Friday, June 22, 2012
THE CRIMSON AVENGER
Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27. That means there were 26 issues before anybody even thought of Batman.
I've not yet said anything about these issues because they are largely unknown to me. They are very expensive. They are hard to find. And DC has been kind of stingy in reprinting these stories.
(I have a reprint of the very first issue of Dectective Comics and I plan to write about it one of these days. But I want to give it a proper, somewhat lengthy treatment, so I'm waiting until I'm a little more inspired to give it the effort it deserves.)
The most notable creation of those early, pre-Batman days was The Crimson Avenger.
He first appeared in Detective Comics #20, with a cover date of October 1938. By issue #22, he worked his way onto the cover.
Superman beat him by, like, a day. (Action Comics #1 is cover-dated June 1938. (OK. So it's more than a day. But the Crimson Avenger is still a very early costumed hero in the comics.))
Batman came along in #27 (May 1939). The Crimson Avenger was also on the cover of #34 (December 1939) where he looks very devoted to throwing some dude off a ship, for some reason. But it wasn't long before Batman took over the cover spot pretty much permanently.
His real name was Lee Travis. He was a newspaper publisher who dressed up in a cape and a mask and ran around with an Asian sidekick to fight crime. This may sound somewhat familiar. The Crimson Avenger had much in common with radio's Green Hornet, who first appeared over the air waves in 1936.
I have reprints of Detective Comics #27 and #38, and they each include an early Crimson Avenger appearance. He fights gangsters and jewel thieves. As publisher of the Globe Leader, Lee Travis hears about various crimes, and then he bursts into action! He dresses up as a - a whatever and he orders his Asian sidekick around. (The chap's name is Wing and he never gets out of the car. The Crimson Avenger beats up the bad guys and Wing just waits in the car. Wing also gets to say things like, "Mebbe so, Mister Dupley gonna' get big surplise?")
I have to admit, I like the art. Very energetic, very simple, primitive almost, but in a good way. Perfect illustrations for six-page stories where you can barely tell what's going on.
In Detective Comics #44, he got a new look. Somebody must have thought the feature would sell better if he looked more like a super-hero. So they did this to him:
(Yeah, that's Wing, in the yellow suit. The Crimson finally let him leave the car.)
He also appeared in a number of issues of something called Leading Comics as a member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory. In addition to The Crimson Avenger and Wing, the Soldiers included The Shining Knight, The Vigilante, The Star-Spangled Kid, Stripesy, Green Arrow and Speedy. (And if you came up with eight members of The Seven Soldiers of Victory, you aren't the only one.)
The Crimson Avenger appeared in Detective Comics until #83, and he then disappeared for decades.
Detective Comics has been around for a long dang time. And a lot of weird-looking dudes have cavorted through its pages. It's probably best not to judge too harshly.
1938 was a long time ago.