Wonder Woman: Goodbye Gerry Conway

Gerry Conway’s contribution to the Bronze Age Wonder Woman was bigger than I remembered. First he wrote around ten issues for her World War Two retcon phase. After he returned to the book with #259, he stuck with it until #285. That’s a welcome break from the constant turnover. Equally important, he soft-rebooted Diana (whether it was Conway or editorial’s call, I know not) back to the classic set-up of Diana Prince and Steve Trevor working for Army intelligence. After the space-shuttle period and then the return to the UN failed, this soft reboot took, lasting after Conway — until the George Perez hard reboot of the mid-1980s wiped everything away, in fact.

After Diana takes Steve back to the United States, she hacks the military computers to create a false identity for herself as Diana Prince. In addition to working for Steve, she makes a friend, and eventual roommate of Lt. Etta Candy. Etta had been WW’s constant sidekick in the Golden Age, a plump sorority girl with a taste for adventure. The Wonder Woman TV show and therefore the WW II-era comics had rebooted Etta into one of Diana and Steve’s colleagues; Conway now did that for the present-day series. While Etta would stay military after the Perez reboot, Wonder Woman: Earth One went back to sorority sister; Legend of Wonder Woman had her start in a sorority, then enlist with Diana.

Conway’s take on Steve reminds me of the brief Steve Howard period in which Steve struggled to prove he could stand on his own. Here, though, it worked. Steve is initially embarrassed by Diana constantly rescuing him, but by the end of the run, he’s come to accept that’s his problem to deal with, not hers. Their relationship really feels good.

General Darnell, last seen in the late 1960s, is less successful. In the Golden Age he’d shown some interest in Lt. Prince; the reboot version is quite aggressively interested, pushing for dates, not wanting to take no. Given that she’s under his command this comes off as harassment (it’s also a major violation of military rules). Conway’s Diana, though, just roles her eyes (Roy Thomas would make Darnell much creepier a few issues down the road).

So that’s the cast, how about the stories? Conway’s first story after the reboot pits Wonder Woman against her old foe Angle Man. The next arc is a good one pitting WW against Kobra, one of DC’s few free-floating villains (i.e, not attached to any particular hero) of the Bronze Age. This also gave us a new version of the Cheetah, one of Diana’s top Golden Age foes. This one was the niece of the original, brainwashed by Kobra into an ecoterrorist as part of his scheme to destabilize the world economy. The story also added a recurring support cast member, Mother Juju, an old voodoo priestess living in DC.

Juju is stock (almost a literal magic Negro) but she plays a large role in the next arc, involving Jack Kirby’s character Etrigan the Demon; his creepy enemy Klarion the Witch Boy; and a disability stereotype, a paraplegic who’ll do anything to regain the use of his legs. It’s a middling story, but Conway’s Etrigan shows flashes of the more vicious version who’d become standard a few years later. After Etrigan saves Diana and Etta, for instance, Steve offers to shake his hand; he sneers and mocks Steve’s show of politeness.

The final arc pits Diana against a depressingly generic Chinese warlord, the Red Dragon. The story handles Steve/Diana well, but the Red Dragon is a mediocre knockoff of Marvel’s Mandarin (proving I was wrong to think Mandy was comics’ last Sinister Oriental). On the whole, Conway’s stories in this period aren’t as good as his WW II ones, but they’re certainly enjoyable.

This period also added Huntress (the original version, the Earth-Two Batman’s daughter) as a backup feature. I’m not reviewing it here but that’s no reflection on it.

After a couple of guest writers, Roy Thomas took over scripting through 300. Which will be a good point for my next post on this reread. Until then…

#SFWApro. Art by Ross Andru, all rights to image remain with current holder.


