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Detective Comics #3-10 (May-December 1937)

Posted by Tracy Poff on January 13, 2013

I thought that, rather than writing a separate post for each issue of Detective Comics, it might be more instructive to collect my opinions on several issues. So, let’s look at the next eight issues, numbers 3-10, published between May and December 1937.

Speed Saunders

These stories declined in quality somewhat. The stories varied from boring to unbelievable, though some were merely mediocre. Two stories stand out.

Speed Saunders and the Mystery of the Lost Ape

In Issue #6, we have a story about a human brain being put in an ape’s body. Mysteriously, the body appears to retain the ape’s memories and personality, the human brain contributing only increased intelligence. The ape becomes violent, and ultimately throws itself and its creator off a pier, drowning them both. This story wasn’t actually very good, but it was something of a departure from the norm. A mad scientist putting a human brain in an ape’s body? That’s the kind of absurdity I can appreciate.

Speed Saunders (from DC 9)

In Issue #9, Speed thinks an old hobo looks suspicious, so he follows him around, very ineptly. Ultimately, it turns out that the man was an undercover cop, and Speed is rescued from his own incompetence by the crowd of police the undercover man brought in. But, of course, Speed is the hero, so nobody mentions that he was impeding an investigation and endangering the undercover cop.

Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise

Another comic that isn’t really worth the time. I did somewhat enjoy the device in Issue #5–the criminals were smuggling drugs by putting them in torpedoes and shooting them towards shore, where their confederates would retrieve them, thus neatly bypassing inspections at the harbor. Still, the stories tend to be very predictable, and so not very interesting. In several, Cosmo doesn’t even use a disguise, which is rather his whole gimmick, making Cosmo into just another generic detective story.

The Claws of the Red Dragon

This storyline finishes in Issue #8, and the hero, Bruce Nelson, begins other adventures with Issue #9. First things first, though: “The Claws of the Red Dragon” isn’t very good. It, by virtue of being eight issues long, avoids the pitfall that most comics in Detective Comics fall into, which is that they don’t have the time to adequately develop their stories, but it has other problems. First, it is fairly dull, most of the time. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is incoherent.

I am guessing that “The Claws of the Red Dragon” wasn’t originally intended to launch the career of Bruce Nelson as a sleuth. In the beginning, Nelson just seems to be a regular guy. The other two guests in the restaurant, Sigrid and her father, are clearly introduced as strangers in the first issue, and Nelson remarks that it’s a very strange coincidence that the stranger has a ring identical to his own. By the end, Nelson and von Holtzendorff have known each other for some time, and it was in fact von Holtzendorff who gave Nelson the ring. Also, by the end of the story, Nelson is known to the Chinese villains, having apparently foiled some plot of theirs in the past. All this adds up to a poorly planned story, which was modified after it began, in order to provide a hook for a sequel.

After “The Claws of the Red Dragon” finishes, Nelson stars in a two-issue story, in Issues #9 and #10, called “The Blood of the Lotus”. This story, too, features Chinese villains, and Nelson himself now has a Chinese servant. It’s a little better, perhaps, than “The Claws of the Red Dragon”, but it’s still not very interesting.


At the end of the first story, Sally is hired as a spy, too, and becomes a co-star of the comic. The stories are decent, if unspectacular. I do appreciate that, although the stories are episodic, there is some continuity. We see it more, starting with Issue #11, where they spend several issues in Paris as a result of the events of Issue #10.

Sally gets her share of heroic moments, I suppose. She’s still treated as somewhat inferior to Bart, and she doesn’t always have a complete plan, but she does show some competence as a spy, from time to time.

Buck Marshall

Maybe I just don’t like Westerns, but these stories are incredibly boring. Enough so that I stopped reading them, after Issue #9. The main problem is that they are entirely predictable. The basic format of each story is, essentially, this: Buck is on his way to see his friend the sheriff, when something crime-related happens–usually some shots are fired, or he comes across another man on horseback. Then, when he reaches the sheriff, it turns out that he’s just in time–the sheriff is heading out to investigate a crime that has just been reported. Buck scouts around a bit, and the real criminal almost always turns out to be the one who reported the crime–they’re always trying to pin crimes they committed on their rivals.

The stories are not merely repetitive and predictable, but also pretty dull, so my reading experience should be improved substantially by skipping these.

