Wednesday, March 14, 2018

GaryConX Report - part 2

I was getting nervous at the pub about if I would make it back in time for my 2 pm game. I was scheduled to run Hideouts & Hoodlums: The Everburning Tower. Now, just two years earlier, I had a full table of eight for H&H and had to turn one person away -- but this year, no one had signed up for my game. I hoped that someone might come by and stop out of curiosity, but no. Nor did friends who knew I was there with no players come and offer to play. So this disappointment, more than anything else, kept this from being the best GaryCon yet.

Nearby, Michael Shorten was running A Ford over Troubled Waters (har har) with a very impressive miniatures set-up, and my friend Dave Ferguson was playing in his game, so I did stick around and watched some of that. With all that extra time, I made my first circle around the exhibit hall finally. I spent way too much, and that was just keeping to purchases of $10 or less. When I was running low on cash, some people will very generous with deals.

At 6 pm, I played in Michael Mornard’s Yet Still More Magic-Users with Knives along with my friend Dave. To my surprise, we were not obligated to play magic-users and I quickly rolled up a dwarven fighter -- one of the great things about OD&D is that my character was done in just a few minutes. I intentionally kept him defense-oriented (often hanging back with a bow) so they would not get too dependent on me in the front ranks, as I had already warned Michael I had to leave at 10 to drive home and could not stay until midnight.

From my vantage point of hanging out at the back, I was able to observe the shortcomings of placing importance on tactical placement in tight hallway fighting with such a large group. Now, I was well-versed enough in Old School to know that Michael’s pie in the face gag was par for the course for the early 1970s campaigns and I appreciated that he made no changes to his early dungeon to update it with the times. However, I felt some of the players did not understand this was meant for a chuckle and then we move on, but instead took it to mean they were supposed to act silly all the time. Luckily they had Dave, who did an outstanding job as party caller of keeping them organized and effective in battle. At 10, before I left, I had a brief conversation with Michael about the challenge of keeping a large party equally engaged in the narrative, which I hope we can continue soon on the OD&D Discussion message board.


On Saturday I still managed to get there well before 10. I think this was when I got a rare chance to talk to Dave Kenzer, which went great. My difficulty with remembering people was no more evident than Saturday morning when I approached Seth Warfield and said, “I remember playing something with you,” and he replied with, “Scott, I’ve DMed for you three times!”

(I’m still not sure about the three times, but sure enough, I went home that night and found on my blog that Seth had DMed “Magick Magick Magick” for me back in 2015.)

At 10 am, I was playing Dungeon again with David and Rose Megarry. It’s been a few years since I last played with them and I was surprised by how much David had expanded his introduction before the game to include a lot of personal information about his life. It was almost like watching a one-man show where the actor opens up about his life to the audience, and the acting is the leaving himself exposed and vulnerable and, in the end, it was almost moving. But as interesting as all that was, it was only the prelude to playing one of the best board games ever made.

That said -- I lost. We did not have time to finish our game, but tallied our gold and the highest percentage of goal completion won. I had disastrous luck with the superhero, heading down to the fourth level and encountering mostly slimes and puddings that were virtually immune to my attacks. About halfway through, my luck turned around after reaching the third level and I slowly recovered to the point where I was roughly tied for second place with a player who missed five whole turns of the game because of a trap. My luck was nowhere near as bad as the player to my right, who went too deep with a hero and got beat down by a vampire. The vampire took and kept his magic sword and then (rather humorously, actually) the poor guy lost almost every dice off for the rest of the game by just one point (Dungeon players would know he would have won those battles had he tied). Meanwhile, the magic-user (who won) had a nearly unbroken run of lucky dice rolls. He was so confident that most of the time he waded into battles without relying on spells, and it still worked for him.

Afterwards, at noon, I sat in on Grodog’s (Allan Grohe’s) Castle Greyhawk and was lucky enough to land a seat when some players didn’t show. We were a group of 11 and, after my conversation with Mornard, I was really intrigued to see how Allan was going to handle such a large group. His approach was to keep the game less narrative-driven and we played more out-of-character. For the first three hours, this ran very smoothly. When Allan got distracted by a side issue (two characters were permanently blinded by a monster and we needed a way to restore them) his attention to detail started to falter, which was really unfortunate when we got to some elaborate set pieces that Allan had trouble describing. But, despite these issues, it was a well put-together dungeon level and very Gygaxian in feel.

