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Archive for November, 2011

Rusty and his Pals (Early Golden Age)


The second (and last) serial begins in issue 46 by “re-introducing” Rusty and his Pals.  I put that in quotations because they were poorly introduced when the series began, taking a few issues before we learned their names.  And even so, the intro blurbs tell us little. Rusty is courageous, Specs is bookish and Tubby eats a lot.

The story picks up as the boys wander an Engish moor, get lost in a storm and find a huge old house.  Bob Kane does some of his best art on the run with the house.  There is a long hallway, with a hammer-beamed ceiling, and some other great, moody interiors. I would love to say these were the basis of Wayne Manor, but Kane never drew it to look this good.

There is a paranoid old man in the house, and his rude bodyguard, but the bodyguard gets killed by “natives” and the old man has a heart attack, and they seek out his nephew Angus McHeather (which means his father’s name was Heather, which is weird).  They follow a trail that leads them deep below the house, and learn about the old man’s past in a travelling carnival that went broke in Malay (current Malaysia, though that’s probably obvious).  The man and three others killed a tribe of Malay and stole their bejewelled idol, which the old man in turn stole from the other three.

So now Rusty and his pals join Angus on a journey to Malay, where they face not only angry natives seeking vengeance, but also the other three men, determined to find the treasure.

The serial is pretty good, though Angus is a poor substitute for Steve Carter, though he does save the boys in the end, using ventriloquism to make the natives think their killer gorilla, and later the idol itself, it talking.

After all is resolved, the boys journey home in the last two panels of issue 52.  They arrive back home just in time for a Fourth of July celebration, and the parents are so relieved to have them back that they do not seem stressed about the fact that the boys look years older than they did when they left, or that Rusty’s hair changed colour from blond to the more logical red.

The series ends here, but knowing these boys, I have little doubt that when the US entered World War II they would have lied about their ages and entered the forces.

Rusty and his Pals:  Adventure Comics 46- 52 (Jan – July 40)

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Larry Steele (Early Golden Age)


Larry Steele continues with his private detective cases in this era.  Although we learn nothing more about him, we do see that he lives in apartment on his own, somewhat explaining why his parents no longer appear in the series.  But as a result, he has no supporting cast at all.  The series goes through quite a variety of artists, and, I expect, writers.  The art is mediocre at best, and just awful at times, though the stories are really not that bad for the most part.

The most notable thing about this series is that, from around issue 47 to issue 57, most stories include a black character.  They are always in menial jobs, but are not portrayed in the usual stereotypical fashion, played for comic relief.  And while so many of the black characters have looked less than human, these look authentically like black men and women.  Their dialogue is rendered in dialect, but not in a mocking way.  “Look!  Drivin dat truck! Dere’s de man what give me de ten dollahs!”

Aside from that, there isn’t a lot unique to this series. Larry deals with a rich man who fakes his own death, a vengeful murder for love at a circus, stolen furs and a poisoned racehorse.  He is hired to protect a number of actresses.

He does go on a date in issue 54, with Delia, to her rich Uncle John’s house, where he has to solve the uncle’s murder.  Delia is not seen again, though.

Larry is given a recurring villain just before his series concludes, the Seal.  The Seal is the leader of a gang of thieves, who wears a costume that gives him big flippers over his fists.  Neither of his mass robbery schemes pan out, though the second one, in issue 63, has some creativity to it, as he uses blinding light to disorient the tellers when his men rob their banks.

Issue 63 is also Larry’s final appearance.  I like to think he married Delia at this point, and retired from a life of danger to spend her dead uncle’s money.

 

Larry Steele:  Detective Comics 43 – 63  (Sep 40 – May 42)

Slam Bradley (Early Golden Age)


Slam Bradley‘s adventures continue through this era, and by the end of 1942, Slam and Shorty are formally running a detective agency.  Despite his many appearances, we learn nothing more about Slam in this era, though we do see that he and Shorty share a home as well as a business, and a bed.

1940 opens with a bang as Slam and Shorty join the French Foreign Legion to bring a killer back to face justice.  Their next case takes them to Shanghai, then far into mainland China, and after that Slam inherits a racehorse, and deals with the machinations of gamblers as he takes the horse all the way to the Kentucky Derby.

These and other stories from the period are reliably written by Jerry Siegel, if a tad on the going-through-the-motions level, but the art is not on par.  The narration in issue 39 informs us that Slam “bounces gracefully off an awning,” but the accompanying illustration looks farcically awkward.

The only story during the remainder of Siegel’s run (he left the series with issue 54) that shows any of his voice is issue 48, in which the workers who want to unionize are the good guys, and the mine owners are corrupt and exploitive.

Slam appears in the 1940 New York World’s Fair, the first of his stories to be drawn by Howard Sherman.  Slam and Shorty are riding the parachute drop, when Slam spies some flashing lights on a boat in the harbour.  So once again the story takes them out of the park right away.  At least they return at the end to ride the rollercoaster.

