Gang Busters

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Gang Busters

The above is not a complete list of Gang Busters 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. They were edited by Whitney Ellsworth.


Gang Busters

Gang Busters was a long running comic book (1947 - 1959), filled with tough detective and crime stories. It was based on the popular radio program (1935 - 1957) of the same name. The comic book had few series characters. Mainly, each story is about a completely different set of police and crooks.

Crime Agency (1948). Art: Dan Barry. When maids from a crooked employment agency are used to case out wealthy homes for robberies, a policewoman goes undercover as one of the maids. This story recalls the semi-documentary film tradition of its era, with members of the police going undercover in very dangerous assignments. As in such films, the undercover role becomes more and more perilous as the tale progresses. There is a battle of wits between the police and the crooks, who often change their plans and make things more difficult for the undercover cop.

The best part of this otherwise routine tale is the treatment of the policewomen. The story, and the police commissioner, treat them with the full respect granted to the male cops in the story. Semi-documentary films tended to treat the police as a militarized institution, and this story follows that tradition. Here the police women are in full uniform, stand rigidly at attention military style, salute and follow a chain of command.

Barry has done an interesting job with portraits of two of the policewomen. The commander of the squad is one of the toughest looking women in the history of the comics. She is a formidable looking figure, a vision of what a really strong woman might be like. She is not very feminine by conventional standards, but she is treated with full respect. The policewoman that is assigned the undercover job is a young, former actress. She is more conventionally pretty, but Barry conveys that she too is made of pure steel.

Later, the story briefly shows a male police officer undercover as a milkman. The policeman hero of the semi-documentary film He Walked By Night (1948), directed by Anthony Mann, similarly went undercover as a milkman. In both film and comic, the milkman is in the fancy, snow white uniform of a milkman of the era. Both look really snazzy.

Hot Money (1948). Art: Howard Sherman. Secret Service Agent John S. Tobin tracks down counterfeiters, who are involved with a crooked gambling ship.

This tale resembles a whole semi-documentary film in miniature. Such films were hugely popular in the late 1940's, and this one has many features in common with them. The heroes of the semi-docs were agents of high powered government agencies; here Tobin is a Secret Service agent, just like the hero of Anthony Mann's T-Men (1947). The semi-docs stressed the high technology used by the agencies: here the hero and his boss use special magnifying equipment to study flaws in counterfeit bills. The heroes of the semi-docs wore sharp double-breasted suits: so does Tobin here. The semi-docs frequently featured policemen in sharp uniforms: Tobin's friend is policeman Joe Connors, who wears a very dressy, militaristic police uniform, with white shirt, tie and gun belt. As in the semi-docs, the two men's male bonding is a major subject of the story. The semi-docs often had an official sounding narrator, who described the progress of the investigation using phraseology employed by government investigators: so does this tale. The narration here reminds one especially of the narration in William Keighley's semi-doc The Street With No Name (1948). The Street With No Name opens with a shot of the FBI seal; this story's first panel has the Secret Service seal prominently displayed on the boss' wall.

Jail Break (#4, June-July 1948). Writer: Donald Wandrei. Art: Dan Barry. Based on a cover by: Win Mortimer. A tough convict plans a jailbreak, with the aid of his friends. The only good parts of this minor, and very violent story, are some of Dan Barry's illustrations. The splash shows the laughing crook, depicted as a giant towering over the other characters. Even better: the scenes of the crook being captured by the police (p3). These have good architecture, showing the roofs of tall urban buildings.

The flaming red-orange motorcycle ridden by the cop on the cover is also striking. It is mixed with the yellow background and policeman's blue uniform. This recalls the bright primary colors on the covers of pulp magazines, intended to catch browsers' eyes at newsstands.

The Lady and the Cop (1948). Writer: Donald Wandrei. Art: Dan Barry. When a woman is suspected of murdering her husband, the police send a handsome cop undercover to romance her and get the truth. This story is a well done mixture of romance and suspense. It recalls the romantic suspense films of its era, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945).

The splash panel shows the uniformed police all lined up, military style, in front of the police chief's desk. The seated police chief picks out the hero of the tale, selecting him as the handsomest man on the force. The police chief is pointing straight at the selected hero. The chief is a slightly older man, handsome and distinguished in his uniform. It is a striking and unusual scene.

Fourth Offender (1948). Art: Dan Barry. An ex-con tries to go straight, operating an ice cream parlor in his home town.

This is a by-the-numbers story of an ex-con trying to reform. Its basic plot is essentially the same as Tom Taylor's play The Ticket-of-Leave Man (1863). Countless variations of Taylor's play have been created since in all media: print, radio, film, TV, comics. It has become such a standard plot that one suspects that many writers who've reused it do not even know its origin in Taylor's work. Some of the variations are better than others: Felix E. Feist's movie Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) awakens sympathy for its hero, while Erle Stanley Gardner's XXX adds plot ingenuity to the mix.

This story had me rooting for the hero. Tales of underdogs who succeed against great odds have always appealed to me. The story is also a sympathetic treatment of a social outsider, someone who tries to make a place in society, despite all the prejudice against him.

Cover (#10, June-July 1948). The cover shows a cop about to capture a crook coming through a window. The cover is a photograph. According to the GCD, comics writer "France Herron plays the cop in the picture". and writer-editor "Jack Schiff plays the crook" .