Inspector Dayton

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The above is not a complete list of Inspector Dayton 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.


Inspector Dayton

Inspector Dayton was a police officer. Many of his cases were whodunit style mystery stories, similar in feel to the movie whodunits of the era, as well as some prose mystery fiction.

His somewhat humorous assistant was a criminologist known as the Creep. The Creep was slight, short, mild mannered, and talked in a highly educated, formal manner. Despite his name, the Creep was a nice guy. He was also a genuine aid to Inspector Dayton in his investigations, uncovering leads, saving Inspector Dayton's life, and generally behaving in a fully professional manner as a detective.

A wealthy oil man calls his young secretary (1943). Art: Arnold Hicks. A mysterious man tries to break up an heiress' forthcoming marriage, through anonymous threats. Entertaining mix of thrills, adventure and mystery.

There isn't a clue to the identity of the mysterious threatener, given in the story. Still, the choice of the threatener, revealed at the end of the tale, is emotionally satisfying. Oddly, although the tale lacks a clue, I have been able to invent an argument that logically indicates who the threatener is. SPOILERS. This man has charge of Dayton's costume (page 2). He is thus the only person who would be able to arrange a duplicate of that costume.

SPOILERS. The devil suit Inspector Dayton wears to the costume party is highly phallic. It has curving horns jutting straight up on his head. He is holding up his barbed tail when first seen (page 2). The suit has a cape, like many super-hero costumes.

The fiance has the inane looking mustache worn by Society types in the 1940's. And like quite a few other Society men in movies, he turns out to be spineless and unlikable.

Bus Ride to Death (1943). Art: Robert Webb?. (The GCD now uses the tale's opening phrase as a title: "The coin box jingled as the passengers paid..."). Dayton solves a seemingly impossible poisoning on a bus. The setting of the murder recalls the poisoning on the street car that opens Ellery Queen's The Tragedy of X (1932). The crime itself has similarities to Paul Chadwick's Weird Menace pulp mystery tale, "Fangs of the Cobra" (1933), which, like this tale, is an impossible crime. The details of the plot and the solution of the mystery here are different from either of these predecessors, however. It does go to show how close this series was to the detective fiction of the period.

The story could be a bit more fair play. It should show the crime and its aftermath in a bit more detail. Still, the story has some creditable ideas.

Murder with Music (1944). Art: Arnold Hicks (the GCD used to say Robert Webb). (The GCD now uses the tale's opening phrase as a title: "Inspector Dayton! Lansing, the notorious killer will be..."). The Governor is killed mysteriously at a fund raising concert. The story is a pure mystery tale. It mixes nightclub performers with upper crust people like the Governor. The hard-boiled denizens of the night club seem closer to pulp magazine hard-boiled tales than the typical members of a Golden Age prose mystery. Such hard-boiled types were regulars in most comic books of the era, however.

Like the previous issue's "Bus Ride to Death", "Murder with Music" is a howdunit. We don't know at first the mechanism by which the crime has been committed: it's a mystery. Only later is this mechanism revealed. However, these aspects of "Murder with Music" are arbitrary and simple: we just eventually learn the method of killing, and that's that. By contrast, the method in "Bus Ride to Death" is an ingenious part of an impossible crime plot.

There is a good portrait of the handsome orchestra conductor, Silverman. He is depicted with great dignity and style, as a conductor of a classical orchestra at the benefit concert. He is stiffly erect, well built, and in evening clothes, full white tie and tails. His elegant white tie kit is a bit non-standard, in that it has a dark rather than a white vest. He looks young. We get front, profile and back views of the conductor, showing his impressive appearance. The name Silverman suggests that this might be an early instance of inclusion of a sympathetic Jewish character in a comic book.

The Marston Castle Mystery (1944). Art: Robert Webb. A murder takes place during a stormy night at Charles Marston's lavish but isolated country estate, which is in the shape of a castle. The atmosphere of this tale recalls every country house murder mystery you've ever read or seen. The story is a pure mystery - it does not include horror elements or any fake supernatural atmosphere. The plot too is directly in the pure puzzle plot tradition of Golden Age mystery fiction.

Rafferty and his Pals (1944). A group of poor black kids, led by young Rafferty, aid Dayton and the Creep to find some hidden treasure. This story is less like the pure mystery whodunits that are sometimes featured in the Dayton tales, and more like a crime or adventure story, with various mobsters vying for the hidden money, and battling Dayton and the Creep for it.

The black kids here represent a transition in how black people are depicted in the media. It is a vast improvement over the often dismal depiction of black people in 1930's comic books. There are still some stereotyped features, notably the heavy use of dialect, and some non-realistic conventions of drawing black people. But in other ways, the kids here are hugely progressive. They are 100% good guys, who constantly attempt to help the heroes. They rescue both heroes in the story, and save their lives. They also make all the key discoveries that solve the mystery, being smarter than Dayton and the Creep. They seem intelligent and decent.

During the war years, there was an attempt to upgrade the depiction of black people in all American media. This was partly due to pressure from the early Civil Rights movement of the era. This story seems like a key example of this.

The ending of the story, and what the kids do with the reward money, is sociologically interesting. It gives a window into the world of the time. It also stresses how much black kids wanted to part of the mainstream of American life.