Posts tagged ‘Claws of the Red Dragon’

Detective 8 – Claws of the Red Dragon ends




Claws of the Red Dragon comes to a conclusion in Detective 8 (Oct 37).


Sigrid is threatened with dismemberment if her father and Bruce refuse to reveal the whereabouts of the Dragon.  Bruce Nelson somehow manages to elude his captors, pulls out a gun and begins a shootout, as the Republican chinese also attack.  Amidst the bloodshed, Bruce, Erick and Sigrid escape the house, with most of the remnants of the Dragon.


The story concludes with Bruce and Sigrid in an embrace, and an announcement that Bruce Nelson’s series will continue.  Or begin, depending on how you want to look at it.  He would have stories ranging from one to three chapters from now on (mostly three-parters), but never again a serial as long as this one.


Detective 7 – Rat torture in Claws of the Dragon, the Hindenburg in Spy and in Buck Marshall goes CSI



The penultimate chapter of Claws of the Dragon, which appeared in Detective 7 (Sept 37) has the gangster, Stucchi, being tortured by the evil Mongols.


Although we do not actually see him being eaten alive by the rats, it’s unmistakable what is occurring in the scene.  There was even another page of build-up to the event, showing rats scurrying everywhere.  I suspect this would have been censored by the Comics Code as well, had it existed in this time.


As the story moves to its conclusion, there is a panel of explanations that really defies the reader to peruse it.  I mean, seriously, does that page make you want to read it?  You really have to be invested in the tale to approach that black mass of tiny words.


The Hindenberg disaster occurred on May 6, 1937, and for this Spy story to have been published by August of that year, it must have been drawn almost immediately afterwards.  The dirigible is called the Colossus in this story, but there is no doubt that the Hindenberg was in the minds of Siegel and Shuster, as well as every reader.


Again, this is only a four page story, with very little space for development.  Sally suspects the destruction of the ship was part of a conspiracy, and turns out to be right, as the first person she talks about it to is the man behind it all.  Bart saves the day, and Sally’s life.


In the Buck Marshall story from this issue, a Texas Ranger is murdered in his hill-top cabin, and Buck does some impressive observation and deduction with the state of the bullet, the nature of the injury, and angle of entry to determine the killer.


From then on the story sort of becomes CSI: Sage City.  His tales were only 6 pages long, and generally the middle two or three would be Buck noticing footprints, clay residues, damaged plants, torn clothing, or other physical evidence, from which the crime would be solved.

Detective 6 – An opium den in Claws of the Red Dragon, equality in Spy, and Mr. Chang ends



I didn’t cover the last couple chapters in Claws of the Red Dragon, because not an awful lot happened in them.  Bruce Nelson managed to find Sigrid, and they hunt for her father.  But the episode in Detective 6 (Aug 37) is noteworthy.


The search leads them to an opium den, quite openly stated to be so, complete with an illustration of a man smoking opium.  This is obviously before the Comics Code came into effect.  No way would that be allowed to be shown a few years down the road.


Bruce and Sigrid fall into the hands of Lu Gong, a descendant of the Mongol kings of China, and the one behind the kidnappings.


The Spy story in this issue runs only four pages, but manages to set the pattern for how the Siegel and Shuster series will run for the next little while.  Bart and Sally get an assignment.  They each do their own thing, usually fulfilling standard gender roles.


Then they work together, defeat the villains, and in the final panel, embrace in the bosses office.  That shot of them is repeated more times than you can imagine.  And if you recall, a few issues ago, I drew attention to a similarly laid out final panel, although they were recoiling in fear.


Mr. Chang has his final story, pitted against a mad scientist.  It says so right in the title.


Overall, the short-lived Mr. Chang series was a little above the average for this book.


DC would runs a short-lived Charlie Chan comic, in conjunction with a 50s tv series, but never again would Mr. Chang grace its pages.

Detective 3 – Hope Hazard, G-Woman, a Tong War, and Sally at the chapel in Spy


Although the Hope Hazard story came sequentially before the other two stories from Detective Comics 3 (May 1937) that I am going to discuss in this entry, I am putting it last.  This is because of the peculiar nature of the entry.  Nuff said.


