Monday, January 23, 2012

April 1940: Detective Comics #39

Cover by Bob Kane

'Batman' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): A Chinese tong kidnaps two millionaires and holds them for ransom. It's also been selling opium, and Chinatown's unofficial mayor Wong calls Batman in to deal with the problem. Wong appeared once before in Detective Comics #35, where he helped Batman, but his return is an ill-fated one; he ends up being murdered with a hatchet buried in his head. Batman and Robin track the tong down to its waterfront hideout, and solve the case with a whole lot of punching. It's all topped off by a great closing scene, in which a young Chinese boy is told by his mother to pray for Batman, who delivered them from the evils of opium. This is seriously entertaining stuff.

There's more significant Batman stuff on the way. In the next issue of Detective Comics we get the debut of the villain Clayface, and there's also a house ad for Batman #1. Good times!

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Maurice Kashuba): Bart is assigned to discover who is stealing papers from an inventor who has just created a top secret weapon. All evidence points to Carlgart, the office manager, and Thorpe, a shifty-eyed draftsman, but in the end the culprit turns out to be the inventor's chauffeur. It almost makes sense, except that it's never explained how the chauffeur gets into the inventor's safe. And the sheer amount of evidence piled up against Carlgart and Thorpe isn't adequately explained away either. I can see what Siegel was going for here, but those two were just acting too shiftily for them to not be up to something.

'Red Logan' (by Ken Ernst): Red Logan tackles a man who is trying to kill his niece before she gets married, so that the family inheritance will remain with him. His method is to release a cobra into her room, but after she screams the cobra returns to the man's room and kills him. I'm not entirely sure that Red accomplished anything at all in this story.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jack Lehti): The Crimson Avenger tackles a group of spies who destroyed a battleship in the New York harbour with some mines. The mines were placed there during World War I, and are remotely detonated from a top secret control room; the story spends a lot of its time setting up the mystery of exactly how the spies did it. The resolution is a good one, with all of the relevant clues available to the reader, and this is a very solid story that makes good use of the Crimson Avenger's super-hero identity as well as his job at the newspaper.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator and the Case of the Siva Statue' (by Fred Guardineer): Speed helps a man who has been threatened by a cult for his possession of a sacred Siva statuette. The story is unremarkable. The most interesting thing about it is the introduction of Danny, a kid who Speed uses to help him track the cult down. Apparently he's going to be a regular cast member, which doesn't bode well. Kid sidekicks so very rarely work, and this one's as bland as they come. Also, the presumably Indian cultists all have blue skin for some reason.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Don Lynch): Steve tackles a gang of hijackers who are stealing cargo trucks and selling the goods through a wholesaler. Steve manages to hold them off in a tense shootout, but all of his success happens through lucky coincidence.

'Cliff Crosby' (by Chad Grothkopf): This story begins with Cliff Crosby angrily campaigning for kids to be able to play on vacant lots, and it only gets more absurd from there. The son of Al Larsen, the main guy who is against the playing kids, is kidnapped and held by Indians. Cliff goes to the kid's rescue, and their escape attempt has all of the jungle cliches: an alligator, a boa constrictor, quicksand, you name it. After the kid is rescued Larsen agrees to build playgrounds, and everyone is happy. Crosby is quite entertaining in this, as his first answer to any problem is a swift punch in the face. And the jungle scenes are gloriously cliched, but so rapid-fire they get away with it.

'White Trap' (by Whitney Ellsworth): A criminal commits a murder, but his escape plan is thwarted by a snowstorm; the footprints he leaves will lead right to him, so he gives himself up. It's quite a clever story, but I can't help thinking that he gives up too easily. Surely he could just walk to where there's a crowd, and obscure his footprints that way?

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Dennis Neville): Slam is hired by a Frenchman to protect a valuable diamond from some crooks. It all turns out to be a hoax, to test Slam's competence for the French government, which wants to hire him to protect a shipment of gems in Paris. Slam ends up getting captured and impersonated by a gang of thieves, but manages to escape, clear his name and defeat them. This was all mildly entertaining, with some good banter from Slam and Shorty, but it falls short of the mark compared to other Slam Bradley stories. At least Dennis Neville has figured out how to draw Shorty now.

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