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One waitress works, another doesn’t: Idea vs. execution

My of-necessity delayed birthday gift from TYG was a trip to the musical WAITRESS at Durham’s performing arts center on May 6. We loved it. Later TYG streamed the Keri Russell/Nathan Filion 2007 movie that inspired it, and that rewatched as poorly as it did the first time I saw it (TYG didn’t care for it either). The concept and most of the plot is the same, but the execution is different, and the musical executes it better. Like Hodgson’s The Night World, it proves that execution is as important as concept.

The central character is a waitress, Jenna, stuck in an emotionally abusive (maybe physical — we never see anything but it feels like that), loveless marriage, pouring her repressed feeling out into her pies at the local diner. As the movie opens, Jenna discovers she’s pregnant, having lapsed and slept with her husband. She’s not happy to bring a baby into this relationship. Then it turns out her doctor just retired and now she’s stuck with Nathan Filion, a married out-of-town doctor who’s immediately smitten by her. Before long they’re having an affair. In other plotlines one waitress meets a rather stalkery guy online and marries him; the other, older waitress is knocking boots with the fry cook (they’re both married, but for various reasons, neither one is having sex). Finally Jenna ends her affair and walks out on Earl. Her wealthiest, crotchetiest customer (Andy Griffith) dies and leaves her the diner, so she’s able to start a new life on her own two feet.

As I said the first time, it’s a generic Quirky Southern Town film (TYG called it “typical indie chick flick”). The characters are not particularly likeable — everyone seems pissed and miserable — and they’re not very distinctive.

(The curtain from Waitress)

The musical does a much better job. First off, it’s a musical, and the singing and dancing are good. That automatically makes it more fun.

Second, the characters seem much more likable and much more distinctive. Dawn, the waitress who meets someone online, is just a shy, insecure young woman in the movie. In the play, she’s a history nerd who watches the History Channel all the time and has appeared as Betsy Ross 27 historical re-enactments. She also has a great song expressing her insecurity (“What if I like what I see/And he knows it?/What if I open a door/And can’t close it?”) which works better than anything in the show. Her persistent beau doesn’t come across as stalkery, and they’re a more believable couple (“The turtle and the elf — an epic love story!”).

In short it’s solid proof that execution is at least as important as concept.

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10 percent, 10 percent, 80 percent

Some years back, Oprah (IIRC) did a show on cops and police corruption. During the debate, one cop got up and said something to the effect of “10 percent of cops are completely incorruptible. 10 percent of cops are no better than crooks. The other 80 percent can go either way, depending on which 10 percent they’re working with.”

I heard that and thought at once that there’s a lot of truth to it (not necessarily the specific percentages). Not just for cops, but for people in general.

Some people, really try to do the right thing, consistently. They protest. They speak the truth to power. They’re activists or political prisoners. They’re the people who don’t sexually harass their coworkers or customers and don’t cover it up when someone else does. If they screw up, they try to do better next time. They walk the walk. They prove we can be better. Nelson Mandela. Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia. Captain Ian Fishback, who blew the whistle on prisoner abuse in Iraq after he couldn’t get any action or guidance from his superiors.  Conversely, some people are Harvey Weinstein or rapist cop Daniel Holzclaw. They seem to have been rotten to the core.

I have no trouble believing the behaviors the 20 percent model can influence the other 80 percent. It’s a limited influence because the 80 percent aren’t just sheeple. They have their own standards, their own inclinations and a lot depends on circumstances. If an organization shows it doesn’t give a damn about harassment, punishes whistleblowers or covers up for valued employees, that can outweigh the guy in the next cubicle being upright and principled. If the good 10 percent are fired, mocked or sent to prison camps, lots of people won’t want to emulate them.  I still think setting a good example (corny as it sounds) matter (quite aside from the fact that doing the right thing is important in itself).

