Steve Conrad’s series begins with the subtitle “on the Island of Dolorosa”, and the first eight chapters take place on this island. It opens in New Comics 5 (April-May 1935) with Steve, Captain Judd, and a botanist and financial backer planning an expedition to the mysterious island, and discovering Myra stowing away on their ship
Dolorosa is populated by a tribe that have ape-like heads, called the Zoanthropis, who are lead by a white man named Devachan. He has Myra captured, and wants to sacrifice her, but Steve rescues her and they escape from the Zoanthropis by diving into the crater of an extinct volcano. Here they encounter the “Sea People”, another island tribe who swim a lot, and who are lead by another white man, Professor Bombay of Eton Medical College. Coincidentally, Sam and Keith are also down in the crater with these guys. Either Sam or Keith is a black man, but who is who is never made clear.
Professor Bombay enlists Steve and friends in his war with Devachan and the Zoanthropis. As the fighting is going on, Captain Judd spots a passing ship and gets its attention. Devachan, seeing that his tribe is losing the battle, has a switch which will somehow destroy the island, and he pulls it just as Steve and his buddies get rescued by the passing schooner. The island explodes, killing all the tribesmen, and Professor Bombay, but Devachan survives.
With issue 14 the name of the series changes to The Adventures of Steve Conrad, and we are informed that on board the schooner are Steve, Myra Rutherford, Captain Hugo Judd, Professor Bromberg, and a stowaway.
So either Sam or Keith must be Professor Bromberg. Is the black guy a stowaway? What was he stowing away on? Why has he been just one of the gang until now? None of these questions are answered, as we never see him again, nor is there any further mention of this stowaway. Also mystifying is that the captain of the schooner, who was seen in the previous chapter bringing them to the ship, is nowhere in sight, and Captain Judd is in charge.
Devachan gets onboard and starts murdering the crew. Steve fights him, and they fall into the sea. Myra dives in to help, but they are separated from the schooner, which is never seen again.
They tie Devachan to a mast they find floating in the water, and then spend four days hanging on to it until they all wash up on the shore of Boa Island.
Boa Island is populated mostly by women, though there is a man in charge of them, Tangi. He has Steve and Myra tied up, but Steve is freed by a helpful monkey. Steve gets stuck having to fight Devachan, and after he beats him then he has to fight a group of “bronzed men”, the Appolons, from nearby Hercumo Island, who regularly come over to Boa Island to find brides. Steve defeats the Appolons, but their not-bronzed king, Olam, has already claimed Myra for a bride. Steve somehow has obtained a bow and arrows, and shoots them at Olam. As he swoops in to rescue Myra, she rebuffs him and has him captured. Why the heck she does this is never explained. Not even Steve understands.
But whatever prompted Myra to do this, she clearly regrets it as in the next chapter Steve escapes from his captors and once again gets Myra away from Olam, though this time she is happy about it. As they flee by vine, Devachan cuts it, sending Steve falling into an alligator pit, and Myra into quicksand. Steve eludes the alligators, but gets stuck in the quicksand as he tries to rescue Myra. The helpful monkey sees all this, and throws a coconut to get the attention of a geeky and never-before seen explorer, who runs away.
The strip takes a bit of a hiatus at this point. Will Steve and Myra survive? Do they spend nearly two years in quicksand waiting to be rescued?
After nearly two years, Steve Conrad returns in a new series that completely ignores the previous one. He now has a short, fat chinese sidekick with glasses, Chang. Presumably Myra died in the quicksand, and Steve was severely mauled by the alligator and spent a couple of years recovering, during which he and Chang became buddies.
In this run, Steve travels the world having one-shot adventures. Chang is there for racist comic relief. For a while he is even featured in the logo, saying “humourous” things.
The series does not start off badly. Singapore Sal, a jewel thief, is introduced in an entertaining story in issue 48, framed for theft, though its the owner of the jewels who was the real thief. She makes an impressive return in issue 51, captaining a ship out to a reef to retrieve a nest of pearls, though Steve fakes her out and makes her throw them overboard.
In mid-1940 the setting for the stories curiously moves from the South Pacific to Europe. The August 1940 issue sees Steve and Chang get mixed up with good spies and bad spies in Paris, but with no acknowledgement of the nazi invasion a few months earlier. Even more egregious is the following issue, as Steve and Chang cruise the Mediterranean, commenting on how safe and peaceful it is!
With issue 56 Europe is left behind, and the series jumps around a lot. Now Steve is in the south seas, now in Africa, now in India, now Brazil, now back in Africa. As the Second World War spreads, Steve’s adventures feel increasingly awkward, the locations he is going to were all becoming sites of military action, though his stories never acknowledged that.
More uncomfortably, in tale after tale Steve comes to the aid of plantation owners, mine owners, industrialists – all white people needing help against the indigenous populations they are exploiting, and Steve is always happy to kill the natives. The native peoples are invariably portrayed as purely evil, and no credence is given to their desire to control their own lands. In most of the stories they are too busy wanting to kidnap and rape white women.
The art is decent for much of the run, though downright awful at times. Issue 63 sees Steve and Chang in Egypt, and the panels of Steve climbing, and falling off, a pyramid are so poorly drawn that without narrative I would never have understood what I was looking at.
As the series nears it end it moves further from the real world. In issue 69 Steve seeks out and finds a “hidden land” of dinosaurs and cavemen. Exactly the kind of story I love, but this is poorly told, with unexciting art. Issue 70 has Steve seek for sunken treasure in a fictional location, and though he does go to India in issue 72, he deals with thought-controlled robotic tigers.
In issue 73 a scientist sends Steve through time with a machine he has invented, and Steve has a short adventure in a weird Egyptian/Babylonian culture.
The final two installments take place in India. Steve is once again called to help white plantation owners, but the “menace” is a Mowgli-type boy, riding a tame tiger. Steve befriends the lad, and determines that he is really a very tanned white boy. He is staying at the plantation of Colonel Bently, whose daughter Jane accompanies Steve into the jungle. As the series ends, in Adventure Comics 75 (July 1942) Steve announces he is going to solve the mystery of Tarsi, the jungle boy, and Jane declares that she will be right at his side as he does this.
With no further appearances, we can assume that Steve and Jane became a couple, raising Tarsi like a son. Though with India’s push or independence following World War II I would not expect his plantation life to have lasted much past that.