Slam Bradley

Created by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson
Developed by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel

Before there was Mike Hammer, before there was Johnny Dynamite, before there was even Batman, there was… SLAM BRADLEY!

He was the original two-fisted, fightin’-mad (and occasionally pipe-sucking) comic book shamus, who slugged his way through the mean streets (of Cleveland, Ohio?) in the pages of Detective Comics, the comic book response to the hard-boiled crime and detective pulps of the time. Slam loved a good brouhaha (eyes left) and he usually found one.

During his long career as a “tough private detective” (his run in Detective Comics still ranks second only to Batman himself), Slam often went undercover, as a teacher, a magician, a prizefighter and even a singer on the radio, with only his aggravating, buffoonish “partner pal” “Shorty” Morgan for back-up. In many cases, they didn’t even have a client–the two just happened to stumble upon some criminal skullduggery.

Slam may not have been too original–he was only slightly more cartoonish than Race Williams and other hard-boiled dicks of the time–but his importance lied in other areas. He was the first private eye to appear regularly in comic books, and is still by far the most enduring of all comic book eyes (over 200 appearances, and counting) and if tall, muscular, raven-haired and square-jawed Slam bore more than a passing resemblance to Superman, well, given his roots, that shouldn’t come as a shock.

It’s hard to remember, in these days of born-again Batmania, that the Caped Crusader wasn’t always the star of Detective Comics. Originally, the whole idea behind that comic was quite radical–an entire comic book of original stories devoted to one theme, not a hodge-podge of reprints and a few random original stories shoved between two covers for a fast buck. In the case of Detective Comics, the theme was mystery and detection, mostly of the hard-boiled variety. And one of the many detectives in that very first issue, dated March 1937, was Slam.

Over the first few years, the magazine would play host to a slew of various crime fighters and adventurers, be they cops, spies, district attorneys, criminal lawyers, reporters or, especially, private eyes, shooting  or dukin’ it out with the bad guys. Unfortunately, after Batman’s debut in issue #27, all those great old characters would eventually have to make do with back-up feature status. But Slam hung on a good long time, making him arguably DC’s longest-running hero.

Who, coincidentally, was developed (at the suggestion of comics publisher Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson) by the same guys, young cousins Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster– you may have heard of them. The two were still trying to peddle this Superman guy to Wheeler-Nicholson when Slam made his first appearance in the first issue of Detective Comics.

The character, as sketched out by Wheeler-Nicholson in a May 13, 1936 letter to Siegel, read:

“We need some more work from you. We are getting out at least one new magazine in July and possibly two. The first one is definitely in the works. It will contain longer stories and fewer. From you and Shuster we need sixteen pages monthly. We want a detective hero called ‘Slam Bradley’. He is to be an amateur, called in by the police to help unravel difficult cases. He should combine both brains and brawn, be able to think quickly and reason cleverly and able as well to slam bang his way out of a bar room brawl or mob attack. Take every opportunity to show him in a torn shirt with swelling biceps and powerful torso à la Flash Gordon.”

And according to Shuster:

“We turned it out with no restrictions, complete freedom to do what we wanted. The only problem was we had a deadline. We had to work very fast, so Jerry suggested we save time by putting less than six panels on a page. The kids loved it because it was spectacular. I could do so much more. Later on, the editors stopped us from doing that. They said the kids were not getting their money’s worth.”

They were sure getting their money’s worth in that first issue—right off the bat, Detective Comics was notable for having much longer stories, with Slam’s debut clocking in at an impressive thirteen pages and was clearly not left-over material from rejected newspaper submissions.

Slam was still making appearances in Detective Comics well into the forties. In 1943, newspaper cartoonist/illustrator Jack Farr was brought on board by DC to handle the stories. But by the fifties, Slam was gone, presumably off to sleep the big sleep.

Or so we thought.

Oh, he popped up every now and then. In the eighties, Slam returned in a couple of special stories in issues of Detective Comics celebrating various anniversaries, although (thankfully) without his annoying sidekick. In issue 500, he appeared in “The ‘Too Many Cooks…’ Caper,” which was billed as a Slam Bradley story, reuniting him with many of DC’s non-costumed detectives, including Roy Raymond, Christopher Chance and Jason Bard. And in issue #572, he appears alongside Batman, The Elongated Man and Sherlock Holmes in “The Doomsday Book,” to mark the 50th anniversary of Detective Comics. Pretty appropriate, I’d say….

Then, in the nineties, Slam began to show up more regularly in some of the Superman titles. Or at least a character called Slam Bradley, Jr. did, as detective in the Metropolis police deppartment. And there was a rather skewered version of the character in a comic called Guns of the Dragon, under the name of “Biff” Bradley. Contributor Scott Hileman once asked the editor at a convention about it, and was told that they had indeed wanted to use Slam Bradley, but that he’d been already “optioned” by another editor. Hence… “Biff.”

