Holmes and Watson. Lone Ranger and Tonto. Batman and Robin. Lucy and Ethel. Hamlet and Laertes. The list of heroes and their BFFs is long and overall an honorable one… and usually necessary.
A sidekick, at base, is a supporting character and a supporting character’s main function is to bring out aspects of the protagonist. In most cases, the sidekick is there so that the protagonist isn’t constantly monologuing. Granted, Hamlet is a champion monologuist but when Laertes is there he can be engaged in a dialogue. Holmes needs Watson so the reader can see how brilliant the Great Detective is. Whatever his other character traits may be, Watson’s prime one is to be surprised and amazed by Holmes and, in that, Watson represents us, the readers.
There are many different ways of interpreting a sidekick. Watson, for example, can be Nigel Bruce’s bumbling Colonel Blimp character or Jude Law’s testy and acerbic put-upon friend or Martin Freeman’s occasionally explosive but loyal best man. In the Harry Potter films, Ron Weasley, in the first film, is at one point both brave and self-sacrificing. In later films, however, he becomes cowardly and mostly comic relief, very like Nigel’s Bruce’s Watson.
Robin falls into a strange category of the child or teen sidekick. He was originally introduced to lighten up the Dark Knight Detective and, again, to give Batman someone to talk to rather than himself. Robin humanized the Bat. His popularity gave rise to a whole slew of child/teen associates such as Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Speedy, and Aqualad. Later, these five went from supporting characters to central ones when they formed their own super-team, the Teen Titans (later, just the Titans when they all outgrew their teenage years).
The original Robin, Dick Grayson, later grew out of his shorts and tights to become a full-fledged hero of his own, first as Nightwing and then later, briefly, actually taking Bruce Wayne’s place as Batman before reverting back to Nightwing. There have been other Robins since then, including one – Jason Todd – who was killed by the Joker. Don’t worry; he got better. The role is currently being filled by Bruce’s son, Damian. I believe he died as well at one point but is also now feeling better.
Moral and ethical questions have been raised about the whole idea of the adult hero having child/teen sidekicks. The lifestyle, after all, is inherently violent and rather dangerous. Frederic Wertham, in his suspect 1954 treatise Seduction of the Innocent, postulated Batman and Robin were gay which, given those times, was thought to be profoundly deviant. Wertham was blowing it out his ass but the damage was done at the time. Still, one can see that it was a dangerous life style to include the kids in. The questions remain.
For me, I’ve sometimes identified more with the sidekick than the protagonist. I love Holmes but I’ve always identified more with Watson (except for Nigel Bruce). Batman (and Bruce Wayne) is difficult to like but Dick Grayson (especially in his adult incarnations) is someone with whom I can more easily relate. I think sidekicks are designed that way. They put more human into super-human.
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Brown v. Board of Education which overturned Jim Crow racial segregation in the public schools. That mattered little in most of the country when white privilege was normalized, and white supremacy went unchallenged. Black people had no real say. Whites controlled most everything, as they still do to a great extent.
Since the 1950s black and brown people have been demanding their rights and as expected in a nation of so many different viewpoints there has been push back.
This time a distinction between the past is evident. It appears the soon to be the leader of the free world Donald Trump is now leading any pushback on racial resolutions. His actions over time and in particular the last few years support this.
Some of the Trump race record includes:
Attacking Muslim Gold Star parents
Claimed a judge was biased because “he’s a Mexican.” (In fact, he was an American)
The Justice Department sued his company ― twice ― for not renting to black people
Refused to condemn the white supremacists who were campaigning for him
Never apologized to President Obama for saying he was not born in the United States
He encouraged the mob justice that resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of the Central Park Five.
From The Huffington Post
In 1989, Trump took out full-page ads in four New York City-area newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty in New York and the expansion of police authority in response to the infamous case of a woman who was beaten and raped while jogging in Manhattan’s Central Park.
