Chief Burke

Religion: indeterminate

Name: Chief Burke

Other Names: Chief of Police; the Police Chief

Classification: supporting character supporting character  

Publisher(s): DC

First Appearance: Action Comics (vol. 1) #8 (Jan. 1939): "Superman in the Slums"

First Appearance (Additional Details): (1-panel cameo) Action Comics (vol. 1) #8 (Jan. 1939): "Superman in the Slums"; (full) Action Comics (vol. 1) #9 (Feb. 1939): "Wanted: Superman"

Creators: Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster

Number of Appearances: 4

Occupation: police chief

Location: Metropolis, USA

Gender: male

Note: liked Superman but duty-bound to arrest him

Chief Burke, the Chief of Police in an unnamed city (but which can be presumed to be Metropolis) admired Superman but felt duty-bound to arrest him.

Action Comics #9 essentially follows up directly on Superman's destructive (but widely appreciated) actions in Action Comics #8. The story, originally untitled but titled "Wanted: Superman" in reprint collections, revolves around the Chief of Police bringing in an ace police detective from Chicago (Captain Detective Reilly) specifically to arrest Superman. "100% Reilly" (as he is known because he always captures the men he is assigned to arrest) turns out to be a self-serving blowhard. Superman manages to avoid being arrested, although Reilly does come close to discovering his secret identity as Clark Kent. After this issue's fiasco surrounding the police department's attempt to arrest Superman, the police chief apparently let the need to arrest the hero quietly be forgotten. Chief Burke was never seen again after this issue.

Although it is not explicitly stated, I see no reason to regard the police chief (Chief Burke) shown at the very end of the Superman story in Action Comics #8 as a different character than "Chief of Police" portrayed at the very beginning of the Superman story in Action Comics #9. The depictions in the two consecutive issues actually appear as if they are an attempt by Joe Shuster to draw the same character, with the exception that the police chief is clean-shaven in Action Comics #8 and has a slim moustache in Action Comics #9. The police chief is also wearing a different-colored suit in the two different issues. It is certainly conceivable that the police chief could have grown a moustache and changed his suit in the time period between Action Comics issues #8 and 9. Furthermore, it was not uncommon for there to be variation in how Joe Shuster drew some characters in early Superman stories. Sometimes the same character looked quite different even within a single issue.

Most importantly, the police chief addresses exactly the same topics and expresses the exact same sentiments in both stories. In both stories the police chief explains that he needs to arrest Superman for destroying buildings in the city's slums, something Superman did so that the government would re-build in the area and thus provide safe, new housing for an impoverished population that previously lived in deplorable conditions. In both Action Comics #s 8 and 9 the police chief tells people that he likes what Superman did, but it is his duty to arrest him. As Superman only destroyed slums in one city, it doesn't make sense that more than one police chief would be involved here.

If one reads Action Comics #s 8 and 9 in a collected volume, the scene with the "Chief of Police" in the beginning of Action Comics #9 is essentially the next panel after the one-panel scene showing Clark Kent interviewing Chief Burke in the police chief's office at the end of Action Comics #8. It is certainly unusual to see the same minor character grow a moustache between consecutive panels with very little time passing. But it isn't impossible, and it really does appear that writer Jerry Siegel intended the police chiefs in both issues to be the same character.

In Action Comics #12, an unnamed police chief appears in panel 4 on page 5 and panel 1 on page 11. He wears a police formal dress uniform with a cap on and has no moustache. There is no particular reason to rule him as out as being Chief Burke, although he is visually somewhat non-descript. This story definitely takes place in the city in which Clark Kent lives - yet unnamed but presumably Metropolis. Answering to the mayor (who is a significant character in the story), the chief is charged once again with arresting Superman. The police chief is a minor character in this story, but there is no reason to believe he is a different character than Chief Burke.

Later a text story (titled simply "Superman") published in Superman #2 (Fall 1939) featured a man identified as the "Chief of Police," but never identified by name. This story is explicitly identified as taking place in Metropolis. As there had been no indication of a change in the office of Chief of Police in Superman's city in the intervening time since Chief Burke last appeared, there is no reason to believe this story's Chief is anybody other than Burke. The Chief's no-nonsense, take-charge, press-courting behavior in this story are all reminiscent of Chief Burke's earlier appearances.

This character is in the following 4 stories which have been indexed by this website:
Action Comics
Superman (vol. 1) #2 (Fall 1939): "Superman"

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