Tag Archives: book reviews

DAREDEVIL: THE FIRST TWENTY STORIES FROM THE 1960s

Here’s a look at the first twenty Daredevil stories from the 1960s. These days Daredevil is mostly known for the dark and brooding element that the legendary writer and artist Frank Miller brought to the character, along with that whole Ninja element of DD’s background. 

dd 1DAREDEVIL Vol 1 #1 (April 1964)

Title: The Origin of Daredevil

Villain: The Fixer

Synopsis: At Fogwell’s Gym, a red and yellow costumed figure calling himself Daredevil barges in on the thugs and underlings of the Fixer (Roscoe Sweeney), the criminal behind the fixing of boxing matches at various levels. The hoods don’t want to tell Daredevil where the Fixer is and a huge fight breaks out. Our hero defeats the thugs with his agility, his red billy-club and – as we will learn shortly – his radar senses.

Daredevil has a flashback to his origin: he is really Matt Murdock whose father Battling Jack Murdock was a struggling boxer. To earn enough money to raise his son and send him to college, Battling Jack learned to play the game and throw fights when ordered to by the Fixer. Jack forbade his son to ever fight, which made Matt the object of ridicule by his peers so the younger Murdock trained himself in the martial arts (later retconned to being trained by Ninjas).

One day in his teens Matt heroically shoved a blind man from in front of a crashing toxic waste truck, saving his life but letting himself get hit by that vehicle. The nuclear waste and toxic chemicals in the truck blinded Matt Murdock but also gave him radar senses that more than compensated for the loss of his vision.

NOTE: In a tongue-in-cheek way, the creators of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles always implied that some of the toxic materials from that same truck poured into the sewer, mutating four turtles and a rat. Though they weren’t part of the Marvel Comics universe that Ninja Turtles joke went further still with the way that the evil group the Foot, fought by the TMNT, was an obvious take on the Hand, an evil group opposed by Daredevil.  Continue reading

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FIRST 20 CAPTAIN AMERICA STORIES FROM THE 1960s

Regular readers have let me know they are going through Marvel withdrawal right now because WandaVision just isn’t giving them enough of a fix. Last year I looked at Captain America’s first 20 stories from the 1940s. Now here’s a look at his first 20 solo stories from the 1960s.

tales of suspense 59TALES OF SUSPENSE Vol 1 #59 (November 1964)

Title: Captain America

Villain: Bull

Comment: After being thawed out from his suspended animation in Avengers #4, Captain America had been serving as a member of the team while trying to adjust to the way he had lost twenty years preserved in ice. Now he was getting his first Silver Age solo stories. Jack Kirby was drawing Cap’s stories, just as he had during the 1940s when he co-created the character. 

Synopsis: Alone on monitor duty at Avengers Mansion one night, Captain America was helping to pass the time by looking through old World War Two scrapbooks and memorabilia. He still missed his late partner Bucky. (NOTE: It was not until decades later that Marvel retconned events so that Bucky had survived as the Winter Soldier.)

Elsewhere in New York City, a gangster called Bull and his dozen or so men have learned that it’s Cap’s turn on monitor duty. With the other Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, the Wasp and Giant-Man) elsewhere, Bull and his men decide it’s their best chance to mount a raid on Avengers Mansion and make off with some of the Top Secret tech and national defense secrets in the place. Continue reading

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HILLMAN PERIODICALS SUPERHERO PANTHEON

Balladeer’s Blog’s readers demanded another detailed look at superheroes from a forgotten publishing company. Here are the often neglected heroes of Hillman Periodicals.

Dash Dixon 2DASH DIXON

Secret Identity: None, but he was called Dash Dixon the Man of Might so some sources list him as Man of Might with Dash Dixon given as his secret identity. He was publicly known, however.

First Appearance: Miracle Comics #1 (February 1940)

Origin: When police officer Dash Dixon was guarding a scientist named Doctor Lorenz, he agreed to be a human guinea pig for the doctor’s “Perpetual Life Rays” in his enclosed Perpetual Life Cabinet/ Coffin, in which he was also fed chemicals intravenously. Those rays and chemicals gave Dash superpowers with which he fought crime on special assignments from the Commissioner.

Dash Dixon Man of MightPowers: Dash Dixon, the Man of Might, possessed the strength of fifty men, could leap incredible distances, was invulnerable to harm and could live forever. (Originally he had the strength of just three men but that was changed to fifty. You know comic books.)

