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    Though this ebook is a recent release, I figure it qualifies as a Forgotten Book beccause most of the contents have been lurking deep in the pages of a Robert E. Howard fanzine called The Cimmerian, published between 2004 and 2008. 

    The heyday of my Howardmania was in the mid-seventies, so the fanzines I read were The Howard Review, REH: Lone Star Fictioneer, REH: Two-Gun Racaontuer, Fantasy Crossroads and a few late issues of Amra. By the time The Cimmerian began, that mania was long gone and had moved on to who-knows-what. 

    Famous Someday is proof I missed something good. The bulk of this collection consists of interview conducted by Leo Grin and Don Herron on field trips from their annual pilgrimage to Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas. 

    The interviews are with Bob Baker, Marie Baker Andrews and Norris Chambers, all of whom knew REH's father, Dr. Isaac Howard - and to a lesser extent REH himself - back in the day. By the time these interviews were conducted (2004 and 2005), the memories of most Howard acquaintances had been picked clean, but Grin and Herron scored a coup in speaking to Marie - who had never been interviewed before - and ferreted out cool new details from the others. 

    As a traveling doctor, Robert's father had a big and very public personality, and was very well known by his neighbors. Mrs. Howard, by contrast, was a homebody, not so friendly, and often ill, while Robert E. was quiet, standoffish and considered strange. So it's not surprising that most of these reminiscences focus on Dr. Howard, and merely nibble around the edges of Robert and his mother. 

    Those nibbles, however, are enough to make this a rewarding little volume. We learn stuff that adds to our understanding of Howard's personality and character, as well as his writing life. Tempting as it is, I'm not going to tell you what they are. If you're as interested in the subject as I am, you'll want to read them for yourself. 

    Also included is the saga of how Don and Leo encountered some forty books that had once been owned by Dr. Howard, and may have had their own influences on REH. The doctor was apparently a compulsive doodler, making his mark on the endpapers and odd pages of many of those books, and his doodles are presented here in full color, along with detailed descriptions of the books and their contents. The books also lead Don Herron to posit what appears to be an original theory regarding a mental disorder that may help explain both REH's prolificagy and emotional problems.

    And as a ebook bonus, we're treated to the story of how the original typescript of one of my all-time favorite books, A Gent from Bear Creek, was discovered by friend of Don's in a bag in the pantry of her home in San Francisco. An extremely weird tale, indeed.

    My brush with fame: The author and I back in 2011

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    Here we go again. This one's from Crime Smashers #7, published back in Nov. 1951. And once again, it was uploaded to comicbookplus by freddyfly. Be here next Saturday for Dan's next case, "Bear-Trap Kill." 

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    This tale illustrated by Everett Raymond Kinstler appeared in Avon's Blazing Sixguns #1, from Dec. 1952. Scanned for comicbookplus by darwination. Thank you, sir. 

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    September 1955

    March 1957

    December 1953

    April 1952

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    I've read a fair number of Spirit adventures over the years, many of them in the black and white Warren magazine published in the late '70s and early '80s. But I never made an effort to sit down and read the series from the beginning. Until now. 

    Volume 1, you'll notice, covers only the first six months, and since the series ran until 1952, I have a lot reading ahead of me. The whole thing runs 26 volumes! 

    In the Introduction, Eisner tells how he was approached by the sales manager of a newspaper syndicate, asking him to create and furnish a weekly 16-page comic book insert to help papers compete with the growing popularity of comic books. At the time, Eisner and partner Jerry Iger were operating a studio providing material for Fiction House, Quallity and other comic lines, along with the Hawks of the Sea comic strip. 

    Eisner, still only 22, took the job, largely because it would allow him to write for an adult audience and push the boundaries of the medium. Accompanying each issue's 7-page Spirit tale was the four page feature Lady Luck, illustrated in the beginning by Chuck Mazoujian, and five pages of Mr. Mystic by Bob Powell. 

    The Spirit's first appearance (above) looks pretty crude compared to what what would come, but it took only a few months for it to become a stylistic marvel. Eisner experimented with a lot of cool camera angles, and had an amazing knack for conveying the fluidity of action. All of the samples offered here are from this volume. While it seems certain Eisner did the pencils, it's unclear who provided the inks. Did he enlist the help of his old studio guys? I don't know, but I'm betting someone out there does.