I ate dinner alone in the room after the game and, having nothing on my agenda, decided to check out the Kenzer table again. There I found long-time Hideouts & Hoodlums player Timothy Lemaster and his wife Teri sitting with Stevil, about to play a Hackmaster demo. Tim and Teri wanted to talk business with me, but wanted to play the demo first, so I joined in the demo myself. We played through a combat with 10th level characters vs. zombies, which was still somewhat challenging because level advancement is so gradual in the current edition of Hackmaster. Stevil was very patient with me as I picked and prodded at the company’s game design decisions, but I left with a much better understanding of how the new Hackmaster is different from old Hackmaster than I did after my last demo.

Timothy and Teri talked to me about the game store they want to open near Miami and I sold them a copy of Hideouts & Hoodlums 2nd Edition Basic! 

It was still early, so I went to go visit the room where Joe Bloch was running his version of Castle Greyhawk, Castle of the Mad Archmage. Turned out, he only had four players and they were eager to hand their magic-user off to me so one player did not have to double-up. They were in the middle of a troll fight which ran longer than it should have because I rolled a near-record low for lightning bolt damage. I think my spells and advice were handy for the team, up to and including, “Don’t go in there, it’s an airlock!” However…curiosity got the better of us and we all wound up going through the airlocks, without even looking behind us to see if they could be opened in the opposite direction. Oops. We were completely responsible for that TPK.


This was the day Megan came along. It was harder getting two people out of the house than one so we did not arrive until close to 10 am. Today, we had nothing on our agenda until 2 pm, when I was running Gamma World.

First thing, Megan got the Thorgi T-shirt she had wanted ever since I snapped a picture of it on Thursday. Then we moved through the artist alley and I got in one more comic book chat with Terry Pavlet. We went through the exhibit hall and spent some more money. I left with two Rob Kuntz products, which was very exciting.

I was hoping to go back and try to hang out with the Kenzer guys before they left, but Megan was feeling a little anxiety and we had to sit out in the less crowded hall while we ate “dungeon wraps.” Then we went down to the mostly empty open gaming room and picked out two short two-player games to try. One was a “reverse Jenga” game called Rhino Hero that was simple and pretty fun. The other was Truck Off, a Kickstarter game so new that the box still had its new smell (probably donated that same weekend). It took us a while to figure out Truck Off. Megan was starting to like it, but I didn’t care for it.
And then it was time for Gamma World: the Green Slime. The con was looking pretty empty when we came back upstairs, but there was a table of five waiting for me (six had signed up). It was apparently one whole gaming group from California that signed up en masse for my game. It was interesting playing with a group that knew each other because they had great camaraderie and were very funny; I had not laughed so hard for some time as I did at some of the jokes we were cracking during Gamma World. One of the nicer compliments I got all weekend was from one of them, who said he had played Gamma World before, but didn’t understand how to play it until I explained it.

Oh, and they finished the scenario and retrieved the meteor with only one of them dying in the green slime.. though to finish in two hours, they did bypass the village entirely and I had to ignore the very high chance of reinforcements coming during the final battle with the space aliens.

And then it was all over. Megan and I went back to the car and I, regretfully, ended my participation in GaryCon X.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

GaryCon X Report - part 1

GaryCon X has come and gone already! While the details are still fresh in my mind, I’m going to record my recollections of this, my second favorite GaryCon ever after last year’s. This was, I believe, my sixth GaryCon, my third (out of three) at the Geneva Grand Resort, and possibly the first time I’ve ever managed to attend all four days.


I made excellent time reaching Lake Geneva by car, arriving at 9:08 -- my earliest arrival time in years. And that was a good thing too because I had a long walk ahead of me. GaryCon had grown since last year, expanding all the way from the north end to the south end of the resort. This meant a long, meandering wander through many hallways and stairs before reaching The Forum at the south end. Later, I heard that people who could take the cold made better time walking outside. And there was shuttle service for those who could wait until half-hour intervals to get it.

The Forum reminded me of GenCon from the old Milwaukee days -- huge rooms broken down by hanging curtains into manageable sections. It was something I had been advocating for after the final year of GaryCon at The Lodge to take care of the noise problem there. It …mostly worked here, depending on how popular the time slot was.

