The Tommy Gun Dolls

The Tommy Gun Dolls

I always enjoy a surprise, such as discovering something unknown and unexpected on a comic shop’s graphic novel shelves. A recent example: Daniel Cooney’s The Tommy Gun Dolls, a handsome creator-owned hardcover graphic novel set in Prohibition era San Francisco, with both story and art by Cooney himself, assisted on inks and colors by Leigh Walls and Lisa Gonzales.

It’s 1928, and the city’s practically a war zone with rival Irish, Italian and Chinese mobs duking it out over turf, booze, gambling and prostitution. Meanwhile, at the bawdy Frisky Devil speakeasy-burlesque house (and its adjoining bordello), the showgirls and hookers endure the mobsters’ and customers’ abuse. When one of them is murdered and her grisly death hushed up by cops on the take and a tight-lipped coroner, the ladies take matters into their own hands, egged on by part-time grifter, part-time gambler, part-time snoop and full-time trouble-maker Frankie, the dead girl’s lover, and apparently a refugee from a Bob Fosse musical, complete with a black bob, derby and a complete Sally Bowles ensemble.

Oh yeah, and a tommy gun.

The Tommy Gun Dolls – Volume One: “The Big Takeover”  was a Kickstarter campaign project that resulted in a very handsome book. I don’t know the status of Volume Two – “Double Cross On Maiden Lane”, though the first book clearly was a ‘to-be-continued thing’, so I hope we’ll see that next book and more from Mr. Cooney soon. This is a pretty complex tale full of double-crosses and retro-decadence, all rendered in some mighty nice artwork. Not sure if I buy ‘proto-punk’ Frankie’s torn stockings and unlaced Doc Martens get up in the story’s opening scenes, but let’s give the artist some creatively anachronistic leeway there and just say they were World War One doughboy surplus gear. The boots, that is.

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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.

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You Broke My Heart, Peggy.

Agent Carter 2

Some mighty intriguing viewing available right now, with more to come: Season Four of Veronica Mars, and soon Batwoman, Stumptown and the edgy new Nancy Drew reboot, for instance. Everything I’ve read about the ones about to debut tells me I’m bound to get hooked from their first episodes in each case.

But I’ll do so warily.

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I’m still smarting from ABC’s cancellation of Agent Carter. Never quite got over it, to be honest. I know…it’s been a while, let it go.

Hayley Atwell’s terrific work in the first Captain America film, bittersweet unfulfilled romance and all, sort of groomed her for the BBC’s Restless role that followed (and if you’ve never seen her turn in that as a British spy in the early days of WWII, do look for it). So she was well equipped to return to being a 1940’s era operative, and I confess that I absolutely adored Atwell in the role of Peggy Carter and the Agent Carter show in general, completely hooked from the first season’s premiere, and still a fan in season two, despite the series’ move to a west coast setting and its more sci-fi flavored story arc.

But the show’s cancellation was a hard lesson learned: Don’t get hooked. Shows come and go. Comics series inexplicably vanish after a few issues with storylines left unresolved. Novel sequels fail to materialize. I guess that’s what DVD boxed sets are for, though I still haven’t finished connecting all the cables to a new TV I bought and the DVD-R remains dormant.

Oh Peggy…you broke my heart when you went away…

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“Caught”

Caught Suzy Parker 1962 by Melvin Sokolsky

Spotted at the tres cool “Real Bronx Betty” Tumblr blog, originally posted at Olga-4711’s Tumblr: “Caught”, with the original 1950’s-60’s ‘supermodel’, Suzy Parker, photographed by Melvin Sokolsky in 1962. And it looks like this snoopy ‘stiletto gumshoe’ definitely has been. Caught, that is.

Candy Matson

Candy Matson

Not unlike the zillion cable TV channels which I frequently surf right through, I probably don’t put my car’s satellite radio to good enough use, mostly hopping back and forth between MSNBC and Sirius’ one old time radio channel. But that paid off a couple days ago with a Candy Matson broadcast, a ‘stiletto gumshoe’ I’d never heard of before. But I’ll definitely be shopping for more episodes now.

