The Crimson Avenger

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The above is not a complete list of Crimson Avenger stories. Rather, it consists of my picks of the best tales in the magazines, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.


The Crimson Avenger

The Crimson Avenger was a masked crime fighter. He had no super powers, but he did have some high technology: a gas gun that put criminals to sleep. He also had a secret identity: he was really Lee Travis, young publisher of the newspaper, the Globe Leader. Such masked crime fighters with technology and secret IDs anticipate Batman, who debuted in Detective Comics #27, seven issues after the Crimson Avenger's first story in #20. He has a bit of a different feel from Batman. For one thing, under his scarlet cloak he is clearly wearing a regular business suit. Also, most of his head is visible behind the small black mask he wears over his eyes. This makes him look very serious and business like in the 1930's style. But it makes him vastly less cool than Batman, who wears a spectacular Bat costume, one that covers and transforms nearly his entire head and body. Lee Travis is also a working man, who takes his newspaper duties seriously, and often uses them to help track down wrong doers. This makes him much more middle class and ordinary feeling than Batman, whose secret identity of millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is both glamorous, and a bit decadent.

The Crimson Avenger seems a bit more socially responsible than Batman. Both in his publisher and crime fighter roles, he seems like a serious champion of social justice, and crusader against civic corruption. His stories take place in a version of the real world, one in which the Crimson plays a leadership role. By contrast, Batman mainly fights pure criminals. He does not seem to be responsible for improving society. And the world in which he operates often seems dark and bizarre to the point of kinkiness.

The Crimson Avenger also anticipates the Scarlet Avenger, a masked crime fighter who debuted in "Gang Buster" (Zip Comics #1, February 1940). Both men wear a mask, and a red cloak over a business suit as their crime fighting costume. Both men fight civic corruption, and battle protection rackets in fine tales: the Crimson Avenger in "Tony Sparta and the River Gang" (1939); the Scarlet Avenger in "The Protection Racket" (Zip Comics #2, March 1940). Despite their similar names, appearance, crime fighting turf and lack of super powers, there are big differences between the two characters. The Crimson Avenger is a lone wolf, with only modest amounts of technology to help him; the Scarlet Avenger heads a whole secret crime fighting organization, and is a major inventor of anti-crime devices.

The only person who knows Lee Travis' secret is his Chinese servant Wing. Wing is a refreshing change from all the Oriental villains in comics and pulp magazines of the era (including some terrible stories in other series in Detective Comics itself). As a 100% good guy, he is a strong support for the hero.

Block Buster (#20, October 1938). Writer: Jim Chambers? Art: Jim Chambers. Crooked lawyer Block has phony witnesses for hire, who give his criminal clients alibis. The first story about the Crimson Avenger. This first tale is disappointing. It is not a true origin tale: it does not tell the story of how Lee Travis became the Crimson Avenger. Nor does it provide any special insight into the character. It does set up all of his basic mythos, and shows him in operation on a typical case.

There are some good portraits. Jim Chambers shows his skill with uniformed policemen. Especially notable: the portrait of three police (p5), each from a different perspective, and showing differing detail about their common uniform. Such an portrait conveys information in an innovative fashion. Also good: the portrait of a typical young newspaper worker (p1). He has all the traditional features of newspaper reporters at their home office, as depicted in the movies: the vest of his suit is open, his tie is loosened, he wears an eye shade. He is quite a handsome figure, and shows the sympathy extended to newspapermen throughout Chambers' work on the Crimson Avenger.

Traitor's Fate / Mystery at the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery (1938). Writer: Jim Chambers? Art: Jim Chambers. Someone is disturbing the graves at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery; meanwhile, there is a mysterious information leak in the forces of law and order, with criminals gaining access to their plans.

About the two titles: the Grand Comics Database supplied the title "Mystery at the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery" to this tale; it is their useful and admirable practice to assign made-up titles to stories that were published without a title, so that the story can be referenced. However, the final panel of last issue's story refers to this upcoming tale, and tells readers "DON'T MISS TRAITOR'S FATE". I think the last two words of this quote are the title of next issue's story. This is just a guess; admittedly, the words TRAITOR'S FATE are not set off with any different lettering from DON'T MISS. Still, "Traitor's Fate" is a good title for this tale. It refers to the traitor who is betraying government information to the crooks. Also, the same panel has an illustration, showing one of the characters in next issue's tale.

Tony Sparta and the River Gang (1939). Writer: Jim Chambers? Art: Jim Chambers. A mysterious crime lord is running a protection racket, blowing up businesses that refuse to pay him protection money. He also forces people to install slot machines. This is one of several anti-gambling stories in Detective Comics and More Fun Comics, which always took a dim view of the subject. See the Larry Steele story, "The Nick Orsati Case" (Detective Comics #10, December 1937) and the Radio Squad tale, "The Dan Bowers Case" (More Fun Comics #17, January 1937).

This story has some of the best non-stereotyped Chinese characters in early comics. They play a gutsy role in the breaking of the protection racket's hold on the city.

The plot has the hero fighting crime and corruption both as publisher Lee Travis, and as the Crimson Avenger. He takes advantage of each persona's special abilities to advance his efforts. This adds to the ingenuity of the story's construction.

Jim Chambers has good art in the splash, showing the Crimson Avenger taking off. There is also some good night art on the boat, using a solid black background for the night.

Lee Travis has a cool overcoat with huge peaked lapels. Later on, he wears a double breasted suit with peaked lapels and a bow tie: the effect is like a tuxedo. There are some good portraits of uniformed policemen, too. As in "Traitor's Fate" (1938), the good looking cop here wears his cap pulled down so that its visor shields his eyes, a macho effect.

The Airline Insurance Murders (#25, March 1939). Writer: Jim Chambers? Art: Jim Chambers. Planes keep mysteriously being attacked. This is a somewhat ordinary crime thriller. It has a very good episode about a phone, that shows a real interest in technology. Phone technology was a big deal in this era: see Edward L. Cahn's film Bad Guy (1937), in which his heroes were phone line repairmen.

The story also has some nice portraits. These include two different newspaper employees, and the young job seekers early in the tale.