Scalped volume 3 Dead Mothers

Scalped-volume-3-Dead-Mothers
By Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra, John Paul Leon & Davide Furnò (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-997-0

Jason Aaron reaches new heights as he plumbs the depths of human depravity in the intoxicating crime thriller set on a desolate and desperate Indian Reservation. As powerful and compelling as TV’s “The Wire” Scalped similarly examines the survival tactics of a disenfranchised and abandoned minority that has had to make its own rules and then live or die by them. And just like the streets of Baltimore, the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation might be isolated and insular, but the powers that be – legitimate and otherwise – are not prepared to leave them alone…

Dashiell Bad Horse ran away from the squalor of the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation when he turned fifteen. He was always trouble: especially for his mother Gina and her fellow 1970s militant Indian Rights spokesman Lincoln Red Crow. Now Dash is back and working as Red Crow’s sheriff and leg-breaker, since the ex-activist is now Tribal Leader, sole employer and the area’s biggest crime boss.

Gina is still a rebel: she never surrendered, never copped out or joined the real world, whilst Red Crow became as much an oppressor as the White Man ever was. There’s a snazzy new casino but the Rez is still a hell-hole and a demilitarized Zone. Whilst wiping out rival drug and booze gangs Bad Horse is getting closer to the all-powerful Indian Godfather who was once his mother’s closest ally in the Freedom Movement. And that’s good. After all, that’s why the FBI planted him there in the first place…

The third collection (issues #12-18) kicks off with ‘Dreaming Himself into the Real World’; a beguiling prologue and scene-setter illustrated by John Paul Leon, before the eponymous main feature begins.

In ‘Dead Mothers’ Bad Horse is confronted by Gina’s brutal murder, but seemingly unmoved by it as he struggles to solve the equally savage but unconnected slaughter of a crack-whore bar-girl killed whilst her five kids slept in the next room. He’s a stone-cold pro: how did he ever let the kids’ situation get so deep under his skin when even his mother’s death left him unmoved?

In fact the only one who really seems broken up by Gina’s death is her long-time ally-turned-opponent Red Crow, and everybody knows he did it…

Pressure builds like an over-ripe boil as Bad Horse’s racist FBI handler puts the screws to him, and as prime suspect in Gina’s slaying Red Crow is getting squeezed by the Asian gangsters who paid for his casino. To assist the gang boss they’ve sent a psycho-sadist “observer” whose appetite for torture may well blow up in all their faces. Yet all Bad Horse can think of is the bar-girl’s death, but when he finds her killer the FBI say the monster is to be left free…

The book concludes with an insightful excursion into the mind and life of Franklin Falls Down, the only decent cop on the Rez, recently returned to duty after nearly dying in shoot-out. In ‘Falls Down’ (illustrated by Davide Furnò) the view of a decent man fighting evil daily in a man-made hell-hole makes a trenchant point after the human tragedy and misery that precedes it, but also hints at worse to come…

Nasty, violent, and sordidly sexual, this fierce Crime Noir is an uncompromising saga that hits hard, hits often and hits home. The exotically familiar scenario and painfully unchanging foibles of people on the edge make this series an instant classic. Grab hold and brace for the ride of your life…

© 2008 Jason Aaron & Rajko Milosevich.  All Rights Reserved.

Rip Kirby: The Missing Nightingale Daily Strips 25 September – 23 December -1950


By Alex Raymond (Pacific Comics Club)
No ISBN

Alex Raymond made Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9 global icons (and himself terribly wealthy) but when America joined the War so did he. On returning to civilian life, rather than return to safe pastures he yearned for new conquests.

With King Features Editor Ward Greene he created a different kind of private detective: a demobbed marine; intellectual, easy-going, artistically inclined but physically capable who preferred to exercise his mind rather than fists and guns.

