Random Musings: Thoughts on “Who is Donna Troy?”


Who is Donna Troy

In the 1980s, The New Teen Titans was one of the most popular books being published by DC Comics. It’s popularity (for me, at least) was due to the fact that there was more to the book than just super powered derring-do.

As I’ve said before, Marv Wolfman and George Perez (co-creators and writer and artist, respectively) made the Titans (and their supporting cast) come across as relatable, three dimensional people. Many of them just happened to have special abilities.

Because we got stories about people (who happened to have super powers), we also got character pieces like “Who is Donna Troy?”, cover dated January 1984. Plotted by Wolfman and Perez, inked by Romeo Tanghal and edited by the late, great Len Wein, the story finds Robin (Dick Grayson), leader of the Titans, investigating the past of one of his closest friends, Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) at the behest of her fiancé, Terry Long.

Long tells Robin that Troy, who was rescued from a burning building as a toddler by Wonder Woman, has been trying to find out the identity of her real parents.

Where did the surname Troy come from? My understanding is that back in the 1960s incarnation of Teen Titans, Wonder Girl, who grew up on Paradise Island, just came up with the name “Donna Troy” as a civilian identity.

“She feels it would make a difference in our marriage, but it wouldn’t change anything for me,” Long says. “I’d love her no matter what.”

Still, knowing how important it is to her, he asks Robin to investigate. He agrees, so long as Troy is okay with it (Long knows that Troy is Wonder Girl, but not the identity of her coworkers, which is why he approaches Robin and not Dick Grayson). Troy tells Robin it’s not worth his time, since she’s turned up nothing in her own investigations, but agrees. She relates what little she remembers from her rescue and says Wonder Woman tried to find out who she was, but reached a dead end. Apparently the apartment Troy had been in wasn’t rented and no one lived there, according to the landlord at the time.

Robin and Wonder Girl start by investigating what remains of the apartment building. Using blueprints he got from City Hall, Robin finds a box in a coal bin. Inside, he finds a scorched doll.

Donna's doll

Wonder girl discovers an important part of her past.

Troy can’t remember where or when she’s seen the doll, but hugs it and cries.

A visit to the landlord’s widow turns up a dead end. Troy is ready to give up, but Grayson (who’s doing this as an engagement gift) isn’t. He works on identifying scraps of fabric found in the box. After several hours, a computer program comes up with the phrase “Hello, my name is Donna.”

Work on the doll turned up the name of an “Uncle Max” in Newport News, VA. Grayson goes there and finds Max. He repaired the doll, along with several others, free of charge, for a Mrs. Cassidy, who ran an orphanage (he signed the dolls “Uncle Max” so the kids felt there was someone who cared). He also reveals that the orphanage was closed about 15 years earlier due to a child slavery scandal.

Cassidy was found innocent, while her lawyer was sent to prison. Grayson’s search for her leads to a nursing home in Florida. He arranges to go down there with Troy. She’s nervous about meeting someone who knew her from before the fire.

Meeting Mrs Cassidy

Donna Troy and Dick Grayson meet with Mrs. Cassidy.

The head of the nursing home reveals that Cassidy hasn’t spoken a full sentence since she arrived a decade earlier. However, seeing the doll snaps her out of it. She reveals that Troy’s birth mother (who gave her the doll) was dying of cancer and gave her daughter up for adoption. A couple named Stacey adopted the baby. Troy says the name rings a bell.

Troy is ecstatic at having learned about her past, but Grayson wonders why Mr. and Mrs. Stacey died in a room that wasn’t rented. Still, the case would seem to be solved.

Back in Newport News, Troy insists on driving through town and down a certain street. She stops in front of a particular house, which she recognizes as her childhood home.

She also makes another realization.

Meeting the family

Donna Troy is reunited with her adoptive mother.

Fay Stacey, now Fay Evans, reveals that after her first husband died, she had no money and few skills. She also says the attorney associated with the orphanage told her the state wouldn’t let her keep Donna if she was bankrupt. She agreed to give Donna up to another couple who could support her.

With these revelations, Troy remembers this other couple, who she says weren’t nice to her. She also realizes they’re the ones who died in the fire.

