Tag: good review

Book Review: Dick Tracy: Dailies and Sundays: 1931-33

Dick Tracy is the legendary detective created by Chester Gould whose comic strip adventures continue until this day. Dick Tracy first hit newspapers in 1931 and this book collects his first strips from October 1931 to May 1933.

This collection is notable for what you won’t find: any of Tracy’s garish rogues gallery. No Flattop, Mumbles, or Pruneface. The most prominent villain is Big Boy, but in here he’s a regular mob boss. The colorful villains would come much later for Tracy. This book features Tracy taking on thieves, kidnappers, and racketeers that were typical 1930s villains.

The book opens with the father of Tracy’s fiancée being murdered. Tracy joins the police force in order to catch the killer. The most unrealistic part of this entire collection is when Tracy is so quickly graduated and placed in a leadership position on the force with no explanation. Three months later, he slacks off because of personal problems with Tess and is demoted to uniform duty and complains about how he was demoted despite all he’d done in the three months on the force. 

Once you get past that silliness, the book is good. The crimes aren’t outlandish and Tracy’s methods are pretty solid for a 1930s newspaper strip, featuring some real detective work. The book also did go for some “ripped from the headlines” cases. For example just after the Lindbergh kidnapping, Tracy had to solve a similar baby kidnapping case.

Other than introducing Tracy and Tess Trueheart, the book’s important contribution is introducing Junior, the homeless, seeming orphan who Tracy adopts, or perhaps it may be he adopts Tracy.  He becomes part of the action on several occasions and you can see why he’s often viewed as a precursor of teenage sidekicks like Robin, the Boy Wonder and Captain America’s sidekick Bucky Barnes.

The art in the book starts off looking a bit primitive but as Gould continues to draw, it becomes a lot more polished. The book is mostly in black and white with the exception of the earliest Sunday strips. These strips didn’t follow the daily strip plot, opting instead for a separate mystery or  sometimes just a one-off gag strip. They continued until May 1932.

The book also includes an interview with Gould by his successor on the Tracy comic strip, Max Allan Collins. 

Overall, while the book doesn’t capture Tracy at the peak, it does manage to capture Tracy’s beginnings and also help readers understand how Tracy became so popular in the first place with fun and exciting stories, detective work, and a broad-based appeal to multiple members of the family with character drama and a kid sidekick. Worth a read for both Tracy diehards and those who are curious about the beginnings of this iconic character.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Telefilm Review: Cannon/Barnaby Jones: The Deadly Conspiracy

A young woman who works at an oil company calls a congressional staffer promising to blow the whistle on her employer. This is overheard by the head of public relations who plots her death. A wine delivery man with a record is set up at the patsy for raping and killing the woman.

Frank Cannon (William Conrad) is hired by the an attorney for the accused, while the Congressional staffer hires Barnaby Jones (Buddy Ebsen), thus setting up a rare crossover between two TV detectives. Cannon had appeared in Barnaby Jones’s first episode.  Both programs were produced by Quinn Martin who used Cannon’s presence to jumpstart Barnaby Jones. Here the two detectives have both been on multiple seasons and would in effect be sharing star billing and solving the case together. 

This is a good story. Like many Quinn Martin detective shows, it was not a whodunit. Who is pretty clear from the start. However, there are all kinds of mysteries to solve along the way such as why, and what the goal of the titular “Deadly Conspiracy” is.

I liked a lot about the conspiracy. Their goal is complex, but it makes sense and also seems realistic and believable. While the conspirators are willing to kill for their goals, unlike other villains, they don’t just kill. They’re able to throw roadblocks in front of our heroes in ways that don’t involve homicide, which I think makes for a more interesting plot.

Both Conrad and Ebsen are given a chance to shine, and overall the team is very well-balanced with both playing nearly equal parts in the action and detective work. The guest cast is a notch above the typical guest cast with a lot of recognizable  actors including Diana Douglas and Francis De Sales.  Barry Sullivan shines as the chief villain.

There are two versions of the story available. The Season 5 DVD of Cannon contains a modified version of the story that’s trimmed down to a single episode of Cannon with an alternate (and in my opinion inferior) ending. The Season 4 DVD of Barnaby Jones collects both episodes and I recommend that version. While several episodes of existing programs were backdoor pilots for possible detective programs, this was the only crossover episode for two established 1970s Detective programs. It does its job well and deserves to be seen in its complete form.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice, Season Seven

Season Seven of Black Jack Justice finds the show very well settled in to its successful formula as Jack and Trixie continue to solve crimes in a post-War unnamed American city.

The season avoids some of the fancy experimental episodes from previous seasons and really plays to its strengths. That means well-crafted mysteries and clever wordplay. The closest this season gets to any sort of emotional depth is in the episode, “The Score” when an old war buddy of Jack’s tries to draft him to rob a Nazi war criminal to exact revenge.

All of Season 7 is great listening. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d choose the fifth episode, “A Simple Case of Black and White” which finds Trixie and Jack working for a pro bowler trying to connect with his child. The plot is intricate with a surprising solution. There are characters named (of course) Black and White. That plays out to really good effect.

Overall, if you’re looking for fun diverting mysteries that illustrate how a radio detective show should be done, you’ll enjoy Season 7 of Black Jack Justice.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The entire Seventh Season of Black Jack Justice is available for free download on their website.

Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Audio Dramas, Volume 5 Review

Volume 5 of the Twilight Zone Audio Dramas offers six more adaptations of Twilight Zone in TV episodes.

