I Guess I Know Where I’ll Be On Sunday Evenings For A While…

Batwoman 2

Buying comics since grade school, I doubt if I acquired more than five or six Superman comics in all that time. Super-anything, actually: Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, World’s Finest, whatever. Aside from DC’s current Lois Lane mini-series, I just never got into the whole Krypton/Smallville/Metropolis scene, instead being a dedicated denizen of Gotham City pretty much right from the cradle, always drawn to the dark side and the notion of a regular person fighting crime partly for justice and partly for vengeance. So, a loyal Bat-fan I‘ve always been (and later Batgirl – well, make that the various Bat-Girlz – and Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Huntress, the Bird Of Prey…).

Super powers? Indestructible? Flying, space travel, alternate dimensions? Not for me.

Yet I clicked on CBS a few years back for the premiere of Supergirl, shocked to discover that Melissa Benoist’s Kara Danvers/Supergirl character, the show’s premise and the entire cast all left me completely smitten. I’ve been a rabid fan since, worried at first when the series switched to the CW, concerned on occasion that the growing cast of characters made for some unwieldly storylines, frustrated to see some characters depart but learning to love the newcomers, and always pleased with the show’s none-too-subtle bits of politicking.

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Season Five premiered this past Sunday and didn’t disappoint, doing the obligatory setup for some impending changes, new personal dramas, secondary villains and the season’s ‘big bad’. A lot of advance chatter dwelt with Benoist’s ever-so-slightly different look (bangs) and more notably, a redesign for her Supergirl uniform. “Pants!” she exclaimed once it appeared, and who couldn’t share her relief. I’ll still ponder precisely where Kara Danvers (like her cousin, Clark Kent/Superman) hid her costume. Super-speed aside, Kara’s sleek Catco Media office attire – a sleeveless dress, bare-legged with designer heels — doesn’t provide any convenient places to stow a superhero’s gear. Bottom line: Where did she hide those enormous red boots? So now she has fake hi-tech specs engineered by Brainiac to trigger an all-new morph-on-the-fly Supergirl suit. Sans skirt.

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But instead of pondering where superheroes hide their super-gear, I’ll focus on what will make the two-hour 7:00 – 9:00 PM CST Sunday slot a real pre-workweek delight: Supergirl preceded by the CW’s new Batwoman, a show that’s gotten a lot of buzz. If Supergirl proudly provided us with a prominent lesbian character (Kara’s adopted earth sister Alex) and a trans actor (Nicole Maines), Batwoman keeps the faith with the DC comic source and Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane. Readers of this site should guess by now that “The Stiletto Gumshoe” is coming from Chicago, so it was nice to see so many Batwoman exteriors shot here (sets and interiors done in Vancouver along with the other Arrow-verse shows), providing a nice visual link to the first two Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman movies: LaSalle Street and the Board Of Trade Building as Wayne Tower (that darn street’s in so many movies), the Field Museum (that’s the dinosaur and mummy museum, not the one with whole airliners hanging inside or the WWII Nazi sub outside). And while I may be wrong, did they locate the questionable mercenary Crow organization’s HQ in Chicago’s Trump Tower? Looked that way to me. If so – cute choice.

Her Time Is Now.

batwoman

Ruby Rose may have had a close call with back surgery urgently needed following stunt work gone bad (or whatever it was), but we’ll assume she recovered enough to don the Bat-Suit and that all is on schedule for the premier this weekend of CW’s new Batwoman. All teasers seen so far promise something mighty good, so as with ABC’s Stumptown premier last week, fingers are crossed here, and you know I’ll be planted in front of the TV Sunday evening.

Reel Murders

The Big Book Of Reel Murders

I haven’t ordered mine yet (it’s pouring today and I’m not up to racing through rainstorms to get from my car to the bookstore) but I will on Monday, the book not out till late October anyway (seen online) or as late as November (per Publisher’s Weekly): The Big Book Of Reel MurdersStories That Inspired Great Crime Films by the master of all things mystery, Otto Penzler. It looks like another Vintage Crime/Black Lizard door-stopper from the maestro, at 1,200 pages and with over sixty mystery and crime fiction short stories that have been adapted to the big screen. From the descriptions, there are some of the usual suspects like Cornell Woolrich, Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dashiell Hammett and Robert Bloch, alongside some more surprising entries like Budd Schulberg’s 1954 “Murder On The Waterfront”, the inspiration for Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront (Schulberg also wrote the screenplay). These jumbo Penzler anthologies are books you sort of live with for a while, diving into a few eager-to-read or re-read stories right away, then revisiting again and again over a few weeks till finished, which sounds to me like a darn good way to spend the late Autumn.

The Secrets We Kept

via laraprescott dot com

Though she was profiled in this week’s Sunday New York Times Book Review, I had no idea that Reese Witherspoon hosted her own book club. Worse: I didn’t even notice the “Reese’s Book Club” icon on the front cover of Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept, and once I did, wasn’t even sure what it was. Guess I have to bone up what’s going on in the media and entertainment world. But why, when I can be immersed in incredible novels like Prescott’s debut instead?

The Secets We Kept Lara Prescott

Spanning a period from 1949 to 1961, The Secrets We Kept by the aptly named Lara Prescott provides an intriguing look at post-WWII era young women armed with formidable educations and noteworthy skills, but shunted off to steno pools and typist jobs, their comparably equipped male counterparts now their supervisors, ripe with all of that period’s dismissiveness and even blatant abuse. For these portions of Prescott’s complex multi-POV novel, you may be reminded of Renee Rosen’s Park Avenue Summer and White Collar Girls, or Fiona Davis’ The Dollhouse and The Chelsea Girls. But then mix it up with Ian Fleming. No, check that. More like Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel series, or Jane Thynne’s Clara Vine novels. The Secrets We Kept isn’t about underwater spear gun battles, no one brandishes a Walther PPK, and it’s no simple espionage thriller.

It’s really about three women: Irina, a typist, Sally, a receptionist, both at the Cold War era CIA. And then there’s Olga, the mistress of famed Russian poet and novelist Boris Pasternak. But the receptionist is really a glamorous international spy. The typist is recruited to become one, while Pasternak’s ever loyal lover endures torture in Lubyanka prison and then the Gulags to protect the writer. The unfolding story is actually about the smuggling of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago manuscript out of Soviet era Russia, its publication in Europe, and once finally translated into English, smuggling copies back into Russia so his countrymen could actually read the Nobel Prize winning but banned novel. And like Zhivago and Lara in Pasternak’s epic novel, love can sometimes feel utterly doomed in Prescott’s book, with Olga suffering unimaginable horrors while forced to share her beloved with the novelist’s pragmatic but shrewish wife, while Irina and Sally fall in love, but in a time and place that simply won’t tolerate their relationship.

Sharing a first name with Pasternak’s iconic Lara, Prescott may have been destined to write this novel. It’s a thick, rich 350-page book, but I devoured it in two days, unable to put it down and admittedly enthralled from the first page. At first it took a little getting used to the author’s shifting points of view from one chapter to another, but it was well worth the effort. It’s quite a debut, and it looks like Prescott’s book is already on the bestseller lists, so let’s just guess that we can anticipate a movie version in a year or two. I just hope Hollywood doesn’t find some way to muck up this intimate and intriguing tale of three women by stuffing it full of out-of-place action. Explosions and super-villains won’t be needed. “Lara’s Theme” from David Lean’s 1965 movie version of Doctor Zhivago wouldn’t hurt, though.

lara prescott by travor palhaus

http://www.laraprescott.com/

Author photo: Trevor Palhaus

Not The Blue Dahlia Or The Black Dahlia: A White Orchid.

White Orchid 4

I don’t know if the Humphrey Bogart Estate sponsoring its debut at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, or even having Bogie’s son Stephen Bogart as one of the executive producers provides a new neo-noir film with some type of implicit ‘Noir Imprimatur’. But those credentials can’t hurt. Even so, writer/director Steve Anderson’s 2019 White Orchid, starring indie darling Olivia Thirlby, owes more to Otto Preminger’s Laura, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo or perhaps Brian DePalma’s Body Double and Dressed To Kill than it does to The Maltese Falcon or Dead Reckoning.

