Friday, September 21, 2018

UnForgettable Books: The Spider, G-8 and Operator 5 in Will Murray's THE DOOM LEGION

This is the kind of book pulp fans dream about: A team-up starring three front-rank heroes – The Spider, Operator 5 and G-8.

Will Murray, as I’m sure you know, has already brought us two meetings between Doc Savage and The Shadow (reviewed HERE and HERE) as well as King Kong mash-ups with both Doc (HERE) and Tarzan (HERE), all from the modern-day pulp factory known as Altus Press.  And now comes The Doom Legion, bringing together the top three do-gooders of the Popular Publications universe.

The Spider gets top billing here, and rightly so, being the most revered and reprinted of the three. Why is that? Well, he (aka Richard Wentworth) has the coolest outfit and the most eccentric personality. He also has a capable faithful Indian companion—a Sikh name Ram Singh, a fearless significant other who would (and often nearly does) lay down her life for him, and a solid ally in Police Commissioner Weston—who unofficially knows supports his crusade as a crimefighter.

Operator 5 of the Secret Service (aka James "Jimmy" Christopher) is a bright-eyed young straight arrow, pure of heart and mind, with a reporter girlfriend who is undoubtedly a virgin (just as Richard Wentworth's paramour is undoubtedly not). He operates as a lone wolf, with occasional contact with his equally straight arrow superior, Z-7.

G-8, the Flying Spy of WWI, is now known as Captain George Gate (G-ate, get it?), is a man in search of camaraderie. Pals Bull Martin and Nippy Weston from his old squadron are not mentioned here, and though he tries a little banter with Operator 5, the Secret Service ace seems immune to humor.

Will Murray brings these three together and swats them with three fistfuls of trouble. 1) A meteor slams into Central Park, turning people and animals into killing machines. Heat beams shoot from the eyes of those infected, melting and killing everything in their path. 2) The Spider’s old nemesis The Dictator shows up seeking revenge, and armed with a new dastardly plan. And 3) G-8’s wartime enemy The Steel Mask returns (seemingly) from the dead determined to finish G-8 and raise any kind of hell he can.

It takes a lot of juggling to keep all those balls in the air at once, but Will proves up to the task. The deviltry and heroics are non-stop, and all the characters ring true to their roots. Especially interesting is the dynamic between Operator 5 and The Spider. The straight arrow of the Secret Service is too anal to have truck with a notorious vigilante, and tries to shut him out of the action. But you know The Spider. He’s an irresistible force, and even an object as immovable as Operator 5 is unable to slow him down.

The result is a riotous romp through New York City, leaving a trail of dead citizens. Most of these meet grisly ends, but this being a hero pulp epic, it’s all in good fun. You’ll want to read this, of course. And you’ll want to alert for hat tips to pulpsters, such a drive by of Steeger School (named, natch, for Harry Steeger, editor of Popular Publications, home of Dime Detective and the three heroes of this adventure).

Please keep this stuff coming, Mr. Murray (as if you had to be asked)!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Enduring Mystery of LANCECON '84

If you've been following our LanceCon pictorials (HERE), you may have noticed a gap of two years between 1982 and 1985. In 1983, photographer Art Scott must have stayed home in California. But in '84, Lance planned to move the convention to San Francisco, to coincide with Bruce Taylor's annual Nero Wolfe Dinner. 

But is that what really happened? Or was it all a hoax, as this antique fanzine claimed? What's the real skinny? You be the judge. 

NOTE: The cover above is pretty muddy, but if you squint hard, you'll find Lance Casebeer, the King of Paperbacks himself, wending his way through the revelry.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

BASIL WOLVERTON'S Spacehawk and "The Lost Tribe of Mercury" (1940)

If you missed the first adventure of the mysterious Spacehawk, that's HERE. This second appearance is from Target Comics no. 6, from July 1940, and uploaded to comicbookplus by someone called "Yoc." A Mercurian, perhaps?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Forgotten Books: THE BUCCANEERS by Alice Sankey and Russ Manning (1958)

Who remembers The Buccanners? It was a British TV series produced in 1956 and '57 by ITC, the same outfit that did The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Adventures of Sir Lancelot. It was shown in syndication in the US.

The first episode featured a character named Captain Woodes Rogers, but he was soon replaced by Captain Dan Tempest, played by Robert Shaw (who starred, much later, in my favorite pirate movie Swashbuckler). Here's a clip showing the opening credits and the nifty closing theme song:

This Big Little Book features Dan Tempest, as drawn by Russ Manning. Manning is best known (to me, anyway) for his work on Tarzan comics and comic strips between 1965 and 1979, and his depiction of Dan Tempest in 1958 is a twin of his later Tarzan.

The story, by Alice Sankey, is merely adequate, which is the case in most Big Little Books. It's job is to provide context for the drawings, which appear on every other page. This book has 276 pages, and 270 of them are Russ Manning illos, which more than make up for the so-so prose.

This adventure sends Dan and his crew of ex-pirates (now serving England as buccaneers) after the notorious Blackbeard, and Dan's ship Sultana does battle with Blackbeard's famous Queen Anne's Revenge. On the plus side, it inolves a treasure map and a treasure. On the minus side, it involves a ship boy and his cat (also named Blackbeard), but in a thankfully minor role.

In all, it's a nice little book, and I've chose a few illos, some depicting a Dan Tempest that looks everything like Tarzan and nothing like Robert Shaw.

I looked at two other BLBs in this "TV Series" series, here: Jim Bowie and Wyatt Earp, and will likely get around the others, Gunsmoke, Sir Lancelot, and Andy Burnett as time limps on. 

I have a cheap DVD set of The Buccaneers series, which is pretty dang good. There are also quite a few complete episodes on YouTube. Here, for your viewing pleasure, is one of them: