Monday, February 27, 2012

May 1940: Detective Comics #40

Cover by Bob Kane

'Batman, with Robin the Boy Wonder' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): There's a murder on the set of a movie that Bruce Wayne's fiancee is starring in, and Batman must solve the case. This story gets off on the right foot by providing a whole bunch of suspects. There's a racketeer trying to collect money from the director. There's the jilted lover of an actress. There's an unreliable director who was fired from the job. But the actual culprit turns out to be none other than Clayface, a name that Bat-fans may recognise. This isn't the shape-shifting mud monster of later Bat-lore. This is Basil Karlo, an old-time character actor who is incensed that a remake of one of his old movies is being made. He disguises his face with thick clay make-up, thus the moniker. He's a relatively compelling character, but I don't think he has much potential for a comeback story.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Maurice Kashuba): Bart investigates the Forgarian embassy, and gets caught up in a plot involving pens with secret messages inside, that give the location of stolen US military documents held in a bank deposit box. The pen mystery is just intriguing enough to drag this above mediocrity.

'Red Logan' (by Ken Ernst): Red and Ivan infiltrate a London boarding house that is a front for a spy ring. It's an average story, but at least Ivan is a fun character. Horribly accented, but still fun.

'The Crimson Avenger' (by Jack Lehti): The Crimson Avenger takes on a mad scientist who is using a paralysis gun to aid in bank robbery. It doesn't get much more straightforward than this, or more dull.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator and the Jewel Robbers' (by Fred Guardineer): I was all set for a hackneyed jewel thief story, of the sort I've read by the hundreds. I read in boredom as Speed witnessed a robbery and jumped on the back of the getaway car, but my interest picked up when the crooks did a smart thing, and took a sharp turn near a cliff. Speed is thrown down almost to his death, and spends the rest of the story going after the crooks for revenge. It really is just another hackneyed jewel thief story, but Speed's personal motivations make it much more interesting.

'Theft at the Fair' (by Gardner Fox): Repairs are being done on the House of Jewels at the New York World's Fair, and the foreman is worried that a jewel thief might steal the jewels. It's a set-up for the continuation next issue, but as established I am mightily sick of jewel thief stories.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (by Don Lynch): Steve investigates the kidnapping of a boy violinist, and discovers a whole bunch of musicians that have been taken for the amusement of a man named Fuhlra. His lieutenant is a snake charmer, and Steve must deal with her and her cobras. The added snake craziness puts this ahead of the usual kidnapping stories, but only barely.

'Cliff Crosby' (by Chad Grothkopf): Cliff is testing an experimental plane, while rival interests try to destroy it. It's another potentially dull story, but the inclusion of a shark fight and some plane-to-plane acrobatics from Cliff provide some entertainment.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Howard Sherman): Slam witnesses a murder, and becomes a target for the crooks responsible. The humour and action are both quite subdued, though there is a scene where Slam fights a pack of ravenous dogs in a pit. It's not enough to save a pretty average story. I also don't care for Sherman's pencils; he has a hard time drawing Shorty, something that's integral to the comedy element of the strip.

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