Tag Archives: book reviews

THE FIRST TWENTY AVENGERS STORIES FROM THE 1960s

As always, Balladeer’s Blog listens to you readers! You wanted a look at the first twenty Avengers stories similar to my recent look at the first twenty Captain America stories from the 1940s, so here we go:

Avengers 1THE AVENGERS Vol 1 #1 (September 1963)

Title: The Coming of the Avengers

Villain: Loki

Synopsis: Loki sits imprisoned on the Isle of Silence in Asgard. He cannot leave but is determined to get revenge on his archenemy Thor. Sending his astral body to Earth/ Midgard he uses an illusion spell to trick the Hulk into seeming to destroy a railroad line.  

           Rick Jones, just an ordinary teenager back then, is still the Hulk’s friend and wants to round up superheroes to corral the Hulk before the army moves in and possibly kills the green-skinned brute. He and his fellow Ham Radio Operators (LMAO), called the Teen Brigade, send out a radio summons.

           Loki arranges for Thor’s secret identity of Dr Donald Blake to hear the message, but the radio waves are also picked up by Tony Stark/ Iron Man (in his original clunky armor) as well as Ant-Man (Hank Pym, PhD) and his crime-fighting partner the Wasp (Janet Van Dyne).

           While Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp battle the Hulk, Thor suspects Loki’s involvement when an illusory image of the Hulk is used to lure him to the site of the ongoing fight. Thor flies to Asgard and tries to reach the Isle of Silence but must overcome Rock Trolls, Frost Giants and Silent Ones set upon him by Loki. Continue reading

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THE FIRST TWENTY CAPTAIN AMERICA STORIES IN THE 1940s

Balladeer’s Blog’s readers always remind me that they can’t get enough superhero articles, so here we go again. With the Fourth of July Holiday coming up, I figured I’d look at the earliest stories of the Timely Comics (later called Marvel Comics) red, white & blue hero Captain America.

Captain America 1CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS Vol 1 #1 (March 1941)

Story 1: Meet Captain America

Villains: Assorted Nazi saboteurs

Synopsis: Voluntary guinea pig Steve Rogers is subjected to the Top Secret Super-Soldier Treatment and becomes Captain America. With his trusty shield, Cap defeats Nazi saboteurs up and down the East Coast, becoming a media sensation. At Camp Lehigh, army mascot James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes walks in on Private Steve Rogers switching from his uniform to his Captain America costume. Cap agrees to risk the teen’s life by making him his costumed sidekick.

Captain America earlyStory 2: Case Number 2

Villains: Sando and Omar, apparent mutants

Synopsis: Steve Rogers and J.B. Barnes are stationed now at Fort Bix. With the help of FBI Agent Betsy Ross (yes, Betsy Ross, but changed to Betty next time she appears) they become involved in the case of stage psychics Sando and Omar. Sando uses psychic powers to cause the mentally challenged Omar to “see” (really produce) visions in a crystal ball depicting disasters occurring, the first night at Fort Bix, the next night at a nearby bridge.

           The disasters really occur, and Captain America, Bucky and Betsy eventually expose Sando as Nazi Agent Sando Von Krantz, a probable mutant who used his psychic powers to fill his stooge Omar’s mind with the disasters shown in the crystal ball. Somehow Omar’s powers caused those disasters to come true. (Hey, it’s a comic book.) Sando and Omar are captured, and Betsy pleads for mercy for the simple-minded Omar.

Story 3: The Soldiers’ Soup Continue reading

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PULP HERO NORTHWEST SMITH: HIS FINAL STORY

Northwest Smith no letteringBalladeer’s Blog concludes its examination of another neglected pulp hero – in this case Northwest Smith. Created by the female author C.L. Moore in the 1930s Northwest Smith was a ruthless outer-space smuggler and mercenary decades before Han Solo. With his Venusian partner Yarol at his side and armed with a trusty blaster Smith roamed our solar system in his deceptively fast spaceship The Maid. For more on Northwest Smith and other neglected pulp heroes click here: https://glitternight.com/pulp-heroes/ 

13. SONG IN A MINOR KEY – For this farewell vignette featuring Northwest Smith we get an oddly touching piece that enhances Smith’s character without ruining the mystery. He and Yarol are back on Earth to visit the spot where Northwest committed his first crime exactly 20 years earlier, setting his life on its present course.

Northwest Smith 3He reveals that Northwest Smith is not his real name (Well, duh! I always figured his real name was Northwest Rabinowitz.) and is uncharacteristically serious- minded as he soaks in the atmosphere of the woodland area where his fate was determined so long ago.  

