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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
Shorty Morgan is a comic assistant to Slam. He is an early example in comic books of a comic sidekick. This is a long tradition that includes Johnny Quick's assistant Tubby. His visual depiction by Shuster anticipates the portraiture of Mr. Mxyztplk to come: see the origin of that character in "The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk" (Superman #30, September-October 1944).
Despite the fact that Slam Bradley is a private eye, the early, 1930's tales I've managed to read have him facing off against the same sort of criminal masterminds and gangs that the early super-heroes battled. One was perhaps hoping for Black Mask style intrigue and detection, but it is not to be. Many of the early Slam Bradley tales are pretty bad. However, some are excellent, especially the most comic ones. When Siegel turned to comedy, his plot inventiveness also soared.
The Hollywood Murders (1937). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. When Slam and Shorty get jobs as Hollywood stuntmen, their lives are menaced by a mysterious assailant. This is one of the earliest of Siegel's Hollywood spoofs, a genre of story he would still be writing in the 1960's. Like the later tales, this story is delightful. It is light-hearted, satirical, and full of energy.
This is the first story in Slam Bradley in which the heroes temporarily take on a new profession, the first fully comic toned story, and the first tale in which the boys fully come into their own. It is in many ways the first full realization of Slam and Shorty as characters.
This story is not quite a true undercover tale, although it is closely related to them. In Slam's undercover stories, he takes on a new profession, so that he can solve a mystery in some business from the inside. Here Slam and Shorty become Hollywood stunt people not to investigate a crime, but because they sincerely want the Hollywood job. However, a mystery soon follows, and the feel of the story is very close to the later undercover stories.
Undercover in Grade School (1937). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. When Slam revisits his old sixth grade teacher, she asks him to solve a mystery at the school. This is one of the funniest and most exuberant of Siegel's Slam Bradley tales. It is full of raucous invention and comedy.
This story is the first full undercover tale in Slam Bradley. It is very close in tone to the preceding issue's "The Hollywood Murders", and the two stories form a pair.
This story shows the paradigm of many of the best Slam Bradley tales. It takes place at an interesting location, in this case a grade school, and features many people whose professions are linked to the activities there: teachers, the principal, students, the janitor. Slam and Shorty get undercover roles at the school, roles which involve them taking on new professions, and getting both comic results and satiric but intelligent insights into working conditions in those professions. The story also involves action scenes at a visually spectacular locale related to the central location, in this case, the school gym. There are a group of bad guys around, and they repeatedly undertake similar crimes, in this case involving thefts from the school lockers. Such repeated attempts at some object or goal are a standard plot construction approach in the Slam Bradley stories. They allow Siegel to keep the story pot boiling, with new events and new action constantly occurring. They also allow Siegel to have each attempt be a variant on the preceding, creating variety in the plot, and allowing the crime section of the story to have a "theme and variations" construction. All of the above features are characteristic of many of the Slam Bradley undercover stories.
Up till this point, Slam had rarely worn a neck tie. In the earliest stories, he had just worn a white shirt. Later he wore suits and sport coats with a shirt and no tie. Here, for the first time, he appears in a bow tie, as well as a double breasted suit. This combination will later become his standard attire throughout his career.
In the Ring (1938). Slam and Shorty investigate boxer Nick Cardoni, whose opponents all die in the ring.
Slam and Shorty's undercover adventures have a different paradigm from the undercover cop tales that were so popular in 1940's semi-documentary film noir and 1980's TV cop shows such as Wiseguy. In those film and TV shows, the cop would get a new ID, pretend to be a criminal, and join a gang of crooks, infiltrating them from within. By contrast, Slam and Shorty rarely pretend to be crooked. Instead, they temporarily take on new professions. These professions allow them to investigate a mystery in some industry or business. Here, for example, Slam becomes a boxer, so he can find out what is going on with the sinister fights in which boxers die. Slam's experiences are closer to those of the 1990's TV hero The Pretender, who took on a new profession every week to aid somebody in trouble.
This story opens with Slam meeting boxer Danny Blake. Both men become friends. They have a lot in common: both men love fighting above all else, both are macho hunks. This scene recalls the earlier male bonding between Slam and Pete Graves, in "Skyscraper Death". In both stories, the bonding is based on a love of scrapping, and is seen as a deeply male experience. In both tales, the bonding occurs right at the start of the story, with the two men featured prominently on the splash panel. Both stories then develop into similar plots. Later, Superman will bond with a boxer, and engage in exciting boxing matches, in the Superman daily comic strip "The Comeback of Larry Trent" (February 20 - March 18, 1939). This is one of the best Superman comic strip episodes.