    The Spirit saga starts like this: Criminologist Denny Colt is supposedly killed battling the bad guy in his first published adventure. Instead, it's revealed (but only to his friend the police commissioner) that he was exposed to chemicals that put him in suspended animation. Colt decides to stay officially dead, so he can fight cime in ways the cops cannot. He adopts the name the Spirit, and takes up resdience in a tomb at the local graveyard.  In the very early stories, he even employs the pulpy gimmick of leaving notes written on miniature tombstones. 

    Eisner didn't want a superhero name at all, but gave in at the insistence of the newspaper folks. They also insisted he have a costume, which Eisner grudgingly provided in the form of a domino mask and gloves. 

    As to Eisner's desire to tell adult stories, he still has a long way to go. Most of these stories are better-than-average comic book fare, but still basically kid stuff. The Spirit fights villains with names like Dr. Cobra, the Black Queen, Mr. Midnight, the Killer Clown, Ogre, and Orang, the ape with a human mind. There's a Voodoo doctor, a killer robot, death dolls, criminal quadruplets, and a woman with the mind of an ape. And so on. And the Spirit, for no particular reason, acquires an automobile that can sprout wings and fly.

    But in a few other stories we see Eisner striving for something more. These morality plays include a young man shown the perils of gambling, a pair of crooks in Santa suits who drop into a church and get the Christmas spirit, kids who learn not to idolize gangsters, and a bad actor convict who's scared straight. 

    The crimefighting takes a more serious turn when the Spirit (like every other comic book hero) does his part for the war effort. In this case, starting way back in October, 1940, he's enlisted to fight spies and sabotuers here at home. 

    Eisner himself was drafted in 1942, and went overseas, leaving the strip in other hands until the end of the war. That means I can expect a lot more Eisner in the next two or three volumes, followed by many by his replacements, before the Eisner work resumes. Am I up for the challenge? We'll see. 

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    Our Man Dan marches on, from Crime Smashers #8, Jan. 1952. Scanned for comicbookplus by good old freddyfly. 

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  • 12/02/18--04:00: BIG LITTLE BOOKS Out West!

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    Some forgotten master wrote it, Carmine Infantino drew it, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby did the cover, the Prize comics company published it the Jun-Jul 1948 issue of Charlie Chan (#1), and freddyfly uploaded it to comicbookplus. Heroes all.  I posted another story from the same issue HERE.

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    More spectacular inside front covers from Avon comics, previewing the issue's contents, as found on comicbookplus. Find these addictive? No worries. There are many more to come. 

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    L. Sprague de Camp has long been a controversial fellow in Robert E. Howard circles. On the one hand, it was likely his pioneering efforts with Gnome Press and Lancer books that brought REH into the public consciousness and made him the industry he is today. On the other, de Camp inserted himself so far into the Conan mythos that some fans still feel violated. 

    Dark Valley Destiny continues that tradition, giving us much to admire and a fair amount to loathe. The book is both impressive and annoying. Captivating and repulsive. It broke new ground, then trampled some of into the mud. 

    By the time the book came out in 1983, my Howardmania had waned. I'd already read de Camp's brief Howard bio The Miscast Barbarian, and Glenn Lord's bio-bibliography The Last Celt, so I left this one on the shelf until the mood struck me, which was just a couple of weeks ago - after reading Don Herron's Famous Someday (reviewed HERE). Thus, these are the impressions not of a wide-eyed and passionate REH afficiando, but of a jaded armchair barbarian who's been there and back again. 

    So. In case you haven't heard, when Robert E. Howard was told his mother was dying, he went to his room and typed out a quick suicide poem, then got into his car and but a bullet through his brain. He was 30 years old. That's where Dark Valley Destiny begins. De Camp and his co-authors then propose to investigate what brought him to that fate. And that's what they do.

    The book is a biography, of course, but it's also sort of a murder mystery. With the whodunnit already known, the authors set out to discover the why. And that's part of the problem. Rather than simply exploring and illuminating Howard's life, they come up with a theory, then do their damndest to frame every moment as if leading inevitably  to this "Dark Valley" destiny.  (Dark Valley, you should know, is the not-really-so-dark Texas valley where Howard was born.)

