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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
They were edited by Ed Cronin.
The Redemption of Steele Kerrigan (1941). Writer: ? Art: Al Bryant. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database.) When Steele Kerrigan gets out of prison, he has to fight against the gangsters who put him there. This is a full origin tale for Kerrigan, showing his life history. It is also the origin of his faithful girl friend, Anne.
In this debut, Steele Kerrigan is marked out as being around 19. This is younger than most comic book heroes. He has already served two years in prison, for a crime which he did not really commit - he was a naïve youngster at 17 who was tricked by a gang to be innocently involved with their crime.
Steele is shown wearing a bow tie - a costume associated with the rather juvenile Johnny Thunder (created 1940), and that will still be associated some years later with the juvenile Jimmy Olsen.
Kerrigan is an unusual comic book hero. He has no costume or secret identity. He is just an ordinary guy who fights crime. Steele's adventures are also normal: the criminals he meets are never costumed masterminds, but also wear regular clothes. Many of Steele's tales seem to echo movies of the period. This helps make the events in them seem "real". They stick to situations that readers of the time felt were fairly plausible. Steele can seem like the hero of a Warner Brothers melodrama, an honest working man who has to go up against tough criminals, and cope with bad breaks.
ART. Bryant uses many "cinematic" overhead angles. His art reminds one of comic strips of the 1930's, and their ambitious attempts to incorporate cinematic techniques. Bryant is especially fond of overhead shots of architecture, often strikingly composed. In this first tale we see a bank and a jail. There are also shots of a sidewalk elevator shaft.
Bryant's country landscapes are rich in trees.
Bryant also emphasizes portraiture. His close-ups of his characters are strikingly detailed and realistic. They vividly convey emotion. One suspects that Al Bryant saw himself as a cartoonist in training for the comic strips. He was trying to show his best work in the Steele Kerrigan stories.
The Hijacker (1941). Writer: ? Art: Al Bryant. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Steele gets a job as a trucker. His youth is no longer emphasized - although his trucking partner calls Steele "Kid" when they first meet.
STORY STRUCTURE. This story starts a frequent pattern in the later tales: Steele gets a new job, which gets him in the middle of some criminal scheme he will battle.
This tale eventually becomes quite violent. The high violence level is more like a pulp magazine story, than a typical 1941 Hollywood crime movie. As in the next tale "The Motorcycle Cop Murder", policemen seem to be especial targets of the villains' violence.
The story has mystery elements. SPOILERS. The ending reveals the guilty behind the crimes.
ART AND GEOMETRY. In this second tale, Bryant shows the truck from every possible angle. His overhead shots recall the overhead shots of buildings in his other works, with the truck being nearly as big as a building, and as visually complicated. The trucks are full of curved forms.
The van-line building gets one of Bryant's carefully composed overhead angles (page 1). Aside from the trucks parked in front, this building scene is entirely rectilinear.
The splash shows Bryant's fondness for country landscapes with trees.
HERO AND MASCULINITY. In the splash, the phallic-looking front grill of the truck is drawn immediately in front of Steele. It emphasizes his masculinity. The grill has two round headlights on either side of it, adding to the symbolism.
A villain sarcastically calls Steele "Mr. Muscles" during a fight. It's appropriate: Steele is indeed drawn as hugely muscular.
UNIFORMS. Steele is shown on the splash in a trucker's uniform: a red-ish-purple jacket over a white dress shirt, along with a matching red-ish-purple high-peaked cap. His fellow trucker Mike Scully is in an identical uniform, although we can see little of it due to where he sits.
In the actual story, the jackets are never shown: Steele and his trucking partner Mike Scully are always in white dress shirts, without any jackets. Scully always has his cap on in the tale, while Steele wears his cap only on the first page. Steele does have his cap sitting on the counter in front of him, in one panel (page 2).
Both men wear similarly shaped bow ties, but Steele's is red, and Scully's is blue. In the previous story, Steele wore a similar looking red bow tie with his blue sport coat and white dress shirt. It is unclear whether this shirt and tie are simply the same here, or whether Steele now has on a special white uniform dress shirt and tie. The dress shirt has unusual peaked shoulders here, and elaborate patch pockets - more like a trucker's uniform than an ordinary dress shirt. The patch pockets are placed low on the shirt, instead of on the chest: something I've rarely seen elsewhere. It is a cool effect (page 1).
The shot of the policeman with the visor over his eyes is striking (page 3). The shiny visors of the truckers' huge caps are also emphasized. The highly dressed-up cops have the harness of a Sam Browne belt slung across their chests (pages 3, 4).
The Motorcycle Cop Murder (1941). Writer: ? Art: Al Bryant. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Mail robbers shoot a policeman. This story begins the characterization of Anne as a feisty, courageous proletarian hero. Like Steele, she is also willing to fight against the bad guys, and for her beliefs. The story describes her as a "scrapper".
STORY STRUCTURE. Unlike some tales, this story does not start with a new job for Steele. Instead, he and Anne encounter the crime by pure chance while out for a drive.
And unlike some Steele Kerrigan tales, this one lacks elements of mystery or detective puzzle. It is a straightforward thriller, with good buys battling the villains.
HERO AND MASCULINITY. The splash panel inexplicably shows a shirtless Steele battling the crooks. In the tale itself, he always keeps his clothes on.
Steele's convertible car has another one of those phallic grills, placed right in front of him as he drives (page 2). Like the grill in "The Hijacker", this has paired circular headlights on either side.
STATE POLICE. The State Police wear double-breasted blue uniforms (page 5). These sharp, dressy uniforms include big boots, with flared trousers. We get close-ups of the boots earlier in the tale (page 2); the boots are presumably to help the state troopers ride their motorcycles.
The two cops at the end are good-looking leading man types, handsome and smooth. They look as if they are about to star in a Hollywood film, or be elected as the popular chairmen of a country club. They have a polished perfection and charm.
During this period state policemen were often idealized by prose mystery writers. They were seen as bringing a special intelligence, competence and even sophistication to the rural areas where they worked. Please see my list of works featuring the State Police.
McGaw's Proposition (1941). Writer: ? Art: Al Bryant. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Steele sets up as a private detective. I was sure while reading the story that this was a permanent new career for Steele. But he immediately abandons it at the start of the next tale. Instead, this is another one-time job for Steele, getting him involved in a new adventure.
This story features Spike McGaw, the leader of the gang that originally exploited Steele, causing Steele to be sent to prison. Spike's name has the phallic symbolism found in some Steele Kerrigan tales.
Dr. Burgess's Diamond Theft (1941). Writer: ? Art: Al Bryant. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Steele gets a job as a butler, and Anne as a private secretary at a gloomy mansion. This change of pace tale has Steele and Anne involved in a traditional whodunit type mystery, at a wealthy family's mansion. Such whodunits were popular fixtures in the movies of the period. They were still within the paradigm of what readers consider "normal" crimes: they do not take Steele into the realm of costumed villains comic book crime, something Steele's stories always avoided.
They Stole the Commissioner's Car (1942). Writer: ? Art: Al Bryant. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database.) A car theft ring steals a car right in front of police headquarters.
The front of a police station was also a locale in "The Hijacker". This is yet another Steele Kerrigan tale in which the police are under attack.
Steele's blue suit is frequently drawn as black in this tale, making it seem dark and extremely dressy looking. He wears a white dress shirt, and regular red tie. The splash has a memorable portrait of a giant Steele, holding tiny figures of the criminal gang in his fist.