Tinsel Town

Masthead

I never saw this five-issue series from Alterna Comics which apparently ran last year, and just happened to stumble across it recently at a blog. I’ve looked for it since with no luck. But a trade pb collecting the whole series is due out this summer, though not till the end of July (which could just as easily mean anywhere from August through Autumn). I suppose I’ll pre-order now.

 

Tinsel Town 1 Cover

 

Sure looks interesting: David Lucarelli writes a story drawn by Henry Ponciano set in the silent film era, when Abigail Moore dreams of becoming a police officer. Of course, women weren’t welcome then, but she takes a job as a studio security officer, where soon enough she’s mixed up in a noir-ish behind the screen mystery. Well, that cover art’s a little bright for ‘noir-ish, but I’m still eager to check this out.

Liar, Liar

Liar Liar

Most of the ‘stiletto gumshoes’ I favor are either shoot-first bad-asses or wily femmes who can finagle the truth out of any tight-lipped crook. Once in a while I’ll dip into something more…frothy? That’s what I expected from K.J. Larsen’s Cat DeLuca, but was pleasantly surprised to read something much more, a comical P.I. novel that wasn’t only trying to be funny, but actually pulled it off.

Cat DeLuca’s large and intrusive Italian family of more or less honest Chicago cops and ‘connected’ Bridgeport cousins may not approve of her career – owner of the Pants On Fire Detective Agency (as in “Liar, liar, pants on fire”) – but after her marriage to serial philanderer and chronic liar Johnnie Rizzo collapsed, nailing cheating spouses seemed as good a way to make a living as any other. The problem is, tailing adulterous husbands can prove dangerous when they’re more than it seems, and early in the first Cat DeLuca novel, Liar, Liar, Cat’s tricked into tailing another rover with a roving eye by a woman who’s really a crime reporter, and Cat’s caught in an explosive (literally) assassination attempt that puts her in the hospital…and that’s barely the beginning of her adventures following handsome maybe-crook Chance Savino. From there, Liar, Liar speeds along at a rip-roaring pace with hot diamonds, gun-runners, car thieves, two-bit street hustlers and crooked bigshots, wacky Italian family gatherings, nosey priests and kindly mobsters — more comedy than mystery, nearly slapstick in many parts, but all pretty darn good.

The Cat DeLuca series was five books, I think, and then seemed to stall for some reason. Don’t ask me, because it seemed tailor-made for a long run and should’ve had Hollywood sniffing around. Series like this one make me wonder just how many terrific books are lurking out there that I’ve missed and may never discover without prowling the shelves in the better used bookstores.

Author “K.J. Larsen” is actually three sisters: Kari, Julianne and Kristen Larsen who reside in Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. How three siblings can co-write a mystery series without killing each other is a mystery in itself, but obviously it worked. Larsen’s Bridgeport neighborhood is a close-knit Italian community, which originally was a bit of a puzzler to me, Bridgeport and the locally infamous 11th Ward a solidly Irish enclave and home to the Mayors Daley (senior and junior) and a long list of Chicago/Cook County politicians, bureaucrats and power brokers. Time for me to bone up on my Chicago lore, apparently.

 

Stumptown

Stumptown-5

One way for rabid readers to keep from going broke is to learn to love their public library. I have. The one closest to me is a charming and well-designed facility, though all that décor apparently left no funds for books. But the next library over is an enormous two-story treasure trove, and its graphic novel section could outdo many comics shops. That’s where I came across writer Greg Rucka and artist Matthew Southworth’s great contemporary hard-boiled series, Stumptown.

Stumptown 1

Dex Parios is my favorite kind of ‘stiletto gumshoe’: Wonderfully flawed. Army vet and inveterate gambler, Dex is both bad-ass and wise-ass, and occasionally a bit of a screw-up. It makes for a lethal combo.

Stumptown 4

Sounds like near-future small screen options won’t be short of intriguing girlz-with-guns and lethal ladies, even though I’m still processing the sad news that Netflix cancelled the amazing Jessica Jones series with Krysten Ritter.