Our melancholy outlaw ruefully ponders his life that might have been and the woman he might have shared that life with. He contemplates the home they might have had together and more as we get tantalizing glimpses into Smith’s past here in this place … where he killed his first man. Continue reading

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PULP HERO NORTHWEST SMITH: STORIES ELEVEN AND TWELVE

Northwest Smith frenchBalladeer’s Blog continues its examination of another neglected pulp hero – in this case Northwest Smith. Created by the female author C.L. Moore in the 1930′s Northwest Smith was a ruthless outer-space smuggler and mercenary decades before Han Solo. With his Venusian partner Yarol at his side and armed with a trusty blaster Smith roamed our solar system in his deceptively fast spaceship The Maid. For more on Northwest Smith and other neglected pulp heroes click here: https://glitternight.com/pulp-heroes/ 

11. QUEST OF THE STAR STONE (1937) – It’s crossover time! C.L. Moore decided to do a story in which her two most famous pulp creations – Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry – meet each other. Trouble is Jirel’s adventures take place around the year 1500 while Northwest Smith’s stories are set over 1,000 years later. Any reader of pulp fiction knows that’s no real obstacle so let’s dive in.

Jirel of JoiryThe story opens in Jirel’s time. She is leading her obedient band of male outlaws in an assault on the castle of a sorceror named Franga. Our sword-wielding heroine battles her way through to Franga’s chamber where she seizes a mystic gem called the Star Stone. That jewel is so powerful but so unfathomable that even Franga was still trying to discover how to harness its arcane energies. Jirel defeats Franga and forces him to flee between dimensions, but as he leaves he promises Jirel that he’ll return to get revenge on her and get the Star Stone back – just as soon as he finds a champion capable of matching Jirel’s courage, cunning and force of will. “No matter what world or what time I find them in” he adds, letting the reader know what’s coming up. Continue reading

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SUPERHERO PANTHEON OF SPARK COMICS

Superheroes still dominate pop culture right now and readers just keep demanding more and more articles about them. Here is a look at the heroes from another defunct comic book company, in this case Spark Publications.

AtomanATOMAN

Secret Identity: Barry Dale, nuclear scientist

First Appearance: Atoman #1 (February 1946)

Origin: While working at the Atomic Institute, scientist Barry Dale was exposed to so much radium and uranium that he absorbed “the power of the atom.” Barry’s powers manifested themselves when agents who wanted to sell America’s nuclear secrets to the highest bidder tried to kill him over his refusal to help them. With his new superpowers he donned a costume and fought the forces of evil as Atoman.

Powers: Atoman possessed massive super-strength, could fly, run at super-speed, was invulnerable and had “atomic vision” (x-ray vision). In addition he could heat his body to such a degree that he could weld objects together with his bare hands.

Comment: This hero boasted that he could “smash mountains, wipe out whole cities” and “travel for thousands of miles in one leap.” He was also convinced he was just the first of many atomic-powered beings which the nuclear age would spawn. I guess to prove he wasn’t just another Superman imitation, Atoman claimed he would “help all people, regardless of race or creed or nationality” instead of fighting for “truth, justice, and”… you know.

Golden LadGOLDEN LAD

Secret Identity: Tommy Preston, student

First Appearance: Golden Lad #1 (July 1945)

Origin: Young Tommy Preston was working in his grandfather’s neighborhood antique shop when he discovered an ancient relic called the Aztec Heart of Gold. Yes. In an antique shop. (WRITER: Hey, Editor, do items like Aztec artifacts wind up in antique shops or in museums? EDITOR: You’re joking, right?  WRITER: Yeah, uh … joking. Who wouldn’t know the answer to that, right? Ha, ha, ha!)

        Anyway, the Aztec Heart of Gold holds the mystic power of “the blood of a thousand martyred Aztecs.” This relic bestowed superpowers on “pure hearted” people who were “devoted to justice.” And so Golden Lad was born!    Continue reading

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HAPPY BLOOM’S DAY 2020!

jamesjoyceYes, it’s the 16th of June, better known to James Joyce geeks like me as Bloom’s Day. The day is named in honor of Leopold Bloom, the Jewish advertising sales rep and Freemason who is one of the major characters in Joyce’s novel Ulysses. The novel also brings along Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of his earlier novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

For those unfamiliar with this work, Ulysses is Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness novel in which he metaphorically features the events from the Odyssey in a single day – June 16th, 1904, in Dublin. (The day he met Nora Barnacle, the woman he would eventually marry after living together for decades)

Bloom represents Ulysses/Odysseus, Stephen represents Telemachus and Leopold’s wife, Molly Bloom, represents Penelope. Continue reading

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PULP HERO NORTHWEST SMITH: STORIES NINE AND TEN

Northwest Smith 6Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of another neglected pulp hero – in this case Northwest Smith. Created by the female author C.L. Moore in the 1930s Northwest Smith was a ruthless outer-space smuggler and mercenary decades before Han Solo. With his Venusian partner Yarol at his side and armed with a trusty blaster Smith roamed the solar system in his deceptively fast spaceship The Maid. For more on Northwest Smith and other neglected pulp heroes click here: https://glitternight.com/pulp-heroes/ 

9. LOST PARADISE (1936) – A smuggling job has taken Northwest Smith and Yarol to Earth. Afterward the pair find themselves relaxing in New York City which, in their era, is a multi-leveled metropolis reaching high into the sky.