“They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes,” Trump wrote, referring to the Central Park attackers and other violent criminals. “I want to hate these murderers and I always will.” The public outrage over the Central Park jogger rape, at a time when the city was struggling with high crime, led to the wrongful conviction of five teenagers of color known as the Central Park Five. The men’s convictions were overturned in 2002 after they’d already spent years in prison when DNA evidence showed they did not commit the crime. Today, their case is considered a cautionary tale about a politicized criminal justice process.
Trump, however, still thinks the men are guilty.
The Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment (1870) to the Constitution of the United States. The act significantly widened the franchise and is considered among the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history.
That was then.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.
That’s happening, in fact, it already happened.
It’s becoming harder much harder for poor people and people of color to vote. That’s been tried but this time every branch of government is under one party.
One party under the control of a man who lies without the slightest remorse. Don’t take my word for it: here’s the record.
This record clearly shows he has no “great relationship with the blacks.”
Debating facts isn’t my thing. Is it possible Trump has the kind of respect he says he does for black people? Sure, it’s possible, but as a black man I’ve got too much to lose to pretend what he’s done and said before just don’t exist.
Feel free to disagree but do so with facts. Opinion is not fact and what I’ve attributed to Trump isn’t opinion.
My opinion is he is a liar and perhaps a racist the facts clearly show he has acted as both on many occasions.
With notable exceptions, the comic book industry, after trouncing Thump when thought he couldn’t win, has been silent after his did.
In 1954, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham cautioned the world comic books were damaging to young minds and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency.
He did so in his book Seduction of the Innocent.
To say the book was influential would be an understatement. Taken so very seriously at the time parents and teachers joined to combat this attack on the youth of America. Fueled by the televised lynching of American freedoms brought on by McCarthyism attacking comic books was a no-brainer.
• • • • •
Gerard Jones, a comics writer whose career includes writing Green Lantern and The Trouble with Girls and writing and co-creating Prime for Malibu, has been arrested on suspicions of putting child pornography on YouTube.
Full disclosure, I knew Gerald and was shocked by these charges. That being said I am not here to defend nor am I here to condemn him. He’s accused of a horrible crime, but I’ll wait until he has his day in court to pass judgment.
I will say this; it never fails to amaze me how those who swear by the ‘law of the land’ always seem to ignore any presumption of innocence.
I have no sympathy for those who prey on children. For that there is no excuse, none. There is also no reason for damning a person before all the facts are known. I’m pretty sure some will take what I just wrote as defending Gerald. I clearly wrote I am not doing so.
If found guilty he should get and deserves jail. I’m not afraid to say that nor am I afraid to say I find the charges hard to believe. I pray he’s innocent, but I allow that he may not be.
The facts will be revealed in court and not on Twitter, Facebook or Bleeding Cool.
There’s a real threat to comics no matter what the outcome of a trial.
Every branch of government is poised to follow the lead of the next President Of The United States.
It will only take one inquiry into this case to give rise to a new comic book investigation. Kids, sex, and comics? That’s a dream come true for an extreme Right Winger with a hankering to clean up the depravity in Hollywood.
The turning back of the clock has already begun on black America. Can what we watch read or write be far behind?
• • • • •
In 1954 much of what Wertham told the public was bullshit and lies.
Wertham “manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence” in support of the contentions expressed in Seduction of the Innocent. He intentionally mis-projected both the sample size and substance of his research, making it out to be more objective and less anecdotal than it truly was. He did not adhere to standards worthy of scientific research, instead of using questionable evidence as rhetorical ammunition for his argument that comics were a cultural failure.
Congress convened hearings on the comic book industry and the industry folded like a bitch and as such the Comics Code was born.
Perhaps folding like a bitch was harsh. It was a different time and America was in a different place, and so were we.
But It appears it’s a place our next president wants to return us to. If they come for us, will we go?
I was so stunned by the election I just couldn’t bring myself to write a damn thing for the last few weeks. Hell, in the case of Bleeding Cool it’s been months that I blame on my depression and trying to figure out how to fix a problem no one sees yet but with depression I couldn’t care less.
Then something magical happened. Call it a Thanksgiving comic book miracle. It was no less than that. So I hope to be reset at Bleeding Cool, ComicMix and my site Michael Davis World. MDW had an outstanding and loyal following.
