Monday, September 01, 2008

Doc Savage and the Vampire

Checking out a new used bookstore in the area, I found a couple of pulp reprints I didn't have. By the time Bantam was starting to reprint Docs as double-novels and the later omnibuses with 4 stories each, I was in college and money was a bit tight (as was time devoted to "fun" reading). Plus, there were plenty of the books I could find at used bookstores for little to nothing. So, some of the later reprints passed me by. Little did I know how hard those would be to find, not to mention the prices on the omnibuses on the used market. Your best bet is to find a small used bookstore that doesn't know that collectors are charging top dollars for these. Or, as in this case, a bookstore having a grand opening sale, so they are half off. Otherwise, I probably would have balked spending 5-10 on a beat up paperback even of Doc Savage and his spiritual brother, the Avenger.

The Doc double is #121/122: The Three Wild Men and The Fiery Menace. I was a little worried that maybe the excitement wouldn't hold up, it's been years since I have been able to read a Doc novel that was new to me. Tastes change after all, and what was exciting before could be tedious and dated now.

I needn't have worried. Stylistically, reading a new Doc is as much fun as it ever was. Sure, the writing by Dent and his ghosts can be a bit formulaic, but it's in those ways that things are changed up that can make it fun. In The Three Wild Men, Monk and Ham, forever bickering and trying to one-up each other in trying to get a girl find a girl that annoys them both to such a degree that they try their best to get her stuck with the other one. The plot and mystery of the wild men is interesting in that it's not the usual out for money motivation and the framing of Doc for the mysterious afflictions of wild men around the globe is more of a strategic and forward thinking plan. There's quite a bit of effort to set up mood and atmosphere in the first half of the book but it peters out a bit as the menace never seems too threatening. This is also a Doc Savage that has been around for a while, Doc's national and international influence and reach is played to good effect both in the global feel of the story as well as in some of the quieter moments as in the beginning when he is talking to a source of information from another country about a small international matter trying to head off a potential incident before it develops.

The stories from this era often end with a tease of the next month's adventure. The Fiery Menace is an odd story. It has a very stylistic beginning that has Lester Dent's trademarked breezy style all over it, from his way of giving detailed and tongue in cheek fleshing out of minor characters as he tells you all about Betty Free and her life while she has no role in the story other than finding the dead body. It's also a bit schizophrenic. While the title and description of the menace plays up the fire aspect, the story description and menace also play up an odd vampire angle. The story comes across as not being able to make up its mind exactly what it wants to be about and thus it doesn't really do either extremely well. It's not the first time that science-fiction would be disguised as something inexplicable and supernatural, but it's just not pulled off as well as in other novels such as The Squeaking Goblin and The Giggling Ghosts. In the end, some things are not really explained, the identity of the villain is not a surprise, but that's because of that whole formulaic writing thing and not the story itself. Instead, the revelation comes off almost as an afterthought and isn't really supported by the story. Also "wasted" is a really cool secondary villain, a diminutive yet extremely capable man who is able to go toe-to-toe with Monk and Ham, even getting the best of them and described as an "atom". Sadly, he gets offed completely off panel by the vampire. By story's end, you're left with an ok action tale, but one that seemed to have the potential to be so much more.

A light week on comics. Justice Society of America #18 moves the plot of Gog and Magog forward. Some great moments as we see ramifications of people being "cured", Dr. Mid-Nite discovers that lacking powers makes him no more effective than the average man, Damage suddenly has a zest for life and talks about second choices and such (the very same messages that he turned a deaf ear to when he was scarred), Sandman is still sleeping, Powergirl lost on another earth and Citizen Steel overeager to be next.

If you read the Hawkman special last week, it should come as no surprise that the reveals and ramifications of that issue has absolutely no bearing on his appearance here. Why should DC be paying that close of attention? After all, they revealed in the previews the big plot points of this issue, robbing the revelation of Magog's identity of any power it would have. Hawkman is written as his Conan the barbarian self here that Johns had revamped him as. And, as it often seems when he's in the pages of the JLA and JSA, it doesn't work, the character is too hot-headed and bloodthirsty to jibe with the character that was chairman of the JSA for several decades. There's a lot of talk about his soulmate and love which makes his talk with Hawkgirl last issue seem a little oddly detached considering she's seeing Red Arrow these days.

Anybody remember the Black Adam appearance from issue 16? Well, two issues and an annual later and that little subplot has not been touched on since. Bad storytelling structure there.