Cobie Smulders

ABC just announced a new Stumptown series by Jason Richman and Ruben Flesicher. Hard-boiled Dex Parios will be played by Canadian actress Jacoba Francisca Maria Smulders, better known as Cobie Smulders. Marvel universe fans know Cobie as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill from the Avengers. TV channel surfers know her as Robin Scherbatsky from syndicated-everywhere How I Met Your Mother sitcom reruns. Seems like a good casting decision to me, and I’m betting she can bring Dex Parios’ hard-boiled grit and glimpses of vulnerability to life on screen just fine. Looking forward to this one. And still enjoying Rucka and Southworth’s comics.

Stumptown Hardcover

Nancy Drew, High School Hipster

Nancy Drew by Tula Lotay

The prior post noted that the CW Network will soon launch a Nancy Drew series, starring Kennedy McMann as the iconic teenage sleuth. From what I can glean of the planned storyline, I get the feeling the series’ inspiration comes less from the classic ‘Carolyn Keene’ books and perhaps more from the Dynamite Entertainment Nancy Drew comics series that started last year.

Nancy Drew 1 by Tula Lotay

In writer Kelly Thompson’s reimagining of the Nancy Drew universe, the plucky girl detective’s in a hipster high school world with old pal Bess and gay punkette George forming her ‘Scooby’ gang of investigators. The interior art is by Jenn St-Onge (look for more of her work at the artist’s site, jennstonge.ca) with each issue released with multiple covers (that annoying trend among greedy comics publishers) and I’ve gone with the ones drawn by British comic and illustration master Tula Lotay. I’m only four issues into the series so I think I have some catching up to do, but it’s a good read for a “Teen+” marketed title, and it sure ‘feels’ a lot like what the CW is touting for its network Nancy Drew series.

Nancy Drew 4Nancy Drew 5

We’ll All Be Jones-ing For Some Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones 1

A lot of people will be furious (or already are) over the news that Netflix just cancelled its remaining Marvel series, including Jessica Jones. Lets be clear: To me, the Jessica Jones character may be one of the comics world’s best-ever non-costumed-superhero female detective/crime fighting characters. The Netflix series has rightly been showered with awards and nominations, and lead actor Krysten Ritter has done a consistently spectacular job of bringing that complex, dark, flawed yet heroic character to life on screen. Disappointed that it’ll be over soon? You bet.

But surprised? Strangely, not at all.

Jessica Jones 2

Even before the media landscape morphed and fragmented into the multi-platform world that it is today (and this evolution continues, till we won’t recognize ‘television’ in a few short years) I learned the hard way not to become too invested in any series. Enjoy them when they’re around, but be prepared for sudden and disappointing cancellations that often have nothing at all to do with a show’s popularity, critical acclaim or ratings. I think ABC cancelling Agent Carter really did it for me. I really loved that show, and was heartbroken when it ended prematurely. Now, I know better.

Jessica Jones 3

In Jessica Jones’ case, Marvel’s owned by Disney, which will be launching its own platform soon. So, of course they’re pulling valuable properties from what will very soon be their competition.

So it’s just not healthy to let yourself become emotionally invested in a television series, or worse, turn into hardcore fanboys and fangirls, blurring the lines between the actors and the characters they play, writing fanfic and starting blogs destined for obsolescence. I’ll bet there are legions of former WB/CW Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel fans still hoping for a renewal with original cast members, even though the Sunnydale teens are all in their 40’s now (just checked, and Charisma ‘Cordelia’ Carpenter is nearing 50).

Jessica Jones 5

So we’ll enjoy the last of Jessica Jones, cross our collective fingers that Disney’s new platform finds space for a continuation, re-start or spinoff, and if so, that Krysten Ritter is available if that happens.

And keep in mind, there are always the comics where it all began.

 

Jessica Jones 4

Hatchett: Just A Few Years Too Early?

Hatchett

Just a few years too early? Perhaps. Lee McGraw’s 1976 novel Hatchett introduces hard-as-nails ex-cop turned private detective Madge Hatchett, a denim-n-boots gal with more than a bit of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone about her, and running her M.L. Hatchett Investigations detective agency in Chicago like Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski. But unlike Grafton or Paretsky’s groundbreaking and now iconic female detective characters who both arrived a mere six years after, Madge Hatchett only managed to appear in one book. Also unlike those two authors, Lee McGraw’s gender-neutral moniker is a pen name for Paul Zakaras.