White Orchid might be considered a so-called ‘erotic thriller’, a 21stcentury take on that 1980’s-1990’s era direct-to-video/DVD/cable sub-genre. If so, the ‘erotic’ is more a matter of mood than explicit sex scenes. The film dials up the suspense, but does so without car chases, gunplay, explosions or bloodshed. It is sexy, but in a very intimate way, and aside from some brief dance floor grinding, a frenzied bit of groping in the back of a taxi and some intriguing business going on behind the closing credits, the effect is sensual more than sexual, all part of the film’s stylish atmosphere.

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Always reliable freelance investigator Claire Decker (Olivia Thirlby) reluctantly accepts an unusual case from Social Services bureaucrat Jennifer Beals, for whom she normally ID’s the elderly who’ve died alone, or tracks down the deceased’s survivors so their estates can be settled. Claire’s really, really good at what she does, better than Beals’ own staff, in fact. But this time she’s assigned to investigate a high-profile murder, “The White Orchid”: A beautiful stranger whose body was found on sleepy waterfront resort town Morro Bay’s beach. Shot dead. Decapitated. Her hands and feet removed. The murder scene’s become a morbid shrine, rabid true crime enthusiasts lurk everywhere and local teens prank the victim’s house. There, all of her things remain, right down to the vases of white orchids. The local police resent Claire’s intrusion but grudgingly cooperate, even giving her unfettered access to the dead woman’s home.

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No-nonsense Claire Decker favors sensible clothes, drives a sensible car and is unencumbered by anything that could be called a social life. Focused, patient and methodical, she quickly uncovers clues overlooked by the police. Convinced there was something more sinister than mere murder involved, Claire becomes increasingly intrigued by the victim herself. Bit by bit, intrigue turns into obsession, till Claire’s actually seduced by her subject, drawn to the White Orchid’s vintage roadster and plushly furnished seaside abode, the closets of designer apparel and drawers full of luxurious lingerie.

Oh, and a hidden stash of cash. A lot of cash. Clearly the murder victim had some secrets…if she even was who the police think she was.

White Orchid 1

Convinced she’s figured things out, Claire effectively becomes the White Orchid, telling herself it’s only to unmask a killer when she masquerades in the woman’s clothes and wigs. But in fact, she’s fully succumbed to this obsession with a dead woman…or with the woman who impersonated the victim. Or withwell, who knows? Frankly, we’re not certain. What is evident is that Claire’s antics put her in danger and get her in deep trouble with the local law. A climactic meeting between Claire and the stunning femme fatale behind it all is less an investigator interrogating a suspect and more of a mutual seduction that practically steams up the screen. But White Orchid still has one more trick up its sleeve with a nifty gotcha ending any savvy noir enthusiast should’ve seen coming.

Confession time: I didn’t.

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I’m not saying White Orchid is Oscar material. There’s a bit of peekaboo voyeurism at play, even it’s there to tell the story. There are some red herrings and narrative threads left unresolved, but I’ll bet the original shooting script made things a bit clearer and some film ended up on the cutting room floor with bits and pieces that filled in various holes. That Claire Decker is a reserved, intellectual, non-social sort who’s intrigued by the flamboyant, sexually adventurous ‘White Orchid’ is one thing. That this sensible loner would play dress-up in the dead woman’s own things is another that could use some explaining. At least Thirlby’s Claire Decker learns that there’s much more to being a femme fatale than donning a costume. The makeup, wigs and saucy lingerie might seduce the mousy investigator into some risky behavior and make her feel like she’s someone else. But in the end, Claire’s still who she is, just as the real femme fatale is who she is. And she really is fatal. Both characters resume their appropriate roles by the film’s end.

White Orchid is the kind of dreamy neo-noir that’s content to play with the viewer a bit, and frankly, I didn’t mind at all, perfectly pleased to follow Olivia Thirlby’s well-acted transition from slightly nerdy loner to obsessive curiosity seeker to fetching femme fatale. I don’t know what path contemporary ‘erotic thrillers’ ought to take, or if that genre (if it even is one) still has a place in today’s culture. But if it does, White Orchid isn’t an entirely bad place to start to reinvent a particular subset of neo-noir.

 

Stumptown: And So It Begins.

