2/23/11

Black Terror #11 - Part 2 "The Discovery"

Although it doesn't have an obvious title, I've seen this story called "The Discovery".

This, and the 1-page text story "Peruvian Boy" by William B McClellan comic reflect FDR's "Good Neighbor Policy" and the US's focus on South America during WWII. In a way the clinical description of the geography of Chile has the feel of Disney's animated movies of the time, "Saludos Amigos" (1942) and "The Three Caballeros" (1944). Either that, or Nedor publications was just trying to ride on the coat-tails of an exotic location that had worked its way into popular culture.

The plot of this Black Terror story nearly parallels "Black Terror vs the Voice." Bob Benton gets a letter from an old friend, Dick Johnson, who has discovered a new source of gold on an island off the coast of South America. An analysis of the sample included with the letter shows it's not only rich in gold, but also platinum, and pitchblend which indicates the presence of radium.  Bob decides to visit his friend, and just as he's inviting Tim along, Jean shows up and horns her way into the adventure.

Meanwhile Roger Chilling, the man who killed Dick's father, has his gang attack Dick, drive off his dog Thor, and bury the miner in the ground up to his neck.

Another "...meanwhile" and we discover the plane carrying Bob, Tim and Jean over the equator is being hijacked. The air pirates bring the plane down on an uncharted island, ruin the engine and leave in their own floatplane, stranding our heroes along with the rest of the air passengers. Luckily Tim and Bob jump into a nearby thicket and become the Terror Twins. They use their superhuman strength to create a rope bridge to the mainland, saving all the plane's passengers.

On the mainland they discover it's still a three-day trip by boat to Salvator Chile, so they commandeer a dugout and take Jean on the canoe ride of her life. From Salvator they're given a plane to fly to Baldpate Island.

Hearing the plane, Roger Chilling and his thugs run for their hideout. Luckily for Dick, Thor leads the Terror Twins straight to his master. The Black Terror and Tim are about to overwhelm the thugs when, somehow, they are overcome and knocked out.

The criminals toss the Terror Twins, and Dick into an underground river, then take Jean as hostage while they finish gathering soil samples to stake their claim. They're about to leave in the plan when Dick's dog stops them, only to be shot by one of the gangsters.

Through sheer will, and a little strength, the Terror Twins escape from the underground river and save Dick. They find Dick's dog, who turned out to be only wounded, and his scuttled boat, and they sail it full speed for the Chilean mainland. Once in Salvator they alert the authorities, who give the Terror Twins a fighter plane and also scramble the Chilean and Bolivian air forces to stop the thugs. In a two-panel finale, the Black Terror leaps from his plan to the fugitives' plane and arrests them.

Some questions the story raises:
  • Why did Roger Chilling kill Dick's father five years ago, and why doesn't he shoot Dick, rather than bury him up to his neck?
  • Why was the plane hijacked? Did the air pirates know Bob Benton / The Black Terror was on the plane? It's a complete hole in the story.
  • Once more Bob and Tim find themselves in a completely isolated setting, and Jean appears not to connect the dots between the pharmacist and the Black Terror... or does she? When she sees him coming out of the bushes she says "The Black Terror! I knew you'd turn up, somehow!" Is that a hint of sarcasm in her speech balloon?
  • What are the Terror Twins' powers? Strength, mostly, but their heads are apparently not invulnerable. Both Tim and The Black Terror are knocked unconcious on pages seven and eight by the butt of a gun. That leads me to ask again: why didn't the criminals just shoot them?
  • Why do the criminals have to file the claim in the US? Is Baldpate Island a US territory? (Or, perhaps a TERRORtory?) If it's off the coast of Chile it seems like they'd have to visit the Chilean authorities.
I love the care the artist put into making Dick's dog Thor a Bull Terrier. It really makes the dog sympathetic... a lot more than Dick, actually. I also like the script lettering in the captions, as well as the organic panels. It doesn't really add much to the layout, but I feel like the artist really cared about the captions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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2/11/11

Black Terror #11 - Part One "The Voice"

As opposed to America's Best Comics, which had an anthology of heroes, Black Terror comics focused mainly on the eponymous hero, with a couple of text stories and gag strips thrown in on the side. The Black Terror #11 from August 1945 has two Black Terror stories, a 1-page text story called "Luzon Luck" by Charles S. Strong, a 1-page text story by Tex Mumford called "The Bank Bandits", a Mortimer Magic story by the cartoonist known as VEP (Victor E. Pazmiño), a 1-page text story "Peruvian Boy" by William B McClellan, and a 1-page cartoon called Adam the Chimp.

