Vixens, Vamps & Vipers

vixens vamps & vipers

I adore 1930’s – 50’s crime comics and even some costumed superheroes from that period…well, one at least: Batman. But it was a boys’ club, after all, and it takes some digging to uncover the era’s ‘stiletto gumshoes’, with not a lot to show for the search. Mike Madrid has done a lot of the digging for us, in his first book The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy And The History Of Comic Book Heroines, then Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines Of Golden Age Comics.

supergirls & divas

A year later, Madrid decided to give the villainesses their due, and rightly so, since it may be that crime and villainy were just about the only way mid-twentieth century women in comics could assert themselves, after all. Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Villainesses Of Golden Age Comics is a handsome 250+ page book from Exterminating Angel Press and should be a must-read for fans of vintage comics, and in particular, anyone interested in women’s roles in mid-20th century pop culture. The book reproduces 22 different 1940’s-50’s comic stories along with well researched but very readable background information on the characters themselves, their superhero/crime fighter opponents, and the writers and artists who brought them to life. Notable female villains like Madame Doom, Veda The Cobra Woman And Skull Lady are here, but more prosaic crooks and femmes fatales were the most fun for me. For example, National Comics’ 1943 Idaho, who reminds me of a wisecracking Barbara Stanwyck in a 1930’s screwball comedy or crime caper. As the book states, these characters “both transcend and become ensnared in a web of cultural stereotypes”. Female superheroes and women crime fighters from the capes & tights variety (and demure little skirts, in most cases) to the plucky girl reporters, private eyes and DA’s were few enough. Perhaps the only way for female characters to be allowed to fully assert themselves alongside or against the era’s goody two shoes heroes was as villainesses, and there are some memorable ones in this book that’ll surely send you poking around online and digging in vintage comics bins for more.

madame doom

Mystery Lite: The Frame-Up.

the_frame_up

Mystery-Lite? Softies? I’m not sure how to classify Meghan Scott Molin’s debut novel The Frame-Up, a library discovery I squeezed in over the holidays. Oh, it’s definitely a mystery, but then it seems to adhere to the marketplace template that used to be called ‘Chick-lit’: A witty and engaging twenty-something heroine, under-appreciated by a mean boss in an otherwise cool big city job that’s rife with workplace drama, relying on a flamboyantly gay male confidante and winding up in an unlikely romance…all sprinkled with lots and lots of brand names.

But in Molin’s novel, the brand names aren’t for designer shoes, pricey apparel or trendy Manhattan (or Rodeo Drive) boutiques, but comic books, superheroes, sci-fi/fantasy films and cult-fave TV shows, because The Frame-Up is set in the comic book world and its protagonist, Michael-Grace Martin (who prefers to go by ‘MG’) is a writer at Los Angeles headquartered Genius Comics. I suspect that MG’s a stand-in for the author herself, who’s a self-confessed fandom geek. In fact, it looks like the book cover’s designer-illustrator Danny Schlitz thought so too, since the cover art matches the author photo inside so well.

We first encounter wisecracking purple-haired L.A. hipster-nerd Michael-Grace Martin in a meet-cute scene with LAPD Detective Matteo Kildaire, handsomely hunky but, sadly, a ‘muggle’ and unwelcome in MG’s geek universe. Reluctantly enlisted as a special LAPD consultant when a costumed vigilante recreates crime scenes from the classic ‘Hooded Falcon’ comic series — the very character MG is currently rebooting – she and the cute cop pose as a couple so he can come and go at the Genius Comics offices and among her fan-boy/girl crowd.

Now Michael-Grace is a comics, con and cosplay geek and no ‘stiletto gumshoe’, preferring ballet flats anyway, though she’s stuck in heels in a couple scenes, including one in which she manages to spike a shadowy figure assaulting her at a crime scene (only to to realize too late that she just rammed her heel into Detective Matteo Kildaire’s foot). In fact, she rivals any snoopy 40’s/50’s comics ‘girl reporter’ or even vintage Nancy Drew herself as she pokes through closets and eavesdrops on incriminating conversations to try and discover what’s behind an apparent drug smuggling ring, a years-old murder and why someone’s dressing up as The Hooded Falcon comic book character. No surprise: Along the way, she falls hard for her pretend boy-toy with a badge, even if he is utterly clueless about Star Wars, Dr. Who, costuming and all things precious to MG and her pals.

It’s all pleasantly ‘lite’ with the crimes (drug smuggling and murders) largely kept ‘off screen’ and the romance completely G-rated enough for the Hallmark Channel. In fact, it might not hurt if the threats were just a smidge more threatening and the all the heavy breathing, racing pulses and sweaty palms led to more than a few chaste kisses, especially with an assertive, purple-haired smart-ass L.A. twenty-something like Michael-Grace Martin. But that’s just this one reader’s unsolicited opinion, and this particular reader’s book comfort zone typically includes brutal fistfights, lethal gunplay and some decidedly un-chaste kissing…and more. So what. Author Meghan Scott Molin seems to know what she’s doing, and will likely have ample opportunity to settle into the right tone since the book is subtitled inside as “The Golden Arrow Mysteries, Book 1”. Which tells us Ms. Molin signed more than a one-book deal with publisher 47 North. Myself, I’ll happily look for Book 2 and more. The novel may be a bit of a softie or even ‘mystery-lite’, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fun read. 47 North being the latitude of Amazon’s Seattle HQ (and an Amazon imprint), I hope it finds its way into booksellers too (who can be understandably reluctant to carry books by ‘the enemy’) and not just libraries, where I stumbled across it. A fun first book, Meghan Scott Molin.

