Siegel and Shuster’s third series for DC might more accurately be called “Federal Man,” as it focuses almost exclusively on agent Steve Carson.
The first two instalments are each 4-page, one issue stories. The first, dealing with a corrupt policeman involved in kidnapping a child, has too much exposition on the first page, and the second, with rivals fighting over aircraft plans, has too little explanation throughout, but both are strong attempts at telling complete single-issue stories. The first tale is also notable for the name of the female kidnapper – Kate Lane. Hints of what was to come from these boys.
Issues 4 – 10 feature a serial, The Invisible Empire (though that title is only given in issue 9). It begins in a straightforward fashion, as Steve stops a foreign spy from infesting the reservoir with a bacteria, and moves on to a plot to torpedo the president’s yacht by submarine. But then it starts to really kick into high gear as giant tanks invade Washington D.C. Steve takes down the villains manning the tanks with a radium-gas bomb, and his superiors think the case is over, but Steve correctly believes the masterminds have not been caught. Issue 8 sees him finally get a partner, Ralph Ventor, and also introduces Jean Dennis, a strong-willed, brunette reporter, working for the Tribune. Introduction out of the way, Steve adopts a disguise to infiltrate the underwater base of the Empire, who unleash a giant robot to destroy the city. Steve manages to get control of it and sends it back towards the base, and though the evil scientists release two more giant robots to fight it, the base is destroyed, and the bad guys apparently perish. The half page panel of the giant robot rampaging through the city is still very effective; at the time it must have been mind-blowing.
With issue 11, Ralph Ventnor definitely becomes Steve’s sidekick, as opposed to partner, in this one-issue tale that sees Carson pursue gangster Nate Devlin, who tries to hide out by becoming an actor in a gangster picture. A strong, coherent and fulfilling four page story. I would argue that not only did Siegel and Shuster create the concept of the superhero, but they also created the style, the format, of a comic book story. Everything else to this point has been written like movie serials or pulp novels.
Issue 12 sees the surprising debut of Jor-L. Steve and his superior consult a scientist about police methods in the future, and are treated to tale about the pursuit and capture of “bandit queen” Nira-Q. Jor-L, an Earth-man in this tale, is the future federal agent who apprehends her.
The series continues as Steve battles drug dealers and kidnappers. With issue 16, Steve Carson is featured an named on the cover. That may not sound very significant, but in these early days the cover illustration rarely had any connexion to the interior contents of a comic book.
Many of the instalments promote a fan club, the Junior Federal Men, and in issues 20 – 25, the stories would largely feature this organization as well. Groups of young boys who apprehend criminals on their own. Steve Carson introduces them in issue 20, but does not even appear in issue 21. In issue 23 some girls attempt to join the gang, but are ridiculed by the boys and have to prove themselves, which they do, catching a shoplifter. By far my favourite of these is the one in issue 24. A very young boy finds gangsters hanging out in a waterfront warehouse, but when he tries to alert the police they don’t believe him. The courageous lad then throws rocks at the cops until they chase him into the warehouse and wind up in a gun battle with the hoods.
With issue 25 two notions get combined, and we are treated to the creation of the Junior Federal Men of the Future, when a group of boys in the year 3000 come across old issues of New Adventure Comics, read the tales of Carson and the kids, and are inspired to emulate them, capturing Zator Rog.
Issues 27 and 28 pit Steve against a bald evil genius, the Cobra (so named because he has the forementioned snake wrapped around his upper body and neck in a most uncomfortable looking fashion). The story itself is nothing hugely noteworthy, but Siegel and Shuster would re-use the look of this adversary (sans snake) for the Ultra-Humanite, and later, Lex Luthor.
A hugely entertaining serial runs from issues 32 – 37. Steve gets trapped in a burning house while trying to rescue a fugitive, and though he survives the house’s collapse, he loses his memory. Discovering a gun in his pocket, he believes himself to be a criminal. He winds up joining the Biff Davis mob, but after stopping Biff from shooting a cop (which results in Davis being shot and killed), he argues to the gang that he did it for their benefit, to prevent them from being pursued as cop killers. He becomes the new boss of the gang, and leads them on a series of bank robberies in which they use knockout gas to incapacitate the tellers and guards, gaining his crew the nickname the Phantom Gang. Ralph Ventnor is assigned to the case, as Steve informs the gang of his plans to pull of a $40 million gold robbery. One of the gang members, Red, gets caught trying to rob a jeweler, and tells Ralph he is part of the Phantom Gang. He is released to be an informant, but instead tries to set Steve up, plotting to kill Ralph and frame Steve for it, taking over the gang in time to pull off the gold robbery. Ralph recognizes Steve, and Steve’s memory returns in time to thwart Red’s plan, and the gang gets apprehended. Great story.
Issue 39 features a “marihuana” story, as Steve busts a school custodian for being a dealer. This piece is along the lines of “Reefer Madness,” as the pot causes kids to rob and murder innocents. Steve declares that it causes people to “lose all moral restraint.”
Of the remainder of stories from this period, there is one more I find notable. In issue 41 people are killed by poisonous snowfalls, the toxin placed into the clouds by a fire-and-brimstone public speaker to draw larger crowds and make more money. Heck of a plan.
Federal Men continues into the next period, Early Golden Age.
Federal Men: New Comics 2 – 11 (Jan – Dec 36)
New Adventure Comics 12 – 14 (Jan – Mar 37), 16 – 31 (May 37 – Oct 38)
Adventure Comics 15 – 45 (Nov 38 – Dec 39)