The cliffhanger with Powergirl on Earth-2, completely logical and yet I didn't expect it.

Englesham's art is fairly good and consistant. Any quibbles would concern Jay Garrick's rather longish hair that seems odd for the character and his characters in smaller panels tend to lose defining details.

DC Universe: Last Will and Testament: Can someone please stop Brian Meltzer from writing any more superhero comics? This is just another example of his compulsion to revisit storylines from 25 years ago and put his own modern literary take on it, in this case the death of Terra in New Teen Titans 25 years ago. This is also him following up on subplots he introduced in the pages of the Justice League, back when he was regular writer of that team and yet he was unable to finish addressing it there while poor Dwayne McDuffie has to spend most of his first year tying up his other loose ends when he's not using the book to set up various other mini-series.

The plot is that Geoforce knows that Deathstroke is behind the altering of his powers, yet they have given him invulnerability to the point that he think he can take on Deathstroke and win. As long as he plays it smart and not just try to outfight him. This is all set against the backdrop of Final Crisis. Unfortunately, if you are not following those titles, all the little character moments and references are non-sensical and have really nothing to do with the story at hand which is a one-shot. It's even inconsistent in this very book as in its own word with this crisis "this time, there's nothing to punch" and later there's talk of the heroes gathering as an army. This is bad writing, making the book meet some kind of crossover criteria that really has nothing to do with this particular story instead of making a one-shot that really stands on its own.

The main story starts off well enough, with Geoforce rationalizing going after Deathstroke to kill him. Most of the talk is whether he'd still be a hero or not. It only gives lip service to the better arguments: Brion is the ruler of a nation, as such the question and issues are what it means on that level. He's not just some outside-the-law vigilante. He could be very well within his rights to demand extradition of Deathstroke and his going after Deathstroke could very well have some bigger legal and political ramifications. It's a bigger story than could be handled here. To make it worse, Meltzer is being literary here, that means he's not really trying to tell a kick-butt superhero story that elevates Geoforce as a character, but it's a story that is to undermine the character, to reinforce his "C-list" status. Unable to defeat Slade and unable to accept the truth about his sister, he opts for the coward's way out (Cowardice is his own word for it) and is only able to defeat Slade by a chance opening revealed. In a "Red Badge of Courage" twist, what should serve to mark him as a failure and a coward is mis-interpreted into signs of a great success and heroic victory. Bleh.

The sub-plots make as little success as heroes on this eve of Armageddon are gathering with loved ones while some visit Rocky Davis of Challengers of the Unknown who is operating as a Catholic priest type, giving counselling/taking confessions. If you can accept that, then the fact that they have no trouble visiting him at the remote Challenger Mountain can pass on by. It's a character turn that makes no sense, a square peg forced to fit a round hole. Normally dialog doesn't bother me too much, I accept a lot of stiff expositional dialog in comics and such. Yet, the talk between Superman and his father really came off as a very contrived moment, dialog written to sound cool, like something from a movie than a real discussion.

Now for something completely different.

It's a wonder real criminals get caught. I have a friend whose house was broken into. Trying to open windows, they left whole hand prints all around. They stole his checkbook and wrote checks for thousands of dollars at places with security cameras and yet...

No match came back on the prints. The gas station they bought hundreds of dollars worth of stuff saw nothing unusual enough to ask for an id on the check and kept using the same tape over and over on their security camera that rendered it useless to retrieve an image from. They bought a ton of gift cards at one target whose camera wasn't aligned well enough to get a clear image and spent them at another nearby store whose security system was temporarily down...

All this was going on across a couple of county lines, this meant my friend had to file reports and follow ups with several different police precincts. Apparently, they do little inter-communication by themselves. Finally one of them was caught red-handed as he was breaking into a church! Turns out he has a long list of priors for break-ins and such. Yet, he didn't turn up on when they ran the fingerprints??!?

1 comment:

Chuck Wells said...

I sympathize with what your friend went through, Cash.

My father-in-law walked out of the local grocery store and left his wallet laying there at the very register where he had just paid. He only got about a mile from the store before he realized it and quickly turned back. Guess what? The guy behind him in line claimed the wallet, even though the checkout girl questioned him on it. Security cameras have the guy pegged, but even though he also immediately went to the nearby Sam's Club to cash in a $50 gift card, again fully on security cameras, the cops haven't been able to track the guy down. The credit card losses proved to be the easiest ones to recoup, fortunately.

Where is the CSI gang when you need them?