 

 

Nowheresville

nowheresville

I think Mark Ricketts’ Nowheresville originally was released as a four-part conventional comic series from Calibre Comics. If so, I’ve never seen it poking out of any comic shops’ back-issue bins, but then I don’t go rummaging through them much, always sensing they’re off-limits to all but the dedicated hard-core. Or at least, that’s the vibe I often get. But, it was released by Image as a 192-page digest-sized trade pb, and if you like noir-ish crime fiction, colorful word-smithing, edgy black & white art and most of all, the 1950’s beat scene, you’ll love Nowheresville.

When a low-life NYC smut photographer emerges from his darkroom, he discovers that the model he left helplessly trussed up and gagged in lingerie, stockings and heels on a makeshift set’s divan has just been murdered. Oh, it’s a set-up, no question, but the cops don’t seem particularly interested in finding out the truth, only deciding who they’ll pin this one on. Which leads us to the graphic novel’s hero, almost-too-cool-to-be-real Chic Mooney, good looking, poetic, oozing hipness but still a badass. Lured into the case, he’ll have to reckon with a crooked cop who’s got it in for him, a particularly vicious gangster, his junkie drummer pal and, perhaps worst of all, his own ex, now an utterly ruthless Hollywood star who isn’t only a femme fatale on screen.

nowheresville 2

The art’s strictly solid black and white, all stark and jagged like some kind of 1950’s abstract expressionist art…if it was done with a bottle of India Ink and a stylus, that is. It’s stylized and terrific, but it’s the scripting that’ll get you, riffing on fifties slang that’s a real treat to read. The plot may meander here and there, but you don’t seem to care, because it remains a fun read even if you’re lost for a page or two.

I stumbled across this book by accident in a used book store’s graphic novel section. But I think it’s still available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s site. Or, maybe your local comics shop has it. I hope they do…check it out, man.

Lori Lovecraft

mike vosburg lori lovecraft my favoriate redhead 1997

Mike Vosburg’s loveable Lori Lovecraft, the B-movie actress with a knack for getting in trouble (often as not of the darkly supernatural kind) from “My Favorite Redhead”, 1997.

Winter Reading Plans

three readers

Five days into the new year, and I just finished Meghan Scott Molin’s The Frame-Up (more about that one later), am deep into The Annotated Big Sleep for at-home reading and just picked up Sara Gran’s The Infinite Blacktop – A Claire DeWitt Novel to keep in the car for daytime-downtime reading. (I usually have more than one book going at a time, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.)

I normally have a folder handy on my desktop to screen-cap or download any interesting books I spot so I won’t forget to look for them, particularly since it may take a while to get around to it. Sometimes I feel foolish for letting so many books collect there, as if I could ever hope to read them all (not that it’d stop me from buying them). And at this time of year, when every blog and e-newsletter touts yet another ‘Best Of 2018’ or ‘Must-Read In 2019’ list, I feel doomed. When I skimmed J. Kingston Pierce’s Rap Sheet (therapsheet.blogspot.com) 1.3.19 post “Early Rivals For Our Reading Attention”, I was overwhelmed at first, then I didn’t feel quite so bad. It lists 325 US and UK new releases, and just for the first quarter of the year. If anyone can actually get through all those, they’re a speed-reader, unemployed…or nuts. And likely to be out about six grand.

the rap sheet screen cap

My own ‘watch-for’ list is much smaller right now. Forgive me for further cluttering feeds and inboxes with yet another book list. It’s a mixed bag of noir-ish fiction, mystery, hard-boiled crime, non-fiction, YA/comics-related titles and at least one genuinely goofy item: Murder-A-Go-Go’s – Crime Fiction Inspired By The Music Of The Go-Go’s. I mean, seriously…how can you not want to see what that’ll be about?

Raymond Chandler and The Annotated Big Sleep will keep me occupied for a few more nights. January is peculiarly balmy at the moment here, but it won’t be long before that changes, which means ideal at-home evening reading conditions. Indoors. Where it’s warm. And Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt will go down nicely with the dashboard heater blowing and a large coffee in the cup holder while waiting for an appointment or before work. Hopefully these other titles will show up at my local bookstore promptly.

2019 books 1

  • A Bloody Business by Dylan Struzan, with illustrations by Drew Struzan
  • American Heroin by Melissa Scrivner Love
  • Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs by Aimee Hix
  • Metropolis by Philip Kerr, the last Bernie Gunther novel before the author’s sad demise

2019 books 2

  • Murder, My Love by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (A Mike Hammer novel)
  • The Lost Girls Of Paris by Pam Jenoff
  • The Only Woman In The Room by Marie Benedict
  • The Jean Harlow Bombshell by Mollie Cox Bryan

2019 book 3

  • Bad by Chloe Esposito
  • The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
  • Murder-A-Go-Go’s – Crime Fiction Inspired By The Music Of The Go-Go’s edited by Holly West
  • Under The Moon – A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle

http://therapsheet.blogspot.com/2019/01/early-rivals-for-our-reading-attention.html

Reader Photos by Jessica Castro, Daria Shevtsova and Kate Williams

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