Hollywood Babylon.

Babylon 1

I think Hollywood Babylon was the second storyline in the DC Vertigo American Century series, spanning issues #5 through 9. I have the entire American Century series, but it took some doing. I was originally ensnared by a couple random comics, eventually lucking into three shrink-wrapped back issue bundles that equipped me with almost every issue. I’ve since filled in the gaps with trade pb’s.

babylon 4

Written by Howard Chaykin along with David Tischman, the art was sketched and thumbnailed by Chaykin, then fleshed out and inked by quite a team that included Marc Laming, Warren Pleece, Dick Giordano and Job Stokes. The covers for these five issues of the American Century series were done by John Van Fleet. In the Hollywood Babylon storyline, Chaykin and Tischman’s cynical Korean War era adventurer Harry Kraft lands in Hollywood, wearing a Quality Studios night watchman uniform and shacking up with an L.A. widow and her kid. The writers somehow manage to squeeze in a load of early 1950’s Tinseltown lore under various guises and fake names, including a troubled Martin & Lewis style comedy duo, a Rita Hayworth clone, a vintage television superhero, crooked HUAC politicos, mobsters and more…and all in less than a hundred pages. The trade pb concludes with Harry bidding the glittery So-Cal set goodbye and motorcycling Route 66 into a standalone rural roadside diner story, where “a femme fatale offers him a piece of her pie, if he’ll kill her husband”.

You just gotta love it.

babylon 5

The American Century series traveled from Central America to Paris, Manhattan to the backwoods bootlegger southern states. It’s an adventurer’s tale, but less Steve Canyon and more Wally Wood’s Cannon…but with a brain. Chaykin and Tischman’s Harry Kraft is a fascinating, bitterly bad-assed rogue “with a gun in one hand and a garter belt in the other”. Someday, I really mean to stack the whole damn collection in a big pile on the writing lair’s endtable, then hunker down to read the entire thing in sequence from start to finish, uninterrupted.

babylon 2babylon 3

Joan Mason – Reporter

Joan Mason 1

Joan Mason – Reporter from Victor Fox’ Fox Features Syndicate appeared in about 16 Blue Beetle comics as an on-again off-again girlfriend and sometimes foil of the superhero, eventually getting her own feature stories. Yet, for all of her investigative reporting and sleuthing skills, Joan never managed to figure out that Dan Garrett was actually the Blue Beetle.

Mason worked for various newspapers, depending on what the writers (or even the letterers) came up with, oddly enough, even the Daily Planet in some stories, though it’s not intended to be Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s paper (or to tempt fate with DC Comics’ lawyers). Most often depicted in a stylish red suit and hat with long blonde hair, Joan Mason suddenly had a mid-1940’s makeover in a new (and much better) artist’s hands, briefly sporting a black bob, though still sticking with the bright red suit.

Joan Mason 3

The Joan Mason Reporter Treasury shown at the top is another Gwandanaland Comics POD book (they seem to be pumping them out nearby in Monee, Illinois), 126 pages with 18 stories, most from 1944 – 1950 Blue Beetle comics. Writers? Artists? You got me — nothing’s credited, and the book’s intro is only a brief paragraph. But, some online sources list Charles Nicholas as Joan’s creator. Actually, most of the writing and art aren’t exactly the best, and only one story in this book, “Joan Mason Reporter In The Wandering Atomic Bomb” is done by someone who can really wield a pencil and sable brush, with a style somewhere between a Bill Ward and a Matt Baker’s look.

Joan Mason 4

Mason’s usually assigned to look into (or just stumbles upon) a corny mystery, gets caught by the crooks, rescued by the cops and solves the crime in the last panel or two. Many are only six-pagers. Still, for someone determined to poke around mid-twentieth century pulps, PBO’s and comics to uncover the era’s ‘stiletto gumshoes’ (few as there may have been), these Joan Mason stories are interesting artifacts.

Joan mason 2Joan Mason 5Joan Mason 6

Let’s Call Her ‘CatGirl’.