I had three hours until I was scheduled to run Swords & Wizardry: Castle Baldemar’s Dungeon. I did wander and watched some other people playing. I saw some people I knew -- had an early encounter with Carlos Lising just passing by -- and was recognized by people I did not immediately recognize back. But mainly I just sat down and prepared, making sure I had reviewed the adventure, all the magic item descriptions, and anything else I could think of I would need to recall quickly.

I had eight people signed up for Castle Baldemar’s Dungeon. Of them, I had six show, plus one guest join in to make seven. I was quite satisfied with that, particularly in having one of them a repeat attendee from last year (though that was partly because R.J. is a huge S&W fan).

The game itself went great. Everyone seemed invested in the scenario. They delighted in every difficult combat I threw at them, especially the ones they were meant to run from. They were the only players I have ever run this for who stayed, fought the spectres, and won, though were they ever surprised when they found no way to get all their lost energy levels back after the combat! Because of their battle lust, they did have to take a long rest to get spells and hit points back before they could continue.

There is a lot of puzzle-building built into the scenario, but they avoided most of it by just bashing their way through every obstacle they encountered. They explored 14 out of 28 rooms in 3 1/2 hours and then I asked them, “Do you want to keep playing this adventure as-is, or cut straight to the last room now?” They picked the last room. And…despite the fact that half the party died in the final battle, the survivors did manage to retrieve the magic staff and escape with it -- and I think everyone was happy with that.

I was happy, but a little tired after running my first game of the con, but I had to get moving because text messages had informed me that my webcomic partner Mike Bridges and his best friend Jayson had arrived, and were already hanging out with master cartographer Anna Meyer and her friend. I found them all the way on the far end of the resort, sitting and talking. I made the mistake of finding that my phone was seriously low on charge from too many pictures and texts and plugged it in to recharge, then got left behind while the others wandered off and I was left guarding my phone. I never saw Anna again, though she insists she was there all four days.

I spent some time in the artist alley (an overflow area for people who didn’t fit in the exhibit hall anymore) talking to Terry Pavlet and Darlene. I wandered the Legends of Wargaming room and marveled over the new exhibit. Instead of rare items from published game history, this display was more focused on the early wargamers, contained a huge collection of photographs of wargamers going back to the late ‘60s, and its most remarkable piece was a homemade computer made for calculating wargame results, with dials for virtually every conceivable detail. I was assured by Kevin Maguire that the computer probably still worked.

I was particularly hanging around the Legends of Wargaming room because I was signed up to play Legends of Wargaming: They Met at Quatre Bras at 6 pm. Using the Fire and Charge wargaming rules from 1964 (which, I believe, were the oldest wargame being run at the convention), I was looking forward to this window into the pre-Chainmail days of our shared hobby. Particularly after all the prep work I had put into my S&W game, it was a little disconcerting to learn that our referee, Steve Fratt, had not played Fire and Charge in 40-odd years and was relearning it as we went along. I have noticed that, unlike roleplaying referees who need to stay involved in the whole scenario, wargame referees seem to feel they’ve done their job if the players can play the game without them, and then sit back and chat with other people about other things. I find this disconcerting too.

I don’t know enough about wargames to really evaluate the rules. I do know that, for a wargame, it was relatively rules-lite. This left a lot of subjective room for the referee to make calls, many of which were routinely questioned by a player on the opposing side of the table. Then Steve would adopt his “teacher talking to a problem student” tone and instruct him on how he was wrong. I got the tone once, but I needed it because I was not getting that we were attacking per company instead of per unit.

I am not a wargamer, but every year I convince myself I need to play one wargame to experience the roots of my hobby. I’m no good at wargames and found myself empathizing too much with the fictional soldiers I was throwing to their deaths. By 9 pm, I was emotionally checked out of playing and just going through the motions to avoid the empathic backlash. Interestingly, I noticed my hottly antagonistic antagonist had also checked out emotionally, but the two quiet players beside us were happily completing the scenario as best they could, though the whole thing ended with the murky sort of tie that makes you question what good is war.