A west coast regional NBC show, Candy Matson starring Natalie Parks aired from 1949 through the end of the 1950-1951 season, reigning as San Francisco’s most popular crime drama for a while. Written by Parks’ husband, Monty Masters, it was originally planned as yet one more male private eye series (starring Masters himself), but old-time radio legend says that his mother-in-law convinced him to reimagine the show with a female private eye, which he did, and which west coast stations and their listeners liked – a lot.

Unfortunately, like many old time radio shows, they weren’t all recorded. National shows often were performed twice, once for the East Coast and Central time zone, then again later the same day for Mountain and Pacific time zones. Others were transcribed to air later for the west coast, and many of those survive. But Candy Matson was a regional west coast production, with no need for rebroadcasts or transcription, and sadly, only 14 of the show’s 90+ episodes remain.

Former San Francisco fashion model turned private eye Candy Matson worked out of her swanky Telegraph Hill apartment, drove a sporty roadster and had a closet full of stylish threads which she put to good use, being attractive, well aware of it and perfectly content to flirt when it could help solve a case.  She often had to sneak around Homicide Detective Ray Mallard, but managed that handily since the detective was clearly smitten with her, their evolving romance one of the keys to the show’s popularity with listeners. Matson was a witty, sarcastic glamour gal, actress Natalie Parks delivering the well-written wisecracks and classic hard-boiled P.I. style first person narration with real sass. Packing a gun in her purse and not afraid to use it, she was full of bravado, which often got her in trouble with crooks and sundry other dangerous folks, though some of the episodes are more lighthearted.

Unable to secure a permanent sponsor, Parks and Masters reluctantly threw in the towel at the end of the 1950-51 season, but did so with a series finale in which Detective Mallard finally proposed to Candy and she decided to retire. So, West Coast listeners would no longer hear the phone ringing to open the show, or Candy answering with “Hello, Yukon 28209. Yes, this is Candy Matson”. (Note that one of the series audio CD sets depicted with this post managed to get that darn phone number wrong.)

Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer

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Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer (AKA Betty Bates – Attorney at Law, Betty Bates – Lady at Law and just plain ol’ Betty Bates) is one vintage female crimefighter comic series that needs no apologies or caveats. Created by Stanley Charbot, pen name for Bob Powell, and sometimes drawn by artists Al Bryant, Nick Cardy and Alice Kirkpatrick, Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer appeared in Hot Comics for ten years from 1940 through 1950. The early issues’ art is, frankly, pretty crude, though no worse than many other comics were at the time (peek at the earliest Batman issues for comparison). But with Cardy and Bryant wielding the pencils, inking pens and sable brushes later on, there are spots in the series that could rival even some of Matt Baker’s fluid panels.

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Consider: Betty Bates wasn’t just one more in a long line of assistants, secretaries or girlfriends. Bates was the D.A. In fact, Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer was the longest running series led by a lawyer – man or woman – till Marvel’s Daredevil passed the ten-year mark, and it was one of the longest running non-super powered/non-costumed comic heroes of the golden age.

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But Bates doesn’t spend too much time in the court room, far too busy fighting crooks, looking for trouble or getting caught up in it. Using her wits and falling back on some handy martial arts skills when needed, she normally prevails on her own and without the aid of some hunky cop or boyfriend, though some stories include ‘Larry’, a reporter who’s obviously smitten with the lady lawyer.

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Two things leap out at you: The drawings foregoe the then customary ‘good girl art’ look, with its intrusive peekaboo bathing suit and undressing scenes. Similarly, though Betty falls into some bad guys’ clutches, it’s no more frequent than in any other crime comics or costumed superhero series, and no one could label Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer as a ‘damsel in distress’ or ‘women in peril’ comic. In fact, the stories are really quite good, several stand up well even today, and with ten years of material, there’s a lot to read.

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The Gwandanaland Betty Bates – Lady At Law Readers Collection is a hefty volume, with over 400 pages of Betty Bates stories. Strangely, they’re all black and white, though the comics were full color, of course (I’ve included some online finds here, the book too fat to open in my scanner). A couple came from awful originals, were scanned off of second-generation copies or perhaps just poorly scanned and not corrected, and I was pretty disappointed that the publisher would include such barely readable pieces. But with so many in the book, quantity made up for quality…I guess.

