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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Whitney Ellsworth.
There is a separate article on the Johnny Law tales that appeared in this magazine.
Big Town starred Steve Wilson, a talented newsman. Although Steve was the editor of the daily newspaper the Illustrated Press, he seemed to spend most of his time as a reporter, tracking down big stories. The tales took place in a city named Big Town, which was clearly a thinly fictionalized version of New York City. Big Town was a detective comic book.
Nearly all of the stories in Big Town had an element of crime. However, in many of the tales the crime element was fairly downplayed, with greater concentration on the life of a newspaperman, and the glamorous world of Big Town itself in the 1950's. Even in the pure detective tales, the creators were far more interested in the reporter detectives and their efforts to solve the case, than in the crooks.
Big Town was a popular radio program (1937-1951) and TV show (1950-1956). The comic book lasted a year and a half longer than the TV show, then folded. The phenomenon of a program existing in several different media forms - radio, TV, comics - is today called "convergence". Some pundits describe it as a feature of today's world, when most of the media are controlled by a few corporations. But in actual fact,, a large number of DC's pre-Silver Age comics of the earlier 1950's were based on TV programs. Even Superman was a TV series during much of the 1950's. I have no statistics on how profitable this was for DC. Were these TV-tie comic books lucrative? Or were they a desperate attempt by the comic book industry to keep afloat in tough times? These are questions for which I have no answer. By contrast, the Silver Age revival of super-heroes around 1958 led to comic books that were much more divorced in content from the rest of the mass media. Silver Age super-hero comics were largely a world unto themselves, utterly different from the TV shows and paperback books of their era.
Big Town was never noir. (The early "Steve Wilson's Manhunt" perhaps comes closest to noir.) During the Broome years, the tales were optimistic. This was not the smug optimism sometimes associated with the 1950's.
Big Town was among the most realistic of comic books. "Realism" is a loaded word, one with many meanings. Big Town focused on non-science fiction stories about honest people who lived in modern day New York City. It was partly in the tradition of such prose mystery story collections about typical New Yorkers as William MacHarg's The Affairs of O'Malley (collected 1940) and Ellery Queen's Q.B.I. (1950 - 1953). New York City itself was considered a fascinating subject in those days, and people wanted to read about the fascinating lives of people who lived there. These people did not have to be criminals or sleazy to be interesting; rather, readers wanted to know about the actual inhabitants of the city.
During its early issues (#1-13), Big Town was scripted by a huge variety of writers. Most of these pieces are not very good, although a few were excellent, especially the handful of scripts by France E. Herron and Robert Kanigher. From issue #14, many of the scripts were by John Broome, who had occasionally contributed scripts before; he eventually became the sole scriptwriter of the magazine. In #17, the magazine got its permanent artist, Manny Stallman.
The newspaper here eventually becomes what the tale refers to as an "underground newspaper". Since the 1970's in the United States, the term "underground newspaper" has referred to small, left-wing papers published as an alternative to the mainstream press. This tale uses an earlier, different meaning for the term: "underground newspaper" here refers to papers clandestinely published during World Word II by anti-Hitler resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe. This gives a political dimension to the story. The gang lord here is compared to Hitler, and the paper has to publish in secret against his dictatorial rule of the town.
This tale somewhat resembles the film The Underworld Story (1950). In both, a small town newspaper has to stand up against powerful, corrupt forces that want to shut it down. The comic book story is more violent, and the gangster in it goes to greater extremes to destroy the press. Both works also anticipate Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953), with its portrait of a small city under the thumb of gangland.
Such tales of the struggle of a newspaper against powerful town bosses were more common perhaps in Westerns. The great science fiction writer Clifford D. Simak wrote a pulp Western short story with this theme, "Trail City's Hot Lead Crusaders" (1944).
Phantom From the Past (1951). Writer: Dave Wood. Art: Dan Barry. Steve Wilson and the police try to discover how a now dead crook could commit so many robberies all over Big Town at nearly the same time. Ingenious puzzle plot mystery story. The plot reminds one a little of the mystery film The Mad Miss Manton (1937).
Steve Wilson's Manhunt (1951). Art: John Lehti. Enemies of deported gang boss Boxie Vincent are being killed. Broome's first story for Big Town is a mild but pleasant affair. Already, Broome is trying to set his stories at Big Town institutions, including the first appearance of the Grand Hotel. Otherwise, this minor story is more of a thriller and less of a detective story, unlike Broome's best subsequent work on the comic.
The final fight (the splash and pages 9, 10) takes place in a favorite comic book locale: a museum-style exhibit (actually, it's in an armory rather than a museum). There is an affinity between comic books and exhibits: both tell a story with a mix of images and words.
The finale (bottom of page 10) shows a not uncommon scene at the end of comic book stories: the crooks bow their heads in shame, as they are arraigned before a huge high desk at police headquarters. This concisely symbolizes bad guys being brought to justice.
SYMBOLISM. The exhibit shown on the splash, is a riot of phallic symbol objects. Both the hero Steve Wilson and the villain are linked to phallic machinery. And Syeve carries a metal flashlight. But when the story reaches the exhibit again near the end, only Steve is linked to phallic objects - the villain is not. Not surprisingly, Steve handily defeats the villain.
Earlier the scene with the firefighters is also phallic suffused, including ladders and a fire hose jetting water (page 6).
The policeman's pencil is also phallic (middle row of page 3).
ART. John Lehti has excellent panels, showing events from a high, overhead point of view (pages 3, 4, 5, 6, 8). Many of these panels are inventively detailed, often showing a broad expanse of some locale. These overhead panels are among the best features of the tale.
Especially good are overhead views of the paired roofs (pages 4, 5, 6). And overhead views of traffic (pages 3, 8). Both give a map-like depiction of their locales. The view of Steve's office is also dramatic (page 4).
UNIFORMS. The police have dressy, authority figure uniforms (pages 3, bottom left panel of 6, 9). These include white dress shirts and dark ties. The uniforms epitomize class. They are almost less like uniforms than good suits.
The peaked police caps are especially sharp. But these caps are uniform-like to the nth degree, unlike the rest of the uniforms. Oddly, this makes them all the more effective, as a note of uniformed swagger in the police outfits.
The police in "Steve Wilson's Manhunt" rarely do anything. Instead, they stand around looking perfectly groomed and uniformed, while other men do things: the scared witness (page 3), the firefighters (page 6), the hero about to enter the exhibit and fight the bad guy (page 9).
By contrast, the firefighters (page 6) both look terrific in their uniforms, and actually work hard to extinguish the blaze.
Badge of Courage (1951). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: John Lehti. Steve and the officer's kid brother go after crooks who killed a young police officer.
POLICE ACADEMY AND MOTORCYCLES. The police are a center of interest in Kanigher's story, unlike most of Broome's tales, where they play a supporting role to Steve Wilson and other newspaper people. Even os, during the finale Steve and his friends capture the bad guys on their own, without help from the police.
Part of this story takes place at the Police Academy of Big Town (pages 4 - 6). In this, it resembles such Hollywood films as Terry Morse's Tear Gas Squad (1940), William Keighley's The Street With No Name (1948) and Fred Wilcox's Code Two (1953). All of these are crime films in Hollywood's Semi-Documentary Crime Film tradition.
Kanigher's fascination with motorcycles shows up, with an emphasis on precision motorcycle riding of the police cadets (page 4). The muscular cadets are uniformed with sweatshirts marked "P. A.", for Police Academy. These handsome guys are in the tradition of other Kanigher heroes:
A couple of hoods are identically dressed, right down to the same flashy suits (pages 2, 3). In their clothes they too exhibit a kind of uniformed precision, like the police cadets.
OVERHEAD PANELS. John Lehti mainly did not use the steep overhead panels that sometimes appear in his work. But there are mildly overhead panels:
The Hermit of Big Town (1952). Writer: Lee Goldsmith. Art: John Lehti. Based on a cover by: Alex Toth. A well know Big Town character, a bearded figure who dresses like a traditional hermit, gets involved in a mystery plot.
This is one of many Big Town stories that has an intriguing locale, one associated with the wonders of New York City. The tale's second half takes place in a huge theatrical warehouse, full of left over sets from plays. The warehouse virtually forms a "miniature city within a building". Such man made miniature cities would play a role in later Broome Big Town stories as "Crime Goes to the Fair" (1954) and the exposition tales, "Passkey to Big Town" (1957) and "Theft of the Billion-Carat Diamond" (1957).
Old Newsmen Never Die (1952). Art: John Lehti. Ned Clayton, a gifted former reporter now living in the Old Newsmen's Home in the town of Oakdale, helps Steve Wilson investigate a story in that town. Broome liked to begin his Big Town stories with Steve Wilson's involvement with some institution: here it is the Old Newsmen's Home, which he helped found. The story goes to other major local institutions in Oakdale as well, forming almost a group portrait of that community. Just as the Big Town stories cumulatively form a portrait of New York City, so does this tale do the same thing in miniature for a small town.