I messed that up big time a week after I began talks to partner with a massive site. Shit. That was stupid.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. My depression was/is a motherfucker.
Once I become fixated on something I just kept at it regardless if I’d achieved my goals. I’d change or add new goals. I’m told this allows me to spend less time thinking about putting a bullet to my head.
I haven’t written for my site in almost three years, and one by one lost every columnist except for Martha Thomases. She singlehandedly kept MDW afloat. I haven’t told her thank you. I can’t muster up the balls to call because (it sounds nuts) but as long as Martha is owed my gratitude I’ve got a marker and I never welch on a promise, a bet and especially not a friend.
Or in Martha’s case… family.
She’ll read this and think it’s a thank you. In a way it is, but to me it’s a promissory note. I’m not 100% well and never will be, but I know I can do a bit better and besides it’s almost Christmas…
I do know that Martha does love a ridiculous MOTU story and Lord knows in three years there has been few. Well, thanks to Joe Illidge here’s one just for you Martha consider it a down payment.
Thanks Joe. BTW – My New Boo, Lois Lane copyright Michael Davis 2016
Joe asked this question on Facebook: As a writer, name one thing you would do with Lois Lane in the comics, if you could do anything.
So here’s my answer:
MY NEW BOO, LOIS LANE
…or how I gots me a white woman
Lois is pissed. Instead of date night with her, Superman choose to save Donald Trump from a crowd of angry maids upset because he said “Cleaning is for losers; those domestics chicks are ugly, fat, most likely Mexican rapist criminals who are responsible for the one missing sock from the dryer. I mean who else could it be?”
Lois would be hurt and Michael Davis the black new owner-publisher of the renamed Mostly Daily Planet (remember, black new owner-publisher) would be there for her.
Then one night listening to her sob stories I would give her the real skinny…
“Why, oh, why didn’t he do what any sane person would do? Let those maids tear his little hands to bits? I mean miss date night??” Lois said this while sipping on what she thought was a wine cooler. It wasn’t. It was 100 proof down right up right Colt 45 I kept next to the wine coolers. She’d been crying, so it was apparent to me with bleary eyes she may mistake one for the other.
No, I didn’t tell her when she did and when asked why it tasted like beer, I said I didn’t know and I don’t. Do I look like a damn brew master?? No idea WTF barley is and if it there is no hip in front of it I could give a fish what a hop is.
“He’s just not into you Lois.” I began while refilling her class with Mad Dog 20 20, the wine cooler of the hood. I continued “I hear, not that I have a problem with it. I just like pussy; he’s into men. I’m convinced he’s doing Clark Kent. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Clark running into a closet tugging at his belt and tie while unzipping his pants. I’m a man Lois, only two give or take situations make us run like that while taking off our clothes it’s the ole S and P index someone gotta take a shit or someone giving up some pussy…or in Clark’s case…well you know.
What? Were you were expecting Standard and Poor’s? You foolish reader, this is a Michael Davis article. There are no standards because I grew up poor.
Yeahhhhhh, that was a pretty broad reach for that yuk.
But I digress. Yeah Peter, I used it. So what? You killed Jean Dewolf, so what? Denys Cowan and I killed Jason Todd. Robin! Not only that we did it from a phone in DC’s offices. Gangsta.
But I Digress… Lois inched closer…because I was slowly pulling her now drunk ass towards me. Keep your mind out of the gutter if not she would have fallen on the floor.
I proceeded. “Now, I’ve come close to shiting in a closet only once in my life. Then I decided the hell with that. She said her husband wouldn’t be home, but there he was. I ask you, Lois, why should I have to crap like an animal in a cage when she got his schedule wrong? I simply opened the closet door, picked up my Black and Decker condoms from under her pillow said, “Send me some of those photos,” smiled at her husband and left. I’m not an animal, so unless Clark is one filthy nasty mother sucker, then he and ‘Kal-El’ be knocking them red boots because guess who comes flying out the closet fixing his belt?”
“Yep, the man of ‘steal.’ Yes, Lois. Steal. Why? Because he’s out the door maybe two seconds after Clark runs in. Clark comes out of the closet sometimes minutes sometimes hours later looking like he’s been in a fight and seems like he carrying a weight of massive, dare I say, super load of tension with him.”
“Why can’t I be in love with Batman?” Lois slurred as I poured her some vintage Thunderbird an extraordinarily expensive and rare wine made by Hindu monks but drank only when lighting hits a bird on Budda’s Birthday.
Most of you won’t get that. I wrote it for my boys in the hood. So just assume it’s true. I mean y’all idiots think Donald Trump is fit to be President so what the hell do you have to lose if you don’t get the joke?
“Batman??” I said not believing my luck; I’ve waited years for this moment!
I reached under the couch for a copy of Seduction Of The Innocent. I kept one there as well as under my bed I have a travel copy also.
I found the page where Batman had Robin locked in a deep French kiss (What?? So I took it upon myself to illustrate the damn thing). I then looked at Lois with sad eyes and told her “Oh Bats is ooooh sooooo gay. Not that there is anything wrong with that; I just like a side order of tits to go with my main course of well you know.”
“Oh poo!” Lois spits out while looking at my closet. “Pussy, Lois, not poo, pussy,” I said. But just in case she meant poo I spoke while pointing to the bathroom and front door simultaneously not taking any chances she was not one filthy nasty mother sucker.
Now she was lit, and I was looking for some matches to do the same in case she was with fart. She looked at me and said “I can’t have Batman?” Well, she literally said, “Eyes clamp clad atman” but I speak drunk.
“Cope bults dew cam clad blazman.” (Nope but you can have Blackman). I told her and she smiled.
“Clump fluLks zee bigger!” She screamed.
I won’t insult you with the translation. I responded “Oh, shit! You must be out of your damn mind you crazy drunk ass female puppy dog!”
I said that but she heard “I love you and always will.” That’s advanced drunk. It’s harder than Japanese and you have to have game to begin with so no. No fan by, no. So far only Joe Illidge and I have mastered it, so you have no chance nor a girl so you really don’t need it remotes don’t speak drunk.
No, I didn’t take advantage of her that night. Only a punk ass bitch would ply a woman with drinks or regale them with tales of wealth to pry their way into their undergarments, flip a tick tack into their mouth, or kiss a woman without her permission.
I don’t grab pussy. It grabs me.
However telling her someone is gay is perfectly acceptable as is inventing a wife and family he deserted. I don’t use those tactics but Joe Illidge…
Lois and I are doing very well. But damn if that sister, the new Iron Woman don’t be looking kinda foxy. That could be the kind of gal that will make a brother an egg sandwich or Clark some … Martha wait for it… wait for it … wait… for… it…
Last month we said goodbye to the great comics artist, Murphy Anderson. He had such a body of work, and given his impressive talents, it’s not surprising that he was working as a professional comics artist over six decades.
My gorgeous wife, Kathe, had come to love Murphy too. She was so impressed with the man, his lovely wife Helen and his son, Murphy Anderson III. (This is one case where you can’t parrot that old saw, “There will never be another Murphy Anderson” – because there is!) She and I were talking to some friends about Murphy’s passing and we were trying to put it into perspective for these folks who weren’t comic fans. I stumbled into the analogy that Murphy was the “Tony Bennett of comics.” Upon further reflection, I think that’s pretty fitting. He was the consummate professional, always delivering high quality work and was always consistent. He never changed his thinking to bend the times – neither in his art style nor his thoughts on how a professional presents himself. And like Tony Bennett, Murphy was humble, warm and charming.
But even though he never changed what he did or how he did it, Murphy leaves us with a rich scope of non-traditional work. Oh, sure, if you’re feeling nostalgic for the great man you can pull out some old Hawkman stories or Buck Rogers strips. But this week we’re going to celebrate some of Murphy’s non-traditional work!
You probably know that MS Magazine proudly debuted with a Murphy Anderson cover featuring Wonder Woman. I wouldn’t have been in their target demographic, but I know I would’ve bought this issue!