Snoop Dolan returns here, for his second and apparently final appearance. Here he is functioning much more amicably as Shorty's partner and fellow assistant in helping Slam. Siegel works this nicely into his plot, which eventually has the two wise guys Snoop and Shorty operating in parallel on common goals. Siegel apparently decided that two assistants were too many however, because future tales go back to just Sam and Shorty. The next story, the indifferent "The Flying Circus" (#11, January 1938), has neither Shorty nor Snoop, but is a solo adventure for Slam. It is also much grimmer in tone, without Shorty along to provide comic relief, although I laughed at Slam's stunt of a head-stand on the wing of an airplane in mid-flight! This is typical of the gung-ho enthusiasm of the characters. Shorty then returns in the next story, "The Lumberjacks" (#12, February 1938), a story whose only merit is some spectacular art by Joe Shuster at the tale's big waterfall finale.
At Sea (1938). Slam and Shorty go after a gang of modern day pirates. One thinks of pirates as being something out of by-gone centuries, but boatloads of criminal gangs who hijack other ships are unfortunately still with us. Aquaman (1941 - 1960's) would frequently feature modern day pirates as villains. As in this story, the pirates are typically dressed as modern day gangsters or merchant seamen, not like the pirates of old.
The really tough waterfront bar here, Joe's Joint, will recur in the Superman daily comic strip story, "Jewel Smugglers" (March 20 - April 1, 1939). One suspects its name might also be an in-joke reference to Joe Shuster.
The opening of this story is especially fun. It shows a unique mixture of swagger and inventiveness, as Slam reaches new approaches to satisfy his love of brawling. Shuster makes Slam look splendid in these scenes. Slam clearly enjoys what he is doing here, and releasing all sorts of pent-up feelings. It is as if longings, long repressed, were being expressed.
The Lady-Killer (#15, May 1938). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. A mix-up has Slam and Shorty accused of being serial killers. This dark comedy tale doesn't really make it. Its best part: the lurid newspaper headlines accusing Slam and Shorty of being killers. These show Siegel's gift for comic exaggeration, and are both funny and extremely embarrassing for our duo. They comically evoke the lurid journalism of the era.
The story has Shorty going undercover as a woman. Unfortunately, little creative is done with this.
The Broadway Bandit (1938). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. Slam and Shorty are called to New York City, where they solve a mystery about a thief who is holding up Broadway theater box offices. This is another one of Siegel's comic show biz spoofs. The plot does not concentrate quite as exclusively on the theater as "The Hollywood Murders" did on the film industry. Siegel also introduces a whole slew of other detective figures into the tale, whose plot paths keep criss crossing Slam and Shorty, often to comic effect.
The Merrivale Mystery (1939). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. Slam and Shorty decide they want to enroll in college, so they go to Merrivale University, where they get involved in a mystery. This story marks a return to Slam Bradley traditions, with Slam and Shorty once more comically taking on new roles at some institution. Similarly, the Spy story "The President's Assignment" (Detective Comics #25, March 1939) in the same issue involves a return to basics in that series as well. Perhaps Siegel and Shuster felt a need for such a return after the wild flights of fancy of "In Two Billion A. D." (1939).
Slam and Shorty take on new roles here, becoming college students. They are not quite undercover: they are doing this because they want to be students, not because they need undercover roles to investigate a crime. Still, this is very close to the undercover paradigm. Unlike some of the earlier tales in the series, in which Slam shows outstanding talent in his new profession, the boys here are not so hot as students, and clearly are fish out of water. The tale is especially close to their earlier classic, "Undercover in Grade School" (1937), in which the boys also penetrate an educational institution, with hilarious results.
The point of view in the undercover tales perhaps relates to that of adolescence. Teenagers often try out new roles and new professions. It is part of growing up, and looking for a place for yourself in the world. Other aspects of their personas recall adolescence. Shorty can represent the awkwardness that many teenagers feel, while Slam represents the new growth into a giant adult body, and the raging testosterone that can come with it. All of this is only one aspect of Slam and Shorty's characters, however.