Normally the Perpetual Life Rays would wear off after a period of 24 hours but Dr Lorenz provided a pliable metal uniform for this hero to wear. The uniform contained the rays within his body, making his powers permanent.

Comment: Obviously staying in his uniform all the time would present problems that young readers of comic books might be oblivious to. I’d have thrown in the development that Dash was mortally wounded by villains trying to kill Dr Lorenz, who used his Perpetual Life Rays on Dixon to save his life.

The superpowers would be a bonus but in order to stay alive he had to remain in the uniform all the time, allowing for lots of the angst and tragedy that modern superheroes thrive on.  

Black AngelBLACK ANGEL

Secret Identity: Sylvia Manners

First Appearance: Air Fighters Comics #2 (November 1942)

Origin: Wealthy and connected British society woman Sylvia Manners kept a secret underground hangar in her aunt’s castle. (What, you mean your aunt doesn’t own a castle?) When Nazi bombers began wreaking havoc on Great Britain during World War Two she adopted the costumed identity of Black Angel and took to the air to do battle with them.

Powers: Black Angel was in peak human condition and excelled at both armed and unarmed combat. She was also a deadly fighter pilot and commando. This heroine used a handgun and also wielded a blow-pipe that shot poison darts, which she called “silent death.” Continue reading

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THE SPIRIT AND SOME OF HIS GREATEST FOES

Spirit baseSuperheroes rule pop culture right now and as usual Balladeer’s Blog readers have been letting me know it’s been awhile since I ran a blog post on the subject. Will Eisner’s iconic superhero the Spirit – who debuted in June of 1940 – rose from the grave of his secret identity, Private Investigator Denny Colt, after his apparent death when he got saturated in some chemicals of the supervillain Doctor Cobra.

Fan arguments still rage over whether or not the Spirit had any superpowers beyond his initial chemically-induced state of suspended animation which let him survive and rise from his grave days later. I’m of the school of thought that says the Spirit DID have superpowers, largely because I grow bored with alleged “super” heroes who are just regular shlubs who slap on a costume and fight crime. To me that’s more of a Pulp hero.

mascot sword and gun pic

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I don’t think it’s outrageous to attribute paranormal abilities to the Spirit. Just going by Will Eisner’s original stories let’s approach it this way:

GREATER THAN HUMAN STRENGTH – Taking this hero’s origin story at face value with no ret-conning necessary, when Denny Colt came to in his coffin he dug his way to the surface. It would require much more than the strength of a normal human to burst through the coffin lid AND force his way upward through six feet of soil. For all I know The Big Bang Theory guys may have once done a calculation on how much actual strength it would take to accomplish this feat.

EXTRAORDINARY RESILIENCY/ HEALING ABILITY – Early Spirit stories often show his body taking the kind of punishment that no non-powered human being could survive. The villains occasionally point out how impossible it is that the hero just keeps coming after all the damage they inflict on him. And again, taking his 1940 origin at face value his body would have had to have “healed” from the invasive procedures of embalming or similar treatments, before he woke up in his coffin.

Many fans feel that Frank Miller’s 2008 movie The Spirit took that too far by making his durability front and center and more like Wolverine’s notorious Healing Factor. Personally, I’m okay with it.

ROGUES GALLERY  Continue reading

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FLASHMAN OF ARABIA – LOST FLASHMAN PAPERS

Lee Horsley tubFor Flashman Down Under, Flashman in the Opium War & Flashman and the Kings click HERE   For Flashman on the Gold Coast click HERE  . Balladeer’s Blog now moves on to another Harry Flashman adventure referred to but never completed before George MacDonald Fraser’s death.

Lee Horsley Flashman

IF HE WAS BRITISH, LEE HORSLEY WOULD HAVE MADE A PERFECT HARRY FLASHMAN.

Projected Title: FLASHMAN OF ARABIA

Time Period: 1852-1854

The Setup: Sometime in the second half of 1852 Harry Flashman at last arrives back in England from his travels which began in 1848. The scandals he fled have fallen into relative obscurity and he’s getting some positive acclaim over his recent experiences during the Australian Gold Rush and earlier participation in a wagon train across America.

In addition he’s finally gotten to see his son “Havvy” (not Harry), the child his wife Elspeth was pregnant with when his travels began.

The Story: The one and only Richard Burton, viewing Harry as a kindred spirit, reaches out via correspondence and personally to encourage Flashman to write some papers and deliver public talks about his journey through America and Australia. Always ready to play to his public, and now discovering the raconteur side of his personality, Harry writes a (very) bowdlerized account of his adventures of the past four years and even delivers a few talks at which he meets Burton in person.  

