The Serial Squadron

Warning: Spoiler Alert

If you have not read the my story, “How The Name Came,” please do so now. I am going to discuss the story’s finale later in this post.

Collectors, of just about anything, can be a strange and/or surprising bunch. About 45 years ago I worked at a ceramics studio in the St. Louis area. One day a tall delivery truck clipped our telephone wire. I walked to the Elementary School next door to call Southwestern Bell.

Apparently the only phone was in the Principal’s office. On one corner of his desk stood a vertical four-by-four shaft of wood. Set on pegs on all sides were glass telephone pole insulators. Yes, collecting those things is, or was, a hobby.

In Kansas City, Missouri, for a few decades, a BBQ joint displayed part of the owner’s collection of different kinds of barbed-wire. Apparently there were some hundreds of different designs and brands.

At comic book / media shows these days you see folks selling DVD’s and Blue-Rays of various things. A lot of the stuff is either bootleg, or abandonware. What you rarely find is the Chapter-play, or Movie Serial.

I never saw a single chapter of a movie serial at a theater until I was at college. But, I did see see them on television, even before my late adopter family bought our first TV. Any new TV station usually ran them on local kid shows. I watched Buster Crabbe play both Flash Gordon & Buck Rogers on one new to the market in the St. Louis area. (In fact Crabbe, for as long as he lived, received fan mail from countries just bringing TV on the air. Often addressed to “Flash Gordon, U.S.A.”)

In case you have not heard, there is a fandom for the chapter-play: the Serial Squadron. The website is: Patient, determined, creative, and high-tech, these folks assemble and upgrade serials to the best possible quality. Determined? You bet! A few years ago they found the last missing chapters of a western serial in rural Mexico, with Spanish sub-titles. Today you can get the serial with those pesky sub-titles blown out!

I recently bought the Serial Squadron’s recent Blue-ray release of Republic’s Spy Smasher. (I’d seen the feature version in about 1969 in an 18 inch TV.) This time I watched Chapter One on a 55 inch Hi-Def screen. It looked great! Now to find time to watch more…

Which brings me to “How The Name Came” and Republic Pictures. Today Republic Pictures is best remembered for making “B” westerns and Chapter-Plays. (They made a few “A” ones, too. Probably best known today is John Ford’s The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne.)

Republic reused a lot of things: stock footage, props, costumes, and special effects. In the 1930’s & early 1940’s they created and perfected flying special effects that were not equaled until (IMO) the film Superman II came along. In 1949 they put the effects back to work in a new serial.

Yes, that’s the outfit hanging in the picture at the end of the story. First came the serial, in 1949, “King of the Rocket Men.” (Republic had Kings of everything. A guy named “King of the Mounties” another King handled the Circus, yet another the Park Rangers. They stopped making serials before they reached “King of the Trash Collectors.”) The serial did well enough to make sequels.

In 1952 Republic released first “Radar Men From the Moon.” Starring “A New Hero – Commando Cody.” About this time Republic may have tried to sell a Commando Cody TV series. Later in the year they released “Zombies From the Stratosphere.” This chapter-play featured the hero: Larry Martin!?! That’s right, everything about the hero was the same as in Radar Men, except for the hero’s name.

Above is the cover for the Serial Squadron’s collection of all three serials. Highly recommended! But, that is not the end. A couple of years later Republic released, to both TV and theaters, “Commando Cody – Sky Marshall of the Universe.” The twelve episodes were self contained (no cliffhangers) and ended with the arch bad-guy caught. A few new special effects added some fun. Plus, Cody was so important that the federal government would not let him appear in public without a mask. Go figure…

In 2008, when New Pulp was getting started, a gaming company put out Thrilling Tales #1. The cover, and one of the stories, featured Commando Cody. The story told of the initial test flight of Cody’s rocket-ship first seen in Radar Men. I wrote “How The Name Came” for that market. But, the first issue was also the last.

“How The Name Came” finally appeared in Shelby Vick’s on-line magazine Pulp Spirit. Then I started writing new stories about the Commando named Cody. Right now there are a total of four stories.

In a month, or two, I will post the second Cody story here. Can’t wait? Click on the link below. Cody investigates the Holyoke Comics character Captain Areo. My story, “The Secret of the Areo Plane” is part of a collection of Captain Areo stories.

My next Blog post will be about the story’s host: the Digital Comic Museum.

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