Under The Moon 1

Lauren Myracle’s Under The Moon – A Catwoman Tale from last Spring was positioned as a YA graphic novel, and certainly speaks to that audience, but just as surely can be enjoyed by us grown-ups. As much as I revere the man in the cape and cowl, the Bat-Universe’s most intriguing characters clearly have been revealed to be the women of Gotham City, whether in the comics themselves, on film or the small screen.

Beautifully illustrated in a fluidly drawn black/grey/blue duotone style by Isaac Goodhart (Postal, etc.) Under The Moon’s book-length tale tells an alternate origin story for Selina Kyle, here a high school student living with an inattentive single mother’s horrible succession of increasingly abusive boyfriends, the current one a violent, sadistic drunk. A loner by nature, Selina finds little solace at school where a bestie-wannabe is a little too clingy and childhood playmate Bruce Wayne seems lost in his own world. Selina flees, living by her wits on the streets till she hooks up with a trio of misfit runaways and becomes embroiled in a high-stakes heist…at Wayne Manor no less.

Under The Moon 4

Myracle’s story is a poignant and plausible alternate vision for Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s origin (make that ‘CatGirl here) and the building blocks of a pre-Batman and pre-Catwoman relationship are smartly put in place. When released, this title came with retailer warnings about rough language and edgy content, and that’s in there, all right, but it never felt forced and only the most close-minded could object. A (I suppose) necessary subplot about a grisly Gotham City serial killer seemed intrusive, but with everything else done so well, I even went along with that.  I mean, how can you not fall in love with a hoodie with cat ears as the beginnings of an iconic costume?

Under The Moon 3

I grabbed this one at the library when I popped in to pick up a reserved book, and blew through it over a Saturday afternoon coffee break (a break that went a little longer than planned. Okay…a break that went way longer than planned). If Myracle and Goodhart have a sequel up their sleeve, I’m in. More CatGirl for me, please!

Under The Moon 5

Over 6,000 Books Per Day.

The Loong Wait 1

Just over 6,000 books per day. Every single day. For the last 102 years, since the day he was born on March 9, 1918, in fact. That’s how many books you’d have to sell to equal Mickey Spillane’s estimated tally.

That’s not just a successful writer. That’s a pop culture phenomenon.

Born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn, New York, Mickey was writing for comics in the 1940’s, a career he’d started while still a Gimbels basement salesman before enlisting in the Army Air Corps the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. The comics scripts led to writing two-page prose shorts used as filler in some titles. Newly married after the war and looking to buy a country house in exurban Newburgh, New York, Spillane decided to write a novel for some added income, blasting out I, The Jury in just 19 days. Accepted by Dutton, it sold over 6.5 million copies in its initial hardcover and paperback releases. Pre-Amazon, pre-eBook.  I, The Jury introduced postwar crime fiction readers to an entirely new type of hard-boiled private eye: Mike Hammer, adapted from Spillane’s earlier Mike Danger comic scripts, a rough, tough loner dispatching vigilante justice with his fists and his .45 on single-minded vengeance filled quests against organized crime in the earliest novels, and Communist spies in later works. Spillane wrote 13 Hammer novels (and a number of short stories) between 1947 and 1996, some unfinished manuscripts later completed by Iowa writer Max Allan Collins in recent years. I’ve got ‘em all, some in different editions, along with Primal Spillane, collecting his early shorts, Collins and James Taylor’s One Lonely Night – Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and From The Files Of Mike Hammer – The Complete Dailies And Sunday Strips from the mid-50’s and others. A scan of my more-or-less demolished (slightly cleaned up for use here) 1952 first printing of Spillane’s The Long Wait paperback is the image up above. I want to get the edition below, and will inevitably when I spot one going for less than collector prices.