Broome wrote many tales about young people trying to find a place for themselves in a world that was indifferent to their talents. He also wrote a few stories about old people with the same problem. This involving story anticipates Broome's stories about the veteran Shakespearean actor Dexter Miles: "Mystery of the Matinee Idol" (Flash #138, August 1963) and "Gangster Masquerade" (Flash #154, August 1955). Both Ned Clayton and Dexter Miles are people who were once outstanding members of their profession, but who have now been put out to pasture. Both are fondly remembered by a few intelligent members of the next generation, but neither has a job or any professional status. Both are still obviously loaded with talent, intellectual skills that can and should be put to real use.
One might note that "Mystery of the Matinee Idol" is also set in a small town, and that it too provides a portrait of this whole community. Broome's imagination seemed to work in "suites of ideas". While there is no apparent necessary connection between the concepts of "old members of a profession looking for work" and "portraits of a small town", the two concepts seem to be linked together in Broome's creative imagination. Such suites of ideas are also discussed in the article on Broome's Captain Comet tale, "The Invaders From the Golden Atom" (Strange Adventures #37, October 1953), a work which contains a series of apparently disconnected ideas that return in Broome's early Green Lantern tales.
Broome was also deeply concerned with the rejected in society, writing major pieces about refugees and woman's lib. Broome always adopts a systematic approach: this story deals with society's treatment of the old as a group, not one individual's isolated case.
DETECTION. This story has some detective work. Most important: the financial facts and figures collected by Ned Clayton. Here and in "The Crime Patrol" (1954), Broome stressed that reporting involved collecting in-depth data on a subject. This is an intellectual approach, one that shows deep respect for thinking and study. Such pro-mind attitudes were omnipresent in Silver Age DC comics.
Mystery at the Big Town Zoo (1952). Art: John Lehti. Steve investigates why someone is trying to destroy the gorilla's cage at the Zoo. It had to happen, because this was a DC comic book of the 1950's: somebody had to put a gorilla on the cover! Gorillas on the cover apparently increased comic book sales. The Big Town cover shows a ferocious gorilla escaping from its cage, while Steve is sleuthing at the zoo. Broome subverts this cover in his actual story. While the gorilla in his tale, named Africa, is indeed mighty, he is a sympathetic character, and never escapes from his cage.
This is a fairly minor, if likable and good natured story. It shows Broome's fondness for gorillas, which will repeatedly show up in his later work.
The tale does not attempt to convey the feel of the zoo as a whole; it is less oriented to Big Town institutions than many other Broome stories.
PUBLISHER. This is one of the earliest stories in which the Illustrated Press' publisher McGrath is named (page 1). The publisher had appeared unnamed in Robert Kanigher's "Stand-In for Murder" in the previous issue.
McGrath is always a sympathetic character. He is Steve's boss, but treats Steve respectfully.
McGrath seems like a traditional looking figure of wealth and power. He is somewhat slow moving and dignified, in contrast with Steve's energy and dynamic talent. I've always suspected that McGrath was born to wealth and social position, unlike Steve: he seems to be a representative of the traditional upper classes. This is not actually stated anywhere in the stories. Rather, it is an impression one gets from the traditional way in which McGrath is dressed, and the way he talks. Upper class figures used to look stuffy and tradition oriented, wearing a lot of three piece suits. McGrath fits in this mold, although he seems decent as well.
The Cartoon Crimes (1953). Writer: Dave Wood. Art: Manny Stallman. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. Comic strip creator Ben Eddy is good at crime plots, which gets him captured by a gang. Modest but pleasant little tale. Comics fans will enjoy its comics-strip-within-a-comic-book premise and recursive structure.
This story has a comedy feel or subtext. It doesn't try to be funny, but it is light-hearted. Nobody is killed or even hurt. While the mobsters are never depicted sympathetically, Big Frank and his men are seen as comedy characters. They are menacing. But also naive.
PLOT. The story has some decent crime plotting. This too will keep reader interest.
The bad guys have a nice location for a hide-out.
SEMI-DOCUMENTARY. "The Perfect Crime Club" recalls some of the Semi-Documentary Crime Films of the period, such as William Keighley's The Street With No Name (1948). Steve winds up undercover in a mob organization, just as in the plot of this and many other semi-doc films. The arcade scene here recalls the one in Street. The cement and construction site finale is perhaps Broome's equivalent of the industrial finales of the semi-docs, although this is perhaps stretching it: the finale of Broome's story is quite different from anything I've seen in a film.
STORY. Broome includes an unusually wide variety of Illustrated Press employees here; such reporters would eventually become regular guest stars in the tales. He also continues the treatment of the underworld as a place, centered on the Grand Hotel, begun in the previous issue with "The Crime Nobody Saw" (1952).
ART. This issue (#17) marks Manny Stallman's debut on interior art for Big Town. He would do the interior art for all the Big Town stories from this time forward. He would not do many covers, which were typically by Gil Kane, or the non-Big Town features in the comic book, such as the series of Johnny Law tales.
Stallman began with a bang. The art is especially rich in #17, as if Stallman were pulling out all the stops, trying to make a good impression with his debut issue. Stallman especially tried to depict the Illustrated Press building. This is the locale of Steve Wilson's operations. Its appearance had been a bit vague in preceding issues. Stallman comes up with a modern, classy look for the building. It is prosperous and looks up to date, without being ostentatious. This story shows the exterior of the building (page 3) and the fancy lobby (page 2), as well as editor Steve Wilson's office, filled with file cabinets and multi-paned windows (page 2). (File cabinets stored mountains of paper in those pre-computerized days.)
The exterior entrance has a vaguely Art Deco feel. It reminds one somewhat of the famous real life Deco entrance of the Daily News - although this comparison is a stretch.
By 1952, prosperity had come back to America, after the Depression and World War II. People were proud of their flourishing institutions, and many 1950's buildings exuded an aura of financial confidence. The Illustrated Press building is in this tradition. It suggests that the Press is a going concern, full of dynamism and energy, an important part of the life of the city. This is different from many press rooms shown in 1950's noir films, which tended to suggest that the press was hanging out in old dilapidated buildings and using office furniture that had been around since 1922.
I Was an Eyewitness to Murder (1952). Based on a cover by: Manny Stallman. A troubled reporter accidentally witnesses a mob shooting, then becomes a target himself.
The tale immediately following, "I Was an Eyewitness to Murder", shows the upper part of the Illustrated Press building (page 6). It is a typical New York skyscraper. It is constructed using the Deco "Rule of Threes", with a center taller portion flanked on either side by building parts that do not reach such a high level. It is an attractive skyscraper. It links the Illustrated Press with a characteristic type of New York City architecture, one that has long been associated with the dynamism of that great city. Once again, the Illustrated Press building is not the tallest or most imposing structure in the city. Instead it was one great skyscraper among many. It is part of a whole way of life.
There is a memorable encounter with a motorcycle and sidecar (page 4).
Reporter for a Day (1952). Rewrite man Ted "Ollie" Oliver gets his first chance to accompany Steve on a reporter's assignment. This is one of the earliest Broome tales in which a character holding one of the typical jobs on a newspaper plays a part. It is somewhat different from the ones to come, in that Ollie's rewrite job plays no role in the story; usually these jobs play a key role in the plot. Another difference: Ollie is treated as a comic figure, whereas Broome usually treats such men seriously. Such stories give readers an inside look at the operation of a newspaper.
Broome likes large engineering and construction projects in his Big Town stories. The tenements are an example of this. And while no construction is currently going on at the river region, it too has a feel of a complexly constructed area (pages 6-8). It offers an inventive, even surrealistic, locale. Such stories take the reader to innovative urban "landscapes". Stallman already excels at this early date at illustrating such panoramas.
HEIGHTS. Both the tenements and the river region take Steve Wilson into heights. This is one of several 1952 Big Town tales to look at high rise areas: see also "Old Newsmen Never Die" (1952) and "The Crime Nobody Saw" (1952).
The association of height with thrills was common in the Hollywood Semi-Documentary Crime Films of the period, several of which have finales in high elevation industrial areas. See Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948), Raoul Walsh's White Heat (1949) and Richard Fleischer's Follow Me Quietly (1949).
There is also something personal about Broome's use of such elevated locations. They are more common in the early stages of Broome's stories than in the finales, unlike Hollywood films. They tend to have the aspect of a "visit to an interesting part of the big city", in common with many other locations in Big Town tales. They tend to invoke adventure more than terror.
ART. Stallman continues his definition of the look of the Illustrated Press building here. We see an interior lobby, through floor to ceiling glass doors and walls (page 2). Such glass doors were still new and unfamiliar to most Americans at the time, a symbol of modernity and sophistication. We also see rows of large circular lights on the ceiling. These circles help Stallman generate geometrical patterns. Stallman's art often geometrized buildings. He loved to turn exterior facades into regular arrays of windows, and to balance one rectangular shaped building with another, building up a composition. Such geometrical patterns also conveyed a feel for urban life, the modern city as an enthusiastic series of rectilinear, geometric patterns.