Claws of the Red Dragon picks up as Bruce Nelson manages to get through the walled and gated entry. He runs into an American gangster, Joe Stucchi, and discovers they are in the midst of a Tong war between Imperial and Republican Chinese, both of whom want the remnants of the Red Jade Dragon.


Bruce searches the house and sees quite a few murders before finding Sigrid, but as they try to find her father, they fall into the hands of Lu Gong, a descendant of the Mongol kings of China, and the one behind the kidnappings.




Siegel and Shuster’s Spy really features Sally Norris this issue.  She has the title box all to herself!  The marriage is called off, as Sally is stolen from the chapel.


The spy ring want to question her about Bart Regan’s true identity.  Serves her right for exposing him, but when Bart finds out he rushes to her aid.


This just means the two of them are in danger as the chapter ends.  But take note of the position Bart and Sally are in, and remember it for the endings of later issues!



This series is a puzzlement.  Hope Hazard, G-Woman begins as a serial about an FBI agent, but runs only one instalment in Detective Comics.  When it returns, nearly a year later and in the pages of More Fun Comics, Hope Hazard is the daughter of a retired secret service agent, and an amateur sleuth.


The first story has missing airplanes and a mad scientist, Xavier, King of the Underworld in a beautifully drawn cave with all his followers.


Hope and her pilot, Bill Littlejohn, are in danger of being caught by them, but this cliffhanger is just dropped when the series returns.


Her second and final story was in More Fun 30 (April 1938).  But had I just entered it there, the contrast with this one would not have been clear.


Here, Hope has inherited a  manor house, and is content to live a placid life, mostly sitting around watching while other people get involved in kidnapping, torture, theft and murder.


This one page shows her at her most active, wandering around like a gothic heroine.  Hard to accept that this is the same woman from the caves.


And though she finds the stolen jewel at the end, this feels more like a romance story set-up with her and the cop, rather than a “G-Woman.”


To make things even more curious, in December of 37 (between the two stories), in New Adventure Comics  22 there was a one-issue tale,  G-Woman, about a blond FBI agent.  Given the change in artist, this could be meant to be Hope Hazard, but her name is June Justis.  She is also described as the “only female agent” on the force.


This one fights dirty and shoots to kill.  Much harsher than either of the Hope Hazard stories.  But she is more suited to the “G-Woman” name than they were.


So here we have Hope Hazard, G-Woman and not G-Woman, with a pilot or with her dad, who maybe is also Justine Justis.

And if you can make more sense of this than I did, good for you.


Detective 2 – Bret Lawton ends, Bart Regan finds a statue, Mr. Chang debuts, and Bruce Nelson has colourblind memories



but he and the guide are promptly captured by a group of Inca, and their priest has them tied to stakes.  After explaining that the men were poisoned out of vengeance, for stealing the Inca’s land and gold, he has Bret and the guide buried up to their necks in sand, near anthills.


Bret then tells the guide not to worry, he poured some cyanide that he happened to be carrying in his belt around the area they were buried in, so the ants won’t cross it.  He apparently did this with his hands tied behind his back, in front of the Inca, with no one noticing.

Then his friend shows up to save them, although his friend’s name is now suddenly Tom Bradley.

Then they capture the Inca priest, who turns out to be an American gangster, Spider Malone.


What?  It was established that the murders were not done to get the gold, or emeralds, so why would an American gangster be killing white men to avenge the theft of Incan land?  How did the Inca not know that the “old priest” was not one of them?

And then, the light dawned, and this all made sense.

It begins to go nutty after Bret and the guide are buried in the sand.  So I believe from that point on the story is in fact a hallucination Bret has, while his head is being eaten by ants.  That explains the nonsense of the cyanide being poured around them – his fantasy of how he could have survived.  Pain makes him remember his friend’s name wrong, and the bizarre twist of the American gangster is his brain in death throws as ants burrow deep inside of it.

It also tidily explains why Bret Lawton’s series ended so soon, and why we never heard of him again.


Siegel and Shuster’s first tale in Spy continues, as Bart Regan is alerted to Sally’s situation by her cries for help, and in leaving, avoids the drugged drink.  Very serial movie cliffhanger.


Bart has stolen a statue from the evil woman’s house, and ponders it, while Sally over-reacts to everything.  She calls up an old flame, and agrees to marry him.  The episode ends with her in church, preparing to wed.