The ong Wait 2

The Long Wait is a non-Hammer novel, though with some minor tweaks it easily could be, and I suppose Spillane scholars debate whether it started out as one. In the tradition of Ross MacDonald’s 1947 Blue City and a host of similar crime fiction novels, a drifter who’s much more than he seems stirs up trouble in a lethally crooked town, not arriving as a hero on a quest, but seeking vengeance. When the dust settles – or the gun smoke clears, the blood stops flowing and the screams finally fall silent, this being a Mickey Spillane novel – there’s a brief bit of ‘gotcha’ at the very end as in most Spillane tales, though they all (like so many postwar crime fiction novels) could do with expanded denouements, IMHO. Also shown here is a foreign (French?) edition which adapts the original U.S. hardcover’s dustjacket art. The other is an Orion UK paperback edition, which is what you get today if you order a new paperback online, and what the hell that cover art is about, I don’t know.

The Long Wait 3

I cherish Spillane’s first wave of Mike Hammer novels from 1947 through 1952 (before he became a Jehovah’s Witness, putting his writing temporarily on hold): I, The Jury, My Gun Is Quick, Vengeance Is Mine!, One Lonely Night, The Big Kill and Kiss Me, Deadly. Still, I have a particular but inexplicable affection for The Long Wait, every bit as hard-boiled, gritty, violent and retro-sexy as any of his early Hammer books, if not more so.

The Long Wait 4

It was made into a film starring Anthony Quinn and Peggie Castle in 1954, which I’ve never seen, though it sounds like it uses at least the core of Spillane’s novel. It doesn’t seem to be available on disk or download, and the only sites I see offering the film have “dot-ru” at the end, so you’ll understand if I’m not ready to click away on those.

The Long Wait 5

Mickey Spillane’s popularity was lamented by intellectuals. He was reviled by literary critics, envied by fellow writers, and adored by readers (he called them customers) and paperback rack-jobbers. For good or bad, he added a new chapter to the evolving twentieth century mystery/crime fiction genre and to the paperback book pop culture revolution.

So, happy 102ndbirthday, Mickey Spillane. Say hello to Velda and Pat Chambers for me.

C2E2.

Abel Uribe Chicago Tribune

No one’s wearing face masks around here just yet, but a huge national trade show I’d be spending time at next week for the day job was just cancelled, tens of thousands of attendees and exhibitors suddenly forced to change plans, Chicago hoteliers losing out on an estimated 77,000 room nights…restaurateurs, cabbies, Uber drivers, bars and presumably a fair number of dates-for-hire out some serious dough as well. It was only the first major function to cancel at Chicago’s sprawling McCormick Place exhibition complex on the shores of Lake Michigan. Other smaller events have since cancelled or rescheduled, with more sure to follow.

C2E2 - 4

But the comics crowd was undaunted and showed up in force for C2E2 the 28th through March 1st. I’ve attended the Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con at the suburban Rosemont Convention Center near O’Hare International Airport several times, which is huge and fun and held in what amounts to a barn compared to the glitzy enormity of McCormick Place, North America’s largest exhibition center. The Chicago Auto Show cleared out, and the cosplay crowd rolled in. C2E2 always coincides with the time of year when time is the one thing I don’t have, so I’ve never been able to attend (though one coworker managed, the little fink).

Abel Uribe Chicago Tribune 2

The fact is, I have a love-hate thing with any con: comics, horror, paperback/pulp collector shows, you name it. I don’t mind standing in admission lines one bit, don’t even mind getting poked with rubber battle axes or jostled by Harley Quinn foam mallets. I love the events and the brave costumed crowd, get a real kick out of the free swag, have to be dragged out of dealer booths and enjoy seeing the artists, writers and minor celebrities in person. But I hate what I find on my credit card statements afterwards. I’ve noted here: I’m not a collector. But damn, I can get acquisitive.

C2E2

Photos: C2E2 site and Abel Uribe/The Chicago Tribune.

It’s A Hard-Boiled World: Noir Of Many Colors.

Dead Reckoning 1

When it comes to publishers, I tend to think of Tor as all about SF/Fantasy/Horror, though of course I ought to know better. Aside from skimming the spines lined up on my own bookshelves, I’ll point to their site/blog at www.tor.com, which I follow via BlogLovin’, and enthusiastically endorse. There’s a lot of interesting reading to be found there, in addition to the usual new release info and promotional content.