The river landscape (page 6) is unusual. In addition to its other strange qualities, Stallman uses "single source lighting", a single bright light shining on every object in the landscape, and being the sole source of light. This causes objects to throw sharp shadows, which Stallman uses as part of his compositions. It also gives all of the objects in the landscape a distinctive modeling and look.
The Secret of the Stolen Statuettes (1955). When Steve Wilson is about to be inducted into the Galley of Fame, the statuette honoring him is stolen. This tale contains an inoffensive but tired and much used mystery plot.
ART. The tale is most interesting for Manny Stallman's art.
This story is in the tradition of earlier Stallman tales depicting the Illustrated Press building. One scene shows two floors of offices at the Illustrated Press (page 5). We see into these two floors from outside, seeing the events through large glass windows. This shows Stallman's gift for architecture, offering a panoramic view of the offices.
The tale includes one of his best cityscapes, an aerial view depicting many buildings (page 7).
Broome was a prolific writer of science fiction comic books. It was natural that he would use science fiction themes, even in a realistic comic like Big Town. These stories fall into three categories: 1) science fiction mysteries, in which apparently science fictional events are given natural explanation; 2) weird menace tales, in which apparent "strange powers" are given natural explanations; 3) stories which speculate about what the future of Big Town might be like.
The Amazing Mr. Presto (1955).At the Press Club Ball, the magician Mr. Presto entertaining the attendees causes McGrath, the publisher of the Illustrated Press, to disappear - apparently permanently!
This story resembles the weird menace tales in that the person with the apparent powers has no idea what is going on. Mr. Presto seems just as baffled as anybody else when his disappearing act suddenly turns permanent. The magic act here also resembles the final story Broome (or anybody else) wrote for the Justice Society of America, "The Mystery of the Vanishing Detectives" (All Star Comics #57, February-March 1951).
The Press Club Ball is a glamorous event. It is in the Big Town tradition of showing exciting, positive events linked to life in New York City. We get to see Steve Wilson in clothes here other than his usual suit. These include a fancy comic opera uniform for the costume ball, and his tuxedo. Tuxedos were very big in the comic books; they allowed the artists to show the heroes in something other than their conventional clothes.
While most comic books gain continuing characters over the years, Big Town lost them. This story marks the next-to-last appearance of McGrath, the publisher of the Illustrated Press; he will show up again briefly years later. Later, #39 will have the last appearances of Lorelei Kilbourne, a much more important character who appeared in most of the previous stories. She will simply disappear without a trace, having no more part in subsequent issues. Her character had been dropped in 1955 from the TV show; perhaps her disappearance in the comics reflects this.
Mystery of the Moon Man (1957). Steve tries to prove that a "Moon Man" exhibited by a promoter is a hoax. This story is rich in scientific detail. It has a point counterpoint construction. Steve will propose some question about the Moon; the alleged Moon Man will give a scientifically satisfactory answer.
Manny Stallman has good New York atmosphere in this tale. Much of the story takes place at an auditorium where the Moon Man is exhibited, called Central Hall. It looks as if it is modeled after a real New York concert hall location. Stallman also does a good job illustrating a city on the Moon (p4). This shows complex circular walkways, held up by repeating, angular flanges. It is an unusual, unique effect.
The Amazing Crime Camera (1953). Ted Seaton, an aspiring young photographer trying to get a job at the Illustrated Press, suddenly finds that wherever he goes he encounters a breaking crime in progress. Well done mystery story.
During the 1930's Weird Menace tales were popular in the pulp magazines. These were mystery stories about apparently supernatural events, that were eventually revealed to have completely natural explanations. Such stories form a subgenre of the impossible crime tale. Broome wrote several such stories for Big Town. His tales usually focused on a reporter who mysteriously seems to have developed psychic ability. The reporter himself has no idea what is causing this apparent ability, and is as mystified as everyone else.
The Big Town tales anticipate the Weird Menace stories that appeared in the Superman family during the Silver Age, especially two classic tales written by Robert Bernstein, "Lois Lane's Kiss of Death" (Lois Lane #7, February 1959) and "MC of the Midnight Scare Theater" (Jimmy Olsen #38, July 1959). Bernstein's tales are original in all their details, but they have the same format of "reporter mysteriously developing alleged psychic powers". Gardner Fox wrote a number of 1960's weird menace tales for the Atom, but they had a different approach.
The Prophet of Doom (1955). Wilbur Whipple, the young reporter assigned to the paper's horoscope column, suddenly finds that the wild predictions he is making up for the column are coming true.
There is nothing in this tale that promotes astrology. Wilbur is just making up his predictions out of whole cloth. Comics rarely mentioned astrology at all. Later Silver Age stories like this one tended to expose phony fortune-tellers and mediums instead.
Broome managed to get nearly every department of a modern newspaper into one of his stories. As in this tale, we usually meet the reporter in charge of the column or feature.
There is lots of New York City atmosphere in this tale as well, including a version of Central Park, here called "Mid-Town Park". Broome liked to work the word "Town" into many of his made-up names. Later, in Broome's stories for The Flash, "Central City Park" will play a major role in the tales. Broome choose a park to symbolize the city, instead of a building. Such a location has always seemed revealing of Broome's attitude towards life in the city. The park is a meeting place where people can gather, anywhere from a couple to a large crowd. It is also full of nature.
The Dreams That Baffled Big Town (1957). New crime reporter Cary Naylor tells Steve Wilson that his dreams can foretell major crime stories that are about to break. This story is different from other Big Town tales about reporters with apparent psychic abilities, in that it lets us in almost immediately on the true explanation of events. While earlier stories had the form of mystery tales, with their explanation coming at the end, this one is more like the "inverted" detective stories developed by R. Austin Freeman. Here we see what crooks are doing right away, and watch as the good guys try to figure it out.
Beware the Man in Black (#43, January-February 1957). The latest rage in Big Town is Harkness Smith, a "cyclogist" who claims to be able to predict people's lives based on cycles in them. Other Big Town tales had shown skepticism about psychic phenomena, often working such events into weird menace mysteries. There is no weird menace plot in this story, unfortunately. But it does offer a vivid sociological portrait of what happens when a new pseudo-scientific gimmick becomes fashionable. Broome also shows ingenuity in coming up with Smith's ideas on "cycles". These are both ingenious in their own right, and exactly similar to the sort of pseudo-science that sometimes becomes a rage.
Harkness Smith is in the Broome tradition of men whose strange skills make them rise from obscurity into being rich and famous celebrities. Usually these men are villains, and Harkness Smith is no exception.
This is the prototype of a series of tales about objects or animals that help the Illustrated Press reporters cover stories. As in many of the other tales, it shows the "birth" of the helper: its first arrival at the newspaper, before moving on to other episodes.
Last Stop -- Murder (1953). Writer: France E. Herron. Streetcar conductor Matt Farragut, who is retired when Big Town's streetcars are replaced by busses, becomes innocently involved in a crime. This is not a helper tale, strictly speaking, but it relates to their concern with objects. Herron's "The Prisoner of Space X" (Strange Adventures #78, March 1957) had shown imagination in translating modern day ideas about sea travel to outer space travel of the future; and his "The Flying City Room" (1951) involved the Illustrated Press with air planes. Here he deals creatively with another means of transportation, the streetcar. A fondness for traditions of all sorts permeates this story.
Herron's "The Immortality Seekers" (Strange Adventures #157, October 1963) dealt with clues that were embedded in the surface of the Earth. This story deals similarly with clues involved in arranging a model landscape. Many of Herron's stories involve changes to the surface of the planet; it is not surprising that he is also interested in models.
Million Dollar Typewriter (1953). Writer: Dave Wood. When a man wants to put Steve Wilson's old typewriter into the newspaper Hall of Fame, flashbacks reveal the many stories in which it was involved.
The Four Wheeled Newspaperman (1956). A story told from the point of view of Steve Wilson's car, the one he uses for his exciting news cases. This is a sort of science fiction or fantasy tale, showing us what it might be like if cars could think and feel. Its sentimentality is typical of an era when most people literally loved their cars, and buying a car was the central purchase of many people's lives. The story has the same sort of anthology construction as "Million Dollar Typewriter" (1953), showing different cases on which the car was involved. Its structure was perhaps inspired by the earlier tale.
Comics are a medium full of possibilities. An inanimate object like a car can come alive, and suddenly think and feel. Charles Schultz used to show the thoughts of the school building in Peanuts, and Otto Binder narrated a series of stories from the point of view of a Kryptonite meteor, beginning with "Tales of Green Kryptonite: No. 1" (Superman #173, November 1964). Both of these examples post-date Broome's tale.
