Tag Archives: book reviews

BLACK ORCHID: HER EARLY STORIES (1973-1976)

This weekend’s light-hearted, escapist superhero post here at Balladeer’s Blog will take a look at the very early stories of the DC Comics superheroine called the Black Orchid.  

adv 428ADVENTURE COMICS Vol 1 #428 (August 1973)

Title: Black Orchid

Villains: Corrupt politicians making their lone appearance.

NOTE: Black Orchid’s origin was just vaguely hinted at for years, but for the sake of streamlined storytelling I’m starting off with it. Susan Linden, an adventurous young woman, roamed the world for a few years, working at a variety of jobs.

           While working as a blackjack dealer in a casino, she met wealthy Carl Thorne and the two dated, then married. Eventually, Susan realized that Carl was a black-market arms dealer and reported him to the authorities.

          adv 428 splMs. Linden sought shelter with her old school boyfriend from years earlier – brilliant scientist Philip Sylvian, an expert at botanical science. Carl Thorne’s thugs tracked Susan to Sylvian’s place and mortally wounded her.

           With no other hope for Susan Linden’s survival, Philip used Susan’s dying body and harnessed life-force, combining them with his latest botanical experiments in plant/ animal hybrids. The result was a new life-form which looked like Susan but whose physiology was more plantlike than human.

           Susan Linden’s transformed self now possessed superpowers which she used to fight the forces of evil as the costumed superheroine called Black Orchid. Her wood-hard muscles gave her massive super-strength as well as greater than human reflexes and agility. She could fly and her hybrid physiology made her immune to bullets. Continue reading

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ROBERT E. HOWARD’S REAL RED SONYA (NOT SONJA)

red sonyaTHE SHADOW OF THE VULTURE – This story by Robert E. Howard, the ONLY Howard story to actually feature Red Sonya, was first published in the January 1934 issue of Magic Carpet Magazine. As I’ve mentioned in many other reviews of old pulp characters, Howard’s REAL Red Sonya was indeed a warrior woman, but not one from his fictional Hyborian Age.

It was Marvel Comics who distorted Red Sonya into “Red Sonja” and placed her as a guest star in assorted Conan stories as well as her own series. That Red Sonja has more in common with female author C.L. Moore’s warrior woman Jirel of Joiry than she does with Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonya.

red sonya picThe Shadow of the Vulture is one of Howard’s historical adventures and it’s set during the 1520s, largely at the Siege of Vienna from September 27th to October 15th in 1529. Red Sonya of Rogatino is a Polish-Ukrainian woman who is more skilled than most men with swords and guns.

The storied red-haired woman has a personal grudge against Muslim Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who was besieging Vienna with over 100,000 soldiers against Vienna’s 21,000. Red Sonya was glad to serve against Suleiman’s armies whenever she could.  Continue reading

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MARVEL TEAM-UP: EARLY STORIES

This weekend’s light-hearted, escapist superhero post here at Balladeer’s Blog will take a look at some of the very early stories in Marvel Team-Up.

mtu 1MARVEL TEAM-UP Vol 1 #1 (March 1972)

Title: Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas

Villain: Sandman

Synopsis: On Christmas Eve, Spider-Man and his old friend the Human Torch find themselves caught up in a battle with their mutual enemy Sandman. At that time the villain was still wearing the special costume his fellow Frightful Four member the Wizard made for him, which gave him the power to mix other chemicals with his sand body, thus increasing his power. Misty Knight makes her (retconned) first appearance.

NOTE: I wrote a VERY lengthy review of this story for the Christmas season of 2016 HERE.

mtu 2MARVEL TEAM-UP Vol 1 #2 (May 1972)

Title: And Spidey Makes Four

Villains: The Frightful Four

Synopsis: The Human Torch (Johnny Storm) is still very depressed over the end of his romance with the member of the Inhumans called Crystal.

NOTE: Crystal had been the Torch’s love interest for years and had even replaced Invisible Woman in the Fantastic Four during Sue Storm-Richards’ first pregnancy. Crystal would later marry the Avenger Quicksilver at a ceremony attacked by Ultron HERE.

frightful fourThe escaped Sandman reunites with his teammates in the Frightful Four (as you could guess, the supervillain version of the Fantastic Four) – the Wizard and the Trapster. Originally, the Inhumans member Medusa had been their 4th member back when she was a misunderstood villain.

