Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Millennium In Four Colors!

Here for your viewing pleasure are the DC Millennium Comics which have been featured this past month, plus a few others that didn't make the cut. These were charming additions to the collection and real windows into the Golden Age. At a time when getting full-fledged archives was out of reach, these single issues were exceedingly entertaining.

Rip Off

Monday, September 29, 2014

Seduction Of The Innocent!

Seduction of the Innocent is the third book in the Jack and Maggie Starr mystery trilogy by Max Allan Collins. This book was published by Hard Case Crime in 2013. The series first two installments had been published in 2007 and 2008 by Berkley Prime Crime, a division of Penguin Books, but that publisher had decided against doing the third and at this time final volume. So  it's real pleasure to see this final book, perhaps the best of the three. The Glen Orbik cover is a real stunner, echoing the most memorable of vintage 50's comics covers.

Dr.Frederic Wertham
The story is set in 1954 and concerns itself with a notorious psychologist cum social crusader named "Dr.Werner Frederick" whose book Ravage the Lambs sets out to reveal the lascivious nature of comic books and create a public furor about same. Of course the Starr Syndicate, headed by former stripper Maggie Starr and her stepson Jack Starr care a great deal about this effort as it will directly impact their business.

Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
So when  E.F. (Educational Funnies) Comics honchos "Bob Price" and "Hal Feldman" seek to face down the critic, it becomes a real problem for comics when Price's testimony before a Congressional commission becomes a debacle. Price ends up embarrassed and threatens to kill Dr.Frederic.

Al Williamson
Also invested in countering Frederic is hot-headed artist "Will Allsion" who also threatens the pop pyschologist on television. That becomes a particularly dicey problem when Frederic actually does end up dead under very mysterous circumstances.

Charles Biro (the one with the monkey)
Maggie asks Jack to investigate and he does. Among the many folks he interviews are Price and Feldman, but also editor of Levinson Comics "Charley Bardwell" who is a tough mug famous for his pranks and drinking as well as his pet monkey, which even gets into the comics he published. 

Bob Wood
Bardwell's partner "Pete Pine" is an even more notorious drunk, a man who becomes quite violent when he's had too much booze.

Tarpe Mills
Jack runs into a great deal of trouble when he finds Pine at the apartment of "Lyla Lamont", a darkly beautiful comic artist who has a wild reputation for enjoying life in all its many forms.

The chase around NYC in search of a killer is a snappy and finely paced affair. Because this story centered around a group of comics folks already close to the criminality in some instances, it seem to have a more noir atmosphere than the previous volumes, or maybe the lurid details are just naturally part of this at times most pungent tale. The action is rousing in this one, both of the amorous and  pugilistic variety.

 As always Terry Beatty supplies some beautiful illustrations for this story, his style very reminiscent of the great Johhny Craig, is especially apt in this volume.

This was a great send off for the series. It seems to me there are a goodly number of stories which could be yet told from the shadowy world of comics, but Collins said that this volume concluded his plans for Jack and Maggie.

If you can find them, I highly recommend these three books. They are filled with wonderful ambience and details from 1950's New York City. Any comics fan will find them fascinating and any mystery fan will find them fulfilling.

Rip Off

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Strip For Murder!

Strip for Murder by Max Allan Collins is the second of three Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries, stories set in the quixotic world of comics. This particular time out, Collins focuses our attention on one of comics most notorious feuds, one between two true giants of the industry.

Jack and Maggie Starr are Vice President and President of the Starr Syndicate which markets comic strips to newspapers across the United States. Not as big as United Features, they have to scramble to find popular strips that Americans will find attractive day in and day out. It tuns out Jack and Maggie Starr are also "son" and "mother". Despite being only a few years apart in age, Maggie married Jack's father and he had left the business to her, a savvy move as she was quite the businesswoman. Jack on the other hand is the troubleshooter for the firm, looking into things which might damage the bottom line and getting them fixed.

Ham Fisher
The latest problem for Jack to solve is the apparent "suicide" of "Sam Fizer", the successful veteran creator of Mug O'Malley, a comic strip which was the backbone of Starr's syndication.

Al Capp
 It soon becomes apparent that Fizer's suicide might actually be murder and the most obvious suspect is "Hal Rapp", the creator of the comic strip Tall Paul, a wildly successful comic strip about the doings of mountain folk but in actually a brutal satire of modern satire. The strip was so successful that a Broadway play was currently being mounted and it was at the party for that play at which the news of Fizer's death became known.

Maggie Starr is actually in the play and with all these irons in the fire, she quickly puts Jack on the case which looks exceedingly bad for Rapp. Also involved are Fizer's bodacious wife Misty Winters who is in the process of leaving him and his assistant who many think really did the bulk of the work that made a fortune for Fizer.

Edie Adams and Ernie Kovacs

We meet many folks who seem familiar including the Hollywood couple "Candy Cain", a beautiful actress in the play, and her TV comedian husband "Tom Mazurki".

Alex Raymond

And finally getting involved is "Ray Alexander", a respected comic strip artist who heads the National Cartoonist Society.

All of these folks as well as many others are part of the brew Collins mixes up in a story which has echoes in the real world history of comics. Of course "Sam Fizer" is a close approximation of Ham Fisher creator of Joe Palooka and "Hal Rapp" is Al Capp, the creator of Li'l Abner. These two were locked in an infamous feud for decades. It is this feud which forms the basis for the yarn, as well Ham Fisher's suicide many years later. The time frames are much changed, as this story is set in 1953, but the players are all approximate to real life.

Collin always writes a stylish mystery and his style sends you dashing through the story as Jack Starr, a former military MP questions one suspect after another, slowly building up his case. Comics were always an industry which was just this side of respectable and that seedy quality gives these Starr adventures a nice atmosphere.

There is one more of the Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries, but it will be a few years after this one was published before it arrived. It will be reviewed here next time.

Rip Off

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.

Rip Off