Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sally The OTHER Sleuth

One of the precursors to the mainstream comic books were the brief comic features wedged between the gritty stories in pulp magazines of the 1930s. The most notorious of these comic strips was Sally The Sleuth in Spicy Detective Stories.

"Strip" was the operative word for Sally's adventures, which invariably meant villains tearing off her clothes, even to the point of leaving her bare-breasted.

Sally worked for some inattentive honcho called "The Chief". His sole function was to assign Sally cases where she would be subjected to bondage and other predicaments designed to generate fetish fuel. Then he would arrive with reinforcements in the last few panels to extricate her.

This lurid material was illustrated in a spartan style, with uncomplicated ink lines, as though the artist was in a great hurry. Perhaps the police were about to raid his studio.

But that's NOT the Sally I wish to... um... explore.

I'm concerned with a later, more modest incarnation of Sally The Sleuth, who appeared in all 15 issues of Trojan Publication's Crime Smashers.

Her comic book stories were expansive enough to establish her job status: assistant to a private investigator dubbed "The Chief". Her workload still involved getting into trouble, but nothing that would land her in the Adults Only section.

This Sally was far more resourceful than her pulp counterpart. She could readily infiltrate the Underworld and didn't necessarily require a last minute assist to get out of scrapes. She was also canny enough to solve murder mysteries on her own.

But her boss remained a bit of a jerk.

Unfortunately, the overall quality of both the writing and illustration in Crime Smashers was uninspired, with Sally's adventures being no exception. The two most recognizable artists associated with her feature were Adolphe Barreaux (A.K.A. Charles Barr) and Keats Pertree, both of whom were deeply involved in the pulp magazine industry and performed rendering chores on the original Sally strip. But the visuals in the comic book version of Sally were consistently unremarkable.

Taken from Crime Smashers number 5, this story is one of the more interesting ones. The Grand Comic Book Database attributes the penciling to Wally Wood, which I consider wildly improbable due to the weak quality of the finished piece. Unless Wood drew all seven pages while tied up inside a trunk.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jane Martin Flies Under The Radar

Of the various women featured in the Fiction House line of comics, two held the record for sheer endurance. The most obvious one was Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle, whose prominence in Jumbo Comics merited star treatment practically ever issue.. and eventually landed her in a book of her own. And a television series.

The other less prominent heroine lasted for well over 100 issues of Wing Comics... with nothing more than a passing mention in a caption on the front cover for publicity. Her name was Jane Martin and she managed quite nicely without the benefit of an animal skin wardrobe.

The secret to Jane's longevity was her flexible career path. During her 100-plus issue run, she switched jobs four separate times.

She started her working life as a war relief nurse in Wings number 1 (September 1940), ostensibly for the International Red Cross. Her non-combatant status in the early days of World War 2 was open to question, however, as her activities in the field favored the Allies over the Germans.

When America officially entered the war, she wasted no time shifting over to the position of U.S. Army Nurse, becoming a certified pilot in the bargain. Given the action-oriented venue of Wings, the stories of this particular nurse veered toward Nazi-bashing instead of health maintenance. Regardless of what the enemy was scheming, Jane found herself in the wrong place at the right time to thwart it.

After so many unintentional run-ins with Axis conspirators, Jane bowed to the inevitable by hanging up her nurse's uniform and jumping abruptly into Allied espionage work.

Following the war's end, Jane found employment as a sales representative for an aircraft company. Not an easy job, but she was never reduced to selling planes door-to-door. The work provided her with a string of opportunities for tangling with the criminal element before the entire premise began to wear thin.

The following story, from Wings number 103 (March 1949), occurs after Jane's last career switch. She finally settled for the all-too typical vocation of working women in comics at the time: plucky news reporter. True to the Wings motif, she maintained her status as pilot, frequent flier, and trouble-chaser.

For those who need additional incentives to read this vintage piece: it was rendered by the legendary E.C. artist George Evans and featured something that was a nascent technology in those days: television.

Want more? How about a dastardly enemy spy whose face reminds me of Spiro T. Agnew?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Slugs And Kisses From The Blonde Bomber

With the exception of Senorita Rio and Undercover Girl, none of the heroines that fascinated me seem to rate cover treatment in a comic book title. Their stories were often relegated to a place deep in the book. And their series were often short-lived.

One of the ladies who definitely received short shrift was The Blonde Bomber, a news photographer whose adventures popped up semi-regularly in The Green Hornet, from the Harvey comic line. She also made sporadic appearances in All-New and Speed Comics.

Her real name was Honey Blake and her work as a news agency camerawoman presented all sorts of opportunities for mayhem.

She earned the Blonde Bomber title from her aggressive habit of taking on troublemakers, frequently decking them with her fists. It was a welcome change of pace from other heroines of the period, who usually resorted to firearms, improvised weapons, or Judo throws to bring down an opponent.

For back-up, Honey relied on her partner, a rotund but stalwart technician named Jimmy Slapso. Their relationship was strictly Platonic... a partnership of mutual respect and support. If you can excuse Honey's occasional jibes about Slapso's weight.

This story is from Green Hornet number 22.

(Try to excuse the trite, Latinized dialogue provided to the folks from the Southern Hemisphere. The notion of ethnic sensitivity was barely a spot on the horizon during the 1940s.)

I've no clue regarding the artist and writer for this piece. A check with the Grand Comic-Book Database drew a blank.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hola, Senorita Rio

When AC Comics first introduced me to the concept of Good Girl Art with their fabulous Golden Age reprints, I was amazed by the variety of heroines that emerged during World War Two.

Not superheroines, mind you; not the women with incredible powers, striking costumes, and alter egos. My attention was drawn to those features where the female lead could right wrongs while fashionably dressed (and in various states of undress), depending on her own wits and resources. No need for a nick of time intervention by a muscular male (as was too often the case with a certain reporter named Lois).

These ladies embodied a special ideal for the American women during wartime: beautiful, capable, and self-reliant.

My early-on favorite was Senorita Rio, who debuted in Fight Comics no. 19 from Fiction House Publications. A versatile actress turned versatile spy, she looked after the strategic interests of Uncle Sam in Central and South America. The Latin regions were a hotbed of intrigue for Rio, full of exotic locations, esoteric cultures, shifting allegiances and Nazi conspiracies, replete with resources important to the Allied war effort.

Her debut was illustrated by a rising young talent named Nicholas Viscardi. After a remarkable stint in the U.S. Army during WW2, he returned to comics under the pen name of Nick Cardy, gaining recognition for a bevy of work during DC's Silver Age. Check out his website at www.nickcardy.com.

These images were downloaded from goldenagecomics.co.uk, and were likely copied from the gallery on Cardy's website. Admittedly, the resolution is less than prime, but an opportunity to show Rio's premiere is hard to pass up.

Especially when you see her in that red gown.
AC Comics reprinted a selection of Rio's stories, with background information and a new adventure, in a paperback titled 'Rio Rita'. (Sorry, but you'll have to find your own copy.)