Posts tagged ‘Lex Luthor’

Radio Squad

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Beginning under the name “Calling all Cars”, this was the fourth series created by Siegel and Shuster for DC, debuting in More Fun 11 (July 1936).  Radio Squad refers to a police car equipped with a police band radio, something I guess was new enough in the 30’s to make it exciting.  Sandy Kean is the hero of this series, another rough and tumble man’s man, like the bulk of Siegel and Shuster’s protagonists.

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For the first two years of its run, Radio Squad just had two-page stories, and developed in a very different direction than Federal Men.  Many of the tales had a light-hearted quality to them.  You can almost hear a “whomp-waa” sound over the final panel.  As an example, in issue 25 they see a box fall from the back of a truck.  Sandy retrieves it, and they follow the truck, turning on the siren to alert it.  The truck speeds away, they chase it and run it off the side of the road.  It turns out the driver is smuggling alcohol, but the box that fell off the truck and started it all contained nothing but aspirin.  Whomp-waaa.

The series began with a four part serial dealing with the Purple Tiger Gang.  Sandy pulls over a speeder, who turns out to be the daughter of the Police Commissioner, and spanks her by the side of the road.  She complains to her father, who thinks that she really liked it and probably now has a crush on the cop.  As creepy and disturbing as that all is, it’s also fairly typical for the era.  Anyway, she gets kidnapped (her father likely thought she was super in love with that), and held by the Purple Tiger mob, who are willing to exchange her for all the info the police have on them.  Which, in fact, is nothing.  They’ve never heard of these guys.  But then you wouldn’t expect a criminal organization that would call itself the Purple Tiger Gang to be too on the ball.  Sandy puts together some fake evidence, rigged with an “electrical signalling contrivance” that allows him to follow and apprehend these losers.  The electrical signalling contrivance seems a ridiculously complicated way of saying a bug, but I doubt those even existed at this time, and it would have seemed like something from James Bond.  If he existed at this time.  Which he didn’t.

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Issues 17 -22 (with a gap in issue 20) see a story that expresses a lot of frustration with the legal system.  It begins with a woman calling the police because she is upset that her son gambles.  Sandy responds to the call by physically threatening the boy, and then they head to the casino he frequents and arrest the man who runs it, Dan Bowers.  His lawyers get him off, and he has Sandy brought up on charges of false arrest.  There are a couple of chapters devoted to trials of Sandy, and then Bowers, that are laden with perjury and faked evidence.  Finally the governor himself intervenes, sickened by it all (and Sandy is just as bad as Bowers in the trials), announcing that the legal system is a joke and Bowers should just go to jail anyway.  I’m not sure that having the governor just call off trials and ship people off to prison is an improvement, but Sandy seems happy.

He also gets a partner in that serial, named Jimmy Trent, though his first name would change to Larry after a year or so.  Maybe one of those was a middle name .

From issue 23 on the stories would be all self-contained, leading the series more towards the light-hearted style I mentioned previously.   But issue 23 would also have a greater significance, or so I will argue.

I hereby declare that the Radio Squad story in More Fun 23 (Aug 37) is the first appearance of Lex Luthor.

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The story deal with a red haired scientist who creates giant armoured radio-controlled cars that he smashes into other cars to kill those inside.  He does this out of a twisted sense of vengeance, as his son was killed by a reckless driver, though he kills people at random.  Sandy catches him at the end of the story, but at no point is guy ever given a name.

Lex Luthor would officially debut a few years later, a red haired evil scientist seeking world domination, and never given any back-story at all.  The bald version, with the grudge against Superboy, was the Earth – 1 Luthor, the Earth -2 version only met Superman when they were both adults.

As both the character in More Fun 23 and the original Lex Luthor were drawn by Shuster, it’s not that surprising that they look virtually identical, and I will happy concede that I do not believe Siegel intended them to be the same person when he created the two men, but comic book history is all about filling in the blanks.  This was Lex Luthor, a scientist who went mad with grief over his son’s death, and after a brief prison term after being caught by the Radio Squad, emerged with plans to control all of society, which brought him into conflict with Superman.