I don’t know why, but they also decided to tack on a few unrelated ‘bonus’ pieces: several Jungle Lil and Miss America stories, also with some mighty uneven scanning and in black and white. I’m not much for adventure pulps/comics, whether Jungle Jane’s, Jill’s or Lil’s, and 1940’s era costumed superheroes aren’t really my thing. But I’ll be bringing up the Miss America stories in another post nonetheless (you’ll see why). No idea why Gwandanaland added this material…the Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer stories really made for a nice fat book all on their own.

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Gail Ford – Girl Friday

Gail Ford

Homicide Bureau Inspector Madson’s able assistant Gail Ford is rarely seen slogging through routine office chores or clerical duties, more typically enlisted to go undercover to help the police solve vexing cases, palming herself off as everything from a greasy spoon waitress to a department store clerk, a personal maid or a fresh-off-the-bus rube just arrived in the big bad city.

Gail Ford – Girl Friday was created by Gene Leslie and first appeared in Crime Smashers in 1950. Or, depending on the source, she was created by Ray McClelland, and also appeared in Smash Detective magazine as one of that crime fiction pulp’s comics features. I’ll have to leave it up to vintage pulp and comics experts to confirm authorship and venues, none of which matters much to a non-collector like myself. But the 15 stories included in this Gwandanaland trade paperback are supposed to be from 15 consecutive Crime Smashers issues running from 1950-1953. A couple are credited to Pierre Charpentier and Keats Petree.

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Unlike some near-contemporaries like Adolphe Barreaux’ well-known Sally The Sleuth or Queenie Starr, Gail Ford – Girl Friday managed to chase crooks and solve crimes without losing all of her clothes. A smart investigator and quite the daredevil, she kept a revolver handy in her purse and knew how to use it, and had to trade blows more than once with menacing thugs, most of whom learned the hard way just what a high heel can really do when there’s a full-force Gail Ford kick behind it. She almost seems like a prototype for Mickey Spillane’s Velda, right down to the shoulder length Bettie Page style hairdo, complete with neatly trimmed bangs.

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The Gwadanaland book includes no intro, front or back matter, just scans of the comics pages themselves. But it’s a nicely printed book and the material is all quite crisp and readable, considering. The firm aims to publish largely forgotten public domain material, and I’ll be getting more from them for sure.

 

At The Rap Sheet

The Rap Sheet

Thanks to J. Kingston Pierce’s always excellent The Rap Sheet blog (link below) for a mention and link to The Stiletto Gumshoe site and my recent post on James Ellroy’s This Storm. If you already follow The Rap Sheet, you know what a treasure it is. If you don’t, then why the hell not? The emailed updates are always welcome in my inbox and likely to send me foraging online through endlessly intriguing articles and sites. So be warned: A quick peek at The Rap Sheet will inevitably lure you into some well-spent time delving deeper into that site and many others.

Sweet Cheat, 1959 - ernest chiriacka cover

Seemed fitting that on the day The Rap Sheet included a mention of The Stiletto Gumshoe, it led off with a pic of Peter Duncan’s Sweet Cheat (“She Was The Nicest Bad Girl In Town”) with its gorgeous Ernest Chiriaka cover, that paperback from 1959, the very same year The Stiletto Gumshoe’s hoped-for noirish crime fiction series is set in. Serendipitous indeed! The Duncan novel’s a link to a 2010 page from the great Bill Crider’s (1941- 2018) own blog — Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine (link below), which ran for sixteen years, is yet another incredibly informative and entertaining site you can get lost in, and is sorely missed by many.

https://therapsheet.blogspot.com

http://billcrider.crider.blogspot.com/

Fernanda’s Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew Fernanda Suarez 2

Everyone’s favorite ‘girl detective’ (well, maybe until Veronica Mars stole her thunder): Nancy Drew, as seen here by Santiago, Chile concept artist and illustrator Fernanda Suarez for a Simon & Shuster Nancy Drew update series.

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