Spy was the first of two series created by Siegel and Shuster for Detective Comics, and for the first two years of its run was a humourous and light-hearted romp. Shuster left the series in 39, and with the approaching war in Europe, the series took on a much more serious flavour. It starred Bart Regan, a former federal agent.
The first five issues are a serial that begins with Bart seemingly getting fired from his agency, but that is just a cover as he is made a spy. He is told to end his relationship with his girlfriend, Sally Norris, but she refuses to accept this. Bart goes undercover as a soldier, allowing himself to be romanced by a foreign spy, Olga Barnoff, at party, but Sally has followed him, becomes jealous, and all but ruins his operation. Sally gets captured by Olga’s men, the police start searching for her, and after Bart throws a flower pot at a policeman’s head, Olga and her crew are almost apprehended, but Olga convinces the police she is really the kidnapped girl, and they briefly escape. Bart has managed to find the key to their coded messages, sets them up, and Olga gets caught. But the end of issue 5 is the real kicker, as Bart discovers Sally has been recruited to be a spy as well, after the resourcefulness and determination she showed.
From then on the stories are all self-contained 4 pagers (expanding to 10 pages with issue 17). Bart considers Sally more trouble than she is worth, at first, but in story after story she is the one to outwit the villains, figure out the plots, capture the bad guys and even rescue Bart. Virtually every story ends with the Chief commending them, while Bart and Sally embrace. In fact, the only time they do not end up in each others arms at the finale is issue 25, when they are reporting directly to FDR. Perhaps embracing in front of the president would be considered disrespectful.
Issue 7 features a story clearly inspired by the Hindenburg explosion. It opens with a large panel of a burning, collapsing dirigible, a very powerful scene. The cover date was September 37, and as the Hindenburg disaster occurred in May of that year, the story must have been drawn mere days after it happened.
In issue 9 Bart and Sally are sent aboard the ocean liner Atlantis to protect it from anarchists who have threatened to bomb it, and after pretending to be an anarchist herself Sally captures the bomber. They expect the ship will then turn around and bring them back to port, but it sails on to France, and for the next four stories they are in Paris. In issue 12 they go undercover at the Rue Moulin, wearing the stereotypical striped shirts and berets, but the story is still fun. Issue 13 sees them ordered to stop a diplomat’s son from gambling so much, which they choose to do by robbing him of his winnings.
They return to the US in issue 14, and the stories become even more goofy, but in a good way. In issue 15 they are ordered to bring in Mr. Death, a notorious assassin. Sally wagers Bart that she can get him to come to them, and places an ad in the newspaper, which works. Mr. Death expects them to be terrified of him, but they are too busy bantering about the wager to show any fear, and capturing him seems almost secondary to resolving their own issues.
Issue 18 begins with Bart about to propose to Sally, but he gets cut off when they are ordered to protect the owner of the cursed Handon Ruby. Sally decides she will propose instead, but she too gets constantly interrupted by the plot. Nonetheless, at story’s end they get engaged.
And it’s not a long engagement because the story in issue 19 opens with their wedding. They say their vows, and just as the minister says “I now pronounce you…” he is interrupted by a messenger, ordering both of them to report to the Chief. This is the best story of their run, as they have to capture Rina Rinaldo, a mercenary bomber, while at the same time the banter between them has never been better. “Where is your patriotism?” “Where is my wedding ceremony?” and “Do you see anything?” “Yes, the vision of me dying as an old maid.” are my two favourite exchanges, but Sally also has a barb for the Chief. They go straight to his office from the aborted wedding for their briefing, and Sally comments “note how well we are dressed for the occasion.” As it plays out, Rina has a compact with a mirror that emits rays that make things explode, and Bart manages to make her aim the mirror at her own face, causing her head to explode! Though we do not ever see the wedding ceremony completed, it is clear that that did happen at some point between the end of this story and the beginning of the next.
The series continues much the same way for the next few issues. The story in 24 deals with the Spanish Civil War, but avoids taking sides on the issue simply by not identifying which side is involved in an illegal munitions deal. Still, the political situation in Europe was doubtlessly the reason this series would undergo major changes as 1939 progressed.
Sally makes her final appearance in issue 26, and Shuster would leave as artist after issue 27. There is no mention of what happened to Sally, but as Bart’s home life is never shown I have decided she retired after getting pregnant. You can’t embrace that many times without something happening.
With no Sally around the stories become much more straightforward and serious. Bart teams with another agent, Jack Steele, from issues 28 – 30. In issue 30 a scientist plots to take over the United States using a hypnosis ray, and starts by taking over the minds of senators, having them promote suspending democracy and instituting a dictatorship. He then starts using the ray on agents, and both Jack Steele and the Chief fall prey to it. He really ought to have used it on Bart, as Bart shoots the machine and frees everyone from his control.
Jack is not seen again after this story. Makes me wonder if he really was under the scientists control, or if he turned traitor.
The last few stories from this era are all more war-oriented, with foreign spies threatening the navy and airforce, and hostile dictators in fictional European nations invading and annexing neighbouring countries.
Spy continues in the Early Golden Age
Spy: Detective Comics 1 – 34 (Mar 37 – Dec 39)