Slam Bradley

If I’m giving out an award for most improved, it goes to Slam Bradley. The stories aren’t that different, and they really still aren’t that good, but I’ve begun enjoying them much more than I did the first couple. Slam is still an absurd, hyper-masculine fool, but the comics began to make fun of that, a bit, and they are over the top in an amusing, rather than infuriating, way.

Of note is that the third issue’s Slam Bradley story is drawn by Jim Bettersworth, and the art is much worse. Fortunately, Shuster returns in the next issue.

Point of interest: we learn, in Issue #8, that Slam and Shorty live in Cleveland. Together. Sharing one bed. And wearing matching pajamas, too. You’d think that would put a cramp in Slam’s style, but I guess it works for him. Shorty gets a great line, there: upon being awakened by Slam, and told that a criminal has escaped, he replies “I don’t care if the planet has escaped from its orbit–all I want to do is sleep!”.


Mr. Chang returns for a few issues, and his stories aren’t especially bad, but they aren’t especially good, either.

A new comic, Larry Steele, begins in Issue #5. The first story is a five-issue story involving a mad scientist, and it’s boring. Not a great addition to the magazine.

There are lots of short comics by Alger, which are of fairly consistent, if not great, quality. They’re generally predictable, though occasionally clever.


The first year of Detective Comics is unimpressive, with a few decent comics, and quite a few very bad ones. My favorite for the year has to be Slam Bradley, which is fun, even if it’s not deep. Both Spy! and Slam Bradley showed improvement, over the course of the year. Most of these early comics are just not going to be satisfying to a modern reader, though some are not without merit. Unless you’re reading them out of interest in the history of comics, though, I’m afraid I’d have to recommend against reading these–they just aren’t worth the time, given the multitude of better, later comics.

So, that’s it for 1937! Batman won’t show up in Detective Comics until 1939, but 1938 does mark the beginning of Action Comics, which means the introduction of Superman. I’m looking forward to it!

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Detective Comics #2

Posted by Tracy Poff on December 19, 2012

We’ll see some new stories as well as some continuations and conclusions from the first issue in Detective Comics #2, published in April 1937.

Detective Comics 2 - Cover

Slam Bradley: Skyscraper Death

Slam Bradley - Skyscraper Death - Title

Story by Jerry Siegel. Art by Joe Shuster.

In this second installment, Slam is implicated in a murder. With the help of Shorty, he clears his name and catches the bad buys.

There’s not much to say about this one. If you read the first Slam Bradley story, you’ve as good as read this one. Just replace the evil Chinese with evil racketeers. However, do take a good look at that title image. I have no idea which one is supposed to be Slam. They could be twins. In the next frame, they look like they’re about to kiss:

Slam Bradley - Skyscraper Death - An Intimate Moment

Overcome by the power of their own manliness, I assume.

Really, I think that Slam Bradley is one of the worst sorts of heroes–he’s nothing but glorification of bravado and hypermasculinity. Not the kind of person I’d want to meet.

Buck Marshall, Range Detective: The Sage City Bank Holdup

Buck Marshall - The Sage City Bank Holdup - Title

By Homer Fleming.

Buck Marshall is asked to investigate a dam that’s been blown up, and uncovers a criminal gang.

This one is similar to the first Buck Marshall story–Buck investigates, and the real bad guys turn out not to be the ones originally implicated. It’s the same formula, but I think this one is a little better done.

Gumshoe Gus: The Disappearing Duck

Gumshoe Gus - The Disappearing Duck - Title

By Bill Patrick.

Another comedy bit, of course. Gus is sent to investigate the disappearance of a man’s beloved pet duck, Gloria. As it turns out, she’s run away to be with the duck of her dreams–Donald Duck.

This Gumshoe Gus story is even more absurd than the first one, and the jokes fall a bit flat.

Bret Lawton: The Peruvian Mine Murders Part 2

Bret Lawton - The Peruvian Mine Murders Part 2 - Title

Bret traipses around for a while, and at length discovers that the supposed Inca chief is actually Spider Malone, from the United States.

This is a disappointing conclusion to the Bret Lawton story from the first issue. Bret just suddenly reveals, in the last panel, that the Inca chief who’d captured them was Spider Malone, from the United States. How did he deduce this? The ‘chief’ made a (very weak) joke, which Bret identified as “a good old American wise crack”. Bret also manages to miraculously draw a circle of cyanide around the area where he’s buried up to his neck in sand, in order to fend off an army of ants. In fact, he does one right after the other:

Bret Lawton - The Peruvian Mine Murders Part 2 - Ants


Room Fifteen

Room Fifteen - Title

By Alger.