The pair witness the theft of an enigmatic parcel from a very small and fragile man. That man turns out to be a member of the Seles race; a people who have secretly lived among humans for millions of years. The Seles are so ancient in fact that they lived on Earth long before the continents had their present shape. The tectonic shifts that created the modern-day layout of the planet destroyed the cities of the Seles, who established subterranean bases where they have lived undetected by humanity since then. Continue reading

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PULP HERO NORTHWEST SMITH: STORIES SEVEN AND EIGHT

Northwest Smith coverBalladeer’s Blog continues its examination of another neglected pulp hero – in this case Northwest Smith. Created by the female author C.L. Moore in the 1930′s Northwest Smith was a ruthless outer-space smuggler and mercenary decades before Han Solo. With his Venusian partner Yarol at his side and armed with a trusty blaster Smith roamed the solar system in his deceptively fast spaceship The Maid. For more on Northwest Smith and other neglected pulp heroes click here: https://glitternight.com/pulp-heroes/ 

7. THE COLD GRAY GOD (1935) – A smuggling jaunt has brought Northwest Smith back to Mars. While hanging out in the cold and snowy Martian city of Righa our hero gets hired by a most unusual client. Her name is Jaida, a beautiful Venusian woman who years previously had been THE singing sensation of the Cabaret circuit at the network of casinos and leisure resorts of Jupiter’s colonized moons. At the height of her fame Jaida turned her back on success and went into seclusion.

It turns out the former singer “found religion” in the form of the esoteric worship of The Un-Nameable One, the god of Mars’ distant past. The god is worshipped now only by super-secretive cults throughout the solar system; cults which claim to know the secrets of the ancient lettering which adorns most Martian households but whose meaning has long been forgotten. Jaida hires Smith to recover a stolen relic of the dark religion from the Righa crook who nabbed it. Continue reading

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PULP HERO NORTHWEST SMITH: STORIES FIVE AND SIX

Northwest Smith: C.L. Moore's ruthless swashbuckler of the spaceways.

Northwest Smith: C.L. Moore’s ruthless swashbuckler of the spaceways.

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of another neglected pulp hero – in this case Northwest Smith. Created by the female author C.L. Moore in the 1930s Northwest Smith was a ruthless outer-space smuggler and mercenary decades before Han Solo. With his Venusian partner Yarol at his side and armed with a trusty blaster Smith roamed the solar system in his deceptively fast spaceship The Maid. For more on Northwest Smith and other neglected pulp heroes click here: https://glitternight.com/pulp-heroes/ 

5. JULHI (1935) – After a smuggling run to Venus Northwest Smith foolishly lets his guard down in an underworld tavern and gets shanghaied away to the Venusian island called Vonng. Smith is the latest kidnap victim from lowlife hangouts to wake up weaponless on the deserted island as a sacrifice to Julhi, a lovely yet monstrous creature with a beautiful upper body but multiple lower limbs.

Julhi is just one of a race whose dimension shares the same space as Vonng’s crumbled ruins but where time passes much more slowly than in our realm. The story wouldn’t be out of place on the renewed Doctor Who series. Continue reading

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PRIZE COMICS SUPERHERO PANTHEON

Readers can’t get enough superhero articles! Since I aim to please here is another breakdown of the superheroes from a Golden Age pantheon, in this case from Prize Comics.

Airmale pictureAIRMALE

Secret Identity: Kenneth Stevens, College Biology Professor

First Appearance: Prize Comics #34 (September 1943)

Origin: Professor Kenneth Stevens was working on a “flight fluid” when he cut his hand in a lab accident. The fluid he was working on spilled into the wound and spread like an infection throughout his body, granting him superpowers. Wearing a colorful costume, he battled crime and Axis supervillains as Airmale. (Yes, Airmale.)

Airmale and StampyPowers: Airmale was lighter than air and could fly at high speed. He could also simply walk or stand on air when he desired. The hero devised a gravity belt to regulate the pull of gravity on his body so that he could walk around just fine in his civilian identity. Airmale excelled at unarmed combat.

Comment: As if the name Airmale wasn’t campy enough, this figure granted his teenage nephew Bobby Stevens a lesser version of his own power of flight and let him fight at his side as Stampy. No, I’m not kidding.   

Doctor FrostDOCTOR FROST

Secret Identity: None

First Appearance: Prize Comics #7 (December 1940)

Origin: As a baby, this future superhero was the sole survivor of a ship that sank off the northern coast of Alaska. Inuit people recovered him from a floating chunk of ice and presented him to Professor Carlson. As the boy grew to adulthood the professor gave him superpowers and sent him to New York City to fight crime as Doctor Frost.

Doctor Frost picPowers: Doctor Frost was immune to extreme cold and could shoot cold rays from his hands to freeze opponents or objects. He could also create ice constructs like bridges across water or the air and could wrap himself in layers of ice thick enough to survive explosions. This hero was reasonably good at unarmed combat.

Comment: This fun hero deserves to be rediscovered in a big way. His archenemy was Vulcan, a heat-powered semi-humanoid villain who lived in the Earth’s core and wanted to destroy the surface world. Doctor Frost also took on menaces like gangsters, a mad scientist and his invisible army plus a supervillain called the Leader, decades before the Hulk’s similarly named foe. Continue reading

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