This is an action-packed crime novel, full of gunplay, fistfights and explosions. Madge Hatchett is no ‘blonde bombshell’ or teasing sexpot ala G.G. Fickling’s Honey West, Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz, much less the many saucy-naughty-downright-porny female super sleuths and spy series cluttering paperback racks at the time Hatchett was released, like The Baroness, Cherry Delight or The Lady From L.U.S.T. There’s a fair amount of squirm-worthy vintage sexism, poking fun at ‘women’s lib’ and the like, but no more than you’d encounter in an episode of a retro-seventies sitcom like The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Rhoda. To the author’s credit (considering the era) Hatchett’s troubles with the law are due more to the fact that she’s a combustible troublemaker than a woman.

Hatchett’s lured into an ever-widening mystery after a murder in her own apartment building is pinned on an ex-con and recovering junkie she’d befriended. Determined to prove the cops wrong, she soon finds herself in the middle of a gangland war when a mysterious freelance non-Mafia kingpin attempts to take over Chicago’s crime syndicate (an unlikely scenario with the Chicago mob very much alive and well at this time). Hatchett navigates her way through the underworld of drug dealers, pornographers and pimps with her Beretta as much as her investigative prowess. So it’s a little disappointing that three-fourth’s through the novel, the otherwise smart and gutsy private eye falls prey to some seemingly requisite damsel-in-distress business, which in vintage crime novels always demands that the hero loose her clothes: “So, I was lying on a bed. In a totally dark room. And it was obvious why I couldn’t pick myself up: I was wearing a pair of ropes. One holding my hands behind my back, the other wrapped around my ankles. Wearing ropes and nothing else, a perfect costume for a kinky foldout. Or that last scream scene in a snuff film.” Fear not, though. Madge Hatchett needs no rescuing, blasts her way free and burns down or blows up the crooks’ lairs and leaves not only the aspiring ‘Mister Big’ but sundry Mister-In-Between’s full of bullet holes.

The cover art is a puzzler, if only for the Ballantine Suspense line art director’s choice for an illustrator. Not that it isn’t good. But the illustration’s by well-known Peruvian fantasy/SF/sword & sorcery artist Boris Vallejo, who along with his own spouse Julie Bell, Frank Frazetta, Ken Kelly, Sanjulian and several others more or less defined 1960’s through 1980’s fantasy painting. Vallejo’s known for his sword-wielding barbarians and armor-clad Amazons, so he seems like an odd choice. While Madge Hatchett is described at one point as resembling Sophia Loren, in general she’s smokes like a chimney, likes her booze, enjoys a joint and favors practical private eye attire, not lilac jersey dresses. Looking at this cover art and knowing Vallejo’s style, it’s easy to swap a spear for the revolver, a magic goblet for the glass of whiskey, a throne for the chair, and to turn the two dead dudes lying beneath Hatchett’s chunky 70’s heels into vanquished goblins. Then it’s a Boris Vallejo painting.

Decoy: Retro TV’s First Woman With A Badge?

Decoy

Before Charlie’s Angels in 1976 – 1981, before Angie Dickinson played Sergeant Pepper Anderson in Police Woman from 1974 to 1978, even before Anne Francis reinvented Honey West in one 1965-1966 season that became a bit of a cult favorite, there was New York Police Officer Casey Jones, memorably played by Beverly Garland in the 1957-1958 season’s Decoy.

Now only a retro TV and pop culture forgotten footnote, Decoy was actually a groundbreaking series. Inspired in part by the successful Jack Webb series Dragnet, Decoy was the first TV show to film on location in New York City, the first show to feature a police woman as its main character and, in fact, the first full-season dramatic series to feature a female protagonist at all.

