Picking up where we left off in the previous post, here’s the rest of Avenger’s (and Teena’s) debut adventure from Space Detective Comics #1. There’s a lot for us to talk about just on the first page, so strap yourself in and let’s hit the spaceways!

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

The splash panel reminded me of a major gripe I have with Silver Age comics of the 1960’s. If you’re going to introduce some mcguffin that helps the hero solve the crime, show the mcguffin first, then show its effects – NOT the other way around. This story from the early 1950’s does it right.

Teena’s x-ray gizmo lets our heroes see through any of Maag’s disguises. Now we can argue all day long about whether or not the x-ray is a deus ex machina “cheat”; I don’t have a beef with the presence of such a device in a sci-fi comic because the gizmo is explained at the time they use it. What hacks me off about many a Silver Age story from the 1960’s is the explanation of the mcguffin after it was used. The usually great Gardner Fox used to cheat this way all the time, especially in his early-Sixties Hawkman stories. A crook plans and executes a near-perfect crime, only to have Hawkman thwart it by seeming to pull the mystery’s solution right out of his ass. Hawkman would go on to explain that the villain would have gotten away with it “except that I had the foresight to be wearing my infra-red contact lenses, which allowed me to see his footprints”. The next issue it would be a set of “smoke penetrating contact lenses” which Hawkman would just happen to be wearing. A couple of issues later it would be “anti-invisibility contacts”. Apparently Hawkman had a whole dresser drawer full of various high-tech contact lenses – and he’d always somehow know pre-cognitively which pair to pop into his eyes in the morning.

Now I love Gardner Fox, don’t get me wrong: I wish I could write with a tenth of the success that he enjoyed throughout a very long career. It’s inevitable, considering his vast output, that he would resort to occasional shortcuts. But introducing the high-tech mcguffin after the fact is a really bad cheat. Just say up front that you have an infra-red projector that lets you follow the villain’s footsteps, or a collector dish on your spaceship that can track another vessel’s ion trail, or (in this case) an x-ray gun that lets you spot the metal plate in the gangster’s leg. Describe the gizmo, let the hero use it, and get on with the story. That’s how it’s done in this tale, and it doesn’t feel the least bit like a cheat.

As for the first panel of the story, well, let’s just say that I find it interesting that Dot/Teena seems a bit, um, exposed. And Rod’s shirt is unbuttoned and seems more than a bit rumpled, all of which suggests that the philanthropist and his secretary may have been practicing some “space docking maneuvers” before we barged in. On the other hand…

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

“A moment later” when the visiphone comes on, Dot appears to be fully dressed.

So we’re left with a couple of possibilities here. The first one is that the panel was just a plain old-fashioned coloring error. The second possibility (which I assume to be the explanation, though there’s no way to prove it) is that it was a deliberate “sneak” on the part of Orlando, Wood, and the colorist. Note that Dot’s “undressed” look is subtly different from her “Teena” costume in the splash panel (with the blue leggings and bare midrff). Her red top appears to be untied (part of it is overlapping her skirt), which is definitely how Wood inked the panel before it went to the colorist. My guess (because I have no way to prove it) based on the panel’s evidence and on Wood’s known love for “good girl art” is that it was wholly intentional but designed to look like a printing error. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

By the way, we met actress Serra Venta back on the fourth page of Part One in what (at the time) seemed to be a throwaway panel but which was actually the set up for this second part of the story. It’s also interesting to note that four years have elapsed between Part One of the story and the second part which we’re now reading.

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

That’s a nice “space age” riff on the 1940’s Batmobile in the first panel.

Minor spoiler: keep an eye on Zoro, the dwarf. We’ll be seeing a fair little bit of him later on.

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

An H-bomb. I guess if you’re going to blow up something, you might as well do it right.

And so ends Part Two.

Here again, I don’t have a problem with the fact that Hathway has a duplicating ray on hand. It would have been a problem had writer Walter Gibson made a big deal out of it in a subsequent panel: “Oh, I knew from my investigation that Maag has a monocular vision defect, so I made sure to pack my duplicating ray. The moment I saw that drugs were involved, I knew that I would be confronting him.” At which point we’d all have been smelling the B.S.

Onward to the third and final part of the tale:

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

Zoro. Yeah, that guy again…

Seriously, this is a pretty well-crafted tale of interconnected adventures which spans four and a half years. You can tell that Walter Gibson put some thought, time, and effort into the thing just by the multiple foreshadowing touches.

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

That last panel is a corker, just based on the detail! It would have been easy to draw a big featureless cloud with a couple of rocks flying out of it, but Orlando and Wood give us an exploding, collapsing, collonaded bank designed in the classical Greek style. And that’s what separates the great comic illustrators from the mere run of the mill guys.

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

“They can’t be more than 50,000 miles ahead of us now! We’ll be within range soon! I’ll get our space gun ready!” It’s a very nice reference to the vastness of space, which is often forgotten in today’s science fiction shows and films.

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

But then we have Teena floating around in space with exposed skin and without a pressurized suit. Nuts.

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

Space Detective Comics #1, July 1951

Hathway turns the tables and finally (after four and a half years) gets his man – and with a cool, ironic ending, too. What a fun story!

Next time around, I’ll address a personal request directed to The Big Blog o’Fun. Until then…

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2014, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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