Monday, July 28, 2014


I recently reread the obscure Marion Zimmer Bradley book, THE DOOR THROUGH SPACE, which originally appeared as one of the famous "Ace Doubles," paired with an A. Bertram Chandler novel.

This is not a review as such, but rather a summation of the unusual incest-themes in the book, which I have not noted in the majority of the Bradley books I've read-- and I've probably read a little over twenty of them. I've capitalized most of the names just because I felt like it.


RACE CARGILL is a Terran Intelligence agent on Wolf, a planet of aliens who look human but are not genetically related to earthpeople. Prior to the novel’s beginning RACE has suffered facial injuries from a duel he fought against his best friend RAKHA, said to have suffered even worse injuries of the same kind. Both men are described as nearly identical in many ways—though the similarity of their names is not mentioned--, but RAKHAL can do one thing RACE can’t:  marry RACE’s sister JULI. 

The quarrel is later explained as one between RACE’s loyalty to the Terran Empire and RAKHAL’s advocacy of the rights of Wolf against Terran influence. However, in the opening chapters it seems more like RACE being possessive of JULI. In the present day JULI comes to him, asking him to play “rescuer,” because RAKHAL has run away with their little daughter RINDY. RACE consents to investigate, partly because RAKHAL is rumored to be allied to a weapons-smuggler, “the Toymaker,” who may be an ally to Earth’s enemies. However, in the final scene between RACE and JULI, she embraces him and accidentally hurts him, and he reacts by snapping the ritual chains she wears; the symbol of JULI’s marriage to RAKHAL. In so doing he accidentally wounds her slightly, a “mutual wounding” that mirrors the duel of RACE and RAKHAL. 

RACE begins his investigation by journeying to a town off-limits to Earth-people, and he tries to gain information from KYRAL, one of Wolf’s nonhumans and an enemy to Terran interests. KYRAL mistakes RACE for RAKHAL but refuses to help the Earthman once he knows the truth. KYRAL is, however, married to his two half-sisters, DALISSA and MIELLYN, both desirable women RACE meets during his investigations. There’s no clarity about whether or not KYRAL has had intercourse with either sibling, as RACE remembers that most if not all “brother-sister marriages” on Wolf are “loveless.” Aggressive DALISSA gives RACE the opportunity to win information if he endures ritual torture; he does so and DALISSA ends up not only giving RACE intel but also making love to him.  She asks him to take her away from KYRAL but RACE senses that she’s too bound to Wolifan customs and never sees her again.

 This clears the path for RACE’s union with MIELLYN, a sort of child-woman who can look like an underaged “pixie” without her makeup, but can metamorphose into a more mature figure when she chooses. Through the complicated web of connections between MIELLYN, the Toymaker, and RAKHAL, RACE eventually encounters his rival, but ends up saving his rival’s life rather than taking it. The novel ends with the implication that RAKHAL will be able to return to a normal family life with JULI and RINDY, while RACE’s incest-demons have been exorcised by his alliance to the child-woman MIELYNN, implicitly “stolen” from KYRAL as RAKHAL “stole” JULI. 

Monday, July 21, 2014


"He's good-- perhaps the deadliest I've ever fought! But he makes raw, insane courage replace true flying skill!"-- Enemy Ace's comment on his foe, the Balloon Buster.

DC Comics' war books from the 1950s onward might be deemed the first time the rather monolithic company invested in a genre with a reputation for maturity, as opposed to the company's better-known superheroes.

At their best, the DC war books flirted with a combination of "blood and thunder" and notes of existential despair, as seen to good effect in the fan-favorite series "Enemy Ace," created in 1965 by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert, which focused on the exploits of Hans Von Hammer, a WWI German pilot continually haunted by the carnage he had to wreak upon his less skilled opponents. At the worst, the DC war books were sometimes indistinguishable from the superhero books, so that even a mature-seeming protagonist like the aforementioned ace might encounter (say) pilots garbed in skeleton costumes.  This was perhaps inevitable, since writer/editor Kanigher was working on books like BATMAN and WONDER WOMAN at the same he wrote the ENEMY ACE features.