Undercover as Bellhops (1939). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. Slam and Shorty go undercover as bellhops, to check out a hotel that is reputed to be haunted. (This untitled story was given a title by me, for reference.) The last Slam Bradley tale to be illustrated by Shuster. Later stories would still have Siegel as author, but other artists would draw them. Appropriately, Siegel and Shuster go out in fine style, with a story squarely in the best Slam and Shorty tradition. It is another comic tale, in which our heroes are undercover in new professions in some institution, solving a mystery. The tale is delightful, with both comedy and thrills. It is in the tradition of movies like The Cat and the Canary, in which alleged ghosts and mad scientists run amok in a spooky building, with our heroes and others having comic encounters with them. As in such movies, everything is given a rational explanation at the end - this is not a fantasy tale. The problems our heroes get into show Siegel's flair for comic exaggeration.
Slam looks good in his bellboy uniform, with its red jacket, blue trousers and pillbox cap. This was a standard outfit for 1930's hotels; it recalls 19th Century Hussar's uniforms, and other fancy military gear of the period. He is number 6, and wears a circular badge with that number. Such circular number badges rarely show up on military uniforms; they function best with small groups of men, such as bellboys. The idea that a person has a number only, with his name being suppressed, has a macho quality.
Slam and Shorty share a bed together in the hotel, just as they did in "The Hillbillies" (#8, October 1937). In that tale, Shuster had them in comically identical red and white striped pajamas.
This story is also notable for the idealized male bonding between Slam and his friend, steel worker Pete Graves. Both men are depicted as macho musclemen and tough guys, both love to fight with each other, for fun and with "no ill feeling". Shuster's art depicts the men as all smiles as they fight, something highly pleasurable to them.
The Human Fly (#9, November 1937). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. A crook steals from skyscraper offices by climbing up and down the sides of buildings; meanwhile, Snoop Dolan tries to replace Shorty as Slam's assistant. Once again, the main merit here is Shuster's flair for adventure in high places.
This story has a self-referential joke: an ad on the wall is for the Federal Men Club and Adventure Comics. Such reflexive ideas will be a standard in the science fiction comic book Strange Adventures in the 1950's. This must be a very early occurrence of such reflective material in comic books. Siegel will also include a funny reference to Detective Comics itself in the finale of the next Slam Bradley story, "In the Ring", and another in "The Merrivale Mystery" (1939). Siegel is a natural person to have pioneered such material. He is always turning his satirical scalpel on media institutions; it is natural for him to focus on his own medium once in a while. His Bizarro tale, XXX, is one of the few to look at the business side of the comic book industry, briefly and surrealistically. Also, the "anthology construction" Siegel sometimes used in the 1960's involved stories that referred back to previous tales written by Siegel; these will be even more elaborate and complex uses of self-reflection.
The story has a notable splash panel, with Slam dressed as a boxer in his home gym.
This story has many features in common with the next tale in the series, "In the Ring", although that tale is not a sequel. "The Human Fly" starts out with Slam boxing at home; "In the Ring" depicts Slam going undercover as a boxer to solve a mystery. "The Human Fly" introduces detective Snoop Dolan; "In the Ring" contains the second and apparently final appearance of that character. Both stories also contain reflective material about comics.
The story is a rough draft of Siegel's later stories about the magical imp from another dimension Mr. Mxyzptlk, whom Siegel first created in "The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk" (Superman #30, September-October 1944). Slam's tricks are just as playful, and create a world of mischief for the crooked politician. However, Slam is much more idealistic that that practical joking imp, and his tricks always serve the purpose of Justice here.
In Two Billion A. D. (1939). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. Slam and Shorty join scientist Professor Kenton in his time machine on a perilous journey to the far future. This is one of the few two-part Siegel and Shuster Slam Bradley stories. It seems to be the longest story created by Siegel and Shuster in the 1930's, although the six-part Federal Men serial "On the Wrong Side of the Law"(1938-1939) is also long. It is rich in invention, and Siegel plainly felt he needed two chapters to cover it. The story seems like one continuous whole, rather than two tales. Part 1 opens with a street brawl in 1939 America; this is the traditional opening of a Slam tale, and as usual, it leads to plot developments that set up the bulk of the story. No such brawl occurs at the start of part 2, perhaps indicating that structurally, it is a straight continuation of part 1, and not a separate story at all.
