Detective Comics #38
DC Comics (formerly National Comics), April, 1940)
I cannot say for certain this is the 2020 facsimile edition or some new one. I saw it on the regular shelves. Note that the price for the original comic back in April, 1940 was 10¢ while this edition was $6.99, which is probably STILL cheaper than an original copy in 2023. Still, according to the inflation calculator at the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics website the current buying power of ten cents comes to $$1.83 in May 2020 money and $2.17 in April 2023 money. Even factoring in the upgraded paper from ye ol’ newsprint that’s a heck of a hike for a reprint. No wonder nobody can afford your comics anymore, DC!
Yes, this is back in the Golden Age anthology days, which is why I’m reviewing this in place of the Blue Beetle comics I’ve been doing. Dan Garret could use the day off. This does mean that we’ll see multiple stories, starting with the one we all came for.
Batman: Robin The Boy Wonder by Bob Kane & Bill Finger
Most of this story you already know. Bruce is attending a circus when agents of mobster Tony Zucco kill the trapeze stars to convince the circus owner to pay protection. Batman convinces young Dick Grayson to go with him because Zucco runs the town (this takes place not in Gotham City but a “young” town outside the city) and he convinces Batman to not just protect him but train him as his partner. Later, Batman and Robin take on Zucco’s men and expose their operation.
There are differences from versions I’ve seen. Robin is compared to Robin Hood rather than the bird, a tie to his acrobatics (even being a nickname in the Schumacher movies). The story takes place not in Gotham City but a town outside of Gotham. Part of the heroes’ plan includes Dick going undercover as a newsboy. Tony Zucco talks like a bad Edward G. Robinson impersonation, using “see” at the end of almost every sentence and I’m not exaggerating. It makes him look a bit silly. Also more death than I expected, including Robin kicking a dude off a construction skyscraper framework. He gotta be as dead as the guy who Zucco kills after Batman forces the thug to confess to the Grayson killings, Robin ready with a camera. He’s a lot more excitable too. Overall it’s really not a bad introduction to one of the most important characters in comic history.
Spy: “The Electrical Assassin” by Jerry Siegel & Maurice Kashuba
I’m going by the Grand Comics Database for names, just like with the Fox Features anthologies, though one comic later does have a title as did the Batman story. Special agent Bart Reagan is the target of a mad scientist with a lightning gun. Already he’s taken out a senator and the agent sent to investigate in Bart’s place. Bart is aided by a mystery woman who is later killed trying to tell him what she knows. Apparently Bart punches the machine and it kills the scientist and the weapon will now be used in US defense (like that ever happens in comics). It’s a rushed story that isn’t given a chance to get to its conclusion properly. Nothing new for this time period, but I like the concept.
Red Logan: “Dr. Hydkill” (no credits)
British reporter Red Logan and his Foreigncountria friend Ivan (yeah, I want to say Russian but for all the stereotypical Britishisms we don’t get any Russianisms of the same time from Ivan outside of an accent) look into what appears to be a new rash of vampiric killings, but is just another mad scientist, this time proving he can bring the dead to life, but since it requires killing someone for their blood I don’t think it’s much of a tradeoff. It’s a good story though there are one or two moments when Red comes off rather thick until the plot needs him to notice things.
The Crimson Avenger: “Phoney Jewel Robbery” by Jack Lehti
The Crimson investigates when his alter ego, publisher Lee Travis, and one of his reporters is sure of the identity of a jewel thief that works for a small-timer gangster. Crimson overhears the mobster telling his men that it’s a fake robbery so the “jools” owner can collect the insurance, so our only other superhero in this comic busts the whole thing open. It’s a good story, though I wonder why we never get to see his driver, Wing? The reprint does have the outdated cultural warning, though they call out the actual racism, possibly for later, which really is pulling no punches. Your mileage may vary about the wordage or the actual use of a trigger warning in the first place.
Speed Saunders: The Kidnapped Singer by Fred Guardineer
This one has an actual story title. As the title says, a singer is kidnapped and the fiance shows up at police headquarters with a ransom demand the theater owner has promised to pay. Police detective Speed Saunders caught her act the night before her kidnapping and is able to put the clues together to nab the fiance, who is the real culprit. Since he staged the kidnapping because he needed the money, why go to the police? I’m kind of confused by the ending. She says he “got cold feet” but he took the money and still kidnapped her. Otherwise a good short adventure.
Steve Malone: “The Gambler’s Protector” by Don Lynch
While not the action DA Crimebuster Robinson is, Steve is still getting involved in an investigation. This district attorney is looking for the mole within the police protecting one of the mobsters. The story runs a bit short but unlike so many other times that’s happened in the Golden Age reviews it doesn’t ruin the story. It’s just obvious.
Cliff Crosby: “At The Arctic Circle” (no credits)
I’m not sure that’s supposed to be taken as the story’s title or not, and here’s where that “they were all racist in the past” warning comes into play. Cliff and Doctor Pleasesavemebecauseiamalwaysindangerbutwillsaveyouonce (not his real last name but it IS his role in the story) crash in the Arctic and find African natives living there thanks to a formula that protects you from the cold, so they run around half-naked because. Cliff and the doctor ally with the tribe’s real leader against the overweight usurper and when they aren’t killing polar bears and cobras they’re dodging an avalanche. You may complain about the racism (and I can’t completely argue) but I balk at how little sense this story makes. GCD credits a Chad Grothkopf with this story and I can see why he didn’t put his name to it. This is not the “Chad” the internet talks about.
Slam Bradley: “The Big Fire” by Jerry Siegel and Dennis Neville
Odd that we’ve seen Jerry twice in this comic but no Joe Shuster…meanwhile Slam looks like he could substitute for Superman. Slam and his comedic sidekick Shorty Morgan play rescue worker when they learn a building is on fire, but because this is a detective story, and Slam’s a private investigator he just happens to find evidence of arson…in the closet of a kid who’s crippled so you have to wonder how the arsonist set the fire there since the kid isn’t in on it. It’s the janitor tired of everybody’s complaints. I know it’s Detective Comics but the only thing more off than the PI and his comedic sidekick helping the firemen is how they forced a mystery into this story.
Overall I did enjoy all the stories, even the ones with odd choices, except maybe the Cliff Crosby one. It makes no sense.