Broome expressed a similar fondness for an old rocket ship in "Glory Ride to Pluto" (Mystery in Space #59, May 1960). The needs of the car here are the same as the needs of Broome's human protagonists. It is looking to find its place in the world, through its career; and it is looking for friendship, here with Steve Wilson. The close relationship between Steve and his car is similar to the tales of friendship, in which Steve bonds with other guys. No gender is assigned to the car in the tale. It somehow seems masculine, although this is hard to establish clearly.
The Amazing Newshound of the Illustrated Press (1957). An abandoned dog named Pepper helps Steve Wilson with his reporting. Later that year, Broome would give Hopalong Cassidy a similar stray to help him with his sheriff work in "The Canine Sheriff of Twin Rivers" (Hopalong Cassidy #126, November-December 1957). The Pepper tale is more appealing than the later version.
This story shows Broome's fondness for detection. The tale is not an anthology of anecdotes. Instead, most of it is a logically unfolding detection of a mystery.
Broome wrote four stories about the Court of Final Appeal. It is the closest thing to a continuing series of tales in Big Town. However, even here these tales lack the features of other comic book series by other authors. Aside from Steve, there are no continuing characters linking the tales. There are no continuing settings, either. And the plots of the tales are all independent. This means that these tales are hardly a "series" in any meaningful sense of the word. The Court stories tend to be fairly minor among the Big Town tales. Others in the series include "The Case of the Unlucky Winner" (#23, September-October 1953) in the next issue, about a gambling club disguised as a racquetball gym, and "The Man Who Cheated Death" (#26, March-April 1954), about a Houdini-like escape artist. The Court tales tend to have fairly raffish surroundings, often dealing with the fringes of the entertainment world.
Manny Stallman has one of his best cityscapes in this tale (p5). It shows the huge skyscrapers of a city street at the ground level, showing their ornate, elaborate entrances. The cityscape especially reminds one of downtown Chicago, and some of the great buildings along Michigan Avenue.
The 3-Ring Murder Case (1954). The Court of Final Appeal investigates murder at the circus. The last of the Court of Final Appeal tales, appearing exactly one year after the first, "The Impossible Alibi". The mystery plot here is arbitrary and full of holes, but it is hard to resist the charm of a circus case. The story resembles a Golden Age mystery novel or 1930's movie whodunit, with a crime that takes place after a mysterious blackout, and lots of suspects hanging around the murder scene. Broome's other comic book, The Adventures of Rex, also had a circus theme on its cover at the same time (Rex #16, July-August 1954).
Broome liked flashbacks, and he includes a flashback within a flashback here. Broome used a similar nested flashback structure in "The Speed of Doom" (Flash #108, August-September 1959).
We learn here that the Court meets in a "hotel suite high above Big Town". Broome loved hotel scenes, and frequently included them. They help give big city color to his tales. Many of his characters, including Steve Wilson, live in residential hotels. His more working class characters tend to live in boarding houses or rooming houses.
Stallman includes some of his trademark aerial views: a cityscape filled with stepped skyscrapers (p2), the circus ring and much background (p4), and corridors containing the dressing rooms (p5). This last shot shows Stallman's flair for rectilinear architecture, with box like dressing rooms and corridors seen from above, like elements of a maze.
Trapeze artist Harlow Somers wears an emblem on the chest of his circus outfit. Such chest devices were popular in the science fiction comics. This story offers a rare opportunity for the artist to work such an emblem into a realistic 20th Century costume. Stallman would be inventive with chest emblems in his sf tale "Space Scoop - 2159 A.D." (Strange Adventures #105, June 1959), a tale about two rival newsmen of the future.
The Billion Dollar Captive (1954). Steve tries to get an interview with the Maharajah of Lhumbar, one of the world's richest men, when he visits Big Town.
This story is notable for its vivid, upbeat characterizations. Broome was a pioneer in including dignified non-European characters in his comic book tales. The Maharajah is an early example of this, dating from near the beginning of the Civil Rights era. There is a long tradition of comic mystery stories involving visiting royalty in the mystery pulp magazines. See Carl McK. Saunders' "The Wax Witness" (1933), for example. As in Saunders' story, the royalty turns out to be good-natured and with more of a common touch than one might expect. Also good as a character is Hobart H. Humber, the official City Greeter of Big Town. Broome liked to include this sort of colorful institution in his stories. Humber's name reminds one of the real life Hubert H. Humphrey, then beginning a rise in politics that would later make him Vice President of the United States. However, Humber's personality is very different from that of the jovial and idealistic Humphrey.
The story opens at Big Town's Press Club, an organization that recurs in a number of tales. Steve Wilson was definitely a joiner. One suspects that this is partly so that Broome can include such institutions in his plots. But it also helps characterize Steve Wilson. It also suggests that life in the big city helps one meet many interesting people.
Stallman includes two outstanding aerial views. One at the airport (p3) combines polygonal buildings with circular railed fields in which the passengers wait. Stallman's compositions often include both a complex linear background with a few prominent circular arcs. The arcs stand out, and form the visually pleasing center of the composition. The same page shows airport exits, which are circular arched holes in a rectilinear wall, another fine example of this style of Stallman composition.
Also notable: an aerial view of the countryside (p4). Such country views often contain curving roads, as well as houses and trees, all seen in miniature from above. They look like the diagrammatic landscapes one might find as a background to a set of model trains. They are always fun to look at, and combine the best features of a map and an aerial overhead landscape.
Steve Wilson's Night Beat (1954). Steve is a guest lecturer in the evening class at Big Town University taught by Lorelei Kilbourne. Steve will later teach a whole journalism course of his own at the same school in "Underground Trail of Peril" (#46, July-August 1957).
The plot here about undergrad Kenneth Mitchell is in the tradition of other Broome characters who are trying to find their place in life. Mitchell has given up more than other Broome characters - he is in the lost stage, without having figured anything out.
The bonding between Steve and Kenneth anticipates the stories about male friendship Broome would write in The Flash. We get a window into Steve's feelings here.
Unless I'm greatly mistaken, the trees on the beautiful University campus look like palms. This would place Big Town in the same latitudes as Los Angeles or Miami. This is in contradiction to nearly all other Big Town stories, which depict it as a fictionalized version of New York City. Perhaps I'm just not reading Stallman's vegetation right.
The campus here is very beautiful, with modern looking buildings and gorgeous landscaping. Stallman includes an overhead view of the campus (p2), and a close up view of one of the buildings (p8). There is also a good nocturnal landscape of a mansion (p3), with its grounds and a curving road. Stallman liked curving paths and roads in his tales. These overhead views of landscapes look like maps or models, such as one would use for model trains.
Mystery of the Millionaire G.I. (1955). When ex-Captain Steve Wilson has a ten year reunion with his Marine Corps buddies, one of them is kidnapped by bad guys. This story relates to several of Broome's themes. It depicts male bonding in its portrait of the friendship among Steve and the other ex-Marines. And the kidnapped friend comments on the success fantasies that often grip Broome's characters. One part of the story depicts the wonders of New York.
Broome often wrote sf stories about worlds ruled by sinister dictatorships: see his Qward stories in Green Lantern. This story deals with a comic variation on this: a zany look at the criminal underworld. This is a whole miniature "society" ruled by criminals, a pocket version of the serious criminal worlds in his sf. This story also burlesques the many benevolent expositions that will appear in later Big Town tales, such as "Passkey to Big Town" (1957) and "Theft of the Billion-Carat Diamond" (1957). Everybody in Big Town wants to take part in large public institutions. Why shouldn't crooks? Broome will later develop other comic tales about people who support the underworld, such as his Paul Gambi story, "The Mystery of Flash's Third Identity" (Flash #141, December 1963). Flash also goes undercover in that tale, just as Steve does in this.
Carnival stories in Broome seem to take place underground. The basement scenes here resemble the maze of corridors containing dressing rooms underneath the circus in "The 3-Ring Murder Case" (1954).
The Jackpot of Crime (1954). Top thieves compete to prey on Big Town. This story resembles "Crime Goes to the Fair" (1954), in its exuberant party atmosphere. Both stories are jeux d'espirits, in which normal social institutions are changed into criminal variations. Both stories get plenty of tongue in cheek comedy out of this, as well as light hearted thrills and suspense sequences. There are precedents for this. Louis Feuillade's movie serial Les Vampires (1915-1916) often showed its crook gangs having fun the way normal people do, although their games were far less formally organized than these tales. The fact that Broome depicts Big Town's underworld as a neighborhood of the city, suggests that it is its own separate world, one that mirrors in a bizarre way the world of normal people.
Stallman does a good job with his depiction of the police in the Riot Squad at the end of the tale. These men go after large gangs of disorderly crooks - they do not target civilians.
Mystery of the Invisible Mansion (1956). Steve Wilson discovers a mysterious mansion hidden deep in the woods.
Titles in Big Town often had a science fictional feel, even though almost all the stories were strictly realistic. The house in this tale is very well hidden, but it is not actually invisible.
This story has a poetic quality. It describes:
Stallman does a good job drawing the trees in the countryside. The trees here recall some good Stallman art in a tale with a weak script, "Club of Condemned Men" (#19, January-February 1953). That tale's splash panel shows some intricately designed vines growing over tree branches. The vines are twisted into complex curves. They make beautiful patterns. The vines recur later in the story (pages 7, 8).