A rhyming comedy story about a large group of men who check into room fifteen at a hotel.

This one’s weaker than “Eagle-Eyed Jake”, from the last issue. Not worth a second look.

Bart Regan, Spy: The Balinoff Case Part 2

Bart Regan, Spy - The Balinoff Case Part 2 - Title

Story by Jerry Siegel. Art by Joe Shuster.

Picking up where the previous installation left off, this story sees Bart rescue Sally from her fix, only to drop her off at her home and tell her he hopes never to see her again. Incensed, she calls up an old suitor, and arranges to marry him the very next day. Will Bart stop the wedding? To be continued…

Once again, I think that the Bart Regan story is superior to the Slam Bradley story. Bart is still a jerk, and Sally is definitely going a bit far in arranging a sudden wedding in hopes that Bart will stop it, but you can’t help but feel for her, at least a little.

Mail Order Murphy

Mail Order Murphy - Title

A two-page comedy piece about a detective with a mail-order diploma who ‘detects’ a pie, and is jailed for stealing it.

The illustrations are a little silly, but the only joke is at the very end, where he is caught stealing a pie–the story’s not worth it.

Mr. Chang and the Narcotic Ring

Mr. Chang and the Narcotic Ring - Title

By Win.

Mr. Chang, master sleuth, is called in to investigate a narcotic ring. He threatens a laundry man to tell him who sells him drugs, then follows the dealer to his hideout, where he rescues two reporters that the criminals had kidnapped. With the help of the police, who arrive just in time, the gang is brought to justice.

This story is too straightforward. Mr. Chang is given the case, investigates, fights the bad guys, and wins. End of story. There are no twists or surprises of any kind, and there’s nothing interesting about the crime. On top of that, Mr. Chang and his servant are pure stereotypes, and it’s uncomfortable to read, used as I am to modern works with modern sensibilities. Take the final panel, for example:

Mr. Chang and the Narcotic Ring - End

It’s nice that there’s a story with a Chinese hero, rather than villain, but this one isn’t exactly a progressive dream of an egalitarian society, either.

Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise: The Olive Oil Counterfeiters

Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise - The Olive Oil Counterfeiters - Title

Illustrated by Sven Elven.

Frustrated by counterfeiters, the police call in Cosmo. Between a bit of sleuthing and a clever disguise, Cosmo discovers that the counterfeiters have been transporting the fake bills in olive oil boxes, and captures the crooks.

Like the first Cosmo story, we see Cosmo pitted against a criminal who also disguises himself. Our hero is cleverer, though, and he gets his man. The story’s not bad–better than the first one, I think. Still nothing to write home about, though.

The Claws of the Red Dragon Part 2

The Claws of the Red Dragon Part 2 - Title

In this installment, Nelson is driven by his captors to a remote location and left to his own devices. Upon making his way back to civilization, Nelson notifies the police of what happened, and decides to try his hand as an amateur sleuth, seeking out the men who had abducted him. He seems to be always one step behind, until he comes upon an estate where he believes the criminals have hidden themselves, upon entering, he’s confronted by a man with an automatic weapon. What will happen to him?

This story is leagues better that the first part. Nelson is still a bit ridiculous, though. For instance, he rewards a milkman who directed him by buying some milk from him: “Thanks, just for that I’ll have one of your best bottles of milk.” Wow, Nelson, you’re a real hero, buying that milk. Still, this story is a big improvement, so perhaps the whole thing will turn out to be worthwhile, when it concludes.

Silly Sleuths

Silly Sleuths - Title

Just as in the first issue, this is a single page with a few jokes on it. They’re not great, but they’re okay.

My opinion

I am disappointed by the art in these comics. There are a few scenes that catch my eye–Shuster’s comics are quite well done–but most of them seem like they’d be about as good without the art. Still, this issue is, overall, an improvement over the first. Most of the stories were at least as good as the ones in the first issue, with a couple of marked improvements. The Bart Regan story continues to be fairly interesting, and I’m looking forward to the conclusion to “The Claws of the Red Dragon”.

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Detective Comics #1

Posted by Tracy Poff on December 18, 2012

Comic books, and the stories they tell, have become very popular, in the last few years. Many popular films have been based on comic book franchises, such as Spiderman and Batman. So, let’s take a trip into the history of comic books, with the first issue of Detective Comics.

