Sunday, February 13, 2005

Retro Reviews - More Fun Comics #74

I apologize for the low quality of the scans in this review. The only copy I have of this story is on microfiche, and I've yet to find a decent microfiche printer/scanner. These were printed at the local library.

I really wish DC would do more reprints of Golden Age stories. They often are far more fascinating than you would expect. And I'd rather give money to DC for these stories than over-paying a dealer in Golden Age books just to get my hands on an eight-page story.

Anyway, this story is Aquaman's second tale, probably still written by Mort and definitely drawn by Paul Norris. Paul does not remember drawing ten full Aquaman stories, but he's listed as the artist of the first ten stories at the moment.

More Fun Comics #74

More Fun #74 didn't differ much from More Fun #73 in content or size. The book was 68 pages (including covers) and priced at 10 cents. The cover date was December 1941, but the book was on the stands much earlier. The Aquaman story was 8 pages long.

This being the second ever Aquaman story, it also introduced Aquaman's first recurring villain. We'll get into his origin when I cover the story, but in the meantime I can tell you he stuck around for awhile, lasting from his intro in 1941 until at least 1950.

In addition to Aquaman's new nemesis, this issue also introduced a... for lack of a better term, a sidekick for the Spectre. Those of you who have read any of the Percival Popp Spectre stories know what I'm talking about. Apparently having bad guys wasn't enough, the Spectre needed an annoying good guy to deal with, too.

Historical Context: This month in 1941 is infamous in the United States, but the book was to be pulled from the stands in December. Books that were cover dated April or May of the next year were the first ones that had content in them relating to Pearl Harbor. In fact, this issue was a little light on any war material, mostly dealing with criminals, both common and uncommon.

Also, an essay in the back of one of the Aquaman minis claimed that this second tale introduced the Aquacave. This is not the case. Aquaman's underwater lair (and it isn't a cave) is introduced in the next story.

The Other Stories: Because I have this issue on microfiche, I can give you a good summary of each of the tales. For other information, go visit the GCD. The cover features Doctor Fate again, but he's the last story in this issue.

First up is The Spectre: "Introducing Percival Popp, the Super Cop". Percival starts out by hitching a ride in Jim Corrigan's car, and claims that he's trying to be as effective as fictional detectives by using their methods. He gets involved in a case of wealthy men disappearing, and manages to actually help the Spectre in a small way.

Next up is the Green Arrow's second tale, "The Silent City". In it, a villain uses a device to remove all sound so his gang can run around without getting caught.

Radio Patrol showed up next in "The Case of the Dead Thoroughbred", in which they discover a horse dead in the middle of a city street and unravel the mystery from there.

Aquaman's story is next, then Johnny Quick faces off again "Dr Clever", who pulls not one, not two, but three criminal rackets which Quick breaks up in this one story. And all in 8 pages.

Next up is the two page text story about a "Kid From Kentucky" who demonstrates that good shooting can make up for being against seemingly impossible odds when a posse refuses him because he doesn't have a "good gun".

Then Clip Carson goes to Buenos Aires where he gets involved in a crooked racehorse scheme and gets the local girl to fall in love with him.

The book ends with Doctor Fate's story "Mr. Who Lives Again" in which Mr Who's powers of adaptability threaten the city.

Aquaman's Tale: This is an eight-pager which appears pretty much in the middle of the book. The splash page shows Aquaman diving from the air at a ship flying the skull and crossbones flag.

On the open sea, a pleasure yacht is attacked by pirates dressed in old costumes and flying "an old fashioned pirate flag". The pleasure yacht surrenders and gives him what he wants, but Black Jack has no intention of letting them live.

The pirates toss the unlucky yachtsman overboard, but somebody is there to give him a hand.

Aquaman climbs aboard with the rescued man and immediately starts to take out the pirates. After a short but decisive fight, Black Jack declares a retreat, but Aquaman manages to grab their loot and return it to the rightful owners before jumping to the pirate ship to continue the fight.

He's doing quite well until Black Jack tosses a gas grenade at him, which knocks Aquaman out. When he comes to, Black Jack tells Aquaman that he admires him. Black Jack explains that because of the war, the fleets are busy and "bold lads" can loot at will. Aquaman says that all he sees is a phony costume, to which Black Jack replies:

In short, Black Jack is waging psychological warfare against cargo ships and pleasure yachts. Aquaman's answer to the proposal to join the pirate crew is swift and definite.

So Black Jack puts chains and weights on Aquaman and makes him walk "the old plank road". Of course, Black Jack wasn't counting on Aquaman being able to breathe underwater, or on him finding some handy coral to cut the ropes binding him so he could free himself from the weights.

Black Jack chases after the yacht that Aquaman rescued earlier, and decides to sink it with a torpedo. But just as the torpedo launches, guess who arrives?

Aquaman turns the torpedo around and hits Black Jack's ship. As it's starting to sink, Aquaman leaps aboard and starts smashing heads.

The pirates run from Aquaman, diving into the water, except for Black Jack himself who battles Aquaman until his ship has sunk beneath him. While Aquaman congratulates himself on getting rid of another pirate, Black Jack washes up on a "rocky reef" and swears vengeance.

Observations: On the splash page, next to the "AQUAMAN" title is a circle with the words "by Paul".

Black Jack is stylishly dressed in a dark green shirt with olive drab pants and brown boots. Around his waist appears to be a sash, over which he wears his gunbelt, with two guns. His gloves are black and he carries his sword in his left hand. On his right shoulder is a stylin' brown half-cape, and his left shoulder has some cords. He wears a knotted blue hankerchief as his hat, and has an eyepatch on his left eye. He also has a moustache and beard, and from them we can see his hair is dark brown.

All of Black Jack's crew wear green and black striped shirts.

Aquaman never once uses his ability to talk to fish in this story. It's all brains and muscle, mostly muscle.

Black Jack and his crew don't just dress like old-time pirates, they attempt to talk like them too. At one point Black Jack yells "Swamp the swab!" and he also tells his crew to "bust his binnacle for him!" Um. Ok.

Body Count: The pirates do not kill anyone on the pleasure yacht thanks to Aquaman's timely intervention, but apparently the entire crew of the pirate ship dies when it sinks. Only Black Jack survives. The most pirates we ever see at one time are seven, but Black Jack's crew may have been larger. So the body count is at least seven, all criminals.

Named Characters/Places/Ships: The pleasure yacht is never named, but either the captain or the first mate is named Mr. Boswell. Black Jack's ship is called The Nemesis.

Loose Ends: Not many. The yacht appears to have gotten away. Black Jack escaped as well, but it's pretty obvious we'll see more of him soon. We don't know if any of Black Jack's crew escaped, or if they all died in the sinking of the Nemesis.

Concluding Thoughts: Fun little romp. Mostly fighting, but well-drawn fighting with a nice little pirate theme.

Lastly: My wantlist has been updated a little, I'm still looking for 15 stories, mostly from the Golden Age. If you can help, please contact me.

Next up: I don't know. What would you prefer? I could stick with the Golden Age, or jump to another Silver Age story. I could even do something more recent, if someone wants me to. I think I'm inclined to continue with the More Fun Comics, just move on to the next issue. Use the comments to cast your vote.