages in cooking battles.  The early chapters were heavy on the cheesecake imagery, but the series has backed off on that some to concentrate on the food porn.  Currently, the school has been taken over by a sinister man who wants to make all cooking conform to his idea of perfection without regard for individual tastes, and Souma is in a cooking contest with one of that man’s minions (who has already bought the judges, so we have no idea how he’s going to win.)

On to monthly features.

Blue Exorcist:  Rin Okumura discovers  that he is the son of Satan, destined to bring about his father’s final triumph.  Rin decides to defy his heritage and joins a school for exorcists that battle the forces of evil.   Currently, Rin and his human (or is he?) fraternal twin Yukio have been sent on a mission to locate a missing exorcist.  They spend much of this month’s chapter being mistaken for a gay couple, much to Yukio’s annoyance.  (Rin seems to think it’s kind of funny.)

Seraph of the End:  In the not too distant future, a plague seemingly wipes out all adults, and many of the surviving children are enslaved underground by vampires.  Yuichiro Hyakuya, one of these slaves, escapes to the surface, at the cost of losing his friend Mikaela Hyakuya (they were named after the orphanage they were brought up in before the plague.)  Yu joins the Demon Army, humanity’s last defense against the vampire menace…or are they the real enemy?  Currently, Yu has been reunited with Mikaela, who has become a vampire.  Meanwhile, the Demon Army’s mission seems to have gone south, or possibly that was always the plan, as the top brass start sacrificing their own troops to summon the Seraph of the End, and Captain Guren appears to have gone insane and it’s not clear what side if any he’s on now.

One-Punch Man:  Saitama trained really hard to become a superhero that could take out any opponent with one punch.  He achieved that goal, but found it hollow as fights no longer hold any joy for him.  This parody of superheroes turns out to have some deeper themes about what it really means to be a hero.  Currently, the main plot seems to be about Garo, who hates stories where the hero always wins, and is working to become a villain who can defeat any hero.  (See my review of the first volume.)

Yu-Gi-Oh Arc-V:  yet another spin-off of the toyetic Yu-Gi-Oh series, centered around a children’s card game that is the most important thing in the world.  Yuzu Hiragi is the heiress to a card dueling school that’s seen better days, and is trying to snag a celebrity duelist as a teacher.  She’d like to snag the mysterious Phantom, who’s been engaging in illegal card games, but may have to settle for another person with a very similar appearance.  Currently, it appears that Yuzu’s father has been kidnapped to lure the Phantom into a duel.

The online edition also features a “Jump Back” slot, reprinting the first few chapters of an earlier series to advertise the back volumes.  Currently it’s running Yu Yu Hakusho.  Junior high delinquent Yuusuke Urameshi is dead on the first page, having senselessly sacrificed his life to save a child that wasn’t actually in danger.  But because of his anomalous circumstances, Yuusuke can undergo a test to see if he is worthy of returning to life.  (Yes, but the experience leaves him with supernatural powers he must use to protect humanity.)

This is still a huge bargain for anyone who likes shounen manga, even if not all the series are that good, and lives in a country with legal access.  Recommended.

Book Review: Headaches Can Be Murder

Book Review: Headaches Can Be Murder by Marilyn Rausch & Mary Donlon

Charles “Chip” E. Collingsworth III was supposed to become a neurosurgeon like his father and grandfather before him, but wasn’t suited to being a doctor, so dropped out of medical school.  Three failed marriages later and with his trust fund depleted, Chip wrote a crime novel about famed neurosurgeon John Goodman  investigating “the Cranium Killer” with the FBI, and casting two of his ex-wives as victims.  To his surprise, he found an agent willing to represent the manuscript, and it turned into a best-seller.

Headaches Can Be Murder

On a cross-country trip, Chip stumbled across an abandoned farmhouse in Turners Bend, Iowa, and decided that this would be a good place to write his second book in.   Except that he’s run out of ex-wives he wants to murder (his first wife was much nicer)  and that means he’s out of ideas.  Until one day he falls off a shed, and the ensuing bump on his head gives him a painful inspiration for a possible plotline.  As his real life and novel intertwine, can Chip survive long enough to finish the manuscript?

The gimmick in this book, the first in the Chip Collingsworth series, is that there are two stories unfolding simultaneously.  Chip lives his life in rural Iowa, and as things happen around him, he incorporates versions of them into Dr, Goodman’s quest to find out whether microchips inserted into people’s brains are turning them into killers.  Chip meets an attractive veterinarian, and Dr. Goodman meets an attractive FBI agent.  Chip adopts a golden retriever, and Dr. Goodman does as well.  Not all the things happening in Turners Bend are so benign, however, and Chip winds up doing some investigating himself.