Mr. Chang is painfully obviously a take off of Charlie Chan, but without the family.  He wears asian robes, but is shown speaking clearly, unlike his servant Wu, who says things like “servant velly glateful for words of praise flom masta.”  Chief of Detectives Daniels calls him in on the first case, but Mr. Chang calls Daniels to report a murder in the second, so their relationship is reciprocal.


Mr. Chang’s first case involves opium dealers, who turn out to be white men selling to asians.   Mr. Chang is pretty impressive in the fight, with his stun gun and dramatic martial arts.


In this chapter of “Claws of the Red Dragon”, Bruce Nelson and the others are bundled off into a car and driven out of the city, where Bruce is left by the side of the road.  He considers himself  “an amateur sleuth”, and keeps seeing the image of Sigrid before his eyes (though as the artist changed from the second instalment on, his vision of Sigrid actually looks nothing at all like the woman he encountered in the restaurant, but whatever.)


He believes them to have been taken to a house on Long Island, and while searching for it, a car passes carrying one of the waiters.  There is a brief car chase, which ends when Bruce’s tires get sliced by broken glass the “waiter” has tossed from his car.  Nonetheless, Bruce is now hot on the trail and finds the house.


Detective Comics 1 – Speed Saunders, Cosmo- the Phantom of Disguise, Bret Lawton, Claws of the Red Dragon, Bart Regan – Spy, Buck Marshall and Slam Bradley begin


Detective Comics 1 (March 1937) was another ground-breaking comic book.  It was the first to have a single theme – all the stories were, to one degree or another, about detectives.  Even the two funny strips, Gumshoe Gus, and Eagle-Eye Jake, were about them.

It seems odd that this would be revolutionary, but up until this point comic books held a wide variety of series within them.  As most strips were only a couple of pages in length, the idea was likely to hit as many genres and styles as possible.

The cover does not depict any specific story, nor would it for quite a while, and not regularly until Batman came aboard.  It could, however, be viewed as representing the story written by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the owner of National Periodical Publications, “Claws of the Red Dragon,” some very poorly written racist yellow peril stuff, and the longest story in the issue.

Detective Comics was such a huge success that the other books changed their cover formats to match Detective, and the company soon adopted the moniker “DC Comics” – DC meaning Detective Comics.  Which means that ‘DC Comics’ really means Detective Comics Comics, which intensely bothered me.  For years.


Speed Saunders held the lead feature in Detective Comics for much of it’s first three years.  He begins as an investigator for the harbour police (also referred to as the river patrol).  Though there would be little personal information given about Speed, we do learn that his first name is really Cyril.  His stories were all self-contained, usually 6 page murder mysteries.  Over time they developed a format in which Speed would explain the solution in the last panel or two, frequently citing evidence or information that the reader had not been privy to until that moment.


In his first case, dead bodies are found floating in the harbour, and the coroner intriguingly describes them as “real oriental chinamen”.  Not fake oriental chinamen.  Or real african chinamen.  Speed investigates a boat that stays moored in the harbour without ever coming to port, and stumbles across a ring that smuggles these men into the US, tossing sick ones into the bay.


Among the many reasons these men deserve to get caught, I would rank stupidity fairly high on the list.


Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise is the first of a number of DC detectives who specialized in disguises, but used them far less than his successors would.  I find it odd that in over one third of his tales, Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise does not bother using them.  In reality, his character seems to be largely drawn from Sherlock Holmes (also known for disguises), and he even smokes a pipe of the style that we associate with Holmes.


Cosmo has no other name.  Indeed, it is unclear if Cosmo is a first or last name.  He himself barely appears in his debut tale, which pits him against a villainous disguise artist, Taro, but from then on is unquestionably the star of the series.  Cosmo often uses disguises to allow him to infiltrate criminal organizations, or gain access to locations that allow him to solve the crime, but also impersonates people in danger, and sometimes even people who are already dead, to get the killer to reveal theirself.


Bret Lawton is an “ace international detective” who appears only in the first two issues of Detective Comics.  He is hanging out in a bar in Cristobal, Panama, when he receives a letter from an old friend, Tim Morgan, currently running a mine in Peru, who needs help solving a series of murders that have occurred.