Case in point: Award winning short story writer and Southeast Asia scholar T.R. Napper’s recent “Hardboiled World: Four Creative Noir Traditions From Around The Globe” (link below). Napper explains in his opening, “I spent three years of my doctorate defining noir and its direct descendant, cyberpunk, and their representations in film and literature outside the U.S. – in particular Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Viet Nam.” Citing Noir scholar Phillipa Lovatt, Napper points out how this thing called ‘noir’ was trans-national from its inception, rooted in everything from German expressionism to French poetic realism and, of course, American hard-boiled pulp fiction. So, Napper looks at noir archetypes from gunslingers to private eyes and their expressions in global noir culture, in particular in Asian film and literature, ranging from apocalyptic noir to what he calls ‘Sunshine Noir’ and more.

Dead Reckoning 2

Yes, ‘noir’ simply means black, but it really means so much more, doesn’t it? And, so much more than simply a group of 1940’s – 1950’s Hollywood crime melodramas with visibly dark looks and unrelentingly bleak narratives. Could Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier, Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton and their kin have foreseen what I like to think of as ‘Noir Culture’, or noir-homages like L.A. Confidential, neo-noir like The Last Seduction or dystopian noir like Blade Runner when penning their genre-defining articles 60 and 70 years ago?

Sounds silly to say ‘noir of many colors’, but in a way, it’s true. This thing called noir comprises everything from the post-WWII classic film noir era, along with the countless gritty (sometimes saucy) and hard-boiled detective, mystery and crime novels from that same era’s paperback originals (along with the dwindling number of similar short fiction works from the fast-shrinking pulp fiction marketplace). But the aesthetics and the themes from those stories, books and films have since been reimagined, repurposed and otherwise appropriated in films and novels, but also fine arts, comics/graphic novels, fashion photography and even music, resulting in an ever widening (and increasingly tribal) collection of noir subsets: rural noir, desert noir, femme noir, neo-noir, dystopian noir and on and on. The tropes and themes cross borders, adopted by artists, writers and filmmakers in non-U.S. markets and often in entirely different and inventive ways. Admittedly, some creatives merely extrapolate clichés with little understanding of what the genre – if it is one – is really all about. Black & white images outfitted in double-breasted pinstripes and hats with netted veils, propped with venetian blinds and fat-fendered cars, populated by thugs spouting cartoonish Brooklynese and sultry femmes fatales hiding .22’s in their purses – that’s all enough to evoke vague notions of noir for many. Meanwhile, others adopt the isolation, fatalism, anti-heroism and doomed romance of the genre’s film and fiction roots and reinvent those themes in entirely new ways and for new audiences, often discarding the stereotypical iconography altogether.

Dead Reckoning 3

T.R. Napper’s Tor.com article is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding the scope of this thing called ‘noir’, but as good a place to start as any other, like looking at noir classics through another culture’s viewpoint, or tracing an artistic line from 1947’s Dead Reckoning to Ellen von Unwerth’s photography, Gina Higgins’ gallery paintings or Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ comics. Pop over to Napper’s piece to think a bit about the many ‘colors’ of noir and the far-reaching span of global noir. If nothing else, it might be your first time reading about ‘samurai noir’.

https://www.tor.com/2020/02/19/hardboiled-world-four-creative-noir-traditions-from-around-the-globe/

 

A Saturday Surprise.

Mystery Scene

‘Real life’ stuff demanded to be reckoned with this past weekend, resulting in a couple of grim days. So, nothing could’ve pleased me more than popping my mailbox open Saturday evening, where I found both the March 2020 Writer’s Digest and Spring 2020 Mystery Scene inside. I don’t think I’ve had a same-day delivery of those two magazines before, and was eager for something to take my mind off of things, if only for a while. Quick skims of both over a very late dinner (and digging in to one article, at least) sure did the trick.

