DC Comics scored its biggest successes with Superman in 1938 and Batman in '39, but these are not their oldest characters. The first member of their complex, shared universe was Dr. Occult (More Fun Comics #6, October 1935), while their longest-lasting detective is Sam Emerson "Slam" Bradley. Both were creations of the Man of Steel's parents, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Slam showed up in the first issue of DC's Detective Comics (March 1937), a two-fisted, hard-drinking, chain-smoking gumshoe of the sort then popular in the pulps. Together with his cartoony, comical sidekick "Shorty" Morgan, he punched and wisecracked his way through adventures, duking it out with racketeers, hoodlums, and (regrettably) Yellow Peril-inspired Asian hordes.
Early stories put the pair in Seigel and Shuster's hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, but they quickly relocated to New York City.1 Slam also turned up for World's Fair Comics, DC's tribute to the memorable 1939 event. Slam and Shorty continued as one of several supporting features until #152 in 1949.
Little thought had yet been given to a shared universe, and these various back-up cops and crime-solvers each seemed to exist in a world of his own. Their place in DC history could not be denied, however. In 1981, an aging Slam Bradley joined various other past supporting characters for a story in Detective's 500th issue. Six years and one Crisis later, Slam returned for Detective's Golden Anniversary. He interacts with Batman, Robin, Elongated Man, and a very aged Sherlock Holmes in Detective Comics #572, when all realize they are working the same case. While the Dynamic Duo remain youthful and contemporary, Slam is, like Holmes, a relic from another era. This story also establishes that "Shorty" has died. In the final panel, Slam tosses his pack of cigarettes and decides to quit, saying he's "plannin' on being around for awhile."
A youthful, Metropolis-based Sam "Slam" Bradley turns up in a few of Superman's 1990s adventures. It's not certain if the writer even knew the character had already been revived. In any case, this Slam is later revealed to be the son of the original.2 The older Slam returns to Detective in #759. He seems considerably less older than he was in the 1980s, and he resides in Gotham City. His son also appears to have transferred to Gotham Central. Newer stories followed, which involve both Bradleys more intimately than ever with Batman's supporting cast.
Specifically, Slam Jr. is revealed, at least hypothetically, to be the father of Catwoman's daughter, rather than Bruce Wayne, as had been implied earlier.3 Slam Sr., meanwhile, develops a May-December Romance with the same woman. This means that Selina Kyle has been romantically involved with two generations of the Bradley family. If she hit a home run with Slam, she is sleeping with her daughter's grandfather-- a turn kinky and creepy even by Catwoman's standards, and unprecedented for the old detective.
In general, however, Slam Bradley has never been a serious contender. Most people-- even many comic-book readers-- wouldn't recognize his name. Both within the DC Universe, however, and in print, he has demonstrated tremendous staying power. Years of bullets, bar shots, retcons, and jaw socks cannot keep a tough guy down.
1.Batman's 1939 adventures also place him in NYC; he shifts to Gotham without explanation during his first months.
2. The Bradley family received additional retroactive revisions that entwined them with DC history. In 1998, Slam's hitherto unmentioned older brother Biff, appears (and dies) in the comic-book mini-series, The Guns of the Dragon. That story features DC characters Bat Lash, Enemy Ace, some version or relative of the Blackhawk's Chop Chop, Vandal Savage, and (of course) dinosaurs.
3. Few DC characters have had their ancestry so entirely scrambled by DC's constant reinventing of their own history as Helena. Back in the 1960s, DC established that their original '30s and '40s comics existed in one universe, and their later ones, in another (crossovers were frequent). In the original "Earth 2" universe, Catwoman retired entirely from crime and married Bruce Wayne. They had a daughter named Helena who grew up to be the Huntress. The short-lived tv series Birds of Prey gave Helena a version of this origin, though Wayne and Kyle were never legally married.
In the 1980s, the series Crisis on Infinite Earths wiped out established history and replaced it with a single earth. In that reality, Helena Wayne never existed. Well, not really. You see.... Never mind. It's easier to explain geometry with reference to black holes than the effect of DC Crises's plot structures on specific characters. Just working out the grammar makes my head hurt. Another character called the Huntress (Helena Bertinelli) eventually turned up in Gotham.
Anyhoo, in the twenty-first century (and several continuity scrambles later), a pregnant Selina "Catwoman" Kyle gave birth to a daughter named Helena Kyle. Parentage remained a mystery, but Bruce Wayne took a strong interest in the girl's welfare. At present, however, it appears that the largely inconsequential Slam Bradley Jr. is Helena' dad.