Monday, November 20, 2023

It Rhymes With Lust!

I cannot say how long ago I first became aware of It Rhymes with Lust, but I've been wanting to read it ever since. I bought a copy a while back, but just now got around to doing it justice. And it's worth the effort. This is one of those early precursors to what has been called in recent times the "Graphic Novel". It was written by Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller. I first became aware of Arnold Drake almost from the beginning of my comic reading days when he was at Marvel writing books like The X-Men and creating characters such as The Guardians of the Galaxy. I later learn he was the co-creator of Doom Patrol and one of my favorite DC heroes Deadman. 

(Artist Matt Baker)

The art is by Matt Baker with inking by Ray Orsin. Baker is a legendary comic book artist, a black man working in a field which was not at the time all that open. He was a master of the "Good-Girl Art" style, a style which suited the noir-style story of It Rhymes with Lust perfectly. I daresay it is admiration for the work of Baker which has kept this particularly title from falling into obscurity. 

The story is an attempt to do something a bit different in comic storytelling. Comics having been long targeted to a young audience actually has always had the chance to appeal to a broader audience. In the late 40's and early 50's this was understood before the field was laid waste by do-gooders and prudes. It Rhymes with Lust is a classic noir story of men and women caught in the throes of their passions and falling prey to the weaknesses which tragically define mankind all too often. It takes place in place called Copper City which is seemingly run by a man named Buck Masson. When Buck dies his widow Rust takes the reins of his endeavors and uses her wiles and wits to keep control of the political machine. A man from her past named Hal Weber arrives in town on her request and is installed as the editor of a local newspaper. That paper pretends to be against the political machine but it's a ruse. Standing in the way of Rust's ambitions is Audrey Masson, Buck's daughter by his first wife. Needless to say, we get a love triangle among these three vibrant individuals. 

(Bette Davis)

(Lizbeth Scott)

(Alan Ladd)

In an effort to ground this work, the characters are based on real people, specifically actors. Rust is based on Bette Davis. Audrey is based on Lizbeth Scott and Hal is designed around the looks of Alan Ladd (though they add a few inches to his height). The whole effort by Drake, Baker and the others is to deliver a one hundred plus page package which feels like a hybrid between a comic book and a paperback novel. The work is divided into five chapters as the action builds slowly but inexorably. 

Hal is a hard guy to root for as in much of the story he is a man besotted with Rust Masson. He also seems to have a drinking problem which not too much is made of, but it accounts for why this new job means so much. Anytime he decides that his morals cannot withstand the kinds of things she demands of him, he approaches her and falls under her spell again and again. In the noir tradition he is a man who is prisoner to his passions and despite knowing full well that he's doing bad, continues. 

Rust for her part is the strongest character in the book, at least in the early going. She schemes and knows that her sexual powers can deliver the kind of treatment she demands. She is clearly a woman who resents the role of women in the broader society and so seeks to make herself as powerful or more powerful than any man. Despite her devilish ways, she's hard not to admire in some limited way. Audrey is always noble, but also being attracted to Hal and is always trying to convince him do the right thing. While the reader knows she's right, she doesn't have the focus of her stepmother. 

This is a story of crime and some degree of violence, though that is pretty sanitized. A bombing is dealt with dramatically, but the victims are never seen. While there are attempts at murder, they seem rather lackluster really until the finale of the story which sad to say becomes a tad over-the-top so to speak. I won't say anymore so as not to spoil the end of a pretty dang good story, but I wish the creators had hewed a bit closer to the actual noir tradition in terms of how things wrap up in Copper City for our main characters. 

But still and all it's great to get this under my belt at long last. This work was hard to find when I first learned of it a few decades ago now, but has since been reprinted by Dark Horse and others so a copy shouldn't be difficult to locate, and it shouldn't cost that much. Originally selling for twenty-five cents, I paid around fifteen bucks for my copy. 

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