Grayson leaves Troy to reconnect with her lost family and to get answers to a few lingering questions. As Robin, he visits the attorney in prison and encourages his cooperation by suggesting word could leak out that the man is a stoolie, if he doesn’t. The man reveals that the other couple hadn’t adopted the baby, just posed as her real parents until she could be sold.

At the climax of the story, Troy leaves a wreath at the grave of her birth mother, Dorothy Hinckley, and Grayson presents her with her doll, restored to new condition by “Uncle Max.”

“Who is Donna Troy?” is a moving story that both Wolman and Perez have cited as being among their favorites.

Interviewed in The Titans Companion (page 107), Wolfman said “Who is Donna Troy” is one of his favorite stories because it’s such a small and personal one.

On page 121, Perez said he and Wolfman put their personal stamp on the story.

“It was just a labor of love,” he said. “We absolutely knew we had a strong story there, and since fans had been wondering about Donna Troy, it was something that we knew fans wanted to see.”

In subsequent years, Donna Troy’s origin would be changed (to varying degrees) as a result of various DC Comics reboots, but “Who is Donna Troy?” remains a high point of The New Teen Titans and one of the reasons that book was such a success.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.



Random Musings: 50 years ago today, the Fugitive stopped running


The Judgment

“Tuesday, Aug. 29. The day the running stopped.”

Those words, intoned by narrator William Conrad, marked the end of The Fugitive (1963-1967). The series centered on Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), who was falsely convicted for the murder of his wife. He sought the real killer, a one-armed man named Fred Johnson (Bill Raisch), while himself being pursued by the implacable Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse).

The Fugitive was the first American TV series to have a definite conclusion, in which Dr. Kimble was finally exonerated. In the two-part story, “The Judgment”, Kimble learns that Johnson was arrested in Los Angeles and hurries there. However, Lt. Gerard, anticipating this move, is already at the Los Angeles Police Department.

As it happens, stenographer Jean Carlisle (Diane Baker), a former resident of Kimble’s hometown of Stafford, Indiana, works at the police station, recognized Gerard and called Kimble’s sister, Donna Taft (Jacqueline Scott) to find out if she had any way to warn Kimble to stay away. She didn’t, but told Carlisle the name of the trucking company where Kimble was working. With that information, Carlisle learns where Kimble was dropped off in Los Angeles and intercepts him at a produce market. It happens to be crawling with police, so she helps him get away safely.

Richard Kimble and Jean Carlisle

Richard Kimble and Jean Carlisle.

She’s able to confirm that Johnson is in custody; the picture Kimble saw in the newspaper isn’t a trick. He tells her to contact Gerard and tell him he’s coming in voluntarily. Before she gets the chance, she overhears a bail bondsman (Michael Constantine) put up $3,000 for Johnson’s bail.

Johnson and the bail bondsman are being followed by the police, with Kimble and Carlisle keeping a further distance. The bail bondsman tells Johnson the man who put up the money will pay an extra $1,000 if Johnson skips town.

That night, Carlisle pretends to be going to a freelance assignment in the same building as the bail bondsman’s office and lets Kimble in a side door, so he can talk to the man. They discover, however, that he’s been beaten to death.

Carlisle finds a scrap of paper with information in shorthand: the figure $3,000 and the name of Kimble’s brother-in-law, Leonard Taft (Richard Anderson).

Gerard and the lead L.A. detective (Joseph Campanella) learn from the cops watching the bail bondsman’s office that Jean Carlisle had been in the area and one mentions that she comes from a small town in Indiana. So, he decides to interview her, especially since Kimble and a young woman were spotted at the produce market.

She claims no one showed up for the job she went to and left a few moments later. She also said she knew of Dr. Kimble, but wouldn’t recognize him. Gerard thanks her and leaves.

Kimble realizes he has to return to Stafford and makes arrangements with Carlisle to use her car for at least part of the trip, after she decoys the police away.

But Gerard never left. He’s waiting when Kimble steps up to the cab he’d called.

Geard captures Kimble

Gerard captures Kimble.

Part one ends with Bill Johnson heading east in a boxcar, while, on another train, Kimble and Gerard sit handcuffed together, as they had been in the first episode.