His girlfriend “Honey” Dorian and manservant Desmond (a reformed burglar) completed his supporting cast and Remington “Rip” Kirby debuted on March 4th 1946, to huge approval and success. Greene wrote the scripts until his departure in 1952 when journalist Fred Dickenson assumed the scripting role. Raymond drew it until September 6th 1956, when, aged 46, he died in a car crash. John Prentice assumed the art duties until 1986 when with Dickenson left due to ill-health, from which time Prentice wrote the strip too. Rip Kirby finally retired on June 26th 1999 when Prentice did.

Beautiful art and brilliant strips are simply irresistible. After recently reviewing a couple of giant-sized Rip Kirby collections (re-read in advance of an upcoming compilation project promising to reproduce the entire saga) I simply couldn’t stop before reviewing the best of the bunch…

This complete softcover adventure follows immediately upon ‘Gunpowder Dreams’ and ‘Buried Treasure’: all of which were originally released in 1980 and still occasionally turn up in shops and on the internet. They are all huge 340x245mm softcover tabloids (that’s nearly 15 inches by 10) with shiny white pages presenting thrilling and enchanting sagas of one of America’s most famous fictional detectives, drawn by one of the most influential artists of all time.

This masterful blend of 1950s style and fashion highlights a society in the midst of affluent change as Rip is hired to find a missing singer who has captivated the new record buying public but disappeared before she could cut her first record album. However what starts as a simple trace job turns into a particularly nasty murder plot that simply can’t end well…

Here is another fabulously chic caper, stuffed full of tension and lots of tricky plot twists, with plenty of action, beautifully realised by an absolute master of brush and pen.

Your chances of tracking down this gem are admittedly rather meagre, but well worth the effort if you’re an art-lover, as Raymond’s drawing at this size is an unparalleled delight.  Whatever size you find Rip Kirby inhabiting these are strips every fan must see.
© 1950, 1980 King Features. All Rights Reserved. Book © 1980 Pacific C.C.

Rip Kirby: Buried Treasure Daily Strips 12 June -23 September 1950


By Alex Raymond (Pacific Comics Club)
No ISBN

Some strips are simply more addictive than narcotics or chocolate. After recently reviewing a giant-sized Rip Kirby collection (re-read after too many years in advance of an upcoming IDW compilation project promising to reproduce the entire saga) I simply couldn’t stop at just the one…

This complete softcover adventure follows immediately upon ‘Gunpowder Dreams’: released in 1980 and still occasionally available in shops and on the internet. You can’t miss it since the thing is a huge 340x245mm (that’s nearly 15 inches by 10) and its glossy white pages present another captivating tale of one of America’s most famous fictional detectives, drawn by one of the world’s most talented artists.

An intoxicating blend of 1950s style and fashion, this is another yarn that will suck you into a captivating world of adventure and resurgent post-war glamour, but this time with the added drama of a ruthless arch-enemy thrown into the mix, and all played against the backdrop of America’s post war fascination with the Italian glamour of La Dolce Vita

During the 1930s Raymond made Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9 household names all over the world, but when the USA joined the War so did he. On returning to civilian life, like Milt Caniff and his iconic post-war adventurer Steve Canyon rather than rekindle old glories Raymond wanted something new.

From King Features Editor Ward Greene’s concept and scripts he designed a different kind of private detective: a rather unique individual: retired marine; intellectual, easy-going, musically and artistically inclined but physically powerful and who preferred to use his mind rather than fists and guns.

His steady girlfriend Judith “Honey” Dorian and mousy but competent manservant Desmond (a reformed burglar) completed a regular cast with plenty of depth and scope. Remington “Rip” Kirby debuted on March 4th 1946, to instant approbation and commercial success.

Greene wrote the scripts until 1952 when he was replaced by journalist Fred Dickenson and Raymond drew it until September 6th 1956, when, aged only 46, he died in a car crash. John Prentice assumed the art duties with Dickenson writing until 1986 when he left due to ill-health, from which time Prentice did that too. The feature closed shop on June 26th 1999 when Prentice retired.