    On the plus side, I have to admire the de Camp gang for daring to take this undertaking, and spending five years to complete it. In the process, they talked with many people who knew Howard's father, a couple who knew his mother, and a few who knew REH himself. Without their efforts, most of these memories would be lost. The authors also gathered much informaton about Texas and the places the Howard family lived, giving us a good picture of their world.  

    On the minus side, none of those people interviewed knew Howard's mother well, and very few knew REH as more than a vague and unsettling presence. Most of the hard information about Howard comes from his letters (not always reliable) and his semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, written in 1928 (and finally published, in a frustratingly limited edition, in 1989).

    After exhausting what few hard facts they have, the authors filter in vague impressions, dimly-recalled rumors and guesswork to paint a picture of Howard's relationship with his mother. Undaunted, they plow ahead with page after page of assumption and supposition, supported by lengthy digressions into psychobabble.

    It's all cleverly crafted, of course. Beginning with clues or tidbits gleaned from letters or interviews, they launch into authoritative discourse on common traits of this or that pschological condition, and circle back to REH, purporting to explain his thought patterns and behavior. At first, such ideas are qualified with phrases like, if we suppose that . . . and Robert surely would have . . .  But as the chapters roll on, they harken back to these earlier theories with, supposing, as we do, that . . . and his mother must have . . .   Eventually, these suppositions are taken as fact, and used as evidence to support further assumptions, all leading to the moment when Howard blows his brains out. 

    Perhaps the best part of the book - dang near the only part based entirely on first-hand testimony - detailed the brief romance between REH and Novalyne Price, later detailed in her own book, One Who Walked Alone (1986).

    The authors' all-important theory is nothing surprising. Howard was the "boy in the bubble," so coddled by his mother that he couldn't get a firm grip on reality, and was forced to retreat into a fantasy world. and unable to get a firm grip on reality. While his half-mad mother encouraged his dependence on her, his father gave up on them both and made himself as scarce as possible. This lead REH to idealize death as an escape from the trials and terrors of life. Ho hum. 

    The authors provide many footnotes telling us where the "facts" came from, but in many cases they're lacking. We are, for instance, told that Howard was breast fed until he was four. How do they know that? Based on a photograph of Howard as a skinny kid, they decide he must have suffered from tuberculosis or rheumatic fever. They even wax psychological on whether or not REH had his bowels under control, and how suppressed he was by the Victorian stigma attached to masturbation. I kid you not.

    More than anything, Dark Valley Destiny left me feeling sad. I'm pretty sure I won't be reading it again.

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    From Crime Smashers #9, dated March 1952, comes this thrilling tale of bumpery in Tinseltown. Once again, this one was scanned for comicbookplus by "freddyfly." And once again, it's art by Max Plaisted. Sorry, Mojo.

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    In repsonse to the 3D craze, ACG Comics rolled out this Truevision gimmick to simulate 3D without glasses. Did it work? Not really, but it's still sort of cool. See for yourself, in this example from Adventures into the Unknown #51, from January 1954. The art is by Harry Lazarus. This ish was uploaded to comicbookplus by "shazam_tx".

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    When Hugh Hefner fired up his first issue way back in 1953, he didn't have much dough to waste on original fiction. So, for the first three issues, he snatched Sherlock Holmes stuff out of the public domain. 

    This famous Marilyn issue from December 1953 used some portion of The Sign of Four titled "Introducing Sherlock Holmes," with an original illo by William J. Marsh showing Holmes shooting up cocaine. 

    The next issue, from January 1954, featured "A Scandal in Bohemia." An eye-straining session of Googling failed to turn up any artwork from that one.

    And the February 1954 ish contained "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches." I couldn't find any pics of that one, either. 

    If any of you lucky ducks who possess these issues would care to scan or photograph the Sherlock art for our readers, I'd be pleased to post it here. If you scan or photograph any other contents, please send it in a plain brown wrapper. 

    Here's Hef and friends outside the Sherlock Museum in London. More proof he was a fan. Looks like the same "copper" I posed with some years back. 

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    I first heard of Norvell Page in the mid-seventies, when I was into all things sword & sorcery. His two novels, Flame Winds and Sons of the Bear God, were widely recommended, so I picked them up, along with the several series by Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books, a couple by Poul Anderson, some Kothars by Gardner Fox, and even one featuring a forgettable character created by Lin Carter. (Bear in mind that used paperbacks were dirt cheap back then.) 