OK, back to Radio Squad.

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With issue 33 the stories expand to 6 pages in length, and become more serious, though the series never really reaches the level set by Federal Men.  Sandy and Larry deal with an embezzling banker, a corrupt cop, a pyromaniac fireman, even the criminal son of the Chief of Police, as well as the usual lot of murderers and jewel thieves and such.  They have to disguise themselves as women to catch a man who mugs women – though Larry had to go in drag in a earlier story as well, to catch a man robbing couples on Lover’s Lane.  Larry is so good at doing this he is ordered to do a female impersonation at the Policemen’s Ball.

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Sandy is reckless to a fault.  In issue 40 he rams the police car through two cars set up as a roadblock, to Larry’s horror, and justifies his action by saying “what difference does it make if we die now or forty years later?”  I would not want to be Sandy’s patrol partner.

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In issue 44 they have to deal with a thief who has devised a method of becoming invisible, and cleverly put dye into the sprinkler system, hooking it up to go off when the jewels are removed from their base, exposing the thief.

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In issue 45 Sandy is framed for murder by Dirk Stevens, convicted and sentenced to death, but freed by other policemen on his way to the electric chair.  He tracks down the actual Stevens, who gets mauled by a bear.  Sandy shoots the bear, and in recognition of his attempt to save his life, Stevens writes out a confession before he dies.

With issue 49 Shuster left the series, though Siegel would continue as the writer.

Radio Squad continued, but Sandy Keane was no longer the star of it.  Larry Trent is often given top billing, and was just as likely to save the day as Sandy was in this period.  Jerry Siegel continued scripting, though I am not sure he lasted till the end of the series.  The art was shuffled to different people.  Chad does a few issues, but most are unsigned, which is frustrating. Some have very good art, some have passable, and some are just downright awful.

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The stories remain in the realm of reality for the most part, as Sandy and Larry deal with murderers and thieves.  They get a handful of “creative” villains, such as The Cloak, who is secretly the victim of his bombing and theft campaign, out for insurance, or the Ghost, who uses a glider to rob warehouses from above.  The only one to appear twice was the Leopardess, a jewel thief, though she was never played up as a romantic interest for either of the men.

There is little acknowledgement of the war.  A few stories touch on it, with foreign spies, or a theft of drugs intended for the military.  In one case they prevent the hijacking of relief supplies being shipped to Europe, but that’s the extent of it.

A few of the villains have weaponry that is a little beyond the norm.  The Storm Raiders have a gun that shoots bolts of electricity, and the Evil One has a paralysis ray gun.  Satan, who named himself that because of a facial disfigurement, devises an arsenic gas gun.

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Larry, not Sandy, is the one to get a girlfriend during the run.  Issue 64 deals with the sinking of a pleasure boat full of children.  Larry rescues young Timmy, and meets his sister, Lorna Drake.  The next issue has a tale about juvenile delinquents being used by mobsters.  Timmy falls into danger, and Lorna calls on Larry for help.

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In the following story in which they get a new radio car.  Up until now their car was designated  “X-7,” but it gets rammed into a telephone pole during the course of the tale, and at the end Sandy is driving a new car as Larry and Lorna flirt.  Later issues will reveal that they are now in “Car 54.”

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Anyway, back to Lorna.  Issue 67 has a complicated but rewarding tale, which opens with a drive-by shooting of an FBI agent.  It’s Lorna’s birthday, and while investigating the shooting, Larry buys a curio from a reluctant antiques dealer, whose shop the murder occurred outside of.  The curio contains stolen plans, and we are suddenly immersed in international espionage, with the Evil One and his paralysis ray gun, attempting to find and murder Prince Ivor, the exiled ruler of his nation.  It turns out Timmy is really Prince Ivor, and Lorna has been sheltering him.

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Issue 68 reveals that Lorna works at a “settlement house,” which seems to be a place for troubled kids.  Larry beings her Teddy, an orphan boy hanging out at the waterfront (and witness to a crime) to take care of.