One thing that amused me was Chip constantly being given suggestions on what kind of characters should be in his next book, which just happened to match the persons who suggest them.

The twin narrative approach is fun, but means that each story gets less character development.  I noticed quite a few spellchecker typos, which would be acceptable in the “fictional” chapters as Chip writes his drafts, but not so much in the “real world” ones.

There are a couple of sex scenes, and a bit of torture in the Goodman section.

Recommended for those wanting to read mysteries with an Iowa connection.

Comic Strip Review: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy Volume 14: 1951-1953

Comic Strip Review: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy Volume 14: 1951-1953 by Chester Gould

Another of the fine IDW reprints which are trying to cover the entire Chester Gould run of Dick Tracy, moving into the early 1950s.  As mentioned in the Max Allan Collins introduction, the stories shifted focus a bit.  Dick Tracy is a full time father now, and those concerns take up some of his time.  As well, forensic science was beginning to catch up with the comic strips, so more of that was included as part of the action.

Dick Tracy Volume 18 1951-1953

The volume begins with Crewy Lou’s flight from justice, which is complicated by the fact that she’s accidentally abducted Bonny Braids, Dick and Tess’ infant daughter who started the whole plotline when Crewy Lou photographed her.  They go deep into the mountains, and the desperate woman finally abandons the baby in the smashed-up car.  It’s late fall, and the temperatures are dropping…Bonny Braids is turning blue…would Chester Gould really go ahead and kill the baby?

With his family reunited, Tracy then finds himself the subject of investigation–evidence has gone missing from the police station, evidence Dick was the last to touch.  It didn’t help that Dick Tracy had just built a fine new house and had a brand new car on a cop’s salary.  The main villain this time is “Spinner” ReCord, an electronic entertainment and record store owner.  He was especially cold-blooded, crating himself up with a corpse for hours on a train.  But not, as it happened, quite cold-blooded enough as he is eventually caught due to his body heat.

The supplemental article in this issue talks a bit about how this sequence was modified for comic book publication a few years later when the Comics Code was in force.  A girl’s arms were crudely erased to avoid showing bondage, and a particularly brutal beating was replaced with a text panel that skips over that.

This is followed by one of the most striking Dick Tracy sequences, as Junior Tracy falls in love for the first time (and is now established as a teenager.)  Model Jones is a lovely young woman of decent character, but saddled with drunkard parents and a juvenile delinquent brother.  Gould’s point here is that neglecting your children for alcohol will destroy the family.  Model is killed by her brother (mostly accidentally) and he and their parents mourn the wasted lives as he is sent to prison.

Junior mourns as well, but the world moves on with the initially kind of silly Tonsils story.  Tonsils is a young man with a loud clear voice and a strange way of moving his hands when he “sings.”  He has a poor memory for lyrics, and can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but his manager Dude thinks Tonsils is the next sensation.  Dude wants to quit the rackets, but still has a racketeer’s way of doing things, using a gun to coerce people into giving Tonsils a shot.

Surprise!  Tonsils is exactly the sort of giftedly bad novelty singer the American public wants, and he becomes locally famous.  Unfortunately, Dude’s old racketeer buddies decide that he should not have left the rackets, killing him and nearly killing Tonsils.  This unbalances the lad, and he winds up getting himself on the run from the law due to his mistaken belief that he’s been betrayed.

At this point, Tonsils is picked up by a far more dangerous villain, Mr. Crime.  From his hidden lair beneath a barracuda-infested swimming pool, Mr. Crime is the current leader of the rackets.  He coerces Tonsils into making an assassination attempt on Dick Tracy, and then starts moving against the detective himself.  Mr. Crime is ably assisted by Newsuit Nan, a fashion plate biochemist who has a fascination with blood.

With Mr. Crime and his gang out of the way, there’s a power vacuum in the underworld, which gambler Odds Zon plans to fill.  He tries a combination of torture and bribery to get Dick Tracy off the case, but it obviously doesn’t work.  Things get more complicated when the Plenty family takes in his daughter Susie, who becomes known as Little Wings due to her hair looking like a pair of angel wings.  And this angel glows in the dark!  Uh-oh.

