Beginning under the name “Calling all Cars”, this was the fourth series created by Siegel and Shuster for DC, debuting in More Fun 11 (July 1936). Radio Squad refers to a police car equipped with a police band radio, something I guess was new enough in the 30’s to make it exciting. Sandy Kean is the hero of this series, another rough and tumble man’s man, like the bulk of Siegel and Shuster’s protagonists.
For the first two years of its run, Radio Squad just had two-page stories, and developed in a very different direction than Federal Men. Many of the tales had a light-hearted quality to them. You can almost hear a “whomp-waa” sound over the final panel. As an example, in issue 25 they see a box fall from the back of a truck. Sandy retrieves it, and they follow the truck, turning on the siren to alert it. The truck speeds away, they chase it and run it off the side of the road. It turns out the driver is smuggling alcohol, but the box that fell off the truck and started it all contained nothing but aspirin. Whomp-waaa.
The series began with a four part serial dealing with the Purple Tiger Gang. Sandy pulls over a speeder, who turns out to be the daughter of the Police Commissioner, and spanks her by the side of the road. She complains to her father, who thinks that she really liked it and probably now has a crush on the cop. As creepy and disturbing as that all is, it’s also fairly typical for the era. Anyway, she gets kidnapped (her father likely thought she was super in love with that), and held by the Purple Tiger mob, who are willing to exchange her for all the info the police have on them. Which, in fact, is nothing. They’ve never heard of these guys. But then you wouldn’t expect a criminal organization that would call itself the Purple Tiger Gang to be too on the ball. Sandy puts together some fake evidence, rigged with an “electrical signalling contrivance” that allows him to follow and apprehend these losers. The electrical signalling contrivance seems a ridiculously complicated way of saying a bug, but I doubt those even existed at this time, and it would have seemed like something from James Bond. If he existed at this time. Which he didn’t.
Issues 17 -22 (with a gap in issue 20) see a story that expresses a lot of frustration with the legal system. It begins with a woman calling the police because she is upset that her son gambles. Sandy responds to the call by physically threatening the boy, and then they head to the casino he frequents and arrest the man who runs it, Dan Bowers. His lawyers get him off, and he has Sandy brought up on charges of false arrest. There are a couple of chapters devoted to trials of Sandy, and then Bowers, that are laden with perjury and faked evidence. Finally the governor himself intervenes, sickened by it all (and Sandy is just as bad as Bowers in the trials), announcing that the legal system is a joke and Bowers should just go to jail anyway. I’m not sure that having the governor just call off trials and ship people off to prison is an improvement, but Sandy seems happy.
He also gets a partner in that serial, named Jimmy Trent, though his first name would change to Larry after a year or so. Maybe one of those was a middle name .
From issue 23 on the stories would be all self-contained, leading the series more towards the light-hearted style I mentioned previously. But issue 23 would also have a greater significance, or so I will argue.
I hereby declare that the Radio Squad story in More Fun 23 (Aug 37) is the first appearance of Lex Luthor.
The story deal with a red haired scientist who creates giant armoured radio-controlled cars that he smashes into other cars to kill those inside. He does this out of a twisted sense of vengeance, as his son was killed by a reckless driver, though he kills people at random. Sandy catches him at the end of the story, but at no point is guy ever given a name.
Lex Luthor would officially debut a few years later, a red haired evil scientist seeking world domination, and never given any back-story at all. The bald version, with the grudge against Superboy, was the Earth – 1 Luthor, the Earth -2 version only met Superman when they were both adults.
As both the character in More Fun 23 and the original Lex Luthor were drawn by Shuster, it’s not that surprising that they look virtually identical, and I will happy concede that I do not believe Siegel intended them to be the same person when he created the two men, but comic book history is all about filling in the blanks. This was Lex Luthor, a scientist who went mad with grief over his son’s death, and after a brief prison term after being caught by the Radio Squad, emerged with plans to control all of society, which brought him into conflict with Superman.
OK, back to Radio Squad.