This is the first Broome tale in Big Town to deal with doubles and impersonations. As is often in such tales, Broome comes up with later plot developments that "reverse the direction" of the previous doubling or impersonation. These are often quite ingenious. They also fully exploit the plot potentials of the central situation of the story. Such a full development of a situation's possibilities was a cultural ideal in the comics. The comics were strongly plot oriented. And anything that could be done to maximize a plot, or make it fuller or richer, was considered highly desirable.
The direction reversals also have dramatic value. They suggest that "turnabout is fair play", or that "two can play at that game". They have the effect of a counter-plot being set in motion after the initial impersonation plot of a tale. Such counter-plots have something of the effect of counterpoint in music, or a new contrasting theme being introduced. They are definitely structural underpinnings of a story.
This is another example of a science fiction title being applied to a non-sf story. One suspects that Broome's imagination often ran along sf lines.
The red hair and odd job advertisement here recall Doyle's "The Red-Headed League" (1891). Other elements recall Rex Stout's "Help Wanted, Male" (1945).
Appointment With Death (1953). A crook who mysteriously escaped from prison threatens Steve's life. Inventive mystery tale. This story falls into the tales of actors and doubles. As in the later tales, Broome lays down a pleasantly complex plot here. Despite the similar titles, this story has nothing in common with Agatha Christie's prose mystery novel Appointment With Death (1938).
The tale goes to many locations, including the prison scenes that would be so familiar in Broome's later stories for The Flash. Broome seems fascinated with crooks escaping from prison. The escapes are always non-violent, and involve just one man: they are not the mass prison break-outs familiar from the movies. In the stories about Flash's Rogue Gallery, the escapes tend to be sf-based, involving that crook's specialty, but this story is purely realistic. In the Flash stories, Flash keeps throwing the series villains in jail, and they escape at the start of every new appearance. One might be tempted to argue that such escapes are purely functional: after all, the crook has to get out of jail before he can battle the Flash. But this story about a non-series crook proves that Broome was interested in writing stories about prison escapes for their own sake.
Broome's prisons tend to be "typical" state penitentiaries. He is not interested in high tech or avant-garde prisons. Here he winds up in the prison kitchen. This is perhaps related to all the restaurant, banquet and boarding house scenes in Broome. His characters rarely eat at home: they are always eating in some public place. This gives them a chance to socialize with each other. It also allows for romantic scenes between couples, that are yet entirely respectable, and suitable for the kids who read comics.
Steve's publisher J.J. McGrath gets his initials here for the first time. The fact that he is Steve's boss is also first established here, although perhaps that has always been implicit in the publisher-editor relationship. As far as I can tell, McGrath was invented for the comic book; he does not seem to have been a character on the radio or TV show - at least, reference books do not list him.
The Man Who Stole Steve Wilson's Face (1956). Based on a cover by Gil Kane. As part of a crime scheme, a gang leader kidnaps Steve Wilson, then impersonates him by disguising himself to look exactly like Steve.
Johnny Star is a reformed safecracker here. Steve Wilson goes to bat for him when is accused of a crime, just as the Flash will for the reformed Mr. Element in "The Mightiest Punch of All Time" (Flash #153, June 1965). Hopalong Cassidy will also stick up for a friend he believes innocent in "Trail of the Telltale Clues" (Hopalong Cassidy #126, November-December 1957).
Steve's attempts to walk on stilts anticipate similar scenes in "Captives of the Cosmic Ray" (Flash #131, September 1962), where the Flash learns to walk on his hands. The Big Town story invokes Steve's childhood at this point, when he was fairly proficient at stilts, while the Flash tale states that the Flash has never done this at all. In both cases, these are kinds of walking associated with childhood fun.
In this tale, and other Big Town stories such as "Masked Monarch of the Underworld", the underworld is a location in Big Town. Most people regard the criminal underworld as a collection of criminals and illegal businesses, not a geographical location. But in the Big Town comic, the underworld seems to be an actual neighborhood, full of sinister hotels and dark alleys. It is full of crooks, all of whom like to hang out in the same restaurants.
The Casebook of Unsolved Mysteries (1956). Panelists on a TV show moderated by Steve Wilson called "The Casebook of Unsolved Mysteries" try to solve a mysterious bank vault robbery.
This story resembles "The Impossible Alibi" (1953). In both, Steve is a member of a prominent institution made up of crime experts, who re-examine and try to solve old mystery cases. In both, the institution itself is fascinating. Details about it furnish the opening of the story. Big Town often focused on "admirable things about America". It showed its readers the wonders of New York City, and life in a great metropolis. Institutions like these are part of the life of an advanced civilization. The young readers of the magazine could learn about exciting aspects of modern life.
The villain embodies some Broome traditions:
The publisher is in a nice triangular office building (page 5), a bit like the real life Flatiron Building in Manhattan.
Steve Wilson's Last Deadline (1956). Struggling actor Harding Ames is hired to play Steve Wilson on TV; to gain experience for the role, he impersonates Steve on an actual case. When made up, Harding Ames looks exactly like Wilson; this is one of several tales in Big Town involving doubles who impersonate people, especially Steve. This story is one of the most complex of them.
Steve's actions and Harding Ames' actions form virtually two worlds of parallel reality here. Both look like Steve Wilson, and the story plays ingeniously off this. Both the actions and the appearance of the two men are nearly identical, and this leads to similar effects as those in a parallel worlds tale, without there being any science fiction aspects to this story. The two men's actions are off by a fixed time period. In this they resemble the copy of Central City that is displaced in time by one hour from the real Central City in Broome's "The Man Who Stole Central City" (Flash #116, November 1960). At the end of the tale, Steve critique's Harding's actions, and offers another possible course of action; these form a third parallel "world" in this story. The dance of all these different parallel worlds of action is beautiful. It makes up the plot pattern of the story.
Harding is a 100% good guy. In this, he differs from most of the doubles in Big Town stories. His struggle for success - he wants to be a famous actor, and he thinks this role will make him one overnight - does lead him into dangerous actions that violate common sense. This illustrates one of Broome's favorite themes, the danger of searching for fame. However, in most stories this search leads to moral corruption, whereas here it leads to physical danger.
This tale shows Broome's orientation towards detection, especially trailing missing people. Here Steve trails his double, Harding Ames. Broome does unique things using the fact that the two men are doubles, to enable the trailing. This shows considerable originality.
The Mysterious Masquerader of Big Town (1958). Based on a cover by Gil Kane. A TV show recreates Steve Wilson's encounter three years previously with a villain called the Masked Mastermind - a villain who looked just like Steve. This complexly plotted story is also a high point of the magazine's interest in doubles.
Gil Kane's cover of this story shows an encounter between Steve and his double. In Broome's tale, this same scene is shown as a televison recreation of events that are three years old. This is typical of Broome's strategies for covers: on other occasions he also transformed cover scenes into episodes of film or TV dramas. See "The Skyscraper that Came to Life" (Strange Adventures #72, September 1956) and "The Doomed Scarecrow" (Flash #118, February 1961). Manny Stallman does a vivid job recreating a TV studio monitoring room. The different TV monitors show the staged action from different angles, reflecting different cameras. This is both an accurate depiction of TV broadcasting, and a vivid and visually interesting image.
The people in this story keep talking about how Steve first encountered this villain three years before. As far as I can tell, this does not refer to an actual previous, three year old Big Town story. None of the Big Town tales ever involve any plot developments that continued from tale to tale; each is a separate story, complete in itself. This was very different from Silver Age super-hero tales, most of which had continuing elements.
The Secret Life of "Streak" Saunders (1956). Veteran newsman Bill Damon discovers that the dashing playboy sportsman "Streak" Saunders might actually be the embezzler Charles Ewell, a timid clerk who vanished with a large sum of money. "Streak" Saunders is one of a long line of Broome villains whose chief motive is to win fame and public applause. "Streak" shows plenty of pizzazz, and his adventures are designed to make him into a celebrity man-about-town. Such famous millionaires were a big part of the media scene in the 1950's and before; they are much less popular in today's press. This story is different from many other versions of this subject, in that it shows us a press eye view. We see reporter Bill Damon and editor Steve Wilson wrestling with the issues in covering such men.
Embezzler Charles Ewell reminds one of the timid bookkeeper in "The Living Shadows of Big Town" (1956), a man who never broke out of his shell. The bookkeeper is financially honest, but Ewell is a crook. Broome shows skepticism about busting loose. A timid life may be wasted, but when his characters do try something more spectacular, often it involves crime and corruption.
This tale is similar to other human interest stories in Big Town, in that it stars a reporter different from Steve Wilson, and mainly investigates the personal lives of some people and their emotional states. It differs from the other tales in that the people investigated are villainous, while most of the human interest stories focus on good guys.