It’s hard to believe, but in the days before Instagram and cellphones, folks used to read print material when they were just hanging around. The Army knew this and created PS Magazine, a hybrid of information for the serviceman told in a light, engaging comics style. You probably know that Will Eisner worked on this, but did you know that Murphy Anderson managed the contract for years afterwards?
Pioneer’s Prince Valiant reprint series invited some of the industry’s best artists to contribute covers to the series. Murphy’s Prince Valiant was a winner:
Sometimes an advertised product looks nothing like the real thing. Safe to say that no kid’s finished model kits looked as good as they did in the ads in which that Murphy Anderson provided the art.
In the 90s, Alfred Harvey rebooted a family property: the original Black Cat. Mark Evanier was the scripter and Murphy Anderson was the interior artist. Although not known for rendering vivacious women, Murphy could rev it up when needed (see my previous column on his stunning depiction of the lovely Dejah Thoris) and he sure did here. Keep an eye out for this gem (Alfred Harvey’s Black Cat: The Origins) when you’re diving into the back issue bins.
You might have known that Murphy provided the packaging artwork for Captain Action, but did you know he also provided stellar artwork for the companion Super Queen’s line? It included lovely images for Supergirl, Mera, Batgirl and Wonder Woman.
Ok, we’ll admit it – these weren’t quite Sgt. Pepper level, but Murphy created several record album covers for Batman, Robin and more!
Seduction of the Innocent
Do you love Craig Yoe’s IDW reprints (Haunted Horror and Weird Love) as much as I do? Back in 1985, Eclipse did a similar thing with their Seduction of the Innocent comics. Issue #2’s cover features the lovely Gloria Wheeler, Interplanetary Girl Reporter using elements from the 1950s story called “The Space Treasure.” The whole story, with robust Murphy Anderson pencils and inks, was originally printed in Standard series called Fantastic Worlds.
Now, before I wind it up, I might need to remind you that Murphy, the quintessential gentleman, was a Tarheel… and the University of North Carolina’s team color is baby blue. There’s an old saying in the south, “God so loved Carolina, that he made the sky Carolina Blue. There’s should be a corollary to that, something along the lines of: “God so loved the comics industry that he gave us Murphy Anderson.”
This week it was writer Chuck Dixon and artist Paul Rivoche ruffling feathers. Together they wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “How Liberalism Became Kryptonite for Superman.” The WSJ is a conservative publication and both Chuck and Paul are conservative members of the comics community.
The title of the article sums up the tone of the article pretty well. The article states “Our fear is that today’s young comic-book readers are being ill-served by a medium that often presents heroes as morally compromised or no different from the criminals they battle. With the rise of moral relativism, ‘truth, justice and the American way’ have lost their meaning.” They cite how in a single issue of Action Comics published in 2011 Superman gave up his American citizenship. (Interestingly enough, this story was written by David S. Goyer who would later write the screenplay for Man of Steel and is writing the Batmanv Superman movie and the upcoming Justice League movie. I’ve talked about Mr. Goyer before.) Chuck and Paul bemoan “That issue, published in April 2011, is perhaps the most dramatic example of modern comics’ descent into political correctness, moral ambiguity and leftist ideology.”
I guess that means me. Suicide Squad was nothing if not an exercise in moral ambiguity. I think you could say most of my work lives there. I’m certainly left on the political spectrum. “Political correctness?” I think that depends on how you define it but I could probably be accused of that as well, especially from the right. So I guess my work is dead center with what Chuck and Paul regard as wrong with the comics industry.
I have some problems with their selection of facts and their interpretation of those facts. For instance, they say “Superman, as he first appeared in early comics and later on radio and TV, was not only ‘able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,’ he was also good, just and wonderfully American.” Might I suggest they go back and read those earliest tales. Superman takes on crooked politicians and even the U.S. Army. He was a renegade and an outlaw. The earliest Batman carried a gun. I suppose that makes him wonderfully American, too. The heroes changed with the advent of World War II and became part of the war effort.
