T-Men

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Target Comics

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

Many issues of Target Comics can be read free online at Comic Book +.


T-Men

The T-Men were Treasury Agents, working for the US Government. They were non-super-powered detective heroes; they solved cases set in a realistic, non-science-fictional world. The lead of most of the series was T-Man Turner. He was a handsome, dignified and talented Treasury Agent, who wore a suit. He had no secret identity or gimmicks. He was very brainy, being a skilled scientist and lab investigator, and also has exciting adventures fighting criminals.

T-Men ran in Target Comics, from #1 (Vol. 1 #1) (February 1940), through #9 (Vol. 1 #9) (October 1940). It is unclear what relation the comic book series has, if any, with the famous and much later movie directed by Anthony Mann, T-Men (1947), which also deals with Treasury Agents.

Our hero is macho but clean cut, in a long tradition of government agents. In his next-to-last story, "The Mail Order Robbery" (#8, September 1940), he goes to a "tough hangout" on a case, The Green Cat bar, and orders milk. I do not drink either, or approve of alcohol, a vicious drug that has ruined countless lives. Very few comic book heroes of any era drank. They were tough as nails, and often involved with extremely rough criminals, but they generally completely avoided alcohol and tobacco. A good thing, too!

The first episode is an awful racist melodrama of no value. Thankfully, this sort of material is largely absent in the rest of the tales.

Return of the Octopus (#3, (Vol. 1 #3) April 1940). Writer: E. F. Webster. Art: Joe Simon. A kidnapping to solve takes the T-Man to a creepy funeral parlor, then a boat. First appearance of T-Man Chick Farrell, and his partner from the regular police Bill Madden. I have no idea why the series suddenly introduces new protagonists here, after the first two stories about T-Man Turner. Still, the new protagonists are appealing, and better characterized than the early not-so-hot tales about Turner, who is not seen or mentioned here or in the next issue.

This minor, none-too-good story is mainly an action tale. It offers some thrills at both of its main locations.

The Counterfeit Lottery Ring (1940). Writer: Ben Thompson. Art: Ben Thompson. Title for this titleless story supplied by the Grand Comics Database. Chick Farrell and partner Bill Madden track down crooks who are counterfeiting lottery tickets. This is the second and better of the two tales about Farrell and Madden.

Well done mystery that shows ingenuity on the part of Farrell, in his scheme to locate the crooks' hide-out. Farrell is blindfolded and taken to a hide-out whose location he does not know; later he has to figure out where it is. Some prose mystery short stories in pulp magazines offered somewhat similar problems to their heroes: T. T. Flynn's "The Letters and the Law" (1936) and Roland Phillips with "Death Lies Waiting" (1944). Phillips' and Flynn's solutions and handling of the situation will be very different, from each other's and this comic book tale.

In addition to information in the dialogue, there is also a visual clue in the art of the story (bottom panels of page 4). This clue, if the reader notices it, would help the reader solve the mystery. Visual clues have a long, if sporadic, appearance in various comic book mysteries.

The story has excellent comedy relief with Bill Madden, including some nifty dialogue.

Monk the Diamond Smuggler (#5, (Vol. 1 #5) June 1940). Writer: E. F. Webster?. Art: Ben Thompson. Title for this titleless story supplied by the Grand Comics Database. T-Man Turner goes after smugglers in a New England fishing village. Minor tale, pleasant enough. T-Man Turner returns here, and will be the lead for the rest of the series. T-Man Turner actually goes undercover here, as a painter in the picturesque village. Painters were supposed to have an affinity for the New England seaside, and a painter's role will not be uncommon for male characters of the era.

Interesting things are done with letters, both by the crooks and T-Man Turner.

The issue with the final letter sent, is identifying the location of the bad guys (bottom panels of page 6, last panel of page 7). This issue was also central to the mystery in "The Counterfeit Lottery Ring".

However, in "Monk the Diamond Smuggler" this is a clever scheme by the hero that the reader is challenged to guess. By contrast "The Counterfeit Lottery Ring" has a mystery puzzle that both the hero and the reader have to try to solve. This mystery puzzle approach in "The Counterfeit Lottery Ring" is deeper and more creative. This difference is a key reason I don't rate "Monk the Diamond Smuggler" as highly as "The Counterfeit Lottery Ring".

The High Sierra Gold Robbery (1940). Writer: ?. Art: Larry Antonette. Title for this titleless story supplied by the Grand Comics Database. T-Man Turner is aboard when a train carried government gold is wrecked and robbed. The best parts of this OK tale focus on technology, both in the train wreck, and the subsequent lab work Turner uses to detect the criminals.

This story shows T-Man Turner using planes, boats, trains and other glamorous means of transportation in his crime fighting. Such vehicles were popular in 1930's crime-fighter comic strips and comic books.

Some of the landscape panoramas are good. Especially nice: a map-like aerial view showing a car making its way to a cove in the distance (page 5).

More landscape art by Larry Antonette can be seen in the Sub-Zero story "Volcanic Problem" (Blue Bolt #2, July 1940). An overhead view of a road leading to a mountain (last panel of page 1) recalls a bit the aerial view of the car on a road on the way to a cove in "The High Sierra Gold Robbery". There is much more landscape art in "Volcanic Problem" as well.

The Construction Saboteurs (1940). Writer: ?. Art: Larry Antonette. Title for this titleless story supplied by the Grand Comics Database. When a building collapses due to construction problems, T-Man Turner investigates and tries to find the culprit. Like many of the T-Men stories, this one opens with an exciting action scene, here showing the collapsing wall.

SEMI-DOCUMENTARY. Then the story shifts into detective mode. T-Man Turner regularly uses high-tech work in his government labs to analyze evidence. The lab work in this tale is especially rich and varied. He also engages in some code breaking work. These technical analysis scenes are the best part of the story. They anticipate the high-tech techniques used by government agents in the semi-documentary crime films put out by Hollywood in the later 1940's. These T-Men comic book tales were earlier than most, but not all, of the semi-doc films: please see the chart showing the history of the semi-doc film.

The industrial setting here (the construction site) also anticipates the many industrial locales in the semi-documentary films. The semi-doc films tended to use industrial areas for their big finales; this comic book tale uses the construction site for its opening.

The story has a logically constructed if fairly simple mystery plot, as well.

UNDERCOVER? T-Man Turner is described here as an "undercover agent" of the Treasury. He certainly is a Treasury Agent, making full use of his governmental powers and lab facilities. But he does not seem to have any sort of "undercover" role in this tale. He always seems to be investigating in his own persona as T-Man Turner. By contrast, the heroes of the film T-Men (1947) take on actual undercover roles, posing as crooks and infiltrating a gang of counterfeiters. True undercover roles were common in early comics books; such Jerry Siegel heroes as Slam Bradley and Spy often undertook them; so did Speed Saunders.