Bret heads to Peru, and spends 10 days at the mine, during which more men get killed, and Bret does little other than determine that the dead men had unusual puncture marks on their necks, and that they all died in the vicinity of an abandoned mine.  Somehow Tim never noticed either of those things.  Bret also notes that a large emerald is found near one of the bodies, indicating that the murders were done for some motive other than theft.


He heads into the jungle with an Inca guide who explains that the Inca are no more, they were killed off or work in the mines, but we see one atop a pyramid watching them.


Bruce Nelson is an adventurer and amateur sleuth, and a former pilot, likely with the American army.  Although his series would run from Detective Comics #1 on, it would be quite a long time before his strip actually took on his name.  His earliest stories, both serial and one-shot, simply were given the name of the story.  Oddly, in an era where series expanded in page count over time, Bruce Nelson’s would do the opposite, decreasing in length as it went on.

His first serial, Claws of the Dragon, runs from issues 1 – 8, with the first chapter written by DC’s owner and publisher, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson.  And the first chapter is by far the weakest, a very long, dull tale that has Bruce Nelson go to a Chinese restaurant, where no one will serve him.  A German father and daughter, Erick and Sigrid Von Holtzendoff, then enter and are menacingly catered to, and then all three are captured and hooded and taken away.


Nelson notices that he and Von Holtzendorff are wearing matching rings, but it is clear they do not know each other – though by the end of the serial we will learn they in fact did know each other in Peking at the end of the Boxer Rebellion, when both had rings fashioned from broken pieces of the Red Jade Dragon.

To me the most notable part of this opening chapter is Bruce thinking that a Chinese restaurant is out of place in the business district of San Francisco.  How times have changed!


Spy was the first of two series created by Jerry Siegel and  Joe Shuster for Detective Comics, and for the first two years of its run was a humourous and light-hearted romp.   Easily my favourite of the pre-Batman series in Detective.

The story begins as Bart becomes a spy.  He pretends to have been fired from his job, and, as ordered, tries to break up with his girlfriend, Sally Norris.


Sally doesn’t believe him,and follows him to an embassy party.  Bart is in disguise, trying to be bait for a foreign spy, and Sally butts in, threatening to blow the entire operation.


The first episode ends sort of split-screen, as Bart is about to be drugged by the evil spy lady, and Sally is being menaced by some tough guys working for her.

The male/female investigative team, popularized in the Thin Man movies of the time, found a great home in this book.


Buck Marshall, Range Detective is a fairly repetitive series, set in and around Sage City.  Buck helps the sheriff (who never gets a name) with cases that frequently involve murder, and usually cattle rustling as well.


In the bulk of the tales rivalry between ranchers, over cattle, land and access to water, proves the motive for the crimes, and they always are trying to blame each other.  Once in a while a bank or stagecoach or payroll gets robbed, but even in those stories the root motives usually come back to ranchers squabbling with each other.


Slam Bradley was the second Siegel and Shuster series to debut in Detective Comics #1.  It would prove to be a very successful, and long-running, blend of serious action and humour, largely achieved through the skillful use of Shorty Morgan, Slam’s sidekick.  Shorty was drawn in a completely different style than Slam, different than the other characters and backgrounds as well.  In fact, it almost looks like Shorty was photo-shopped in from a silly newspaper strip.

But Shorty’s role in the stories was not limited to comic relief, in most tales his actions would be vital to the resolution of the plot.


The opening narration informs us “In a hidden catacomb under the streets of Chinatown, Slam Bradley, ace freelance sleuth, fighter and adventurer is tangling with a mob of celestials who resent his investigating.  Knives flash!  Fists fly!  Altho’ outnumbered, Slam is having a swell time!”


I still don’t understand the “celestials” thing, but this tale has more than its share of racism, Slam getting one asian to talk by threatening to cut off his “pigtail” so he will be separated from his ancestors.  The story is straight out of the “yellow peril” genre, with a white woman kidnapped by asians, under the leadership of Fui Onyui.


Slam has a good relationship with the police in this, the Chief allows him to use a desk at the police station, and clearly wants him on the squad, but accepts his “freelance” status.  Towards the end of the story, the narrations refers to Slam’s “indomitable courage, surprising strength and laughter in the face of overwhelming odds,” a fitting description of all of Siegel and Shuster’s heroes.



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