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Lorna’s final appearance is in issue 73, as we meet her friends, Sparky and Emma, brother and sister rodeo riders.  The story has Larry briefly get jealous of Sparky, so it’s safe to assume his relationship with Lorna is continuing solidly, if off-panel.

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In their final appearance in More Fun 87 (Feb 43) they deal with a sound effects man and his ventriloquist partner, who use phony radio dispatches to take the police far from the sites of actual crimes.

Neither Sandy Keane nor Larry Trent make any further appearances after their series concludes.  But I think these guys did a bang-up job in their seven years patrolling the streets, and I’m sure they were promoted to detectives at this point.

Adventure 455 – Superboy vs Lex Luthor, and Aqualad ends

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Adventure 455 (Feb 78) has the concluding half of Bob Rozakis’ tale of the people of Smallville turning into kryptonite beings.

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Superboy flies back to town just in time to conveniently overhear Lex Luthor bragging about the fact that he is the one behind the situation.

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Even still, Superboy doesn’t quite figure it all out, until he covers himself in lead and attacks Lex, but finds himself still vulnerable.  Without even needing Lex to explain his plans in detail, Superboy figures out that the new satellite above the town is responsible, and destroys it.

Not a great story.  Frankly, none of the Superboy tales in this run are.

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Aqualad’s concluding chapter makes up for the weaknesses in the Superboy tale, both in terms of art and story, as Paul Kupperberg, Carl Potts and Dick Giordano bring his solo run to a satisfying, if not happy, ending.

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After some action battling a cool robot, Aqualad learns the painful truth about his parents, King Thar and Queen Bekka.  His father had become a dangerous tyrant, and was deposed and executed, while Bekka was deprived of her child, who was sent away with no knowledge of his past, in fear that he would one day seek vengeance.

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Instead, Aqualad accepts the hard truths, and realizes that Aquaman was more of a father to him than his real parents had been.

This paves the way to his next appearance, in Aquman’s own book, and their reconciliation.

 

Adventure 401 – Nasty returns, and Tracey Thompson begins

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The second appearance of Nasty, in Adventure 401 (Jan 71), is again a bit of a disappointment.  Mike Sekowsky created a decent adversary for Supergirl, but just didn’t seem to know what to do with her at first.

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Nasty spikes some water with a fear formula her uncle Luthor gives her, which drives Supergirl into a terrified state.

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Nasty and Luthor gloat over this, but Supergirl’s uncontrollable fear proves as dangerous as her being in control, as she goes on a rampage and almost kills them.

Sadly, the story ends with her waking up and discovering it was all a dream.  Gag.

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Mike Sekowsky also handles the back-up feature, Tracey Thompson, which begins in this issue.  Tracey appears to be a university-aged girl who, with her friend Betsy, goes to investigate a supposedly haunted house.

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At first, Tracey seems to be the more daring of the two, but once in the house, both girls get easily frightened and freak out, plunging through a hole into the basement, where they discover the house is being used by gangsters as a hide-out.

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But then the gangsters see ghosts, and Tracey turns the tables on them, grabbing a gun and holding them till the police arrive.

I suppose it’s a better story than the Supergirl tale in the issue, but Tracey does not come off as particularly capable or daring.  Or even very worthy of her own series, for that matter.

Adventure 397 – Supergirl and Wonder Woman go clothes shopping, plus the debut of Nasty

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Both the stories in this issue are written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky, and Adventure 397 marks a change in the Supergirl series, as DC attempts to make it more 70s.  Sekowsky also held the reins on Wonder Woman’s comic at this time, when she had lost her powers, ditched her costume, as was acting a lot like Diana Rigg from “The Avengers.”  His changes to Supergirl were not as dramatic or memorable.

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The first story in the issue pits Supergirl against a supernatural foe, Zond.  He runs a cult, and one of Supergirl’s friend from Stanhope joins it, but winds up in a mysterious coma.

