Sam Hill, Private Eye #4

If you read the story in Archie & Friends #137–138, you know it featured cameos from several of Archie Comics' old properties. (The pretext was, strange energy from outer space brought these comic book characters to life. But that raises the question: Why does Riverdale go for such outmoded genres as medical dramas and westerns?)

One of the standouts was a hard-bitten shamus called Sam Hill. Apparently he made enough of a splash that Archie's bringing him back in his own series. I'm not sure if it's set in the '50s or the '10s, but with Tom DeFalco writing, it's most likely old school. (And that's not a burn. I really enjoyed the M2 books.)

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So let's take a look at #4 from Sam's original run. Boy, that's a talky cover: eight word balloons. And the main shot, Sam being called to the witness stand under bald threats from a gangster, has no relation to any of the stories inside. Also of note is the signature – Harry Lucey (the only credit in this comic). Lucey would go on to draw for the Archie books, making Betty and Veronica particularly – um – ripe? One of his stories was used as the backup in this year's Halloween ashcan, maybe you can still find it.

The indicia's on the inside front cover, and what do you know? Sam Hill Private Eye is copyright 1951 by something called Close-Up, Inc., with nary a word about Archie. (Separate imprints are not a new idea.) I know absolutely nothing about Close-Up, Inc., but I'd be willing to bet they have at least one romance book on their roster. Just above is a full-page ad for "Miss Lee Fashions." ("Send 10¢ for our latest catalog!") Choose from the polka-dotted C-8 with the "Gretchen" bodice for $7.98, or the imported Chantilly Lace of the "exquisitely sheer" 633, for $10.98. Sent on approval, 10 day free trial.

Not exactly something you'd see in Mike Shayne.

Rather than go through each of the four stories, I'll just hit on a few points. The first two – "The CARNIVAL Killer Caper" and "The CRYING Corpse Caper" – make some unusual choices in title compostion. (The other two titles are lettered more conventionally.)

These stories are all pretty short, and introduce the new characters in the splash panel, usually breaking down into Murderer, Victim and Red Herring. (CARNIVAL Killer is unusual in having two red herrings, but it's also the longest story, at nine pages.) Sam isn't a deductive wizard; as per archetype, he stirs things up and sees what floats to the top.

Some of the topics are a little beyond Archie fare of the time – alcohol, adultery – and there's at least one murder in every story, although there's no blood shown.

(Here's something vaguely Archie-related – a puzzle page for filler! Rebuses and dot-to-dots. Just like Mike Hammer!)

Let's look at the last story in more detail. Sam is shown in a police lineup, only his trademark shock of white hair is now black and he's wearing specs. "No, I don't need glasses... but if you read on you'll see why I made like Sherlock Holmes in the .22 CALIBER CAPER." And we see new players Betty Graham, Rocky Mason and Lieutenant Dugan.

We find Sam in his office, minus his devoted secretary Roxy. "I figured it was my fault Roxy caught a cold (May is a little early for swimming) so I told her to take off a day or two. I was doing a little research with a set of color slides and a viewer I'd purchased when the phone rang." Stereopticon slides, by gad, the "kind men like."

The phone call is from Lieutenant Dugan, who wants to know what Sam knows about Evelyn Sands. Like the slide Sam is looking at – "blonde, buxom and beautiful!" – Evelyn (though brunette) "was beautiful, too, but it won't help her NOW!" (We'll have to take the Lieutenant's word – Evelyn is already tastefully covered by a sheet.)

Turns out Evelyn had Sam's card in her purse. Wary, Sam goes to the morgue but still can't identify the girl.

Patrolman Hale says, "Maybe the Graham girl will jog his memory!"

Sam narrates: "Betty Graham was a showgirl I'd helped win a divorce. She worked at gambler Rocky Mason's club --" so all three players are at least name-checked -- "but I never saw her again until Dugan led the way into the next room."

"I didn't mean to get you into trouble, Sam... but I had to tell them!"

"Tell them WHAT?"

"Evvie Sands was Rocky's girl. She told me she thought he wanted to kill her. She wanted someone for protection. I gave her your name and she was going to see you!"