This volume holds off on the truly grotesque looking villains; the most odd appearance is Tonsils’ habit of squinting one eye and bugging out the other.  The Model Jones story is the most “real” seeming due to its down to earth nature.  There is of course considerable violence, and some torture.

This isn’t the most famous period of Gould’s work, but it’s good solid adventure strip territory.  The end piece talks (in addition to the bowdlerization of the comic books) about what Mr. Gould was up to in real life in those years, and the strip’s effects in real life.

Recommended to fans of classic newspaper comics.

Manga Review: Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches #1

Manga Review: Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches #1 by Miki Yoshikawa

Ryu Yamada is a delinquent.  His time at Suzaku High School is marked by poor attendance, bad grades and getting into fights.  His surly attitude is reflected by other students giving him a wide berth and teachers giving him hassle.  One day, after being reamed out by a teacher, Yamada spots honor student Urara Shiraishi going up some stairs.   He stomps up the steps to get ahead of her, to show her–well, just show her.  He’s so focused on getting ahead that when he pivots a couple of steps about Shiraishi, he loses his balance, and they fall down the stairs together.

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

When Yamada wakes up in the infirmary, he is shocked to discover that he is now somehow in Shiraishi’s body.  She’s already gone back to class in his body.  She seems remarkably calm about this incident, and doesn’t want to miss any more learning time, so suggests they switch back after the end of classes.

Yamada uses the opportunity to see what Shiraishi’s underwear looks like (in fairness, we learn that she also peeped at his goods), but also learns that Shiraishi is sexually harrassed by men and bullied by the other girls.  Yamada is at least able to impress the worst bully into cutting it out through complicated circumstances.  At the end of the day, the two try falling down the stairs together several times; it doesn’t get them back to their right bodies.

Then Shiraishi mentions that she remembers that just before she blacked out, Yamada’s lips brushed hers.  Yes, it’s kissing that makes them switch bodies!  This being a comedy, they soon need to switch bodies again and again, and eventually it’s learned that Yamada can switch bodies with anyone he kisses.

This is a shounen manga, and has a fairly high amount of male-oriented fanservice.  Yamada himself is remarkably chaste for a “bad boy” (we’ll eventually learn that he didn’t really want that role), but there’s quite a lot of kissing, including same-sex kissing.  As you might guess from the title, there turn out to be other people at the school with special abilities, but we don’t really see any of that in this first volume.  I know some spoilers because this has also been turned into an anime show.

Yamada’s social outcast status has made him woefully ignorant of much of what’s going on with the people around him.   This allows him to be blindsided multiple times by relationships he knows nothing about.  If the manga has a deeper theme, it’s learning how to connect to and understand other people–while Yamada’s fighting prowess is useful, most of the problems he faces require more than a punch or kick to solve.

Ms. Yoshikawa’s art is decent, and she works hard to show by facial expressions and body language who’s in which body.  There’s a certain amount of contrivance in some of the plot developments, but that’s standard for the comedy genre.

Recommended for those who like high school comedy with a fantasy twist.

Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

Jotaro Kujo is a bit of a juvenile delinquent, sassing his mother, wearing his school uniform out of regulation style, and getting into fights.  But when he notices that there’s now a strange being that only he can see and does things for him, like bring comics he wants but can’t afford, that’s a bit too much for our young hero.  He decides that he’s become demonically possessed and insists on being locked in jail.

Our main cast.

He’s surprised when his grandfather Joseph Joestar shows up to bail him out, with a mysterious Middle Eastern man in tow.  It turns out that what Jotaro has is not a demon, but a psychic projection known as a Stand.  Some people, like the Egyptian fortuneteller Avdol and his fiery Stand Magician’s Red, are born with these powers.  The Joestar family, however, only recently gained these Stands, including Joseph’s clairvoyant Hermit Purple and Jotaro’s martial arts-oriented Star Platinum –and the reason is unsettling.

The vampire Dio, who had been decapitated and trapped in a chest at the bottom of the sea, was released a few months ago, and attached his head to the body of Joseph’s grandfather Jonathan Joestar.   Somehow.  This also for reasons not fully explained in this plotline caused Stands to awaken in everyone blood-related to Jonathan.   This includes Joseph’s daughter and Jotaro’s mother Holly.  Unfortunately, she is for insufficiently explained reasons unable to fully manifest her Stand, which instead is slowly killing her.   DIO (as he is now called) needs killing anyway, but this puts a time limit on it, and our small band must make their way from Japan to Egypt and destroy the overpowered vampire before Holly dies.

