See other weird comics stories here!
Story Two: Comics and Dreams
Story Three: Why Superhero Comics Bite
Story Four: Goony and Phil Motion Comic
This is Goony
Story Five: Who is The Crimebuster?
Story Nine: Mr. Pipps and the Wide-Awakes Comic
Who Is "The Crimebuster"?
Fame is fleeting. Copyright is forever. Or at least, copyright in America is until the author's death, plus I think about seventy years (until Disney lobbyists pay off congressmen again). The copyright for the character "Crimebuster" lapsed a couple years after Lev Gleason Publishing went out of business, but this has given many benefits to this dynamic character, and allowed him to live on in Public Domain.
But who is he? In the original story written by Chuck Biro and Bob Wood, his name is Chuck Chandler, and he is a student at Custer Military Academy in the early days of World War II. The Nazis kidnap Chuck's dad and try to make him repeat false propaganda about what life in occupied France was like, but he won't do it, so a German National Socialist Party agent called "Iron Jaw" shoots him, and then later disguises himself as a doctor and attempts to murder him (for real this time) in an American hospital.
Chuck Chandler is playing a hockey game when he hears the news about his father being at a hospital, and he abandons the game, still in his hockey uniform, to go to his father. That blue cape is supposed to be the Custer Military Academy uniform dress cloak.
While Iron Jaw is "operating" on his father, Chuck Chandler is walking around a park when he finds an organ grinder abusing his monkey. Crimebuster buys the monkey for twenty five bucks, which is $366 in 2016 dollars. He goes back to the hospital to find his father has not survived the operation (e.g. Iron Jaw's murder attempt was successful). His father's last request was for his son to fly to occupied France and return his mother to the United States.
So Chuck Chandler flies to France, and gets his mother onto a cruise ship headed back to America. But then the ship is torpedoed by a Nazi U boat, and Chuck is made an orphan. Chuck's unconscious body (and the monkey, whom Chuck has named Squeeks) are rescued by a US Navy vessel.
Angered, Chuck Chandler vows to avenge the deaths of his parents, and to make German National Socialists, specifically the guy who killed his dad, shake with fear. He chooses "Crimebuster" as the name under which he will accomplish this task.
Thus begins a bunch of different issues. Crimebuster started out in the period where adults were regular readers of comics. The advertisements in the early issues include Marlin razor blades for shaving, as well as a really sketchy advertisement for glow-in-the-dark lipstick (the one that ended up being radioactive and really making a lot of people's lives very difficult). Since adults were reading, it wasn't unusual to see deaths and blood and people getting beat to shit. It was pretty awesome, actually.
Like for example, in one issue there was a National Socialist sympathizer who was covered with yellow hair and he was able to control rats. He was called the Rodent. So him and Iron Jaw got into a fight, and Rodent sicced all his rats on him. Rodent won the fight but all the rats got killed during it, and then Iron Jaw suddenly bit rodent's throat. I mean. Wow, that is a lonely way to die, come to think of it.
Anyway, those were the kind of guys that Crimebuster was fighting basically all the time. Now, in 1941 there was an explosion of different superheroes and comic companies and comic books aimed at the literate and discriminating American audience. Many of the great superheroes we are aware of were born in this age just after we were sneak-attacked by the Japanese Empire, including heroes like The Whizzer, Sandy the Golden Boy, Captain Flag, Fighting Yank, and even Green Arrow who's got that new television series on the Netflix.
My understanding is that the Lev Gleason Publishing comics were meant to target people who liked their comics a little seedy. However, Lev Gleason stories often published comic stories aimed at little kids right alongside stuff for adults. One story in a comic might have a guy getting his head ripped off, and the next story in the same comic might have "Johnny Long-Ago" going back in time to meet Columbus and teach him how to do the sock-hop (or whatever). This is a case of throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, and Lev-Gleason wasn't the first publishing company to make this mistake; lots of them did.
But it was Lev-Gleason who stuck with the focus on violent, realistic crime alongside stories for kids. Marvel Comics (then called "Timely Comics") focused instead on stories that were meant for kids and stayed away from the really violent stuff. Maybe that helped them to survive. I just get the sense that Lev Gleason Publishing was trying every thing they could to stay afloat.
Crimebuster went through several changes through his 116 issue run. While Superman always kept his cape and outfit, Crimebuster eventually switched out of the cape and hockey uniform, and he was more or less just a regular dude after that. In the last few issues, the stories were about him going to college. I don't know who Charles Biro thought was going to read stories about a normal guy going to college. Like, they had stories about how some guys stole the college magazines, and they were going to sell them on their own and keep the money instead of giving it to the college, and there was another story about a guy who was a sorehead on the hockey team. No one was gettting decapitated or run over by vehicles at all, and eventually sales declined.
That was a pretty good run though, from 1942 to 1954. They were going up against high-level competition.
Hey, do you want to read more about Crimebuster? Then check out this whole new comic book about Crimebuster and the Case of the Lax Team Sex Scandal!