The new Mystery Scene issue includes all the usual reviews and columns, along with an amusing article from Michael Mallory: “Ready For A Close-Up – Crime Authors Caught On Camera” about Earle Stanley Gardner, P.D. James and numerous other mystery/crime fiction writers who’ve done cameos in films and TV shows. I suppose the whole world already knew that Raymond Chandler (who co-wrote the screenplay of James Cain’s novel) can be seen in Billy Wilder’s 1944 Double Indemnity, but I didn’t! Duh.

Stumptown 1

But my favorite article and the one I dove into over the weekend (the rest of the mag and the Writer’s Digest saved for more careful reading through the week) was “Dex Parios – Will She Or Won’t She? Only Her Stumptown Producers Know For Sure” by Kevin Burton Smith.

Stumptown 2

Television has been awash in private eyes since its beginnings. Richard Diamond and Peter Gunn to Cannon, Mannix, Baretta and many, many more, some you might recall or have seen on oddball rerun channels and just as many that you may have never heard of. But let’s be clear: It’s been a P.I. boys club, just like the pulps and retro PBO marketplace of each corresponding era. As for the ‘stiletto gumshoes’? Not so many. Hardly any at all, in fact. Honey West, Charlie’s Angels, Remington Steele, Moonlighting…I’m already running out. The BBC and Australian markets have been more productive by comparison. But in recent years, you might argue that the best private eye, cop and mystery/crime shows have been led by women characters. And, quite a few of them at that. Based on its excellent source material, ABC’s Stumptown promised something special.

Stumptown 3

Confession time: As a fan of Greg Rucka’s comics, I couldn’t wait for Stumptown’s debut.Worried? Naturally. After all, could Hollywood (a broadcast network, no less) be trusted to do justice to Rucka’s creation? But when the first episode aired, I was thrilled, and thought that series star Cobie Smulders as Dexedrine ‘Dex’ Callisto Parios and all involved did a terrific job. Some differences from the source material? Well, that’s to be expected.

But, you’ve heard nothing from me here about the show since. The fact is, I grew disenchanted with the series, and by the holidays had stopped watching altogether.

Stumptown 4

So, I was kind of relieved to read Kevin Burton Smith’s article, discovering that I wasn’t alone. Oh, Smith’s a fan, too. But he rightly questions some creative decisions, including an increasing number of side trips into Dex’s complex personal life that ate up a lot of storytelling time. Interesting? Sure, but a bit intrusive nonetheless.  Like he points out while wondering why the studio tinkerers had to tinker at all, “The thing is, the source material is so great, it’s a shame that the showrunners seem to be paying it lip service.” If someone like the founder and editor of the Thrilling Detective site (www.thrillingdetective.com) started to feel a little hinky about some aspects of the show, then I knew I was in safe company. But like Smith points out in his Mystery Scene article, the show seemed to be getting back on track in the New Year, and that’s good news. I’ve returned as a viewer and will stick with it now, while catching up on missed episodes. Further, and to Kevin Burton Smith’s credit, nearly half of his Mystery Scene article is devoted to Greg Rucka himself. Hollywood (and too many viewers) may think it’s all about the stars, or maybe the directors. But let’s keep in mind that every character, every scene, every @#%$&! word spoken originates with the writer. And in Stumptown’s case, the whole idea began with Greg Rucka’s excellent series.

It’s not that I need a genre authority’s endorsement to make me stick with a show (or film, book, whatever). But sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not alone. And now, as time allows, I’ll get back to reading the rest of my new Mystery Scene magazine

 

Rex Weiner’s Ford Fairlane

Fairlane 1

Thanks to author and columnist David Masciotra for his Crime Reads article: “The Punk Rock Private-Eye And The End Of An Era In Downtown New York” (link below) about Rex Weiner’s then-unique The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, newly reissued from Rare Bird Books as The (Original) Adventures of Ford Fairlane. “In 1979, as the music scene was under threat, one man captured its corruption in true noir fashion,” Masciotra writes.  Weiner’s serialized story introduced private investigator Ford Fairlane, working the mean streets of late 70’s NYC’s punk scene from CBGB’s to Max’s Kansas City, a genuine noir hero and new wave detective uncovering the music industry’s secrets and scandals.