Siegel's future mixes genuine progress, especially wonderful scientific inventions of all kinds, with barbarous rulers who resemble the dictatorial emperors of Ancient Rome. This makes this future far darker than the idealistic future Siegel and Shuster sometimes depicted in Federal Men tales, such as "Federal Men of Tomorrow" (Adventure Comics #12, January 1937) or "Junior Federal Men of the Future" (Adventure Comics #25, March 1938). In the Federal Men tales, the planets are governed by a Federation; clearly, it is a democratic form of government. Here, the emperors are sleazy dictators, a form of government Siegel and Shuster loathed.
He also has many fabulous beings evolved in this future Earth. These beings seem like evolved Earth creatures. There is little in Siegel's future about space travel or aliens.
Structurally, this tale resembles the undercover stories in the Slam series. In those tales, Slam and Shorty had humorous, exciting adventures in the world of some profession. Here, the world they enter is a future world. Both kinds of stories mix thrills and comedy. In both, Slam especially gets a new profession; here he becomes a gladiator in a Roman style arena at one point. Both the undercover tales and this sf story have our heroes meet a wide variety of denizens of the world, often resulting in some rowdy exchanges. Like the undercover tales, this is a lot of fun to read, a wild ride through a skeptically observed world.
At one point here, Shorty actually dies. This anticipates Siegel's "The Death of Superman" (Superman #149, November 1961), in which his greatest creation, Superman, dies. Right from the start of his career, Siegel was determined to imagine this. Even earlier, his Dr. Occult character had died and been brought back to life by a mad scientist: see Siegel and Shuster's four part tale "The Lord of Life", which appeared in More Fun Comics #20 (May 1937) through #23 (August 1937). This version with Slam and Shorty is the most comical and upbeat, with the other two tales being grim indeed.
Time traveling regularly appeared in the sf comic strip Brick Bradford, which originated in Cleveland, just like Siegel and Shuster's comics (maybe it was something in the water). Brick regularly traveled to the future, starting in October 1937, just like Siegel's heroes would. In Siegel's two futuristic Federal Men tales, there is no time travel; we simply see new characters in the future. Here, Slam and Shorty actually use a time machine to travel from the present into the future.
This is one of a series of Slam Bradley mysteries, in which he and Shorty solve puzzle plot mysteries. The authors of these tales are unknown; one suspects that they might all be the work of the same writer. Many pulp magazine private eyes also solved puzzle plot mysteries, so this is not too unusual an activity for private eye Slam.
Shorty Falls in Love (#84, February 1944). Writer:? Art: Martin Naydel. Shorty falls in love, during the course of a robbery investigation. This is mainly a dull story, but it has a single good idea embedded in it: the mystery puzzle subplot about the emeralds and the theft is original. Once again, we have a plot construction, in which many little ideas are strung together, to make up a baffling case. As in "Wild and Wooly" (1943), each one is a little independent mystery puzzle plot idea. They are somewhat disconnected, but they all do add up to a nice little plateful of mystery.
The Perfumed Diamonds (#85, March 1944). Writer:? Art: Martin Naydel. Slam and Shorty try to prevent a jewel theft at a society soiree. The puzzle plot ideas are pretty obvious and easily figured out, but the author does deserve some credit for being right in there, trying to come up with real mystery ideas. And why would someone try to perfume diamonds, anyway? This is not a bad subject for a mystery puzzle; it has some originality. You'll have to read the story to find out why!
The best part of this tale is Martin Naydel's illustrations of Slam Bradley in white tie and tails. This was the favorite costume of Golden Age super-heroes, while socializing in their secret identities. Here Slam, definitely not a society type, gets to wear it while on duty at the soiree. His double-breasted white waistcoat is especially elegant.
The Chicken and the Yegg (#91, September 1944). Art: Howard Sherman. A crooked guest at a wedding where Slam and Shorty are guard manages to steal a priceless emerald.
The story resembles in genre the later "Fools About Jewels" (#100, June 1945). Both stories have Slam and Shorty as guards for hire, trying to solve gem thefts. Both stories concentrate on detection, and have pleasant storytelling. Both stories have mystery plots, although they are so simple and familiar most readers will easily guess the solutions. Still, there is something nice about a logically constructed mystery tale, with a crime, detection and a solution. Both depict a poverty stricken Slam and Shorty, just barely getting by on odd jobs and assignments: far less glamorous than in the Siegel and Shuster years. Both tales have some welcome humor and good cheer.