I drove back from the Chicago suburbs again, and again made it shortly after 9. I had lots of time before the Working with Gary Gygax, 1998-2008 seminar began, which was a good thing because it was in the Grand Suite. The Grand Suite’s location was not clear from the map, was not labeled as “Grand Suite” outside the room, was impossible to find without directions, and difficult even with them. Next year, a simple sheet of paper taped to the wall that says “Grand Suite” on it would be grand.

Our three panel members arrived at different times as they found the place, but they gave an excellent review of Gary’s extraordinary output in his last decade, full of interesting anecdotes about how disinterested Gary was in his old Castle Greyhawk, how much he loved his Lejendary Adventures game, and how much he wanted to move past medieval fantasy into exploring “Renaissance”-era fantasy. I was glad to be there to point out that it was actually Tudor period that Gary was moving into in his later years (as he told the Greytalk mailing list around the beginning of this final decade; I suspect our very smart panelists actually knew this, but assumed their audience didn’t know the difference in the two historical periods). 

I then returned to the distant Forum to find where Carlos Lising was running Die, Markessa, Die! I had planned to only observe the end of the game, but actually was able to jump in when one player had to leave before the end and I took over his ranger character. My late arrival was not enough to keep Markessa (Carlos’ favorite character from the classic AD&D Slave Lords modules) from escaping from us. At least I got to search for a secret door.

After the game, Mike, Jayson, and I were going to peruse the exhibit hall (which I still had not seen) and then eat lunch somewhere, but we got invited by Carlos into his group of friends -- now numbering ten people -- who all went to a pub together. My burger was great. Pickle fries …not so good. As spread out as we were, it was impossible to engage everyone in the same conversation, though Carlos made a game try of it. I do wonder what the older people at the tables behind Carlos thought of his talk about Markessa murdering everyone’s families, though.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Watching the 20th Century, 1913 (cont.)

I needed a slight film to watch during lunch today, so I decided to finally sample a Thanhouser film. The
Thanhouser company made over 1,000 of these short, confectionary-light films during these early years of the
film industry. In this one, an evil broker decides to cheat a client out of $20,000 by having a messenger boy
deliver it to her, follows the boy, and switches envelopes with the boy at his first opportunity. Unfortunately for
him, not only does he foolishly step in front of a movie picture company camera during the act, not only does the
camera keep rolling even though they’re standing in front of the actors, not only does the messenger boy have a
family member working for the movie studio, but she also just happens to spot the deed on a few frames while
reviewing hundred of feet of film. Our villain hangs his head in shame at the end; he should be shaking his fists
and screaming “What are the odds??”

White slavery for the sex trade is the unusual topic of this early crime drama. The film certainly tries to tug at our
heartstrings -- showing us the grieving, elderly father of the kidnapped girl...the sister gets fired because of the
“disgrace” of her sister being missing...the newspaper headlines in the movie referring to her as a “little girl” when
the actress appears to be about 25. The younger sister is a pretty weak actress, her best skill being going limp
when her character faints. A lot of time is spent showing the irony of how the slave ringleader is seen by
everyone as a fine, upstanding citizen. You would think this movie would end with everyone’s arrest, but instead
there’s an extended denouement showing the ringleader get cosmic justice as well as civic justice.

Now, this movie couldn’t have been made today because a) wireless technology would have given Mary no clue
to follow to the slavers in the first place, and b) today, the sister could have called the police and they would have
taken her testimony as credible evidence for a raid. Then the movie would have been over in 15 minutes.
Instead, because she’s a woman and this is 1913, Mary and her detective boyfriend have to spend time putting
themselves at risk gathering evidence. Some of the evidence-gathering is interesting historical information -- like
how, in 1913, the cops can’t just listen to a bug planted in his office live; Mary has to sneak out the recording tube
from the hidden dictaphone and bring it to them. And it’s interesting how non-standardized steering wheels were
still in 1913, as the police car clearly has its steering wheel on the right side. Another curiosity, though I can’t tell
if this was actual practice or a dramatic device in the movie -- but the accused are allowed to see the witnesses
against them, in the police station, when they are being taken in.

The movie fails to ever build dramatic tension, though, and there seems to be a lot of padding sometimes. The
most effective scene is the mob scene when the ringleader is released on bail.

(This particular recording of Traffic of Souls has two peculiarities -- someone thought it would be a good idea to
put the name of the movie as a banner across the top, even though it covers up people’s faces, and there is a
short 12-minute film appended to the back of it. I did not watch the backup feature.)