Here’s a convoluted counter-example. A couple of days after 9/11 I donated blood. I’d never seen the donation center so packed. After 9/11 people were eager to do something, to help, to volunteer. W could have encouraged them; instead he encouraged everyone to go back to their everyday lives and maybe shop to boost the economy (I hate that idea). I assume W figured the less he asked, the happier he’d be with the war, but I think it was a bad call. People were ready to do stuff; our leader said don’t bother. Some of them may have done it anyway, but a call to action could have inspired more. Of course W ducked the draft by joining the National Guard, then blew off his Guard service, so I don’t know that public-spiritedness ranks very high in his pantheon of virtues.

A related point is that what we do can have unanticipated consequences.  For an example, read this Slacktivist post about the Satanic panic of 30 years back and how Mike Warnke, fake reformed Satanist (the fakery was pretending he’d ever been a Satanist). Warnke’s Satanist shtick was pure huckstering, promoting a book (The Satan Seller) to conservative Christians eager to hear lurid stories from someone who was now safely good and reformed (an eagerness hardly unique to the religious right). It had horrifying effects: prosecutors and cops informed about the rising tide of Satanism threatening their communities looked to The Satan Seller as a nonfiction resource. His self-serving lie had ugly consequences for others; some attorneys cited his account as proof that Satanists engaged in human sacrifice was a thing. It wasn’t a deciding factor, I’m sure, but it didn’t help.

Conversely, as Vaclav Havel put it, “even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.”

We don’t have to figure out every possible outcome of our action before we take them. Unlike the book I read a while back (I forgot the title) where someone said saving a life was wrong unless you were sure it would work out for the best, it’s okay to act on a best guess. Havel’s decision to be a dissident rather than collaborate with Czech communist rule was a morally sound one. Warnke’s lies weren’t, even though he couldn’t have known how much impact they’d have (but he certainly didn’t ‘fess up when that became obvious).

Doing the right thing matters.

Image taken from Arthur Waite Tarot deck


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A monster girl, a monster show: Books read

Noelle Stevenson’s NIMONA is a graphic novel I started reading online, then stumbled across the whole thing in paperback. Ballister Blackheart once aspired to be a hero working for the enigmatic Institute defending his er, medieval-punk country (it’s an odd mix of advanced tech and knightly armor). Then everything changed and he’s now an archvillain working against Goldenloin, who got the hero gig Ballister aspired too. Enter Nimona, a pixie-ish shapeshifter eager to work as Ballister’s sidekick with her shapeshifting powers. But is she who or what she says she is? What is the Institute up to? I don’t think the Institute’s plan really made a lot of sense, but that’s not the center of the book, so this worked for me anyway. I look forward to more from Stevenson.

THE MONSTER SHOW: A Cultural History of Horror by David J. Skal (who provided the commentary on the Dracula DVD I watched a while back) starts off well in the Victorian age but slides into pretension as it approaches the present. Skal’s strength is writing about the genesis of Dracula and Frankenstein, their Victorian reception and their lurching transition first to stage, then screen. After that comes the pretension, such as finding some sort of parallel between mad scientists transforming humans into monsters and plastic surgery recreating people’s faces (he spends several pages discussing Michael Jackson to no good effect) or lots of discussion on AIDS as the root of 1980s horror (he’s writing in 1993). Okay, so what about cancer? Polio, which was a terrifying thing before Salk and Sabine developed their vaccines? Why not more on slasher films which were, after all, a primary form of horror in the 1980s (when Skal does deal with them, it’s to see them as anti-child and ignore the misogynist overtones)? A real disappointment

#SFWApro. Cover by Stevenson, all rights remain with current holder.


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A dragonslayer and a slumdog: this week’s movies

ADVENTURES OF A TEENAGE DRAGONSLAYER (2010) is a fantasy comedy that rarely rises above a mediocre Disney Channel kids’ sitcom. The protagonist is a fan of a fantasy card-game who along with his friends has to convince Mom Lea Thompson and evil teacher Wendy Malick that their town has a troll and a dragon living in the sewer. The only detail of interest is that this reunites Thompson with several of her Caroline in the City co-stars. “This is strictly a G-rated date, understand?”


SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008) is one of those films that doesn’t entertain quite as much when I know how it all turns out (the dogs being ultra-needy while I was watching didn’t help). Even so, the quirky story of how a Mumbai street urchin turned “chai wallah” is seemingly able to answer every question on India’s version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? is still good viewing. As we work through the question list, it turns out that every answer lies buried in the kid’s personal life (“If not for Shiva, my mother would still be alive.”). Is he cheating? A genius? Or is it written? “A picture of three lions is seen in the national emblem of India. What is written underneath it?”

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Life vs. Art Round Two: This week it’s a win-win!

A very busy week, but very productive. Wisely when I saw the IRL stuff I had to do, I asked if I could skip a Screen Rant (normally I do one a week) which freed me up to concentrate on other stuff. While I’ll be back on the job next week (a Vampire Diaries list), it really paid off for all the other stuff I do.

But first, the IRL. Tuesday, I had a dentist appointment. Nothing serious, just a regular checkup; my teeth are fine though they’re starting to edge toward gum disease again. If I’m not in better shape next time (I will try — gums actually respond to heavy cleaning) — it’ll be a round of scaling, where they clean all the way under the gumline. Not pleasant — it has to be done under anesthetic. I’d rather avoid it, so positive thoughts toward my gums are welcome.

Second, Tuesday I took my first Alexander technique class. My friend, drama teacher/director/actor Laley Lippard, recommended this school of movement training to help me with my voice-straining problems. I finally booked some time with a local teacher. I can’t really describe the training without making it sound dumb, but I think I see how it can help my voice (other things too, it’s a full-body technique). My teacher sent me home with some lessons to work on until I can find time for another class (July, after my Leaf work wraps up and I have more time in the week).

Third, we had three plumbing problems to deal with — clogged toilet, leaking tap, possible gunk leak from another toilet — so I had to deal with plumbers. It went well (though expensive of course): new tap, snaked toilet and the gunk, whatever it was, doesn’t appear to be a leak (yay! One less expense).

Despite which, I got a lot done on writing besides my Leaf pieces and submitting my list entries for the Vampire Diaries article:

The biggest is that I started work on the final draft — and it will be final — of Southern Discomfort. I wasn’t able to print it out at the library last weekend, so our rickety printer churned out the first 10,000 words at home instead. As usual for final drafts I read it aloud, made changes, entered them in the computer. My goal for this month was 10,000 and it’s now done — though I’m not stopping there. This is the part of the story I’ve gone over the most so it’s not surprising it went fast. If I keep going through May it’ll make up when I get to the later parts that need more work. Yay, me!

I made my thousand-words of fiction a day goal, and not just the Southern Discomfort stuff. I also finished rewriting No One Can Slay Her and about 2,000 words of Angels Hate This Man. I resolved the How’s He Doing It question that stumped me last week by deciding yes, Rev. Lennier really is freeing people from Hell. So far it’s working — we’ll see if it steers me to a satisfying end. I also got in a couple of thousand words on a new story, The Cheap Assassin.

I rewrote 4,000 words of Undead Sexist Cliches. Having a solid block of time to focus on it worked really well.

And I tackled a couple of paperwork tasks. I got a question about our state taxes resolved, and I went ahead and commissioned someone on Fiverr to draw up a cover for Atoms for Peace. It’s the first time I’ve commissioned anything along those lines. Wish me luck. And I submitted Schloss and the Switchblade to Allegory—more luck, please!

Getting all that done took a lot of evening work, which I normally dislike, but I’m very satisfied with the results.

Below, a Gervasio Gallardo cover to look at, just because it’s cool (don’t let the HPL name fool you, this was 90 percent Derleth).

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Filed under Atoms for Peace, Nonfiction, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals

Out of chaos, order! Though it doesn’t look like it

As my purchase of graphic novels and trade paperback comics collections has expanded, finding space for them has become a problem. So last weekend I switched a couple of bookshelves around. It took a while, as I had to clear off the shelves, dust the shelves, move the shelves and then restock them, but it was worth it.