Like several of the duo's tales in this period, it starts out with a mysterious, puzzling, but not necessarily criminous phenomenon, which the heroes investigate. These phenomena often have a strong surrealist edge. They tend to be strange and out of the ordinary. They also tend to be urban in tone, such as the billboard here. This tale makes explicit that Slam and Shorty are operating in Manhattan.
The Clue of the Cat's Pajamas (1944). A rich woman hires Slam and Shorty to find Tabitha, a kidnapped cat, who is the beneficiary of her will. Nice comic tale, focusing on this popular plot about an animal due to inherit.
The story is filled with logical links, clues that provide Slam and Shorty with each new step in their investigation. Such links are the structural backbone of most of the Slam tales in this era. Here, the clues are carefully tied to Tabitha the cat. This allows the writer to exploit the unique features of the present plot, a story with a cat.
Telephone technology plays a role in this story. In 1944, telephones were high tech. They were also a machine in many homes and offices, and one that was readily available for constructing plots.
Marvelous Marbles (1945). Art: Howard Sherman. Crooks start playing games with the local kids, especially marbles. This story recalls some of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes tales, such as "The Blue Carbuncle". Slam and Shorty get it from both sides here, both the crooks and the tough kids in this funny tale. The duo usually meets a whole series of real characters in their tales.
The splash here is excellent, showing the crooks playing children's games. It is surreal and fun.
Bargains in Burglary (1945). Shorty finds a mysterious shopping list. A similar gambit was used by mystery novelist Philip MacDonald, at the start of his Warrant for X (1938).
The plot progression in this story keeps coming back to the list, both for clues, and for ways for Slam and Shorty to evade capture by the bad guys. This use of the tale's central plot device to provide the logical links in the tale is a Slam Bradley specialty in this era.
The crooks here are all in sharp gray double-breasted suits. This is a common convention throughout this era's Slam and Shorty tales. It makes the gangsters instantly identifiable, and contrasts them with Slam's blue suit and bow tie the crooks all wear regular, four-in-hand ties. It also allows the depiction of a lot of really sharp suits.
Fools About Jewels (#100, June 1945). Art: Howard Sherman. Slam and Shorty are hired to guard a jewelry store against robberies. Pleasant if minor tale, whose mystery plot should not fool anybody.
Both a group of private security guards, and a team of cops, have good uniforms. They are in contrasting style. The guards' uniforms are military in style, white shirt, tie and four patch pockets, while the traditional looking police uniforms have huge flaps with buttons, caps with curved visors and nightsticks.
Truth+Penalty=Crime-Catchers (#136, June 1948). Art: Howard Sherman. When Slam and Shorty appear on the "Truth or Penalty" radio show, their penalty is to dress up as Mother Hubbard and Little Red Riding Hood. Raucous comic tale.
The fictitious "Truth or Penalty" resembles a real life radio, and later TV show of the era, "Truth or Consequences". It was always asking people trick questions they couldn't answer, then putting them through outrageous stunts as "consequences" for their wrong answers. I remember seeing the show a few times as a kid, and could never figure out why anyone would want to appear on it, seeing as the whole show was people getting zapped. The writers here evidently agreed, because Slam and Shorty's appearance here is accidental and involuntary.
Sherman does a good job with some barrels (p6), their repeating circular forms being a Sherman trademark. He also includes a handsome, laughing young cop (p7), complete with formal uniform and nightstick.
Shorty Grows Up (1949). Art: Howard Sherman. Shorty Morgan has a dream in which he grows tall and Slam Bradley grows short.
The most interesting part of this tale is Sherman's depiction of a fun house. It is full of vibrant colors, red, yellow and white, and is a riot of circular discs and wavy lines. It is almost as elaborate as his depiction of futuristic worlds, such as his Chris KL-99 tale "The Menace of the Green Nebula" (Strange Adventures #1, August-September 1950) and to a lesser extent, "Hitchhiker of Space" (Mystery in Space #24, February-March 1955). It is quite different, however, from his art in the Western stories of the Wyoming Kid.
Sherman also does a good job with his portraits of Slam Bradley, both in his double-breasted blue suit and bow tie, or in the policeman's uniform he wears in the dream. Bow ties worn with suits were clearly considered a snappy outfit for young men in this period, at least in the comics - one sees them much less frequently in the movies. They also show up on Johnny Quick.