The Firebrand

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Police Comics

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.

They were edited by Ed Cronin.

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

The Firebrand

The Firebrand is a costumed crime fighter without super-powers, in the tradition of Batman.

Introducing the Firebrand (1941). Writer: S. M. Iger. Art: Reed Crandall. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Rich playboy Rod Reilly secretly becomes crime-fighter the Firebrand. First appearance of the Firebrand, and such supporting cast as his assistant, the former boxer Slugger, his girlfriend Joan Rogers, and his father, steel magnate Emerald Ed Reilly. This is not a true origin story: Rod Reilly is already the Firebrand here, and we do not learn how he first assumed this role.

This story places far more emphasis on Rod's playboy existence than do most later works in the series. The splash shows Rod in white tie and tails, and the story also has an extensive sequence with Rod at a war relief ball. Rod looks terrific in his white tie, with a sculpted tail coat and a beautifully curved top hat (p6). One hopes in this tale that Rod will be a major continuing character, but the later tales mainly show him in the role of the Firebrand.

In this first story, the character reminds one of Rod Gaynor, AKA The Whip, both of whose identities play a major role in his stories. The Whip began in January 1940, and was well established by the time the Firebrand appeared.

Another problem: the Firebrand functions too much as a vigilante. He does not just catch crooks, the way most comic book heroes do, but meets out violent punishment to them. This is unappealing.

The Firebrand was clearly viewed by the magazine's editor as the star attraction of this debut issue #1 of Police Comics. He got the cover, and was the first story in the magazine. Nowadays, the tendency is to view Plastic Man, who also debuted in this issue, as the only important character in the magazine. Plastic Man would not get the cover till #5. The early Firebrand covers are by Gill Fox, not by the interior story artist, Reed Crandall.

Slugger is an appealing character. He does not get his full name Slugger Shea, till "Boss Slaine, Traitor" in issue #3; later stories will give the name as Slugger Dunn. Just as Rod is in full white and tails here, so is Slugger in a series of servant's liveries, first as a waiter, then as a chauffeur. These underscore his servant's relationship to Rod. Slugger is shown serving Rod drinks as a waiter, driving Rod in his chauffeur's uniform, and other servant's tasks. We also see Slugger dressing Rod in his evening clothes. In later tales, Slugger will tend to be in more casual outfits.

Rod's outfit is unusual. His hat (or head-scarf) is that of a pirate, and his see-through, transparent white shirt also seems like pirate's gear. I do not recall any other comic hero wearing see-through clothes. There are good portraits of the costume in "Dr. Kruger's Hospital Horror" (#6, January 1942), showing Rod's chest musculature through the material of the shirt. I've noticed that Internet articles on the Firebrand all mention his transparent shirt. It is one of the few individual, unusual aspects of this otherwise pretty conventional character.

The Revolt of General Muerte (#2, September 1941). Writer: S. M. Iger. Art: Reed Crandall. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database.) An Army officer leads a coup on a Caribbean nation, but is battled by the Firebrand. Best part of this ordinary story: a depiction of European refugees in the country, waiting for visas to get into the USA.

Herr Strasse's Sea Island Spy Ring (#4, November 1941). Writer: S. M. Iger. Art: Reed Crandall. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Rod develops a new combat bomber plane. This premise is an attempt to give Rod Reilly some dimension, rather than just being an idle playboy. Unfortunately, the plane is already invented at the start of the tale, and we just see the Firebrand in action again.

There is a nice depiction of Rod in a double-breasted blue suit.