Sunday, January 2, 2011

January-February 1937: More Fun Comics #18-19, New Book of Comics #1, Detective Comics #1

Cover by Lots of People
New Book of Comics #1 is yet another comic that I've been unable to find a copy of, but my research tells me that it is a hardbound collection of various bits and bobs from More Fun Comics and New Comics.  My general plan with collected editions is to reread the comics included at the time the collection is released, but with this one it seems that nobody knows exactly what was in it.  Which suits me, because I don't really want to read any of this stuff again unless it's the strips by Siegel and Shuster.

Covers by Vin Sullivan
I'm also missing More Fun Comics #18, and from what I can tell it contains the last thrilling installment of 'Buckskin Jim', a strip of which I can remember very little off the top of my head.  Jim wore a coonskin hat, and there was an unfriendly Injun who kept causing him trouble, or something.  It's by Tom Cooper, who manages to be dreadfully dull on all of his adventure strips, and yet quite amusing on 'Captain Spiniker'.

I did read More Fun Comics #19, which is kind of a non-event.  'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey) and 'Sandra of the Secret Service' (by W.C. Brigham) have both started new adventures, which means I missed the conclusions of their previous ones.  And it's probably unkind of me to have bad-mouthed Tom Cooper above, because all of his strips end this issue, leaving their plot-lines unfinished.  'Sea Gold' was one of these, and it's another that I can never remember anything about.  'Along the Main Line' was his strip about the adventures of a couple of train drivers, mostly involving hijackers and the like.  'Midshipman Dewey' was his naval adventure strip, and it ended with poor ol' Dewey in the clutches of an African tribe; I hereby pronounce him dead off-panel.  I can't find much about the guy on the Internet, but it looks like he doesn't do much work in comics after this, if any.  I'll miss 'Captain Spiniker' in a sort of mildly apathetic way, I guess.

'Brad Hardy' by Tom Hickey also ends this month, with no resolution in sight.  It's one of those Flash Gordon pastiches, with not much to recommend it.  The strip ends as nondescriptly as always, with the two main characters standing around congratulating each other about shooting a snake.

Even Siegel and Shuster dropped the ball this month, with 'Dr. Occult' backing away from its recent awesomeness by returning him to his role as a plainclothes supernatural detective.  I miss the big armies and the magic belt.

Cover by Vin Sullivan
The real news for this entry is that I have read Detective Comics #1.  Before I start with the review, here's a little history lesson.  Earlier, I had wondered why this issue had appeared in house ads several months before it actually hit the stands.  I recently bought DC Comics: A Year by Year Visual Chronicle, and that book has the answer.  It turns out that DC (or National as it's known at the time) was not doing all that well financially at the end of 1936.  The boss (Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson) wanted to start up a third title, the aforementioned Detective Comics.  He didn't have enough cash, so had to partner up with a couple of rich dudes, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz.  Together they published the title through the newly formed company, Detective Comics Inc.  Later in 1937, National went bankrupt, and Detective Comics Inc. bought up all of its assets and became what will later be known as DC.  And it turns out that all of this is on Wikipedia, which makes me look like a complete doofus for not figuring it out earlier.

But, on to the comic itself.  It definitely has a different feel to New Adventure Comics and More Fun Comics.  The strips are longer, and with each one working in the detective/mystery genre it all feels a lot more focused and cohesive.  There are so many strips in the other two books that I can't keep track of them all, but this already feels a lot easier for my brain to handle.

'Speed Saunders' (by E.C. Stoner): This is the opening feature, about a special operative of the harbour police.  In this story Speed Saunders investigates a group who are smuggling Chinese people into the USA and throwing the sick ones overboard to die.  Their leader is called Captain Scum, but otherwise it's an unremarkable story.  It is better for the extra length, though, because I never would have been able to follow this in two page installments over the course of several issues.  I gather that Speed Saunders was brought back in the late 90s in some issues of JSA, so I'll be keeping an eye on him.

'Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): I recognise Sven Elven from his rather dull interpretations of classic novels in the other two DC titles.  Cosmo is a freelance investigator who uses his power of disguise to capture a jewel thief.  Again, I'm glad this one was over in one hit.

'Bret Lawton' (by Creators Unknown): This story has no credits at all, so I don't know who did it.  Lawton is yet another detective, investigating some mysterious deaths in a Peruvian mine.  There's the obligatory crazy Incan priest, but I'm not too interested in this one.  Alas, it is to be continued...

'Claws of the Red Dragon' (by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Tom Hickey):

'Gumshoe Gus' (by Bill Patrick): Bill Patrick also does 'Don Coyote', one of my favourite humour strips.  This is in a similar vein, with a blundering detective who has a very high opinion of his own abilities.  The jokes are obvious but well done, and it's a nice break from the more serious tone of the other strips.

'Bart Regan, Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): This is about federal agent Bart Regan, who is reassigned to become a spy.  Complications arise when he has to break up with his girlfriend, and she stalks him and gets involved with his undercover mission.  Alas, it's the more subdued side of Siegel and Shuster.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): This is pretty forgettable.  Buck is a cowboy detective investigating some rustlers, and thank god that it's over in this issue because I just couldn't bear to read about evil cattle rustlers any more.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): And now we come to Slam Bradley, the latest Siegel and Shuster masterwork.  This is without a doubt the best thing I've read in this project so far.  I actually legitimately enjoyed it.  Slam Bradley is a private investigator like all the others, but he differs from them by displaying an actual personality.  He is a total jerk who hates everyone and only likes to fight.   There's comic relief in Shorty who is very eager and wants to be Slam's assistant (naturally, Slam completely hates him).  There's a bit of a love interest, but Slam is seen in one panel kissing her, and the next uttering the immortal line "See you again--maybe!"  The art is big and bold, and the large panels of Slam Bradley swinging Chinese villains by their pony tails are certainly striking.  I'm not sure if it's the accumulated effect of reading so many banal Golden Age adventure serials, but this is great (admittedly, I do have a high tolerance for the casual racism of the times).

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