With Medusa having gone straight and quit, the team needs a 4th member (the woman Thundra would not join until December 1972) so Sandman, Wizard and Trapster capture and enthrall Spider-Man. The Human Torch is the only Fantastic Four member on hand at the Baxter Building, and the hypnotized Spider-Man gets Johnny to let him into the building and the villains force their way in with him. Continue reading

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THE EMPEROR OF THE AIR (1910) ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

emperor of the airTHE EMPEROR OF THE AIR (1910) – Written by George Glendon, this is a story about two visionaries – the German-American tycoon Hans Kreutzer and the Italian inventor Anatole Lonari.

The inventor has been finagled out of profiting from many revolutionary creations and feels very embittered. The tycoon, despite his comfortable existence, has become a dedicated anarchist and longs to lay low the “oppressor nations.”

Kreutzer and Lonari join forces and settle in a remote area of Spain to pursue their dream project. The inventor perfects a very advanced rotary engine while the tycoon/ entrepreneur produces a vacuum-lifted aircraft that requires no helium or hydrogen to rise into the sky.

Throw in solid fuel and futuristic explosives and the two masterminds complete their airship called the Zara. It can fly up to 100 miles per hour and remain airborne for extended periods of time. Continue reading

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SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL

For this weekend’s light-hearted and escapist superhero blog post Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at the early adventures of the Marvel Comics character Shanna the She-Devil.

shanna 1SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL Vol 1 #1 (December 1972)

Title: And a Jungle Queen is Born

Villains: Ivory Dan Drake and his men

NOTE: Rather than simply revive one of their company’s Golden Age Jungle Queens like Zara or Lorna, Marvel Comics went with a new character whose name made her even MORE of a Sheena rip-off than either Zara OR Lorna! Go figure.

Synopsis: On the Dahomey Reserve in Africa, the infamous ivory poacher Ivory Dan Drake and his men are about to slaughter some elephants for their tusks when they are stopped by the attacking Dr. Shanna O’Hara, now better known as Shanna the She-Devil.

sheena spl pageShe disarms and subdues the poachers, then she and her two leopards – Ina the Spotted and Biri the Dark – escort the hunting party to the border of the reserve. She orders them to leave the area, then resumes her professional care for the animals of the jungle.

Ivory Dan and his men simply move to another location and resume their poaching expedition. As Shanna spends the rest of the issue battling them, including Ivory Dan’s huge, hulking German thug Zarg, we get flashbacks regarding her origin. Continue reading

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EL BORAK: NEGLECTED ROBERT E. HOWARD CHARACTER

base x betterRecently Balladeer’s Blog covered Robert E. Howard’s stories about his overlooked characters James Allison and Turlogh Dubh. This time around I’m taking a look at another neglected creation of Howard, best known for his Conan, Kull and Solomon Kane stories.

el borakEL BORAK – This character’s real name was Francis Xavier Gordon, an old west gunfighter from El Paso, Texas, who wound up traveling much of the world outside of the United States. Gordon settled in Afghanistan where his prowess with swords and pistols made him a tolerated outsider and earned him the nickname El Borak.

That epithet means “The Swift” and was a reference to Muhammad’s mythical flying horse the Buraq. F.X. Gordon was renowned for his fast draw, swiftness with a scimitar and quick-wittedness. Robert E. Howard seems to have patterned El Borak along the lines of real-life figures like Lawrence of Arabia or Nicholson of India, but with the distinctly American touch of the character’s gunslinger past.

Let’s dive into these action-packed sword and pistol adventures.

daughter of erlik khanTHE DAUGHTER OF ERLIK KHAN – First published in the pulp magazine Top-Notch in December, 1934. El Borak was hired by a pair of scurvy Britishers to guide them to a nonexistent captive friend of theirs. They secretly plan to loot the treasure of Mount Erlik Khan in the city of Yolgan.

That city was avoided by even the most daring Afghani tribes because its pre-Islamic origins lay in outright devil worship and the Satanic priests were still the ruling caste of Yolgan. When the treacherous Brits lay a trap for El Borak after they no longer need him, then leave him for dead, he sets out for revenge.

The former wild west gunfighter infiltrates Yolgan and comes across a former lady love named Yasmeena. In the years since their last meeting, she had married a Kashmir prince, but when he proved abusive, she fled him. That prince has offered a fortune to any who will return Yasmeena to him so that he may torture her to death. Continue reading

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THE CREEPER: ANOTHER STEVE DITKO HERO

This weekend’s light-hearted, escapist superhero post here at Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at the often-mishandled DC character the Creeper, from Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.

showcase 73SHOWCASE Vol 1 #73 (April 1968)

Title: The Coming of the Creeper

Villains: Soviet Major Smej and Angel Devlin

Synopsis: Jack Ryder is a crusading television reporter and commentator for WHAM-TV in Gotham City. Ryder’s maverick style always has him in trouble with sponsors like Clayton Wetley and his own boss at the network – Bill Brane.