Stumptown

And so it begins: A new Fall television season, this time with some real treats. Batwoman, the new Nancy Drew series, and ABC’s Stumptown for starters. It’d be easy to distrust a broadcast network to adapt a hard-boiled graphic novel properly, but any advance word I’ve noticed online about Stumptown sounds optimistic. I’m rarely watching television at 9:00 PM CST, much less a broadcast channel. But I’ll be there tonight to check this out, fingers crossed. Oline Cogdill weighs in on Stumptown at Mystery Scene magazine’s website (link below). As this piece says upfront, the show “has the kind of crime fiction pedigree that’s been missing from TV for several years”. I mean, it’s Greg Rucka, after all.

Rucka’s Dex Parios was a damn fine creation, flawed but heroic in her way. Cobie Smulders’ resume may be dominated by a sitcom, but I’m betting she’s going to be fine. Cogdill said, “Brash and often out of control, Dex is the kind of character seen more on cable shows than a mainstream network. I am looking forward to that edgy character and I have high hopes as Rucka’s source material is solid”. The few stills and set shots I’ve seen may look a little lighter than the dark, crooked Portland I’d envision, but again, lets see the show.

Fingers crossed…

https://mysteryscenemag.com/article/6594-greg-rucka-s-stumptown-comes-to-tv

Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree

Deadly Beloved Art

Artist Terry Beatty’s work for Ms. Tree, the pioneering 1980’s woman detective character he co-created along with writer Max Allan Collins. Shown above, the cover illustration for Collins’ Hard Case Crime standalone 2007 Ms. Tree paperback novel Deadly Beloved.

 

 

 

 

One Mean Mother

Ms Tree Front

Finally got my Ms. Tree trade paperback after a long wait. I’ve been pining for this book since March. This first trade pb, Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother re-introduces us to writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty’s groundbreaking character, Ms. Michael Tree, widow of murdered cop Mr. Michael Tree (they shared first names), and an even more formidable detective than her beloved husband ever was as she goes to war with the criminal syndicate responsible for his death.

Bottom line: Ms. Tree (get it: Miss-tree…Mys-ter-y) appeared in 1981 like a breath of fresh (albeit hard-boiled and noir-ish) air on comic shop racks overloaded with the capes-n-tights crowd, delivering a woman detective who could mix it up with the bad guys but was still a three-dimensional person and not just a cartoon…and certainly not another spandex clad beauty pageant refugee. That she really is ‘one mean mother’ can be taken quite literally…how many bad-ass detectives pound the pavement when they’re pregnant? (In the comics, I mean.)

Both Collins and Beatty have worked on syndicated comic strips, and that’s evident in the artist’s work with its clean, simple narrative storytelling style, traditionally executed back in a pre-Adobe era. Intentional or not, the look is reminiscent of 1950’s era crime comics, and it really works.

Ms Tree Back

One Mean Mother is a nice ‘n fat beautifully printed book from Titan Comics’ Hard Case Crime line, with cover art by Denys Cowan, an introduction from writer Collins, an afterword titled “Ms. Tree (Almost On Film)” about the character’s screwed up path from comics to television (which never worked out) and a bonus 1994 Ms. Tree short story, “Inconvenience Store”. Looks like Titan’s Hard Case Crime line isn’t done with MWA Grand Master Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree yet, with Book 2: Skeleton In The Closet due in 2020 and what looks like more releases still to follow. I sure hope they come through.

skeleton in the closet

Dial back to my March 2019 post about Max Allan Collins, Terry Beatty and their pioneering character, Ms. Tree:

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/03/14/ms-tree-2/

 

Nasty Pills

Nasty Pills 2

Evil biotech corporation, Golden Dusk, developed a new DNA altering drug called (appropriately) ‘Nasty Pills’, which can modify users’ appearance, health, mood and behavior. But Nasty Pills aren’t being administered to cure diseases, only to breed beautiful, submissive, STD-immune young girls abducted from St. Stephens orphanage to be reconditioned and then auctioned off to the highest bidders as sex slaves. But the evil execs at Golden Dusk didn’t reckon on gun-packing gumshoe May Campbell, who may not care much about the law – or anything – but does care about her one true love, Rebecca, one of the Nasty Pills’ victims. The oversize “crazy pulp book” first issue is from Amigo Comics, written and drawn by ‘Massacre’ along with additional art by Dani Seijas. It’s just a two-issue series, so May Campbell’s campaign of violence and vengeance on millionaires and mobsters will wrap up quickly.

Nasty Pills 1

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