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The righteous First Amendment fists of Flashgun Casey – Casey, Crime Photographer #3

March 31, 2014

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The olden times of multimedia were just as vibrant and diverse as today’s. While we have properties crossing over from print, television, film and beyond, the first half of the century had a different mixture, one with radio thrown into the mix. In fact, radio was the prime mover for a good long while, as theater of the mind enjoyed its heyday with everything from the Shadow to soap operas. Radio was the launching pad for any number of successful, long-running characters — the days of Star Wars films being reverse engineered for the radio was a long ways away. The audio airwaves were the primordial goop from which many — though not all — superstars crawled.

Casey, Crime Photographer was one of those crossover stars. He had radio plays. He had TV shows. He had books. And yes, he had comics. But one thing he didn’t do was take a lot of pictures, because by God he had his fists to do the talking!

Jack “Flashgun” Casey (or some variation thereof) was originally a pulp character, appearing in Black Mask a number of times in the 1930s and ’40s, before radio helped him really take off in the middle of the latter decade. Like most heroes of the day, he was a man of physical action (as we’ll see), who was always in the right place at the right time thanks to his photog calling. He was oft-accompanied by news reporter Ann Williams, who’d help with his investigations of crooks, thieves, murderers, and what have you. In fact, they were very much equal partners, somewhat progressive for their era — though Casey was — natch — in the lead. It was his show, after all.

What’s entertaining about his relatively brief comic book adventures (there were only four produced by Marvel in late 1949) was how quickly Casey cast his camera aside to engage in fisticuffs — J.D. Salinger published more books in the closing decades of the last century than Casey opened his shutter. He appears in three stories in this particular comic (a fourth non-Casey story is entitled “They Walked with Danger,” which is a close as you get to the goofily staged cover’s promised tale), and all three include our press champion tenderizing some thug’s face with his knuckles. Here in the first (all art by Vernon Henkel):

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And the second:

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In the third he throws a curve by hurling his camera at his enemy:

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(Two things: One, that may be the very first and very last time that the phrase “stroboscope-swift” has been ever strung together. Two, Casey really shouldn’t worry about wrecking a good camera, since he wasn’t exactly taking a whole hell of a lot of pictures with it. Unless he wanted to pawn it for booze or something.)

Fret not, our third and final Casey tale indeed concludes with an accustomed pummeling:

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Casey’s physicality certainly isn’t remarkable, as fists have been flying since sequential artwork was in its infancy. But that’s pretty much it for his comic book adventures. It was a simple formula: Casey and Ann cover a story, get involved in an investigation, have their lives threatened, and then Casey doles out righteous justice. Not all that original, and apparently not enough to sustain a long-running comic, but sufficient to form a comic book salient in Casey’s multimedia resume.

It should be noted that Casey was played in his 1950s television iteration by none other than Darren McGavin, one of the most beloved character actors we’ve ever had. The show wasn’t a commercial or critical success, though we surely can’t lay that on McGavin’s doorstep — for a sample of his 1950s prowess look no farther than his stellar turn as Mike Hammer, ancient TV that holds up well today. And maybe that — limited success in other media — is how it should be with our friend Flashgun. Radio was always Casey’s home (though, yes, he got his start elsewhere), and it’s no surprise that it was radio where he found his enduring (if largely forgotten) run.

You can now listen to a lot of Flashgun Casey’s serialized adventures for free on the internet. If they shared the punch-per-capita of the comics, there were surely many slabs of beef slapped against each other by the foley department.

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