Bret Lawton is an “ace international detective” who appears only in the first two issues of Detective Comics. He is hanging out in a bar in Cristobal, Panama, when he receives a letter from an old friend, Tim Morgan, currently running a mine in Peru, who needs help solving a series of murders that have occurred.
Bret heads to Peru, and spends 10 days at the mine, during which more men get killed, and Bret does little other than determine that the dead men had unusual puncture marks on their necks, and that they all died in the vicinity of an abandoned mine. Somehow Tim never noticed either of those things. Bret also notes that a large emerald is found near one of the bodies, indicating that the murders were done for some motive other than theft.
He heads into the jungle with an Inca guide who explains that the Inca are no more, they were killed off or work in the mines, but he and the guide are promptly captured by a group of Inca, and their priest has them tied to stakes. After explaining that the men were poisoned out of vengeance, for stealing the Inca’s land and gold, he has Bret and the guide buried up to their necks in sand, near anthills.
Bret then tells the guide not to worry, he poured some cyanide that he happened to be carrying in his belt around the area they were buried in, so the ants won’t cross it. He apparently did this with his hands tied behind his back, in front of the Inca, with no one noticing.
Then his friend shows up to save them, although his friend’s name is now suddenly Tom Bradley.
Then they capture the Inca priest, who turns out to be an American gangster, Spider Malone.
What? It was established that the murders were not done to get the gold, or emeralds, so why would an American gangster be killing white men to avenge the theft of Incan land? How did the Inca not know that the “old priest” was not one of them?
And then, the light dawned, and this all made sense.
It begins to go nutty after Bret and the guide are buried in the sand. So I believe from that point on the story is in fact a hallucination Bret has, while his head is being eaten by ants. That explains the nonsense of the cyanide being poured around them – his fantasy of how he could have survived. Pain makes him remember his friend’s name wrong, and the bizarre twist of the American gangster is his brain in death throws as ants burrow deep inside of it.
It also tidily explains why Bret Lawton’s series ended so soon, and why we never heard of him again.
Bret Lawton: Detective Comics 1 – 2 (Mar – Apr 37)