The Living Shadows of Big Town (1956). Young reporter Rush Martin investigates a thief attacking his boarding house, and unexpectedly discovers a lot of secrets about the lives of his fellow boarders. The emphasis here on people having secrets and secret lives anticipates both the Flash and Kid Flash.
This story has the anthology construction often used in Big Town. Each of the three boarders' stories is a separate mini-tale. Even in a human interest work, Broome keeps to his emphasis on detection. Rush discovers a separate clue to each boarder's secret, which kicks off the next tale.
The boarders here face Broome's perennial dilemma, of how to find a place for themselves in the world. The scene of the bookkeeper in this tale is a classic. The two panels showing how his whole life has passed by doing his job are among the most chilling in comics history.
This story is atypical of Big Town in that its protagonist is not Steve Wilson, but another reporter. In this it resembles "The Dilemma of Danny Day" (1957) and "The Mark of a Reporter" (1957), tales that appeared in the next two issues of Big Town. These tales also focus on human interest plots, with their reporter heroes observing turning points in the lives of ordinary people.
Rush Martin appeared on the TV series for a single year (1954-1955). He is described in the comics by Broome as the protégé of Steve Wilson. This anticipates the later protégé of the Flash, young Kid Flash. Broome also gave Pow-Wow Smith a young disciple in "Gun-Duel at Copper Creek" (Western Comics #80, March-April 1960); the Grand Comics Database says this script was originally written for Hopalong Cassidy. Rush Martin popped up in small roles in several of the tales, but this story is his only solo appearance.
This story shows Broome's fondness for titles that have an sf feel. The tale itself has no sf content.
The Dilemma of Danny Day (1957). Danny Day is a veteran human interest columnist who is burned out and thinking of quitting his job; he tries one last story about a troubled ball-player. Both Danny and the ball-player need confidence in themselves. This was a perennial theme of 1950's comic books. I am ambivalent about this sort of plot. On the surface, it implies that society is perfect, and that all men need is self-confidence to make it in the world. This seems dubious; instead, it seems to me that society wastes a lot of human talent, and that career troubles often are caused by flaws in the way society organizes a profession. However, such stories also allowed the showing of men in trouble with their lives, a subject that was otherwise fairly taboo in that era.
The Mark of a Reporter (1957). When former POW Frank Holmes is released and tries to go back to his reporting job, he is not sure if he still has what it takes to be a reporter. This is an emotionally involving story. It relates to Broome's theme of freedom. In the POW camp, Frank was told what to do all day long. Now, his hard task is to think for himself. Frank also resembles the refugee characters to come in Broome's fiction, in that he is an ordinary person from a totalitarian environment who is at last in a free society.
Differences between Broome's "Big Town Terminal" and Walsh's Nightmare in Manhattan:
Halfway to Peril (1953). A torn half of a 10,000 dollar bill leads to adventure for several inhabitants of Big Town. Appealing anthology tale, that evokes many aspects of life in the big city. The struggling actor Hal Gordon here reminds one of the later actor hero of "Steve Wilson's Last Deadline" (1956). Both are Broome characters trying to find their place in the world.
The actor's motivation in this tale is to get some nice clothes. As the story opens, he looks like a bum, and can't get an acting job due to his appearance. Broome's heroes always enjoy dressing up. Several Broome stories center on the characters getting new clothes. See "The Dangerous Coat of Dan Brewster" (1957) and "The Mystery of Flash's Third Identity" (Flash #141, December 1963), the tale about Paul Gambi, the tailor to Flash's Rogue's Gallery of costumed crooks. One also recalls the Mirror Master "becoming himself" in "The Doom of the Mirror Flash" (Flash #126, February 1962) after he persuades people in another dimension to tailor his old costume for him, a classic moment. The characters always view their clothes with delight. It helps encourage them in their professions, too. Like the actor in this tale, or the foreign correspondent in "Dan Brewster", the clothes are linked to the character's profession. The same is true for Flash's costumed opponents.
The actor's name, Hal Gordon, reminds one of the secret identity to come of Green Lantern, pilot Hal Jordan.
Another character here is the contractor Harvey Reynolds. He is an already established businessman, a man of middle years who is now hitting a career snag and who is struggling to keep afloat. He is a bit of a con man in this, but for a good cause: he is not trying to harm anyone, but just to keep his business going. In this he resembles the concert promoter of Broome's "Behind the Space Curtain" (Mystery in Space #55, November 1959). The family members in "Glory Ride to Pluto" (Mystery in Space #59, May 1960) are also trying to keep their rocket ship business going.
The House of Doomed Men (1955). During the 100th Anniversary of the Illustrated Press (1854-1954), Steve investigates a crime that seems to take place every 100 years. Broome often saw time in 100 year increments. His "Theft of the Billion-Carat Diamond" (1957) will take us 100 years in the future. In both stories, there is an emphasis on how time changes technology, and how such technological changes have affected the news business. Broome was definitely an optimist about technological progress. Stories like these are clearly designed to be educational. They show the young readers of the magazine both our past and our future.
The historic Old Quarter of Big Town had briefly appeared in the previous issue, in "Big Town at Night" (#30, November-December 1954). This perhaps recalls Greenwich Village, although that area of New York was less purely historical than Broome's imaginary neighborhood. "Big Town at Night" depicts it as an artist's region of the city, which the real life Greenwich Village often was in the 1950's.
Passkey to Big Town (1957). To help tourism in Big Town, Steve Wilson spends a day going to free attractions to prove that one can have a good time in Big Town without spending any money. This delightful tale is one of my favorite Big Town tales. Its anthology construction takes us to a sequence of Big Town attractions. One suspects that many of them are based on real New York City attractions of the era. The story conveys much of the feel of the wonders of big cities of that era. One also suspects that there are many similar wonders lurking in today's big cities, that are often under-publicized by modern media. Many of the other Big Town stories contain a visit to one or two big city locations; this is a tale that consists almost entirely of them.
Some of the locations in this tale are futuristic expositions that show the marvels of advance technology. Broome often wrote for the sf comics, with tales of the future. These scenes have something of the same feel and world view.
Theft of the Billion-Carat Diamond (1957). While visiting an exposition of advanced technology, Steve suddenly has a vision of the Big Town of one hundred years from now, where an editor named Steev Wilson tracks down crime. This is a whole science fiction story, showing what the future of Big Town might be like. The tale-within-the-tale reads like something that might have appeared in Strange Adventures. Yet it still has a Big Town feel, with more emphasis on character, detection and its big city setting that on any sort of sf plot. Tales in the sf comics, both by Broome and others, tend to center around their sf plots. Here, however, we have the same sort of "reporters on a story" plot we find in the rest of Big Town. Steve and Mor Camor do a great deal of pure detection, especially to track down and locate crooks. Such pure detection is an archetypal Big Town plot.
The tale opens with Steve visiting an exposition of future life in Big Town, similar to the automotive exposition he attended in "Passkey to Big Town".
Steve meets Mor Camor, a Martian journalist who is as famous as Steve Wilson. The tale vividly describes the friendship that grows between these two equals. Broome uses the word "bond" at one point: "swiftly, a bond springs up between the two men...". The story anticipates the friendship tales in The Flash, especially Flash's friendship with fellow super-heroes like the Elongated Man and Green Lantern. The reportorial skills of the two men seem to serve the same purpose as the super-powers of the characters in Broome's Flash tales: giving the men a common ground and supporting their friendship.
The tale also futurizes features of 20th Century Big Town we've seen in previous stories. There is a bellhop informant, as in "Masked Monarch of the Underworld", and a version of the press-car from "The Four Wheeled Newspaperman" (1956).
Manny Stallman shows us a ruined, abandoned space-port of the future. Its modernistic architecture is now full of gaping holes, and looks ancient. It takes considerable imagination to conceive of such things. The architecture looks like something out of the far future; the ruins like something out of an ancient past. Stallman combines the two approaches with clear, logical thinking.
Broome uses "Editor's Notes" to explain scientific facts in footnotes. Such notes were routinely used in Schwartz magazines.
The end of this tale takes us back to modern times. Broome emphasizes here that the present is exciting, too, and full of technological innovation, innovation that is often overlooked by people. Broome feels that the present is full of great opportunity, and he wants us to go out and seize it! This message is very important, and is one I agree with.
Underground Trail of Peril (#46, July-August 1957). When Steve teaches a journalism class at Big Town University, he leads his students on field trips to Big Town locations such as its underground subways and sewers. This story is in the tradition of "tours of Big Town", that sometimes appeared in the magazine. The tale has charm, especially in its adventure in various locations such as bridges and the underground. But its story line lacks any substance. The story's premise is also doubtful, that the main thing journalism students need is familiarity with Big Town. I agree with the skeptical student in the tale: Steve should be teaching these kids something about journalism.
