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Posts tagged ‘Fred Guardineer’

Speed Saunders (Early Golden Age)

Speed Saunders continues his run, with art by Guardineer for the first year.  It’s not Guardineer’s best, but it’s much better than what comes after he leaves the series.  We learn nothing more about Speed during the part of his run, in fact, we learn less than we did in the early days, as we never see his home, and he never gets a supporting cast.

In issue 39 it appears that he will get a sidekick.  He recruits Danny, a street kid, to help him keep an eye on a nest of Siva worshippers, and the boy gets commended by the police chief.  We are told in the last panel that Danny will be Speed’s new assistant, but then never see him again.  And I breathed a sigh of relief over that.

In fact, the stories that follow 30 are the most intense of the run.  Speed is thrown off a cliff by jewel thieves, hunts them down and viciously beats them.  He gets tied up and beaten by railway thieves, and after a gambler kills a man, Speed digs up the decaying corpse in the basement of his house.

With issue 48 the series changes direction once again, becoming much more of a whodunit strip. Each story has Speed come across a murder, often in an unusual location – a train, and airplane, a baseball diamond during a game.  Speed investigates for a couple of pages, and then there is box informing the reader that the clues are all there, and challenging them to determine the identity of the killer, which Speed reveals and explains on the final page.

The first few of these are quite good.  Even though the killer is fairly obvious in most, the critical clue is not always blatant.  I think the best of these was the airplane murder in issue 54.  An apparent suicide, Speed deduces it was murder and that the suicide note was a fake by the fact that it was written clearly.  If it had been written during the flight, the words would be jagged and bumpy.

In issue 58 Speed solves “The Cigarette Murder,” identifying the killed by ashes left in the tray while the butts were removed, and then his series ends.  As this story is dated December 1941, I cannot help but feel that the attack on Pearl Harbour spurred Speed to leave the force and enlist in the army in some capacity.

Speed Saunders:  Detective Comics  35 – 58 (Jan 40 – Dec 41)

Anchors Aweigh

Anchors Aweigh features Lieutenant Commander Don Kerry of the US navy, and his buddy Red Murphy, who is never given a rank.  They have one long serial that takes them to Brazil, where they hunt down and capture El Diablo, a revolutionary, but then spend the rest of the era dealing with problems in the south Pacific, mostly in one-shot tales.

The art is by Guardineer for the first 12 instalments, and it’s the kind of Guardineer art I don’t like, very stiff and static.  But I must conceded, after he leaves the series the art gets downright awful.

The first serial is not bad, it spends a lot of time making it look like Marshall, an American embassy staffer, is really El Diablo, but instead his assistant Fernando is the one leaving the false trail, and El Diablo actually ifs from the German embassy.

The later stories are passable at best.  Chinese bandits, a man who wants to blow up the Panama Canal, pirates, native uprisings, illegal gambling boats are all dealt with quickly and easily.  The most interesting, or at least the weirdest, of the stories involves master japanese spy Sin Yun, who attempts to get Don and Red to reveal the secrets of a radio controlled torpedo by having hybrid animals attack them.  The gorilla man is ok, but the octo-dile is hilarious.

Anchors Aweigh continues in the Early Golden Age, for some reason

Anchors Aweigh:  New Adventure Comics  28 – 31  (July – Oct 38)

Adventure Comics  32 – 45  (Nov 38 – Dec 39)

Zatara, Master Magician

Zatara’s long running series debuted in Action Comics #1, derived from the Mandrake the Magician newspaper serial.  Zatara wore a top hat and tails, and gained a pencil moustache in his second appearance, making him easily the best dressed crime fighter of the age.

His trademark method of magic, casting spells by speaking backwards, was used in the first few tales, but then dropped until issue 16, after which it became standard.  Before issue 16, Zatara would also say magic words, like Hagga Yooth , or Aga Dan, to cast spells, or sometimes just gesture without saying a thing.  He could turn invisible, control minds, cast illusions, and transform objects.  Limiting his spell casting to speaking backwards placed at least some boundary to his endless powers.

He was drawn was by Fred Guardineer, an artist I have mixed feelings about.  When characters are talking, or going about everyday activities, they are painfully static, almost awkward, but when the story takes us to magical realms, underwater kingdoms or ancient times, Guardineer excels.

Zatara spends his series travelling with his massive assistant of nebulous asian descent, Tong. We never see Zatara perform before an audience, so it does not appear he is on tour.  He does put on a magic show for a child, but thats an impromptu, one-on-one thing.

In issue 3 he begins a round the world excursion, stopping in Egypt, South Africa, Tibet and Shanghai, before sailing back to San Franciso in issue 11, having adventures along the way.

In his first appearance Zatara foils the plans of a thief, the Tigress, who then seems to follow Zatara around, showing up in Egypt and Tibet.  Zatara always lets the Tigress escape empty-handed, but they do work together in Egypt to restore the Emerald of Cheops to the Temple of Bubastis.

Once the round the world excursion begins, Zatara’s foes are more likely to be sorcerors and ancient priests, rather than common criminals, and the stories become much more interesting, both in terms of plot and in visuals.

There is a global warming story in issue 15, though it’s a mad scientist with a heat ray who is melting the icebergs causing the seas to rise.  Great art on the deluged New York City.

Scientists also send Zatara to the 4th Dimension, and to Saturn.  On Saturn, Zatara meets Porra, a tall, muscular, bald, green-skinned man wearing a blue cape and straps crossed over his chest.  He really could not look more like the Martian Manhunter if he tried.  The story itself even deals with a drought on the planet, and using canals.  This soooo should have been set on Mars, then I could claim a golden age appearance for Martian Manhunter, but I can’t.

In issue 17 Zatara sets off for his “yearly vacation” in Europe.  Now, he only got back to the US in issue 11, sailed down to Brazil to find the Fountain of Youth in issue 14, travelled to Mongolia and back to steal a gem for display at the New York World’s Fair (a story related in that volume), and did his trips to Saturn and the 4th Dimension, so it’s hard to see why he needs another vacation, particularly in Europe in late 1939!  Zatara clearly was not keeping up with world events.

Nevertheless he goes, and after winding up in the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, overthrowing a tyrant and restoring the Queen to her youth and the throne, Zatara makes it to Africa, where he encounters the first Gorilla City that would appear in a DC comic.  It was created by a mad scientist, and is destroyed at the end of the tale, but the idea would remain.

Zatara made two cover appearances in this era.  In fact, he was the only feature other than Superman to get a cover of Action Comics until the 1960s.

Zatara continues in the Early Golden Age

Zatara:  Action Comics 1 – 19  (June 38 – Dec 39)

New York World’s Fair 1939

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