Jack RyderJack gets tipped off about the abduction of Vincent Yatz, a scientific genius who recently defected from the Soviet Union to the United States.

Investigating, Ryder discovers that Major Smej, a Soviet spy, has allied himself with the criminal gang of Angel Devlin to abduct defectors and return them to the U.S.S.R. for punishment. Angel uses a half-angel half-devil costume schtick for his villain gimmick.  

creeperOur hero learns that Devlin will be covertly turning the captured Yatz over to Major Smej that night using a costume party attended by the rich and powerful as cover. Jack Ryder throws together a costume from leftovers he buys at a costume shop – the yellow, green and red sheepskin cape/stole ensemble that will become his Creeper outfit going forward.

At that costume party, Jack’s nosiness gets him roughed up and fatally stabbed by the costumed Angel Devlin and Smej’s men. Bleeding out, he is kept out of the sight of the bigwig guests by getting locked up with the scientist Vincent Yatz. Continue reading

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THE WARSTOCK: A TALE OF TOMORROW (1898) ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

warstock coverTHE WARSTOCK: A TALE OF TOMORROW (1898) – Written by the British William Oliver Greener under the pen name Wirt Gerrare. Despite this book’s Great Britain origins, the two lead characters are American inventors from Plainfield, New Jersey – Robert Sterry and Willie Redhead.

In the near future (from 1898), the pair have discovered a new energy source and use it to power their wireless telegraphy system called the Sterrygraph. Sterry and Redhead seek investors in England and on the Continent without success.

mascot chair and bottle picWhile hitting the social circuit in London, our heroes meet Madeline Winship, who connects them with backers who are part of an exclusive Royal Society-inspired group of scientific minds. The group are called the Isocrats, and they devote themselves to science and similar intellectual pursuits, like elevating dancing to what we might call performance art. Continue reading

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BATMAN: THE REAL YEAR ONE (1939-1940)

For this weekend’s light-hearted, escapist superhero post, Balladeer’s Blog will look at the first twelve months of Batman stories.

dc 27DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #27 (May 1939)

Title: The Case of the Chemical Syndicate

Villains: Alfred Stryker and his thugs

NOTE: This was the very first appearance of Batman.

Synopsis: Wealthy Bruce Wayne is relaxing with Commissioner Gordon at the latter’s home. Gordon discusses with Bruce the reported sightings of a figure called the Batman. Bruce pretends to be as puzzled as the commissioner is.

A phone call summons Gordon to the Lambert Mansion, where the son of the chemical company tycoon is being held on suspicion of murdering his father. The commissioner invites Bruce to tag along (?) and he does so.

batman posingThe Lambert son (no first name is ever given for him and his father) insists he’s innocent and that his father was receiving threats from a criminal syndicate muscling in on the family’s firm, Apex Chemical Corporation. The dead man’s partner Steve Crane starts getting threats now and wants police protection.

Bruce Wayne secretly decides to give Crane extra protection as Batman. That night, our hero clashes with multiple hired killers, tossing one of them off the roof of a building during their fight. Batman also has to evade the police, who want the vigilante arrested. Continue reading

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TURLOGH DUBH: ANOTHER NEGLECTED ROBERT E. HOWARD CHARACTER

Recently, Balladeer’s Blog examined Robert E. Howard’s trilogy of tales featuring one of his neglected characters, James Allison. This time around we’ll take a look at another overlooked creation of Howard – the Irish warrior Turlogh Dubh of Clan O’Brien. 

grey god passesTHE GREY GOD PASSES – This was technically the first appearance of Turlogh Dubh but the story was not published until long after Robert E. Howard’s suicide in 1936. That publication came in 1962’s Dark Mind, Dark Heart. The other two Turlogh stories were published in 1931. 

Turlogh is just one of many characters – both real and fictional – in this historical adventure about the real-life Battle of Clontarf on April 23rd, 1014 – Good Friday. The battle supposedly lasted from sunrise to sunset.

Robert E. Howard’s approach in this tale could be likened to those big-budget, all-star war movies like The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, Midway, etc. Like the other characters, the fictional Turlogh comes in and out of the narrative as we read the lead-up, the battle and a bit of the aftermath. He is, however, the main character of the next two tales in which he appears.  Continue reading

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