Decoy 1

As with Dragnet, Garland provides voice-over narration to introduce the episodes, bridge scenes, and sometime break the ‘fourth wall’ to offer a summation at the episode’s end. Little is revealed about Officer Casey Jones’ personal life. She has no regular partner, and normally works out of different precincts, assigned to handle a wide variety of cases and crimes, sometimes in uniform, more often undercover. There’s a wonderfully gritty urban edge in almost every episode, making the most of the locations, with only selected scenes shot on interior sets built in New York’s 26th Street Armory. Tight budgets and fast-paced six-day per week schedules demanded on-the-fly filming with few amenities: No plush stars’ trailers, the actors changing in apparel store dressing rooms, using restaurant restrooms and wearing thermals under their costumes during winter time shoots (though Garland usually had to forego even a sweater because it made her uniform look too bulky). Beverly Garland often did her own stunts and fight scenes. Known primarily as a B-Movie actress at this point, though actually one of Hollywood’s more reliable TV actors, Garland does a magnificent job in diverse roles and situations, sometimes playing a no-nonsense uniformed cop or more often going undercover as everything from a thief to a junkie, a nightclub singer to an asylum inmate. Officer Casey Jones is consistently capable, smart, aggressive but compassionate, a good shot and handy in tussle, and best of all, seems to command the full respect of her fellow officers and superiors. Garland gets down and dirty for some undercover roles, and glams it up in others, in what must have been one hell of a part for an actor to play.

DECOY 1

I know there are some episodes on YouTube, and I’ve seen public domain DVD sets with a few episodes each in used bookstore bargain bins, but I can’t vouch for the picture or audio quality on those. Once I read about this series, I bit the bullet and bought the Film Chest Media Group Complete Series DVD Set, and the quality is really top notch, the visuals darn near as striking as a period film noir, just as the scripts pulled no punches on some pretty edgy stuff for the time.

Decoy 3 DVDs

Sadly, the series only lasted one season. Right from the start, the networks and potential sponsors were uneasy about a dramatic series with a female lead, and a cop show at that. Westinghouse was the primary sponsor, but when the series failed to deliver the hoped for viewership, it was cancelled, though it continued in syndication for the next seven years.

If you get a chance to see some episodes of Decoy, I think you’ll agree that it’s a surprisingly mature and well-made show for its time, and Beverly Garland did some memorable work when roles like this simply didn’t exist. Do look for it.

Hard-Boiled Dames.

hard-boiled dames

Hard-Boiled Dames (1986), edited by Bernard Drew says it’s “A brass-knuckled anthology of the toughest women from the classic pulps”. This anthology features women detectives, reporters, adventurers and even a few criminals from 1930’s pulp fiction magazines. Marcia Muller notes in her preface, “Although the courageous independent female sleuth may have, for whatever reasons, gone somewhat out of fashion in the suspense fiction of the 1950’s and 60’s, she was very much in evidence in the pulp magazines of the 30’s and 40’s.”

21st century mystery/crime fiction fans of the more hard-boiled variety could easily think that the genre was populated with no shortage of female sleuths (the bad-ass ones, that is) all along. Not so, of course. Before things exploded in the early 1980’s, thanks to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and some others, there’d been nearly thirty years of ‘blonde bombshells’ like Honey West, Mavis Seidlitz, Marla Trent, and weirder still, Cherry Delight, The Baroness, The Lady From L.U.S.T. and other one-shots and series focused more on the protagonists’ looks and bedroom antics. While the 1940’s through the early 50’s had a decent run of smart, hard-fighting female private eyes, reporters, district attorneys and sundry cloaked/costumed crime fighters, it was relegated to comics much more than pulp fiction or novels. You really have to dial back to the 1930’s pulp era to uncover the female detectives and their associates, and some of the best are featured in this book.

I read my first Carrie Cashin story in Hard-Boiled Dames, and then went hunting for more. Carrie looks “like a demure brown-eyed stenographer in a tailored jacket and tweed skirt”, and in front of clients often defers to her “broad-shouldered assistant Aleck, to allay any clients’ concerns about a woman detecting”. But Miss Cashin is the head of the Cash And Carry Detective Agency, the first to leap into danger, and clearly the brains of the outfit. This anthology includes author Theodore Tinsley’s “The Riddle In Silk”, in which Carrie (with assistant Aleck in tow) investigates a bloody murder in a mansion on the requisite dark and stormy night, which leads them back into the city and ultimately to the waterfront docks on the trail of a stolen pair of silk stockings which “may mean the difference between peace and war in Europe”, the hose containing secret coded messages.

Lars Anderson’s Domino Lady is here too, in “The Domino Lady Doubles Back”, along with Katie Blayne, Trixie Meehan – 15 stories in all, each accompanied by 2 page introductions about the authors and their characters, and reproductions of the original pulps’ illustrations. If you see this book around, snatch it. It’s a good read, and a real eye opener about

 

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