This is the shelf that now sits by my recliner upstairs.

It holds books I’m going to read, TPBs I’m going to read, stuff to sell on eBay, reference books. As such I don’t need it to be terribly orderly, as the contents are impermanent and subject to change. In case you’re wondering, I read about one issue of a TPB per week (at the moment it’s about every two weeks, due to the number) so they’ll stay on the shelf a while.

This is the shelf that holds comics TPBs I’ve already finished (at the moment, Abe Sapiens through the Avengers, but that will change) and lots of tchochkes.

I need this one to be orderly because it’s (so to speak) my permanent collection. The big wide shelves work much better for permanence than the weird mix of shelf heights on the other bookshelves. The switch reduces the immediate need to buy a new bookshelf, which is nice.

Both bookshelves, however, need more order than they have at the moment. The photos need to be straightened out or moved somewhere. The books on the impermanent shelves still need to be better set-up than they are (but as long as TPBs and books to be read are in good shape, it’s not urgent).

I also bought a couple of cheap stacking wire shelves to hold our shoes by the door. That makes things a lot more orderly, and it’ll make it easier to vacuum up the crap from that area.


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We elected Trump. Is it surprising the Egyptians worshipped the dung beetle?

Herewith, a round up of people who seem to have prestigious, high-paying positions despite … well, dung.

For starters, Trump himself. I missed it, but last year he undid much of Obama normalizing relations with Cuba. Now he’s decided to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. And he apparently thinks any negative news about his glorious self is fake news by definition. As Lance Mannion says, among Trump’s goals as president is to reinforce his own delusions how wonderful he is, and to undo everything Obama accomplished that makes people respect Obama more. But Mannion’s right, a hundred years from now Obama will have a record of accomplishment and Trump won’t.

Next, rape apologist Robin Hanson, whose views on redistribution of sex I ripped into a week ago or so. Along with claiming nonviolent rape isn’t as bad as cheating on your husband (because having your body violated isn’t as awful as a man unwittingly raising someone else’s child) he also wonders why stealing food when you’re starving is less objectionable than raping someone when you’re horny. Okay, fair enough. Besides the fact lack of food kills and lack of sex doesn’t; stealing food (at least in his example) doesn’t involve assaulting anyone (I don’t know of anyone who thinks say, drugging someone so you can take their food nonviolently is OK); so yeah, totally interchangeable.

Bari Weiss at the NYT, for example. According to her the “intellectual dark web” is a daring group of right-wing freethinkers who tackle ideas that are utterly repressed in the mainstream, like “There are fundamental biological differences between men and women” and “Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart.” I’m very impressed they could come up with groundbreaking, paradigm-shattering ideas that sound exactly like the same cliches conservatives spew every day (we’ve been hearing about the evil of left-wing identity politics since Trump got elected). How long before Hanson’s on the IDW, I wonder? In related links, Mother Jones responds to Weiss’s article, one writer questions an account in the article and CJR looks at all the left-wing voices getting much less coverage in the media. Nathan Robinson points out that the people in Weiss’ article are not silenced at all.

Male supremacist and misogynist Paul Elam offers an impressively awful list of excuses for Bill Cosby’s rape history: the problem is he liked sex too much which makes a man weak! And the sluts were totally asking for it! And the evil feminists want to take down powerful, successful men! Etcetera.

Sure, podcaster Nick Fuentes wants white Americans to have a white homeland (as usual, he’s not advocating white people go back to whatever homelands their ancestors came from) but that doesn’t mean he’s a racist or anything! Hopefully his career will suffer as much as Richard Spencer’s.

Scott Pruitt likes shielding himself from public scrutiny for good reason.