Superhero comics nearly died out in the 50s. Chuck and Paul state: “In the 1950s, the great publishers, including DC and what later become Marvel, created the Comics Code Authority, a guild regulator that issued rules such as: ‘Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal.’ The idea behind the CCA, which had a stamp of approval on the cover of all comics, was to protect the industry’s main audience – kids – from story lines that might glorify violent crime, drug use or other illicit behavior.”
The CCA was created to circumvent government censorship that was threatened following Dr. Frederick Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent, which alleged that comics were a corruptive influence on children. He said Superman, who in this era – when he was quintessentially “good, just and wonderfully American” – was both un-American and a fascist. Wertham’s work also was later discredited. There followed hearings by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, first led by New Jersey Republican Senator Robert Hendrickson and later by committee member / anti-crime crusader / presidential candidate Estes Kefauver and that scared the Big Comics publishers and that created the CCA. The publishers didn’t do it out of any moral conviction.
The CCA was a stranglehold on creativity and guaranteed it would infantilize the comics industry for decades. It was disbanded when it became irrelevant. Maus, which Chuck and Paulboth justly praise, would never have passed the Code.
The thing is – Chuck and Paul should know all this. They’re either being disingenuous or dishonest.
However, what bothers me more is the reaction of some ostensibly liberal members of the comics industry, who have announced that they will never again read anything by these two men because of this article. To my mind, the work exists independently of the creator. Chuck and Paul have done fine work over the years and I suspect will do so again. Not all of it will appeal to me, I’m sure, but that’s true for everyone’s work. Are there exceptions to this? I think so – if someone is doing a piece that is primarily propaganda, I would avoid it. If that’s a habitual thing with a creator, I might avoid him or her … like I avoid Rush Limbaugh.
If, however, it’s simply a different point of view then, no, I don’t and I shouldn’t avoid them. Even if I don’t agree with that point of view, I should hear it, find out what I can learn from it. Or – maybe – I’ll be entertained. Even if the creator and I do not agree politically.
I regard this as a far more serious problem than two conservatives speaking their collective minds about the comics industry. It is our increasing national inability to countenance anything that does not fall within our own increasingly shrinking moral view that’s the problem. No outside voices to test or shake our faith –whatever that faith may be. We need not only to talk to (instead of at) each other; we need to listen. They may be wrong … but so may we.
In 1954, the massive, and popular, comic books industry changed forever. Those heavily visual narrative tales provoked outrage amongst the grown-ups who believed these books would lead to the ruin of a generation of youngsters. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham condemned them in his book Seduction of the Innocent. The U.S. Senate…
Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins • Interior illustrations by Terry Beatty • Hard Case Crime • Paperback: $9.95 • Digital: $6.39 • Audio: $9.18
So… Who is the worst, most evil comic book villain ever? Well, if you’re a hard-core comics fan and/or comics professional, the worst comic book villain ever might very well be Dr. Fredric Wertham. He’s the guy who spearheaded the comic books breed juvenile delinquency movement of the late 1940s and early 1950s that led to Senate hearings, state-by-state censorship (Can’t have the word “crime” in the title of your comic book? Really?), massively plummeting sales, and the dissolution of more than half of the comics publishing companies and the jobs that went along with them.
An entire generation of fans grew up loathing the man. His so-called study, which was lacking in any real scientific evidence, was called Seduction of the Innocent. Suffice it to say that a lot of us have had a “thing” about the guy… perhaps none more than massively talented and successful novelist/comics writer/filmmaker/musician Max Allan Collins.
Collins was in a rock band called Seduction of the Innocent that played, among other venues, the San Diego Comic Con pre-show party – his bandmates included Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer and Steve Leialoha. It was… loud.
Now he’s repurposed the Evil Doctor’s seminal title in a mystery novel, the third (and hopefully not last) of his Jack Starr private eye stories that revolve around the comic strip and comic book business. Collins writes novels almost as often as I consume barbecue beef sandwiches – for one thing, he’s been co-writing, finishing off, and/or editing the plethora of unpublished material written by his friend, the late crimemaster Mickey Spillane. I wish I could come anywhere near keeping up with his output, but I’ve cut back on the barbecue beef.
