Dan Dunn was the first fictional character to make his debut in an American comic magazine, making him the forerunner of many comic book heroes. Created by Norman Marsh, he first appeared in Detective Dan, Secret Operative No. 48, a 1933 single issue one-shot by Humor Publications magazine.
Later in 1933, Dan Dunn made his newspaper debut in the Dan Dunn comic strip for Publishers Syndicate. He eventually appeared in Big Little Books, which are probably the most readily available source of the character's adventures for modern readers. In 1936, Dan Dunn became the title character of a pulp magazine that lasted for two issues. As noted by comics historian Don Markstein, the square-jawed Detective Dunn was a knock-off of Dick Tracy, blowing away evil criminals with the same no-nonsense resort to violence that fans liked seeing during an era of urban crime gangs. In newspapers, however, Dunn never approached Tracy's popularity.
Marsh both drew and wrote Dan Dunn, and many consider its artwork to be its weaker side. Phelps goes so far as to describe it as "arid," "presented a chronic, wintry aspect," with "cavernous spaces" and "huddled, stiff-jointed postures." However, other early crime strips (including the initial Dick Tracy, as Phelps concedes) also look primitive today compared to the photorealist standards of later adventure comics.
Marsh storms out
Its plot writing and action scenes were what attracted readers, and according to Allen Saunders, it rivaled Dick Tracy in pioneering themes and techniques of the American detective comic—until 1942 when Marsh had an argument with Publishers Syndicate and "stormed out." The syndicate then had Saunders (as writer and the syndicate's comics editor) and artist Alfred Andriola take over the abandoned newspaper strip and subsequently replace it with a new detective strip Kerry Drake in 1943.
In 1937, Dan Dunn was produced as a 15-minute radio program which ran for a total of 78 episodes.