…Detective Comics #1 was released!
That comic was a far cry from the 1000th issue that saw release this week. Both are big, thick comics with multiple stories by multiple creative teams, but whereas issue 1000 was all about one character, issue one was about a bunch of different characters, each starring in their own self-contained strips.
Also, you know, issue one cost ten CENTS, and issue 1000 cost ten DOLLARS.
At any rate. The copy of Detective #1 I read through on-line tonight is beat up, and the scans aren’t always crystal clear. I’m not even sure it’s the complete issue. But I had fun looking at it, so I thought I’d share a bit of it with my faithful readers (and, no, I’m not going to share a link to the whole thing. Some parts of the interweb, after all, don’t like publicity). But below, you’ll find the opening page to every story in Detective Comics #1. And also, the ads from the inside front cover:
I won’t be commenting on all of these pictures, but they do give you a pretty good feel for what the comic was like (and all of them should all be fully embiggenable for your viewing pleasure). But before we jump into it, there’s a few things I probably ought to say up-front.
First of all, this comic features some unfortunate racism. That’s apparent on the cover up above, and it continues inside, with at least two stories featuring Yellow Peril style bad guys. It was a different (and shittier) world in 1937, but I’ve always been of the opinion that we shouldn’t hide this kind of casually racist crap. We should put it out there in its proper context, just so nobody ever forgets how stupid we were to think this way. So I’ll be posting a couple of pages below that feature some potentially offensive imagery I’m not at all okay with. Just so you know in advance.
On a less serious (but more pleasant) note, I also made a connection I’d never quite made before about Golden Age comics: The overall feel of this book is like a super-long edition of the Sunday comics page. Serious adventure strips sit comfortably right alongside cartoony gag strips, offering a nice variety of features that you don’t really get in comics anymore. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I just found it interesting.
Each strip also had its own logo, and (in what was the biggest shock to me) many of them featured credits! That’s something the comics industry would be quick to jettison, once the publishers figured out how much money they could bilk their creative teams out of with that whole “work made for hire” scam. But not so in these early days. Makes me like this comic even more.
Alright. That’s enough of me rambling for now. I’ll be posting each strip in order of appearance, just to recreate the feel of reading that first issue as much as possible. So feast your eyes on the glory (or… something) of Detective Comics #1!
Next up is the first of those Yellow Peril strips, entitled “The Claws of the Red Dragon.” I’m pausing to comment on it mainly because it’s so very bad. The art’s hit and miss, the page layout is so poor that they had to number the panels, and the story is interminable. Basically, it’s about a white guy who tries to get service in a Chinese restaurant and makes eyes with a pretty girl at another table, all the while slowly casing the joint and becoming increasingly convinced that their hosts are up to no good. That goes on for 13 pages (most of the strips here only got 6), and then ends just as the action starts with a “Continued” notation in the final panel. That also shocked me. I didn’t think they were doing continued stories quite this early in funnybook history. But here we are. Though why anybody would have wanted to come back for more of this is beyond me…
One thing I found interesting here is that the art is generally better on the humor strips. I like that “Eagle-Eyed Jake” strip especially. Art-wise, it has shades of the Yellow Kid. “Gumshoe Gus” isn’t quite as interesting to look at, but it does have a very Sunday Funnies sort of feel to it. The same can be said for the “Silly Sleuths” page below.
I also love that they managed to work in a cowboy detective. Just goes to show how popular Westerns really were back then.
Finally, the issue wraps up with the first appearance of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Slam Bradley. This first Slam strip is marred by the same Yellow Peril crap that mars other parts of the issue. This time, we’ve got Chinese villains with bright yellow skin, lead by a guy named Fui Onyui (pronounced, no shit, “phooey on youie”).
Still, let’s persevere. Because Slam Bradley is a great character. He’s a freelance detective who literally throws himself at the world with such complete abandon that his shirts are continually being ripped from his body, as he gets into fist-fights with anyone who’ll take him on. Sort of like a cross between Philip Marlowe and Popeye.
Distasteful as that splash is, I can’t help loving this strip. It really is like a less cartoony and slightly more serious Popeye. Slam punches and blusters his way through the adventure, his ultra-manliness becoming funnier with every page. In the end, he and his sidekick Shorty defeat the villains and save the girl. But Slam’s only got so much time for dames:
So there you go. Racist, sexist, and gleefully violent, this first Slam Bradley story somehow manages to be both utterly appalling and tremendously fun. I can’t forgive its casual racism, but I love the spirit of the thing otherwise. It reminds me a bit of Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot, I think. Not as absurd, but just as funny in its lead character’s violent zest for life. I do kinda wish the story from issue two had been the first, but that’s not how it happened.
But speaking of that story from Detective #2… Here’s the “next issue” blurb from the inside back cover of issue one:
And there you have it! Detective Comics #1, warts and all. Hope you enjoyed this sneak peek. We’ll see you next time.