Wednesday, March 23, 2011

September 1938: Detective Comics #20

Cover by Leo O'Mealia

'Speed Saunders' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Speed investigates the murder of a Chinese tong leader over a cursed jade Buddha. This story would normally be quite average, but the prevalence of yellow peril stereotypes drags it down even further.

'Larry Steele, Private Detective' (by Will Ely): When last we left Larry, he was trapped on an island full of ex-cons, trying to rescue the girl Dolores.  The two of them manage to escape, only for the island volcano to erupt.  The rest of the strip is a mad dash back to Larry's plane as they try to beat the flow of lava. Yes, the whole volcano thing comes out of nowhere, but it does provide an exciting action sequence, and a type of threat we haven't seen yet.

'Buck Marshall' (by Homer Fleming): Buck deals with yet another ranch owner who murders another ranch owner to get his land.  I can't take much more of this.  I'm thinking of just using some stock reviews for this series.  'Rustlers' and 'murderous ranch owner' should cover it.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): Bart and Sally are assigned to act as bodyguards for a senator who has said he doesn't want to be guarded, forcing them to protect him in secret. It's a step back to more generic material for this strip, but it does finish with the trademark final make-out panel. And their boss is still just a little too happy to be watching them.

'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): This strip continues, as Petrie and Nayland wait to be attacked by one of Fu Manchu's assassins. The tension is built very effectively until the assassin shows up to drop a poisonous centipede through the window. This is still very creepy and rather good.

'Give and Take' (by Gardner Fox): This is a prose story about Chinese criminals stealing a ruby, and a detective who steals it back.  These stories don't disappear until the 1960s, do they?

'Bruce Nelson and the Song of Death' (by Tom Hickey): This begins a new story, in which Bruce investigates the mysterious deaths of two Broadway singers, who both keeled over when singing the exact same song. The story doesn't get far here; it's just set-up to introduce all of the suspects. But as is usual for Bruce Nelson stories, the characters are a little more well-rounded, which makes up for the slow pace.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers): This is a new strip about a masked crime fighter, very much in the tradition of the Shadow and the Green Hornet.  Lee Travis is the wealthy publisher of the Globe Leader newspaper, but he is also the crime fighter known as "The Crimson", aided by his Chinese servant Wing. In this story he goes up against a crooked lawyer who is using fake witnesses to get his clients off the hook. The plot twists in this story are relatively complex; I had to read it twice to figure out what was going on, but the Crimson's plan is actually pretty clever. It's not bad, and I'm happy to see some more super-hero type characters appearing.  I gather that he and various other heroes with the same name make a lot of appearances in modern DC comics, so this is another guy I'll have to keep a close eye on.

'Cosmo' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo takes on a group of thieves who steal a boat, forge papers to make it look like a legitimate sale, then use the boat to traffic dope. This is another strip I'm fairly tired of.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This is a pretty bizarre installment. Slam has learned how to be a magician, and because he's a total jerk about it Shorty decides to leave for a while. Slam uses his new found powers to terrorise a corrupt politician and force him to quit.  It's very weird watching Slam doing the sort of stuff usually reserved for Zatara over in Action Comics. I kept expecting a reveal that he was an impostor, or at least a moment where the magic is done away with to restore things back to normal. That moment does come at the end, when Slam gives up practicing magic despite the fact that it helped him immensely in this story. This was so different from the usual Slam Bradley story that I just couldn't help but be intrigued and entertained by it.

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