Charlie Chan

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The New Adventures of Charlie Chan

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Julius Schwartz.

Charlie Chan

John Broome was the main author of Big Town, a long running detective comic book that was just coming to an end with issue #50 (March-April 1958). Big Town was based on a TV show, and Broome was soon back as the writer of another comic book based on a TV show, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan. This debuted in May-June 1958, right after the last issue of Big Town. Each issue of the new comic book had two stories, a 15 page one and a 10 page one. All of the scripts were by John Broome; all the covers and interior art were by Sid Greene. Unfortunately, the comic only lasted six issues; its last issue was #6 (March-April 1959), around one year later. Both the comic book and the TV show were ultimately based on the Charlie Chan books written by Earl Derr Biggers. The comic books are not close in tone or approach to Biggers' original novels, however, and their is little sign that the novels influenced the comics adaptation directly.

There were some differences from its predecessor. While Big Town stuck relentlessly to its title setting, a thinly fictionalized version of New York City, each story in Charlie Chan was set in a different exotic location all over the world. This was in the tradition of the Chan movies, which featured the detective as a world traveler. It also reminds one of the comic book Danger Trail (1950-1951), all of whose stories were set around the globe.

The Big Town stories often were pure detective tales, in which the hero solved some mystery. The first two Chan tales in #1 were close to pure detection, but later issues often were more adventure tales than mystery and detection.

In all the stories, Charlie Chan is a master of judo. This allows the writer to include some non-lethal action scenes into the tales. Similarly, hero Steve Wilson of Big Town was an expert at using his fists. Stories of martial arts have only grown in popularity since 1958.

Both Charlie Chan and his son Barry are depicted with great dignity here. Charlie Chan is a great detective, with high morals, intelligence and courage. Sid Greene's illustrations are also dignified and refined. Probably both Broome and editor Julius Schwartz believed they were making a pro-Civil Rights statement, by creating a comic book with a Chinese hero. Ironically, years of often bad and sometimes stereotyped Charlie Chan movies have caused many Asians today to loathe the character of Charlie Chan. Broome and Schwartz would go on to include the pioneering non-white character Thomas Kamalku in Green Lantern.

Secret of the Phantom Bells (1958). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. Charlie Chan searches for an ancient Roman treasure hidden in an old English castle.

Broome often constructed his plots so that each small event in them followed logically step by step from the one before. While individual steps were not large, eventually the plot reached some quite distant destination. He uses a similar approach here to the secret location of the treasure. He builds up a complicated environment and history of the treasure here. Near the end, the treasure is revealed. The gradual unfolding of this plot seems quite magical. It is like a whole process in motion that gradually reveals a significant truth. The environment includes both the architecture of the castle, and the buildings in the nearby village, including an ancient bell tower. This step by step process is concerned less with the detectival route Charlie Chan uses to solve the mystery, and more with the structure of the actual mysterious situation of the treasure itself, although it includes both concepts.

This story has a very long historical perspective. This reflects the sf tales Broome was also writing. The use of bells recalls all the sf stories Broome wrote for Strange Adventures dealing with new media. Also, the tale ends with wealth being used for the common good. This too was a frequent finale in Broome's sf stories. All of this gives the tale more of a feel of Broome's sf stories, than of the detective tales he wrote for Big Town.

The search for an ancient treasure in a traditional village and home in Great Britain is also the subject of Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett's Batman story "The Lord of Batmanor" (Detective Comics #198, August 1953).

Broome also includes a good subplot about three sleuths from three countries who also come to the village to solve the mystery. This international group recalls the four great detectives in the final Justice Society tale, Broome's "The Mystery of the Vanishing Detectives" (All Star Comics #57, February-March 1951). One of the sleuths in that earlier story was a thinly disguised version of Charlie Chan, by the way. Broome takes this subplot in different directions here than in the earlier story.

Charlie Chan's Invisible Clue (1958). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. Based on a cover by: Sid Greene. Charlie Chan tries to determine which of three young men is actually a Maharajah's long missing son.

This story is interesting for the way it interweaves a number of mystery plots about the three young men. The "invisible clue" of the title is also intriguing. Broome was often concerned with paradoxical clues in his detective tales. See for example, "The Case of the 14 Clueless Crimes" (Strange Adventures #162, March 1964) and "Mystery of the Mind-Reading Jewels" (Mystery in Space #29, December 1955 - January 1956). This story is in that tradition, of clues which function in a non-standard way, but which still help the detective solve a mystery in a logical way.

Broome often wrote tales about young men trying to find their place in the world. The three young men here fall into this category. Broome asks who they are - and also what they did before they met the Maharajah again. All of the men are growing and developing in different ways: some good and some bad. Broome has also written sf stories about ordinary young Earthmen brought into glamorous courts in outer space: see "The Secret of the Tom Thumb Spacemen" (Strange Adventures #78, March 1957). This tale is like a non-sf treatment of the same wish fulfillment theme.

Sid Greene's art is quite realistic throughout the Chan stories: quite different from his more stylized sf tales. But the portraits of the young men recall the heroes of his sf stories.