Rusty and his Pals was the first series Bob Kane did for DC. It serializes the adventures of a young blond boy, Rusty, and his friends Tubby and Specs, but by the end of it’s first storyline (conveniently the end of this era) it has laid the basis that the Batman series will be built from.
Rusty and his Pals appear to be about 9 or 10 years old as this begins. After reading a book about pirates, the three boys build a raft, and sail out to find some and have adventures. Remarkably, they do run into a masted schooner with a crew all dressed as pirates, but these are performers, and the ship is used for entertainment. They bring the boys aboard, and continue sailing to England, unaware that the ship is also transporting opium to Chen Fu.
On board, the boys meet Steve Carter, and American man who will look more and more like Bruce Wayne as the series progresses, and also effectively become the action hero of the strip.
One of Chen Fu’s operatives, Long Sin, leads an attack on the ship, and Rusty, Steve and the the rest flee, making it to a tropical island run by counterfeiter Ichabod Slade. He has a giant, sword-wielding assistant, Omar, and a beautiful female accomplice, the Duchess.
A storm forces Long Sin and his men to abandon the pirate ship, but the lifeboat is overloaded, and Long Sin has his own men thrown into the ocean to ensure his survival.
Rusty, Steve et al escape from Slade thanks to the Duchess, who has fallen for Steve and regrets her evil ways. Long Sin and his forces arrive on the island for a big climactic battle, which also sees a volcanic eruption devastate the island, just as our heroes manage to fly away.
They finally arrive in England, where Chen Fu has Rusty kidnapped, seeking vengeance on Steve. Steve rescues the boy, bringing him to safety by hiding out in an opium den. With the aid of a gun-toting Scotland Yard inspector they have a big shoot out with Chen Fu’s men, Fu is captured, and Steve and the Duchess, now using her real name, Diane, plan to get married. The boys feel they would be in the way, and head off in search of new adventures.
The art on this series improves dramatically as the run progresses. The early chapters show an impressive attention to details, but the details overload the panels, the art is not in a strong balance. Kane gets much better with this over time. Steve starts off with a poorly proportioned body and some really awkward stances, but moves like Batman by the end. The villains look extremely cartoony, but the stylization works well.
In occasional panels you get a taste of how Kane would draw Batman. The shot of a man smoking opium, in issue 29, is the first of these, and really stands out. A motorboat/seaplane chase in 34 similarly captures the action very well.
The Duchess bears more than a passing resemblance to Catwoman, both physically, and character-wise, the bad girl with a crush on the hero. The Scotland Yard inspector is short and fat, wearing a deerstalker, much the way Alfred would appear when introduced. The boys appear much older by the end of this era, fully teenagers, and Rusty goes into fights alongside Steve with much the same camaraderie as Robin would with Batman.
Rusty and his Pals continues in the Early Golden Age.
Rusty and his Pals: New Adventure Comics 26 – 31 (May – Oct 38)
Adventure Comics 32 – 45 (Nov 38 – Dec 39)