Monday, April 4, 2016


It seems as if no serious attempt was made to expose younger readers to the smarter tropes of detective fiction in the comic books of the '40s and '50s. Most crime comics of the era skewed to the blood-and-thunder, hardboiled school, with dollops of violence and cynicism that eventually attracted the attention of Congress.

Apparently the only one that came even remotely close was D. S. Publishing's Whodunit, which ran for only three issues in 1948-49. Do any of these stories really fit the series title? Perhaps it depends on how you define "whodunit."

August-September 1948.
52 pages.
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE.

(1) "The Case of the Commonplace Clue" (7 pages):
    "Murder is a game where no one wins. It was only a little thing — a mere trifle that anyone would overlook — anyone except Detective Sergeant Barney O'Toole — but it trapped the killer of Hilary Masterson."
    Detective fiction tropes: The broken watch; the allergy giveaway; the phony phone call; a fairly large suspect pool; the least likely suspect.
    Typo: "tampering with with witnesses."

(2) "The Weeping Widow: The Corpse Who Trapped His Killer" (7 pages):
    "When a weak man sees a fortune just beyond his reach, his path can lead down — TO CRIME — TO BLACKMAIL — TO MURDER! Who hated the greedy little man? Who fired the fatal shot? It was a strange tangle that faced Detective Murdock, but just as in the fabled labyrinth, one thread led straight to another."
    Detective fiction tropes: The contested will; the tontine; the femme fatale; a conversational slipup; the Laura gambit; the mistake redressing the body; an adequate suspect pool.
    Typos: "The dames screwy"; "nonesense"; "getaaway"; "the whole estate's is hers"; "the dead man was sunburn"; "just begining."

(3) "Who Done It?" (cartoons: 1 page)

(4) "Inspector Hawk: Death on the Range" (7 pages):
    "A previously overlooked detail gives Inspector Hawk the necessary clue, enabling him to capture the fiendish killer of multi-millionaire Gabriel Thorn in one of his most difficult cases — DEATH ON THE RANGE!"
    Detective fiction tropes: Stock manipulation and embezzlement; the obvious suspect is framed; how knots have been tied; suspects with credible motives.

(5) "The Guilty Greenbacks: What Bizarre Counterfeit Scheme Almost Worked?" (7 pages):
    "Counterfeit money . . . a deceitful menace to honest businessmen . . . bursts out in a new wave of crime! The alert police spring into action to stamp out the swindlers . . . but the bogus bills continue to appear . . . Special Investigator Bradley steps in to find the amazing solution to the GUILTY GREENBACKS!!"

(6) "A Question of Revenge" (text only: 2 pages):
    Detective Dave Carter and his secretary Sally are called to the estate of a multi-millionaire who's been keeping his daughter's disappearance a secret for the past two weeks. Dave's solution pivots on how old certain persons staying at the estate are.
    "You've been reading again, Sally. You just have to cut out those detective stories."
    Typo: "seemed loathe to answer."

(7) "Formula for Foul Play: Who Stopped Carlton's Winning Streak?" (8 pages):
    "When mysterious incidents start a permanent losing streak for the crack teams of Carlton Tech . . . Detective Dan Clark, a Carlton alumnus, goes to work tracking down the unsus-pected treachery to its shrewd mastermind . . . a shadowy figure who has devised a FOR-MULA FOR FOUL PLAY!"
    Typo: "made two base easily"

(8) "Mysteries from the Case Book of Edgar Peck: The Mystery of the Suicide Game" (1 page):
    Detective fiction trope: A murder is made to look like a suicide, but forensics fingers the killer.

(9) "Found $26000: All Applicants Form a Line at the Morgue!!" (7 pages):
    "There he comes . . . out of that butcher shop . . . a small man in his early thirties . . . He's carrying a small bundle and smiling . . . but it will be his last smile because three tons of speeding metal has got him marked for the morgue!"
    Typo: "and no one ? a finger on him."
~ ~ ~
October-November 1948.
52 pages.
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE.

(1) "The Mock Mandarin of Music" (8 pages):
    "Someone once said 'Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast' . . . but when a visiting Oriental festival group gave a Symphony Hall recital, mysterious occurences threatened to end the harmony of the 'Gaku' troupe from the Far East! Detective Hodges had to learn about Oriental music and apply that knowledge in tracking down the potential DEATH DEALER IN DISGUISE!"
    Detective fiction tropes: A weapon that can be used in plain sight without others realizing it; heavy makeup used by assailant.

(2) "The Pearl Pirate" (8 pages):
    "Pearls! The quest for these precious gems lures adventurous travelers to seek them in the enchanting topics. Lady Titwell became the victim of a scheming fortune-hunter . . . until Inspector Hollander stepped into the case and revealed the PEARL PIRATE!!"
    Detective fiction trope: Continual shifting of suspicion from one person to another.