The character's most notable crossover was also written by Kanigher, and co-featured a character created to be something of an antithesis to the moody German pilot: Lt. Steve Savage, aka "the Balloon Buster," an American pilot who specialized in shooting down German observation balloons. Over the years fan-favor has not looked quite as kindly on Savage's exploits as on those of Hans Von Hammer. It's possible that even in 1974, when Kanigher hurled the two opponents against one another in STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES #181-183, he may have "thrown the fight" somewhat toward the more popular Von Hammer.

Suffice to say, that though the American pilot is praised for his courage, the script gives slightly greater plaudits to Von Hammer for his sophistication and his "grace under pressure." In the initial encounter between the two pilots, Von Hammer forces Savage to land in German-held territory, so that the American is taken prisoner and doomed to sit out the war in a prison camp. Naturally, the spunky Wyoming-bred "cowboy American" won't sit still for this, and he makes a break for it, killing one of Von Hammer's subordinates in the process.  The inevitable final clash between the cool Von Hammer and the hot-headed, somewhat class-conscious Savage eventuates in one of the few times an American comic book concluded with an American character losing a fight with a German.

The characters met again in 1982, in a two-part tale extending across UNKNOWN SOLDIER #266-267, but aside from graceful John Severin art, it was a wholly inferior story. The three-part tale is blessed by exceptional Frank Thorne artwork, though, to be sure, no one ever did a better "Enemy Ace" than his artist-creator Joe Kubert.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


"The Indian" was one of two "back-door pilots" that appeared on the successful Old West teleseries THE RIFLEMAN. This Feb 1959 episode introduced the titular hero Lucas McCain to Sam Buckheart (Michael Ansara), a federal marshal who was also a full-blood Apache Indian. This episode, and a follow-up story that aired in June 1959, pilot led to a new series from THE RIFLEMAN's production company, entitled LAW OF THE PLAINSMAN. The new series debuted in October 1959 but enjoyed only a year before cancellation.

The follow-up story is all right but the first pilot, "The Indian," excels in its dramatic presentation of the travails of the guest hero, trying to make it in the white man's world of the 1880s without losing his identity as an Indian. The episode has the distinction of being directed by Arnold Laven, one of the collaborators responsible for creating THE RIFLEMAN, and being written by Cyril Hume, scripter for both 1932's TARZAN THE APE MAN and 1956's FORBIDDEN PLANET.

Lucas McCain is initially put off by the incongruity of seeing an Indian as a federal marshal-- as is his son Mark, who remarks, "What's this world coming to?" But given that he's a pretty liberal fellow despite the general prejudice of the nearby town of North Fork, Lucas does what he can to help the marshal. He's not too happy with Buckheart's arrogance; in the scene shown above, Buckheart enters the "whites only" saloon in North Fork and allows the locals to think he's one of them. This is a dangerous version of "passing," especially since Buckheart's got his telltale "long Indian hair" bunched up under his hat.

Though this is a tale with a liberal agenda, it's not uncritical of Buckheart. He has a complex history with the white man, in that he was adopted by an older cavalry officer after Sam spared the man's life in battle. He spares the officer upon realizing that "his white flesh was weaker than my Indian flesh;" however, the Apache apparently becomes acculturated very easily, and accepts the officer's largesse in order to attend Harvard, resulting in a "savage" who can quote from THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. (One guess which famous line he quotes from it.) Lucas recognizes that Sam is baiting the white folks when he passes amongst them, and he criticizes Buckheart for his stubborness about going it alone against a town that won't stand for an Indian taking custody of a white prisoner.