It wasn’t the comeback longtime fans wanted. But the best was yet to (finally) come…


In 2001, the real Slam was back in the back pages of Detective Comics! He made his triumphant return in “Trail of the Catwoman,” an original, decidedly stylish four-part story written by Ed Brubaker, of Scene of the CrimeCriminal and Captain America fame, and drawn by Darwyn Cooke In it, he’s hired by Gotham’s mayor, of all people, to find Selina Kyle (aka “Catwoman”), despite the fact she’s supposed to be dead. Slam takes the case and finds her alive, but runs afoul of Bruce Wayne (and Batman) in the process.

In any revival of a long-ago comic book hero, there’s a certain amount of creative revisionism, and this case was no exception. Fortunately, though, the tinkering was kept to a minimum (no suddenly revealed superpowers, no alien clones, no parallel universe or time travel bullshit). The only real change seems to have been location–if Slam’s original stomping ground was supposedly Cleveland, there’s no doubt that it’s now Gotham City. And Slam’s allegedly comic sidekick, Shorty Morgan, is mercifully nowhere to be seen.

Slam, looking pretty spry for someone who made his debut in 1937, turned out to still have plenty of game, and was just as fond of fisticuffs as ever. As Slam himself remarks, after pounding out a few thugs, “Not too shabby for an old guy.”

Catwoman must have been impressed, too. Because shortly after, he began appearing in the Catwoman comic, as a recurring character. He’s even listed in the Catwoman Secret Files & Origins special issue, where we learn the shocking fact that Slam’s middle name is… Emerson?

Even more shocking, though, are the revelations of issue #16 (April 2003), wherein Slam finally confesses his love for Catwoman.

Of course it wasn’t meant to be (December? Meet April. Or possibly May), but it was sure swell while it lasted.

Since then, Slam’s hung around, making occasional appearances, including, appropriately enough, Detective Comics #1000, and more recently he took a starring role in Gotham City: Year One, a 2022 mini-series, set two generations before Bruce Wayne’s birth, wherein private eye Slam Bradley is hired by to investigate the high profile abduction of infant Helen, the daughter of wealthy Richard and Constance Wayne, Bruce’s grandparents, and the so-called “Princess of Gotham.” The crime’s already being dubbed the “kidnapping of the century,” and Slam realizes almost instantly that’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s a noirish, brooding tale, all dark shadows and family secrets, with nods to the Lindbergh kidnapping and Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

So far as I know, DC’s never put out a collection of Slam Bradley stories, featuring some of the best stories from various parts of his long, long career, but damn it, they should.

I’d buy that.


  • One widely believed theory among comics fans is that Slam’s long run (Twelve years! Almost 150 issues!) in Detective Comics came to an abrupt end because of the ongoing legal battle squabbles DC was having with Slam’s creators, Siegel and Shuster. Already embroiled in a seemingly endless fight over Superman, DC didn’t want open up another can of legal worms (Ooh! Legal worms! The worst kind!)  over Slam who, admittedly, wasn’t as popular as the Man of Steel, but had managed to help prop up Detective for twenty six issues before the arrival of Batman. Certainly, Slam’s sudden exit as a back-up in 1949  (he was replaced by Roy Raymond, TV Detective in the very next issue) still smells somewhat suspicious.


    (1937–, DC Comics)
    Created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegal
    Other Writers: Ed Brubaker
    Other artists: Jack Farr, Terry Beatty, Dick Giordano, Jim Aparo, Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart, Howard Sherman