In part two, Kimble urges Gerard to give him 24 hours, even promising to come in to the police station at the end of a leash, if that’s what Gerard wants. Gerard agrees, but makes it clear there will be no extension of that deadline.

Rather than take the train all the way to Stafford, they get off in South Bend and drive in. Their first stop is the Taft residence, where Len Taft denies having put up any money for Johnson’s bail. Gerard believes him, because Taft A) would not want Johnson to skip town and B) wouldn’t use his real name, even if he did do “anything so misguided” as to post the bail.

Taft then reveals that Donna Taft had received a call from someone who’d said he’d seen Len Taft in the Kimble house the night of the murder and wanted to meet him somewhere. He also said that his wife decided to teach the “crank caller” a lesson by saying that Taft would be there.

He doesn’t recall where the meeting was supposed to be, since they assumed it was a crank call. When she gets home, Donna Taft says the man wanted to meet in some old stables.

Kimble and Gerard go there, but no one’s around. Gerard’s ready to write it off as a crank until Kimble finds a bullet on the ground— the kind used for target shooting. It’s not much of a lead, but it indicates someone had been there.

Later, Jean Carlisle shows up at the Taft household, to tell Donna Taft that her brother might be coming back to Stafford. She says they were supposed to meet so he could get her car, but he never showed. A moment later, Kimble comes out of the kitchen and he and Carlisle embrace. Gerard then introduces her to Kimble, since she “wouldn’t know Dr. Kimble if she saw him.”

The deadline has arrived and Kimble and Gerard prepare to leave for the police station. Fortunately for Kimble, his sister found a bullet hidden in her son’s room— the same kind Kimble and Gerard found. She said neighborhood boys are being taught target practice at the police gun range by a neighbor, Lloyd Chandler (J.D. Cannon).

She also realizes that she’d told Chandler about the prank caller.

Turns out Chandler had been in the Kimble house the night of Helen Kimble’s murder; she’d called him after Kimble had stormed out following a fight about adoption. When they heard a noise and Helen Kimble confronted Johnson, Chandler froze. He just watched as Johnson killed her. Now, years later, He’d put up the bail, using Leonard Taft’s name, to draw Johnson back to Stafford and kill him.

He’d failed to do this at the stables, and Johnson demanded $50,000. Chandler agreed to meet him at an abandoned amusement park the next day.

Johnson confronts Chandler

Johnson confronts Chandler.

Using information from Mrs. Chandler, Kimble and Gerard rush to the amusement park, where Chandler and Johnson are already exchanging shots. Gerard orders Chandler to put down his rifle, but is shot in the leg by Johnson. He gives Kimble his gun and tells him to go after Johnson.

Kimble confronts Johnson high atop a water tower and beats a confession out of him. But then Johnson gets hold of the gun and prepares to shoot him. Gerard shoots him with Chandler’s rifle.

Kimble and Johnson face off

Kimble and Johnson face off.

As Kimble rejoins them, Chandler finds the courage to confess that he’d witnessed Helen Kimble’s murder and that he’ll testify to that effect.

In the epilogue, Kimble, now exonerated, prepares to resume his life. He shakes Gerard’s offered hand and walks off arm-in-arm with Jean Carlisle.

The Fugitive was one of the best shows on TV. Dr. Kimble deserved a proper resolution and to see his good named cleared. “The Judgment” is a mostly good story. The biggest weakness is the revelation that someone was in the house the night of the murder, but stayed silent for years. Still, an overall good ending to a great show.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.


Random Musings: Enjoying the comedy of Bob Newhart


Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart

Depending on your age, your pop culture reference points and other factors, the name Bob Newhart may bring to mind the psychologist he played in The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978); the innkeeper trying to keep his sanity amid a plethora of eccentric neighbors in Newhart (1982-1990); his many stints as guest host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; his various film appearances or his recent recurring role as Sheldon and Leonard’s idol, Dr. Arthur Jeffries (AKA Professor Proton), on The Big Bang Theory.

But Newhart isn’t just an actor in films and TV sitcoms. He also released a number of comedy albums beginning in 1960. Many of his routines centered around one side of an anachronistic phone call.

