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for Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bonanza Town

I couldn't have asked for a better birthday (last Tuesday) and Christmas this year. I was surrounded by people I love, had great food, and received far more spiffy presents than I deserved. While I don't plan on writing about every gift I received - no matter how often my family tells me I should pose in the super-hero boxers and pajamas - I did want to spend some time with a fun package from my pal, William Ashley Vaughan.

"Billy Ash" writes about movies, specifically movies shown on Turner Classic Movies, on my message board. He's seen thousands of films and his comments are unfailingly informative and interesting. Every year, he sends me a handful of well-read comic books. Every year, I delight in reading them during the holidays. This year, he added a DVD to the mix.

From 1951, Bonanza Town [Sony Pictures; $14.97] is one of the last Durango Kid/Charles Starrett movies. To the best of my aging memory, it's the first Durango Kid movie I've seen. Though it runs but 56 minutes, it manages to include a fairly dense story, two musical numbers with sidekick Smiley Burnette and Slim Duncan, and two other Burnette-centric comedic moments.

Steve Ramsey (Starrett) is a federal agent who also operates as the masked Durango Kid. He's on the trail of a former foe who was thought to have died and that trail leads him to Bonanza Town, a town run by a corrupt boss. The story unfolds at a decent pace, interrupted briefly every now and then by Burnette's original tunes or comedic bumbling, but screeches to a halt when Ramsey goes into flashback mode with a judge who's being blackmailed. My immediate thought was...this must be old footage. I was right.

Some quick online research revealed that, near the end of the Durango Kid's cinematic life, the budgets only allowed for about 30 minutes of new footage per movie. The flashback material came from 1947's West of Dodge City. Director Fred Sears played the villain in the earlier flick wherein his character died in a flood of his own making, only to be resurrected in this movie. Thanks to tight purse strings, Bonanza Town became a sequel to West of Dodge City.

Despite its awkward pacing and overuse of Burnette, Bonanza Town was fun. I don't quite understand why Ramsey operated as the Durango Kid - the masked hero doesn't do anything Ramsey could not have done himself - but trying to figure that out gives me an excuse to watch the earlier movies in the series.

Bonanza Town delivered a pleasant hour of entertainment and earns a perfectly respectable three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

All-American Men of War 111

All American Men of War #111 [September-October, 1965] came out a year before the book's cancellation. After this issue, Capt. Johnny Cloud - "The Navajo Ace" - would be bumped for a new feature, returning for the final three. While the Russ Heath cover includes the Cloud story, the character himself isn't seen.

Editor Robert Kanigher often made bold and sometimes bizarre choices in putting together his comics. This time out, he led with "Jets Never Let Go!" Written by Kanigher and drawn by Heath, it's the shortest story in the issue - a mere three and two-thirds pages - and centers on the bond between a fighter pilot and his aircraft in the deadly skies above Korea.

Written by Hank Chapman, "Only One Ace Could Live!" is a grim tale of the deadly rivalry between two pilots from opposite sides of the First World War. Chapman wrote hundreds of fine stories for DC, Marvel, and other publishers and is one of the unsung greats of the 1950s and 1960s. Artist Irv Novick's gritty style was perfect for this intense tale.

Novick also drew Kanigher's "Tag -- You're Dead!" Sadly, it's a weak entry in which Johnny Cloud finishes a game of "Navajo tag" with an arrogant German athlete who visited the reservation just before the start of World War II. I can understand why Johnny was benched in favor of Lt. Steve Savage - the Balloon Buster - if only for three issues.

The issue closes with the "Sgt. Rock's Combat Corner" letters page. An Army sergeant writes about the lessons he's learned from Rock while other readers praise the realism of the stories and the new "Enemy Ace" feature that had recently made its debut in Our Army at War. This comic also earns the perfectly respectable three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

If I sometimes belabor that "perfectly respectable" part, it's because there are some comics professionals who erroneously believe that's a negative rating. It's not. It represents a comic book or other item I would have no regrets about having bought for myself. Good, solid entertainment that, while not the best of the best, is still worth reading.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more on the comics Billy Ash sent me.

Tony Isabella

<< 12/28/2009 | 12/29/2009 | 12/30/2009 >>

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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