The set kicks off with, “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.” It’s a story of a well-planned robbery where a scientist is part of the gang and has a plot to avoid prosecution: have the gang hide out in the cave with their stolen gold and then put themselves in suspended animation. The story delivers a smashing twist at the end, but before it gets there, we’re given some great interaction between the members of the gang. The story is a clever and intricate morality tale that holds up quite well.

The next story is, “A Most Unusual Camera,” which is about small-time crooks getting a relatively small haul from a pawnshop burglary that includes a camera that, as they discover, can predict the future. After an unnecessary scene with the crime being reported to the police by the owners of the pawnshop (who are never heard from again), the interaction between the small-time crooks dominates the rest of the story and is a real treat to listen to with a lot of plans, double crosses, and twists.

In “Twenty-two,” a singer is terrified by dreams about the number 22 and she senses impending doom surrounding it and tries to avoid whatever fate awaits. This is a well-done suspenseful tale, though to be honest, it’s the weakest story in the set, which says a lot for this particular box set.

“The Midnight Sun” finds two women trapped in an apartment in a big city as the Earth is moving closer to the sun and everyone is trying to get away from it. The characters in this are great, and there’s a big twist at the end.

In “Walking Distance,” a stressed out ad executive takes a walk while his car’s getting fixed to the nearby town where he was raised. It’s a wistful, sad, yet wise story for anyone who’s ever visited somewhere they grew up and expected it to be exactly as it was as this time he finds it that way.

The set concludes with, “The Passerby” which finds a Confederate War Widow watching the defeated Southern Army return home. She begins to notice strange things, including the return of a soldier she’d believed dead. The story has some atmospheric moments, a great reveal, and an unforgettable closing scene. It’s a picture of the sadness and tragedy of war that’s beautifully realized.

Overall, this is one of my favorite sets in this series. Unlike previous sets, there are no recognizable guest stars in the cast, but to be fair, the original Twilight Zone series, most episodes didn’t feature huge stars or those who would become big stars. For every episode of the TV series featuring William Shatner, Peter Falk, or Burgess Meredith, you’d have an episode or two featuring actors no one remembers. The strength of the Twilight Zone are its writing, its concepts, and the thoughtful ideas at the heart of each script, and that strength really shines through here.

If you’re curious about the radio series, this is definitely a set I’d recommend. The stories are very well-realized and capture the spirit of the original series beautifully.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Diary of River Song, Series 7

River Song (Alex Kington) was married to the Doctor in Doctor Who, making her last appearance opposite Peter Capaldi. This spin-off series continues her adventures.

One thing that was established in the TV series was that River Song was a detective, operating in New York under the name Melody Malone. For the Seventh Series of her spin-off, Big Finished did an anthology release featuring River encountering mysteries in a series of different genres from Scandinavian Noir to Legal Dramas.

“Colony of Strangers” finds River Song in a Nordic Noir story on an Earth Colony world that just happens to feature a Fjord and a perpetually frozen landscape. Bodies of creatures begin washing up on the shore where River Song is renting her house and the local police begin to suspect her.

The mystery, its solution, and the sci-fi element are all well thought out, but ultimately what makes this story so compelling is how it goes all in on its concept. This is River Song doing Nordic Noir and they hold to that pattern, unlike the 2018 Doctor Who audio story Hunting Grounds which borrowed some elements but was essentially a Doctor Who story. It maintains clipped stylized dialogue, sparse soundscape, and a downbeat feel. This could easily come off as pretentious, but it’s done well and the result is something that’s very different from any other River Song story we’ve heard.

In “Abbey of Heretic,” River arrives at a 12th Century convent disguised as a nun. When she arrives she discovers a strange disease spreading with the blame being cast throughout the nunnery.

“Abbey of Heretics” is inspired by the Brother Caedfel Mysteries and the TV adaptions starring Derek Jacobi which are set during the same time period. This is a fairly good story, though it felt longer than it needs to be. There’s a great sense of atmosphere and each of the characters is well-drawn. I also thought it showed a sufficient amount of respect for faith.

In “Barrister to the Stars”, River’s accused of murder at a bizarre space station. River appoints an English attorney from the 20th Century as her barrister. This is a remarkable story, particularly for the writer’s first Big Finish. While the writer cited a number of sources in the extras, Rumpole of the Bailey’s influences are clear from the barrister’s asides during Counsel/judge statements, and he refers to himself as an old Bailey hack. This is nearly a perfect Rumpole pastiche but set…in space. David Rintoul is fantastic as the barrister.

There’s quite a bit of imagination and world building that goes into creating this situation and the weird and amazing creatures that inhabit it. It’s a wonderful, hilarious, and practically flawless mix of genres.

“Carnival of Angels” is the only story in the set that doesn’t standalone. It’s a prequel to the Doctor Who TV episode, “The Angels Take Manhattan” and also sees the return of what seemed to be a one-off assistant character from the fifth River Song box set, though its not required to have listened to that story as its explained with some blatantly expositional dialogue.

The story finds River Song operating as a private detective in New York City as Melody Malone when a hard-boiled musician comes into her office to report he saw someone murdered…himself.

Like all the stories, this one aims for a sense of atmosphere…this time the feeling of 1930s and 40s Film Noir. It hits somewhat, but at times it tries too hard and at others gaps in knowledge show up. For example, the writer has American characters use British idioms like, “What are you playing at…”

Still, there are are some spooky moments as well as a great hook for the start of the episode. Despite the flaws, most American production companies couldn’t have done better in creating the feel of film noir. So this story was still a worthwhile hour of listening.

Overall, if you liked River Song on Doctor Who, or if you just like mysteries with a Science Fiction twist, this is a pretty good box set with Barrister of the Stars easily the highlight of the set.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5