In “Abe Lincoln Vs. Madison Ave.” (The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart, 1960), an advertising executive is on the phone with Lincoln, trying to keep him “on message.”

“You changed four score and seven to eighty-seven?” the ad man asks. “Abe, that’s meant to be the grabber… Abe, do the piece the way Charlie wrote it, will you?”

Later, the ad man asks Lincoln to work Abe Lincoln T shirts into the address somehow.

Then, when the ad man says he can’t make a bridge party at the White House and learns no one else in Lincoln’s circle will be available either, he gives Lincoln a suggestion.

Why don’t you take in a play?”

A phone conversation between a game manufacturer and Abner Doubleday, the purported inventor of baseball, takes place in “Nobody will ever play baseball.”

The first question the man has is how many couples?

“Eighteen people?” the man asks. “That’s a hell of a lot of people. You can’t play it in the house, either?”

He tells Doubleday that already the game’s got problems, but agrees to listen. As he repeats how there are nine guys on each side, including a pitcher and a catcher who throw the ball back and forth, he asks about the guy with the stick who stands between them.

“He may or may not swing at it [the ball]. Depending on what? If it looked like it were a ‘ball’? What’s a ‘ball’, Mr. Doubleday?”

He then listens some more to the rules, including the number of strikes and balls (“Why four balls, Mr. Doubleday? Nobody’s ever asked you before?”) and whether a ball stays fair.

“Is this a rib?…Mr. Doubleday, that’s the most complicated game I’ve heard in my life.”

In “Introducing tobacco to civilization” (The Button Down Mind on TV, 1962), we hear a phone call between Sir Walter Raleigh and the head of West India Company.

“Did we get the what? The boatload of turkeys? They arrived fine, Walt… See that’s an American holiday, Walt.”

He then listens as Raleigh tells him about “another winner” called tobacco.

“What’s tobacco, Walt? Let me get this straight? You got 80 tons of leaves? This may come as a surprise to you, Walt, but come fall in England, we’re kind of up to our— it isn’t that kind of leaf?”

The man is then barely able to control his laughter as he repeats Raleigh’s description of what people do with this leaf.

Not all Newhart’s routines involve one-sided phone calls (though they do all involve one-sided conversations). In The Button Down Mind Strikes Back (1960), he gives us “a griper in Washington’s army” who couldn’t get to sleep.

“There was some nut flashing a light on and off in a church tower all night. And then when he quits, some drunk goes riding through the town, screaming.”

Some of Newhart’s routines deal with topical events (those about Khrushchev come to mind) and some reflect stereotypes of the time. One is “The Driving Instructor”, from his debut album. In this routine, which he presents as the pilot for a new TV series, he describes a driving instructor and a woman driver.

The routine would still have worked, verbatim, if he’d said “nervous driver.” In fact, the instructor even acknowledges that his student is nervous. Despite the chauvinism, it’s a funny bit.

“Defusing a bomb” (The Button Down Mind on TV), concerns an unexploded shell found on a beach. The police chief asks the patrolman who called to report it if he considers a shell on the beach unusual.

“Oh, that kind of shell?” the chief says. “I’ll send someone out in the morning…I was kind of hoping that was your watch making that noise, Willard.”

A moment later, the chief says he can’t leave the office and shouts into the phone that Willard not bring the shell back to the station.

“I’m taking just a big a chance as you are,” the chief says. “This is my responsibility. If that thing goes off, it’s me they’re going to want to talk to, not you.”

As for the phone calls, they weren’t all anachronistic. In “King Kong”, in The Windmills are weakening (1965), a new guard has started work at the Empire State Building the day King Kong climbs it. He contacts his boss, apologizing for calling him at home, and says he’s got a situation that isn’t in the employee manual.

“I looked in the index. Yes, sir. Apes and apes toes. Yes, sir.”

The guard reports that there’s an ape’s toe sticking through a window and that this isn’t the standard ape.

“He’s between 18 and 19 stories high,” the guard says. “Depending on whether there’s a 13th floor or not.”

The guard says he was going to take the elevator up to the ape’s head, but his jurisdiction only extends to the ape’s naval.

He also reports that the ape is carrying a woman, whom the guard is pretty certain doesn’t work in the building. Her negligee would suggest she’s not part of the cleaning crew.

