Tuesday, November 08, 2016


D.S. Comics was a small, independent comics publisher active for a brief window of time between 1947-50. According to the massive Comics.org database, they began publishing song-lyric booklets (shades of Charlton Comics and Hit Parader there) in the early 40’s, and introduced a true crime magazine in 1946, then evolved into comic books. They published 18 different series for a total of 77 different issues. While they published Elsie The Cow comics (character licensed from Borden Dairy!), romance comics, and westerns, most of their product was crime-oriented: EXPOSED, GANGSTERS CAN'T WINJEFF JORDAN US AGENTPayoffPublic Enemies, UNDERWORLD and the comic under review for today, WHODUNIT?

WHODUNIT? lasted for three issues, each a generous 52 pages, and each seeming like a comic book version of a Monogram Charlie Chan or a Columbia Boston Blackie movie, minus the famous detective. WHODUNIT? is tight, focused, well-detailed, fast-moving, with colorful supporting characters, like a solid B-programmer crime film. All three issues are available in handsome exact reprints from our friends at goldenagereprints.com, and I highly recommend them (the originals go for big bucks nowadays, and you’re unlikely to ever find one in a junk store or at a flea market at this point) to the detective-story fan who is not getting enough from novels, magazine stories, B-movies, and 50’s and 60’s crime TV shows. After all, you can never get enough! I’ve read each of these issues a number of times, and I regret that the series only lasted three issues.

Issue #3 features five stories, ranging from 7 to 12 pages, but each is long enough to introduce a number of characters, to work in sub-plots, and to present a number of scenes or settings....just like a 58-minute B-movie or a short crime novel.

"Secret of the Seance", the 12-pager, drags in one of my favorite elements found in crime fiction and films: the phony psychic (note: be sure to watch BUNCO SQUAD, recently reviewed here at BTC, for a classic crime film with that plot). "Case of the Faked Photo" deals with the murder of a man who ran a photography shop and had two disreputable employees who are obvious suspects. "Blueprint for Death" is set in the world of crooked construction companies who use substandard building materials and are fronts for organized crime.....and KILL anyone who exposes them or gets in their way. In "Death Joins the Party", a small-time hoodlum (Willie The Croaker) is bumped off for no apparent reason, but clearly, he knew too much about something. And "The Red Haired Vixen"...well, let me quote the actual text: “what looked like a routine suicide case turned out to be a three-way mystery for Lt. Jim Kirnan and his assistant Chuck Ballantine.”

You also get a one-page crime-comedy item called "Who Done It", consisting of six one-panel “blackout” sequences which are essentially jokes. Of course, there just has to be a short story as filler in such a comic, and this one, "Murder to Music", is not half-bad, involving a murder at a nightclub and a suspicious dance team. Many crime films of the 1940’s featured nightclub sequences (studios such as Columbia and RKO already had nightclub sets which could cheaply be re-dressed, they could work in a musical sequence and feature an ingénue whose career they were trying to promote, and most importantly, they would kill 5 minutes of the running time inexpensively while providing a little glamorous “atmosphere” to the film), most of which are at best tangential to the plot, so that world (which would be more than familiar to crime-film fans who’d never been in a REAL nightclub) is the perfect setting for this clever story with an arrogant killer who thinks he’s found the perfect cover/alibi for the crime. You can almost taste the watery cocktails and hear the lugubrious torch-songs

I’ve read each of the three issues of WHODUNIT? a number of times, and how I wish they’d published more of them. There were a lot of small, independent comic-book publishers in the late 1940’s. It was truly a golden age, but surely distribution was a problem, because as with films and music and publishing of any kind, the majors have the distribution sewed up, and the successful smaller outfits have established channels and sales outlets, so any new kids on the block are viewed as competition and kept out. I’m really anxious to find copies of some of D.S. Publishing’s other crime comic books: EXPOSED, GANGSTERS CAN’T WIN, PUBLIC ENEMIES, etc. There’s surely some exciting and hard-boiled reading there.

As with many of these exact reprints of off-brand comic books printed on cheap newsprint, they’ve become yellowed over the years, and the crisp computer scans of the aged pages give them a kind of sepia-tone which is quite attractive and fitting for the mean streets full of crime that the books depict. Who needs these trendy reprints which are “sourced from mint syndicate proofs.” We at BTC prefer ours scanned from stained and yellowed and frayed actual copies that have made it through decades in someone’s garage or in a box in the basement of some tenement. Like the sound of scratches and surface noise from a vintage 45, like the splices and scratches on an original 16mm TV print of some Republic or Monogram crime film, like the split spine and mildewed and brittle pages of some Mike Shayne 50’s paperback crime novel, it’s the feel of authenticity, of being real, of being part of some actual human being’s reality at some time----not some sanitized or cloistered archival item. Get your reprints of this WHODUNIT? series now while you still can, and step into a seedy rooming house and stumble over some clues.....light up a Chesterfield, pour yourself a few fingers of Old Crow, open the window onto the fire escape and let in some of the polluted night air to dissipate the smell of stale sweat, cheap dime-store cologne, and the ass-scent from the seat of those pants you haven’t washed for two weeks, and before you know it, you may well be IN one of these stories.

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