Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise

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The above is not a complete list of Cosmo 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.

Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise

Cosmo is an upper crust British detective, very gentlemanly. He is also a man of action and danger, who deals with spies and saboteurs, as well as criminals. He comes out a tradition of British action heroes, such as those in the novels of E. Phillips Oppenheim. Like them, he is at once aristocratic, and highly muscled and two-fisted.

Cosmo seems to me to be among the least interesting of the series detectives in Detective Comics. For one thing, several of the stories seem to be right wing propaganda. For another, the series is so busy being a combination of snobbery and action that detective elements are often skimped. Still, he had some interesting tales.

Sven Elven had an unusual style for the comics. It was sketchy but elaborate, using many rough lines to convey the effect of a character. It was much more typical of the illustrations in slick magazines, than of most comic books. Elven was in fact often credited as the "illustrator" of the comic tales he drew.

The Rhangwa Pearls (1937). Art: Sven Elven. Cosmo has a duel with Taro, a master jewel thief, who is trying to steal a millionaire's jewels. The first Cosmo tale. It sets up the basic premise of Cosmo as a high powered detective brought in to difficult cases. It does not really tell the story of Cosmo's life, or provide a true Origin for his work as a detective.

Both Cosmo and Taro are masters of disguise. Much of the mystery plot involves both men using ingenious disguises, Taro to commit a crime, Cosmo to prevent it.

The story takes place at the sort of elegant millionaire's mansion that was a frequent setting for Golden Age prose mysteries. Elven does a good job with the police uniforms. He also creates an aristocratic image for Cosmo.

The Disappearing Diamonds (1937). Art: Sven Elven. While Cosmo visits Capetown, South Africa on his way home from India, he solves a mystery about how diamonds are being smuggled out of a closely guarded compound. Impossible crime tales were rare in the comics. This one comes up with a creditable solution. The "mysteriously disappearing object" was a standard impossible crime puzzle in Ellery Queen, who developed many ingenious solutions. This story is closest to Queen's "The Treasure Hunt" (1935).

Detective Comics loved stories set around the world. This story has pleasant detail about its exotic locale.

The Premonition of Emil Rogello (1937). Art: Sven Elven. Cosmo tracks down the murderer of a famous pianist, Emil Rogello. This story takes place in the elegant world of classical music. Cosmo has remarkable musical ability himself - he was the piano student of the murdered musician! This multi-ability in the gifted detective hero, reminds one of such pulp heroes as Doc Savage and his men, who also had numerous talents. It also recalls Sherlock Holmes, and his skill with the violin.

The setting of this story among the intelligentsia recalls the Van Dine school of prose mystery writers. The story also shows the circle of suspects found in many Golden Age prose mystery stories, with the revelation of the killer at the end. However, in his central mystery plot, the author here is much less creative than Ellery Queen, the leading member of the Van Dine school. Lamentably, there is not a single clue to the killer. The writer apparently just picked one of the characters at random to be the murderer - there is no logical reason in the plot why this person should be the one. So this story is all wind up, and no pitch. It hardly has a mystery puzzle plot, in any real sense.

Cosmo's mastery of disguise, including his ability to impersonate actual persons so that their closest friends are fooled, recalls Ellery Queen's detective Drury Lane, who enacts a similar impersonation in The Tragedy of Y (1932).

Von Ruyter's Explosive Gun (1938). Art: Sven Elven. Cosmo and spies are involved with stolen diplomatic secrets at the Russian Legation in New York City. The plot recalls such turn of the century spy writers as William Le Queux, whose tales frequently revolved around obtaining diplomatic secrets. As in Le Queux, both the spies and diplomats operate out of an elegant upper crust setting, one that is awash with money, and which is just the slightest bit decadent.

Elven has done a good job with a formal party at the Russian Legation. Cosmo is in high style in white tie and tails, and everything at the party shows the decadent opulence of a Le Queux novel. Elven has visualized this world precisely. It is has the exact degree of over ripe formality, lavishness and ostentation. It is hard to imagine that this soiree is actually taking place in New York City in the 1930's - there is none of the tough urban atmosphere one finds in many comics of this period.

Murder in Texas (#18, August 1938). Art: Sven Elven. Cosmo solves a Western mystery. The last place I would imagine the sophisticated Cosmo would be is the Wild West, but here he is! Many of the heroes in Detective Comics had turns as cowboy detectives in change of pace stories, notably Speed Saunders in "At the Rodeo" (#7, September 1937) and "The Indian Oil Well Mystery" (#12, February 1938). Like Speed, Cosmo is decked out in full cowboy regalia here. Cosmo never quite convinces in this milieu, but he actually looks decent in cowboy gear. Elven has him in a leather vest, atop a huge horse. He looks just as dominating and commanding as he does in more urban settings. With his long lean body, he looks a bit like Gary Cooper.

Unfortunately, the tale is poor, unlike the two Speed Saunders gems, which were written by Gardner Fox.

The Many Murder Attempts of McQuade (1939). Art: Sven Elven. A stranger comes to Cosmo's door, asking for help: protection from a man who is trying to kill him. The stranger Leroy functions in many ways as a double for Cosmo. Both are macho men who are 100% good guys. Both have lived lives of adventure around the world. Both are drawn by Elven to look a lot alike, being handsome Englishmen, hugely muscled. Both even dress alike, wearing similar overcoats throughout the tale. Leroy's is pure white, giving a striking macho effect, while Cosmo's has a red pattern (the story is colored in white, black and red). Leroy seems like an ideal friend for Cosmo. It is as if fate had brought them together to be soul mates.