Humor is subjective, but if you like “dry” humor, you’ll probably enjoy the comedy of Bob Newhart.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.




Random Musings: Traveling back in time for The Final Countdown


Final Countdown

In 1980, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz departs from Pearl Harbor under the command of Captain Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas). The ship is carrying efficiency expert Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), an employee of Tideman Industries, sent to the Nimitz by the mysterious Richard Tideman, a man he’s never met. In fact, no one on Yelland’s crew has ever met Tideman, who helped design and build the Nimitz.

Lasky is introduced to Executive Officer Dan Thurman (Ron O’Neal) and assigned to quarters adjacent to Wing Commander Dick Owens (James Farentino). He gets off on the wrong foot with Owens by entering his cabin and reading his manuscript about the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

He’d knocked on the door to say hello, found the cabin empty, noticed the manuscript and gotten curious.

The Nimitz encounters a strange electrical storm. When the skies clear again, the crew is unable to reach any familiar contacts by radio, but picks up an old Jack Benny broadcast.

The storm

The storm.

Yelland accepts Lasky’s word that this isn’t part of some test, but he also rejects the suggestion that a nuclear exchange has taken place.

The truth is even more surprising. Somehow, the storm has sent the Nimitz back in time.

To Dec. 6, 1941.

The Final Countdown is one of my favorite films. It’s one of those films I’ll sit down and watch if I come across it on TV.

But the plot makes absolutely no sense.

Spoilers follow:

Yelland decides to engage the Japanese fleet. The crew’s job is to defend the country, and that’s what they’ll do— even if it is decades in the past.

Discussing strategy

Discussing strategy.

But it’s not that simple. During a scouting mission, two jets from the Nimitz rescue survivors of a yacht attacked by a pair of Japanese Zeros and Owens brings them back to the ship. These are Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning); his secretary, Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross) and her dog, Charlie.

Chapman and Scott

Chapman and Scott.

History records that Chapman disappeared and was presumed dead on Dec. 7, 1941. According to Owens’ manuscript, had Chapman lived, he would likely have been Roosevelt’s running mate in 1944 and subsequently become president in 1945.

Owens tells Lasky he recognized Chapman at once, but couldn’t very well toss him back into the sea.

Owens and Chapman

Owens and Chapman.

For his part, Chapman, co-chair of the Senate Defense Committee, is perplexed that such a ship should even exist. Yelland allows him to contact Pearl Harbor, but the Pearl Harbor radio operator dismisses him as a crank because there’s no record of either a USS Nimitz or a Captain Yelland.

Yelland tells Chapman he’ll have him and Scott flown to Pearl Harbor, but actually instructs Owens to drop them off, with suitable supplies, on a small island, well away from the Japanese attack.

When Chapman realizes he’s been tricked, he surreptitiously grabs a flare gun while Owens and Scott are on the beach. He commandeers the helicopter, which explodes a moment later during a struggle over the gun.

Meanwhile, just as the Nimitz is preparing to engage the Japanese fleet, the mysterious storm reappears and transports the ship back to 1980.

As Lasky disembarks, accompanied by Charlie, he’s told that Mr. and Mrs. Tideman would like him to join them. He steps into a limo and is greeted by an elderly Commander Richard T. Owens and Laurel Scott.

Mr. and Mrs. Tideman

Mr. and Mrs. Tideman.

Roll credits.

Wait, so for all intents and purposes, the USS Nimitz went back in time to strand one guy in 1941, so he’d one day become the mysterious millionaire (or billionaire) who helped design the Nimitz? Wouldn’t it have been more efficient if the time storm had simply swept up Commander Owens when he was walking down the street?

Question: Did the Nimitz change history by being in 1941?

No. I believe that it was always part of events. It’s the only logical explanation why Laurel Scott is still alive in 1980, much less on Dec. 7, 1941.

There was never an “original history” in which Chapman was killed on the yacht. He’d always died in a struggle on board a helicopter he’d tried to commandeer. If he’d died on the yacht, Scott would have, too; it was far from land and there was no indication that she was an exceptionally strong swimmer. Only outside intervention could have saved either of them.

There was also no indication history was changed by her survival.