Overall, it's a good drama, with a less violent conclusion than most episodes of the early RIFLEMAN show. I don't remember LAW OF THE PLAINSMAN very well, though I saw it in reruns years ago, but
Ansara and Chuck Connors play off one another very well as two western tough guys with essentially noble hearts.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


Among crossovers from the Golden Age of Comics, the meetings of the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner take pride of place. The closest runner-ups are the five issues in which publisher Lev Gleason pit their diabolical super-villain The Claw against the company's newly minted superhero, the original Daredevil. 

The Claw was a nightmarish take on the Yellow Peril menaces common in the pop culture of the time. Not only did the villain sport fangs, taloned hands and pointed ears as some Oriental fiends did, he could also will himself to grow to King Kong-like proportions, in addition to being a master of many mystical and scientific powers.  He was created by the famed Jack Cole for SILVER STREAK COMICS #1, where he at first engaged only ordinary mortals as his opponents,

Slightly later, the same anthology-title introduced a costumed hero named the Daredevil, who wielded an incredible boomerang-weapon and initially could not speak. Though the hero was created by Jack Binder, he's best remembered for the five stories in which Jack Cole pitted the athletic adventurer against the monstrous Claw.

The first story in SILVER STREAK COMICS #7 is a small masterpiece of Cole's busy, eccentric design,  The next three, also credited to Cole, were not quite so inventive, and the final part in the rambling tale was credited to Don Rico. Around this time Cole departed Lev Gleason for Quality Comics, where the artist would give birth to his most famous creation, Plastic Man. It may be that Cole simply expended most of his imagination on the opening bout between the titanic foes and was simply operating on autopilot thereafter.

Still, all five episodes have some inspired moments of superheroic lunacy in them, and Rico's final installment ends the ongoing battle imaginatively enough. The Claw, stymied at every turn, appeals for help to "Lucifer the Genii" against Daredevil. The Satanic-sounding being gives the villain an army of monsters, but Daredevil still defeats them. In a conclusion designed to allow the Claw to continue his weird series, his defeat forces him to remain in Asia for all time, so that he would never cross swords with the boomerang-tossing Daredevil again.


The STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE episode "Trials and Tribble-ations" is something of a "crossover after the fact," but it satisfies my criteria for melding two separate series-concepts with different sources of appeal.

"The Trouble with Tribbles," the original "Star Trek Classic" episode on which the DS9 episode is based, has long been a favorite for fans of the series, as well as a touchstone that can be used to sum up one aspect of the show's appeal to outsiders.  However, "Tribbles" was not the DS9 producers' original choice for a salute to the classic series. Originally they envisioned a follow-up to the episode "A Piece of the Action," but a demonstration of the digital techniques used in 1994's FORREST GUMP convinced the producers to insert the DS9 characters into the "Classic" cast.

The result proved popular with fans, though the main plot of the DS9 additions-- selected crew-members must journey back to the era of the original Enterprise, to prevent Captain Kirk from being killed by a "tribble-bomb"-- is thin at best. It's largely an excuse to put the latter-day Trek epigoni in touch with their "ancestors." The DS9 crew generally express admiration for the Enterprise crew, though not without a touch of amusement at the indicators of a simpler time, as with the mini-skirted female yeomen.  Possibly the best "meeting of the generations" is one in which Bashir encounters a woman who may be his great-grandmother. In tune with the classic time-paradox, he wonders if he ought to sleep with her to make sure he's born in the future.

On the other hand, the DS9 producers weren't well advised to insert their characters into the one sequence of "Tribbles" that depended on precise choreography and an equally well-timed musical score. In order to put the DS9'ers into the big space-station brawl, the producers had to re-score the sequence, resulting in a pointless mishmash of new and old that does nothing for either. The only decent moment involves Worf's refusal to comment on the appearance of the "old style" Klingons, and this verbal exchange could have appeared any place in the storyline.

However, the best aspect of "Tribble-ations" is probably not just that it turned out as well as it did, but the fact that the producers happily did not make a second attempt at this sort of retcon-crossover, which could have turned out much less felicitously.