Thursday, June 2, 2011

May 1939: Detective Comics #29

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'The Bat-Man' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): This month the Bat-Man (I'm going to call him that so long as the actual comic does) goes up against some jewel thieves, and there's not much more to be said about that. The plot is of very little interest, so it's the little details I have to focus on. The first is in the introduction, which says that the Bat-Man is "Bruce Wayne, bored young socialite". The Bat-Man hasn't had an origin story at this point, and from that description you'd get the idea that he's a rich kid playing super-hero to keep himself entertained.

The Bat-Man doesn't have any gadgets at this point, but he does use a silk rope an awful lot in this story to swing from buildings. He even has to twirl it around his head like a lasso before he throws it. We also see the first "batmobile", although it isn't named as such. It's just a simple red car of the 1930s, with nothing to distinguish it from any other random dude's vehicle.

If it wasn't for the gift of hindsight, I wouldn't be getting into this strip at all. About the only thing it has going for it is that the Bat-Man looks cool.

'Speed Saunders Ace Investigator and The Dope Ring' (by Fred Guardineer): Speed is hired by a newspaper owner to investigate a dope ring, and it turns out (surprise!) that the newspaper guy is the head of that very ring. There are shootings galore and a treacherous femme fatale, both of which help to push this just slightly above mediocrity.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): Buck Marshall goes up against yet another guy trying to kill a ranch owner to get his land, but this story has a decent hook at the beginning, as Buck is seemingly mistaken for a criminal and thrown in jail. It turns out to be a plot by the sheriff to get Buck undercover, and it puts this on a level much higher than the usual Homer Fleming story.  Which is to say, the prospect of reading it didn't have me ready to break out the razors.

'Spy' (by Siegel and Shuster): When a ship from Baralia is blown up in a US harbour the two countries threaten war. Bart is assigned to stop this, which he does by tracking down the real culprit, the ship's captain. Sally is not in this story at all, and as a result it lacks a lot of its usual charm.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jim Chambers): This month the Crimson Avenger tackles a gang of knife-wielding Arab jewel thieves. This story is seriously disjointed. At one point the Crimson Avenger is hit by a car and put in hospital, but in the very next panel he's up and about and ready to fight some crime. The conclusion is similarly weak, as the Crimson Avenger leaves just as the police are arriving to arrest everyone.  Say what you want about Superman, but that dude sticks around to clean up his own messes.

'Human Cargo' (by Jack Anthony): This is another reprint of an earlier prose story, the one where the discovery of a human leg in the bay leads to the a gang smuggling Chinese people into America. Obviously DC don't want to pay anyone for these anymore, and I don't blame them.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce and his partner Lane are investigating the murder of Lili Gravet, a woman with a fascination for black magic. There's a certain creepy atmosphere to this strip, but far too much of it consists of Nelson and Lane talking to each other about the various suspects. They've made absolutely zero progress by the time the strip finishes. It will continue next month, but I guarantee I'll have forgotten what they talked about by the time I get to it.

'Doctor Fu Manchu' (by Sax Rohmer and Leo O'Mealia): Petrie and Nayland Smith are still protecting the old missionary Eltham from Fu Manchu. One of Fu Manchu's goons is stalking the grounds, and even beats up a mastiff, but I don't feel like this story is going anywhere.

'Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo goes fox hunting with yet another of his endless list of lifelong friends, only to find out that this friend is deep in debt to a man who wants his house and his daughter.  The bad guy pulls out every cliche trick in the book, even haunting the house like a Scooby-Doo villain. Despite all of these hackneyed shenanigans, this story somehow manages to be better than most Cosmo stories. It was probably the fight Cosmo has with a suit of armour. Or maybe the scene where he shoots a glow-in-the-dark cat.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): This month, Slam is bequeathed a million dollars in the will of a man he once saved. But there's a stipulation: he has to spend the night in a house full of all the family members whose inheritance he has taken without being murdered. A decent mystery follows when the murders begin, though it's a little light on humour, and it turns out the killer is Ronald, the obligatory drunken son. As usual, Slam is the best thing in Detective Comics.

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