Burton's bookThe duo enjoy diving into the darker and more forbidden side of life where sex, booze and other diversions are concerned. Flashman happens to be with Burton in Egypt in early 1853 when the famous explorer begins his journey to Medina and Mecca disguised as a Muslim.

We will learn he originally invited Harry to accompany him, since our protagonist was fluent in the necessary languages and was well-versed in Muslim customs from his military service in Afghanistan in the early 1840s. Flashman would have initially turned down the offer and stayed behind in Egypt until, getting into his usual trouble from boozing, whoring and gambling he would wind up fleeing for his life. Continue reading

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MY COUSIN’S AIRSHIP (1902): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

Thank you to all of you who have expressed condolences over recent family events. You people are the greatest! 

My Cousin's AirshipMY COUSIN’S AIRSHIP, A TALE OF 1950 (1902) – Written by W.F. Alexander. Though written in 1902 this story is set in a fictional 1950 which has seen incredible scientific advances.

The action begins in England, where our narrator lives with his true love Margaret. His cousin Stephen Rankin – a former rival for Margaret’s affections – is a nasty mean-spirited mad scientist figure.

Stephen has invented a new type of aerocar which can travel 45 miles per hour, which we readers are told makes it the fastest aircraft of 1950. (!) As a peace-making gesture the inventor invites our narrator along for a joyride in the airship. Continue reading

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FLASHMAN ON THE GOLD COAST – LOST FLASHMAN PAPERS

For Flashman Down Under, Flashman in the Opium War & Flashman and the Kings click HERE   For Flashman of Arabia click HERE Balladeer’s Blog now moves on to another Harry Flashman adventure referred to but never completed before George MacDonald Fraser’s death. FOR MY COUNTDOWN OF THE TOP FIVE FLASHMAN NOVELS CLICK HERE.

elmina castleProjected Title: FLASHMAN ON THE GOLD COAST

Time Period: Third Ashanti War (1873-1874)

The Setup: Queen Victoria’s Empire – specifically the British Gold Coast – bought the Dutch Gold Coast from Holland in 1871. The nearby Ashanti People of Africa had been at peace with the Dutch for over 200 years but were wary of their “new neighbors” and were protective of their enormous wealth in gold. They invaded the British Gold Coast in May, 1873.  

flashman shieldIn June the advance of the Ashanti was halted at Elmina and back in England Her Majesty’s Government made plans to send additional troops to the Gold Coast to deal with the situation. By August 13th General Garnet Wolseley was chosen to lead the army.

The Story: Wolseley, personally familiar with Flashman from the Crimean War and the Great Mutiny, would draft the reluctant Colonel-on-Half-Pay into his campaign. Sir Harry’s knack for picking up languages and his years of experience as a colonial officer would convince Wolseley of our hero’s fitness for this type of warfare, no matter what excuses Flashman would try to use.  Continue reading

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BEST OF 2020: MAY

Balladeer’s Blog’s year-end retrospective continues with this look at May’s best:

Lady MollyLADY MOLLY: DETECTIVE – Baroness Orczy’s female detective from 1910, solving a murder mystery involving a woman in a “big hat.” Click HERE.

TWENTY MORE “ANCIENT” SCIENCE FICTION STORIES – From hundreds of years ago onward, here are tales about genetically modified humanoid giants stalking the land, machines in the 1800s rebelling against humanity and so much more! Click HERE.

TRANSGRESS WITH ME: MAY FOURTH – Another daring and iconoclastic look at ideas which threaten the powers that be. Click HERE.

SUPERHERO PANTHEON OF FOX FEATURES – A look at forgotten superheroes of long ago. Click HERE.

Magical world of AniaTWIN PEAKS IN POLAND: THE MAGICAL WORLD OF ANIA – The disappearance of a troubled young woman leads to a series of nightmarish goings-on. Click HERE.

JAWBREAKERS: GRAND BIZARRE – The latest volume of the mercenary superhero team created by independent comics legend Richard C Meyer. Click HERE.

TWENTY COLD WAR ATTACKS ON U.S. AIRCRAFT – Plenty of violent encounters during the Cold War. Click HERE.

Consolations in TravelCONSOLATIONS IN TRAVEL (1830) ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION – A trip to assorted planets in our solar system. Click HERE.

SATANIC PANIC 2: ANTI-TRUMP HYSTERIA – The absurd overreactions to everything Trump ever did and said will likely be remembered in the same spirit as the bogus Satanic Panic of the 1980s or the periodic Red Scares. Click HERE.

