Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Killing In Comics!

A Killing In Comics by Max Allan Collins, the first of his Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries, creates a vivid alternate universe inhabited by many familiar characters in and around the early days of comics, especially those comics and characters created by and for DC. Collins is quite careful to note that while the names and personalities of many of the "suspects" in this whodunnit are similar they are not identical to the folks who are now familiar to comic book fans of the era.

Harry Donenfeld and Company
So while it is Superman who smiles down from H.J.Ward's painting in this scene of early DC (at the time both National and American Comics) it is in fact "Wonder Guy" who is the subject of so much speculation in the Collins mystery set in 1948 New York City.

In fact "Wonder Guy" makes an appearance early as it is a Wonder Guy costume "Donnie Harrison" wears to his own birthday party, a party attended by many almost-familiar types including Harrison's mistress Honey Daily whose apartment is the setting for the affair.

Bob Kane
Also on hand are Harrison's wife Selma and his partner at Americana Comics, Louis Cohn, as well as "Rod Crane", the creator of "Batwing". Harrison dies dramatically at his own party and that sets into action the narrator of the mystery, one Jack Starr who is a troubleshooter for Starr Newspaper Syndicate headed by his step-mother and famous stripper Maggie Starr.

Joe Siegel and Joe Shuster
This pair are on the case quickly because they syndicate the newspaper adventures of Wonder Guy and Batwing and the creators of those characters are soon perceived as suspects when Harrison's death is ruled a homicide. Not only Rod Krane, but his rummy ghost-writer "Will Hander", as well as Wonder Guy creators "Harry Spiegel" and "Moe Shulman".

Bill Finger
It's a heady brew of comic strip intrigue Collins puts together, with a story that echoes the rough and tumble world of comic books and the bare-knuckles corporate as well as mob interests involved in all aspects of the industry. I loved some of the pseudo-names Collins dreamed up for some of the characters, especially "Marvel Man" published by "Spiggot Comics".

A Killing In Comics is a true-blue whodunnit with Jack Starr as an P.I. with a modicum of charm and barrel full of moxie who knows all the players, some since he was a boy before becoming joining the military police during the war. Using those skills he pokes around the edges of the crime and the history of these almost-familiar characters with a smarmy wit and light but brisk banter.

Also Terry Beatty, the partner with Max Collins on many a project over the decades offers up some scrumptious illustrations to add a proper comic book luster to the story.

This is a light fun read, a good enough mystery for a comfortable afternoon. I highly recommend it. It's one of three mysteries featuring Jack and Maggie Starr. The second volume in the series will be reviewed here next time.

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