Howard Sherman’s unusual art works adequately on Slam Bradley, but really does nothing to add to it, and the 20 or so issues he drew are reliable, but lack spark.  The New York World’s Fair story shows his wonderfully odd way of drawing water.  I suppose it’s just bad.  His water looks incredibly solid, like a field of oddly shaped little pyramids, but I just love it.  To me it feels like art deco water.

But while his stylizations helped to create the mood of the Dr. Fate series, here they are just unusual conceits.  The elongated crossbar in each letter “E” for example.

Sherman illustrates Slam’s adventures as he and Shorty witness a mob killing, and save a cop from being framed. They deal with crimes at a boxing match, hockey game and baseball game, and also hit an amusement park, and have a backstage murder mystery at a big Broadway musical.

Once Siegel and Sherman were gone, the art varied from decent to atrocious.  To me it seems like there was one writer for a while, someone who liked Shakespeare, as over a span of 15 issues or so Slam makes four different Shakespeare allusions (along the lines of issue 62’s “something smells rotten – and not in the state of Denmark”), and even has the bad guys reading Shakespeare in issue 68.

In issue 59 we learn that Slam and Shorty run the Wide-Awake Detective Agency, but in later issues the sign on the door simply says Bradley and Morgan, Private Detectives.

Each story does try to stand out, and Slam has stories at a casino, with a phony seance, at a weight loss gym, a symphony, a dentist and a carnival.  There is a missing elephant and a runaway monkey, both involved in crimes (can’t trust the animals). Two of his adventures involve golf courses.  One takes them to Hollywood.

But there is little that really stands out, and Slam loses his prime spot at the back of Detective Comics, and moves to the middle of the book.  The art in the 1944 stories is, frankly, abysmal.

But nonetheless, Slam Bradley continues in the Late Golden Age, the earliest series to last that long.

Slam Bradley:  Detective Comics 35 – 89 (Jan 40 – July 44)

New York World’s Fair 1940

Spy (Early Golden Age)


Spy lasted well into World War II, and though Bart Regan faced wave after wave of spies and saboteurs, curiously he never went to do any actual spying in Axis countries.  Jerry Siegel continued as writer for the first year or so, but then the scripting was passed to lesser talents, as the art already had been.

The serious tone of the series continued throughout this era.  We learn nothing more about Bart, never see him at home, and he has no regular partner, though in occasional stories he works with people he meets on the assignment.  It all stays in the realm of possibility, though there are plans for amazing weapons, and a lightning gun in issue 38.  But really, all these stories read much more like the police/detective stories that are currently running.  Aside from the motivation of the criminals, many of the foreign plots play out like normal bad guys.  For example, Bart deals with immigrant smuggling by the mob in issue 44, and in issue 73 deals with people who smuggle in cubans who are now smuggling in japanese.

Bart gets one interesting villain, in issue 46, who wears a mask but claims he was born deformed, with a goldfish-coloured head.  The story gets followed up in issue 48 (more illegal immigrant smuggling), but Goldfish Man does not return.

From issues 55 – 57  Bart escorts and guards Jules Vortez, a “defector” travelling to Washington DC. I’m not sure if defector is the appropriate word, but his nebulous foreign country is on the Axis side, and has sent out assassins to kill him before he reaches the capitol.

Issue 65 features a murderous genius who implants explosives while pretending to be a repairman.  Despite not actually being a foreign agent, in the splash for the story he is wearing a big swastika armband.  The stories following 55 were written after the attack on Pearl Harbour, and until the end of his run Bart would be dealing with sabotage and weird plots to destroy America.

One thing you can’t help but notice in the last 20 or so tales is that anyone at all could be a Nazi plant or sympathizer.  The candy shop owner, wrestlers, lunch wagon staff, monkeys, there are Nazis everywhere you turn, all plotting the downfall of the US.

While I can understand the fearful reaction to Pearl Harbour that resulted in this, I see the ground being laid for the communist witch hunts in the decade that followed.

Bart’s final case involved a native tribe that, while not actually harbouring secret Nazis itself, is the base of a white guide who is an undercover German agent.

I could send Bart off to the front lines, or behind them, at this point.  But he has Sally back home, and a nest of kids by now I’m sure, so I think Bart gets promoted at this point, reaching the higher levels of power in the O.S.S., and likely help found the C.I.A. after the war.

 

Spy:  Detective Comics  35- 77  (Jan 40 – July 43),  81 – 83  (Nov 43 – Jan 44)

Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise (Early Golden Age)


Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise gets only three stories in this era,  none of them very exciting.  He is in disguise for two of the three, which keeps to his normal ratio.  As before, we learn nothing personal about him, and so never do find out if Cosmo is a first or last name.