Supposedly Danish director August Blom’s most successful film, this Titanic-inspired story starts with Dr. von
Kammacher stressed out over his sickly wife and his research being rejected, so his servants suggest he go out
more often to sooth his nerves. On one of his nights out, Kammacher meets a “dancer” named Miss Ingigerd.
Ingigerd is supposedly so good a dance that she’s about to go tour America, but if you watch nothing else from
this film, fast forward to the laughably bad dance sequence about 18 minutes into the movie (the antennae she’s
wearing do not help with taking her seriously).

Quickly, Kammacher falls for Ingigerd, despite the fact that she has the grace and poise of a bucket of mop
water. In fact, he’s so obsessed that he boards the same boat bound for America to pursue her. He keeps trying
to woo her on board and can’t understand how her “he’s married” radar is going off around him all the time (I
guess he ditched his wedding ring?).

The first act is slow and plodding. It ends with a curiously short scene with Kammacher dreaming about touring
the ruins of Atlantis. It doesn’t really make sense other than to give the movie its title. If anything made me want
to read the novel this movie was based on, it would be to find out if there was more to this scene in the book, and
some importance to it other than a vague foreshadowing of the disaster about to happen.

The action really picks up in the second act during the ship sinking. I’m still not sure how they did this. Surely they
didn’t have the budget to actually sink an ocean liner. My dad thinks the ship is just a model, but it can’t be too
small a model; special effects were not good enough in 1913 to splice footage so smoothly as I’m seeing. Maybe
it’s a smaller boat made to look like an ocean liner, and then made to look bigger with some trick of perspective.

Though a dramatic second act, the sinking is far from the end of the movie. Kammacher saves Ingigerd from her
room during the sinking (she almost got left behind because she was so seasick). After the survivors are rescued,
Ingigerd’s gratitude turns to lust. Kammacher, who was already weak as a puppy dog around her, can’t resist
how the hedonistic lifestyle in New York makes Ingigerd shockingly let down her hair, bare her arms, and show
her ankles. O wicked Ingigerd!

The third act has a bizarre subplot about an armless man who performs on tour with Ingigerd. We see a
surprising amount of this guy, and it’s a little disturbing how he performs like he’s in a freak show, playing a
trumpet, or playing cards, with his feet. It’s possible that this character is supposed to remind us that Herr
Douchebag -- I mean Kammacher -- is missing things too, like his dying wife and practically abandoned children.
I also have a strong suspicion that the man’s arms are in his coat.

One nice thing this act deals with that the movie Titanic ignored was what happens to the survivors afterwards.
We see their compulsion to hold reunions, because of their shared trauma, as well as the nervous depression the
survivors suffer. Kammacher suffers more than the others, of course, because he’s a horrible douchebag
drowning in guilt. BUT, the movie gives him a happy ending by having Ms. Burns, a New York artist, fall for him
and “cure” him with the healthy love he’s been missing in his life.

The main reason to stick around through the third act, though, is the gorgeous B roll footage of 1913 New York

Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life

It had bothered me that it looked like I was going to miss all the Keystone Cops shorts in this project because
they were not long enough to count as movies, but at least the fourth in the series was long enough at 13
minutes. It’s claim to fame is being the first time a woman was tied to railroad tracks on film. It’s semi-exciting and
dramatic and surprisingly unfunny, with a goofy, overly violent ending. Ford Sterling steals the show as the
caricature-ish villain.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Seven Best DC Titles - Mid-1940

This is less about picking seven best titles -- since there were barely more than seven DC titles in mid-1940 -- than it is assembling the best features for the seven best titles. Though DC Comics exited the Golden Age with a stable roster of features, in the early days they tested a lot of different features, some good, some bad. Almost all of the early titles were anthology titles, with 64 pages split up between up to 20 different short features. I would have liked to have seen them expand the better features to 12-13 pages (and they did for the really popular heroes, like Superman and Batman) and cut out all chaff. Here is how I would consolidate the best of their early features into seven titles by the middle of 1940.

Action Comics
DC really didn't need a quarterly Superman series in 1939, as Action Comics really didn't have enough solid features to carry a book without Superman. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman was, of course, extraordinary. Shuster’s deceptively crude artwork was bursting with primal energy. Siegel’s best stories were wish-fulfillment fantasies for social change -- strong indictments of late 1930s society given they were only 13 pages long (and hence necessarily simplistic solutions). The superhero genre arrived with Superman and was a positive, utopian genre.