"Maybe she was... only she DIDN'T!"

Then how, asks Dugan, did she get Sam's card? Maybe things were different in 1951, but nowadays businesspeople hand out cards "like confetti" (Sam's words). If that's all Dugan's got, he doesn't have much of a case. Turns out he does have more – Evelyn was shot with Sam's gun.

"The slugs they dug out of Evvie Sand's body match the gun that's registered in your name!"

"Really? And what did you use for ballistics? An Ouija Board?" (Sam is known for his snappy patter.) "My gun's right here. And it hasn't been fired in weeks!"

Narrating again: "I opened the cylinder and emptied it. There were six cartridges. Only they were small... pitifully small!" Out loud, Sam goes, "Huh?"

"Since when do you carry a .22?" asks Dugan. "Our 'Ouija Board' was a .38! You should have hidden it better! We found it this morning!"

"Somebody must have switched that pea shooter for my gun so I wouldn't realize it was missing!"

"You'll have to do better than that! And while you're at it, you'd better dig up a good alibi for around ten p.m. last night!"

Now a long, boxless caption: "Last night at 10 p.m. I was on my uptown trying to locate some guy who had called and asked to see me. It was a phoney name and address. I was puzzled then but I wasn't anymore. It must have been the MURDERER. I was convinced but convincing Dugan was something else again. I just stood there with my bare tongue hanging out.............." (Prolix, isn't he?)

The tongue-tied Sam is about to be arrested. "I guess I lost my head! I was being patsied for a murder rap and I saw red! I grabbed Hale and sent him spinning right into the startled face of Lieutenant Edward Dugan!" And by spinning, he means a judo flip.

"They both landed in a heap... Betty Graham was blocking my path to the door so I had to use my rush hour manners." (Although we don't actually see him shove her, just the aftermath.) "Sorry, baby, if I don't stop to play gentleman, I've NEVER been one!"

Running out of the station, Sam sees a prowl car and kayos the cop standing alongside. "I hopped into Car 69 and pumped the petrol. I figured they could only fry me once, anyway, and I hadn't time to wait for a streetcar. At the first red light I let go with the siren! I roared along a clear path for quite a few blocks until I was startled by a click and a booming baritone began to drone over the radio."

It's the dispatcher, warning the cops that patrol car 69 is being driven by a fugitive from justice. Sam pulls up to a subway entrance and makes himself scarce. (Through all this we don't see any cops or cars pursuing him. Chalk it up to the short page count.) Sam rides for a few stops and disembarks to buy first a hat and then some hair dye for "that white thatch on my roof." Cheap glasses complete the disguise; he looks more like Clark Kent than Rip Kirby.

Okay, this is all one big yellow caption: "The label said it was easy to color your hair at home but I did it in the washroom of a cheap movie, where I sat through two westerns to kill time. It was after eight and the dinner show was underway when I got to Rocky Mason's club. The headwaiter greeted me." But the accompanying picture doesn't show Sam coloring his hair, or sitting in front of a movie screen. Instead, front and center is the showgirl at Rocky's club. Lucey finds every excuse to draw sexy women, very often in "racy" clothing – showgirls, hula dancers, like that.

Sam knows where he needs to go: "The back room of Mason's club rivalled Monte Carlo. Roulette, chuck-a-luck, card games... Name your poison. It was easy to see how he could afford the lavish show he put on for a front. I lost a few bucks at blackjack before I asked the cashier to cash a check." But Mason has to okay the checks personally, which is fine by Sam.

"Rocky looked me over from a big mahogany desk. He seemed agreeable...... Too much so!" Rocky agrees to cover a check for a couple of hundred. "Now if I can just find my vouchers...."

"His hand came out of the drawer with a voucher all right. Only it was steel.... and the caliber was .45!"

"Who did you think you were kidding, Hill? My boys had you pegged as soon as you walked in!"

Taking off his glasses, Sam says, "Then I didn't need these. I want to know who killed Evvie Sands!"

"Maybe you need 'em to read the paper...... It says YOU did it!" And sure enough, he hands the evening edition to Sam, with the story front page and above the fold. (Remember when papers had evening editions?)

