Beginning under the name “Calling all Cars”, this was the fourth series created by Siegel and Shuster for DC. Radio Squad refers to a police car equipped with a police band radio, something I guess was new enough in the 30’s to make it exciting. Sandy Kean is the hero of this series, another rough and tumble man’s man, like the bulk of Siegel and Shuster’s protagonists.
For the first two years of its run, Radio Squad just had two-page stories, and developed in a very different direction than Federal Men. Many of the tales had a light-hearted quality to them. You can almost hear a “whomp-waa” sound over the final panel. As an example, in issue 25 they see a box fall from the back of a truck. Sandy retrieves it, and they follow the truck, turning on the siren to alert it. The truck speeds away, they chase it and run it off the side of the road. It turns out the driver is smuggling alcohol, but the box that fell off the truck and started it all contained nothing but aspirin. Whomp-waaa.
The series began with a four part serial dealing with the Purple Tiger Gang. Sandy pulls over a speeder, who turns out to be the daughter of the Police Commissioner, and spanks her by the side of the road. She complains to her father, who thinks that she really liked it and probably now has a crush on the cop. As creepy and disturbing as that all is, it’s also fairly typical for the era. Anyway, she gets kidnapped (her father likely thought she was super in love with that), and held by the Purple Tiger mob, who are willing to exchange her for all the info the police have on them. Which, in fact, is nothing. They’ve never heard of these guys. But then you wouldn’t expect a criminal organization that would call itself the Purple Tiger Gang to be too on the ball. Sandy puts together some fake evidence, rigged with an “electrical signalling contrivance” that allows him to follow and apprehend these losers. The electrical signalling contrivance seems a ridiculously complicated way of saying a bug, but I doubt those even existed at this time, and it would have seemed like something from James Bond. If he existed at this time. Which he didn’t.
Issues 17 -22 (with a gap in issue 20) see a story that expresses a lot of frustration with the legal system. It begins with a woman calling the police because she is upset that her son gambles. Sandy responds to the call by physically threatening the boy, and then they head to the casino he frequents and arrest the man who runs it, Dan Bowers. His lawyers get him off, and he has Sandy brought up on charges of false arrest. There are a couple of chapters devoted to trials of Sandy, and then Bowers, that are laiden with perjury and faked evidence. Finally the governor himself intervenes, sickened by it all (and Sandy is just as bad as Bowers in the trials), announcing that the legal system is a joke and Bowers should just go to jail anyway. I’m not sure that having the governor just call off trials and ship people off to prison is an improvement, but Sandy seems happy.
He also gets a partner in that serial, named Jimmy Trent, though his first name would change to Larry after a year or so. Maybe one of those was a middle name .
From issue 23 on the stories would be all self-contained, leading the series more towards the light-hearted style I mentioned previously. But issue 23 would also have a greater significance, or so I will argue.
I hereby declare that the Radio Squad story in More Fun 23 (Aug 37) is the first appearance of Lex Luthor.
The story deal with a red haired scientist who creates giant armoured radio-contolled cars that he smashes into other cars to kill those inside. He does this out of a twisted sense of vengeance, as his son was killed by a reckless driver, though he kills people at random. Sandy catches him at the end of the story, but at no point is guy ever given a name.
Lex Luthor would officially debut a few years later, a red haired evil scientist seeking world domination, and never given any back-story at all. The bald version, with the grudge against Superboy, was the Earth – 1 Luthor, the Earth -2 version only met Superman when they were both adults (for more on Earth-1 and Earth-2, wait until I reach the Silver Age, likely next year some time).
As both the character in More Fun 23 and the original Lex Luthor were drawn by Shuster, it’s not that surprising that they look virtually identical, and I will happy concede that I do not believe Siegel intended them to be the same person when he created the two men, but comic book history is all about filling in the blanks. This was Lex Luthor, a scientist who went mad with grief over his son’s death, and after a brief prison term after being caught by the Radio Squad, emerged with plans to control all of society, which brought him into conflict with Superman.
OK, back to Radio Squad.
With issue 33 the stories expand to 6 pages in length, and become more serious, though the series never really reaches the level set by Federal Men. Sandy and Larry deal with an embezzling banker, a corrupt cop, a pyromaniac fireman, even the criminal son of the Chief of Police, as well as the usual lot of murderers and jewel thieves and such. They have to disguise themselves as women to catch a man who mugs women – though Larry had to go in drag in a earlier story as well, to catch a man robbing couples on Lover’s Lane. Larry is so good at doing this he is ordered to do a female impersonation at the Policemen’s Ball.
Sandy is reckless to a fault. In issue 40 he rams the police car through two cars set up as a roadblock, to Larry’s horror, and justifies his action by saying “what difference does it make if we die now or forty years later?” I would not want to be Sandy’s patrol partner.
In issue 44 they have to deal with a thief who has devised a method of becoming invisible, and cleverly put dye into the sprnkler system, hooking it up to go off when the jewels are removed from their base, exposing the thief.
In issue 45 Sandy is framed for murder by Dirk Stevens, convicted and sentenced to death, but freed by other policemen on his way to the electric chair. He tracks down the actual Stevens, who gets mauled by a bear. Sandy shoots the bear, and in recognition of his attempt to save his life, Stevens writes out a confession before he dies.
With issue 49 Shuster left the series, though Siegel would continue as the writer.
Radio Squad continues in the Early Golden Age
Radio Squad: More Fun 11 – 20 (July 36 – Oct 37), 22 – 50 (Dec 37 – Dec 39)