    I read the Moorcocks, enjoying them all, and the Leibers, liking them even more, but never got around to the others (and when it comes to the Gardner Fox and Lin Carter stuff, I'm sure I never will).

    But back to Norvell Page. Unbeknownst to me, I had already read and grokked on six of his Spider novels, beginning with Wings of the Black Death and City of Flaming Shadows, numbers 3 and 4 in the Berkley paperback reprint series that never went any farther. I then went on to read the four updated novels printed by Pocket Books in an attempt to cash in the Executioner craze. By ignoring the silly changes, I managed to enjoy them too. (I yapped about one of those HERE.) These days, Page is acknowledged as the best and busiest of the Spider scribes, but back then I was clueless. 

    Now, having read many more of his Spider novels, a collection of weird detective stories (City of Corpses, HERE) a Spicy Western collection (Brand of the Cougar, HERE) and a few other shorts, I figured it was time to pluck Flame Winds off the shelf and give it a go. 

    As you might expect, the book is sort of a cross between Conan and the Spider. Originally published in the Street & Smith pulp Unknown in 1939, it was written before the Spider was born. But the manic driving force that makes Page's Spider so compelling is presaged here in Prester John--the hero of this novel and the follow-up, Sons of the Bear God

    Like Page's version of the Spider/Richard Wentworth, Prester John is supremely confident and slightly crazy. He always seems to balancing on the edge, as if the next looming crisis might plunge him into stark raving madness. "Prester John was a man careless of death, but just now he thought it would be a good time to live," we are told.  "So, with a smile on his lips--and the blade of his sword between his teeth," he charges into danger.

    Lest we be confused, the author's foreward explains that while this may well be the Prester John of legend, his story takes place a long time before the Crusades, way back in the First Century. A legend as large as his, Page reasons, would take that long to percolate. Except for a few instances, our hero is referred to as "Wan Tegri," which supposedly translates as "Hurricane John." This adventure is set in China--a China infested with sorcerors. 

    As the paperback cover proclaims, there's plenty of Conan influence, including a giant serpent and a giant ape. The tale was even once adapted for a Conan comic book, which I'll have to dig out of a box for a second read. But there are differences. 

    Instead of swishing about bragging about their powers, these sorcerors hide their identities, living among the populace as ordinary--and extraordinary citizens. They also have an ability I don't recall from the Hyborian Age, to "call back" anything stolen from them, making it vanish from the hands of the thief. That trick would have really pissed Conan off.

    Like Conan, Wan Tegri is big, strong, comely and not-too-bright, but he differs in that he's able to hold more than one thought in his head at the same time. He's able to formulate both short term and long term goals, and pursue both at once. And unlike Conan, we're pretty much always privvy to what he's thinking. He does a lot of scheming, proving himself occassionally clever, and laughs (a lot) at danger.

    And Page does an adequate job with the style. As a sample, here's the passage on which the Unknown cover is based:

         Wan Tegri's brilliant gray eyes narrowed, and he scanned the tower with a soldier's mind, saw then the farther barrier he would need to pass. In the court beyond the heat of the flames, a great fountain threw up a spray like coruscating jewels, and ever in its jet there danced a great crystal ball, rising and falling, bouncing on the rising water as if it beat a deep rhythm for those dancing girls of flame. And around that fountain stood ranks of guards, seven ranks deep. Each row of them wore a different livery. Their tunics were crimson and blue and purple, cloth of gold and silver, and one was green, and the innermost rank faced outward, drawn swords in hand; but the other six ranks faced each other, two by two, and their naked swords rested each on the throat of the man who confronted him!

    Will I be reading Sons of the Bear God? Yeah, I reckon so, and when I do you'll hear about it.

    P.S. Some years back I posted a complete story from Spicy Detective, as by N. Wooten Page, which I invite you to squint at HERE.

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    From Crime Smashers #10, May 1952. "freddyfly" strikes again on comicbookplus. Cool. This one, for the first time in this comic, does not say "by Robert Leslie Bellem," though it seems likely it was. Who drew it? It don't say, but looks a lot like the guy who did the last two, Max Plaisted. 

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