But, outside of Superman, Action Comics was a weak anthology. Tex Thompson was okay at first, being an explorer who went to really gonzo places. The early Zatara stories were good until power inflation just made them too goofy. Everything else was pretty weak; I would rather have seen three Superman stories per issue than the rest of that filler. So, instead of a quarterly Superman series, I would rather have a lot more Superman in Action Comics, with a line-up as follows:
Tex Thompson

Adventure Comics
Adventure already had a solid line-up by the end of 1939. Sandman was off to a great start. The pulp-style adventurer was the brainchild of Bert Christman and the short-lived comic strip artist’s greatest creation. Sandman was a billionaire industrialist-inventor with a lot of backstory and a craving for danger. He suffered after Christman’s death with more pedestrian stories by Gardner Fox, but a stronger editorial hand could have forced him to craft stories more like Christman’s.

Steve Carson of Federal Men was a Siegel/Shuster feature that started out really strong, with a heavy emphasis on science fictional threats. It grew more mundane over time, but if Federal Men had kept fighting giant robots, or sharing imaginary stories about law enforcement in the far future, it would have stayed a lot more fun.

Anchors Aweigh was a Dan Winslow (Navy hero) clone, with a hint of Tintin tossed in initially, that exceeded the strip it imitated, at least initially. It was a Fred Guardineer feature, which meant strong, stylized (if sometimes stiff) artwork.

Cotton Carver was a fun Don Dixon/Pellucidar (hero in a lost world) clone. Here, Gardner Fox really cut loose with all the inventiveness he was avoiding investing in Sandman, ably assisted by the art talent of Ogden Whitney (they would later do Skyman together for Eastern).

Hourman was Adventure’s second superhero. Another Gardner Fox character, Hourman always seemed too gimmicky; his hour-long superpowers would always run out at plot-convenient times, and he was super-popular with kids in his stories, overcompensating for how unpopular he was in real life. Creepy by today’s standards, Hourman secretly kept in touch with lots of his kid fans by radio. Still, downplay those gimmicks and you’ve got a pretty decent superhero with a good costume and good art by Bernard Bailey.

Steve Carson of Federal Men
Anchors Aweigh
Cotton Carver

All-American Comics
AA's first title (All-American was the sister company to National, the two of them together comprising DC Comics) was the weakest title of the bunch. Green Lantern was a brand new superhero, but I never warmed up to the original Green Lantern until his 1990s stories. Besides Green Lantern, it had Mutt & Jeff reprints, which are okay I guess. Scribbly was not yet the superhero parody masterpiece it would soon become. Hop Harrigan was a passably decent aviator hero. The best feature was Red, White, and Blue, a feature about three officers in the Armed Forces who always got to go on the same secret missions, despite representing entirely different branches. Red, White, and Blue was probably good enough that it could have been expanded to Superman-length stories (13 pages), and…I guess I can’t ignore the future popularity of Green Lantern. Other than those two, none of the other features likely could have filled more than 5-6 pages each month, which means All-American might still need to borrow some National characters to round out its page count, like Nadir Master of Magic (a magic-user who barely used magic) and Rusty and His Pals (a loose, comic-heavy Terry and the Pirates clone by Batman’s Bob Kane).

Red, White, and Blue
Mutt & Jeff
Hop Harrigan
Green Lantern
Nadir Master of Magic?
Rusty and His Pals?

Detective Comics
Although I’ve met people who really like the earliest Batman stories, they seem a dreadful mash-up of pulp fiction cliches to me that did not really gel until the character was reinvented to coincide with the debut of Robin. Here is the Batman and Robin that I love best -- laughing, joking, and smiling as they punch bad guys who toss out bad puns before they lose consciousness -- with just a dash of pulpy darkness left, as villains like Joker and Clayface are brutal murderers.