This is the third storyline of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series based on the manga by Hirohiko Araki.  I reviewed the adaptation of parts one and two, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency, earlier.  This part takes place in the 1980s (when it was written)  and replaces the martial arts vs. vampires and super-vampires battles with bizarre psychic abilities that take a physical form.  This provides many chances for tactical innovation as the characters must try to use their specialized powers to overcome the strange abilities of their opponents.

DIO has gathered a motley crew of mostly evil Stand users, though the handsome Kakyoin (wielder of the liquid Hierophant Green) and the comical Polnareff (master of the fencing Stand Silver Chariot) were mind-controlled and join the heroes once freed.  One of the running gags of the series is that the main characters cannot keep a vehicle for more than a day or two before it gets destroyed or made inoperable.  This slows their journey across Asia considerably.

In addition to everyone being named after musicians or music, the Stands are patterned after the Major Arcana of the Tarot  until the arrival in Egypt, at which point most of the enemies have Stands patterned after Egyptian gods.  This is probably because Araki was told to stretch out the manga while its ratings were high.   Also in Egypt, the team picks up a sixth member, Iggy the Fool, a very unpleasant dog.

Jotaro is on the surface a very different protagonist from Joseph, a stoic, quiet young man who prefers to let his fists do the talking.  As the series progresses, however, we learn that he shares some of his grandfather’s goofball sense of humor.   Joseph himself remains the trickster hero, his new powers requiring subtlety and clever tactics to defeat enemies.  Avdol is the dignified one, though quick to anger, and Kakyoin is a bit more intellectual than the others.  Polnareff is, while competent, very much the comic relief, and gets stuck with repeated potty humor gags.

DIO spends most of the series in shadows, barely interacting with his minions, but once he becomes active, takes center stage.  He’s learned not to underestimate the Joestar clan, and his new power The World is seemingly unbeatable.  He’s considered one of manga’s most iconic villains for a reason.

In addition to the violence you’d expect from a shounen fighter series, there’s a fair bit of nudity, some of it very creepy.

This part of the series has been animated before, but the new adaptation is much more faithful and as of this writing is available on Crunchyroll.  (Note: due to trademark issues, some of the names are changed in the subtitles.  So you will hear the characters saying “Vanilla Ice”, the  name of a villain, but the subtitles will read “Cool Ice.”)

This series inspired a lot of later shounen battle series, but the clever fights, roadtrip plotline and fun characters are still some of the best in the business.

TV Review: Checkmate | Colonel March of Scotland Yard | I’m the Law

TV Review: Checkmate | Colonel March of Scotland Yard | I’m the Law

Time for more old-time TV!  Checkmate was a 1960-62 series about a detective agency of the same name based in San Francisco.  Don Corey (Anthony  George ) and Jed Sills (Doug McClure) out of Corey’s plush apartment, and employ Dr. Carl Hyatt (Sebastian Cabot), noted criminology professor, as a consultant.  The agency specialized in attempting to thwart crimes that had yet to be committed.

Checkmate

I watched two episodes on DVD:

  • “The Human Touch” :  The focus is on Dr. Hyatt, as a master criminal (Peter Lorre) he caught years ago is out of prison and wants revenge.  The two men are both very proud of their brains, and we get a lot of cat and mouse dialogue as they try to outsmart each other.  The revenge plan is nifty, but fails due to the title factor.  A fun episode!
  • “Nice Guys Finish Last”:  A more somber story, in which the Checkmate regulars play only a small part.  Instead, the main character is a police lieutenant who is denied promotion because of his obsession with a certain wealthy man about town.  (The man may have even directly intervened to quash the promotion.)  The wealthy man hires Checkmate to protect him from the police detective.   When the lieutenant has an opportunity fall into his lap to destroy his enemy, he takes it,, much to his cost.  An interesting aspect of the story is that it is never proven the rich man did anything wrong, even the one thing that set the policeman on his trail in the first place.  He just acts like a dirtbag, and I for one wanted him to be brought down.

Colonel March of Scotland Yard was a 1955 British series starring Boris Karloff as the eccentric head of the Department of Queer Complaints at Scotland Yard.  The premise was based on a book by John Dickson Carr, a master of locked room mysteries.  March wore an eyepatch (never explained) and was a playful chap who enjoyed a good puzzle.  Sadly, most of the episodes have been lost.