The strongest evidence that the Nimitz was part of events in 1941 is the fact that we “sort of” meet Tideman in the opening scene (he’s in silhouette inside a limo, watching Lasky’s departure).

It still leaves unanswered why the Nimitz went back to 1941, yet played no role in the events of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Other than raising some interesting philosophical questions in a movie, there doesn’t seem to be any “in universe” rationale for the Nimitz to be part of those specific events.

There isn’t even the suggestion that fate decreed that the Nimitz should be on hand to ensure that Laurel Scott lived to old age because she had an important destiny to fulfill. That would have been more interesting than having the ship— essentially— serving as a time-traveling ferry service.

At least in the novelization by Martin Caidman, Tideman tells Lasky that Scott was the master of the power politics h’d played over the decades.

That’s the frustrating thing about the film. Nothing happens in the grand scheme of things. We don’t even know what led Owens to assume the name Richard Tideman. The name meant nothing special to him in 1980. Even if you assume Owens’ middle name was Tideman, what made him realize that he and the Richard Tideman were the same person?

Unfortunately the novelization doesn’t provide any answers.

There’s also a single word of dialogue I wish had been cut from the script. When Lasky and Charlie descend the gangplank, the dog runs to the limo. We hear a woman’s voice say, “Charlie.” That spoils the surprise regarding the occupants of the limo.

For all its flaws, The Final Countdown is an enjoyable film; but it might have been more interesting (and satisfying) to have followed the adventures of a time lost Commander Owens than those of an aircraft carrier that goes back to Dec. 7, 1941, only to return to its own time before it can engage the Japanese fleet.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.



Random Musings: Happy 104th birthday to Aunt Jo

Aunt Jo

Josephine Degan at her older sister’s wedding in the 1920s and celebrating her 100th birthday in 2013.

Today, my Aunt Jo celebrates her 104th birthday.

Aunt Jo (technically, my great aunt) was born in Coatbridge, Scotland (the family had moved there from Ireland a few years earlier in search of work) and emigrated to the U.S. in 1924, with her mother and five of her siblings. She has lived in the same home, which she built, since 1949.

In a 2012 interview I did with her, Aunt Jo, the youngest in the family, said the crossing took seven days.

She had an orange for the first time on that trip.

“That was unusual, to have an orange,” she said.

When she finished school at eighth grade, Aunt Jo, like Grandma, became a comptometer operator in Detroit, starting around age 14. Comptometer school took about eight months, she said.

Later, she and her husband, Clayton, worked at her father-in-law’s business, Mt. Clemens Dairy, which had 23 milk routes, before it went into the production of ice cream when people stopped having milk delivered to their homes.

Aunt Jo, who goes by her middle name, said she did so for practical purposes.

“In Scotland, if you were Irish and Catholic, they didn’t want to employ you,” she said, adding that she went by “Josephine” on her mother’s advice.

She observed that while the “no Irish need apply” mentality existed in some parts of the U.S. in the early 20th century, it didn’t seem to be the case in Michigan.

As for childhood memories, she recalled that when the family lived in Corktown in Detroit, they would have parties on Saturday nights in which someone would play the piano while everyone danced. Sometimes the parties would go on so long, guests were told to just stay the night, go to mass with the family Sunday morning and then go home.

Aunt Jo had a big celebration for her 100th birthday. This year was more low key. When I talked to her this morning, she said she was just going out to dinner.

Probably saving her strength for the big 110th birthday bash.

Again, happy 104th birthday to Aunt Jo.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.


Random Musings: Adventuring with Rick Brant


Rocket's Shadow

In many ways, Rick Brant is your typical teenager, living with his parents, sister and dog.

In other ways, he’s far from typical. Rick doesn’t live in a city or suburb, but on Spindrift Island, off the coast of New Jersey; his father is a famous scientist, whose work includes rocketry (and who leads a team of other scientists in a laboratory on the island) and Rick himself owns and flies a Piper Cub airplane.

And he gets himself involved in thrilling adventures.

Rick is the central character in the Rick Brant Electronic Adventure (changed to Science Adventure in later volumes and printings) series of 23 books published by Grosset & Dunlap between 1947 and 1968, with a 24th book released by another publisher in 1990. They were written by Harold L. Goodwin (with the first three books co-authored by Peter J. Harkins) under the pen name John Blaine.