Slick, polished and so very chic, old friend and flighty heiress Margie Pelham has found the man of her dreams in an Italian Count. Her lawyers are less ecstatic and want Rip to thoroughly investigate the uppity foreigner, so Honey Dorian is dispatched to accompany her old friend on the ocean cruise to Sorrento, but no one is aware of a lurking menace.

The Mangler was a brutal gangster brought low by Kirby, and he’d been craving revenge ever since. Now hooked up with a Nazi deserter he’s on his way to Sorrento too, in search of stolen treasure buried by the German in the very teeth of the allied invasion. The cash could set up the Mangler in a new life and the thought of settling with Kirby and his friends makes the brutal thug’s fingers itch and his mouth water…

This is another brilliantly stylish caper, packed full of tension, romance and lots of tricky plot twists, with oodles of action, beautifully executed by an absolute master of brush and pen. Just imagine Alfred Hitchcock in panels not movie screens…

Your chances of tracking down this gem are admittedly quite slim, but well worth the effort if you’re an art-lover, as Raymond’s drawing at this size is an unparalleled delight, but in fairness I should mention than the lettering here is appalling. I can only assume the art was shot from foreign printed copies (the rest of the world has always appreciated graphic arts more than us or the Americans) and lettered back into English by well-meaning but unprofessional hands.

Nevertheless these are still strips every fan should experience; even in the meagre dimensions modern strips are reprinted. Any Rip Kirby collections are a treat you simply cannot afford to miss. Let’s hope we’re not waiting too long…

© 1950, 1980 King Features. All Rights Reserved. Book © 1980 Pacific C.C.

Kelly Green volume 4: The Blood Tapes


By Stan Drake & Leonard Starr (Dargaud International Publishing)
ISBN: 2-205-06956-X

With her cop husband murdered by his own superiors (Kelly Green: The Go-Between), grieving, furious Kelly Green has began a risky new career in the twilight world between the law-abiding and the criminal aided by three of her husband’s reformed “cases”: con-man Spats Cavendish, thief Jimmy Delocke and pugnacious leg-breaker “Meathooks.”

Acting as a fair and impartial broker between antagonistic parties had kept Kelly in groceries for awhile now – and got her into some pretty nasty scrapes – but she had never encountered such unprincipled and dangerous characters as those that populate the Los Angeles music scene. When Rock Legend Alec Blood completed his comeback album he didn’t realise he was signing his death warrant…

When the star was gunned down in the studio parking lot the master tapes were stolen, and with millions of dollars hanging in the balance Kelly was contracted to buy back Blood’s last recordings. But she is horrified to discover that the money is being provided by Tom Ragan, the most dangerous mobster in Las Vegas, and he personally asked for her…

Before she can even begin she has to ascertain if thief and murderer are one and the same, but everywhere she turns the infamous Ragan is dogging her steps. Can he possibly be as murderous as he is good-looking? Is he as good a liar as he is a lover? And can the spiritualist Madame Elsa really convince the murdered Alec Blood to reveal who killed him…?

As usual nothing is what it seems in this superb thriller which blends a classic “whodunit” with the brutal, sexy world of The Mob, where Kelly and her faithful team find themselves punching far beyond their weight, but still doing the best they can in a world crushingly short of White Knights…

The passage of time has made this plot all too familiar but as is so often the case the first is still the best and the tale still has plenty of surprises in store for thriller aficionados and comics fans alike.

Intense and uncompromising, these character-driven yarns are as compelling now as they ever were, and the sheer quality of Stan Drake and Leonard Starr’s narrative creativity, unconstrained by the need to please a family audience – and the editors afraid of offending them – is a master-class in how comics should be made.
© 1983 Dargaud Editeur. All Right Reserved.

Skin Deep


By Charles Burns (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-167-1

Charles Burns is a creative force with his roots firmly placed in 1950s kids culture (B-movies, cartoons, EC comics: especially Mad Magazine,) and fingers in many areas of the creative media. As an illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, film-maker and especially cartoonist, his slick, precise methodology tells stories and evokes responses from a place that is dark, skewed, beautiful and overwhelmingly nostalgic.