THE DEATH TRAP (1908): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION – A creature feature type of battle with a monster in the Chicago sewer system. Click HERE. Continue reading

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BEST OF 2020: APRIL

Balladeer’s Blog’s end of year retrospective continues with this look at April’s best:

mars menMARS MEN (1976) MOVIE REVIEW – My review of the Thailand/ Japan/ Taiwan monster movie mashup. Click HERE.

THE HISTORY OF AN EXTINCT PLANET (1884): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION – Plenty of brilliant concepts in this neglected sci-fi gem. Click HERE.

THE GUARDIAN’S MELANIE PHILLIPS: WHY I LEFT THE LEFT – She speaks for so many of us. Click HERE

STALKER (1976-1976): SWORD AND SORCERY SERIES – For this look at a combination Witcher, Conan and Game of Thrones click HERE.

THE INVISIBLE MAN (1984) – Forgotten British television adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic. Click HERE.

GeorgesGEORGES (1843): Alexandre Dumas’ novel about a swashbuckling swordsman fighting slavery. Click HERE.

DAYBREAK (1896): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION – The moon hits the Earth, plus Mars’ equivalent of Jesus? Click HERE.

APRIL FOOL’S DAY WITH THE FOOL KILLER – A quick guide to the original Fool Killer Letters of the 1800s and beyond. Click HERE.

ToomorrowTOOMORROW (1970) – My movie review of Olivia Newton John’s deep dark secret. Click HERE.

TRUMP’S PAYROLL PROTECTION PROGRAM FURTHERS HIS FDR IMAGE – As I’ve said before, de facto Third Party President Donald Trump has been the best president of my lifetime when it comes to his aid for the working class and the poor. Click HERE.

A PLUNGE INTO SPACE (1890): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION – A Steampunk journey to Mars. Click HERE.

TOP MOVIES OF SHINYA TSUKAMOTO – Balladeer’s Blog looks at the director’s best HERE.

rivals of sherlockDOCTOR THORNDYKE – A rival of Sherlock Holmes in a great mystery adapted for television. Click HERE.

THE AMERICAN GIRLS (1978): FORGOTTEN TELEVISION – Female reporters as the new Charlie’s Angels? Click HERE. Continue reading

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BEST OF 2020: MARCH

Balladeer’s Blog’s end of year retrospective continues with this look at March’s best:

mandy posterMANDY (2018): NICOLAS CAGE IN THE ROLE HE WAS BORN TO PLAY – Cage always brings the crazy and this wild, hyper-stylized and ultra-violent horror film showcases him at his psychotic best. Click HERE.

A STORY OF THE YEAR 2236 (1900): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION – Neglected Space Opera about humanity’s rise to an interstellar empire followed by a cataclysmic war with an alien race. Click HERE.

DEMOCRATS BLOCK CORONAVIRUS AID PACKAGE – More callous playing with lives by the combined Nazis and Mafia of our time. Click HERE.

TWENTY DJANGO MOVIES – The 20 best Django movies from before Quentin Tarantino’s reboot. Click HERE.

SHAKEM AKHET: DEMOCRATS DO NOTHING FOR BLACK VOTERS – A Martin Luther King Person of Courage praises de facto Third Party President Trump and his accomplishments for communities of color. Click HERE.

Robert Ludlum expanded universeROBERT LUDLUM EXPANDED UNIVERSE – Television series like Beowulf Agate, Operation: Medusa and one set in the dystopian future from the end of The Holcroft Covenant. Click HERE.  

THE STRANGER (1991-1995) – Colin Baker’s science fiction series in which he was the Doc – I mean the Stranger … yeah, that’s it … the Stranger. Click HERE.

FINAL FOUR AND ELITE EIGHT BASKETBALL – At least a few college divisions got to play their national tournaments this year. Click HERE.

TWENTY BOOKS ABOUT THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY’S SCANDALS AND FAILURES – Only imbeciles would believe that ANY presidential administration was “scandal free” (LMAO). Click HERE.

James Garner 2TWENTY JAMES GARNER MOVIES: Some of the underrated actor’s best work: movies 1-10 and movies 11-20.

ALL THAT GLITTERS (1977) – A long-forgotten soap opera set on a parallel Earth where women were in charge and men were the sex objects. Click HERE.

A ROUND TRIP TO THE YEAR 2000 (1903): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION – Long before Doc Brown and Marty McFly came this science fiction tale of time travel via a souped-up automobile. Click HERE. Continue reading

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