John Grange,
Super-Detective Flip Book: Legion of Robots/Murder's Migrants
(Off-Trail/Reverse Karma, 2008)

Back in the 1930s and '40s, pulp magazines (named after the cheap paper they were printed on) abounded. These magazines served all of the genres -- romance, westerns, science fiction, mysteries -- and lasted until television and comic books drove them out of business. Promising much more than they delivered, they had names like Spicy Detective and featured pictures of scantily clad women in jeopardy on their covers and in the line drawings that illustrated the stories.

One of these magazines was Super-Detective, and in its pages each month was a full-length novel about a superhero, Jim Anthony, a superbly wealthy fighter for justice who was constantly saving the country from its enemies, who were communists, fifth columnists, Nazis or just plain evil super-villains out to take over the world. A scientist as well as an adventurer, he had the sixth sense of his Native-American mother, could see in the dark like a cat and could always sense when danger was about, probably because in his world danger was always about. He also had a crew of helpers and a vast network of associates waiting to carry out his every order. How could he possibly lose?

After a dozen or so stories of high adventure, written by sci-fi veteran Victor Rousseau under the house name John Grange, the publishers of Super-Detective had a corporate change of heart and turned Anthony into a more ordinary detective; that instead of running around the world saving civilization, he ran around New York City solving murders and, oh, yeah, saving civilization. The mysteries were written by Robert Leslie Bellem and Willis Todhunter Ballard, again under the house name John Grange.

Super-Detective contains one novel from each Anthony incarnation. Legion of Robots has Anthony going up against Rado Ruric, who is the Riddler to Anthony's Batman. In it, Ruric forms an alliance with a few more bad guys and invents a gas that turns people to zombielike creatures of superhuman strength. The plot works in a sea monster, fantastic prison breaks and attacks on American war industries and culminates in a tank battle in the California desert.

Written originally for kids and adults who moved their lips when reading, it is not to be taken seriously. However, once you put aside your sense of logic and your critical intelligence, it is a lot of fun.

Murder's Migrants opens with a man slowly working his way back to New York City with the intention of killing Jim Anthony. He fails, of course, but succeeds in setting off a plot in which out-of-work men are being shipped to California, allegedly to work at good jobs in Jim Anthony's war factories, but are actually being dropped off in the middle of the desert after paying all of their money to con men. Anthony must prove he's not involved in the scheme quickly, because when it becomes public, all hell will break loose, the unions will walk out of the plants, Anthony will be ruined and the American war effort will go to hell. Tear gas, bullets and death lurk in every taxi, on every fire escape and around every corner but Anthony is, as always, a step ahead of the villains and, with the help of his network, restores order to the universe.

Again, it's about as credible as a drunk trying to explain to his wife how he lost his paycheck on the way home, but it's a ripping yarn for the uncritical reader.

Throw your literary standards aside, slum a little and have yourself a ball with Super-Detective.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

13 September 2008

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