L-r: Bunny, Pen and Oxie face an apparently supernatural foe. Artist: George Storm.

PENNILESS PALMER

Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1942
Creator: R.L. Ross
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Fictional private detectives are pretty impecunious as a general rule, operating out of low-rent offices in seedy parts of town, and often late with their secretaries' paychecks (or in the case of Star Hawkins, pawning her for ready cash, which he could get away with only because she was a robot). In most cases it wasn't all that big a deal, simply accepted as a fact of life (which no-doubt could change at a moment's notice if the hero were only willing to bend just a teeny …

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… little bit on his principles). But here's a private eye who made such a schtick of poverty, it was even part of his name — Penniless Palmer.

"Penniless" was apparently his actual first name, not just something people called him. What they called him was "Pen" for short. He was a DC Comics character, one of those guys in the back pages of anthology comics, that are intended to get laughs, like Hayfoot Henry or The Gas House Gang. Pen ran his private detection agency in DC's Star Spangled Comics, where either The Newsboy Legion or, later, Robin, was usually on the cover.

That agency consisted of Pen himself, plus the lovely Bunny South (who supposedly ran the office, but also helped Pen on his cases), and his always-hungry right-hand man, Oxie. The reason Oxie was hungry all the time was, for one reason or another, they usually wound up not getting paid for their work. Fortunately, Bunny's father was loaded, and always kicked in to keep the lights on.

He started in Star Spangled #6 (March, 1942), the last one to cover-feature The Star-Spangled Kid. The title got a complete makeover with the following issue, adding Robotman, TNT & Dan the Dyna-Mite and so many more, Penniless Palmer himself had to be dropped (after only one appearance) to make room for them all. But Pen was reinstated in #8, replacing Captain X (no relation), a war hero who'd been there since the beginning.

Pen's first outing was written and drawn by cartoonist R.L. Ross, who has few if any credits in comic books, other than a half-dozen or so early Penniless Palmer stories. The artist who replaced him was Stan Kaye (Genius Jones), but the creator most closely associated with the character was George Storm (Buzzy). Storm had started out in newspaper comics, such as Ben Webster and Phil Hardy, but by the early '40s had gone into comic books, with superheroes like The Whip and The Hangman to his credit.

This continued until #77 (February, 1948). Pen didn't have any spin-offs in other media. In fact, the only way he even got out of Star Spangled Comics was in a secondary series in DC's All Funny Comics, where guys like Vitamin Vic and Two-Gun Percy got a chance to shine. Pen was in all 23 issues, and even on the covers of several, including #1. But when it folded, with its June, 1948 issue, that was the end of him.

— DDM

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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.