Detective Comics #1 cover

I wouldn’t ordinarily suggest judging a book by its cover, but it’s clear just from the cover image that the first issue of Detective Comics falls squarely into the Yellow Peril genre. Two of the stories, “The Claws of the Red Dragon” and “Slam Bradley”, feature the stereotypical Chinese villains being defeated by heroic Americans. For a change of pace, “Speed Saunders and the River Patrol” has Chinese immigrants as the victims of a crime, rather than the perpetrators. Let’s consider each story in turn.

Speed Saunders and the River Patrol

Speed Saunders and the River Patrol - Title

Story and pencils by E. C. Stoner. Inks by Creig Flessel.

This story introduces us to Cyril Saunders, known as “Speed”, a special operative in the river patrol. A bayman has found four dead bodies floating in the bay, and Speed is called in to crack the case. Speed investigates, and ultimately reveals that a ship had been smuggling Chinese immigrants, and throwing sick men overboard. Speed catches the crooks and brings them in, earning himself a vacation.

This story had some potential, I feel, but it was severely handicapped by its length. It is only six pages long, and one of those is just the setup introducing Speed Saunders, which has nothing to do with the mystery. As a result of its brevity, the summary I gave is essentially the whole story. Speed doesn’t come across as a very good detective, either. For example, when he visits the morgue to inspect the drowned men, we see this:

Speed Saunders and the River Patrol - Morgue

Excellent deduction, Speed.

Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise

Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise - Title

Story and art by Sven Elven.

A thief, Taro, has announced that he’ll steal some very valuable pearls from Gregory Dillingwater during a certain week, and the police, fearing that they’ll be unable to protect the pearls from the thief, who has eluded them repeatedly in the past, call in Cosmo. Despite all their preparation, the thief manages to sneak in, subdue the butler, and drug Dillingwater. However, much to Taro’s surprise, the apparently drugged Dillingwater suddenly springs upon him, then removes a wig, revealing himself to be Cosmo. As Cosmo says, “the simplest method to apprehend a crook is to trap him by his own talent for making a living… a disguise for a disguise!”

This is another six page story, and again it suffers for its brevity–there’s just not enough time to build up any suspense or sense of mystery. Cosmo’s trick, disguising himself as Dillingwater, is a good one–good enough that (if I recall correctly) Batman used it, later–but even a good trick isn’t enough to save this story.

Bret Lawton

Bret Lawton - Title

Author unknown. Inks by Creig Flessel.

Some men, working at a mine in Peru, have been killed under mysterious circumstances. Bret Lawton, ace international detective, is called in to investigate. A ‘mysterious Inca priest’, with ‘hatred and malice in his cruel eyes’, shows up on the last page. Is he the murderer? We’ll find out next month, it seems.

Yet again, a six page story–counting the full page title image. And once again, the story is too short to be interesting. It would probably not be worth reading this issue of Detective Comics at all, except out of historical interest, but I do think it’s worthwhile to see how comics have changed, over the last 75 years. For example, I’d be very surprised to see anything like this panel in a modern comic:

Bret Lawton - Natives

The Claws of the Red Dragon

The Claws of the Red Dragon - Title

Story by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Art by Tom Hickey.

A man, Nelson, comes across a Chinese restaurant, situated, unusually, among office buildings. But the service is terrible! And those Chinese people are so creepy! He makes a nuisance of himself, then is heroically captured by the villains, along with two other diners. To be continued…

Thirteen pages. It’s twice as long as the previous stories, but no more happens in it. Instead, we are witness to the tedium of a man waiting in a restaurant with slow service, who imagines that the waiters are secretly evil. It doesn’t matter that it’s true. The story is still bad. There is some mystery with the other diner having the same kind of ring as Nelson, and of course we don’t really know what the villains are going to do with their captives, but it’d take a heroic effort to rescue this story from being utterly dull.

Our hero.

Our hero.

Gumshoe Gus

Gumshoe Gus - Title

Story and art by Bill Patrick.

A four page comedy piece, with an incompetent detective who is sent to prevent a jewelry theft. It’s not the very best humor, but it’s not too bad. A sample:

Gumshoe Gus - Doorway

Bart Regan, Spy

Bart Regan, Spy - Title

Story by Jerry Siegel. Art by Joe Shuster.