His comics work blends horror, true romance and Film Noir sensibilities with a sensationalistic fascination with the grotesque and absurdist; all delivered in a tight, meticulous, heavy line style reminiscent of woodcut prints, with huge swathes of solid black like darkness and light suspended and perfectly balanced in a Cold War on every page.

This gigantic softcover (297mm high x 224mm wide) is the third in a series collecting all the artist’s work prior to the landmark publication of the incredible Black Hole (soon to be a Major Motion Picture! – I love typing that!) and the three interlinked – or rather perhaps, overlapping – stories here all originate from between 1988 to1992, having been slightly revised since appearing in the Big Baby weekly strip and in the case of A Marriage Made in Hell, the legendary Raw Magazine. All in their own manner examine the theme of love in the modern world.

Leading off is Dog-Boy, the simple tale of a young man who has a cut-rate heart transplant and finds himself increasingly taking on the characteristics of the canine who his provided his new ticker. Just because he acts a little differently, does this mean that there is no girl out there for him? This tale formed the basis of a 1991 MTV serial for the Liquid Television TV programme (seen here on BBC2, I think).

This leads to the outrageously funny and deeply unsettling Burn Again wherein reformed televangelist Bliss Blister once more falls under the influence of his huckster father, as well as his own wife, who use him to con the religiously gullible. Unfortunately what only Bliss knows is that God – in the form of a hideous, diabolical extraterrestrial Cyclops, is coming to end mankind’s self-inflicted woes…

The book ends with the aforementioned and intensely disturbing story-within-a-story A Marriage Made in Hell. When horny new bride Lydia finally marries her war-hero husband she regretfully discovers that he won’t consummate their union. Just what is the fantastic secret of battle-scarred veteran John Dough, and how does Lydia cope with the incredible situation she finds herself trapped in?

As well as these staggeringly dry, wry and funny tales there is also a selection from the Burns sketchbook, a look at some of those altered story-pages and a brief commentary from the artist himself.

This volume is also available as hardback edition and was previously released as a Penguin book in 1992.
© 1988-1992 Charles Burns. All Rights Reserved.

Kelly Green volume 3: The Million Dollar Hit


By Stan Drake & Leonard Starr (Dargaud International Publishing)
ISBN: 2-205-06576-9

After the murder of her cop husband by his own superiors (Kelly Green: The Go-Between) Dan Green’s grieving and furious widow began a dubious new career in the twilight world between the law-abiding and the criminal aided by three of her husband’s reformed “cases”: con-man Spats Cavendish, thief Jimmy Delocke and pugnacious leg-breaker “Meathooks.”

With her life slowly getting back on track – although still not without moments of exotic glamour and extreme tension – the widow Green agrees to courier a large sum of cash to a conman who has already absconded with five million dollars of an oil company’s money. So why does OkalCo want Kelly to bring him more?

This sharp, wry thriller has plenty of surprises in store. The gorgeous go-between is dispatched to Alaska to deliver a hush-money payment and to bring back the secret method by which Cyrus Worthing – AKA Gus Arakian – managed to siphon away all that loot without anybody noticing. In the wilds of Big Snow country, can she even find him let alone prevent the conman selling his million-buck grift to others?

Further complicating matters is an unwise, unwelcome yet seemingly unstoppable fling with a US senator hiding some dark secrets of his own, a pair of hit-men with their own agenda dogging her heels and the small matter of a plane crash during the worst blizzard in recent memory…

These spectacular thrillers are intensely powerful, uncompromising stories, strictly for adults and not just because of the casual nudity; there’s a touch of chilling violence here that’s all the more distressing because it’s so skilfully underplayed. This series still works so well because it falls into a too rare category of crime-story where character not plot drives the narrative and it’s delivered with all the skill and artistry that two of the best storytellers comics have ever produced can command. The crash scenes in the mountains are alone worth every penny you might pay for this book.

