Crimebuster channels his inner Matlock, though Matlock never addressed a jury with a monkey on his shoulder – Boy Comics #40
Here we go again, with another scintillating old-timey Golden Age offering from Lev Gleason Publications. The original Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay have made appearances here before, and now we come to Boy Comics, the title that gave birth to one of the earliest long-running teen heroes: the goofily-attired, oddly-sidekicked Crimebuster. C.B. (to his friends — we are friends, aren’t we, Crimebuster?) didn’t haunt the pages of Boy until issue #3, but he rode it all the way to cancellation in issue #119. And what a run – and what a hero — he was.
He went by Chuck Chandler in his civilian guise, and as Crimebuster battled, you guessed it, crime. Any number of threats were grappled with in the thick, meaty monthly editions off Boy, and some were amongst the craziest things to ever come out of the Golden Age. (Check out this article on the half-man, half-woman He-She if you have doubts. Even Freud throws up his hands in bewilderment when trying to unpack that one.) Crimebuster wore as his chosen evil-cowing garb a dopey hockey uniform and cape, though the puck angle didn’t really bridge the gulf between the page and the eyes, and he thus wound up simply looking like an idiot with shorts over tights. His partner in crime-fighting was Squeeks, an organ-grinder’s monkey who often rode about on his shoulder, occasionally descending from those airy heights to pitch in with the busting.
They were the stars, but in some stories they’d both pretty much disappear, as they do in the cover tale in this book. Sadly, we’re not treated to the taut, edge-of-the-seat courtroom drama suggested by that frontispiece, with Crimebuster cross-examining witnesses and sparring against members of the bar. It seems that American jurisprudence and comic audiences in 1948 just weren’t ready for a kid in pajamas and a cape with a literal monkey on his back addressing the ladies and gentlemen (just gentlemen in this case) of the jury. Instead he’s a framing device, bookending a story-long flashback telling of a young woman’s gravitational descent into crime. But it’s a good one. Take heart.
Written by Charles Biro and illustrated by Norman Maurer, the plot opens with Crimebuster agreeing to help an attorney pal of his (the strangely named ”Loover”) by subbing in during a grand jury presentation:
Yes, Loover is perhaps the most irresponsible attorney in the history of the world. “I’ve been called away but I’m due in court — what will I do? THANK GOD, IT’S THE KID IN THE CAPE WITH THE MONKEY.”
Marie Martin is the sobbing young woman in need of Crimebuster’s gallant oratory, and Burt Vesey is the oily young man whose freedom hangs in the proceeding’s balance. How oily is he? Just take a look at this mug:
Now that’s a face with only phrenological appeal. And “nail” apparently had a more benign meaning years ago.
In the Crimebuster-cued flashback we’re given Marie’s tale of woe, as Burt tries to wheedle his way into her heart, though Marie, like any woman with eyes, is at first having none of it. Then one night she’s babysitting and Burt invites her to a happening concert which she’s just dying to attend. She gives in to the temptation (the concert, not Burt’s Quasimodo looks) and goes, leaving the baby(!) alone in the house. It’s only going to be for a little while, and no one will be the wiser. Right? Nothing bad could happen. Right?
Marie manages to sneak back in after the fire department arrives, and fakes a swoon just in time to make it look like she was overcome by the fumes. And the firemen got the kid out, right? WRONG AGAIN:
Sweet mother of God, this story is reaching Frosty the Snowman levels of sadness. A scene with the bereaved father follows, where the silent, unspeakable grief is written all over his stoic face, and Marie keeps up her cover story through it all, even as the firefighters tell him that she was lucky to get out with her life and not to blame her at all.
And, though she doesn’t know it and no one else ever will, the fire was started by a cigarette that she had left smoldering when she flitted off to the concert. If you’re thinking to yourself that it’s going to be hard to have any sympathy for anything that happens to Marie after this, you’re not alone.
What a surprise, it turns out Burt isn’t going to be a consoling, redemptive figure in Marie’s life after this tragedy. His weasely nose sniffs opportunity:
He blackmails her into a relationship, one that’s both personal and professional. They embark on a low-rent Bonnie and Clyde spree, starting with heists at Marie’s babysitting jobs (a child dying on her watch apparently wasn’t enough to dry up business) and escalating to other, more brazen thefts, including the diner distract-and-dash shown on the cover:
Note that Marie is a tad more chestular on the cover. Sex has always sold.
It just gets deeper and deeper for Marie, like some white suburban Native Son. But Burt’s criminal empire comes crashing down when he gets Marie to find him a job at the company where she’s accepted a clerical position, and he botches the interview in a most epic manner:
And that brings us to back to Crimebuster and his grand Perry Mason moment. He carries the day for the forces of, um, good(?):
It’s now that we have to pause to wonder whether or not getting Marie off the hook was the right thing, and whether Burt’s machinations truly amounted to sufficient “time-served.” Her negligence. Killed. A baby. Yet the perhaps poorly named Crimebuster and his dilettante district attorney friend are more than content to let her walk. Again, because it cannot be stated enough: HER NEGLIGENCE. KILLED. A BABY. Maybe wanting to give her a term in a school for wayward girls is Draconian. But maybe not.
Lesson: Never let teens with monkeys set your societal moral compass.
There’s another Crimebuster story inside, where he takes a more proactive role in events. I’d talk about it a little bit, but do you really want to delve too deeply in a plot where the hero takes time to lounge on a sofa while his monkey deep-throats a banana? (The art here is from Carl Hubbell):
C.B. looks to be well on the way to a piped, slippered and smoking jacketed middle age.
Kidding aside, the Crimebuster stories are capably assembled, if simplistic (as with so many Golden Age plots) in message. The art is the standout attraction. Like the Daredevil book reviewed here before, it’s dense and detailed, and has an articulation that was ahead of its time. At times it feels like it could have been at home with the best of Marvel’s 1960s output. Kudos to those involved for that.
As an addendum, amongst the other short offerings that fill out the book’s content is a two-page children’s strip centered on the misadventures of Pete the Pig. If you ever wanted to cross Porky Pig with the sartorial sense of Donald Duck, here you go:
Cartoon pigs are just sworn enemies of pants. If you’re wearing a shirt and a hat, would some slacks really kill you? Even Crimebuster’s “hockey” outfit would be better.
Live with your sins, Marie.