The lead-in for "The Voice" captures you with a cool image: "A gigantic skull and crossbones in the sky herald a mysterious death to the chosen victims of 'The Voice'! Guided by the whispered clues of dying men, Bob Benton, alias the Black Terror, and his fighting partner, Tim, go west for another spine-tingling, victorious adventure!"

In this story Bob and Tim travel west to Nevada to see an old classmate of Bob's named Fred Swanson. Fred's neighbors have been mysteriously killed after seeing a flying skull and crossbones. Bob, Tim and their friend Jean fly to Fred's property in Nevada to investigate.  That night, after arriving at Fred's shack, the mysterious skull and crossbones appear in the sky as a harbinger of death. It turns out the gruesome sight is just painted on the underside of a weird helicopter. The Black Terror leaps to catch hold of the helicopter as it swings low only to be thrown to the ground. The eerie chopper emits some poisonous gas and then escapes without a sound. "Probably some special engine designed to let the plane sneak up on its enemies. No wonder the murdered men thought they'd been attacked by a ghost!"

Running as super-speed they somehow manage to find the helicopter's secret hangar where they're captured by The Voice. The Voice is sinister-looking character in a purple hood and robe with a skull and crossbones instead of his face. He decides to test his "hemoline gas" on the Terror Twins. Meanwhile, Jean and Fred have been captured and are also brought to the secret base.

As The Voice is locking them in the gas chamber he describes his nefarious plot. "I am an expert on gases--I made it my hobby because I suffered severely from gas in the last war!" He continues "at dawn I will wipe out the entire city of Elkwater...then I'll be in control of one hundred square miles from which to launch me attacks against all America. Mines, factories, human beings...all will work at my command."

As the gas chamber with the Terror Twins begins to fill with hemoline gas, The Voice leaves to commence his plot. Luckily the Black Terror recognizes that the hemoline gas is heavier than air -- if the can only let the gas attack their shackles first they will then be able to break the chains and escape. Fortunately, it works out and they free Jean and Fred.

In the final page our heroes steal one of The Voice's helicopters, leap from plane to plane, kill the henchmen with one of the villain's own hemoline gas bombs, and capture the ringleader. In the last panel Fred congratulates the Black Terror. "You've done a wonderful service to the people of Nevada and all of America, Terror! But I wonder if you can find my friend Bob Benton for me?"

Things to note: Although Tim offered to ask Jean to come along in America's Best Comics #15, he's downright disappointed to find her waiting for them at the airport. Fred Swanson is also put out by Jean's presence when the arrive in Nevada. "I'm glad you could make it so soon, but I didn't know you'd bring a lady along." You'd almost think that Bob was more popular with the guys than the gals.

Again, Bob disappears just as the Black Terror shows up, which might be explained away. But in this case they're in the middle of the friggin' Nevada desert. Wouldn't Jean wonder why the Black Terror was out West? But, even at the last panel neither Fred nor Jean wonder where the Black Terror came from, or why Bob is missing.

Why did the villain name himself The Voice? Given his mastery of gases, and his pirate insignia on his hood, why didn't he call himself The Gas Pirate, or something more obvious. And shouldn't his silent airship have been a dirigible rather than a helicopter? The gas theme was sort of scattershot. I mean, why would someone who's been scarred by mustard gas in WWI take up a hobby of poisonous gases?  In any case, the design of the costume for The Voice is pretty cool.

Interestingly enough, since a gas gave the Black Terror his powers, one would think that Bob Benton could use his ingenuity to combat the voice, but he doesn't. I found a slightly different version of BT's origin on this website:
Pharmacist Bob Benton was being harassed for protection money. After he convinced the goons to give him one more day, they stormed out - knocking down teenager Tim Roland on the way. Feeling bad for Tim, Benton hired him as his assistant.

That evening, Benton and Tim were working on Bob's secret project - trying to develop a formula to help "run down people," as Bob puts it. Tim accidentally adds formic acid, which comes from red ants. The resulting "formic ethers" gave Benton super strength and invulnerability. He decided to use these powers to fight crime, starting with the goons who were hounding him. He sent Tim to a costume shop and then became the Black Terror.

After putting an end to their racket, Tim learned of a plot to crash a subway train. The Black Terror went to prevent the crash. Tim, thinking the Terror may need help, reproduced the experiment and developed the same powers as Bob. Tim showed up in the nick of time and the crash was prevented.

