Let’s Talk Comics – April/May/June 2023

News reporters have always played a major role in comic book stories, both as lead characters and in strong supporting roles. Most were focused on getting the story come gangsters or high water. They’re savvy and experienced. And then there were others like Jimmy Olsen.

But I don’t know where to place Tintin, the boy reporter. 

That mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent was a masquerade for Superman. He was surrounded by a cadre of photojournalists and reporters including Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Olsen and publisher Perry White. Peter Parker used his photographic abilities since Amazing Spider-Man 2 as a freelance photographer to snap pictures of Spider-Man to make money. He too had strong supporting characters, including J. Jonah Jameson, Joe Roberston, Betty Brant and Ned Leeds. 

Casey, Crime Photographer 2, 1949, by Marvel Comics, based on the hit radio show of the same name.

There are many more current-era comic fans are familiar with: Vicki Vale (Batman), Ben Ulrich (Daredevil), Iris West (The Flash), April O’Neil (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and the Hunter S. Thompson-like character of Spider Jerusalem (Transmetropolitan).

But there was a slew of others who used their bravery and smarts rather than superpowers to smash the most powerful syndicates plaguing the city or countryside.

Brenda Starr, Reporter, a blend of film siren Rita Hayworth and debutante Brenda Frazier was created in 1940 by Dale Messick for the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. The comic strip reached its peak of popularity by the 1950s in 250 newspapers. 

The comic books, published by Four Star Comics and Canada’s Superior Comics between 1947 and 1949 are filled with strip reprints and some new material. Cover work and new material were drawn by Jack Kamen and Volume 2, Issue 3 is believed to have art by the great Matt Baker.

Dell published a one-shot in 1962 and Charlton reprinted strips in three issues in 1955. Fox Features reprinted some strips in the anthology issues of All-Great Comics 12 and 13. 

Casey, Crime Photographer first appeared in the mystery pulp Black Mask as Flashgun Jack Casey, a big city newspaper photographer with a flash camera, a bottle of booze, powerful fists and a .38-calibre pistol. It became a radio show that aired 431 episodes between 1943 and 1955.

Crime Reporter 2, from 1948 by St. John Publishing, and the cover by the great Matt Baker. This is the Canadian Edition.

The popularity of the radio show however didn’t translate well into comic books. Marvel gained the rights to print the character but it only lasted four issues, from August 1949 to February 1950, and was pencilled by comic artist Vernon Henkel. The comic was then branded into Two-Gun Western. 

DC’s Big Town comics, which ran for 50 issues beginning in 1951, were also based on a radio show of the same name, with investigative and crusading scribe Steve Wilson and was supported by sidekick Lorelie, battling the criminal evils of a big city. The radio show’s corruption fighter starred Edward G. Robinson between 1937 and 1942. Actor Edward Pawley took the lead between 1943 and ’52. The popularity of the show led to four films between 1947 and ’48, and then television shows on CBS and NBC between 1950 and ’56.

Crime Reporter was a three-issue series by St. John Publications printed in 1948. There were Canadian versions of the comic printed. Of the three, Crime Reporter 2 is the most coveted as it was cited in the infamous anti-comic crusade book Seduction of the Innocent for its violence. Art was by Baker and George Tuska.

There was also an unrelated Crime Reporter black and white comic published by the U.K. imprint Streamline in 1954. Streamline also reprinted many American titles for the British market.

Headline Comics is, well, a misnomer, but very collectable. It launched as a superhero comic and later transformed into a crime comic. Newspapers didn’t factor much in the book, which ran between 1943 and ’56.

Dick Quick, Ace Reporter, starred only once in Picture News 10 from 1947, published by Lafayette Street Corp. Bernie Krigstein and Milt Gross were the artists in the book. The 10-book series was an eclectic one that featured news stories in comic book format, including reports on atomic bomb explosions, Frank Sinatra taking on a bully and G.I. babies.

Before the Brenda Starr strip, there was Jane Arden Crime Reporter, which began as a newspaper strip and ran for 40 years beginning in 1928. The character was created by writer Monte Barrett and artist Frank Ellis for the Register and Tribune Syndicate.

She infiltrated and exposed criminal operations and the character arguably was the template for future “girl reporters” like Lois Lane. The strips were reprinted beginning in Famous Funnies 2 in 1934. The work then moved to Feature Funnies 1 in 1937 by publisher Comic Favorites, Inc. Her final appearances in comic books began with Crack Comics 1 in 1940 until the 25th issue. The work also appeared in Pageant of Comics 2 and Jane Arden 1 and 2 by St. John in 1948.

A Jane Arden comic ran for 29 issues in Australia in 1955 and ’56.

Extra! was EC’s newspaper comic book launched in 1955. The covers were designed to look like newspaper fronts. The title unfortunately only lasted five issues before it was cancelled. The artists were among the top of the line’s best, John Severin, Johnny Craig, and Reed Crandall. Each artist was assigned to one of three newspaper writers whose stories appeared in the books.

Green Hornet was a crime fighter who moonlighted as a newspaper publisher. Or is it the other way around? Also born from the pulps and radio plays, the character appeared in numerous comic titles beginning in 1940 in Green Hornet Comics by Holyoke for the first six issues, and then Harvey Comics until it was cancelled with number 47 in 1949.

Iterations of the title would return over the decades, printed by various publishers, but high-grade Gold Key books from 1967 with Bruce Lee on the covers are highly coveted.

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