Having a hero teach a class of neophytes about detection was a standard comic book gambit. Everyone from Batman in "The Man Behind the Red Hood" (Detective Comics #168, February 1951), to Robin, in "Operation 'Escape'" (Star-Spangled Comics #124, 1952), to Lois Lane in "The School for Scoops" (Lois Lane #29, November 1961), led such classes. The earliest hero that I know of in any medium to become a college teacher was Ellery Queen, who taught a class in criminology in "The African Traveler" (1934). This prose mystery short story could have served as a model to the many works that came after.
We see a map of Big Town here. It is utterly different from any map of New York City. We have seen a similar map before, in XXX. The map includes a major traffic circle, with streets radiating out around it.
Mystery of the Time-Capsule (#50, March-April 1958). A robot is put inside a time capsule that is about to be buried in Big Town, to be dug up a hundred years later in 2058. This minor tale appeared in the final issue of Big Town. There is a pleasant vein of speculation running through the tale, about what the future world of 2058 might be like.
Despite its sf imagery, this tale is not science fiction. Even robots were very much a part of the real world of 1958, and they are included in this story as part of the actual technology of the era. Robots in the 1950's were mainly simple laboratory demonstration systems, as they are depicted in this tale. Their widespread current use in factories had not yet happened, although such plans were widely discussed.
Like many later Broome Big Town works, this has some local color taking advantage of a Big Town institution, in this case, the Post Office. We get architectural information about the Post Office building: the auction is held in its "loft", which seems to be a sort of giant top floor attic. And a sign says this is two flights up. This is different from the single-story suburban post offices with which I'm familiar today.
The splash shows Steve battling the crooks at the Post Office auction. But the tale itself postpones this big fight till they all reach the robbers' hideout. However, the splash is rich in its composition and its depiction of items at the auction.
COVER. The cover shows a generic bank robbery. It has none of the interesting plot or art ideas found in the actual story.
ART: OVERHEAD VIEWS. We get a look at Steve's apartment (pages 4, 5). It doesn't have any unusual features. One of Lehti's trademark overhead views shows the living room (top of page 5). The panel centers on a favorite subject for Lehti's overhead views: a desk.
There is a good overhead view of Harry the Hack's cab (page 8).
The Crime Nobody Saw (1952). Art: John Lehti. Based on a cover by: Manny Stallman. From underworld informant Whaddayaknow Joe, Steve learns that a group of crooks screened a movie during their planning of a big crime. This is one of Broome's off-trail detective stories, in which Steve has to use an odd clue (the underworld screening of a film) to figure out a crime in progress. Both the crime scheme and Steve's detective work show good logic and imagination. Broome often likes unusual, almost philosophical clues to begin his mysteries. Here Steve has no idea what the movie is: just the fact that the crooks watched some movie.
This tale is a bit more surrealistic than some of Broome's later Big Town tales.
Although the story has no supernatural elements, aspects of its solution anticipate "The Strange Invasion of Big Town" (1953). The public nature of many of the events in the story, and the huge crowds in the street, anticipate "The Mark of a Reporter" (1957).
GRAND HOTEL. Broome had mentioned the Grand Hotel in his first Big Town story, "Steve Wilson's Manhunt" (1951), and had depicted a mobster staying there. This tale makes it official: the Grand Hotel is now described as a notorious underworld hangout. The Grand Hotel will recur in many subsequent Broome tales. I have no idea whether the Grand Hotel had some real life equivalent in the New York City of the 1950's. This story is also the comic book origin of good-guy newspaper informant Whaddayaknow Joe, a bellhop at the Grand Hotel.
COVER. The cover is very different from the plot of the story.
The Puzzle of the Burglar-Proof Bank (1953). A gang of thieves schemes to commit a perfect crime: looting a bank people claim can't be robbed. This pleasant, low-key tale suffers from the conventionality of the gang's robbery scheme. You've seen this before!
On the plus side, we see two Big Town locales, locales which are like Big Town institutions. SPOILERS:
DETECTION. As a good newsperson, Steve is quick to pick up on a possible hidden significance to an event (page 4). And to notice a second connection (page 6). As always, Steve reasons from clues, to solve a case.
The Crime Patrol (1954). Steve tries to find out who set fires in ten locations in Big Town in a single night, and why. This is a mystery tale, with an imaginative idea as its solution. There are no clues that would allow the reader to deduce the finale, but it is pleasantly creative. Steve looks for common elements in the fires here, just as he would look for common elements in the later mystery "The Secret of the Seven Clues" (1957).
Stallman's overhead depiction of a city street featuring a geometric building façade is good (page 3). Also good: the aerial view of Akokan reservoir (page 4).
Early scenes in the tale (page 3) show the newspaper reporters in an office room whose walls are decorated with facts and figures about the fires. The walls include maps, graphs and text. Such study rooms to research a subject intensively will recur in other Big Town stories. One suspects their overall content and appearance involved contributions from both Broome and Stallman.
The Secret of the Seven Clues (1957). Big Town is hit by robbers who mysteriously take only a single valuable item from the sites they rob. Well done puzzle plot tale, with an original solution. This is the first of a series of stories in Big Town that concentrate on pure detection. These stories constitute most of the tales in three successive issues of Big Town, #46 - 48. They show the step by step, logical reasoning used by Steve to solve the crime. All of these tales are very well constructed.
This tale shows that familiar Broome theme, the importance of being alert and observant. Such alertness helps Steve pick up on clues he otherwise would have missed.
This tale has more a pure puzzle plot than later Broome detection stories. In other words, it has a mysterious situation, and a final revelation that explains the puzzle. Many of the other tales lack this puzzle element, concentrating more on tracking down a missing person or criminal.
Steve is shown to be a lover of classical music here, attending a concert, as he did in "The Vanishing Headline" (#32, March-April 1955). Other stories show Steve attending art galleries. Steve is an intellectual man, a person of great intelligence. Such cultural interests are seen as natural for him. Broome had included a memorable concert in his sf tale, "Behind the Space Curtain" (Mystery in Space #55, November 1959). These visits to concert halls and art galleries also serve to show off the great cultural facilities of Big Town. The ability to take part in cultural events has always been one of the main appeals causing people to move to great cities.
Manny Stallman has a good streetscape (page 3).
The Man Who Bombed Big Town (1957). Ace reporter Paul Courtney tries to find the man bombing abandoned buildings in Big Town. This tale is almost pure detection. It is constructed with admirable logic. At first, it does not look like there are any clues at all. Then Courtney starts finding things out, and he unravels the entire case step by step.
The first clue in a Broome detective story is a major leap. It involves breakthrough thinking - looking at the world around one in a fresh way. Sometimes the first clue can involve placing the villains in some physical position or sociological milieu. This often involves ingenious reasoning. The detective has to "place" the villain, find some position for him to occupy. Before this, nothing is known about the villain; afterwards, the search has focused on some concrete locale or at least kind of location.
These clues often come about because the detective has put himself or herself in the mental position of the bad guy. The sleuth imagines and understands how the villain might be thinking. Then the detective is able to understand in what sort of location the villain might be.
Broome mystery tales tend to be set in public locations. They do not take place in the isolated country houses beloved by Golden Age prose mystery novelists. Instead, they occur in large cities, with complex social milieus. This gives Broome plenty of opportunity to position his criminals in some distinct place in this city environment, and have his detective then understand and deduce where the criminal is, as the sleuth's first, break through idea about the crime.
There is an almost magical effect on the reader after the first idea comes to the detective - a new truth about the mystery seems to come out of almost nothing. These ideas can have a paradoxical feel, like an idea in a tale by Borges.
In this tale, the reporter does this twice. Both of his first two ideas about finding the villain are of this character. They work together to narrow the search considerably.
Running through the tale is a subplot. Editor Steve Wilson has relieved Courtney of all of his regular reporter duties, and assigned him to this case. Broome shows the logical consequences of this throughout the tale. This subplot is treated with the same "chain of logic" approach as the main detective story. This uniform emphasis on logic gives an appealing structure to the story. The subplot about Courtney's duties also impinges on the main detection plot at one key point in the story, also a pleasant effect.
Even for a great reporter like Courtney, taking on this difficult case is a challenge. Broome liked to show reporters trying to stretch, taking on a job that taxes their powers to new heights. Broome's characters in general often face career challenges. He often shows young people trying to enter some profession. Courtney here is not the least bit arrogant or cocky. He approaches his new assignment with humility, dedication, and a lot of hard work.
A character we meet here is Courtney's old roommate, fellow reporter Dan Wylie. He and Paul are still friends and supportive of each other. This anticipates Barry Allen's old college roommate and close friend in "Secret of the Stolen Blueprint" (Flash #121, June 1961). One also recalls that Hal Jordan and Thomas Kamalku are living in the same rooming house in "Wings of Destiny" (Green Lantern #7, July-August 1961).
The bomber here is motivated by ego: he wants to prove himself superior to the police. Such a violent subject seems a little odd for comics, but no one is injured by the bombs in this tale. The story anticipates a similar villain in Otto Binder's "The Ten Feats of Elastic Lass" (Lois Lane #23, February 1961).
