Monday, May 9, 2011

April 1939: All-American Comics #2; Detective Comics #27

Cover by Jon L. Blummer, Harry Lampert and Sheldon Mayer

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): Now that they are secret agents, Red, Whitey and Blooey are sent on a mission to stop foreign agents from stealing America's helium supplies. (Apparently it has other uses than making your voice high-pitched and blowing up balloons.) There's some shenanigans involving a psychic who grants Red telepathic powers for a day, but not a lot is done with it. Other than that this is a straightforward story, albeit an entertainingly told one. Like Siegel and Shuster, William Smith has figured out a good mix of action and humour.

'Spot Savage, The All-American News Hound' (by Harry Lampert): Spot is still investigating the Duchess, a European swindler who is actually a man and has just arrived in America with a pretty girl at his side. Spot tries to warn the girl, but his insistence that the Duchess is a man gets him taken away to the looney bin. I'm not feeling this one yet.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Elby): In this story Hop saves his buddy Prop from crashing his plane when he passes out due to eating rich food. I had an inkling that this series was going to be terrible.

'The Mystery Men of Mars' (by Carl Claudy and Stan Aschmeier): Alan, Ted and Professor Lutyens have arrived on Mars, and it's not long before they are the prisoners of some bug-like aliens. These guys are seriously weird, and they keep measuring Ted's skull, so it's no wonder when he starts shooting at them. I'm usually a sucker for the weirdness in these strips, but this one has no logical flow to the story.

'Bobby Thatcher' (by George Storm): Bobby and his friends find an old map and go looking for treasure. This one hasn't shown me anything but cliches so far.

'Death's Sweepstakes'(by Loring Dowst): In this prose story Jimmy Stone and Phil Hackett investigate lottery fraud. This one is continued next month. The relatively more well-rounded characters here would elevate this story if it wasn't for the interminable explanation of lotteries and gambling in America in the 1930s.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Professor Mattix is still spending money on poor people, but he is noticed by a crook who pretends to be his nephew. Against all logic I find myself wanting to see how this pans out.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): Wiley accidentally gives an officer a black eye just before his girlfriend is about to arrive. Lieut. Richard Rick should give up comics and focus more diligently on his military career.

Cover by Bob Kane

'The Bat-Man in The Case of the Chemical Syndicate' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): After weeks of anticipation, I have finally reached the first appearance of Batman (or, as he's referred to throughout this story, The Bat-Man). Perhaps I built this moment up in my mind too much, but it's a little disappointing. The character doesn't have the same initial impact that Superman had.  Whereas Superman had no predecessors as far as the comics go, Batman had a number of inspirations, the Crimson Avenger being one of them.  The plot here is about Batman and Commissioner Gordon investigating some murders perpetrated by a businessman trying to get sole control of a chemical plant. Again, it's nothing I haven't seen before.  And the "twist ending" is the best. It's almost certainly unfair of me to judge this from my vantage point in the relative future, but the shocking revelation of this story is that Bruce Wayne is Batman. This might have worked back in the day, but it's just impossible for me to take seriously.  The one thing this story has going for it is atmosphere, and some striking visuals for Batman. The design is already strong. The best thing is that even with the story's shortcomings, I absolutely know that better things are coming.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Speed investigates a mysterious murder, and finds a red crescent on the collar of the victim, the sign of the Kurdistani Killers.  The victim and another man had accidentally become sworn members of this cult, and are being hunted down after refusing to do murder.  This is probably Speed's easiest case ever, because the culprit is a woman wearing dirty big red crescents all over her dress.  Seriously, this is the dumbest murder cult ever.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): Yep, it's yet another murder of a ranch owner. I perked up a little when there was mention of a murderer called "The Terror", and Buck pulls out some tracking skills to rival Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride.  But in the end it's still a Buck Marshall story.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): Bart's flying solo in this issue, as he goes up against a spy ring that's been killing members of an investigative committee with exploding bananas.  This strip is notably lacking without Sally acting as a counterpoint to Bart.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers): The Crimson Avenger tackles a surprisingly complex investigation involving a double murder over an unpaid gambling debt. Even the denouement has a nice little twist.  This is easily the best Crimson Avenger strip so far.

'Death on the Airwaves' (by Gardner Fox): This prose story is about a failed entertainer who is killing radio stars by fitting their microphones with poison gas. It's exactly the same plot that Bruce Nelson was investigating a few months ago.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce is in New Orleans investigating the murder of a French woman. There's a lot of voodoo involved here, and not many answers to the questions raised. This continues next month, where I hope events become clearer.

'Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): In this chapter Petrie and Nayland Smith talk to a priest whose return to China could spark widespread conflict.  The priests daughter sees someone with green eyes and that's as much plot progression as we get this issue. We do learn that Fu Manchu has a boss, though, which sort of weakens his mystique, I feel.

'Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo goes undercover to stop a gang smuggling Chinese people into America.  This story is just full of racist "me velly solly fliend" type dialogue, with racial slurs thrown in too boot. It's terrible.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): Slan and Shorty track an escaped criminal to Switzerland, where they engage in lots of skiing shenanigans before arresting the guy. It's very lacklustre by Slam's standards.

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