Tuesday, August 14, 2018


The early TV series MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE is considered the first television detective show and was quite a hit, running from 1949-1954, and for the first few years featuring the acclaimed radio and stage actor William Gargan as Kane (he left after a few years, with others such as Lloyd Nolan taking over but still faithful to the character as Gargan had created it). This show was not syndicated when I was growing up, and now that I’ve seen a few episodes, I understand why. Many shows such as THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW were sponsored by cigarette companies and featured ads with the cast talking up and puffing away on Kent Cigarettes or whatever, but those ads were separate from the show and could be edited out for syndication. In Martin Kane (note the pipe in his mouth in the show’s logo, which we’ve reproduced for you here), the tobacco ads were worked INTO THE SHOW. Yes, he would go into a tobacconist’s shop during the action and talk about the sponsor’s brands of pipe tobacco!!!! Though the first TV detective show, it was shot live, so it does not look like what most people expect from a 50’s cop show. It’s all studio-bound on a few sets, so no car chases, violent shootouts in urban alleys, etc. You can find some of the Gargan episodes on You Tube, and sampling a few minutes can give you a good idea of how they play, looking more like a soap opera than a HIGHWAY PATROL episode.

Another first is that the Martin Kane comic book was supposedly the first comic book adaptation of a television property! Fox Comics, best known for BLUE BEETLE and MYSTERY MEN COMICS, issued two 36-page issues in 1950, during the show’s heyday, and Gwandanaland Comics has released an attractive volume with scans of the complete books, from cover to cover.

Gargan’s name is all over these books, billed as “star of stage, screen, and radio,” so either he was a big star with a devoted following at the time or he had a good agent.....or both. The pipe-smoking character looks more like someone’s uncle than like Mike Hammer, but that just adds to the charm of the show and the comic books.

One odd quality about these comic book stories is that in a number of them, Kane does not actually appear in the core story itself....he is TELLING some colleague or acquaintance, or some group of rookie cops, a story in a detached narrative frame, and after a page or so we cut to that crime story--which may well have already been in the can at the publisher’s!--which goes on its merry way and then concludes with no further involvement from Kane. It’s almost like those 60’s TV shows such as Boris Karloff’s THRILLER or DEATH VALLEY DAYS, where Karloff or Ronald Reagan give a short intro and then step aside to let the show play out. Kane is “hosting” his own comic book! Not all stories are like that, but the fact that even some of them are has me scratching my head.

Whether or not Kane is the hero in the stories, they are all solid, violent, gritty crime comics which deliver the goods to any fan of the genre. And they are not stage-bound and dialogue-driven like the TV show, at least in its early years (when the comic was issued)--change the name and it could be any generic late 40’s/early 50’s crime comic, and I mean that as high praise as that was a golden age in the crime comic. How excellent it must have been in that era to have many hard-boiled crime shows on the radio, have a steady flow of noir and crime films at your local B-movie theater, have lots of paperback detective and crime novels at your local newsstand, AND have dozens of gritty crime comics to choose from each week/month. I would have been happy and satisfied with that situation.

In addition to the Kane stories (or should I say, the Kane-hosted stories) you also get a two-page filler crime short story in each of the two magazines, and both are good examples of the quickly tossed-off pulp crime mini-story, and there are also a few one-page filler comics on crime-related subjects (Devil’s Island, etc.). Overall, each of the two issues is a satisfying package, well-worth your 1950-value ten cents.

An entertaining and historically significant collection, filled with colorful (and well-transferred), action-filled crime stories from the Golden Age of crime comics--highly recommended! Just Google the title and Gwandanaland, and you can find out how to order. I’ve already read MY copy of this book three times!

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