    • “The Streets of Chinatown” (March 1937, #1)
    • “Skyscraper Death” ( April 1937, #2)
    • “Slam Delivers the Message” (May 1937, #3)
    • “The Hollywood Murders” (June 1937, #4)
    • “Undercover in Grade School” (July 1937, #5)
    • “In Mexico” (August 1937, #6)
    • “In Atlantic City” (September 1937, #7)
    • “The Hillbillies” (October 1937, #8)
    • “The Human Fly” (November 1937, #9)
    • “In the Ring” (December 1937, #10)
    • “The Flying Circus” (January 1938, #11)
    • “The Lumberjacks” (February 1938, #12)
    • “At Sea” (March 1938, #13)
    • “Up North” (April 1938, #14)
    • “The Lady-Killer” (May 1938, #15)
    • “The Broadway Bandit” (June 1938, #16)
    • “Slam Bradley Gets the Air” (July 1938, #17)
    • “In the Stratosphere” (August 1938, #18)
    • “In Africa” (September 1938, #19)
    • “The Magician” (October 1938, #20)
    • “Seth and the Slave Ring” (November 1938, #21)
    • “The Return of Fui Onyui” (December 1938, #22)
    • “In Two Billion A. D.” (Part 1) (January 1939, #23)
    • “In Two Billion A. D.” (Part 2) (February 1939, #24)
    • “The Merrivale Mystery” (March 1939, #25)
    • “Artists of Death” (April 1939, #26)
    • – Slam and Shorty go skiing (May, 1939, #27)
    • “The Whitethorne Inheritance” (June 1939, #28)
    • “Slam Bradley at the World’s Fair” (1939, New York World’s Fair Comics #1)
    • “Untitled” (July 1939, #29)
    • “The Granville Insane Asylum” (August 1939, #30)
    • “Untitled” (September 1939, #31)
    • “Undercover as Bellhops” (October 1939, #32)
    • “Untitled” (November 1939, #33)
    • “Untitled” (December 1939, #34)
    • “Untitled” (January 1940, #35)
    • “Untitled” (February 1940, #36)
    • “Untitled” (March 1940, #37)
    • – Slam and Shorty play firemen (April 1940, #38)
    • “Untitled” (May 1940, #39)
    • “Untitled” (June 1940, #40)
    • “Untitled” (July 1940, #41)
    • “At the 1940 World’s Fair” (1940, New York World’s Fair Comics #2)
    • “Untitled” (August 1940, #42)
    • “Untitled” (September 1940, #43)
    • “Untitled” (October 1940, #44)
    • “Untitled” (November 1940, #45)
    • “Untitled” (December 1940, #46)
    • “Untitled” (January 1941, #47)
    • “Untitled” (February 1941, #48)
    • “Untitled” (March 1941, #49)
    • “Untitled” (April 1941, #50)
    • “Broadway Opening Night” (May 1941, #51)
    • Untitled” (June 1941, #52)
    • “Untitled” (July 1941, #53)
    • “Untitled” (August 1941, #54)
    • “Untitled” (September 1941, #55)
    • “Untitled” (October 1941, #56)
    • “The Case of the Talking Dummy” (November 1941, #57)
    • “Untitled” (December 1941, #58)
    • “The Case of the Talking Dummy” (January 1942, #59)
    • “Untitled” (February 1942, #60)
    • “Untitled” (March 1942, #61)
    • “Untitled” (April 1942, #62)
    • “Case of the Wobbling Wizard” (May 1942, #63)
    • “The Mystery of the Unfortunate Teddy Bear” (June 1942, #64)
    • “Mystery of the Priceless Pooch” ( July 1942, #65)
    • “Case of the Dripping Drum” (August 1942, #66)
    • “Case of the Whistling Tooth” (September 1942, #67)
    • “The Case of the Cultured Crooks” (October 1942, #68)
    • “Case of the Artistic Ape” (November 1942, #69)
    • “X Marked the Spot at the Te” (December 1942, #70)
    • “Case of the Missing Grin” (January 1943, #71)
    • “The Mystery of the Missing Monkey” (February 1943, #72)
    • “The Histrionic Hoodlums” (March 1943, #73)
    • “The Adventure of the Wooden Indians” (April 1943, #74)
    • “The Elusive Elephant” (May 1943, #75)
    • “The Bashful Bandits” (June 1943, #76)
    • “Trail of the Red Herring” (July 1943, #77)
    • “The Meanest Mugs in the World” (August 1943, #78)
    • “Two Tickets to Trouble” (September 1943, #79)
    • “Refuge for Ruffians” (October 1943, #80)
    • “The Case of the Deceased Ham” (November 1943, #81)
    • “Wild and Woolly” (December 1943, #82)
    • “Vanishing Needles” (January 1944, #83)
    • “Shorty Falls in Love” (February 1944, #84)
    • “The Perfumed Diamonds” (March 1944, #85)
    • “General Lee Comes to Town” (April 1944, #86)
    • “Tuition Free” (May 1944, #87)
    • “Futures For Sale” (June 1944, #88)
    • “Borrowed Brains” (July 1944, #89)
    • “The Double Steal” (August 1944, #90)
    • “The Chicken and the Yegg” (September 1944, #91)
    • “Case of the Smoking Sign” (October 1944, #92)
    • “The Hand is Quicker Than the Eye” (November 1944, #93)
    • “The Clue of the Cat’s Pajamas” (December 1944, #94)
    • “Marvelous Marbles” (January 1945, #95)
    • “Bargains in Burglary” (February 1945, #96)
    • “Call of Death” (March 1945, #97)
    • “Audacious Alibi” (April 1945, #98)
    • “Veteran in Villainy” (May 1945, #99)
    • “”Fools About Jewels” (June 1945, #100)
    • “Unknown” (July 1945, #101)
    • “Smash Your Bagage” (August 1945, #102)
    • “Stormy Weather” (September 1945, #103)
    • “The Buzzard and the Screech” (October 1945, #104)
    • “Unknown” (November 1945, #105)
    • “Unknown” (December 1945, #106)
    • “Playhouse of Plunder” (January 1946, #107)
    • “How High is Up?” (February 1946, #108)
    • “It’s Off to Jail We Go” (March 1946, #109)
    • “The Crook Who Couldn’t Be Jailed” (4/46Detective Comics #110)
    • “Unknown” (May 1946, #111)
    • “Unknown” (June 1946, #112)
    • “Unknown” (July 1946, #113)
    • “Something in the Air” (August 1946, #114)
    • “Molar Mobsters” (September 1946, #115)
    • “Tonic for Trouble” (October 1946, #116)
    • “The Fastest Snails in the World” (November 1946, #117)
    • “Crime is All Wet” (December 1946, #118)
    • “Danger – Crooks at Work” (January 1947, #119)
    • “Truth+Penalty=Crime-Catchers” (June 1948, #136)
    • “Shorty Grows Up” (July 1949, #149)
    • “Too Many Morgans” (1949, #152)
      Slam’s last regular appearance