(3) "Diploma for Death! or Skeleton in the Closet!" (7 pages):
    "The lesson for the day was MURDER . . . . One of the cleverest crimes ever concocted in a cunning mind! But, when Lieut. Steve Henston entered the class, the killer failed the final, grim test . . . and received his DIPLOMA FOR DEATH!"
    Detective fiction tropes: The dead victim is in plain view without anyone realizing it; the old reliable gimmick of not being able to make oneself shorter.

(4) "The Bloodstone" (text only: 2 pages):
    "This is a good picture," he pointed to the glossy print. "It even shows your ring! That nice big stone set in a snake's head."
    Detective fiction trope: On a whim the criminal unwittingly participates in an act that will ultimately nail them.

(5) "Death Takes the Witch: The Five Would-Be Killers" (7 pages):
    "This is the story of an evil old woman who abused and degraded everyone she knew . . . a story of fear, hate and violent death! Old Letitia Hodges never dreamed she might go too far . . . and she learned that—too late!"
    Detective fiction tropes: An apparent change in normal habits; the killer is color-blind.

(6) "Death Scores a Knockout" (7 pages):
    "Nobody could say that Kid McCann wasn't sure of himself. If ever a man tempted death, he was the one. But his luck ran out when the stakes were highest and he took the final count!"
    Detective fiction tropes: The gathering of all the suspects; the misdirection of outside and inside.
    Typo: "a lof of 'friends'."

(7) "Polly Wants Murder" (7 pages):
    "Old Man Crandall hated life — that's why he didn't last long when a severe cold caught up with him! But there was one thing he hated more than living . . . and that was his relatives who had been waiting around for him to die! He hated them and decided to do something about it!"
    Detective fiction tropes: The crazy codicil in a will that practically paints a target on the legatee; offbeat murder weapon.
    Typo: "imediately."
~ ~ ~
December 1948-January 1949.
52 pages.
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE.

(1) "Secret of the Seance" (12 pages):
    "Secretly located within the quiet walls of Ivy College is a mysterious room called the 'crime lab.' This scientifically-equipped laboratory is headquarters in the bitter battle against crime waged by modest young Professor of Chemistry, Kip Dawn. Kip is aided in his one-man crime crusade by pretty Poppy Fields, post-grad student, and Clarence 'Biff' Bangs, ex-pug, now a crime lab guard."
    Detective fiction tropes: The murder happens at a seance when the lights go out; setting a trap with the near certainty that it will draw the killer out.

(2) "Case of the Fake Photo" (8 pages):
    "Here is your chance to match wits with Detective Reis of the Homicide Squad, who realizes that though there may be many motives for a murder, only one is strong enough to bring a killer to action . . . the CASE OF THE FAKE PHOTO!"
    Detective fiction tropes: Sometimes during a murder a camera happens to snap a picture; feeding false information to the killer in order to set a trap.

(3) "Who Done It?" (cartoons: 1 page)

(4) "Blueprint for Death" (8 pages):
    "It wasn't gravity that threatened the new building ... the pressure was coming from a crafty schemer who engineered trouble — until he ran into the sleuthing of JIM BREWSTER ... and found a new rival who tracked down guilty blueprints and cancelled THE BLUEPRINT FOR DEATH!"
    Detective fiction trope: The sleuth adopts a disguise to overhear unguarded conversations.

(5) "Murder to Music" (text only: 2 pages):
    "Cover a murder with a murder—quite an idea . . ."
    Typo: "out of he way"

(6) "Death Joins the Party" (8 pages):
    "When a small-time hoodlum starts to spread out with an unsavory mixture of double-crossing and blackmail, he becomes a bad insurance risk, as Willie Brophy, alias Willie The Croaker, found out."
    Detective fiction trope: Paraphernalia associated with a given profession leads to the culprit.

(7) "The Red-Headed Vixen" (7 pages):
    "What looked like a routine suicide case turned out to be a three-way mystery for Detective Lt. Jim Kirnan and his assistant Chuck Ballantine."
    Detective fiction trope: An apparently irrelevant detail becomes the clue that solves the case.

Comments: The criminals in these stories usually come from only two social strata: the well-to-do and the working class, and they speak accordingly; still, the street thugs' patois is over-the-top stereotypical; for example: "Now where's he goin'? Duh rat! I'll get him if I hafta foller him all night."

- We previously dealt with another short-lived detective comic book series HERE.

The bottom line: "Like every criminal who thinks he's committed the perfect murder, you slipped up."
Detective Sergeant Barney O'Toole

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