The Diamonds of Peril (1957). When a scientist is kidnapped, the woman who works for his telephone answering service notices something is wrong. During the last issues of Big Town, Broome started including more women characters in the stories. This might be partly to make up for the absence of Lorelei Kilbourne, who disappeared after #39. Most of the stories in Big Town were heavily male oriented. The presence of sympathetic woman characters might be part of a strategy to attract more girl readers to the magazine. Most of DC's non-romance titles of the early 1950's seem heavily designed to appeal to boys.
The Man with the Million-Dollar Memory (1957). Steve's friend, young TV quiz show champion Fred Garrett, is kidnapped by crooks who want to exploit his photographic memory.
"The Man Who Bombed Big Town" (1957) had two plots, which interacted with each other, one involving pure detection of a crime. This tale is constructed similarly. Steve Wilson uses detection to track down his friend's whereabouts and rescue him, while the crooks are trying to force the innocent Fred to use his memory powers, something he admirably resists doing. The two stories are more evenly balanced here, with each taking up about half the story. Each sub-plot shows pure logic, constructed in an admirably consistent way. Each is based in a single approach, as the tale itself points out in its memorable finale. Steve and Fred talk about the case at its end, analyzing its inner structure, and drawing morals from it. This self-analytical finale is delightful. It is intelligent and insightful.
All of the detection stories are ultimately about the human mind. The use of reasoning by the characters is more important than any external details of the plot. There is something good about this emphasis on the interior of human beings. It recalls Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1848), which also shows the interior mental life of humans.
Fred Garrett's TV quiz show appearance has turned him into a celebrity in just two months. This is typical of the over-night celebrities in Broome tales. Once again, this leads the new celebrity to danger.
Steve Wilson, Underworld Decoy (1957). Steve is kidnapped by crooks, and forced to be a decoy in an underworld scheme.
This story offers an intriguing variation on the detection theme. In most of the detection tales, it is the reporter good guy who does the detection, trying to solve a mystery. Here, in the first half of "Underworld Decoy", it is the crooks who are doing the detection. Their kidnapping of Steve is part of a scheme on their plot to track down a missing mobster. Broome shows the same sort of imagination and careful logic with this crooks' scheme as he does with the detective work performed by his heroes.
During the second part of the tale, Steve turns the tables, and starts doing detective work on his own, tracking down the crooks in the case.
This story contains Larry Drum, another crook who wants to go straight. Broome always treats such characters with great sympathy. He will have a definitive treatment of this theme in his Mr. Element stories, such as "The Mightiest Punch of All Time" (Flash #153, June 1965).
Find Witness X (1957). Young aspiring reporter Tom Jones sets out to find Witness X, the mysterious witness to an underworld killing who has disappeared. This is an excellent instance of Broome's tales of pure detection.
Broome likes "negative" clues, especially for the first, main clue of a story. Here the fact that the police did NOT find any trace of Witness X in their roadblock gives Tom Jones his first idea about where X might be. These negative closes often have a paradoxical feel.
In many Broome mysteries, the main search is for a villain. By contrast, in this tale, Tom is mainly searching for the missing witness. He also looks for bad guys along the way, but the central thread concerns the innocent witness. In this, the tale resembles "The Diamonds of Peril" and "The Man with the Million-Dollar Memory".
Here, as in several Broome mysteries, a photograph emerges around half way through the search (page 4). These photographs often add excitement to the tale. They seem like solid markers in a complex chain of reasoning. They also give new clues. Photographs seem to be a main place where "extra information" is accumulated in Broome. Newspaper reporters take a lot of them; so do ordinary people. They contain more information than is used right away. Later on, these photographs can be used in much different contexts than their first creation. Their surplus of information suddenly becomes of practical use. Broome wrote in a time before computer databases, video cameras or even tape recordings were in constant, daily use. But his society was saturated by still photography. This made photos an ideal choice as repositories of untapped information.
Tom Jones is the protagonist of this tale, serving as the reporter-detective. Steve Wilson only shows up briefly at the beginning and end. While Tom Jones is a different hero than Wilson, as far as I can see Tom Jones solves the mystery in the exact same way as Steve Wilson would.
Tom Jones wears a bow tie. In comic books, this is associated with very young men. Another young reporter, Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen, also frequently wore bow ties.
ART. There are some good cityscapes, showing Big Town (pages 3, 8). However, much of the tale takes place instead on the outskirts of the city.
The Dangerous Coat of Dan Brewster (1957). When Steve's foreign correspondent friend Dan Brewster lends Steve his trenchcoat, Steve becomes the target of crooks.
TRENCHCOATS. Trenchcoats in the 1940's and 1950's were deeply associated with foreign correspondents, virtually a symbol of their trade. This tale exploits this for some welcome humor.
The coat leads to some important male bonding. Steve is wearing Dan's clothes, something that both men likely enjoy. The fact that the trenchcoat is really cool looking helps too.
Steve always wears the coat with the belt fastened, and with the collar turned up. He clearly knows that this is the glamorous way to wear a trenchcoat.
Please see my list of Comic Book Heroes in Trenchcoats.
The natty Dan Brewster also wears a pinstripe suit. And although the coat belongs to Dan Brewster, we never actually see him wearing it - only Steve.
DETECTION. The tale shows simple but sound detective work and reasoning. Steve explores two different hypotheses, about why the hoodlums are after him (pages 4, 5).
Another foreign correspondent friend of Steve's will show up in "The Dangerous Coat of Dan Brewster" (1957). Both tales begin with a similar opening situation - a foreign correspondent returns to Big Town after many years covering the news abroad - but then their plots shift to completely different directions.
ART. This story is more interesting for its lively art, than for its easily guessed mystery plot. The splash has Stallman's circular arcs mixed with straight lines. The later sections of the tale have many Stallman views of a factory.
The Mystery of the Missing Eye-Witness (#31, January-February 1955). A Polar explorer discovers his fiancee missing when he returns to Big Town. This mystery plot has a scrambled and not very logical explanation. This is too bad, because some of the events of the story are intriguing. I especially liked Steve's brief undercover role here.
Stallman has one of his aerial views here (p2). Unlike most illustrations of Big Town, which usually look highly urban, this one shows us a tree lined shopping district, full of grass and plate glass store windows. The whole effect is quite gracious, and different from most other locations in the magazine. The effect is nearly suburban, or perhaps showing a small town near the big city.
The Saga of Hurricane Lorelei (1956). When Hurricane Lorelei attacks Big Town, the reporters of the Illustrated Press cover the story. This tale moves back and forth among three reporters, showing each one in a different locality and covering a different aspect of the hurricane. Many stories in Big Town are anthology format works, made up of different, small sub-stories. However, usually the sub-stories occur sequentially, one after the other. This tale is unique in Big Town in that Broome cross-cuts between the three reporters, moving back and forth between them as the hurricane builds. Cross-cutting was popular in silent films, the classic example being D. W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916). It largely disappeared in sound films, but became popular again in TV situation comedies from the 1970's onward.
Lorelei Kilbourne is one of the three reporters covering the events; the other two are non-series characters. This tale is one of her few solo outings in Big Town, and unfortunately, it is only one-third of a story. Long time city editor Charlie Anderson also got one-third of a tale as a solo in "Steve Wilson's Dangerous Day" (#40, July-August 1956). Lorelei shows admirable courage in this story. Her adventure is completely-non-sexist.
This tale resembles the early Big Town story, "The Flying City Room" (1951). Both are mainly adventure stories about covering the news; both have crime elements, but they are perfunctory. Both stories involve airplanes, and rescuing people in trouble.
The Case of the Counterfeit Clue (1958). Steve Wilson tries to track down the source of some counterfeit money. This is less of a tale of pure detection than many other tales in Big Town, and more of a puzzle plot mystery. The solution of this mystery story recalls a somewhat similar one Broome did in "The Unknown Millionaire of Big Town" (#39, May-June 1956). Both stories involve a business office, one that is empty at the time. Both stories have a complex plot - the splash of "Millionaire" compares it to a maze. Both are competent mystery tales, but "Counterfeit" is more appealing as a story.
Illustrated Press copy-boy Hal Grant keeps a notebook recording Steve Wilson's case here. Later, in Green Lantern, Thomas Kamalku will keep a similar notebook on Hal Jordan's cases. Years earlier, Broome had included a vivid cameo about "Hal the copy-boy" in "The Perfect Crime Club" (1952). It is not clear if these are the same characters. These characters seem to be made up for the comic book; reference books do not list any similar characters on the Big Town radio or TV show.
The cashier who helps Steve at the beginning is another example of Broome's attempts to bring in more woman characters into the stories, in the final days of the magazine. Like the telephone operator in "The Diamonds of Peril" (1957), she is an alert woman working in a "typical" woman's profession of the 1950's. The opening of this tale, with counterfeit money being discovered after being passed at a restaurant, seems similar to the beginning of a children's prose mystery novel, the Kay Tracey book The Mansion of Secrets (1942).