For over three decades Stan Drake and Leonard Starr worked individually on some of the most successful family strips in the world. After years of critical and commercial rewards the pair teamed with French publisher Dargaud to flex their creativity unrestrained, producing a no-holds-barred contemporary crime-thriller that remains to this day one of the most exciting, vibrant and powerful in all strip history.

Copies of all volumes are still readily available (if a little pricey), but true quality has no upper limit and there are still rumours of a full revival of the character soon. Perhaps you could wait, but I wouldn’t…
© 1983 Dargaud Editeur. All Right Reserved.

Famous Players – the Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor


By Rick Geary (NBM/Comics Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-555-9

Master cartoonist and dedicated criminologist Rick Geary returns with another compelling and witheringly comprehensive episode of his latest series of crime reconstructions in this superb black and white hardcover. Combining his unique talents for laconic prose, incisive observation and detailed extrapolation with his proven fascination for the darker, human-scaled aspects of history, Rick Geary’s forensic eye rolls back the last hundred years or so as his latest ‘Treasury of XXth Century Murder’ re-examines the landmark homicide that shaped early Hollywood and led in large part to the swingeing self-censorship of the Hays Commission Production Code.

Some things never change. In 1911 the first moving picture studio set up in the sunny orange groves of rural Hollywood. Within a decade the place was a burgeoning boom town of production companies and back lots, and movie stars were earning vast sums of money. The area had become a hotbed of vice, excess and debauchery.

William Desmond Taylor was a man with a clouded past and a tremendous reputation as a movie director – and ladies man. On the morning of Thursday, February 2nd, 1922 he was found dead in his palatial home by his valet, opening one of the most celebrated (and still unsolved) murder cases in Los Angeles’ extremely chequered history. Uncovering a background of drugs, sex, booze, celebrity and even false identity, this true crime became a template for every tale of “Hollywood Babylon” and more than even the Fatty Arbuckle sex scandal drove the movers and shakers of Tinsel-town to clean up their act – or at least to keep it out of the public gaze.

Geary is meticulous and logical as he lays out the crime, examines the suspects – major and minor – and dutifully pursues all the players to their recorded ends. Especially useful are snippets of historical minutiae and the beautifully rendered maps and plans which bring all the varied locations to life (the author should seriously consider turning this book into a Cluedo special edition) and gives us all a fair crack at solving this glamorous Cold Case.

Geary presents the facts and the theories with chilling graphic precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, and this volume is every bit as compelling as his Victorian forays: a brilliant example of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. He is a unique talent in the comic industry not simply because of his manner of drawing but because of his method of telling tales. This merrily morbid series of murder masterpieces should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector.

© 2009 Rick Geary. All Rights Reserved.

Dark Entries – a John Constantine Novel


By Ian Rankin & Werther Dell’edera (Vertigo Crime/Titan Books Edition)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-342-1

Award-winning – and officially honourable – crime writer Ian Rankin makes a remarkable debut as a graphic novelist in this superbly unsettling horror story starring the best anti-hero in the business. John Constantine, seedy modern magician and consummate bad seed. tends to bring out the best in his writers, and although the plot here is nothing new the treatment of the large cast of characters is a deft juggling act nicely handled, while the narrative set-pieces are gripping and stuffed with good old fashioned creepy tension.

Constantine has acquired a certain reputation in the right circles over the course of his life, so he’s not too suspicious when a sleazy TV producer offers him wads of cash to advise on the latest reality show Dark Entries (I have to admit I loathe the title) wherein six contestants are isolated in a rigged haunted house, competing for big prizes and fully expecting to be scared out of their wits.

Unfortunately what’s terrifying these housemates is nothing the producers and technicians devised but appears to be the real thing.

Quickly inserted into the show as a new contestant Constantine finds himself mired in a diabolical mystery involving the seemingly innocent competitors, and too late realises that he’s fallen for the oldest trap in the world. Stitched up like a kipper, his only chance is to free his companions before he can escape the house and the horrors that built it.