I recently read the first three books, The Rocket’s Shadow; The Lost City and Sea Gold. The Rocket’s Shadow concerns the efforts of Dr. Harston Brant and his team to send a rocket to the Moon in order to earn a $2 million grant. However, the project has been plagued by “accidents” and outside interference.

Rick befriends an ex-Marine about his own age named Don “Scotty” Scott, who’d lied about his age when he’d enlisted. Dr. Brant invites the orphaned Scotty to live on Spindrift Island and hires him as a guard. Rick and Scotty investigate whether one of the scientists might be a saboteur.


Lost City

In The Lost City, Rick travels to Tibet by way of India with Scotty and two of the Spindrift Island scientists. There, they plan to communicate with Dr. Brant by bouncing their signal off the Moon.

But someone doesn’t want the mission to succeed and works to stop it by sabotage, theft and other means.

En route to their destination, the team stumbles upon the lost city. However, its inhabitants don’t welcome tourists.

Sea Gold

In Sea Gold, Rick and Scotty seek summer jobs at a sea mining plant in Crayville, Connecticut. However, not only do some of the local fishermen oppose the project, believing it will poison the waters, but someone specifically doesn’t want Rick working there.

I’m enjoying this series and look forward to reading more, when and if I get hold of them. These are well-written, engaging tales and they don’t stretch credulity, which isn’t always the case with “juvenile” adventure series books.

Yes, Rick owns his own plane, but it was established in The Rocket’s Shadow that he bought it by forming a company and selling shares to the scientists to raise the necessary funds. He pays them back by running errands for them and ferrying them around.

O.K., it may have been a stretch for Rick to go to Tibet with the two more experienced scientists, but Dr. and Mrs. Brant might also have felt it would have been a good life experience. And they had no reason to expect trouble.

Also, Rick, like many teenagers, was seeking a summer job when he got embroiled in the doings in and around Crayville.

I’ve owned these Rick Brant books for years, but only got around to reading them in recent days. Why now?

In large part because of a conversation at the Great Lakes Nostalgia Convention in Kalamazoo last month. That conversation concerned to what degree Jonny Quest is based on/influenced by Rick Brant. It gave me an excuse to read my Rick Brant books and to finally get around to buying the season one (1964-1965) Jonny Quest DVD box set.

While I haven’t finished watching Jonny Quest and have only read three Rick Brant books, I’ve come to the conclusion that Jonny Quest is only loosely inspired by Rick Brant, if at all.

Yes, both live on islands with scientist fathers, but Jonny’s island is somewhere off the coast of Florida, not New Jersey. What’s more, tidal flats separate Spindrift Island from the mainland; when the tide is low, you can walk from one to the other. I’ve yet to see a Jonny Quest episode that shows his island is in a similar location relative to the mainland.

Spindrift Island also contains a farm, run by another family “on shares”, as well as a large forest. Plus, a team of scientists works in the lab on the island. And, of course, Rick lives with his parents, his sister, Barby, Scotty and his dog, Dismal.

Spindrift Island

Jonny, for his part, has neither a mother nor a sister. He lives with his father, his tutor/bodyguard, Roger “Race” Bannon, his best friend, Hadji and his dog, Bandit. I’ve seen no indication that other people live on Jonny’s island, but maybe I’ve missed something.

Both Hadji and Rick’s friend Chahda are from India and came to the U.S. after helping their respective American friends. However, Hadji is a constant presence while Chahda only appears in the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth and fourteenth books in the series, based on what I’ve read online (he’s mentioned in Sea Gold).

Rick Brant also doesn’t have a character comparable to Race Bannon, who’s about the same age as Dr. Quest.

Plus, Jonny and Hadji are younger than the high school-age Rick and Scotty.

Jonny Quest is definitely an exciting series, but to what degree it’s a cousin to the Rick Brant books, I’ll leave to your own interpretation. I’ll call it a second cousin.

In fact, Jonny Quest probably owes as much— if not more— to Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy as it does to Rick Brant. Martin Grams says as much here


and points out that the initial scenes from the Jonny Quest closing credits include clips from a five-minute Jack Armstrong pilot.

