Barry O’Neil’s series begins as a very long running serial (the first storyline lasts until April 1939), very much in the style of Fu Manchu. In fact, most of his stories in 1936 and 37 are titled “Barry O’Neil and Fang Gow of China – The Inscrutable Enemy of the Human Race” Despite this, the series is not as racist as it might be (certainly not as racist as many other series). Barry is aided periodically by Ling Foo, an operative of the Chinese government, which is also threatened by the actions of Fang Gow. The most embarrassing stereotype in the series is Barry’s sidekick, the French Inspector Le Grand, who is prone to such utterances as “Paree ees saved! Look zere eez zee sweetch!”
The art is also really beautiful, at least for the New/More Fun issues of the run, and the story features non-stop action, but Barry has virtually no character beyond being a heroic American, and the endless stream of people being captured and tortured, then escaping or being rescued does begin to pale after a while.
Fang Gow is built up very nicely. We meet only his operatives at first, who gets messages through a statuette, which also fires paralysis beams through it eyes, and Fang Gow himself does not appear until issue 12. At first he plots to blow up Paris, but Barry foils that plot and shoots Fang Gow, leaving a bullet lodged in his spine. So Fang Gow kidnaps not only Dr. Bonfils, the best surgeon in France, but also Jean, the daughter of Inspector Le Grand.
Now, every other French character in the series has their named rendered in French (like Pierre for example). So Jean really ought to be Jeanne, if its his daughter. Makes me wonder if Le Grand really just has a shemale lover he passes off as his daughter? But she is little more than a plot device anyway, getting captured, tortured, rescued, captured again, sold to a sheikh, escaping through the desert, and finally making it back to Paris.
The first part of the serial takes place in France, but after getting shot Fang Gow flies to Port Said, in Egypt, shooting down Barry’s plane as he follows. In the most absurd moment of the run, Barry is rescued from drowning by a passing ocean liner, which happens to have Le Grand on board.
This serial lasts throughout Barry’s run in More Fun Comics, and picks up mid-storyline when his series moves to Adventure Comics (New Adventure for the first installment). While his strip was only one, and then two pages in More Fun, his Adventure stories are all six pages in length, though the art is never on par with the earlier tales.
Fang Gow is finally defeated and left for dead in Adventure Comics 37, though the reader gets to see that he is still alive, though needing major surgery.
Barry heads back to Paris with Le Grand and Jean, and issue 38 jumps to six months later, when one of Le Grand’s military friends has apparently committed suicide. Barry takes only two issues to deduce that the man was murdered at the orders of spymaster Count Duniff, who he tracks down and kills.
Issues 40 – 43 see Barry head to Tunisia to stop a plot by another spy, Krull, to destroy the French fleet.
Fang Gow returns in issue 44, now perfectly healthy but being held in a French prison. How he got there from an operating table in Port Said is never explained. He escapes from prison, devises a formula for turning humans into wax, and launches a scheme to smuggle French criminals into the US by turning them into wax and shipping them as pieces of art. Barry discovers and dispatches this plan in one issue, and kills Fang Gow at the end, though in issue 45 Fang Gow is dug up from his grave and revived by his men, and then kidnaps Jean, for old times sake.
This takes the serial up to December 1939, my cut-off point for this era. Barry’s series runs another full year, but I will be discussing those stories when I get to my next section, the Early Golden Age
Barry O’Neil: New Fun 1 – 6 (Jan – Oct 35)
More Fun 7 – 29 (Jan 36 – Feb 38)
New Adventure 31 (Oct 38)
Adventure 32 – 45 (Nov 38 – Dec 39)