  • DCs_crimes_of_passionDETECTIVE COMICS
    (1937–, DC Comics)

    • “The ‘Too Many Cooks…’ Caper” (March 1981, Detective Comics #500)
    • “The Doomsday Book” (March 1987, Detective Comics #572; 50th Anniversary)
      Art by Jim Aparo.
    • “Trail of the Catwoman, Part 1” (August 2001, Detective Comics #759)
      Written by Ed Brubaker
      Art by Darwyn Cooke and Cameron Stewart
      The rebirth of Slam Bradley begins.
    • “Trail of the Catwoman, Part 2” (September 2001, Detective Comics #760)
    • “Trail of the Catwoman, Part 3” (October 2001, Detective Comics #761)
    • “Trail of the Catwoman, Part 4” (November 2001, Detective Comics #762)
    • “Batman’s Longest Case” (Detective Comics #1000, 2019)
      Written by Scott Snyder
      Art by Greg Capullo
      Slam appears in this mini-story, along with Detective Chimp, Hawkman, the Martian Manhunter et al, to induct Batman into some galactic detective think-tank. A bit underwhelming as the lead-off story in a milestone issue, unfortunately.
    (2001-10, DC Comics)
    83 issues
    (2002, DC Comics)
    A one-off. 
  • SOLO
    (2004-06, DC Comics)
    12 issues
    DC anthology series, spotlighting various artist/writers.

    • “Darwyn Cooke” (August 2005, Solo #5) | Buy the comic | Kindle/ComiXology it!
      Cooke, with the aid of Slam Bradley, spins a slew of barroom yarns, tall tales and shaggy dog stries, featuring Batman, the CIA, Catwoman, and a lusty household appliance. Pull up a bar stool. 
  • CATWOMAN: SELINA’S BIG SCORE(September 2002, DC Comics) Buy this book | ComiXology/Kindle it!
    Written & drawn by Darwyn Cooke
    Slam is offstage for most of this graphic novel, but it’s still worth checking out–it’s generally regarded as one of best heist stories in the comic world.
    (2012-15, DC Comics)
    A “digital first” series, published weekly, featuring various creators and their out-of-continuity Batman series.

    • “Slam! (Part One)” (August 16, 2012, #11)
    • “Slam! (Part Two)” (August 23, 2012, #12)
    • “Slam! (Part Three)” (August 30,  2012, #13)
      Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
      Art: Phil Hester & Eric Gapstur
    (2020, DC Comics)
    Written by Max Groom
    Art by Anthony Spay & Jason Paz

    • “The Last Dance” (February 2020, DC’s Crimes of Passion) | Buy the comic | Kindle/ComiXology it!
      Released just in time for St. Valentine’s Day 2020, this fancy schmancy (but very fine) collection featured ten all-new, noir-tinged love stories, featuring various superheroes and super-villains pitching various sorts of woo, including Batman, Green Arrow, Batgirl, Catwoman, Batwoman, Nightwing, Black Canary, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, The Question, and, uh, Pied Piper? Why you should be interested? Because private eye and TD favourite Slam Bradley also showed up in a brand new adventure.
    (2020, DC Comics)
    Single-issue 100-page Spectacular

    • “The Art of Picking a Lock”
      Writer: Ed Brubaker
      Art: Cameron Stewart
    (2022, DC Comics)
    Written by Tom King
    Art by Phil Hester
    6 issues
    A masterful reimagining of Slam’s origins.

    • “Where is the Princess of Gotham?” (December 2022, #1)



Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to George Moss for putting me straight. And Scott Hileman for the extra leads. This one’s for Jerry and Joe.

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