The powers of the Terror Twins seem especially inconsistent in this story. The Black Terror can leap from the ground to the helicopter, punch through a porthole, and hold his breath through poison gas, yet a single punch on the chin knocks him free of the plan. Both Tim and the Black Terror can run for miles very quickly, tear down 10-inch roof beams and bend steel bars, but they're both felled when hit by stout pieces of wood.

This story, however, gives the Terror Twins more opportunities to show off their fighting styles. I like the sequence where Bob leaps up, grabs the propeller, then Tim tries to do the same but is thrown off. The action, like the panel frames, feels very organic.

And the Schomburg cover, as always, is great. I like how the robbers look like humanized versions of the Beagle Boys. The frightened tellers also have some great expressions.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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2/8/11

Black Terror in America's Best Comics #15

Given the white skull on the black costume, one might wonder whether the Black Terror is related to The Punisher.  In fact, he's more of a father figure, acting as a WWII-era punisher in the war effort.

According to Don Markstein's Toonopedia:
"The Black Terror was pharmacist Bob Benton, who got his super powers the same way Hourman, Asterix, Atomic Mouse and many other old-time superheroes did — by ingesting a substance which we would nowadays call a drug. In his case, it was "formic ethers", which he'd been experimenting with in his spare time. Breathing them gave him super strength, and toughened his skin to the point where bullets would bounce off harmlessly. His main motivation for putting on a costume to fight Japs, Nazis and criminals seems to have been the fact that practically everybody with super powers was doing it those days. "

In the stories the Black Terror's powers are slightly amorphous. Sometimes he's super-strong, sometimes he's almost invulnerable, and sometimes he can run four or five times faster than a normal human.

This story from America's Best Comics #15 from October, 1945 is written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by Edvard Moritz, while the cover is done by the prolific and amazing Alex Schomburg.  I like how the black marketeers have put up a sign "Black Market Headquarters" so that the Black Terror, Doc Strange and The Fighting Yank know they're breaking up the right place!

The first-page caption of "One Corpse Too Many!" explains the whole plot:
"There's mystery a-plenty when young druggist Bob Benton arrives for a secret chemical job and finds his client, Brett Wilkins, strangely vanished! The body of a stranger turns up to confuse the picture until Bob and his friend Tim switch to combat garb as the might Terror Twins and break through the dam of hidden evidence to solve the riddle of 'One Corpse Too Many!'"

This summary reads more like an outline for the writer than something to be shown on the first page of the story. They even mention the conclusion in this brief text box.

A couple story points jump out at me. I love the premise that Bob, as a druggist, is hired to create explosive powder to help the war effort. Speaking of "explosive powder", could they actually mean gunpowder? What scientist could possibly create an anti-aircraft gun, but fail so completely with the gunpowder that he has to travel to another city to hire a druggist to make this explosive powder?

It's also very odd how Bob and Tim decide to travel to Chicago on the train while in costume. Bob says "meet me at the station in uniform, Tim! I think this job is going to start popping from the start!" But, ever more pathetic is Jean's confusion at having the Black Terror travel with her to Chicago instead of Bob Benton. It would be as if Lois Lane was disappointed that she had to share a taxi with Superman rather than Clark Kent. And I love how the Black Terror explains his presence instead of Bob: "he got a more important job and simply turned this over to me!"

The strangest event in the story is where the Terror Twins smash through the dam. You'd think breaching a dam of that size would cause considerable flooding, but the heroes shrug it as easily as they can lift Jean off her feet.

Overall, the story doesn't make a lot of sense. I'm not sure why Dexter wanted his uncle dead, something about an estate but the motivation is weak. I'm also unsure why he thought he needed to create another corpse to prove his uncle's death. The Black Terror and his sidekick Tim spend most of the time in costume, but perform few heroics until the last page, where they nearly flood the town.  But, ya gotta love the cover!









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2/2/11

Tintin in Black and White - Part 1

Many people may not know that Hergé got a do-over when drawing most of the Tintin stories. His initial versions ran in black and white in the French magazine Le Petit Vingtieme. After Tintin found greater success, he got a chance to tweak his work when the books were re-published in color. I was reminded of this by a posting on the Tintin Facebook site:
"In 1942, Hergé's publisher decided to re-publish all the Tintin books in a new 62-page colour format. Why? Ever since 1930 (the date of the first appearance of the book of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets), all Tintin's adventures were published in black and white and stretched to around 124 pages long. ...He started in 1937 by inserting color plates in the books (hors-texte). The move to a 62-page format was partly a response to these paper shortages. Hergé was keen on adopting the colour. The conditions of publication changed too and Hergé looked at the American comics and wanted to take advantage of the quadrichromy. The deal was concluded in 1942. While The Shooting Star became Tintin's first adventure published in color, Hergé tackled the hard work of reformatting, re-adapting and colouring the albums of pre-war period with the help of the team of the Hergé Studios."
I have reprints of the black and white (B&W) editions, and decided to compare a couple pages from the Cigars of the Pharaoh, which was first printed in B&W in 1934, and then recreated in color in 1955.