Of course, Batman dominated Detective Comics from the moment he debuted, but Detective had a strong stable of features in addition. Bart Regan, Spy, was a really strong Siegel/Shuster adventure series with a romance twist -- Bart would become the first character in comic books to marry, getting hitched to his partner in spying, Sally (until Siegel and Shuster seem to have abandoned the feature to other creators who completely ruined it). Slam Bradley was another good Siegel/Shuster adventure series, with a Captain Easy clone ratcheted up to 11. Speed Saunders was a capable feature by Fred Guardineer, though not in the same league with his Zatara or Anchors Aweigh. Crimson Avenger is a decent Green Hornet clone which was okay until an attempt was later made to reinvent him as a goofily-dressed superhero.

Batman and Robin
Bart Regan, Spy
Slam Bradley
Speed Saunders
Crimson Avenger

Flash Comics
The title hero, Flash, was pretty good. I like how Flash didn’t fight bad guys so much as he raced around them and found the evidence he needed to get them arrested, or just humiliated them (lots of bad guys got their clothes stripped off at super speed) until they surrendered. His adventures were largely comical and free of a lot of the tropes of the emerging superhero genre -- Flash did not bother protecting his secret identity, and his girlfriend Joan was like a costar in his book instead of just a plot hook generator.

Hawkman had potential -- Sheldon Moldoff definitely made him look cool. His backstory of being a reincarnated Egyptian prince went largely wasted (though I guess it explained his obsession with ancient weaponry). The best stories were the really gonzo ones, like fighting zombies in Wales. The character quickly went downhill when Fox started making him more gimmicky (like having him be able to talk to birds), but with better editorial direction Hawkman could have stayed good.

Sadly, there wasn’t much else in Flash Comics worth recommending. Johnny Thunder had staying power, but I can’t recommend anything that had the awful artwork of Stan Aschmeier. The King was another Fox character. The tuxedoed mysteryman was mildly interesting, mainly because he had a recurring nemesis in The Witch, and I do think more could have been done with him. Other than Flash, Hawkman, and King, I would need to bring back some characters from other titles to buoy up this book. One I would grab is Brad Hardy from early More Fun issues. Brad Hardy was another Don Dixon clone, but while magic was actually super-science in Dixon's strip, Brad fought sorcerers with a sword. Barry O'Neill was a one-trick pony from Adventure Comics who lost his momentum once his yellow peril foe Fang Gow died, but he had passable art and the American in France angle had potential.

Brad Hardy
Barry O’Neill

More Fun Comics
This title was an oddly-titled comic by mid-1940, as it’s too lead features were Dr. Fate and the Spectre. Further, the best feature before them also had a supernatural theme, though DC had inexplicably canceled More Fun’s previous best feature, Dr. Occult two years earlier. Dr Occult was yet another strong Siegel/Shuster feature where our investigator fought "magic" and "supernatural" foes that were grounded in super-science.

Dr. Fate started out as brilliant character, and not all like he was later retconned into. The original Dr. Fate was a supernatural being, created centuries ago. He was powerful enough to tangle with gods or repel alien invasions. The ever-productive Gardner Fox initially gave this series a real Lovecraftian feel to it and I wish it had never lost it.

The Spectre was the only superhero there was more powerful than Dr. Fate. It was strongly implied that the Spectre was an angel and used divine power to really mess with bad guys. Occasionally he faced supernatural foes worthy of him, but most of the time it was just crooks. Siegel’s only collaboration with Bernard Bailey, the Spectre looked nice and was a pretty cool concept, but needed some limitation better than later being grafted onto a silly cop character named Percival.

Sandy Kean of Radio Squad was the weakest of the Siegel/Shuster features I would include, but it was still a strong, street-level cop adventure strip. Lastly, like Dr. Occult, I would have liked to see Bob Merritt last longer than he did. The aviator hero’s strip was also canceled in 1938, but like Barry O'Neill, the Leo E. O'Mealia artwork was some of the strongest DC published up to that point.

Dr. Fate
Dr. Occult
Sandy Kean of Radio Squad
Bob Merritt

All-Star Comics
The best for last? All-Star would, of course, soon become home to the Justice Society of America -- the very first team of superheroes and the first team of fictional heroes in all of literature since Charlemange’s paladins. But, before that, All-Star could be a “best of” title featuring my favorite five of all the features named above (and, when it was time for the JSA to take over the title in issue #3, this concept could easily be ported over World’s Finest Comics). So, without further ado…

Dr. Fate
Bart Regan (sorry, superhero fans -- not a clean sweep!)