"Evvie was a nice kid but she had scruples. She didn't like the dope business I was interested in" – an adult topic that's discussed but not shown, in keeping for this book – "so she tipped off the cops. This makes it perfect! I've wanted to see you on the wrong end of a gun for a long time! But you did me a favor by knocking her off! .... So I'm going to do YOU one shamus!" (Rocky is a little talky.)

"I'm going to turn you in and have the pleasure of seeing you fry!" That can't be spun as a favor however you look at it, but never mind – action sequence starting!

Rocky reaches for the phone but Sam throws the newspaper at him. "He fired but his shot was wild! I was on top of him and grabbing the heater before he could fire again. He wasn't much shakes without it but he still wanted to play rough so..." Sam unleashes a haymaker and– DOWN GOES FRASIER! (Crane, not Joe.)

"I slid Rocky's gun into my holster and went over to his desk. I'd spotted some thing important. A picture that I tucked in my pocket before I made my way via the window and fire escape to the street." Another plot point they tell instead of show. Lucey depicts Sam hailing a cab.

"In 15 minute [sic] I was at an apartment in the Beverly Arms. A sultry voice answered my rap." "The name's Hill, madam. I'm making a survey of Rocky Mason's girl friend's and YOU'RE one of 'em!"

"Go away or I'll call the police!"

"I wish you would! I'm also making a survey of people who might have killed Evvie Sands... You're one of those, too, BETTY!" (He didn't need to bold her name – she's the only cast member left.) Betty puts a robe on over her slip and grabs an automatic before saying Sam can come in.

"I guess some instinct told me what to expect and I hit the rug when I pushed on the door. Her shot passed over my head. She let out a yell as mine caught her wrist." (His shot, not his head.) And once again the picture shows the scene just after the action.

"I guess the sight of her OWN blood was too much for her." (Too much for the editor, anyway – we sure don't see any.) "I showed the picture bearing the inscription, 'To Rocky With All My Heart... Betty.' And while I bandaged her arm she gave me the story. She was sore at Rocky for playing around with Evvie so she tipped the cops about a dope shipment. She was scared I would find the truth when Evvie came to me so she had to stop her!"

Deep breath.

"...So you swiped my gun and planted Rocky's target revolver while I was at the beach Sunday." (Where Roxy caught cold, remember? It all ties together!) "Then you imitated a man's voice and got me uptown while you killed Evvie and planted my card in her purse. You'd have claimed self-defense in killing me, too ...... There ..... That ought to hold you until we get to headquarters. Let's go!"

"Aren't you going to let me DRESS?"

"Not unless I WATCH! But you might take along with you an asbestos dress..... You're going to need it!" (What's with all the extra-long ellipses?)

Rocky Mason will soon make the acquaintance of the narcotics squad, and a grateful Lt. Dugan will make the whole evading-justice business go 'way. Sam finishes dictating his report to the still-convalescing Roxy.

"Type it later, honey! Let's have lunch. But first..... How about an appetizer?"

"Now, Sam, don't you KISS me! You'll.... you'll catch my cold!"

"After skinning out of a murder rap, a little thing like a cold wasn't going to bother me. And it didn't.... not much anyway!" Oh, Roxy. Confidante, nurse, accessory after the fact, and emergency date.

In other words, a cliché ... but so are most of the characters in Sam Hill Private Eye. Very much a typical private eye story, light on the gore, heavy on the banter, full of sexy girls. Even though most of the sin was talked about, rather than depicted, I doubt that they would get even this suggestive once the Comics Code came into force.

Four pages of ads to go. The Electric Spot Reducer lets you pick the problem area to shock the weight away. (Center picture of a girl in a one-piece – I'm sure it's just for aesthetics.)

Consumers Mart has a cigarette lighter that looks like a gun, as well as the Wonder 4-in-1 Stop Chronograph (a  watch) for $6.95!

Inside back page is for a self-defense course: "Be the MASTER, not the slave! Defend yourself – in any situation – anywhere." Three books – boxing, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu – just $1 apiece!

Back cover: Jim and Betty discover that Pete has so much disposable income because he sells White Cloverine Brand Salve door to door.