Tagged: Travis McGee

Dennis O’Neil: Superman – What Do We Really Know?

lois_lane_1964_by_ shawn vanbriesen

“Someone has just thrown Lois Lane from an airplane and she’s plummeting Earthward. But today is Humtyglumf Day, the most sacred day in the Kryptonian calendar – a day on which it is absolutely forbidden to rescue falling females. But if I do nothing, in about a nanosecond Lois will squish…”

Full disclosure: I don’t really know if Kryptonians celebrate Humptyglumf Day. On the other hand, I don’t really know if they don’t. Superman seems to have a lot of information about his shattered home world – he seems to knows a lot more about Krypton than I know about, oh…McCausland Avenue where, I have it on reliable authority, I spend the first four years or so of my life. But nothing about politics or religion.

The profit motive partly explains this. I’m thinking of one of my favorite novelists, now deceased. His name was John D. MacDonald and his best known character was/is Travis McGee. McDonald and McGee were, for me, buy-immediately-upon-sighting as I checked out the fresh paperbacks. I don’t know how many McGee novels I read before I realized how little I really knew about our hero. McDonald gave us what seemed to be a heap of personal data about his creation – his friends, his houseboat, his car, his workouts, his opinions of certain cities, his party-timing, all this and more well covered. Yessir, after reading two or five of the books you knew ol’ Trav. But did you? Tell me about his parents, his siblings (isn’t a brother mentioned somewhere?), his home town, the schools he attended, his political preferences, where, if anywhere, he worships…You might be tight with Trav, but you couldn’t fill out his census questionnaire.

I think what McDonald was doing, consciously or not, was employing a bit of literary legerdemain – what Penn and Teller might call “misdirection.” He gives you lots of detail and maybe you don’t notice that he withholds anything that is crucial – anything that might prejudice you against the character. (You don’t like Presbyterians? Well, he’s no Presbyterian!) It’s fair to say that most, if not all, writers of mass-consumption worked a similar dodge. The radio programs and television shows and movies were populated by…well, Americans! Probably ate white bread. Probably went to church (though which church we didn’t have to know.) Probably voted. (But which lever they turned is really none of our concern.)

Comic books? Let’s see…there’s Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker and Tony Stark and Steve Rogers…Nope – not an ethnic name in a truckload. And none of these guys have lapel pins indicating political preference, either.

I can’t decide if this pop culture homogenization has been helpful or harmful to the general welfare. Maybe a bit of both? I have a hunch that its time is almost past, but that’s not today’s topic. Nor is Humptyglumf Day.

Art by Shawn Van Briesen

Mike Gold: Comics Without Pictures

Honey WEstHoney West and T.H.E. Cat: A Girl and Her Cat, by Win Scott Eckert and Matthew Baugh • Moonstone Books, 180 pages • $6.99 paperback, $5.99 digital

Way, way back in the early-1960s, the Chicago Sunday Tribune had a separate section devoted entirely to books. Books, as Craig Ferguson explains frequently, are bound collections of sequentially numbered pieces of paper called “pages” that are, in fact, extremely long tweets. In that book section of yore, there was a “paperback books” columnist. Paperback books were collections of sequentially numbered pages, each in a size smaller than the original, bound in soft cardboard. At the time, most of these paperbacks cost thirty-five or fifty cents.

Stop shaking your heads, Boomers, and go back to finding nibs for your fountain pens so you can sharpen up your cursive. Yes, we are old. Just deal with it. Being a ComicMix columnist, I am honor bound to digress. Ahem.

As I was saying, the Tribune’s paperback columnist was a fine writer and a sincere gentleman named Clarence Peterson. He passed away three years ago after living long enough to see his hallowed newspaper turn to shit. He devoted one column to explaining why the heroic action paperback series of the time – he cited as examples Matt Helm and Travis McGee (and maybe Shell Scott) – were the comic books of the day. We’ll forget the fact that, in that day, there were real comic books: they were few and, in those days before the Marvel expansion, it seemed as though their numbers were dwindling. Compared with one decade before, they most certainly were.

That was cool. I was about 12 at the time, a voracious reader who had already read most of Edgar Rice Burroughs and James Bond novels and was looking for more… and better. So I picked up a Matt Helm book and a Travis McGee book, and I was not disappointed in the least.

Now I am a full-fledged adult (according to my driver’s license) staring at a near-future social security check, but I am doing so from underneath a pile of comic books so high the Empire State Building would cross its legs. I’ve been checking out some of the “new pulp” stuff that is being published these days, mostly due to affordable print-on-demand and electronic publishing. And I’ve liked a lot of what I’ve been reading.

Case in point: Moonstone Books’ Honey West and T.H.E. Cat: A Girl and Her Cat, by Win Scott Eckert and Matthew Baugh. Moonstone is the comics publisher that handles a lot of licensed properties as well as a smattering of original material and has branched out to paperback originals and anthologies: The Avenger, Kolchak, The Green Hornet, The Spider and many, many others. But when I saw the character names Honey West and T.H.E. Cat, I hit my Amazon account with curiosity and enthusiasm. Once again, I was not disappointed.

This is not Moby Dick, and if you thought it might be, what the hell’s wrong with you? This is Honey West, the (allegedly) first female private eye, teaming up with a teevee original, T. Hewett Edward Cat. His show only lasted a year and, for some stupid reason, NBC Universal has yet to release it on DVD, Blu-Ray, or digital download… the last time I checked. The digital streaming and download field is expanding like spring snakes out of a peanut brittle can. It gave the world a regular home to Robert Loggia, as well as to a slew of fine writers and directors. I loved it, and I’ve resented NBC for its cancellation for over four decades. Those bastards!

A Girl and Her Cat is a fast-moving action thriller at the top of the form, complete with foreign agent bad guys and a buxom Asian villainess with… wait for it… jade eyes. Ah, tradition! Honey is hired to find a serum that could cause a plague that would wipe out two-thirds of humanity, and some of the bad guys (there are several different groups) bring T.H.E. Cat in to help Honey out… as well as other stuff that would fall under the heading of “spoiler.”

A chunk of the action comes from the guest appearances from a whole slew of mystery, movie and television characters – each quite recognizable, but never fully named lest they invoke the fury of the Intellectual Property Police. Hey, it’s an homage, guys!!! This folderall funfest never gets in the way of the story. If you get it, it’s a value-added experience. And if you get a certain couple of them, then we want you to write for ComicMix.

This may be the most unpretentious, straight-forward heroic action piece I’ve read in any medium in a long time. Kudos to all, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.