Created by John Terrill and Orrin C. Evans
ACE HARLEM, the “famed Negro detective,” appeared once and only once, in the first and only issue of All-Negro Comics, a collection of all-new stories put out by the company of the same name, way back in 1947. The book, the brainchild of journalist Orrin C. Evans, featured African-American and African heroes, and intended to inspire and entertain that community, the first known comic book written and drawn solely by African-American writers and artists. And Ace? Well, he was this first Black hero featured in comics.
Mind you, Ace was no superhero–he was just a cop–but he still qualifies as one of the first black heroes in comics.
Ace was tough but fair; a two-fisted homicide dick who had a steel jaw, a fedora and the obligatory raincoat. He worked out of the 28th Precinct of New York City, more commonly known as–yep–Harlem, and wasn’t afraid to mix it up. He seems to be well respected in Harlem, and treats everyone he encounters — fellow officers, witnesses, suspects and informants pretty well. In his one recorded case, he never draws his weapon, even when attacked. But don’t write him off as a wimp. As Lamont points out, “Every ne’er-do-well in the debut story met a grisly death, either at the hands of a fellow criminal or by some cruel (but justified) twist of fate. Ace barely had to lift a finger!”
In his one recorded case, Time Magazine noted that “…the villains were a couple of zoot-suited, jive-talking Negro muggers, whose presence in anyone else’s comics might have brought up complaints of racial ‘distortion.’ Since it was all in the family, Evans thought no Negro readers would mind.”
Unfortunately, although a second issue was announced, it was never published. And so, the character might have slipped between the cracks of history…
* * * * *
Until 2015, that is, when comic writer/artist Eric Lamont annouced he was “reworking” the truly obscure comic hero, and rechristening him ACE HARLEN for LegacyHeroComics.
In this ambitious new incarnation, Al was going to be a private detective working out of King City. He’s still a bad ass, but he dresses a little sharper, and looks a little meaner. He’s occasionally aided in his investigations by a young forensic scientant, Willie “Whiz-Kid” Jones and Officer Nickels of the King City PD. Now he not only doesn’t use a gun — he doesn’t even carry one.
This sounded interesting, but I fear it may all come to naught–since announcing his big plans back in February 2015, there hasn’t been a peep about this project.
Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. We’ve been waiting for a follow-up for over sixty years….
- ALL-NEGRO COMICS
(July 1947, All-Negro Comics)
Writers/artists: John Terrill, Bill Driscoll, George J Evans Jr., Cooper, Cravat
- AL HARLEN
(2016, Legacy Hero Comics)
Writers: Eric Lamont
So far… crickets.
- Ace Harlem: The Ultimate Articulated Cardboard Comic Book Action Cut-Out | Get it!
(2020, Zelpha Comics)
Available for a brief time only in the fall of 2020, this moveable and magnetic cardboard figure based on Ace Harlem is a true collectible, limited to only twenty-five figures, and available only through artist Lue Nuwame’s Kickstarter page. Each figure is meticulously hand-cut, glued, trimmed, and assembled right in Lue’s living room, and shipped off in a custom box.