Issue 35 sees Cosmo in disguise as a homeless man as he tracks down a killer who escaped prison by faking death by using “oriental suspended animation” skills, and then in 36 he heads out to Arizona to solve a case of missing cattle, which turns into murder.  He pretends to be an artist in this one, but adopts no disguise, and really doesn’t even put much effort into the artist ploy – we never see him paint of draw or anything.

In his final story he goes undercover as a sailor on the Sea Swan, investigating a series of ships that have gone  missing while crossing the Atlantic.  It turns out the vice-president of the line is selling these ships and their cargo to the Nazis.  Some of the crew are in on the scam, and lead a mutiny, then turn the ship over to the Germans, who arrive in a u-boat.  Cosmo infiltrates the mutineers and ruins their plans, and when the u-boat surfaces, Cosmo and Captain Barker have it shot at, blowing it up.

They stand on deck rejoicing over their victory, but I think this is short-lived.  The sub would certainly have been in contact with the rest of the fleet – more than one sub would be needed to deal with the ship and its crew and prisoners.  I fear that though they blew up one sub, there were more around, and the Sea Swan was torpedoed and sunk, killing Cosmo and all the others aboard.

Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise: Detective Comics  35 – 37  (Jan – Mar 40)

Speed Saunders (Early Golden Age)


Speed Saunders continues his run, with art by Guardineer for the first year.  It’s not Guardineer’s best, but it’s much better than what comes after he leaves the series.  We learn nothing more about Speed during the part of his run, in fact, we learn less than we did in the early days, as we never see his home, and he never gets a supporting cast.

In issue 39 it appears that he will get a sidekick.  He recruits Danny, a street kid, to help him keep an eye on a nest of Siva worshippers, and the boy gets commended by the police chief.  We are told in the last panel that Danny will be Speed’s new assistant, but then never see him again.  And I breathed a sigh of relief over that.

In fact, the stories that follow 30 are the most intense of the run.  Speed is thrown off a cliff by jewel thieves, hunts them down and viciously beats them.  He gets tied up and beaten by railway thieves, and after a gambler kills a man, Speed digs up the decaying corpse in the basement of his house.

With issue 48 the series changes direction once again, becoming much more of a whodunit strip. Each story has Speed come across a murder, often in an unusual location – a train, and airplane, a baseball diamond during a game.  Speed investigates for a couple of pages, and then there is box informing the reader that the clues are all there, and challenging them to determine the identity of the killer, which Speed reveals and explains on the final page.

The first few of these are quite good.  Even though the killer is fairly obvious in most, the critical clue is not always blatant.  I think the best of these was the airplane murder in issue 54.  An apparent suicide, Speed deduces it was murder and that the suicide note was a fake by the fact that it was written clearly.  If it had been written during the flight, the words would be jagged and bumpy.

In issue 58 Speed solves “The Cigarette Murder,” identifying the killed by ashes left in the tray while the butts were removed, and then his series ends.  As this story is dated December 1941, I cannot help but feel that the attack on Pearl Harbour spurred Speed to leave the force and enlist in the army in some capacity.

Speed Saunders:  Detective Comics  35 – 58 (Jan 40 – Dec 41)

Detective Sergeant Carey (Early Golden Age)


Detective Sergeant Carey and his sidekick Sleepy continue their four page stories.  There is nothing remarkable for the first few months apart from a decent tale of a university professor who dresses as a giant bat to test his substitute blood on sleeping students.

Issue 59 deals with stolen Chinese War Relief funds, and Carey finds the saboteur ruining test flights of a new war plane in 61, and then from issues 63 to 67 Casey is dealing only with foreign spies and saboteurs.  He finds them everywhere.  He finds an enemy sub when he and Sleepy go fishing.

And perhaps because the writer so clearly felt this worth talking about, these are some of the better stories in the entire run.  In issue 63 Carey goes to investigate a supposed haunted house down on the waterfront, and discovers a plan to destroy the Pacific fleet as it sails through the “canal” (and they seem to be referring to the Panama Canal).  Carey pilots a plane down, intercepts the foreign agents, and flies his plane into theirs, exploding both as he parachutes down, with an aerial view of the canal below.

Sin Fu makes a return appearance, kidnapping Diana Dart, the daughter of the police captain, to lure Carey into his hands.  The squad saves them, and Sin Fu heads back to prison.

In his final story, in issue 72, Carey is ordered to protect a chinese banker who has flown over to negotiate a war loan, but the man is killed by poison gas.  Carey tracks the killers, and when he finds them shoots through the window from the fire escape, hitting the gas canister, causing it to explode.  The room is destroyed, and Carey is blasted as well, falling off the fire escape.

In the final panel we see him in the hospital, heavily bandaged.  That he survived at all is amazing, and I am certain his series ended because he was now incapacitated for life.

Detective Sergeant Carey:  More Fun Comics 51 – 72 (Jan 40 – Oct 41)

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