Colonel March of Scotland Yard

The episode I saw was “Error at Daybreak.”  As it happens, Colonel March is on holiday at the seashore, and reading a book on “The Psychology of Crustaceans” when a millionaire with a weak heart dies nearby.  The body is lodged between rocks and impossible to move, but March discovers blood by the corpse, and a mysterious sharp metal rod on the ground nearby.  March suspects murder rather than heart attack, a suspicion given credence when the corpse disappears before the police proper arrive.  The real solution lies in a little boy’s rubber ball.  Pleasant, but not Karloff’s best work.

I’m the Law ran in 1953, and starred George Raft as New York Police Lieutenant George Kirby.  Kirby had been a stage dancer before joining the police force, and never carried a gun.  Mr. Raft’s career was in a steep decline at the time, and was one of the first big-name film stars to be reduced to steady work in television as opposed to special guest appearances.

I'm the Law

Still, the series benefited from his tough-guy air and screen presence.  My DVD had three episodes.

  • “The Cowboy and the Blind Man Story”:  Kirby is contacted by a singing cowboy star (loosely modeled on Roy Rogers) to investigate a stalker of the singer’s current girlfriend.  That lady turns out to be a sharpshooter and fully capable of taking care of herself.  Except a shot comes in through her window, just missing her.  In the office of a blind record promoter across the street, the stalker turns up dead of lead poisoning.  Could be the sharpshooter, but her guns don’t match the bullet.  So who?  Pretty obvious to the genre-savvy.
  • “O Sole Mio”:  A boy’s father is gunned down in Central Park, with only the boy and an organ grinder as witnesses, and the organ grinder was looking the wrong way at the time.  Kirby takes the boy under his wing before the kid gets too far down the road to becoming Batman, and discovers the father had a taste for the horses and too much money for his day job.  The idea of a police woman is treated with some disbelief by the boy, and a subplot involving a seedy newsstand vendor and a juvenile delinquent turns out to be an entire red herring.
  • “The Trucking Story”:  A dockworker is killed in what is reported as an accident, but is pretty clearly an “accident.”  An elderly peddler who was friends with the dockworker calls on Kirby to investigate beyond the official report.  Kirby goes undercover and discovers that the shipping company is sending more than glassware to China.  The dockworker’s union is seen protecting its members from  abusive behavior by the bosses (one of the reasons the death had to be an “accident.”)

It’s an okay series, but relies a bit too heavily on eccentric minor characters to play off the strait-laced George Raft role.

TV Review: Lock-Up

TV Review: Lock-Up

Lock-Up was a 1959-1961 crime drama loosely based on the files of real-life attorney Herbert L. Maris.  Mr. Maris was played by Macdonald Carey, and John Doucette played police lieutenant Jim Weston, depicted as Maris’ best friend.

Lock-Up

Herbert Maris was actually a specialist in corporate law who sometimes championed people who’d been unjustly accused of crime on a pro bono basis.  As such, there are no courtroom scenes; Mr. Maris attempts to prove the accused person innocent before a trial begins.

The Mill Creek DVD had eight episodes, four of which are of special interest.  “The Case of Joe Slade” has the protagonists go on a fishing trip, only to discover that their guide is locked up for killing his wife.  Lon Chaney, Jr. guest stars as a sheriff who’s just a little too eager to have the case closed.

“The Beau and Arrow Case” has a psychiatrist murdered with an arrow.  The twist is that Mr. Maris himself  is accused of the crime!  The main suspect, however, is an archery range owner and the doctor’s patient.    This episode was written by Robert Bloch, and is quite tense.  It does rely, however, on the coroner not looking too closely.

“Society Doctor” is another man accused of killing his wealthy wife.  There are several people with motives, and the waters are muddied by one person’s persistent lies.  Jackie Coogan is comic relief as the doctor’s drunken brother in law–but was he really passed out during the time of the crime?

“The Case of Nan Havens” has a young woman caught with microfilm of experimental military hardware in her car.  Mr. Maris must prove that she was the innocent dupe of real spies with the aid of a wisecracking drive-in waitress.  Mary Tyler Moore guest-stars.

It’s very much a period piece–Red spies in two episodes, smoking, and several of the stories have plot points about women having to rely on husbands for money.   There’s even a juvenile delinquency story.  Mr. Maris and Lieutenant Weston often flirt with women in ways that might be considered unprofessional today.

Keeping that in mind, the fun guest stars and the interesting writing make this something worth a watch.

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