Fairlane 2

I vaguely recalled seeing a back-issue bin comic version, and it turns out there was one from DC, but it’s actually an adaptation of the 1990 20thCentury Fox film adaptation of Rex Weiner’s creation. Seasoned pro’s often admonish writers who watch with horror as their creations are re-assembled, re-imagined or utterly demolished by Hollywood: Just cash the check and forget about it. Here’s hoping Weiner cashed a decent check. That film inexplicably starred comedian Andrew Dice Clay as a cartoonish Ford Fairlane spouting insipid dialog in a movie that really isn’t a neo-noir crime flick, isn’t really a comedy and really only is tough to digest. Even the usually stalwart Lauren Holly looks like she’s cringing in her every scene.

Fairlane 3

I don’t know if a publisher’s reissue will spark renewed interest in a better film version. It ought to. Or not, depending on Rex Weiner’s preferences. For now, reading Weiner’s book will be a treat, so a big thanks to Rare Bird Books for introducing a new generation of readers to Rex Weiner’s Ford Fairlane.

Fairlane 4

https://crimereads.com/THE-PUNK-ROCK-PRIVATE-EYE-AND-THE-END-OF-AN-ERA-IN-DOWNTOWN-NEW-YORK/

The Art Of Sean Phillips

The Art Of Sean Phillips Cover

I assumed Dynamite Entertainment’s 2013 The Art Of Sean Phillips — by the artist himself (along with Eddie Robson) — would be a handsome book, but wasn’t prepared for just how well designed and lavishly illustrated this 300+ page over-size hardcover would be. I ordered it online and was surprised to see it arrive in a package from England, but maybe that’s best for a book on a UK artist.

Sean Phillips 4

Sean Phillips’ gorgeous work has appeared at this site before with images from Criminal, The Fade Out, the artist’s own site and more, so it should be clear that I’m a fan. Phillips has a rare talent for designing, composing and rendering consistently engaging and even visually provocative panels, pages and covers of what might seem like very prosaic scenes and mundane subjects (compared to the flashy distortion of the SF/Fantasy/Horror and superhero comics segments). Mind you, he’s done his share of work in dark fantasy and for the capes-n-tights titles. But it’s his more human scaled and distinctly noir-ish work (much of this done with team-mate scribe Ed Brubaker) that elevate Phillips above so many other Photoshop EFX-obsessed and manga-inspired peers.

Sean Phillips 2

I’d love to offer some page scans from the book for you to browse, but there’s no way I’m going to bust that spine just to cram it into a scanner (my scanner’s bed too small anyway). So, sorry – you’ll have to get your own. If you do, you get to enjoy lushly illustrated pages of Phillips’ childhood drawings and comics, incredibly mature work for the UK ‘Girl Comics’ done when still only in his mid-teens and read all about his early years. Since I’m unwilling to mangle my precious book, the visuals shown here are just culled from found art that’s been lurking in my Sean Phillips archive folder for who knows how long. You’ll be familiar with some, I’m sure. Phillips’ Criterion Collection illustrations are particular favorites of mine — that warm-toned NYC penthouse balcony painting of Susan Harrison from The Sweet Smell of Success right below is so darkly beautiful, it almost makes me teary-eyed. (Art can get me a little choked up sometimes.)

Sean Phillips 5

If you have The Art Of Sean Phillips already, you know what a terrific book it is. If not, consider getting it – you won’t be disappointed in the countless visuals or the accompanying text, with interviews and commentary from Ed Brubaker, Warren Ellis and others. Or, hold and see if an updated edition is ever done. This was produced 6-7 years ago, after all. There’s been a lot of stunning Phillips work out there since. Almost another book’s worth, dontcha think?

Sean Phillips 3Sean Phillips 1Sean Phillips The Fade Out

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