Sharp, gritty and deeply compelling this is a powerful recapitulation of classic horror and murder yarns complete with a sting-in-the tail that will leave the reader breathless and hungry for more.

Viscerally illustrated by Italian artist Werther Dell’edera this black and white hardback is similar in format to the old Paradox Press DC imprint to which gave us A History of Violence and Road to Perdition among other gritty adult thrills. Dark Entries is easily in the same class and would make any reader a very happy – if nervous – fan.

© 2009 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Kelly Green volume 2: One, Two, Three… Die!


By Stan Drake & Leonard Starr (Dargaud International Publishing)
ISBN: 2-205-06952-7

The decades of creative expertise that marked the careers of strip veterans Stan Drake and Leonard Starr were rewarded by the one thing they had never achieved when they began their seminal crime-thriller for the European comics market: creative control. And blessed with that elusive prize they produced one of the most memorable women in comics: the frail, divinely human yet determinedly adamantine Kelly Green.

After the murder of her cop husband by his own superiors (Kelly Green: The Go-Between) the grieving and furious widow began a dubious career in the no-man’s land separating the law-abiding and felonious, aided by three of her husband’s reformed “cases”: con-man Spats Cavendish, thief Jimmy Delocke and colossal leg-breaker “Meathooks.”

In this tale however the job intersects disastrously with her private life as a new friend inadvertently draws her into a world of ruthless super-rich dynasties, blackmail, infidelity, exploitation and even serial murder. As this is a gripping mystery yarn of the “fair-play” variety I’ll avoid specifics so you can have a fair crack at deducing the killer, but I will offer this warning: you know those movies where a million people can die bloodily but your favourite actor and his dog will always escape unscathed? This isn’t one of those stories…

This spectacular thriller is powerful and uncompromising stuff, strictly for adults (and not just because of the casual nudity), falling into a rare category of crime-story in that it is unflinchingly character, not plot-driven, and delivered with all the skill and artistry that these two veteran storytellers can command.

Copies of all volumes are still readily available (if a little pricey), but true quality has no upper limit and there are still rumours of a full revival of the character soon. Perhaps you could wait…

But can you?
© 1983 Dargaud Editeur. All Right Reserved.

100 Bullets: Hang Up on the Hang Low


By Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso (Vertigo)
ISBN: 1-84023-361-3

The best crime comic in decades oh-so-slowly begins transforming itself into the best conspiracy thriller in the business with this third volume (collecting issues 15-19# of the monthly comic book) as further hints about The Trust and their unique police squad The Minutemen slip out during the dark, bleak story of Louis “Loop” Hughes, a young street tough swiftly going the way of most of his class and race in the streets of Philadelphia… at least until the impeccable Agent Graves turns up with an untraceable gun, one hundred bullets and an ironclad guarantee of no repercussions.

Graves also knows exactly where Loop’s father has been for the embittered kid’s entire life, although he’s only telling about the last few years…

Curtis Hughes collects debts for one of the nastiest old loan-sharks in Philly. The broken down old leg-breaker has been around and seen it all, but he wasn’t expecting a street punk to stick one of those guns in his face – and certainly not the son he abandoned all those years ago.

Against the odds he reconciles with his son and starts teaching him business and life; but once family duty and work allegiances come into conflict, there’s only ever one outcome. And just how does Curtis know about Graves and the Minutemen?

This tense, bleak drama has as much resonance as The Wire and more punch than Goodfellas as it weaves a tragic tale of family, disillusionment and overwhelming necessity, and though readers of the original comic-books didn’t know it, laid much of the groundwork for the “Big Reveals” to come. Pay especial attention to the epilogue where Loop meets up with the brutal force of nature called “Lono”…

Astoundingly accessible and readable in its own right, this impressive, gripping yarn is another subtle step up on a path of intricate mystery and intrigue, and one no fiction-fan (grown-up, paid-up and immune to harsh language and rude behaviour) could resist… nor should you.

© 2000, 2001 Brian Azzarello and DC Comics.  All Rights Reserved.