By Jerry Grandenetti, Marilyn Mercer, Abe Kanegson with Will Eisner, compiled and edited by Michael T. Gilbert (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-532-0 (HC)Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 978-1-62115-999-5
Winâ€™s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Moody Magnificenceâ€¦ 9/10
Superheroes pretty much carried the American comicbook business in the early years, but after WWII the Fights â€˜nâ€™ Tights boom started to fade and new kinds of champions from more traditional forms rose to the fore.
As had happened following the end of the Great War, the publicâ€™s entertainment appetites turned from patriotic adventure to crime and supernatural themes with funnybooks quickly cashing in on the trend.
Alongside dedicated horror anthology titles, regular comics publications also dabbled in monsters (such as The Heap in aviation adventure title Airboy for example) and a new kind of two-fisted ghostbuster began manifesting in lots of different publications.
One of the very best was sagacious supernatural sleuth Dr. Desmond Drew who appeared bimonthly in Ranger Comics from June 1947 to August 1951: 14 captivating cases crafted by Will Eisnerâ€™s top creative crew, writer Marilyn Mercer, artistic wunderkind Jerry Grandenetti and master calligrapher Abe Kanegson.
Although never a breakout hit or cover feature, the startlingly effective tales – spanning Ranger Comics #47-60 – were frequently reprinted before publisher Fiction House finally closed its doors. The adventures had a life-altering effect on modern comics auteur Michael T. Gilbert who claims these eerie escapades as a major influence on his own Mr. Monster character.
The hows, whens and whys of the Ghostbreaking Guardian – as well as his eventual fate – are all unravelled in the fascinating and abundantly illustrated â€˜Introduction: The Secret Files of Dr. Drew!â€™ Scrupulously compiled by Gilbert for this superb hardcover archival collection (also available in eBook editions) the history lesson is the perfect aperitif before the fabulously chilling and enthralling tales are disclosed here.
Once youâ€™ve absorbed all there is to know from a fan man devoted to sharing his great knowledge, the curious Case Files commence with an arcane parable of greed and vengeance as – preceded by a 2-page cartoon intro from Mr. Monster himself – â€˜The Strange Case of the Absent Floor!â€™ (Ranger Comics #47, June 1949) opens…
The â€œStalker of the Unknownâ€ was visually based on actor Basil Rathbone in his role of Sherlock Holmes, and arrived sans origin tale: fully-formed with much idiosyncratic baggage to flesh him out. From his foreboding mansion atop brooding Bone Hill the consulting detective of all things unnatural would sally out in an old-fashioned horse-drawn buggy to tackle ancient horrors in the new Atomic Age especially in the twisted streets of the city stretched out below his daunting abodeâ€¦
This initial escapade finds him rectifying a long-standing miscarriage of justice after an elevator operator begs him to investigate a previously unsuspected floor in the old Wainwright Building: an edifice which never boasted a thirteenth storey until the night an oddly dressed couple boarded his liftâ€¦
Incredible peril lurked much closer to home in â€˜The Philosopherâ€™s Stone!â€™ (#48, August) since Drew actually owned the potent talisman. However, as he could never get it to work, the doctor had no qualms in lending it to his old friend Gordon Kyle. When Kyle was then found instantly aged into decrepitude, a frantic hunt for a remorseless ancient predator beganâ€¦
A young woman paralysed and in utter agony draws the ghostbreaker into battle against a vicious spurned lover employing â€˜The Witchâ€™s Doll!â€™ (#49, October) to gain vengeance, before â€˜The Devilâ€™s Watch!â€™ (December) pits Drew against his greatest adversary when he attempts to deny the Devil a legally-purchased old soul which just happens to now reside in an innocent young musicianâ€¦
When an ethereal fog heralds a spate of debilitating sickness, victims – all male – are heard to utter â€˜The Gypsy Girl!â€™ (#51, February 1950) before sinking into death. It takes all of Drewâ€™s resources to connect the outbreak to a witch-burning three centuries previously, and achieves critical personal importance after he learns that his own ancestor had been one of the witnesses at Gypsy Annaâ€™s trial. Thankfully, fate and wisdom provided the key to banishing the vengeful ghost in the nick of timeâ€¦
The hardest part of his struggle against a Balkan bloodsucker haunting a movie set is being dragged out of Bone Hill and flown to Hollywood in â€˜The Mark of the Vampire!â€™ (#52, April) but his clash with bizarre cult â€˜The Order of Elusa!â€™ (Ranger Comics #53, June) proves far more arduous as the primordial murderous sect is located at the bottom of the sea and the immortal wizards almost seduce and corrupt the paranormal paragon with his greatest weakness: ancient, undiscovered secret knowledgeâ€¦
When an aqueduct project falters, the construction bosses call in the dark detective to dispel a shipfull of land-locked phantom buccaneers in â€˜The Pirates of Skull Valley!â€™ (#54, August) after which â€˜The Curse of the Mandibles!â€™ (#55, October) finds a desperate client trying to prevent his imminent murder by a spirit which has decimated his entire family over centuries.
The true culprit behind the string of deaths is even stranger and more incomprehensible than can be imaginedâ€¦
â€˜Sabrina the Sorceress!â€™ (#56, December) is a common criminal charlatan but when the fake medium is accused of murdering her client she suddenly faces true supernatural terror beside – and despite – Dr. Drew, after which the man of mysteries saves an anxious bridegroom from dying at the hands of his spectral bride in â€˜Druid Castle!â€™ (Ranger Comics #57, February 1951).
Summoned to the local penitentiary, the thaumic troubleshooter faces body-snatching refugees from the fourth dimension in â€˜The Dartbane Horrors!â€™ (April) before voyaging to Paris to clash with despised rival psychic Salazar whilst solving a string of murders perpetrated by an unworldly fiend who favours â€˜The Ancient Reek of Brimstone!â€™ (June). The Keeper of Knowledge ends his comicbook crusade in London, bringing a theatrical monster to justice with the assistance of a ghostly actress who holds the crucial secret of â€˜Sandiniâ€™s Trunk!â€™ (Ranger Comics #60, August 1951).
This fabulous book harbours further delights such as reminiscence-packed reverie â€˜The Jerry Grandenetti Interview!â€™ (conducted by Gilbert before the master draughtsman died in 2010) as well as â€˜The Secret Files of The Spiritâ€™s Ghosts!â€™: a section copiously investigating â€˜The Creators!â€™ and even laying to rest a true enigma of comics history by explaining the abrupt disappearance of Abe Kanegson who completely dropped off the map in 1950 and was never seen again by his comics colleagues!
Rendered in the unmistakeable style of classic Eisner Spirit episodes, with mature scripting from Marilyn Mercer (who left comics to become a writer, journalist and fashion editor) and Kanegsonâ€™s flamboyantly expressive lettering graphics, these are astonishingly compelling comic treasures no fan of the medium or lover of sinister suspense should dismiss. Thereâ€™s even a selection of Ranger Comics covers and original inked art.
Eerie, gripping and timelessly enthralling, this is a minor masterpiece of monster-mashing comics fiction and one youâ€™d be thrice-damned and really quite accursed to miss.
Mr. Monster Presentsâ€¦The Secret Files of Dr. Drewâ„¢ Â© 2014 Michael T. Gilbert. Introduction, Jerry Grandenetti interview and creator biographies Â© 2014 Michael T. Gilbert. All rights reserved.