But if you’re a comics or a popular culture fan and you only read one Max Allan Collins book this week, make it Seduction of the Innocent. I’d like to say it is one of the best books ever written, but that’s a stupid concept. However, I can say it is one of the most fun books I’ve ever read.
Collins incorporates his massive knowledge of – and enthusiasm for – 1950s popular culture. In addition to pastiches of Wertham and the folks at EC Comics and Lev Gleason Publications, he nods (often with the energy of a bobble-head on meth) towards Dragnet, Mickey Spillane, Al Capp, Dick Tracy, paperback culture, and mid-century culture. Mostly, though, he infuses his mystery novel with a smokepot of comics effluvia – aided by his long-time researcher George Hagenauer. However, if you’re not up on this sort of thing and/or couldn’t care less, it doesn’t get in the way of this clever yarn.
Indeed, I must compliment the author on a great diversionary move. For those of us who are up on comics history, he directs us towards one likely suspect – and then makes a crosstown turn worthy of a Manhattan cabdriver. I won’t spoil this for you, but if you’re curious read Joe Simon’s My Life in Comics.
I must point out that Collins’ long-time comics collaborator Terry Beatty (artist on the current Phantom Sunday pages) supplied the illustrations for each chapter. They are brilliant. Beatty even found an old Leroy Letterer to exacerbate the effect of reading an old (and relevant) EC Comics story.
If you’re looking for a good time and yet want to keep your clothes on, you’ll do well with Seduction of the Innocent. Max Allan Collins’ version, not Fredric Wertham’s.
Did Fredric Wertham imitate superheroes? And if so, did he realize that he was doing it?
But let’s back up and give you latecomers an establishing shot or two. Way back in the early 50s, Dr. Wertham, a New York City psychiatrist, wrote a book provocatively titled Seduction of the Innocent which claimed to use science to demonstrate that comic books were corrupting the nation’s youth. Comics were already being attacked by editorial writers and at about the same time as the book’s publication, a senator named Estes Kefauver was convening hearings to investigate the same charge. The result of all this accusing was twofold: comics publishers went out of business leaving over 800 people suddenly unemployed, and the ragtag remnants of the business created The Comics Code Authority to censor their publications and thus placate the witch hunters. The comic book enterprise went into sharp decline, both financially and artistically until the late 50s, when Julius Schwartz and Stan Lee reinvented the superhero genre.
A sorry story. But ancient history. Well, not quite. Dr. Wertham was back in the news last week. According to the New York Times, Carol L. Tilley of the University of Illinois, examined Wertham’s papers and found numerous examples of research that were “manipulated, overstated, compromised and fabricated.”
Wow. And ouch. Not only did the doctor help put hundreds of decent folk out of work and, arguably, cripple an American art form, but he cooked the books to do it. There have been, for decades, doubts about Wertham’s methods, perhaps the most prevalent of which was that he ignored the validity of control groups. (Okay, goes the narrative, the doc found a hundred young lawbreakers who read comics, but he disregarded the thousands of Eagle Scouts who were also comics readers.) But until now, nobody has accused him of outright lying
Apparently he did lie.
I wonder why. Did he find these entertainments so unutterably vulgar that he was able to convince himself that they were also malign? Was he a zealot who honestly believed that these comic books were pernicious! and corrupt! and evil! and were obliterating the decency of American youth? And did he feel that he was justified in using any means available to quell this menace? That seems to be how zealots like to think.
Or was he a superhero? Consider: the bad guys in superhero stories may blather about ruling the world or getting rich or attaining revenge or, like zealots, proving that they’re right, but the real reason they exist is to give the hero a chance to show his stuff. We like heroes, and we like them to do magnificent deeds, and villains provide the circumstances for superheroic action. So, Dr. Wertham: did he see, in the anti-comic book excitement, a chance to get famous and cement his reputation and maybe grab a royalty check? Were comics his supervillains, giving him his big opportunity? He was already respected and, on the whole, he seemed to be a pretty decent guy, but maybe he had his share of hidden demons.