Bart Regan, a federal agent, is recruited to be a spy. There’s a catch, though: he must leave his old life behind, forsaking his “personal life and all thoughts of marriage”. Bart has a fiancée, Sally, who he must break all ties with.

Bart Regan, Spy - Breakup

He doesn’t seem all that sorrowful. Bart is tasked with meeting a female spy, Olga, “who is suspected of using her charms to worm valuable army secrets out of young officers”. Sally, who intends to confront Bart about his sudden change of heart, is not pleased when she sees him trying to work his way into Olga’s good graces. When the story ends, Bart is in Olga’s apartment, about to be drugged, and Sally is in the street below, restrained by a taxi driver she was unable to pay, having left her purse behind when pursuing Bart.

Siegel and Shuster, of course, are most famous for the creation of Superman, who would debut in Action Comics #1, in June 1938, a little over a year after this story was published. We can see, though, a little of what would go into Superman’s story, here–the hero hiding his identity, and the woman who loves him doggedly pursuing him. Unfortunately, Bart is a complete jerk to Sally; she pursues him, but why would she even want him, after what he’s said and done to her? Still, it’s interesting to see an earlier work by this famous duo. The four pages of this comic tell at least as much story as any of the other comics in this issue, and it’s at least as interesting as the others, too.

Eagle-Eyed Jake

Eagle-Eyed Jake - Title

Story and art by Russell Cole.

Another four page comedy bit. This one’s in the format of an illustrated poem, about a sleuth of little renown called Jake. After detectives from all around are stumped by a jewel theft, Jake is called in, for a laugh. Jake, it turns out, is no slouch. He discovers the secret–there never were any jewels to be stolen; Dame Gotrox just wanted attention.

This is a fun little story, and Jake has some nice lines. I particularly like this one:

Eagle-Eyed Jake - Facts
“To facts we must confine ourselves / the facts we must smoke out – / Let others b’lieve th’ things they hear – / let us remain in doubt!”

Silly Sleuths

Silly Sleuths - Title

Story and art by Fred Schwab.

This segment is just a single page with a few jokes on it. It wouldn’t be out of place in a newspaper.

Buck Marshall, Range Detective

Buck Marshall, Range Detective - Title

Story and art by Homer Fleming.

Another six page mystery. Buck is called to investigate cattle theft. Buck, using a false name, takes a job at the Bar S ranch, and investigates. He sees through the rustlers’ trickery and, with the help of the sheriff, subdues the criminals.

This story could be pretty good, but it, like the others, suffers from its short length. Buck reveals the criminals’ plan, but we didn’t actually see it before he does so. So, we can’t have any opportunity to guess at what was really happening, and Buck’s explanation of the events doesn’t hold much interest. I’ve no reason to care how a trick works if I don’t see it work, myself.

Slam Bradley

Slam Bradley - Title

Story by Jerry Siegel. Art by Joe Shuster.

Freelance sleuth Slam Bradley enjoys a good fight, and seems to spend his evenings battling hordes of ‘celestials’ beneath the streets of Chinatown. He’s called away by the police, who have a job for him–to protect a wealthy young lady’s pet poodle. He’s furious that he was called for this, and refuses the job. Later, the woman is kidnapped, and Slam leaps to her rescue. With a little help from his sidekick, Shorty, Slam defeats the evil Chinese men who had held the woman captive and frees her.

Slam Bradley - Ending

This one is thirteen pages, like “The Claws of the Red Dragon”, but it’s much better. For all that it’s a better story, though, it’s not without problems. It’s a pretty stereotypical Yellow Peril story, and the hero is a huge jerk, much like Bart Regan, the hero of Siegel and Shuster’s other story in this issue. Shorty provides some comic relief, but he’s pretty bland and uninteresting. I’ve got to say that I prefer “Bart Regan, Spy” to “Slam Bradley”.

My opinion

The first issue of Detective Comics isn’t likely to be satisfying to a modern reader–nor is the racist content likely to impress. That said, it’s worthwhile to see the two early stories by Siegel and Shuster, if you’re interested in a bit of literary history. Too, the book is a time capsule of the thirties. The advertisements are especially interesting–in this issue are ads for a crystal radio, a hi-powered (so they say) air pistol, a whoopee cushion, a pistol cigarette case, and various other items.

A reprint edition was published in 2001, called “Millennium Edition: Detective Comics 1”. This edition is likely to be cheaper than the original, so aspiring comic fans should look into it, before seeking a first edition.

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