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Her first battle with the cultists results in her costume getting torn up.  Supergirl calls on Diana Prince, who runs a dress shop at this time, and together they whip up a batch of Supergirl outfits.  For the duration of her run in Adventure, Supergirl’s costume would change regularly.  Some were decent, some really awful.

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Wonder Woman also calls on her friend, the witch Morgana, who was an occasional supporting player in Wonder Woman.

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It turns out Zond is an old enemy of Morgana, and she uses her magic to lead them to Zond, and helps Supergirl defeat him.

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The second story in the issue introduces Lex Luthor’s niece, Nasthalita, better known as Nasty.  Although Lex calls her his niece, it’s unclear who her parents are, or were.

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Lex gives Nasty the mission to uncover Supergirl’s identity, and she enrols in Stanhope College.

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Nasty’s plans are none too subtle, and once Supergirl starts listening in on her conversations, she discovers that Luthor is her uncle, and apprehends him.

As for Nasty, she just gives her a good scare, and hopes this will cause her to back off.  Considering that Nasty sticks around for the next few years in this book, perhaps she should have tried something more.

 

Adventure 388 – Supergirl deals with Luthor and Brainiac

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Adventure 388 (Jan 70) concludes the story with Lex Luthor’s nephew Val, and also begins a 2-parter in which Brainiac sends a robot to seduce Supergirl.

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After Lena gets a psychic vision of Val’s location, Supergirl heads out, and discovers that Lex is using the boy to commit crimes.  Adopting her Linda Danvers guise, she approaches the boy on their island base, and makes friends with him.

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Eventually Linda convinces him to use a helmet Lex has created to produce monsters, in order to trap Luthor.

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The device also has the effect of shorting out Val’s telekinetic powers, which Supergirl pretends was a surprise to her, but do we really believe that?

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Lena Thorul returns in Supergirl’s series in Superman Family, Val never appears again.  Where did he go?  I honestly don’t recall if his absence was explained, but I’ll mention it when I get to those tales.

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The second story in the issue, by Cary Bates and Kurt Schaffenberger, sees Brainiac free a womanizing felon from an alien prison, and transfer his charisma to a robot, before killing him.

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Linda begins dating the robot, and despite his incredibly rude behaviour, cannot resist him.  To her surprise, he has no interest in Supergirl at all.

Ah, Brainiac, the master of twisted abusive relationships.  The story concludes next issue.

 

 

Adventure 387 – Supergirl meets Lex Luthor’s evil nephew

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Lena Thorul Colby, Supergirl’s psychic friend, and Lex Luthor’s sister, makes her only appearance during Supergirl’s run in Adventure in this 2-parter, which begins in issue 387 (Dec 69)

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Despite Lena’s psychic powers, she remains unaware that Lex Luthor is her brother.  While spying on her, Lex discovers that Lena is a now a widow, and has a son, Val, who has telekinetic powers.

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Lena’s powers are revealed to have been caused by one of Lex’s experiments, and her son’s powers are also indirectly caused by Lex, the result of his exposure to a space jewel from his uncle.

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Lex gets captured by Supergirl, but Val sees him in prison on television, and uses his powers to free him.  Lex takes the boy to a secret base.

The story concludes next issue

Adventure 325 – The Legion vs Lex Luthor

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Both Superboy and Supergirl take part in the story in Adventure 325 (Oct 64), which pits the Legion against Lex Luthor.  It starts strong, but in the end  is one of my least favourite Edmond Hamilton stories from the period.

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The Legion encounter a time-travelling Lex Luthor, who aids them against the Brain-Lords of Kahnn.  Because he has hair, they believe him to be from the time before he hated Superboy, and befriend him.

In fact, he is wearing a wig, and getting the Legion to trust him solely so that he can kill them all.

He builds a disintegrator ray that he spotted in the Clubhouse, and uses it to kill the Legionnaires, one group at a time.  But oops, he actually built a Phantom Zone projector.  Mon-El of course realizes where he is immediately, and helps the other Legionnaires use the mental abilities the Zone endows them with to make Luthor reverse the ray and free them.

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