With issue 33 the stories expand to 6 pages in length, and become more serious, though the series never really reaches the level set by Federal Men. Sandy and Larry deal with an embezzling banker, a corrupt cop, a pyromaniac fireman, even the criminal son of the Chief of Police, as well as the usual lot of murderers and jewel thieves and such. They have to disguise themselves as women to catch a man who mugs women – though Larry had to go in drag in a earlier story as well, to catch a man robbing couples on Lover’s Lane. Larry is so good at doing this he is ordered to do a female impersonation at the Policemen’s Ball.
Sandy is reckless to a fault. In issue 40 he rams the police car through two cars set up as a roadblock, to Larry’s horror, and justifies his action by saying “what difference does it make if we die now or forty years later?” I would not want to be Sandy’s patrol partner.
In issue 44 they have to deal with a thief who has devised a method of becoming invisible, and cleverly put dye into the sprinkler system, hooking it up to go off when the jewels are removed from their base, exposing the thief.
In issue 45 Sandy is framed for murder by Dirk Stevens, convicted and sentenced to death, but freed by other policemen on his way to the electric chair. He tracks down the actual Stevens, who gets mauled by a bear. Sandy shoots the bear, and in recognition of his attempt to save his life, Stevens writes out a confession before he dies.
With issue 49 Shuster left the series, though Siegel would continue as the writer.
Radio Squad continued, but Sandy Keane was no longer the star of it. Larry Trent is often given top billing, and was just as likely to save the day as Sandy was in this period. Jerry Siegel continued scripting, though I am not sure he lasted till the end of the series. The art was shuffled to different people. Chad does a few issues, but most are unsigned, which is frustrating. Some have very good art, some have passable, and some are just downright awful.
The stories remain in the realm of reality for the most part, as Sandy and Larry deal with murderers and thieves. They get a handful of “creative” villains, such as The Cloak, who is secretly the victim of his bombing and theft campaign, out for insurance, or the Ghost, who uses a glider to rob warehouses from above. The only one to appear twice was the Leopardess, a jewel thief, though she was never played up as a romantic interest for either of the men.
There is little acknowledgement of the war. A few stories touch on it, with foreign spies, or a theft of drugs intended for the military. In one case they prevent the hijacking of relief supplies being shipped to Europe, but that’s the extent of it.
A few of the villains have weaponry that is a little beyond the norm. The Storm Raiders have a gun that shoots bolts of electricity, and the Evil One has a paralysis ray gun. Satan, who named himself that because of a facial disfigurement, devises an arsenic gas gun.
Larry, not Sandy, is the one to get a girlfriend during the run. Issue 64 deals with the sinking of a pleasure boat full of children. Larry rescues young Timmy, and meets his sister, Lorna Drake. The next issue has a tale about juvenile delinquents being used by mobsters. Timmy falls into danger, and Lorna calls on Larry for help.
In the following story in which they get a new radio car. Up until now their car was designated “X-7,” but it gets rammed into a telephone pole during the course of the tale, and at the end Sandy is driving a new car as Larry and Lorna flirt. Later issues will reveal that they are now in “Car 54.”
Anyway, back to Lorna. Issue 67 has a complicated but rewarding tale, which opens with a drive-by shooting of an FBI agent. It’s Lorna’s birthday, and while investigating the shooting, Larry buys a curio from a reluctant antiques dealer, whose shop the murder occurred outside of. The curio contains stolen plans, and we are suddenly immersed in international espionage, with the Evil One and his paralysis ray gun, attempting to find and murder Prince Ivor, the exiled ruler of his nation. It turns out Timmy is really Prince Ivor, and Lorna has been sheltering him.
Issue 68 reveals that Lorna works at a “settlement house,” which seems to be a place for troubled kids. Larry beings her Teddy, an orphan boy hanging out at the waterfront (and witness to a crime) to take care of.
Lorna’s final appearance is in issue 73, as we meet her friends, Sparky and Emma, brother and sister rodeo riders. The story has Larry briefly get jealous of Sparky, so it’s safe to assume his relationship with Lorna is continuing solidly, if off-panel.
In their final appearance in More Fun 87 (Feb 43) they deal with a sound effects man and his ventriloquist partner, who use phony radio dispatches to take the police far from the sites of actual crimes.
Neither Sandy Keane nor Larry Trent make any further appearances after their series concludes. But I think these guys did a bang-up job in their seven years patrolling the streets, and I’m sure they were promoted to detectives at this point.