I don’t know. I’ll probably never know, and neither will you. But we might find a lesson in the Wertham saga: don’t trust authority figures. I hope that isn’t news to you.
What better book to review following our look at a Modesty Blaise strip collection then one that uses the 1950s anti-comic book witch hunt as its thinly disguised narrative skeleton. “Seduction of the Innocent,” is the third in a series starring former stripper and newspaper syndicate owner, Maggie Starr and her World War II veteran stepson, Jack Starr. Both appeared in two earlier comics themed mysteries, “A Killing in Comics,” 2007 and “Strip for Murder,” 2008. Now Collins wraps up the trilogy with a look at the events that nearly destroyed the American comics industry via the publication of the original, “Seduction of the Innocent,” by Dr. Fredric Wertham.
For the uninitiated, Wertham (March 20,1895 – November 18, 1981) was a German born American psychiatrist who made a name for himself by denouncing comics books as a corrupting influence on the children of that era. Targeting such publishers as E.C. Comics, he posited the theory that the crime, sex and violence depicted in those comics were the principle cause of delinquency among juvenile boys. Of course he failed to point out that the titles he singled out were clearly intended for an adult audience though no such labeling existed at the time. His best known book was “Seduction of the Innocent,” and his criticisms of comic books launched a U.S. Congressional inquiry into the industry and the creation of the Comics Code.
Of course the book is a sham using only the most gruesome examples of graphic art to prove a theory that was never corroborated with traditional scientific sampling. But the public, already molded by McCarthyism was only too eager to start comic book burning events in their noble defense of America’s naïve youth.
Author Collins has no difficult task in imagining a scenario in which the hated fictional doctor is murdered and then he lines up a half dozen very plausible suspects, each based loosely on past comic industry personalities from publishers to writers and artists. And therein lies the fun of this tale for any diehard comic book fan; guessing who it is Collins is rifting off of as Jack Starr investigates. As ever, Collins plays fair and the clues are laid out within the context of the story for all to see and interpret, mystery fans; the challenge being can we solve it before Jack and Maggie do?
This new “Seduction of the Innocent,” is by far a whole lot more entertaining than its predecessors and has the distinction of being Hard Case Crime’s first ever illustrated novel. Through out the book there are wonderful spot illustrations provided by the super talented Terry Beatty; all done in the marvelous retro golden age style of art. They add a really nice visual element to what is already a fun read. It is hoped that Collins’ legion of fans will demand yet more of these delicious murder mysteries starring Maggie & Jack Starr. In a literary environment overly saturated with dark, somber and depressing cautionary tales these are truly a breath of fresh air.
During a recent in-house editorial discussion here, the notion was floated that we should be showing naked female breasts on this website, as part of an attempt to increase search engine rankings and site traffic.* To address this lack of undress, we’d like to present you with The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, whose slogan is “Making Reading Sexy”. Their raison d’etre:
We’re a group of friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends, and complete strangers, who love good books and sunny days and enjoying both as nearly in the altogether as the law allows. Happily, in New York City, the law allows toplessness by both men and women. So that’s the way we do our al fresco reading. If you’re in New York and the weather’s good, won’t you join us sometime…?
And yes, you can go to their website, which features many photos of them in Bryant Park and other New York City locales fulfilling their organizational mission. (Of course, the site is probably Not Safe For Work.) They’ve been working their way through a recent contribution from Hard Case Crime who generously supplied them with free copies of some of their latest, including [[[Seduction of the Innocent]]] from our good friend Max Allan Collins. We hope he got a good back cover blurb out of it.
They don’t appear to have gotten around to comics and graphic novels yet, but we’re sure we can find something for them by the time the weather in New York gets nice again. And no, despite what you might think, we’re not going to send them a bunch of mini-comics. We just aren’t cynical enough for Cynicalman.
* Yes, this is what goes on in our workplace when we aren’t figuring out how many dimensions Cynosure intersects with. Arguing about whether Thor is stronger than the Hulk is for newbies.