Martin, who brought up the Rick Brant/Jonny Quest parallels in Kalamazoo, also discusses Rick Brant in the above blog entry. However, if you plan to read the first three books, you might want to hold off on reading his blog until you do; he includes some spoilers.

Regardless of to what degree Rick Brant inspired Jonny Quest, if you like one, you’ll probably like the other. And if you’re a fan of “juvenile” adventure books, Rick Brant deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: The Contender is a first-rate political thriller.



After the death of the vice president, Democratic President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) nominates Ohio Sen. Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) to be the new V.P. in The Contender (2000).

Evans introduces Hanson

Evans introduces Hanson.

However, she faces anything but a smooth confirmation process. Illinois Rep. Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman, who also produced the film), the Republican chair of the judiciary committee, would A) rather Evans nominate Virginia Gov. Jack Hathaway (William Peterson), considered a hero for his attempts to save a woman whose car went off a bridge; and B) is determined to sabotage Hanson’s nomination.

Initially, his motivations are primarily political. He considers Hanson, a former Republican and daughter of a former governor, a traitor for switching parties (Plus, he’s still smarting from having lost the election to Evans).



But then he receives material purportedly showing Hanson engaged in sexual escapades in college. He proceeds to drag her reputation through the mud by both direct and indirect means.

He feigns disgust that somebody would publish such “nefarious and sleazy innuendos” and “encourages” the American people to boycott the online report, yet spells out the URL of the website that released the information when he says he assumes she’ll take legal action.

Chief of Staff Kermit Newman (Sam Elliott) wants Hanson to do what’s in the best interest of the party.

“Why don’t you just deny it?” he asks at one point.

“It is simply beneath my dignity,” she replies.

Later, he presses her to just confess.

Hanson refuses to respond to the allegations, arguing— correctly— that not only is her past no one’s business, but that responding to the charges would suggest that it was acceptable for the questions to be asked in the first place.

“And it isn’t,” she tells Evans at one point.

As she tells Delaware Rep. Reginald Webster (Christian Slater) a freshman Democrat on the committee, “I can’t respond to the committee’s lightly veiled accusations because it’s not okay for them to be made.”

She also tells him that if she were a man, no one would care how many sexual partners she had in college; and that if it’s not relevant for a man, it’s not relevant for a woman.

She has several steps available to end this personal nightmare, but chooses to keep fighting.

“Principles only mean something if you stick by them when they’re inconvenient”, she says.

Runyon uses various means to drag Hanson’s reputation through the mud, yet had once done decent and honorable things.

“I was never prouder when you fought to make hate crimes a capital and federal offense,” his wife, Maggie (Irene Ziegler), says. “…And now, everything you’ve ever achieved will be eliminated because, with this horrible filth, you’ll go down as a second-rate Joe McCarthy.”

But just as Runyon was once a man of principles, Hanson has a major indiscretion in her past, unrelated to the accusations of her activities in college. One person affected by that indiscretion is unnecessarily subpoenaed to testify before an open session of the committee, when it could easily have deposed her behind closed doors.

For his part, Webster, who has ideological differences with Hanson, begins to have “buyer’s remorse” about what the committee is doing to her. At one point, he shares with her a document the committee received, telling her, “I beg you, senator, to deal with this.”

Evans, who’d previously met with Webster at the White House, sees potential in him.

“He’s misguided, but he’s got something,” he says to both Newman and Hanson.

Evans and Webster

Evans and Webster.

The Contender being a political thriller, there are a number of twists and turns. As it turns out, Laine Hanson’s past isn’t the only thing being investigated, and it’s not just her political future at stake.

In The Making of a Political Thriller, a DVD documentary about the film, Oldman said the quality of the writing appealed to him.

“It reminded me of a 70s script,” he said. “It has the flavor of All The President’s Men.”

Writer/Director Rod Lurie, who wrote the part of Laine Hanson specifically for Joan Allen, admitted in the same documentary to being a political film junkie, saying he was obsessed with films like All The President’s Men, The Candidate and The parallax View.

The Contender is a well-written political thriller, populated with three-dimensional characters. It’s well worth checking out.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.