So remember how the last time we saw Steve Conrad, the villain Devachan had sent him falling into an alligator pit while Myra was sinking in quicksand? Well, the writer didn’t. After nearly two years, Steve Conrad returns in a new series that completely ignores the previous one. He now has a short, fat chinese sidekick with glasses, Chang. Presumably Myra died in the quicksand, and Steve was severely mauled by the alligator and spent a couple of years recovering, during which he and Chang became buddies.
In this run, Steve travels the world having one-shot adventures. Chang is there for racist comic relief. For a while he is even featured in the logo, saying “humourous” things.
The series does not start off badly. Singapore Sal, a jewel thief, is introduced in an entertaining story in issue 48, framed for theft, though its the owner of the jewels who was the real thief. She makes an impressive return in issue 51, captaining a ship out to a reef to retrieve a nest of pearls, though Steve fakes her out and makes her throw them overboard.
In mid-1940 the setting for the stories curiously moves from the South Pacific to Europe. The August 1940 issue sees Steve and Chang get mixed up with good spies and bad spies in Paris, but with no acknowledgement of the nazi invasion a few months earlier. Even more egregious is the following issue, as Steve and Chang cruise the Mediterranean, commenting on how safe and peaceful it is!
With issue 56 Europe is left behind, and the series jumps around a lot. Now Steve is in the south seas, now in Africa, now in India, now Brazil, now back in Africa. As the Second World War spreads, Steve’s adventures feel increasingly awkward, the locations he is going to were all becoming sites of military action, though his stories never acknowledged that.
More uncomfortably, in tale after tale Steve comes to the aid of plantation owners, mine owners, industrialists – all white people needing help against the indigenous populations they are exploiting, and Steve is always happy to kill the natives. The native peoples are invariably portrayed as purely evil, and no credence is given to their desire to control their own lands. In most of the stories they are too busy wanting to kidnap and rape white women.
The art is decent for much of the run, though downright awful at times. Issue 63 sees Steve and Chang in Egypt, and the panels of Steve climbing, and falling off, a pyramid are so poorly drawn that without narrative I would never have understood what I was looking at.
As the series nears it end it moves further from the real world. In issue 69 Steve seeks out and finds a “hidden land” of dinosaurs and cavemen. Exactly the kind of story I love, but this is poorly told, with unexciting art. Issue 70 has Steve seek for sunken treasure in a fictional location, and though he does go to India in issue 72, he deals with thought-controlled robotic tigers.
In issue 73 a scientist sends Steve through time with a machine he has invented, and Steve has a short adventure in a weird Egyptian/Babylonian culture.
The final two installments take place in India. Steve is once again called to help white plantation owners, but the “menace” is a Mowgli-type boy, riding a tame tiger. Steve befriends the lad, and determines that he is really a very tanned white boy. He is staying at the plantation of Colonel Bently, whose daughter Jane accompanies Steve into the jungle. As the series ends, Steve announces he is going to solve the mystery of Tarsi, the jungle boy, and Jane declares that she will be right at his side as he does this.
With no further appearances, we can assume that Steve and Jane became a couple, raising Tarsi like a son. Though with India’s push or independence following World War II I would not expect his plantation life to have lasted much past that.
Steve Conrad: Adventure Comics 47 – 75 (Feb 40 – July 42)