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No crime for the new year

Friday, January 3, 2014
Mandrake the Magician and his sidekick Lothar.

Little did I think that I would be alive to see T&T record 400 murders in one year. When this happened over the Christmas holidays I set about thinking what it might take for us to begin to put the brake on homicides in 2014. I was contemplating that, outside divine intervention, perhaps we need a superhero or someone akin to one of the no-nonsense, fictitious crime-fighting characters of yesteryear. This led me to reminisce first about the crime busters in comics, those colourful crusaders on paper in the comic section of the T&T Guardian, as well as those we loved and admired so much on television and in the movies. First to come to mind was Dick Tracy, a police detective ahead of his time, created by Chester Gould. In his trademark trenchcoat and fedora, the rocked-jawed, hook-nosed Tracy, aided by Sam Catchum, would pursue and apprehend America’s most fearsome villains. Decades prior to cellphones and today’s electronic apparatus and solving crime by DNA, Tracy wore a watch which had some really snazzy gadgets, including a two-way radio phone. Fearless Fosdick, another crime-fighting comic character, was a parody of Tracy.

As technology evolved so too did Tracy and his crime-fighting gadgets and storylines. Tracy even eventually married Moon Maid, daughter of the chief of a colony of humanoids living on the moon. Tracy’s space coupe even preceded the actual Apollo 11 mission in 1969 to the moon. The 70s also saw a new-looking Tracy, with a new sidekick, Groovy Grove. Also fighting crime, with a black sidekick, though globally, was The Phantom (Kit Walker), created by Lee Falk. Unlike many fictional costumed heroes, the Phantom does not have any superpowers, but instead relies on his strength, intelligence, and fearsome reputation of being an immortal ghost to defeat his foes. The Phantom lives in the ancient Skull Cave, and has a trained wolf, Devil, and a horse named Hero. A signature of the Phantom is his two rings; one with a pattern formed like four crossing sabres, “The Good Mark,” that he leaves on visitors whom he befriends, placing the person under his protection. The other, “The Evil Mark” or “Skull Mark,” has a skull shape, which leaves a scar of the corresponding shape on the enemies he punches with it. He wears the Good Mark on his left hand because it is closer to the heart, and the Evil Mark on his right hand. There are a few local criminals who would readily qualify for the Skull Mark.


The Phantom’s aid, best friend and sidekick is an African named Guran, chief of a pygmy tribe, the only person beside Phantom’s wife Diane Palmer to know the superhero’s true nature. 
The Phantom was the first fictional hero to wear the skintight costume that has now become a hallmark of comic-book superheroes, and was also the first shown wearing a mask with no visible pupils, another superhero standard. I then remembered Mandrake the Magician, also created by Falk, with his aide Lothar, one of America’s first fictional African sleuths. In fact, Falk created Mandrake before he created the Phantom. Like Guran and the Phantom, Lothar is Mandrake’s best friend and crimefighting companion. Mandrake first met Lothar during his travels in Africa. Lothar was prince of the Seven Nations, a mighty federation of jungle tribes; but gave up becoming king and instead followed Mandrake on his world travels. Lothar is often referred to as “the strongest man in the world.” With the advent of television locally—TTT, of course—I got hooked on the crime dramas. As I am committed as an adult today to being at home on Thursday night to view Scandal, I remember as a child to being in front the TV on Sunday nights to watch burly actor Broderick Crawford, starring as Dan Matthews, take down the bad guys in Highway Patrol, the first law enforcement officer I can recall on the tube.


There was also Dragnet. The original Dragnet series starred Jack Webb as Sgt Friday and it aired first on NBC from January 3, 1952, exactly 61 years ago. Like today’s detectives Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson in the Law and Order SVU television series, Friday was a tenacious LA detective who always got his man. Even before computers, iPads and YouTube, there were comic strips, every boy’s fantasy and source of inspiration to become a crimefighter. The annals of comics are replete with these heroes, including Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Daredevil and Spiderman. Hollywood has also served a glut of crime-fighting heroes. Among my favourites are Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects; Det Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Dirty Harry; Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive); Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell (Tango & Cash); Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt (Se7en); Jack Nicholson (Chinatown); and, more recently, Leonardo Di Caprio in Shutter Island. So, one of my major New Year wishes for 2014 is that our law enforcement officers and social workers make an even greater concerted effort to eradicate murders and serious crime in 2014. A blessed, safe and healthy New Year to all my Pulse loyalists as this column enters the 22nd year of its existence. 


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