Theocrat Bryan Fischer who insists based on his personal reading of the First Amendment that it only protects Christian rights. Which would be a bad thing for Christians if it were true — but fortunately neither the Bill of Rights nor the Constitution says anything about discriminating between religion. Fischer also claims it only applies to Congress, except when he wants it to apply to the states. Or anyone else Fischer needs it to apply to. And like those IDW types, Fischer likes to whine a lot about imaginary persecution.

Southern Baptist powerhouse Paige Patterson has a long history of saying the right option for women abused by their spouses is to suck it up. I linked to something about Patterson Monday, but it seems worth adding this.

Self-help guru Tony Robbins thinks women are just joining #metoo to feel significant (sort of the way they cry rape because it gives them perks, I guess). And it’s a bad movement because it’ll just piss men off! Which I’m sure hasn’t occurred to anyone before he pointed it out (Robbins subsequently apologized).

And UPDATE: NY AG Eric Schneiderman, violent abuser.

To illustrate this article, here’s a tree against the sky (no symbolism, I just like the photo).


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Is Our Writers Learning? Year One by Nora Roberts

I love Nora Roberts’ work as JD Robb, a dark cops-and-serial killers series set in the future of 2050 (a lot further away when she started). So at the library I picked up her first book in the Chronicles of the One post-apocalyptic fantasy series.

THE STORY: A couple of families spend Christmas hunting at a lodge in the Highlands. One of them spilled blood in a local stone circle years ago; now he does it again. Result: he becomes the carrier for a pandemic, the Doom, which wipes out much of the world in the days, months and years following. As the survivors struggle to keep surviving, they discover the Doom also triggers supernatural powers or amplifies them in practitioners. Some of whom are good, some evil. And soon a child will be born who will be the Chosen One, who can save the world from the dark powers. If she lives long enough.


Realistic exploration of the fantastic is a good thing: In contrast to the Left Behind series, Roberts has put some thought into the way people cope with the apocalypse. The breakdown of society. The loss of technology. Things that are suddenly no longer possible when too many people are dead to keep things running. There’s an interesting discussion pointing out that even if someone successfully mastered a vaccine, time and logistics guarantee the death toll will be in the billions. I think Roberts handles the details better than The Stand, which shot more for Mythic than realistic (for the record I hated The Stand, though not for that reason).

Roberts also does a good job exploring how the end of the world we know affects the characters: Arlys, a reporter, keeps on reporting, even as society collapses. She believes it’s a good thing  — that people need to know what’s happening even if they can’t do anything about it. She’s one of the better reporter characters I’ve seen in a while. Then there’s the mourning of the dead, and the realization that there’s no longer any way to reach people alive but living too far away.

Doing something new with something very old is tricky.Much as I enjoyed the realistic touches, I’ve been reading stories about surviving/rebuilding from the apocalypse since my teens, and they go back way further than that. It’s a YMMV reaction, but I just felt that part of the book has been done and redone.

Multiple points of view can be a problem. As I found out in early drafts of Southern Discomfort, having too many characters reduces the impact of any one character. That’s not necessarily bad (I still have quite a few), but it works against Year One. The good guys are believable characters, but none of them are particularly distinctive. None of them stands out enough to grab me or interest me. Focusing on one or two characters might have worked better.

Recycling cliches is worse. And lord, the fantasy stuff is cliched. The powers are conventional, mostly resembling psi/metahuman abilities (i.e., to work magic just point and will it to happen) — thirty years ago, she could have done them as radiation-induced mutant powers and not change much. The characters who turn evil are all unsubtle; they seem one instant away from laughing maniacally (“He thinks his soft, white, weak power can measure to mine?”). The Chosen One is a very well worn trope, though I don’t hate it the way some people do. Mutie-haters out to kill all the mages are even more cliched and I hate that shtick).