The color edition takes 8 panels to introduce the scientist. I found it interesting that Hergé changed Tintin's trip from a circumnavigation of the world to a cruise around the Mediterranean. I can only speculate why the itinerary was changed, perhaps because the middle east areas Tintin planned to visit were too dangerous for a casual cruise, but since the boy reporter never gets beyond Cairo, the destinations mentioned are mostly spice for the opening conversation. Instead, Hergé adds spice by showing a dhow next to the cruise ship in the opening shot of the color edition.

The black and white edition takes only seven panels to get to the excitement, but lacks a certain tension. It's more casual with a long shot of the boat in the sea, then a friendly chat between Tintin and Snowy. Notice how in the conversation it's as if Tintin can hear Snowy. It's obvious throughout the books that Snowy can understand Tintin. But in the second panel when Snowy asks if the cruise will end in Port Said, Tintin answers directly back to the dog. I wonder if Hergé played with making their communication less uni-directional?

Also notice that Hergé signed the bottom of the second page. In the B&W editions every other page is signed because in Le Petit Vingtieme they appeared as two-page runs. This also directs the action: Hergé wants to create a bit of a cliff-hanger at the end of every second page so readers will come back for the next installment.


The color edition uses 12 panels for the incident where the scientist's papyrus blows overboard, while the B&W edition uses only 11. Notice that the crewman in the B&W edition ends up with a black eye, ostensibly because Tintin socked him off-camera. This might have been in character for the 1930's Tintin, but the more mature boy reporter 1955 merely gives the poor sailor a stern scolding.

The last panel in the B&&W edition, where Tintin is talking with the captain, seems to be taking place half an hour or more after the incident, while in the color edition Tintin discovers the scientist minutes later. I'm not sure which method I prefer: the B&W pause has a bit more comedic timing and fits with the 2-page print run, while the color edition keeps the story flowing more quickly.

It just goes to show, even if you're the great Hergé, the urge to revise is a good thing, and usually makes the work stronger.

The site "A Brief History of Tintin Books" has much more information on the time line of the different editions, and is worth a read.  The Wikipedia entry for Cigars of the Pharaoh has a section comparing more differences between the B&W and color editions.

Read  Tintin in Black and White - Part 2


Here's my translation of the French text of the B&W edition:
Pages 1 & 2:
Tintin: Tomorrow, my dear Snowy, we'll disembark at Port Said.
Snow: Port Said? And then our trip will be done?

Tintin: Done? After there's still the trip along the Suez Canal and then get off at Aden
Snowy: What?

Tintin: And then land again at Bombay, then Colombo, in the island of Ceylon
Snowy: More!

Tintin: And there's still Singapore... Hong Kong, and finally Shanghai.
Snowy: But...but that will take months! Months aboard this boat that moves like a turtle and in this stifling heat. Ah! The trip is boringly monotonous

Scientist: Stop it! Stop it!

Pages 3 & 4:
Scientist: Stop it! Stop it!

Tintin: Stop what? Stop what?

Scientist: There!...There!... that flying piece of paper!!

Tintin: Wait! I'll get it for you
Scientist: Stop it! Stop it!
Snowy: This is good! Let's go!

Scientist: Stop it! Stop it!
Scientist: Stop it! Stop it!
Tintin: ...And there it is!
Sailor: Halt! my friend, you won't escape that way!

Sailor: Got you!

Scientist: Lost! Lost! My papyrus! My beautiful papyrus!
Tintin: Calm yourself, sir!

Tintin: See what you've done with your stupid ideas! The gentleman was desperate...

Tintin: Hold on! Where's the scientist?
Snowy: He was here just a moment ago.

Tintin: ...After that, I didn't see him any more. I knocked on his door and have searched everywhere! He can't be found. I fear he's had an accident.
Captain: Provided he hasn't already jumped into the water to retrieve his precious papyrus. These scientists are so absent-minded.
Snowy: He's certainly a mysterious scientist

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