Magic or metahuman powers suddenly manifesting in the real world is an old trope too. Shadowrun. Barbara Hambly’s Magic Time (which also deals with magic manifesting post-apocalypse). Larry Correia’s excellent Grimnoir books. Heck, even Flash‘s metahumans and Agents of SHIELD‘s Inhumans. I don’t think it’s a used-up idea, but it doesn’t work in this setting. With a death toll of seven billion and the breakdown of society, neither the evil mages nor the mage-hunters seem to matter.It gives me some respect for The Stand in that Stephen King makes Randall Flagg a convincing threat even in a similar pandemic.

#SFWApro. Cover design by Ervin Serrano, all rights remain with current holder.

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Doc Savage Died Twice on the Devil’s Black Rock

Two books built around a spectacular gimmick, the second being much the better

THEY DIED TWICE starts with Doc working on a new project for the military, leaving Renny free to investigate a device that the inventor claims dredges up ancestral memories. Renny is so horrified by his ancestor’s (a Caravaggio-like brawling artist) behavior he finds a statute of him in a museum and smashes it. Doc agrees to undergo the same treatment and gets a nasty surprise: when Clark Savage Sr. discovered the Mayan Valley of the Vanished (which debuted in the very first novel, The Man of Bronze) he concealed it from his partner “Secret” Stevens instead of sharing the wealth. Guilt-ridden, Doc agrees to take Stevens to the Valley. This doesn’t make much sense as the series has always been clear Doc gets the gold from the valley only with the Mayans’ consent — it’s unlikely they’d have signed off on Stevens, and Doc wouldn’t accept taking it by force.

Of course this is just a scheme by the bad guys to get the Mayan gold. The machine just puts people into a light hypnotic state where they think the films they’re seeing represent real ancestral memories. The crooks need Doc to guide them to the Valley; this seems like one case where playing along with them was a mistake. In addition to their schemes, Doc has to deal with an elite Mayan sect that wants to cut off all contact with the outside world and figures whacking him and his aides would do the trick. It all works out in the end and Doc says goodbye to the valley and Princess Monja. They don’t reappear, though they crop up in several post-pulp stories, such as Millennium Comics‘ short run. She was the mother of Diana Savage in my own The Savage Year, even though the story doesn’t spell it out.

THE DEVIL’S BLACK ROCK is one of those that opens with a guest character, “Donkey Sam” David, a grizzled prospector who discovers local schemer Wickard Cole has played a prank on the teetotaller, switching the cigars in his pack for a bottle of rotgut. When he flings the bottle away in disgust, something rises out of the ground: “It had no shape, or rather it had a shape that changed so fast it was impossible to tell just what it was. The monster of the black stood on the Earth like by far the most awful thing Donkey Sam Davis had ever seen.”

He and Cole investigate together and discover that when the “devil” left it bored a tunnel miles deep. Cole promptly seals the hole with dynamite and begins gathering a crooked gang, something Sam spies on with interest before trying to contact Doc.  What follows has way too much stuff that just moves pieces around, like a pretty girl helping Sam who turns out to be Cole’s’s wife — no, wait, she’s the twin sister of Wade’s wife! There’s no point to that twist other than to add complications to the plot. And I’m not sure what Cole gained by sealing up the tunnels the black rock creates. However, there are lots of good bits such as guard dogs equipped with poison artificial fangs (see the cover below)

I did like Cole’s practical approach: he realizes going up against Doc Savage is a losing play, so he’s simply going to avoid the Man of Bronze until he completes his scheme, selling the black rock to the Nazis. The rock’s effects are spectacular and the ending explanation is interesting. While Dent doesn’t use the words, it’s a fissionable element that not only explodes when triggered, it causes a chain reaction that triggers fission in the ordinary material around it. This was actually a serious fear when the early experimenters split the atom, though of course it wasn’t the case (check out Richard Rhodes Making of the Atomic Bomb for details).

A sublot has the guys trying to break Monk of his susceptibility to a pretty face. They actually do (at one point he refuses to let Para’s looks sway him) though it didn’t last, of course.

#SFWApro. Covers by Bob Larkin and Emery Clarke, all rights remain with current holders.

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